- "I don't care if these things have adapted to resist our lasguns. If we can't kill them with our rifles, then we'll kill them with heavy bolters. If we can't kill them with heavy weapons, we'll use grenades. And if grenades don't work, then we’ll fight them with our swords and our knives and our bare hands. We'll drown them in our blood. That's what it means to be a soldier in the Imperial Guard. Now follow me! Charge!"
- — Sergeant Lee, 78th Catachan Jungle Fighters
An Imperial Guard Commander is an officer of the Imperial Guard who has come up through the rank-and-file to obtain a position of command within the Guard's strictly regimented hierarchy. These true leaders of men and women are not recruited or designated. They are instead created by circumstance, indelible spirits tempered by loss and hardship upon the fields of war. The presence of a beloved regimental leader at the forefront can mean the difference between a unit standing firm or collapsing, the troopers fighting to emulate him or simply to protect him from the enemy's attentions. The downside is that, should such an exemplar fall, a regiment's morale might be drastically affected. For this reason, the regiment's commanding officers must balance the need to take advantage of the leadership figure's abilities with the risks of that individual being slain. Often, such unlooked-for leaders as are much a thorn in the sides of ranking officers as useful tools of war in and of themselves. Some of these individuals resent the attention they receive from their comrades and their superiors, preferring to continue their duties unnoticed, though others give themselves over to the role fate casts them in and go on to become legends that generations of recruits will admire.
Given the ubiquity of conflict in the galaxy of the late 41st Millennium, it is perhaps inevitable that leaders rise from the teeming masses, individuals seemingly blessed by the Emperor or the gods of war who are able to perform the most valorous of deeds and earn the most incredible of victories. These heroes are men and women drawn from the ranks who find themselves standing at the very epicentre of war. On the actions of such individuals entire battles often turn and they inevitably become beloved totems of everything their regiment and its homeworld hold dear. Some of these natural commanders remain known only to their immediate comrades, quietly performing their duties to the Emperor and directing their squads to win victory after victory without any sign of seeking glory. Such warriors earn and receive the abiding respect, even awe, of those they serve alongside but reject any plaudits they might be offered. Such men and women seek only to serve Mankind and many are driven by a deep-seated need to protect their fellows from the horrors of war, giving sound advice and instructions to their peers.
Others are bitter and taciturn and fight because they know of no other way of life. These commanders are often entirely ignorant or apathetic of the fact that their name is known across entire warzones and spoken of by the Lord Marshals of entire Imperial campaigns. The names and images of some such paragons are used in Imperial propaganda, sometimes without their knowledge or consent, and reproduced dozens of feet high accompanied by slogans extolling the masses to emulate this shining example. Invariably, the persona propagated in this manner is almost entirely false, idealised to such a degree that few would recognise the figure if they had met him in person. Still, there are those who attain this status who can truly command the respect of those troops around them, living up to their own legend for inspirational leadership in spirit and deed.
Such leaders are neither recruited nor trained into the role. Rather, they are born in the fires of war, their parent being adversity and their drill instructor necessity. A commander could be any Guardsman in a regiment, from a line trooper to a staffer. He could be a skilled warrior or one more used to polishing the silver in the officer's mess than wielding a Lasgun in battle. Fate and the Emperor care little for status, prior service or any other factor. Rather, when duty calls, those foreordained to rise to the occasion do so regardless, often simply responding to circumstance and unaware of the ramifications of their actions. Given that the galaxy of the late 41st Millennium is riven with war, and that the Imperial Guard is embroiled in a constant state of conflict, what sort of conduct might raise an individual trooper above his fellows so that he comes to be recognised, by his comrades and by his superiors, as a leader of soldiers?
Junior and non-commissioned officers might come to be regarded as exemplars such as this by serving as a continuous inspiration to their troops. When the situation looks desperate and the only alternative to being overrun is to flee and be gunned down by the Commissars, it takes a very special individual to inspire the beleaguered troops to stand firm. Such leaders exist seemingly independent of, or even in spite of, the chain of command. They have an ability to say the right thing, shout the right battle cry, invoke the right Imperial Saint or give the right order, and all at the most opportune moment. Men and women take heed of such leaders and come to trust them, knowing that, with them nearby they are safe.
Other warriors become examples by performing some deed that appears to those that witness it all but impossible. They charge enemy positions armed with nothing more than a bayonet and somehow rout many times their own number. They weather a hail of Lasgun blasts or walk unscathed through hails of shrapnel. They take enemy positions single-handed, capturing heavy weapons that would otherwise have been capable of gunning down scores of men. Conversely, some figures of inspiration are the sole survivors of their units, their wounds evidence that they kept fighting right up the end and were left for dead by their enemy. Such heroes are looked to as an example that even when events appear dire indeed it is possible for a trooper to do his duty to the Emperor and to be blessed with survival. Of course, the regimental Commissars are always sure to ascertain that the survivor's wounds were all to the fore, for anything else would lead them to the conclusion that he was wounded whilst fleeing and therefore undeserving of any positive recognition.
Having been hailed as an archetype for others to follow, the individual might be rewarded for his deeds with all manner of medals, citations, and awards, but in truth many, often the most worthy, care the least for such things. Most true leaders act in the way they do out of duty to their comrades and faith in the Emperor, often uncaring or even resentful of the multitudinous layers in between. While the exemplar might know his regiment's commanding officer by name he is unlikely to have spoken to him before, until the mantle of leadership is conferred, formally or otherwise. Then the unwilling hero might find himself required to attend parades where he must carry the regimental banner at the head of rank upon rank of his fellow troopers. He might be expected to attend the officer's mess as a guest of honour, to dine upon delicacies the likes of which he has never tasted and to sip wines so rare he could never hope to purchase a single bottle. They are decorated with glittering medals and flowing ribbons, most of which they were unaware of before earning them and have no wish to wear in front of their comrades. In short, most such heroes are unwilling ones, their status often used to the advantage of their commanding officers as just another tool to manipulate the troops' morale. Only in those regiments drawn from cultures where matters of class and status are entirely irrelevant are these leaders allowed to continue their existence as before, and such regiments are often few and far between in the Imperium of Man.
The role of an exemplar to the regiment is prescribed in no Departmento Munitorum field manual nor taught by any Drill Abbot. Rather, a commander forges his own role, often whether he likes it or not. Sometimes his superiors expect him to perform certain duties by dint of the ribbons and medals he bears upon his chest; other times it is simply the expressions of trust in his comrades' eyes that causes him to behave the way he does. Simply put, commanders tend to be those individuals who, when placed under extreme pressure, rise to the occasion and exceed their own, and often everyone else’s, expectations. There is rarely any forward planning involved, and so no specific roles can easily be ascribed to one labelled as such a paragon. Having been honoured however, certain expectations are often placed upon one's shoulders, most of which are entirely unwelcome.
Those regarded as commanders in the Imperial Guard are often expected to volunteer for the most arduous of duties. Many officers simply assume that this vanguard leader wishes to undertake the duty and so do not even ask him if he does. In other cases, the commander knows that he has no right, either moral or practical, to turn down any duty he is put forward for and that it is his lot in life to suffer in such a way. Most who earn the status of a hero are possessed of a genuine sense of self-sacrifice and would therefore far rather they risk their own lives than allow their less skilled or fortunate comrades-in-arms to perish in their stead.
When "volunteered" by a superior officer, a natural leader such as this might be expected to perform duties that would be the death of lesser men and somehow win through. They are called upon to lead seemingly suicidal infiltration missions, patrol through areas seeded with mines or overrun by predatory fauna, undertake "snatch missions" to take specific highly ranked enemy commanders prisoner and a whole raft of equally onerous duties. Most superior officers genuinely believe the individual willing and capable of such missions, but on occasion a bitter or jealous officer has sent such a natural leader and his comrades on a mission fully intended to do away with him. Perhaps he is resentful of the hero's accomplishments, which make he himself appear ineffectual and unwilling to take risks. The unofficial, unwritten histories of many Imperial Guard regiments are replete with instances where such a mission has returned, battered and bruised but victorious, and the officer responsible for despatching it has disappeared soon after or been struck down in a subsequent battle, the enemy that did so never identified.
For every hero identified as such by a chest full of gold, however, there must surely be ten, a hundred or a thousand who are never granted a single decoration. These earn the ultimate reward -- the abiding respect of their comrades and a place at the Emperor's side when finally called to take it up.
The definition of what constitutes a commander depends very much on the culture from which his regiment is drawn, though some transcend this and become known far and wide. The greatest of these might even be granted the status of Imperial Saint, but rarely within their own lifetime and invariably centuries later once generations of Adeptus Ministorum hierarchs have researched and debated the matter in great detail.
In the Cadian Shock Troops regiments, individuals granted heroic status are notable by the medals they wear, for Cadia is a supremely militaristic culture and maintains decorations for countless deeds. By way of contrast, the Catachan Jungle Fighters both value and reward those who exhibit archetypical heroic qualities, but at the same time they rarely accept any official honours that might be bestowed upon them. Thus, a mighty and charismatic leader who has won many victories, slaughtered many foes, or rescued many of his comrades might decline every promotion offered to him, remaining with his unit where he himself believes he can best serve.
The warriors of the Death Korps of Krieg are notorious for their lack of individual identity, and this carries forward the regard they show to those that in any other regiment would be regarded as born leaders of their fellow soldiers. It is left to the ranks to recognise and reward their own. Even if the officers refuse to recognise their deeds, the troopers themselves certainly do, honouring with stoic dignity those in their midst who have performed great service to the regiment and to the Emperor.
Notable Imperial Guard Commanders
Attilan Rough Riders
- Mogul Kamir - Mogul Kamir is the fiercest mounted warrior of the Attilan Rough Riders. Kamir's body is a testament to pain and a lifetime of battle, riddled with scar-tissue and other signs of uncounted notable endeavours in the heat of battle. Many a warlord's skull adorns his massive hunting-lance, both a testament to his courage and a proclamation of his skills as Attila's greatest warrior.
Cadian Shock Troops
- Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed – Lord Castellan Creed is the supreme commander of all Imperial military forces assigned to Cadia and also serves as the Imperial Commander and Imperial Planetary Governor of that crucial Fortress World. Creed is known to be a tactical genius who has saved his world from falling to the Forces of Chaos time and again. Though he initially came from humble beginnings, Creed eventually rose meteorically through the ranks, eventually becoming the supreme commander of all of Cadia's military forces and the Colonel of the famed 8th Cadian, "The Lord Castellan's Own."
- Colonel "Snake" Stranski - Stranski was the commander of the 114th Cadian Armoured Regiment and one of Cadia's premier Tank Aces.
- Knight Commander Pask - Knight Commander Pask is considered one of the Imperial Guard's most renowned tank aces. A hero of the Imperium of Man and a constant presence within the armoured regiments of the Cadian Shock Troops, Pask is one of the most skilled tank commanders ever to grace a Leman Russ Tank. He has commanded these behemoths through hundreds of campaigns, with his reputation continuing to grow with each victory. Over the decades Pask has commanded all variants of the Leman Russ and has mastered them all. He knows the capabilities and limits of each and every weapons system these mighty war machines can mount and it is a brave fool indeed who strays into his gun-sights.
- Sergeant Lukas Bastonne - Bastonne was one of the most highly regarded and capable non-commissioned officers within the ranks of the Cadian Shock Troops regiments of the Imperial Guard.
Catachan Jungle Fighters
- Colonel Tiho Anders - The Catachan XVIII Light Infantry Regiment's commanding officer is a long-serving soldier in his early sixties, remarkably old for a Catachan, and bearing a wealth of experience that could only have been gained from over forty standard years at the front lines. Colonel Tiho Anders, referred to as "The Old Man" by his "Drakebats," is a cunning and resourceful leader, still uncomfortable with outside authorities and justifiably proud of his warriors' accomplishments. He is distrustful of his superiors, and has long been vocal of his dislike of what he calls the "witless interference of the Commissariat." This outlook has not endeared him to senior commanders, who only tolerate Anders because of his regiment's skills.
- Colonel "Iron Hand" Straken - Regimental commander of the Catachan II, Straken now possesses even more extensive chest and arm bionics following the events during the Cleansing of Dulma'lin. His original nom de guerre predated the Dulma'lin campaign and is derived from his unique Augmetics, which replaced the portions of his body devoured by a Miral Land Shark, which he killed mere moments after the initial attack.
Tallarn Desert Raiders
- Captain Al'rahem - Al'rahem is a famous Captain of the Imperial Giard who serves with the Tallarn 3rd Regiment, the "Desert Tigers." This esteemed regiment has a long and honoured history amongst the annals of the Tallarn Desert Raiders. Captain Al'rahem has a natural affinity for tactical command, never faltering in the heat of combat. His calm demeanor and use of initiative is the envy of many an aspiring general. Stalking his prey from afar before awaiting the most opportune moment to strike, Al'rahem leads his warriors in well-planned attacks.
- Ibram Gaunt - Commander of the Tanith First-and-Only Imperial Guard regiment, and one of the few Commissars known to have commanded a full Imperial Guard regiment in his own right. Perhaps no single individual has been as responsible for the survival and success of the Tanith 1st as Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt. Ibram Gaunt hailed from a family of soldiers, with a General Dercius as an uncle and a father who served as second-in-command to a regiment of the Jantine Patricians. After his father’s death, he received schooling at the Schola Progenium on the world of Ignatius Cardinal, where he specialised as a Commissar. As a cadet, he served with the Hyrkan 8th under the tutelage of Commissar-General Delane Oktar and distinguished himself, receiving promotion to full Commissar upon Oktar’s death. During his attachment to the Hyrkan 8th, he gained the attention of Lord-General Slaydo, becoming one of his inner circle. With Slaydo’s promotion to Warmaster and his charge of a Crusade to retake the Sabbat Worlds, Gaunt was amongst the chosen few with whom Slaydo swore a blood-oath: to see the Crusade to its conclusion, no matter what, in order to honour Saint Sabbat from whom the sector drew its name. In the following years, Gaunt performed incredible feats and received the extremely rare rank of Colonel-Commissar and his own command over the Tanith First-and-Only for his loyalty and achievement. From that point on, Gaunt and his regiment, later nicknamed “Gaunt’s Ghosts” made their way from battlefield to battlefield, facing terrible foes and incredible challenges that tested them in every way, forging them into a deadly and renowned regiment.
- Codex: Catachans (3rd Edition), pp. 14-15
- Codex: Eye of Terror (3rd Edition), pp. 40-41
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pp. 57-60, 64, 66
- Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, 2nd Codex), pp. 10-11, 13, 30, 50-51
- Codex: Imperial Guard (2nd Edition), pp. 87, 90
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 45
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 29, 62-65
- White Dwarf 283 (US), "Heroes & Villains of the 41st Millennium - Ursarkar E. Creed, Lord Castellan of Cadia" by Pete Haines, pp. 68-73
- White Dwarf 366 (UK), "Spearhead (Expansion)", pg. 5
- Gaunt's Ghosts (Novel Series), by Dan Abnett
- Sabbat Worlds (Anthology), "Of Their Lives in the Ruins of Their Cities" by Dan Abnett
- Waiting Death (Audio Book) by Steve Lyons