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.


~j. said...

It's a BOY!

La Yen said...

Sweet--Asian Spam!

It is not our fault. I know. But it is not your fault. I love you.

Also, please stop doing hygiene in your office.

Nigel said...

It's a hard job, no doubt. But you seem to do it well.

Anonymous said...


~j. said...

Me play joke.