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.