The physically fit but exhausted Soldiers maneuvered back and forth, looking for some advantage that would lead to victory. They had applied every hand-to-hand combatives skill they had to become the final two Soldiers in the pit after starting with 25 competitors. The rookie Private from Bravo Company then surprised the seasoned Staff Sergeant from Headquarters and launched him over the edge of the pit, causing an uproar from Bravo and securing bragging rights for the next month.
Doesn’t sound like your typical close-out formation, does it?
The battalion commander had ordered each company to offer up 5 Soldiers at the monthly close-out formation challenge, but the teams never knew what the competition was until after they were selected. It was a brilliant way to reinforce a crucial aspect of the unit’s Vision Statement, “Be ready to fight, anytime, anywhere.”
Most units view close-out formations simply as a venue to communicate information and give the mandatory safety brief. But with a little creativity, leaders can turn them into competitive, team-building events that build cohesion and give permanency to the leader’s message. Here are a few ideas.
Nothing brings the team together like connecting today’s service to yesterday’s sacrifices. One great way to do this is to recount a Medal of Honor citation to the assembled troops. Sometimes no follow-up comment is necessary, as the impact of these stories of valor is often self-evident. But, you may want to connect the citation to some specific aspect of the unit or your command philosophy. To change it up, you can also select a different Soldier to read the citation each time.
I used the book Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, which consistently resonated with the Soldiers.
Individual and Unit Challenges
As I related at the beginning, combatives are a surefire way to get the team riled up. There is no limit to how creative you can get with competitive events, physical or otherwise. Here are several ideas from my squadron, where we did individual and team competitions every month and the commander awarded a unit trophy:
- Obstacle course races in combat gear
- Pugil stick, boxing, and combatives challenges
- Good old-fashioned tug-0-war
- Round robin of CrossFit exercises for time or max repetitions
- Weapons assembly and functions check (and other critical skill-related tasks)
- Unit push of military vehicles
Learn from Your Own
The last 13 years of war has created a wealth of combat knowledge in our ranks. Reach out to your seasoned NCOs and Valor Award recipients and ask them to share a combat experience or hard-won lesson during close-out formation. It will not only earn them individual respect but also foster a collective respect to the unit’s capability.
Learn from Others
Guest speakers are another way to break out of the norm. You can invite the military leaders in your chain of command to speak from a perspective that the Soldiers wouldn’t normally hear. (For example, bring down the Division Command Sergeant Major to talk about leadership, not motorcycle safety or drug use). But, if you want to drive home a lesson about safe behavior, ask the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter to speak, or perhaps an escorted inmate who would have made different decisions. One time the close-out formation featured a policeman and a lawyer to give a firsthand account of how painful (and expensive) a DUI can be.
Recognize Your Own
It’s nothing new to present awards at close-out formations, but you may want to highlight successes that would normally go unnoticed. Subordinate leaders can offer input on how their Soldiers are making a difference. Highlight hard work on a big project, volunteer work in the community, or how well a Soldier did on the fitness test. This method has the effect of bringing public recognition down to the Soldier level and gives credit to the folks are doing the hard work day-to-day.
If Nothing Else…
A buddy helped remind me of a priceless lesson we took from a seasoned Major we served with years ago. He offered:
Never miss an opportunity to talk to your assembled troops. When they’re in formation and the First Sergeant asks if you have anything to say, always take the chance to teach an object lesson, encourage them, reinforce your command philosophy, or simply thank them for their hard work.
Questions for Leaders
- Ok, let’s get the discussion going. What other ideas have you used/seen at close-out formation that have made it interesting?
- Everyone thinks talking about safety is boring. So, how are you making it interesting for your unit?
- How much more cohesive would your unit be if you consistently connected the Soldiers to the history of the profession and the sacrifices of those who have gone before us?