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The Men First

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Sometimes you even surrender for them.

"I tell you, as officers, that you will not eat, sleep, smoke, sit down, or lie down until your soldiers have had a chance to do these things. If you hold to this, they will follow you to the ends of the earth. If you do not, I will break you in front of your regiments!"

A commanding officer insists that his men are the top priority. This is a rich source of conflict, as every commanding officer cares for a different group of men. The largest body generally takes overall priority, though a The Men First approach by the smaller constituent units can lead to greater losses overall as each may not consider the greater whole.

Medical attention for the wounded is a high priority — especially if doctors are trying to treat the officer, and his injuries are less serious — as is No One Gets Left Behind, but in less critical situations, he keeps an eye on such things as their shelter and food.

He may inform anyone who finds it strange that it is his men who win his battles. This is most likely when an Officer and a Gentleman is insisting on it for soldiers who are not Blue Bloods, but any officer who is not A Father to His Men may express surprise.

He may insist on getting no help at all if his men can't be helped. Compare In Its Hour of Need; the commander will retreat if his men can be gotten away.

Note that this does not preclude ruthless expenditure of his men when necessary, just don't expect him to be happy about it. However, unlike the Glory Hound he will never expend them to benefit himself and he will never waste them through incompetence as the Modern Major General or General Failure might. Appeals to him to surrender may be made on the basis of ending his men's suffering, but might not succeed if he cares enough for a bigger picture which demands a Last Stand.

If he is at the top of a chain of command with several ranks between him and the grunts, he will generally insist that his subordinates follow his example — or else.

Lower-ranked soldiers can also insist on help going to others, but that generally falls under The Power of Friendship and Greater Need Than Mine.

Compare Greater Need Than Mine. Contrast Moral Myopia; officers who do not fall under this often fall under that. We Have Reserves is the inverse attitude of this.

Not to be mistaken for the opposite of "women and children first".


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Roy Mustang. After suffering a massive stab wound and third-degree burns on top of it, he asks that an ambulance be called... for his wounded subordinate. He actually does this again at the end, when he is rendered blind through no fault of his own, but offered the use of a philosopher's stone to heal his eyes. Mustang still insists that the now crippled subordinate Havoc is treated first.
    • Ling fully believes this, as he believes he cannot be a true leader without supporting his people.
  • One Piece:
    • Hilariously parodied with Captain T-Bone.
    • And played completely straight with Luffy: poisoned, frostbite, beaten nearly to death, he begs whoever he comes across to save Sanji, Nami, or Bon-chan, whoever; never himself. Remember he is the captain and the leader of his men.
  • Many versions of Optimus from Transformers share this philosophy.
  • Hellsing:
    • Zigzagged when Sir Penwood orders his men to evacuate, claiming that he would manage the post on his own. They laughingly brush him off, pointing out that he'd have no clue what he was doing, and instead stay to the end.
    • Referenced during the second attack on the manor. After the outer defenses are breached, one of Pip's men says that in the movies, this is the traditional time for the captain to make a Heroic Sacrifice so that his men can escape. Pip replies that there's no point: none of them are going to make it through the night alive no matter what they do. Since only three of his men (two in the OVA) survive, Pip not being among them, he was probably right.
  • Ben from Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin has just been poisoned by poison spikes Akame laid in a trap, pricking all the dogs' paws and poisoning them. When Akame (who is horrified at what he did) tries to give them the antidote, Ben says to give the herbs to the dogs of Ohu first, saying they need the cure more.
  • This is why Aoshi was an antagonist in the first arc of Rurouni Kenshin. After the war, there were plenty of more respectable opportunities available to him than bodyguarding a drug dealer, but as Captain of the Oniwabanshu, he felt that he could not in good conscience take an offer made exclusively for him until he had seen to his men. In the end, most of his people were able to find other jobs after the war, but four of them (two one-trick ponies, a hideously deformed master of disguise, and a traitor) were essentially unemployable. Aoshi took the job with Kanryu because he was willing to take on Aoshi's subordinates in order to get Aoshi.

    Fan Works 
  • Deconstructed in The Greatest Generation. Putting the welfare and lives of your troops first and refusing to throw their lives away for nothing sounds noble at first, but doing so does not occur in a vacuum and has consequences. Admiral Shimada chooses to withdraw his girls rather than send them on an Honorable Senseless Sacrifice of a Suicide Mission. However, because said sacrifice was intended to buy time for evacuating civilians, which he was expected to do, preserving his subordinates not only wins him no favors, but ends up with him being disgraced and hated both In-Universe and out.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Shades of this in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, after a Cobra attack on the Joes' HQ, Scarlett hides her (actually fairly minor) wounds, treating herself in the bathroom, and explaining to Ripcord that with all the other dead and wounded, a couple of cuts to the face don't need the attention.
  • General Waverly in White Christmas, as fondly remembered by his former underlings.
    "We ate, then he ate. We slept, then he slept."
  • In Memphis Belle, Colonel Craig Harriman might be a stoic commanding officer—but after Army PR Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Derringer accuses him of caring only for results and not the crews, he finally loses his temper, then has Derringer read from a box of letters ... responses to letters that Harriman personally wrote to the family of men who died under his command.
    Craig Harriman: I have twenty-four crews up there. They are all special to me.
  • In We Were Soldiers, two officers are contrasted. One wants to win medals. The other is both obsessive about both detail and his men; during a forced march, he has his men take off their boots to check for injuries. On finding that the soldier he is examining has a truly squick-inducing burst blister, he tells him to report to the quartermaster for new boots. Hal Moore, the Unit C.O., approves this approach, clearly putting him in this class even before he delivers a speech that assures his men that "when we go into battle, I will be the first one to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together." Interview footage of the real Hal Moore shows that this was based on reality; while asking the American public to appreciate the strength of the ordinary fighting man, he becomes so audibly choked up that he can barely get the words out. And of course, when they do go into battle, he is in fact the first soldier off the choppers, and the last one to leave the battlefield at the end.
  • Averted in Italian-Soviet film The Red Tent (1969). Umberto Nobile is the first to be evacuated from the survivors of the airship crash at the North Pole. The film deals with his guilt over this act, as he faces an imaginary court of colleagues involved in the disaster.
  • In The Hunt for Red October, when shown the option of getting to shore earlier than planned, Captain Ramius vetoes the change, since the crew (who are not part of the defection), would die of exposure or drowning before they can be rescued. Later, after convincing them that the nuclear reactor onboard is melting down, they abandon ship in their emergency life-boats. Later, one of the first questions to the US Navy officers is that the crew were being rescued from the frigid water.

  • During World War I, there were persistent tales of a ghostly officer who appeared to protect his men.

  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith, Gaunt involves himself personally in the military trial of a common trooper. When his superiors object, he says the troopers win the battles. His superior finds this a little quaint, but - as one of the very few decent members of the high command - is happy to give Gaunt his way.
    • At the end of Only in Death, Rawne demands medical attention for his men and orders his officers to start going; he's not leaving until the men are out. When Ludd, being acting commissar, comes back with him, he tells him he can go.
    "I'll leave when my duty's done, sir," said Ludd. "Let's get the men out."
  • Ciaphas Cain:
    • In Death or Glory, Cain's first request when they connect with Imperial forces is for medical attention.
    • In general, Cain always attempts to look out for wounded men, since this provides the dual advantage of looking like a good commander to his men and a good excuse to keep his head down in the middle of a firefight. And so that he can avoid death by Unfriendly Fire, a very common fate for more traditional Commissars.
    • Amberley's footnotes also point out that he follows this trope without even noticing. For example, one time a group of men swarm a tank (yes, like into melee range) and instead of using the anti-tank weapon he has and killing some of them, Cain runs off to save the tank's target directly. As Amberly notes, Cain would have been absolutely within his rights as a Commissar to just kill the idiots, but the possibility didn't even occur to him.
  • When rescuing prisoners of war in The Borders of Infinity, Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan assures them that he will be going up in the last shuttle.
    Tung: Have I expressed myself yet, Sir, on what a dumbshit piece of grandstanding that is?
    Miles: Eloquently, with your eyebrows, a little while ago.
  • In William King's Warhammer 40000 novel Space Wolf, when Ragnar is put in charge of the group that must Bring News Back, he carries an injured one out. He gives him over to the priests for his injuries to be cared for, and one priest inspects Ragnar's own injuries. Ragnar tells him to care for the other Space Marine, and the priest assures him that the man is being cared for and orders Ragnar to accept treatment.
  • In George MacDonald Fraser's McAuslan book The General Danced At Dawn, when the title general insisted on inspecting the men's quarters first, because of their priority, the whole inspection went somewhat awry from there. (Something had gotten spilled, and they couldn't clean it up in time.)
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novels:
    • Horus Heresy: The Flight of the Eisenstein, Temeter, seeing Horus's treacherous attack on the Space Marines on planet, refuses to get into the bunkers: "My men first." Since not all of them can make it, he dies with them.
    • Blood Angels: Red Fury, the sergeants Rafen and Noxx are the last men to get on the shuttle to escape a fortress about to fall apart.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Alternate History novel The Peshawar Lancers, the King-Emperor doesn't get the chance to order a doctor to treat badly wounded men first rather than looking at His Majesty's comparatively minor injuries; the doctor takes one glance at the situation and heads for the troops. The King-Emperor remarks, "I like that chap's priorities."
  • In Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Annabeth manages to stop a tirade from Clarisse by pointing out that she had wounded.
  • In Ben Counter's Soul Drinkers novel Chapter War, Falken stops talking about the battle on the grounds
    I have men wounded, I should see to them.
  • Honor Harrington pulls this in her own series. When trapped on the prison planet Hades, after having her cybernetic eye burned out, her arm blown off in the escape, and months of starvation, humiliation, and near-torture, her surviving staff still have to practically force her into taking her doctor's medical treatment and taking it easy for a change
    • When they finally escape, her government wants to pin a medal on her for it. She identifies the person most crucial to the whole effort and insists they give it to him instead.
    • This is used a few times to give characters a sense of nobility. There are leaders in all armies who will do this and leaders in all armies who honestly don't care about the people under their command, as well as everything in between.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Chessmen of Mars, when Gahal's ship is caught in a storm, one of his men is knocked overboard and barely manages to grab hold. On seeing it, Gahal instantly goes to the rescue — which results in his own fall.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Dark Heresy novel Innocence Proves Nothing, although Drake would probably be better suited to retreat last from the mutant, Horst says that he's the leader and will be the last.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, after Turk's loss, Mikhail carefully locks away his gun and gives away his vodka so that he can ensure that he will get his men to safety. There, he goes for the gun. Fortunately, he's interrupted by Turk.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Kings and Queens of Narnia are supposed to be "the first in every desperate attack, the last in every desperate retreat" — and those of Archenland, too, as the king warns Shasta in C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy.
    King Lune: For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there's hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.
  • In Steve Parker's Astra Militarum novel Gunheads, the colonel of the 98th refused to try to escape a Last Stand when the Gunheads arrive. He immediately asks if the tanks can open up a corridor where he and his men can escape.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: Imperial Grand Admiral Pellaeon makes good use of this trope, in contrast to the usual Imperial doctrine. A combination of looking out for the welfare of his troops, knowing when retreat is called for, and a lack of grandstanding or vanity projects help him live long enough to, essentially, become top dog by default.
    • He learned most of this from Grand Admiral Thrawn. While at times he would administer hard discipline on his men (especially when they make stupid mistakes) when one makes a rather ingenious Indy Ploy in an attempt to tractor in Luke's X-Wing? He promotes him despite it failing and tasks him to find a counter for Luke's maneuver. This causes the entire crew of his ship to follow him to the death.
      • In a later novel Lando Calrissian finds out the worst way that Thrawn's decision paid out: when he tried the same manouver used by Luke, he was tractored in, as the man Thrawn promoted succeeded in his task.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Pool of the Black One", Conan and the pirates.
    Conan did not leave the gate until he was sure all his men who yet lived were out of the castle and started across the level meadow.
  • Discworld:
    • In Thud!, Vimes, recovering from the Summoning Dark, insists on seeing how his men are doing.
    • This occurs in previous books too. In The Truth Gaspode warns William that Vimes will "invent new ways of being angry just so he can try them on you" after William drops a particularly nasty scent-bomb in front of Angua.
    • Also in Thud, Vimes does not eat or sleep until his men do. Or afterwards either. He thinks he's being a good example, until his wife tells him he looks more like a horrible warning.
  • In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Dragonfly Falling, after Salma meets some renegade Auxilliens, he deduces that one had been a sergeant, from the way he tried to protect his men.
  • In John Hemry's The Lost Fleet, this is in the background, with the survivors from lost ships being heavily low ranking. Captain Duellos makes it explicit after his ship is lost.
    • In Invincible, Desjani says that the bear-cows must have herd-leaders, not officers — officers would not have broken off from a disabled ship and left the men behind.
  • In Elizabeth Moon's Hunting Party, Serrano resigned just before the story because she was told that that way, they would not punish any of her men. They lied.
  • In Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story "The Only Game in Town", the Mongol commander starts to object to the men sharing the distilled liquor, but stifles it: officers share equally with the humblest of their men.
    • In another Poul Anderson story, "Arsenal Port" (one of three short stories that were edited together into the novel The Star Fox), Heim contemplates his motives for keeping on plugging in the wearisome, dangerous, and unlikely to succeed journey; one might be this, though he's not sure.
  • Dune: Leto Atreides, in his Establishing Character Moment, orders a Harvester and its load of Spice be abandoned, in order to save the crew.
  • In John Hemry's Burden of Proof, Paul asks for water after he gets out of the fire-fighting, and only after he gets it sees the sailors looking at it. He asks for them, too, and doesn't drink until they have theirs.
  • Asha Greyjoy displays this a few times in A Song of Ice and Fire, such as insisting on their free passage home in return for surrendering to Stannis. As a female captain in a very male-dominated society, she relies on her crew's fierce loyalty to her personally, and in turn is a Mother To Her Men (though not to say some don't have a Bodyguard Crush).
  • Firestar from Warrior Cats refuses to eat any herbs in Long Shadows, saying that his Clanmates come first before himself.
  • Inverted in Spaceship Medic where the men try to get The Captain out first when there's an Explosive Decompression, as he's the most important person on the spaceship. They fail and the ship's medic finds that You Are in Command Now.
  • In Gillian Bradshaw's Island of Ghosts, this is most of Ariantes's motivation, although most of his time is spent keeping them from picking fights and falling into debt.
    Eukairios: Lord Flavinus, I have written, at my master's dictation, some sixty or seventy letters about the dragon's pay and allowances. He's given presents to officials in the legate's office, the governor's office, the grain commissary, and the treasury. He has, as you know, come up with complicated schemes to pay for the horses. We've worried over the price of glue to mend bows and the cost of a blacksmith's furnace. Would you have thought there was any detail of this troop's finances he didn't know about?
    Flavinus: No...
    (five minutes previously)
    Eukairios: That box contains your pay, my lord.
    Ariantes: Oh. How much is it?
  • This attitude marks a good ruler in the Heralds of Valdemar series:
    • All monarchs of Valdemar must be Heralds. Heralds put everyone ahead of themselves. The one exception is the Heir, who must remain safe when the King or Queen rides to war... and everyone understands that it's only because of Duty.
    • In By the Sword, the mercenary captain Kerowyn wins the respect of her company this way, even if she snarkily comments on it at times.
    • Grand Duke Tremane in the Mage Storms trilogy does deeds that would get him executed to keep his stranded branch of the Empire's army alive, warm, and fed. He eventually earns so much respect that the locals of the place he was sent to conquer are willing to have him as King.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team: Hannibal Smith. In "Curtain Call", he surrenders to Decker so they can get medical help for Murdock, who is critically injured. Possibly played with as the team proceeds to fake out Decker and drive away. Then in the fifth season, he confesses to a murder he didn't commit so the prosecutor won't go after Murdock.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • This is essentially why Bran surrenders Winterfell to Theon and Theon's Ironborn men. He is hoping for a peaceful resolution where no one got hurt. Unfortunately, that is not what happens.
    • According to Ser Davos in the History and Lore supplements, when he relieved the Siege of Storm's End; Stannis, who was gaunt from starvation, distributed food to his wife and his soldiers before eating and did not take a bigger share despite being the lord. This action of Stannis won him Davos's lifelong loyalty; as it was the first time the latter had seen justice embodied and practiced in his life.
  • General Hammond of Stargate SG-1 would often see to it that his people were taken care of before himself. Jack had shades of this as well.
  • Commander Adama from Battlestar Galactica (1978) fits in this as well.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • In one episode Hawkeye refuses to leave to work for a general because the men come first. He demands that the general admit it, and the general, with a sigh, does.
    • Major Frank Burns sometimes get yelled by other characters for refusing to treat the most wounded first (or improperly setting up Triage) because the wounded weren't "the right type" (aka Not American - that said, standard military triage practice of the time was own troops first, allies second, enemy prisoners last. It's just that most of the surgeons in the 4077th were draftees who saw themselves as doctors first, soldiers second, and didn't care about military triage priorities)
    • There was another episode of M*A*S*H where it was payday, but due to a goat eating the pay, there wasn't enough money to pay everyone. Colonel Potter said that the enlisted men should be paid before the officers, and none of the officers disagreed with him.
    • Another episode centered around Major Weems and his visit to the camp to visit his wounded men. He always visited his engineers after getting clobbered in combat and tried to work deals with doctors to get them sent home. Inverted in that Weems was a closet racist, and 90% of his casualties were African Americans that he sent into harm's way just so he could get them out of his outfit.
  • In The Crossing, part of Washington's motivation for making one final attempt to keep his army together is a sense of obligation to them for their loyalty. He also sharply admonishes several officers who are keeping warm inside while their freezing troops prepare to cross the Delaware.
  • The Office (UK) has a subverted civilian example. David Brent is constantly asserting that he places his staff above all other concerns, including his own career goals, but in reality, he's just sucking up to be liked and will secretly sell out his staff to get promoted.
  • Farscape: Averted in "Nerve"; when a Peacekeeper base has a reactor meltdown, its commander is the first to head for a Prowler to escape (he's not the only one; Durka kills a junior officer and takes his uniform in an attempt to escape the destruction of the Zelbinion).
    Chiana: But I thought the Commander was meant to be the last one to evacuate.
    Commander Javio: It's funny; I believe just the opposite.
  • Captain Kirk from Star Trek: The Original Series, being A Father to His Men, is always insistent on keeping them safe if possible. On a number of occasions,note  he has wanted to pull a Heroic Sacrifice (or even tried to do so) to ensure the well-being of his crew, and torturing them is generally a better strategy than torturing him.
  • Blake's 7:
    • In "Aftermath", the contrast between Avon and Supreme Commander Servalan is shown when Servalan sends out a Distress Call after a major battle saying her own rescue is top priority, whereas Avon tells the Liberator's Master Computer to prioritize the rescue of the other crewmembers first. When Servalan later offers a We Can Rule Together deal Avon is tempted, but wisely refuses an alliance with someone whose only loyalty is to herself.
    • However, in "Orbit", Avon is faced with a Cold Equation and seemingly decides to sacrifice Villa to save himself. (A better solution presents itself before it gets to the point where we find out if he would have actually gone through with it.) Crossing his own Moral Event Horizon is a sign of Avon's increasing Sanity Slippage in the final season.
  • Averted in It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. When a mistake with their rations means they've run short of food, the Upper-Class Twit officers argue that the men (being tough members of the lower classes) should miss out, while the men naturally think this trope should apply.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Always practiced by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. No matter what kind of "space thuggery" was invading Earth this week, he never asked his people to do anything he was unwilling to do himself, and his first priority was always taking care of them. Like in the Narnia example above, he always led first, and retreated last.
    • Colonel Godsacre from the episode "Empress of Mars" attempts to negotiate a peace between the humans and the Ice Warriors, by offering Empress Iraxxa the right to execute him in exchange for her guaranteeing the safety of his men.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Classic Traveller Double Adventure Horde. When General Varnikov is cut off behind enemy lines, he refuses to be evacuated until his troops and the refugees they're protecting are saved.
  • Warhammer40000:
    • Although far more prominent in novels (see the multiple listings under Literature), it exemplifies this with the Imperial Guard. While all armies do field their military leaders as "HQ" units, the Guard has several choices to make. Certain builds for the generals are explicitly this (leading from the front with heavy armor so that their lower-ranked riflemen can do what they do best) and are typically fluffed as the "first in, last out, make sure the men are safe and supplied" types.
    • Also, Tau. Ethereal Aun'shi and commander Shadowsun and Farsight are very high profile military officers that will engage in close-quarter fights (in case of Shadowsun, CQ firefights), deemed by Tau doctrine as recklessly dangerous, to keep the enemy away from fragile troops.
    • Inverted by Commander Chenkov of the Imperial Guard, who instead uses Attack! Attack! Attack! (he once cleared an enemy fortress by sending wave after wave after wave of men at it without artillery or tank support) and We Have Reserves (on the tabletop, a fresh unit of Conscripts shows up every turn) to the fullest. However, he's also an example of Frontline General who leads these men to battle (it's said his pistol has shot more cowards than enemies). Sure the losses are horrendous, but the Imperial Guard is literally trillions strong, and his every battle was a success justifying them.

  • In The Gentleman Ranker Violet, a nurse, steals Lieutenant Harford's brandy for the men under her care when the hospital runs out. Harford begins to object, but Colonel Graylen overrules him, saying that of course it's the right thing to do.

    Video Games 
  • Much like The Greatest Generation above, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare deconstructs this trope, albeit in a much more sympathetic way. Nick Reyes' inabilty to prioritize the mission over the lives of the people under his command and his attempts to minimize his side's casualties becomes a severe detriment and nearly costs them the war with the Settlement Defense Front. The crux of Reyes' character arc is coming to terms with his responsibilities as captain and the fact that in war, sacrifices often have to be made and that you can't save everybody, culminating in the final mission after the Retribution crash lands on Mars; realizing there's no way everyone will make it back to Earth alive, he rallies what's left of the crew and leads them into what they all understand is a Suicide Mission to destroy the SDF's shipyard. The result: Nearly everyone, including Reyes, dies to make it happen, and Salter is one of the only four survivors.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution: On Panchea, David Sarif, upon seeing his loyal robotic killing machine come to save him, insists that the wounded be rescued first. Extra points for being probably the only cyberpunk CEO to put his employees before himself.
  • In Skies of Arcadia, Vyse can pull a moment like this near the game's end when Ramirez attacks Crescent Isle. Vyse trades the Mac Guffins that he's collected in exchange for his crew being left alone. Oddly enough, his enemy agrees.
  • Polkovnik Orlovsky in World in Conflict: Soviet Assault decides to save the rest of his men after the fiasco in Cascade Falls and deserts. However, he is killed by Captain Malashenko, who takes over the command and leads some of his forces to their death in Seattle. Major Lebedjev, though, understands Orlovsky's concern and saves most of his men in the last moment.
  • Mass Effect:
    • This is part of Ashley's family history. Her grandfather fought in the brief First Contact War and surrendered to the turians to protect civilians and his (starving) troops. Unfortunately, the Alliance brass didn't see it that way and unofficially blacklisted his entire family.
    • A Paragon Shepard can be like this - especially at the end of Mass Effect 2, where you go after your captured crew and, if the right choices are made, you can save them all and have your whole squad survive the mission. It's equally possible for a Renegade Shepard to save everyone, they just make it clear it's not necessary.
    • In Mass Effect 3, Admiral Zaal'Koris vas Qwib-Qwib insists that you rescue his stranded crew and leave him to the geth after he crashes on Rannoch. Incidentally, rescuing the crew is the 'wrong' choice; if Koris is dead avoiding a Genocide Dilemma in a later mission is more difficult. The Civilian Fleet war asset is also lower if he dies, as without his leadership the fleet panicked resulting in more deaths. If you decide to abandon his men and rescue him instead, he is at first depressed, but later agrees that it was probably the right decision in the long run after he sees the situation back home.
    • Also in 3, there's a side mission where N7 graduate Captain Riley will lay down her life for her troops while holding the line against husks and variants. Of course, this only happens if you don't send over one of your teammates to provide support.
  • In Crysis Major Strickland of the U.S Marines is a fine example of this. After your team leader is captured he takes over as Nomad's commanding officer and provides support throughout the rest of the game. A very skilled and tough commander he always comes down on the battlefield himself and fights his battles alongside his Marines, he is always the first one on the battlefield and the last to be evacuated. In his final appearance in the game, he even takes it so far as to stay behind to provide covering fire so his men can evacuate leading to his death, even in the face of extreme danger he takes it all in stride his final words to his men during this exchange are a testament to his status as a Marine:
    Strickland: I'm a Marine son! I'll walk on water if I have to. Now get off my fucking island while I draw their fire.
  • As he lays dying at the end of the Char campaign in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, staring up at the Queen of Blades herself, General Warfield's only request is that she let his wounded make it to safety. She agrees.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The Warden may opt to do this at one point in Dragon Age: Origins. When the party goes to rescue Queen Anora from Arl Howe's estate, they are confronted by The Dragon, Ser Cauthrien, and a very large contingent of soldiers. All of the options boil down to either fighting or surrendering. The battle is very arduous, especially on higher difficulty settings, and so the player may have the Warden surrender peacefully rather than risk their friends. The Dragon is actually impressed by the tactic and lets everyone else in the party go free (although if Alistair is present, he insists on staying with the Warden). This allows Anora to sneak out right under their noses, which was the whole point.
    • The Inquisitor, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, has a similar option when Corypheus invades Haven. Upon learning that they are the one the enemy wants, one of the possible dialogue choices allows them to say that they'll give themselves up if it means everyone else will be spared. However, that won't happen (the enemy will kill everyone anyway), so instead the Inquisitor prepares to confront the enemy alone in order to give the others time to escape.
    • During the battle at Adamant, the Inquisitor can either have guest-star Hawke stick with them at all times or briefly send them off to help the ordinary soldiers. Nothing much comes of it either way, it's just a minor touch.
  • In chapter 3 of Queen at Arms, should Commander Marcus elect to side with Queen Charlotte, one of her first concerns is what will happen to the men who have been serving under her. Once she's assured that they'll all be pardoned and sent home, she's on board.
  • Graven Ashe from Tyranny does this for his loyal army of the Disfavoured. This is both his greatest strength, as it is the source of his Archon power to protect and heal his soldiers through his Aegis, and his greatest weakness as he cares so much about his men that he is loathe to use them in military action: The reason he serves Kyros in the first place is that Kyros used his army as hostages to make him Join or Die. His Archon power is actually a literal case of the men first, as Ashe isn't so much 'healing' his soldiers as 'taking their wounds onto himself'. The Disfavoured rank-and-file are unaware of this caveat to his powers, and Ashe never tells them because they would inevitably stop fighting if they knew they were hurting him.
  • This is why Ryuzo turns traitor in Ghost of Tsushima. His first loyalty was to the mercenary company he commanded rather than to Tsushima or its lords, and his men were starving. Since the only reliable source of food was the Mongols, he went over to the enemy.
  • Sunrider: Captain Kayto Shields develops a close bond with his mostly female crew over the course of the series. When he finds himself cornered by the entire PACT navy and told that he is under arrest, he agrees to surrender on the condition that his crew be allowed to go free. Kayto's opposite number, PACT High Admiral Kuushana, is of a similar character: when her flagship, the Huntress, is finally sunk, she gives the order to abandon ship and commands nearby vessels to prioritise rescuing its crew over continuing to pursue the Maray.


    Real Life 
  • Pyotr Wrangel, General of the White Army in the Russian Civil War, oversaw the Evacuation of the Crimea, a massive operation that commandeered every military and civilian boat in Port Sevastopol to transport nearly a hundred and fifty thousand men, women and children across the Black Sea to Constantinople. Wrangel himself was the very last man onboard, after having verified that there were no stragglers left in port. After the war, Wrangel spent the rest of his life campaigning on behalf of the refugees until he was killed by a Soviet spy.
  • The motto of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst is 'Serve to Lead'
    • Also relating to RMAS, inside a guide book for new officers is printed here.
    • For the British Cavalry, the rule drummed into junior officers was "Horses first, men second, then yourself."
    • Though British officers are taught a rather nuanced version of this trope, which is sometimes called "higher morality". It basically runs like this: "Whilst never asking the men to do something you won't yourself do looks good on in the movies, doing dangerous tasks for which you are not best qualified but they are [like minesweeping, for instance] will make you look like a tit and get you killed, thus depriving the men of their commander."
  • Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill, was an English aristocrat who served in the British Army. Despite the popular representation of aristocrats as uncaring and foolish, Hill was an able and adaptable commander, who was even liked by Wellington; famously hard to please of course. Along with his military skills, he was beloved by his troops, whose needs he met obsessively. On one occasion, he provided a wounded officer who arrived at his headquarters with a lunch basket. Another time, a sergeant delivered a letter to Hill. Expecting nothing but a nod of thanks, the man was astonished when the general arranged for his supper and a place for him to stay for the night. The next day, Hill gave him food and a pound for the rest of his journey. These examples and countless more meant the troops under him gave him the nickname of 'Daddy' Hill. As might not be surprising, he was also the British officer who called out for the French Imperial Guard to surrender at the end of the battle of Waterloo, indicating his care for the troops extended not just to his own.
  • Alexander Suvorov, likely the best Russian military commander of all time and one of the few undefeated commanders in world history, lived by this principle. In the field, he lived in the same conditions as his footsoldiers (as long as his weak health allowed it) and in battle, personally led the most daring and dangerous charges.
  • Lesser example, but during The American Civil War, General George McClellan was known for putting the welfare of his troops above anything else, including attacking Robert E. Lee. This caused Lincoln a lot of consternation; after McClellan failed to pursue Lee's army after the bloody battle of Antietam, a move that almost certainly lengthened the war (And thus guaranteeing a greater death toll in it than if McClellan had the fortitude and initiative to fight more aggressively, especially in Antietam when the enemy's secret battle plans practically fell into his lap.), Lincoln fired him. Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston actually died from a combination of this and Worthy Opponent: during the Battle of Shiloh, he sent his personal physician away to tend to some injured Union soldiers, meaning that he didn't have medical care when he was wounded and bleeding to death.
  • This is basic policy in the United States Marine Corps. USMC officers are trained from the very beginning that the entire Corps is about the enlisted riflemen, who are the ones who do the fighting and win the wars. Everyone else, including the officers, are only support. This also applies to all ranks enlisted. When chow is served, Privates go to the front of the line. PFCs are next, then Lance Corporals. Your NCOs stand around watching, making sure the other Marines have eaten first. Then they go through the line.
  • Alexander the Great had an example where his men were desperately lacking drinking water after a forced march through the desert. They assembled what they had, in a helmet, and gave it to their commander. Alexander dumped it out on the sand with the line, "There is not enough for everyone, and if I drink, the others will faint." This gave a huge boost to morale: "So extraordinary was the effect of this action," says Arrian, "that the water wasted by Alexander was as good as a drink for every man in the army." This incident is referenced in the film The Fall, where Alexandria points out that letting everyone have at least a sip would have been a much more practical way of putting his men first than dumping it on the sand and letting it go to waste.
  • Sun Tzu, in The Art of War considered this trope...less than ideal. While a general certainly shouldn't expend his men needlessly, being too nice with them wasn't considered a good idea either because focusing too intently on the plight of the men tends to lead to battles being lost. Cultivating the image, persona, and reputation without actually Becoming the Mask, on the other hand, is encouraged; having soldiers that are willing to die for you has its benefits.
  • Non-military example: When Brigham Young was leading the first team of Mormon refugees to Utah under harsh, often desperate conditions, he famously proclaimed that nobody in the camp would go hungry as long as there was food in his wagon.
  • Partially Truth in Television. Ask any veteran, and chances are they knew at least one or two officers who lived this trope and quite a few who were anything but.
  • A non-military, but still famous example, is Shackleton's treatment of his men when they were marooned off Antarctica.
    • Exemplified by this quote: "For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time."
    • As an example of Shackleton's leadership, the crew had decided to portion out food each day (determining who would get the most to eat that day) by drawing straws. Shackleton rigged the draw to ensure that the crewmen most in need received the food they needed to survive and that the officers and himself never received more than the other men.
  • In the Air Force Cadets, you line up for food in rank order, lower ranks eat first, higher ranks eat last, although this is the case in all types of cadets, not just Air.
  • Canada's military follows this as well, having the troops line up for food in order of lowest ranks to highest ranks. It's a tradition dating back to a Captain in a PW Camp who, by enforcing such a policy (and often going hungry himself for the sake of the others), was able to earn the trust of the other prisoners, take charge, and eventually lead a successful escape.
  • The Duke of Wellington spent a lot of time looking after his men, organising supplies, and the like. A biography of him tells how, in the aftermath of one of the battles of The Peninsular War, he came across a group of officers who had commandeered a house for themselves to rest, leaving some wounded rank-and-file outside. Wellington immediately ordered that the officers get themselves out and the wounded inside. He came back a while later, found it hadn't been done, and cashiered the officers on the spot.
  • According to one tale from World War II, a line of sailors were waiting in the "geedunk"note  line (American fighting men were famous for their sweet tooth). Two Ensigns shoved their way to the front. Then they heard a salty voice shouting "get back where you belong!" (with a number of sailorly words no doubt). The two ensigns turned to see the impertinent bluejacket who dared insult their exalted status. And it turned out to be Admiral Halsey waiting patiently in line with everyone else.
  • It is difficult to overstate how much this trope made Julius Caesar's career as a general. He was known to have lax but fair discipline in the camp, he would overpay his soldiers and would even give them part of his own personal wealth if they couldn't be paid from the senate or hadn't captured any booty. He would also engage in their hardships with them and never ate, drank, or slept while his soldiers were in danger. The amount of trust and fanatical devotion he got as a result was phenomenal and it was what enabled him to (get a map) march them from France to Rome, then to Spain (in record time) to fight a bloody war and back to Italy, then engage in a dangerous winter Mediterranean crossing to the modern Balkans while running a Naval Blockade during which he lost a third of his men, to fight a war against Pompey the Great in which he suffered heavy losses, down to Egypt to resolve a civil war and fight another war in Modern Tunisia, back up and through Syria to Asia minor to fight ANOTHER war, then back across to Spain to fight the bloodiest war of his life. All in about 3 years.
  • During World War II, Japanese propaganda tried to cover up atrocities against prisoners of war by claiming that it was the fault of American officers who had no compassion for their own men and refused to surrender until their men were already dying of hunger and disease. This is stunningly ironic when one considers that most Japanese Officers treated their own men in the exact same way.
  • During the desperate retreat from Brooklyn Heights during The American Revolution, George Washington was on the last boat off.
  • The page quote by Slim is demonstrated by one of his subordinates, 'Punch' Cowan of 17th Division. At the end of their retreat from Burma, the ragged survivors were assigned to camp in a ravine (in the rainy season). Cowan furiously seized some buildings in a nearby town to bivouac his sick and injured troops, risking censure to do so.
  • Delta Force commander Pete Blaber authored a book titled: The Mission, Men, and Me. The title comes from his junior officer days where his commanding officer taught him that a good Army Officer always cares about the Mission, his Men, and finally himself, in that order.
  • Bernard Law Montgomery did not insist on a General's Caravan that was, in essentials, a luxury motor home. But he did not refuse one when it was offered and in fact asked for a spare, just in case the first one became inoperable. Out of courtesy, the company manufacturing them offered them to the other senior British Army commanders in the field. The only man to take a look at it when it was offered, and then to refuse it, was Bill Slim. He asked for it to be reassigned to a more useful purpose, such as a field ambulance, and complained about an inessential item such as this taking up valuable shipping space all the way to Burma when the space might have carried a small tank or a heavy armoured car.
    • Field-Marshal Slim was affectionately called "Uncle Bill" by all ranks of Fourteenth Army. Nobody would have dreamt of referring to "Uncle Bernard" in the same way.
    • Do note that Montgomery spent his entire career specialising in training his troops to the point of perfection and insisting on making sure they had their every need met. He may have a reputation as an unimaginative commander, but his troops went into battle in good physical shape (as good as the UK could manage under wartime rationing), well-trained, with excellent logistics, and the good morale that goes with it. In fact, Monty even got into trouble when he decided to fight the incidence of VD not just by punitive measures, but by distributing condoms.
  • This philosophy is the primary reason underlying the lopsided victories in the Falklands War and the two Gulf Wars, which demonstrated conclusively that professional volunteers led from the front can easily defeat three times their number of reluctant draftees commanded from behind. Militaristic societies like Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Argentina under the former military Junta tend to treat their officer corps like aristocrats with better food, uniforms, and social privileges than their common soldiers; ironically this attitude tends to make their soldiers much less effective on the battlefield.
  • In World War 2, Marine General "Chesty" Puller demanded that his troops in the Philippines be evacuated after a Japanese counter-attack cut off his men. He flagged down a destroyer and began to evacuate the men.
    • As the evacuation proceeded, it came under heavy fire. A Coast Guardsman, Douglas Munro, put his boat in between the men evacuating and the enemy. He was killed in action but received the Medal of Honor, the only Coast Guardsman ever to do so.
  • Captain Brett Crozier of the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter expressing concerns that his sailors were not adequately protected from the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, which was then leaked to the press. Because of this, he was relieved of command. His sailors chanted his name in tribute as he left the ship.
  • When the survivors of the airship Italia were found after their disastrous North Pole expedition (see film example The Red Tent above), Umberto Nobile tried to demand this, twice. Both times, this was refused. The first time, a Swedish Air Force plane had landed on the ice after sighting a group of 6 survivors. General Nobile wanted the survivors evacuated in order of the severity of their injuries, with himself 4th on the list (with the last 2 being the only ones uninjured in the crash). The pilot insisted that he could only take Nobile, as his plane barely had room for a passenger at all and was worried that the most seriously injured man was too heavy for his plane to carry. When a Soviet icebreaker rescued his mennote , Nobile demanded to stay and lead a search for the remaining 6 crew who were still missing (ultimately they were never found) but was ordered to return to Italy instead.
  • When the United States finally left Afghanistan in 2021, the very last soldier to board the last plane was U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue.