Tips to Prepare for the Captain’s Career Course
I just finished three weeks working with some amazing officers in a reserve component captain’s career course. Some students were well prepared for the experience – years of operational assignments prepared them for the class. Other students (often those who operated at EAB) found themselves struggling to remember how a BCT works from a staff level. Here are some quick TTPS to help those interested get ready for the career course.
Understand Doctrine: My students who had not lived in a BCT frequently struggled to understand Army Doctrine’s role in defining how we fight. Before going to Career Course it would be smart to review how the Army is expected to operate at the BCT level.
- Know how to read an OPORD. The most successful students could read an OPORD well. They knew where to find the necessary information in the annexes. Need to understand what units are present, go to Annex A. Need an intel summary look at Annex B. How is sustainment working? Find Annex F. As a guest instructor, it was clear who read the entire order and who just skimmed the base order by the questions by their RFIs.
- Use the proper terms. Words have meaning in the Army and no one should ever write in an OPORD on order – be prepared to… Understand the subtle, but profound differences in these crucial words.
- Be able to read and create a CONOP. Most importantly understand unit graphics and symbology. Understand how to create a unit, its amplifiers, and modifiers. Know the difference between framed and unframed references.
- Learn MDMP. The dreaded military decision-making process – it is the key to bringing the staff together and creating a good product. Done well, MDMP writes the OPORD for you. Understand the inputs, process steps, and outputs.
Communicate Well. You will be expected to read, think critically, and express your thoughts succulently. The Army expects its officers to be effective communicators across all mediums. This means writing, briefing, and communicating effectively with your peers.
- Write well. You will have to write papers in the career course. Be sure you understand the question you are being asked to answer. Then answer that question – not the question you want to answer. Students were asked to write a persuasive paper to convince the instructor of their position. Multiple students wrote amazingly detailed papers that outlined the issue but never attempted to persuade the reader. Also, do not give your instructor free points for formatting and grammar.
- Brief Better. You will give numerous briefs to your instructors. Give up on the idea you will not be briefing. Your instructors are watching, and you will be called out to brief at some point. Therefore, brief early and often. Learn from your peers and your own experiences.
- Communicate with your Peers. It is a small Army and we all serve together again and again. Courses like this are your chance to make connections that will serve you throughout your career. As you grow into the field grade ranks your key competency becomes your ability to work well with and influence others. You will be rated on it. This is where that skill begins.
The Captain’s Career Course is an amazing experience, and you can learn so much from it. To be successful you need to start preparing before you enter the door. Take the time to review how the Army is designed to work, understand your role in how the BCT fights and wins our Nation’s battles, and practice writing and briefing before you get there.
Cale is a National Guard officer who works with Process and Performance Improvement in his civilian career. He holds a Master’s of Science in Healthcare Administration, a Master’s of Business Administration, and a PhD in healthcare administration.
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