This past week, I was promoted in the United States Army. It is quite an odd moment; unlike past promotions, this one has really got me to thinking. Its potentially the last promotion I will ever have in the military and it has really got me to thinking about where I am in my life and what I have learned. These are several lessons I have learned over the course of my Career:
Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage. The Army Values are the only Command Philosophy you need.
Show me. Don’t tell me.
Teach your Staff personnel how to do their job on a white board, map and a legal pad first. Then add automation. You should be teaching concepts, not how to use computers.
It is better to have a culture than doctrine or processes.
Show me what a person reads (or doesn’t read), and I will tell you everything you need to know about that person.
Most of the best Staff Officers I have met were women.
Get a hobby if you don’t have one. Your soldiers and family will thank you.
Ask a Marine.
Mechanics, Cooks and Medics are the hardest working people in the Army.
Mechanics can be sub-average soldiers, get into considerable trouble in garrison and are unsuitable for polite company. But when you absolutely need something hard done, they won’t fail and I love them for it.
Combat Engineers. They are the Army branch I have been most impressed.
Keep your organizational days and mandatory fun, the best reward you can give your subordinates is time off.
Play sports with your subordinates. Outside of deploying and fighting, it is the best way of building camaraderie.
As a leader, you will always be busy but honestly, it all comes down to three to five actual decisions a day. If you are making more than that number, you are micromanaging.
The greatest generation that ever served is the one you are serving in right now.
Make a decision. Plenty of battles have been won by people who made a bad call but corrected. Don’t know of a battle that was won by someone doing nothing.
There is no decision that is yours to make, outside of combat, which you can’t sleep on before making.
Unless it is illegal, immoral, unethical or ridiculously unsafe, back your subordinate’s decision even if you disagree with it.
Every one of your people has a skill that isn’t on their ORB/ERB. Know who amongst your people is a carpenter, electrician, former police officer, writer, barber, etc. Those skills may potentially be of more utility than their MOS.
Fort Drum is the best kept secret in the Army.
There was no such thing as the ‘Old Army’…and no, things were not better ‘back in the day’.
‘Once an Eagle’ is a fable, ‘Catch-22’ is truth.
A soldier should never pass up food, sleep, or a porcelain pot.
If I were to write a book on FOB life in Iraq/Afghanistan, I would name it, ‘Walking on Gravel’.
Ten seconds before your S2 briefs, turn off the projector, take away his slides and his notes, and then tell him to brief you. It is the only way to find out if he/she is worth a damn.
If you’re a leader, I don’t care about your PT score, how fast you are or how much you can lift. I am utterly fascinated by those same attributes of the least soldier in your charge and what you are doing about it.
Terrain analysis, map reading and land navigation without electronics are skills we neglected most in the past ten years. Fix those problems and we are well on our way towards regaining our core competencies that we think we have lost.
When you get right down to it, soldiers are more apt to tell team medics their real problems than they will Chaplains and Sergeant Majors.
Small Staffs serve their Commanders. Large Staffs serve themselves.
Anybody can soldier in hot weather but cold weather breaks down the most hardened formation.
Take any military meeting, do a headcount and kick fifty percent of the people out of the room. Your meeting is now twice as efficient and effective.
You don’t demonstrate weakness by saying 'I don’t know' and going with the best idea brought up by one of your subordinates: You demonstrate strength and confidence by doing so.
Meetings are interruptions. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary, but never forget that they are interruptions.
The average human attention span is 39 minutes before attention drops to useless levels. That is the amount of time you have for your meeting.
If I am a Commander and I have already have the read ahead slides for the Training Meeting and Command and Staff meeting, why do I need to have the briefing? Can we skip to the Q&A?
Know what the night shift is doing. Check on them. The worst abuses at Abu Ghraib happened at night when the leaders were asleep.
Talk with your subordinate, not to them.
There is nothing wrong with power-point. It is just a tool. It is the people that misuse power-point that are the problem.
The question that should always be asked when you get the midnight call about one your soldiers and you have to go to the county jail, emergency room, or the morgue is who was with him, not what was covered in the Friday Safety Brief.
You have to plan to plan.
Don’t mistake ‘having everyone in same room ‘ for collaboration. Three people doing all the talking at the conference table while twenty people who were required to come but spent the time day dreaming in the cheap seats is not collaboration.
If you are an Executive Officer, Deputy or SEA, don't fall for the trap of thinking your Commander needs you to be their filter. They need you to be a moderator.
The person that came up with the notion that hands in pockets is un-military and unprofessional and actually got it written into regulation. From the bottom of my heart: Fuck you.
Watching and reading multiple news sources is vitally important, but when it comes to foreign policy matters, ignore FOX News. It is better to be uninformed than misinformed.
On the topic of foreign policy news, BBC and Al Jazeera America are the best and most accurate cable media sources.
The single most underrated qualities in leaders and analysts are curiosity and imagination. Every good idea ever implemented started as a gleam in someone’s eye. Every good analysis ever made was because someone didn’t know an answer, was bothered by that fact, and then did something about it.
Einstein said that if he had one hour to save the world, he would spend fifty-five minutes understanding the problem. Are you spending ninety percent of your planning effort into Mission Analysis?
There is no grace period in command. You are accountable on day one. Before you change anything though, understand why the situation is the way it is so you are ‘fixing’ the right thing.
Laugh with your soldiers, not at them.
Serving in Iraq or Afghanistan will break your heart and make you a cynic. Those people are passionate, insightful, humorous people who live a harder existence than you can imagine…but they seem to have a unique near superhuman ability: They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Why we are on that subject: In Iraq and Afghanistan, bad people seemed to go all the way while good people just went away.
I never hated the people we fought. I am a professional and can’t afford to go down that road. There is one exception: I despise with a white hot hatred those that trained, facilitated and ordered suicide operations. Those people are truly evil.
Never trust a man that won’t say what he told you to his own people in his own language: One reporter once said that politicians tell you the truth in private and lie in public. Overseas, politicians told lies in private and told the truth in public.
In partnerships with foreign forces, pay attention to the ‘little annoyances’. In Afghanistan, more misunderstanding and animosity occurred over bathroom etiquette and dogs than you can possibly imagine.
You are the Boss. Sometimes you have to remind people of that fact, but bringing it up constantly says more about your lack of leadership than it does your subordinates ability to obey orders.
The PT uniform is reflective. You don’t need the belt.
The media is not the enemy. They are going to report whether you choose to engage with them or not. If you let them in, you may win big…or you may get burned. One thing is for certain, you will for certain lose if you shut them out.
I can do it quick. I can do it right. You have to accept the fact that sometimes it is one or the other and no amount of screaming, crying, and curse words is going to change that fact.
You can take a Soldier’s pay and rank and still recover a relationship with them; Take away their dignity and you have lost him/her forever.
Everybody turns into who they really are on deployments and CTC rotations. You can fake it when you’re in garrison, but you can’t hide in the field.
I am absolutely certain that there was one unit which I was the worst officer in the formation; It was the best and most humbling experience in my entire life and I am the better for it.
If you spend long enough in the Army, you will become socially retarded, incapable of not speaking about the Army or feeling truly comfortable unless there is another military person there to talk with. If you have the option, live off post and have civilian friends in order to avoid this awful fate.
Take care of your family. You aren’t indispensable and the Army will carry on without you when you are gone. Your family will be what you have left.
If you are not continuing your education while in the Army, you are a fool.
You owe it to your family to let them know what you do rather than shield them from it. It is unfair for them to have to deal with your 'issues' and stressors without knowing why they are occuring.
If you aren’t a natural yeller, than don’t fake it. You’ll just look stupid.
The best leadership style you can adopt is one that builds on what is already there inside of you while mitigating the negative.
Believe whatever you want to believe, but never forget that you’re in an organization with guaranteed paychecks and annual raises, guaranteed healthcare for you and your family, subsidized housing and utilities, thirty paid vacation days a year and generous retirement. Consider that before being judgmental of other’s circumstances.
Serving in the Army is a privilege, not a right.
I rather go to war with enthusiastic Lieutenants than jaded Captains…and I have and they were magnificent.
Tattoos, long hair and rumpled uniforms say little about the worth of a particular soldier and you should remember that before forming an opinion.
Before you go too far with the above, first impressions matter. Some people will never give you a second chance.
First impressions are often wrong, second impressions are almost always right. I have learned to trust that notion.
This isn’t a popularity contest, but your soldiers do have to like you or at least find your presence tolerable. Those that ignore this point generally lead unpleasant and ineffective organizations.
You can be correct, without being right.
Don’t leave the Army without serving on a funeral detail.
Pick your kids up from school in uniform.
Stop trying to brief your Commander and start talking to him/her.
Some of the bravest people I am saw were the NGOs, Reporters and USAID workers that lived in the environment while we lived on FOBs, who went places we weren’t allowed to go.
It isn’t true partnership if you aren’t willing or able to evacuate or treat their casualties.
Tabs, badges, and combat patches tell me what you have done, not what you can do. But absent anything else, I would place my money on them until proven different.
Ratings for outstanding soldiers are easy to write; so are ratings for poor soldiers. Ratings for average soldiers are the hardest to write.
Bullet comments and ‘give me the bottom line’ thinking is dangerous. Some things are complex and demand a time investment of reading, studying and dialogue to understand. If you aren’t willing to do it because you 'don't have the time', than you shouldn’t be making the call.
Thousands of acts of battlefield courage can be undone by a single act of intellectual or moral cowardice.
I am not particularly patriotic anymore. Too many people that ‘waved the flag’ were nowhere to be found when things went pear-shaped.
As my patriotism has declined, my love of my country has grown. This is my home. It is worth killing for. It is worth dying for.