Simple Things, Executed Well
An old boss of mine recently took command of a battalion at Fort Lewis, and he’s been assessing the state of his LTs and sending me feedback on where they’ve been struggling. I thought his email was a wonderful piece; short, simple, and to the point. There can be a steep learning curve for new officers, and I think his email captures a number of the common pitfalls to watch out for. The thoughts below won’t mitigate all of the mistakes you’ll make (and you will, trust me), but this information will assist you in taking care of your Soldiers in the very near future. There is nothing revolutionary below, but as you will find, it’s the simple things, when executed well, that make all the difference.
First, here’s the original email, and a primer on what a new Lieutenant needs to start thinking about.
//// ORIGINAL EMAIL ////
A few notes on what I have seen from Lieutenants since taking command:
- They struggle with training management at the platoon level, meaning they don’t do well at hour-by-hour management of Soldiers’ time on their training calendars out to 4 weeks.
- Task/Conditions/Standards for training events and PT – nonexistent at first.
- Medical and Personnel readiness – we’ve fixed it, but they struggled to stay ahead of this and project into the future.
- 8-step Training Model; I still think they don’t fully understand what the steps mean and how to lay it out on a training calendar.
- Maintenance: They struggle to fully understand what they should supervise – I routinely find them in their office and not ensuring tasks are being completed to standard on platoon equipment.
- Balanced PT Approach: we have lots of Soldiers on profile as a result of PT competitions that include weightlifting – Soldiers don’t have the right form and end up with back injuries. We are adjusting to ensure we do it right and preserve the force.
As I get further into command I will send you updates on what I see at the LT level.
//// END ////
Here are my notes on what I think the average LT needs to know about these topics; this isn’t all-encompassing, but it is a primer to get your thinking oriented appropriately.
Training management/Time management. You will almost never encounter a time in your career where you don’t have more competing requirements than you can manage. You have to decide how to manage your’s and your Soldier’s time effectively. While you should always try to be with your Soldiers as often as possible, there are times where you’re better served working in the office (OPORDs, training plans, admin stuff, etc.). It’s up to you to figure out how to balance your time, because the first time you fail to manage things well and your platoon has to stay late because of something you failed to do, that will be a hard lesson to learn. A way to get yourself an extra 3 hours in the day is to bring your meals in, eat in the office, and have a “working breakfast/lunch.” When doing this, remember that leaders don’t eat alone. Also, if there are tasks you can “take home” then go home at a reasonable time and work on those tasks after your spouse/kids go to bed. Despite the demands of the job, you can get home at a decent time and enjoy spending time with your family, which is an important aspect of maintaining your own personal readiness.
Task/conditions/standards, AKA Training and Evaluation Outlines (T&EOs). You can find them through ATN, Short version, the T&EO gives you a clear answer about what “right” looks like for each task you will train on when you are building your training plan. The task document you find in ATN allows you to follow a checklist and assess the execution of training events. When it comes time to get externally evaluated on your Mission Essential Tasks and Warrior Tasks, your platoon will excel if you have trained to the standard that you are going to be judged against.
Medical/personnel readiness. MEDPROS helps to project medical readiness; information related to this should be pushed out at the company level down to platoons. If you don’t have access to those numbers, ask for them. Undoubtedly your Commander and First Sergeant are briefing readiness metrics at Command and Staff. Personal readiness is much more than just SGLV and DD93 readiness; it’s the preparation of NCOERs, PCS awards, school packets, security clearance renewals, etc. Know which Soldiers in your formation are coming up on big life events (PCS, ETS, promotion) and prepare those documents in advance. It is the officer’s job to plan beyond the horizon; not just in training, but in all things that help keep Soldiers ready and willing to deploy. If you and your platoon sergeant can forecast who will go “Red” during a long field exercise and get them “Green” before you head out, your life will be easier than having to get them back to the rear for an appointment they could have done early. Trust me on this one…
The 8-step training model is an Army staple to manage your training, this thing is under-taught at commissioning sources and BOLC. Keep in mind that this is not a “one and done” type of task for you and your formation; the mass of your formation can be executing training while other members are conducting rehearsals for future training, while you are planning training that is even further in the future.
Resourcing training- Important and undervalued at the Platoon Level, knowing how to request, manage, and track the status of your resources for training is a great way to set yourself apart from your peers. Have face-to-face conversations with people who own training resources and do the recon yourself so you know where to show up and what potential obstacles exist. Perhaps most importantly, build relationships when you don’t need something at the last minute. External agencies are always more willing to help when the crisis is of your own making if you are a reliable partner they recognize and respect.
Finally, always conduct a final conditions check within 72 hours of execution- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had external assets (e.g. range control, digital simulation centers, forward support company) drop the ball and cause friction with training. If the training doesn’t happen because you failed to check (even though it was somebody else’s fault), it’s still YOUR problem.
Critical for everyone; learn to fight off your assigned platforms (and that means comms and CBRN too!). Simple solution and bigger learning point: be where your Soldiers are, do what they are doing. We used to call it “Leadership at the Point of Friction.” When things are going poorly, look to interject yourself into the point of friction and make the difference. I’ve seen far too many officers look poorly in the eyes of their Soldiers because they didn’t conduct/understand/supervise maintenance and instead hid in their offices. No one likes the cold, no one likes the heat, but personal discipline regarding sharing hardships instills confidence in your care for your Soldiers. Maintenance is also an opportunity to gain competence on your assigned equipment- this competence will pay dividends throughout your career.
I’m sure you have heard this before, but here’s the cold, hard truth: you MUST be physically fit. Every unit I’ve been in has required new LTs to go on some sort of PT event (usually a “death run”) with either the Battalion commander or BN S3/XO to “validate” them. The old rule was that your minimum standard should be a 270, no questions asked, at any given time. The ACFT has muddied these waters a little bit. You should strive for attaining a 90% score in all six events, but you should also be prepared to run 5 miles in 40 minutes, be able to hold a 7-minute pace for 2-3 miles, and ruck 12 miles in 3 hours. Because of the readiness concerns across the Army, units will conduct no-notice tests of different facets of readiness. I’ve seen impromptu ACFTs, Ruck Marches, Rifle Qualifications, and Personnel Document Scrubs (DD93/SGLV, etc), where the unit is alerted with no prior warning. You do NOT want to be that person who fails a no-notice ACFT, I promise you. Additionally, the LT is USUALLY one of the more physically fit members of a unit, simply by the fact that you must lead your Soldiers. Most importantly, be smart about what you’re doing; make your PT challenging, but not so much so that you injure people. Competition is good, but we have to know our limits.
There are a ton of things that will help you be successful in the Army, but in my humble opinion, the single thing that sets any Soldier (officer/NCO/enlisted) apart is initiative. This comes in many forms, through self-development, forecasting through tracking/systems, or simply taking the leap into something. It’s not something anyone can teach you, you either do it, or you don’t. With that said, the people who take initiative are the ones who are successful, bottom line. Do what you can to be proactive, not reactionary.
Never forget who you are, and be the leader you would want to serve under. Our Soldiers deserve the best, and your job is to take care of them. Too frequently, officers think “giving time off” is how we take care of Soldiers. While true, there’s a larger way we take care of Soldiers: train them. The training you plan, prepare, and execute will help keep your Soldiers safe and get them home to their families; THAT is how we take care of Soldiers.
One final thought for you all:
A dead soldier who has given his life because of the failure of his leader is a dreadful sight before God. Like all dead soldiers, he was tired, possibly frightened to his soul, and there he is on top of all that never again to see his homeland. Don’t be the one who failed to instruct him properly, who failed to lead him well. Burn the midnight oil, so that you may not in later years look upon your hands and find his blood still red upon them. – James Warner Bellah
This article was adapted from CJO materials contained within “the connex” of information we had locked away in the back of the motorpool.
CPT James Watson is the Operations Officer for the Center for Junior Officers (CJO) at the United States Military Academy. He is a 2013 Graduate of the United States Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. He is married to his lovely (and understanding) wife Michelle.
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