Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy Veteran's Day

This Veteran’s Day, I am on a temporary assignment away from my family.  I will be gone for just about a month. I count myself blessed, because I’m not in harm’s way right now, and it’s been years since I had to deploy (I’ve been lucky).  And this is making me think about what it means to be a veteran.  I’m in a really military-friendly town, and I have lost count of how many businesses are offering discounts, free meals, and military appreciation promotions.  I’ve been thanked three times in the past week by random people off the street, and I can’t even put a number on how many “support our troops” signs, stickers, and magnets I’ve seen.  Facebook and other social media sites are crawling with eagles, flags, and other ‘Murica branding.  But to me, none of this is really about Veteran’s Day or veterans.

Veteran’s Day grew out of Armistice Day, traditionally celebrated on the 11th of November and used to commemorate the end of World War I.  In dedicating the first Armistice Day, President Woodrow Wilson said "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."  In 1954, President Eisenhower enacted Veteran’s Day into law as a national holiday, and it’s been celebrated ever since.

“We few, we happy few...”

Who are veterans?  As of 2013, the population of the United States is approximately 313.9 million people.  The military, with a total population across all services (active and reserve component) numbers about 2.3 million people.  This is .7% of the population of the US.  (The army, by the way, at 1.1 million, comes in at .3% of the population).  I could go into a demographic analysis here, but suffice to say that the military is a fairly representative cross-section of the American population.  Rich, poor, all races, religions, and creeds, educated and un-, we’re all here.  Why, though?  What makes us serve?  What sets this .7% apart from the rest of the population?

Some join because of the college benefits (which are pretty good, by the way).  Some join because of economic reasons, some because of no other options.  Some have family traditions.  Others join out of a desire to protect freedom or fight for a way of life.  At some point, all of us realize that we’re here to serve the national interests of the country – and that’s ok.  Ultimately, we all serve because someone has to.  We all volunteer, we all deal with bureaucracy, inefficiency, and sacrifice, because we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

“...we band of brothers...”

Every servicemember and veteran realizes what our service means.  Some come to it soon, some come to it late, but there comes a point in time where all of us realize that no matter what branch of service, what job, or what unit, we could be called upon to sacrifice.  We give up comfort, safety, family life, and a good portion of control.  We could be asked to give our time, our energy, and possibly our lives. 

At the end of the day, for me, it’s not about any of that stuff.  It’s about my comrades, about the Soldier to my left and right.  It’s about traditions, about a heritage of service and dedication, about the idea of a nation.  It’s about my incredible leaders and loyal followers, about accomplishing missions and pushing myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish – and knowing that everyone with me is doing the same.

Finally, it’s about service.  I serve because the US has been great to me and my family, and I feel like I owe something.  Nothing material that I have would be any use to the country that allowed my family to start over when we moved here, so all I can give are my talents and time.

I’m not the only person I know who feels this way.  And whenever I look out across a formation of Soldiers, I don’t see the kid who’s only in it for the GI Bill or who got tired of working at McDonald’s.  I see someone who has volunteered all that he has for something outside himself, and I love and appreciate that. 

And so, this Veteran’s Day, I think about all those who have served and who I serve with now, for the sacrifice and service, for the dedication and devotion, and I leave you with Henry V’s Saint Crispin’s Day speech:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Henry V, Act 4, Scene iii

Happy Veteran's Day, and thank you.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Officers could stand to learn some things from Basic Training

Another in the "Things I Didn't Have Time to Teach My Captains" series.
The other night I was watching youtube videos of Basic Training with my kids.  They wanted to know what it was like, and I took the opportunity to revisit a part of my life that I have largely forgotten about.  And you know what?  I still apply a lot of the things I learned in Basic.  So I compiled a top ten list:

1. “Do what you’re told.  Do what you’re told.  Do what you’re G*****n told!” –DS Roman.  Good, effective leaders are also good, effective followers.  Everyone has a boss, and every boss has an intent that must be met.  Meet it.

2. Learn to get it done. One of the very first memories anyone has of Basic is being crammed into a “cattle car” with all of your newly issued gear, then being forcibly ejected and told to move with all your gear to a different location, at speed.  No one tells you how to carry your stuff, just to get it all over there, now.  Learn how to get it done despite not knowing exactly how.  Which leads into…

3. Do it right the first time.  There is nothing new in the Army.  Someone has done what you’re doing before you, and has probably written a manual about it.  At Basic, the Drill Sergeants show you a standard-- once .  After that, you are expected to perform to that standard, whether it’s making your bed, standing at attention, or performing a correct side-straddle hop.  Doing it right the first time not only saves you a lot of work, but it saves you a lot of pain as well.

4. Rangewalk!  Develop a sense of urgency.  If nothing else, you will at least look like you know what you’re doing and have someplace to be.  Moving with a sense of urgency and purpose goes a long way toward establishing your credibility, and also helps to ensure you are accomplishing your missions quickly.  (NOTE:  This is not to say that you should just be moving quickly randomly.  Know what you’re doing, and then move out).

5. Shine your boots.  Appearance and presentation matter.  No one likes you for you—at least not at first.  Make a good impression with your demeanor, bearing, fitness, and appearance.  Immediately following that, wow people with your competence and leadership.

6.  “You’ve got thirty seconds to get there, and ten of them are already gone!” –DS Garcias.  There is always going to be more to do than there are hours in a day.  Learn to prioritize time and effort.

7. “Lights out! Reveille! Chow!”  You must eat.  You must sleep.  You must do PT.  If you don’t, you will fail.  Make the time—no one expects you to be on all the time.

8.  Pay attention to detail, private!  Details are important.  One unbuttoned pocket on a uniform you’re not even wearing will cost you at least ten push-ups.  Hospital corners not at 45 degrees will get your rack flipped.  Big things are made up of little things, so make sure you get the little things right.  After that, the big ones will follow.

9. “What makes the green grass grow?  The blood!  The blood!  The bright red blood!”  This is the chant of the bayonet assault course, and I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever had to say.  But the lesson here is that you need to be just a bit more aggressive than you’re comfortable with.  Don’t be a dick, but don’t get punked.  Our profession is full of type-A personalities.  Statistically, not all of us are type-A, but if you don’t at least pretend to be, life will be needlessly difficult for you.

10. “Where is your battle buddy?!”  Despite what Paul Simon says, no one is an island.  You can’t do it alone—remember the team.

11. (I’m not good at math).  Learn the difference between hurt and injured.  Hurt is ok, but injured isn’t. Hurt goes away, but injured has long-term effects.  If you need to go seek help, go.

12. When you screw up, the whole platoon suffers.  There’s a scene in Full Metal Jacket where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman discovers a jelly donut in Private Pyles’ foot locker, and the whole platoon is forced to do push-ups while Pyle eats the donut.  Understand that when you make decisions,   there are second- and third-order effects that reach out beyond you. 

13.  Don’t expect to like everyone, or that everyone will like you.  When I was in Basic, the guy in the rack across from me was a huge dick.  No one liked him, and he had a hard time relating to people.  But we all had to work with him, and we soon discovered that if we kept the relationship professional, he was really good at basic soldiering.  So even though no one liked him, we all worked well together because we expected professionalism.

Any I missed?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New series, which I promise I will write.

I am working on a new series at the suggestion of my beautiful wife, the love of my life.  See, in my new job as an instructor of Captains, there are lots of things that I teach, but there are lots of things that I don't have time to cover.  So I'm writing a new series entitled

So here goes....
UPDATED AS OF 13 SEPTEMBER (thanks to one of my students). 
I’ve recently seen a lot of angst among some junior leaders in my organization (and elsewhere) about sexual assault/harassment and how to deal with it in the workplace.  (Frankly, the Army itself is worried about this and it has become a front-running issue among the DoD senior leadership.  See here and here and here.)
So because of this, I’ve had a lot of informal, off-line conversations with individuals and little groups, but I thought I’d put something out in the world for mass consumption.  This is what I have done, and may not work for everyone, but it has worked so far for everyone I’ve talked to, so there it is.
Some ground parameters here:  I am going to speak from my experiences as a heterosexual man married to a civilian woman.  This same advice will work for women or homosexuals too, so have at it.  Also, and this is key, THERE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO BE RUMORS.  Don’t forget that- you can’t control the rumors at all.  They are a constant.
In my 16 years of service, I have always worked in a co-ed army.  Most of that time, I’ve been in a leadership role, and have always had female subordinates, peers, and bosses.  The big question that gets asked is “How do I maintain a professional relationship with all these people while avoiding the sexual politics and rumor mill that are inevitable parts of the co-ed Army workplace?” (That’s loosely translated from “WTF, man?  Why is it like this?”)  And it’s a real issue, and requires some thought AHEAD OF TIME to avoid getting in trouble.
So… you’re a good-looking officer, you’re put in charge of an organization (a staff section, platoon, company, etc. etc).  Women are BOUND to throw themseleves at you, right?  After all, you’re in a position of power, and we all know that no one can resist a powerful person in a uniform, right?  And let’s be real here.   Some of your Soldiers are HAWT.  (They get hotter the longer you’re deployed, too).  And you’re married, and we all know that ring is a magnet for a certain “type” of woman, too, right?  It’s a fraught landscape… a veritable minefield of potential rapes or accusations of impropriety that are all career-killers, relationship-killers, and causes of long arguments with your wife.  (NOTE:  I AM JOKING.  I SOMETIMES EXAGGERATE TO COMIC EFFECT.)
Let’s add to this that you, as an Army leader, are going to HAVE to know a lot of intimate details about your subordinates.  I’m talking medical information (commanders are partially exempt from HIPAA), personal information about relationships, finances, fitness, everything.  That’s a lot of power and influence, and a lot of potentially intimate conversations with emotionally fragile female subordinates. 

Let's further add that, as an officer, you're automatically in an unequal position.  Any "relationship" anyone tries to establish with you is colored by the rank structure.  Whether the encounter is specifically restricted by Army and DoD regulation (like officer/enlisted relationships), or officer/officer where one is subordinate to the other, the higher-ranking person is ALWAYS in control and ALWAYS at fault.  Whether this reflects reality or not is immaterial-- but most of the time, it is the truth.
And oh, yeah.  Remember what I said about rumors?  Well, they’re going to start coming after your VERY FIRST private conversation or counseling session with a female subordinate.  It’s gonna happen- you can’t change it.  What you CAN do is mitigate your risk.  There are some very specific steps to take for this.

Keep in mind, this is baseline advice.  As you learn your organization, you will of course start to understand the personalities involved, the risks present (or not present) in your organization, and you will be able to adjust off of this template.  This, however, is a reflection of the advice I got as a new commander, and it's the advice I give to everyone going into command.  So here it is:
1.        Educate yourself.  You have to know all of the Army policies on sexual assault/harassment, equal opportunity, and courses of redress for Soldiers.  You have to know all of the available resources that a Soldier can take advantage of.  You have to understand the various roles and levels of confidentiality and support that each organization provide.  YOU HAVE TO KNOW THIS COLD.  And you have to be absolutely willing and ready to pass the buck to one of these organizations.  You’re not an expert- they are.  Let them be the experts.
2.        Avoid being alone with a female when there could be even a HINT of impropriety.  I’m talking about counselings, advice, reprimands, everything.  Someone else should know about this, or you should have another female present (preferably higher ranking than the person with whom you’re having the conversation), but don’t be alone.  Or at least leave the door open.
3.       Never be the highest ranking person to know about something.  Your boss should be able to underwrite your decisions, but he/she can’t if they don’t know about them.
4.       Have a plan to control the conversation and the environment.  This needs to be thought of in advance, and war-gamed out so that even if you’re taken by surprise by a Soldier with an immediate problem, you can still work through your plan.  When things spiral out of control is when you allow the Soldier to control the conversation and environment.  The terrain always has to be either neutral or advantageous to YOU, not them.  So your office or the hood of your HMMWV is good, but not her quarters or yours.  Under a tree outside is good, but alone inside an empty office is not.  Figure this out ahead of time, though, so you don’t have to stress about it.

      (A quick example on this one:  I had the wife of one of my Soldiers drop by my office to air some grievances, and during the conversation, she felt the need to expound to me the various deficiencies in her sex life, her rocky relationship with her husband, her childhood, and basically everything that was bothering her right then.  She ended up in tears and holding on to me -- spiraled out of control -- and I had to have my 1SG and orderly room NCOIC help me disengage.)
5.       Remember:  Perception is Reality.  What people see is going to color the rumors they start, and that’s going to influence what gets around to your Soldiers, your chain of command, and your wife.
The key here is to behave in such a way that, when the rumors inevitably start, they are laughable.  This is the only way to ensure a healthy, happy relationship with your family and to keep your name in the clear.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Serving well and faithfully

I’ve had the opportunity lately to reflect on the oath of office that all officers take.  If you’re not familiar with it, here is the whole text:
"I, _____ , having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."
The passage that jumps out at me is the one about well and faithfully discharging the duties, etc.  There are two salient points here- one, that we swear to discharge our duties well, and two, that we swear to do it faithfully. 
The “well” part is straightforward enough.  We swear to be good at our jobs.  Be the best platoon leader, xo, company commander, staff officer, whatever that we can be.  Take care of our Soldiers.  Maintain ourselves.  Learn as much as we can and better ourselves.
The "faithfully" part is the one that seems to be giving a lot of people trouble, especially lately with the current political climate.  A lot of things have happened recently, from the election to Benghazi to the gun control debate going on now, and there is a lot of division in the country.  Here’s the thing, though: we members of the military can’t play in it.  Not overtly, anyway.  Oh, we can have opinions, and we can vote or contribute to causes.  But we don’t get to participate publically in the debates.  We don’t get to badmouth elected or appointed officials (it’s even in the regulations!)  We are supposed to be apolitical.  It’s part of the social contract that we make as members of the profession of arms. 
But more than that- when we accuse the Commander in Chief or a senator or someone of doing something illegal, or immoral, or unconstitutional, and we do so in a public forum, or when we use offensive nicknames, we’re not exercising our right to free speech.  We’re undermining the basis of our own authority, and we are proving ourselves faithless.
Faithfully also means that we will do unpleasant things, sometimes things that we disagree with.  I’m not talking about unethical or illegal orders—faithfulness also demands that we refuse to obey those.  But sometimes we have to serve a national political strategy that we oppose, or subject ourselves to commanders whose leadership style or personality we despise.  The point is, we swear an oath to do this.  We choose to sacrifice certain of our rights in order to preserve the rights of other people.  What discharging our duties faithfully requires is that we do this willingly.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Army as a profession

So for those of you who don't know, I'm at a military school right now where I'm learning to be a professional officer.  I now pause for your laughter.

There, all ok?  Good.  It's actually a really good curriculum, and I have learned a lot.  This is apparently a change, because the Captains' Career Course of the past was a "gentleman's course" where everyone passed and no one really learned anything.  Now there are people failing tests and being recycled out of each class, the curriculum is intensive, fast-moving, and (in the case of the Signal Corps) pretty technical.  I am having a blast.

We recently got an assignment to write a couple of pages on the Army as a Profession of Arms.  This concept is getting some serious emphasis from the Chief of Staff of the Army, and has been incorporated into the culture at every level, starting at basic training.  Now big tough captains get to hear about it, and give our two cents.  So what I thought I'd do is, I'm going to publish my essay here.  It's a short read- enjoy!  And tell me what you think.  (Disregard the fact that this is the first essay I have written since literally 2004.)

“I am an expert and I am a professional.” Every Soldier in the Army has said these words, excerpted from the Soldier’s Creed. But are all Soldiers experts and professionals? Is the Army, in fact, a profession? And what does this mean for today’s Army leaders and Soldiers?

The Army White Paper The Profession of Arms states that “The Army is an American Profession of Arms, a vocation comprised of experts certified in the ethical application of land combat power….” (The Profession of Arms [2010], 4). It also asserts, like the Soldier’s Creed, that all Soldiers are professionals. “An American Professional Soldier is an expert, a volunteer certified in the Profession of Arms….” (The Profession of Arms [2010], 4).

            If a profession is “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification” ("Definition for profession"), the Army certainly qualifies. The Army White Paper also lists several characteristics of professions: produce uniquely expert work requiring years of study and practice, contain a self-policing ethic, and motivate using intrinsic versus extrinsic factors (Combined Arms Center 2010, 2). The Army meets all of these criteria as well. All Soldiers are paid, and require some training and certification before being allowed to perform their duties. The Army also has a very well-established continuing education system for Noncommissioned Officers (NCO), warrant officers, and officers. Soldiers are also indoctrinated with the Army Values from their first day of service, and are taught to maintain and enforce standards and ethics. The Army is absolutely a profession.

            Are all Soldiers professionals, though? Consider civilian professionals—doctors must complete seven years of undergraduate and post-graduate study, followed by four years of residency. Lawyers must complete a seven-year course before earning a juris doctorate. Upon examination of the training received across the spectrum of military personnel, only senior Soldiers receive equivalent amounts of training. All Soldiers must complete Basic Combat Training (BCT), Advanced Individual Training (AIT). NCOs must complete BCT, AIT, and further education as part of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES). Warrant officers must complete all NCO requirements, Warrant Officer Candidate School and their basic and advanced courses. Officers must complete a baccalaureate degree, the Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) and specialized training in their branch. Then officers must attend advanced training and education courses at every rank through Colonel. Junior enlisted Soldiers simply do not meet the qualification of a profession—they don’t have time. Only senior NCOs, Warrant Officers, and Officers receive “prolonged training.”

            The Army, then, can be considered a Profession of Arms, but only senior Soldiers, having received advanced training and having gone through the formal education processes of the Army, can be considered professionals. Dr. Kevin M. Bond, in an article published in Joint Forces Quarterly, says that “It does a disservice to the very ideals of professionalism… to declare that by virtue of membership in an organization a person is a professional. More importantly, declaring that all Soldiers are professionals ignores the need to train, educate, and develop Soldiers both professionally and personally.” (Bond 2011, 66). He argues that leaders must focus on Soldier development at all levels and provide opportunities to grow and develop. (Bond 2011, 67) The Army must develop this paradigm further. A Soldier who has gone through 15 weeks of BCT and AIT has not met the requirements of his profession. Leaders must instead think of junior personnel as skilled tradesmen. Once leaders adopt this mindset, they can focus their efforts on developing professionalism through training and education, and truly consider our Soldiers “experts and professionals.”

Bond, Kevin M. “Are We Professionals?” Joint Forces Quarterly 58 (2011), (accessed June 25, 2012).

"Definition for profession - Oxford Dictionaries Online." Oxford Dictionaries Online. (accessed July 2, 2012).
"The Profession of Arms." Army White Paper (2010), (accessed June 25, 2012).

So you wanna be a battery commander?

So you wanna be a company commander?

Company command is a phenomenal opportunity and one of the greatest privileges in any officer’s career.  If done right, it’s the most rewarding , satisfying, frustrating, infuriating job you’ll ever have.  You’ll love it.  But there are some things that you should do before you think about taking that guidon that will set you up for success.

1-      Learn about property.  You are going to be responsible for everything on your property book- learn how to manage it.  Get a PBUSE account and learn to understand everything in every field.  You will hear a lot of people tell you that you don’t have to be a subject matter expert in everything- but you absolutely need to be an expert in your property, as it impacts your wallet.

2-      Learn your unit.  You may be the most technically and tactically proficient Captain in your branch, but that won’t guarantee success in your particular battalion.  You need to learn what the culture is from the top down.  Make sure you get an office call in with your future battalion commander.  While he interviews you, you are also learning about him (or her- I don’t discriminate).  Pay attention to what he           emphasizes during those first conversations.  Ask questions, especially about his priorities.  Also, look around at the staff and the companies.  You can get a fairly accurate assessment of a unit’s command climate by sitting through some meetings or in an office somewhere and just listening.

3-      Read.  Read a lot.  You need to read books on military leadership.  You need to read books on corporate leadership and efficiencies.  You need to read field manuals and training circulars.  Read current events.  Read everything you can.  You owe it to your boss and your Soldiers to educate yourself on your profession.

4-      Take care of your administrative needs well ahead of taking the guidon.  Once you assume command, you will lose about eight hours out of your day.  You won’t have time to focus on closing on a house, getting that surgery, finishing your Master’s degree, or anything other than your troops and your family. 

5-      Set your personal priorities ahead of time.  This is vital.  As a soldier who loves his job, it's really easy to make choices once you're at work that are Army-centric and career-centric, as opposed to Family-centric. It all comes down to how you define yourself. If you define yourself as a Soldier who has a family, then you make your choices in that order- Army first, at the expense (sometimes) of your Family. If you define yourself as a family guy who is a Soldier, then your choices reflect that you value your Family life over your job.  I am absolutely not saying that you should stint on your job- not at all.  But after 20 years or however long you stay in, guess what?  The Army doesn’t care about you not one single bit.  How sad would it be if your family didn’t care about you either because you didn't let them know through your actions and choices you made in your career that they matter and were more important than some alcoholic trooper who married a stripper and so NEEDS YOUR HELP, despite the fact that your son is struggling in fractions or started his first basketball game or whatever?  So make those priorities known at the outset, and be an example of a successful balance between marriage and a military career.

6-      Learn to manage expectations.  Start with your family.  You need to let them know that you are ALWAYS ON CALL and that you might have to miss things.  You also need to let them know that you will do your absolute best not to miss family events.  You also have to be able to do this with your commander- if something isn’t going to get done, let him know why not and what your plan is to accomplish the mission.  Commanders everywhere are results-oriented, and they HATE surprises.  If you can’t give them a heads up, you’re going to have a difficult life.

This should do for a start.  More to follow, especially about balancing your Family and career.  Stay tuned…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy First Day Back.

I've finished command! Yay! And also, Boo!

After a long and tumultuous process, I was able to change command. I am no longer the commander of HHB, 2-43 ADA Battalion. It's bittersweet. On the one hand, I am SO GLAD that I don't have to worry about approximately 180 Soldiers every single weekend.  I don't get phone calls in the middle of the night about them, and I don't have $32 million worth of property to worry about (that's another story...)

On the other hand, though, I don't have any of those Soldiers any more.  And let me be clear- I love being in command.  Not just for the prestige (which consisted mostly of having my own parking spot and being saluted all the time) and responsibility, although those were nice.  The reason I love command is because I love Soldiers, and the most satisfaction I get in my job is when I am helping Soldiers.  Training, dealing with problems, presenting awards, all that stuff.  It's phenomenal. And I am not there any more, not in front of a formation full of people united in common purpose and preparing to execute our mission.  It's kind of a letdown.

In other news, I'm back in command! Yay! And Boo!

Yep, I was selected for a second command.  I am now the commander of my battalion's Rear Detachment.  For those of you who are snickering right now, believe me, I've heard (and made) all the jokes.

Here's what this  means.  My battalion is deploying in the near future.  In any deploying unit, there are several (sometimes many) Soldiers who for one reason or another cannot deploy.  Either they are leaving the Army, or are medically unfit for duty, or are scheduled to move to another installation before or during the deployment.  All of those people need a place to go and someone to tell them what to do, and that is me.  This also means that I am not deploying, but will be responsible to represent the battalion to all post agencies, and I am also responsible to take care of the needs of all of the family members that are left behind.

On the one hand, it's a really really really difficult assignment.  I have to find something meaningful to do for all the Soldiers in my command, and once the battalion leaves, I have to ensure that all the families are being taken care of- financially, logistically, everything.  So if a deployed Soldier isn't paying his rent, his wife will call me and ask me to fix it.  Or if a Soldier goes on leave from the deployment and forgets his ID card and can't get on the plane, I will have to fix it.  It makes me tired just thinking about it.

On the other hand, I have Soldiers again!  And literally the only thing I have to do is help resolve their issues.  It's great.  Except for when it's not.  Which leads me to this:  On my first day back from my 19 days of leave (a glorious 19 days, which is incidentally the most time off I've had in over a year), there was a shooting at Fort Bliss.  And two of my new Soldiers were eyewitnesses.  And one of those two was the very first person to administer first aid, and he saved a life.  I'm really proud of him- but he's taking it really hard.  We're doing all the right things for him, getting him into counseling and whatnot, and he's doing better, but it's tearing him up.  You expect to see stuff like this in a combat area, and can prepare yourself for it.  You don't expect it when you're trying to buy a Gatorade at the Shoppette.

So my question to the universe is, WTF?  Is that it?  19 days is all the time off I get before I have to deal with something major?  Come on, cosmos.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It costs to be the boss

So... long hiatus. I make no apologies, and only one excuse:

Command is HARD.

Let me break it down for you all right here.

Up at 4:30
At work no later than 5:30
Daily update at 5:45
Physical Training 6:15-7:30
Hygeine and breakfast 7:30-8:30 (usually in the office)
Start work at 8:30
Working Lunch (in the office) 11:30-12:30
Catch up on email 12:30-1:00
Work 12:30-6:00

Total daily hours at work: 12.5 On a normal (or "short") day.

This doesn't count after-hours events, meetings, and the phone that NEVER STOPS. I love smart phone technology, but it's hard to be chained to the crackberry 24-7. And I have to have it on- if I turn it off, I get in trouble. Because here's the other thing...

Everything - and I do mean EVERYTHING - that happens or fails to happen is my fault.

Yeah, that deserves its own line. Here's what I mean. For the sake of argument, let's say I have 175 Soldiers under my command. These are all grown people, 18+, who are legal voters and oh, by the way, have volunteered to serve and possibly die for their country. So let's say that one of these "adults" goes out at 2:00 am and gets drunk, then gets in a car and drives somewhere, and gets arrested. This is my fault.

Let's make it more interesting. Say this guy goes out at 2:00 am and doesn't get drunk, but in fact volunteers to be the designated driver. Say one of his pals leaves an empty can of beer in the car, and the Soldier gets stopped at the gate, and the MPs find an empty in the designated driver's car. The Soldier gets a ticket. This too is my fault.

Say a Soldier gets too fat to be in the Army, and has to be discharged from service. This too is my fault.

To be fair, when the Soldiers do great things (and more often than not, they do) I get credit for that too. But no one remembers those. They only remember the guy who was snorting cocaine off of the body of a stripper while he was in the club, underage, and got arrested (this happened in one of my buddies' units).

But all these things are my fault. And I will get asked questions.
"CPT Galan, why did you allow your Soldier to drive drunk?"
"What did you do to ensure they wouldn't drive drunk?"
"Did you tell them not to drive drunk?"
"Why did you allow this Soldier to get fat?"
"CPT Galan, what's your plan to ensure that designated drivers are trained in the 'open container' statutes in the state of Texas?"

These are incidental things to the actual, legitimate operational requirements that I have. We conduct maintenance on all 132 pieces of rolling stock (wheeled vehicles) that I have, weekly. I have a minimum of four meetings per week that I must attend. Plus the myriad last-minute "hey you" missions that come down. I know, whine whine whine. But sometimes (and only sometimes) I feel like the weight of all this responsibility is crushing me. But because I love the Army, because I love Soldiers and being a Soldier, and because I feel deeply that all Soldiers are entitled to leadership that gives a crap, I carry on.

But then something like this happens:

I had a Soldier who worked for me while I was on staff, for about two years. He was a good Soldier and a smart kid; he really worked hard and learned quickly. When I took command, I stopped being his immediate boss and became his commander- which means, ironically, that I saw him less but was responsible for more of his life.

Well, this Soldier got into some personal drama when we came back from Kuwait. He started hanging out with the wrong guys, and finally got caught with THC in his system during a urinalysis (that's weed, for those of you who don't know). He forced my hand- I had to punish him. I took his rank, took his money, confined him to the base and gave him 45 days of additional duty (after the work day- basically, from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm). I also gave him the option: he could take his lumps and try to learn from this, continue on in the Army and recover (which is completely possible given the right attitude and motivation) or he could get out of the Army. He chose the latter, despite my repeated attempts to keep him in. I understand redemption, and I understand making stupid mistakes, and I thought he was worth the effort. But this Soldier chose to leave military service, and so I sped him on his way.

Fast forward to this past weekend. I received a phone call saying that this guy was in the hospital, having almost bled out from self-inflicted slashes to his wrists. He tried to kill himself because he couldn't find a job, couldn't afford his bills, and had no place else to go. I also found out that all this guy used to do in his spare time was watch military programs and reminisce about the Army. Oh, and his mother blamed the unit- my unit, me- for ruining this guy's life, and driving him to attempt suicide.

The good news is, this guy is still alive. The doctors were able to save him, and he's got family around. Here's the problem, though. I feel like his mom is right. I know objectively that he made his own decisions. He chose to do drugs, he chose to leave the Army, and he chose to cut his wrists. But this was one of my Soldiers, for more than two years. I trained him, I taught him, I served him. And I discharged him from the Army. This too is my fault.

This is what comes of all that crushing responsibility. The thought that I am somehow to blame for this guy's terrible life choices, because he was my Soldier for a while. And while no one is blaming me for this, I still think about it. I struggle under the weight of all of the poor decisions of my subordinates, because I have been trained to feel that I am responsible for them.

Ultimately, I think this is what makes our military great, and what defines leadership in the military services. The thought that as a Soldier, I have someone who is invested in each one of my decisions, on duty or off, is really encouraging. It doesn't matter if they care because someone told them it's their job to care, or if they care because that's the kind of person they are- the bottom line is, I'm supported. Someone has my back, just like I've got the back of every one of those 175 knuckleheads I'm nominally in charge of. I'll happily provide marriage counseling, financial counseling, get drunken phone calls in the wee hours, work early, late, weekends, and everything in between so these Soldiers know that I've got their back, because I love what I do.

But sometimes it's pretty freaking hard.