Congratulations on being selected as an aide-de-camp. This assignment is like no other assignment you have had. You were selected because of the successful career you’ve had thus far, but also for your potential to continue service for years to come. Being an aide is an amazing broadening assignment where you will get a glimpse into senior level military leadership. But it’s also difficult to prepare for.
Before you do anything else, read the Army’s guidance on serving as aide-de-camp: Officer/Enlisted Aide Handbook. Next, I encourage you to consider the following advice.
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Vietnamese Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty at the Ministry of Defense in Hanoi, Vietnam, Aug. 14, 2014. Link
Have you ever had the Lieutenant Colonel who was the best squad leader in the battalion and made sure everyone knew it? Ever seen a team leader trying to lead a fire team from the rear during a live fire? Have you ever had majors worrying about whether soldiers should load ruck sacks or duffel bags into the belly of an aircraft?
The results aren’t always pretty. The organization suffers when leaders forget the level at which they’re supposed to lead. At each rank, officers and NCOs fit into the unit in different ways. Their expanding education and experience means that they should bring different talents to the organization. The unit depends on them for it.
This article is a framework for visualizing and describing the types of leaders a unit will typically see: Action Man, Planning Man, Concept Man, and Decision Man. No rank or role has greater value than the others, only different responsibilities and functions in the formation. If today’s military leader knows where he fits into the team and what role he plays, he’ll be a hero.
I bet that more than once a day, you let out a sigh of frustration at the absentminded staff activity that surrounds you…Your boss asks why you didn’t respond to his “urgent” email. THE NEW OPERATIONS NCO TYPES IN ALL CAPS (incredibly annoying). Someone prints 30 full-page copies of the 53-slide presentation because, “there are 30 people in the meeting, right?” And in that meeting, your unit’s update doesn’t make it to the slides, even though you sent them yesterday.
And those are just the ones you notice! There are probably dozens more inefficiencies, idiosyncrasies, and ineptitudes you aren’t even aware of that impair you and your staff’s productivity.
Having spent a few years in the Army staff machine, I offer these immediate adjustments to reclaim your sanity and reduce the needless, often well-intentioned but inefficient staff practices that keep you from getting more important work done.
The U.S. Army’s ‘Cyber Center of Excellence’, Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., hosted a multi-service ‘NetWar’ to show, and build, cyber Warrior capabilities Tuesday, June 10, 2016. Georgia Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tracy J. Smith.
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.
I once had a senior rater observe that life for staff officers like the ones assembled before him consisted of 80 percent making the railroad run – that is, doing the standard and recurring activities common to military staffs around the world. The other 20 percent, he mused, was for pushing things forward: innovating, dreaming, adding one’s personal mark in new ways.
I think that for most staff officers this maxim is true. For some of the most fortunate among us, however, the ratio is reversed: 20 percent boilerplate activities, and 80 percent new and different. Whereas their 80/20 peers are more like “Conductors”, the 20/80 folks get to be “Artists.” Approached correctly, it is an exciting opportunity that can result in a highlight of one’s career.
from NATO Rapid Reaction Corps – Italy Exercise Eagle Action
, May 2005.
There’s nothing more frustrating for a subordinate headquarters than to receive an order that lacks context on the situation or fails to provide the resources needed for execution. It seems that some people advance in their careers and forget what it’s like to serve at the lower levels. One example provides a good lesson on how higher leaders and staffs can enable their organizations instead of causing confusion.
CAMP HIGASHI-CHITOSE, Japan (Dec. 3, 2009)- An aerial view of the combined operations/intelligence center, manned by the Northern Army of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Contingency Command Post of United States Army, Pacific and I Corps Forward during the early stages of Exercise Yama Sakura 57. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Sgt. Gerardo DeAvila, 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Good staff officers surge right away on mission analysis
after identifying a new problem or receiving guidance from the commander.
Even though the task suspense may not be pressing, they ‘get after’ the problem because doing so:
- Defines the problem as a result of the design process
- Gives the staff (and the commander) immediate perspective on the problem
- Injects a surge of energy into the organization
- Allows everyone to analyze the problem with the commander’s guidance and situational conditions fresh in mind
- Results in a reference product (e.g. staff estimates, Mission Analysis Brief, or at least pages of notes)
- Shapes immediate coordination/guidance to give subordinate headquarters.
Subscribe to The Military Leader
If this post resonates with you, it might also be good for your team.
Please take a moment to share it with your network. Thanks!
Complete Archive of Military Leader Posts
Back to Home Page