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Recently I was blessed to spend three years in command of a battalion of outstanding American Soldiers. As with any leadership opportunity, some things went really well and other things did not. As summer approaches and hundreds of leaders prepare to take the unit colors, I offer a few ideas to spur some reflection on commanding a battalion.
As a commander, my leadership focus was simple: 1) Take a servant-leader approach, 2) Train deliberately, and 3) Communicate with intention.
A medical evacuation crew with Company C, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, prepares for takeoff from a refueling point during a collaborative training mission at Fort Campbell, Ky., July 19, 2012. Photo
Credit: Spc. Jennifer Anderson, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs.
The civilian world doesn’t experience this phenomenon, but there’s a form of gazing in the military that’s not considered sexual harassment. It’s the uniform once-over that occurs when service members are introduced for the first time.
You’ve seen it…we trade lengthy, indiscreet, almost uncomfortable stares at each others upper torso and arms to interpret the story told by one another’s rank, badges, medals, decorations, tabs, and patches. We do it because we want to know who we’re dealing with, what the other person is bringing to the table. (And if we’re being honest, we should go ahead and admit that it’s also an ego check: “Have I been through more than this guy? How much do I need to regard him?”)
to photo on Wikipedia.
Staff officers are not often seen as dynamic leaders who are pivotal to a unit’s success in combat. Very few history books are written, and even fewer movies are made, about the exploits of a staff officer who saves the world. They are generally depicted as the bumbling fool or road-blocking bureaucrat who holds the hero back from accomplishing the mission.
1st Lt. Daniel Barrow (left) and Chief Warrant Officer Todd Berlinghof monitor the track of a simulated storm – “Hurricane Herb” – during an exercise at the Florida National Guard’s Joint Emergency Operations Center in St. Augustine, Fla. Photo
by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa.
In An Open Letter to Cadets, Drew Steadman urges current Cadets to use their college time wisely to develop into the kind of leaders we need in today’s Army. To develop those future leaders, we need good Company Commanders and First Sergeants to serve as Assistant Professors of Military Science (APMS) and Senior Military Instructors (SMI) at college campuses across the country.
340 cadets were commissioned as Second Lieutenants following the 2010 Leader Development and Assessment Course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. More than 6,000 cadets attend the course, also known as Operation Warrior Forge. Photo
Credit: Al Zdarsky.
Whether graduation is weeks or years away, the countdown that started at 1,460 days will eventually come to an end. Imagine it for a moment. You and your anxious cohort are seated for the ceremony. Proud parents are watching from the stands. The National Anthem is cued. Commencement speakers are on the stage. It’s your last day in a cadet uniform.
Leaders illustrate through their presence that they care. There is no greater inspiration than leaders who routinely share in team hardships and dangers. Being where subordinates perform duties allows the leader to have firsthand knowledge of the real conditions Soldiers and Army Civilians face. Presence is a critical attribute leaders need to understand. It is not just a matter of showing up; actions, words, and the manner in which leaders carry themselves convey presence.
-ADRP 6-22, paragraph 4-2.
All leaders have presence. Initially, it is physical. As leaders progress through the ranks, the sheer number of Soldiers compounds the leader’s ability to be physically present for each of them. The challenge then becomes how leaders can make their presence felt and build trust in the organization when they can’t be everywhere, all the time.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler, left, supervises and provides security for Pfcs. Jonathan Ayers and Adam Hamby while they emplace an M240 machine gun as part of a fighting position in the mountains of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province on Oct. 23, 2007. The soldiers are all from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. DoD photo
by Staff Sgt. Justin Holley, U.S. Army.
There’s an old adage you’ve likely heard, “The Army is not about people, it is people.” Army leaders and soldiers pay attention to endstrength more than any other service because people are the power behind everything the Army does. And because people are so critical to the Army, leadership is the fundamental action that Army leaders must understand and master in the course of their career. Leadership provides soldiers and junior leaders the purpose, direction, and motivation to execute the tasks to fulfill the mission, large or small.
If the Army is people, the Army is also family…and I’d like to tell you about mine. My family is an Army family. We count at least twenty of us who have served and most of those are combat veterans of World War I, World War Two, the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Since 2001, between two uncles, myself, and three cousins, our family has almost continually had at least one member deployed. This rich history of mostly Army service was impressed on us mainly by my grandfather, BG (retired) Jim Shelton.
Soldiers salute the colors before the 2016 All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Jan. 9, 2016.
The soldiers are assigned to Fort Sam Houston. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Bethany L. Huff