While attending the Command and General Staff College (CGSC), instructors and mentors constantly drove two points home. First, transitioning to the rank of Major and the expectations of a Field Grade Officer is a difficult and steep learning curve. Second, what made an officer successful at the company grade level does not necessarily translate to success as a Major. I have been a combined arms battalion S3 for ten months now and during this period I’ve planned, resourced, and executed field training exercises, live fire events, gunneries, an NTC rotation, and spent enough hours on my Blackberry that I never want to see one again. However, I can definitively say two things about my instructors’ advice: They weren’t kidding about either point … and they vastly downplayed both.
I wrote this article while sitting in a hotel room in Madrid contemplating how I got here. I was visiting the Spanish and Portuguese militaries as part of my experience in the Army’s Schools of Other Nations (SON) Program. I have spent the last nine months studying at the Colombian Superior School of War, and I sometimes pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.
In 2007, if you told 2LT Player, a “CHEMO” for 3-7 Field Artillery, what the next decade would look like, he would have told you to stop teasing him because he had to finish the USR. I am confident about what he would have said, because I am him, just ten years later. However, in the next ten years, I served in multiple leadership positions at the platoon and company level. I also served in a joint special operations unit, taught ROTC, and was selected to attend a foreign service’s ILE.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James, 21 September 2018
It is a senior leader’s duty to mentor junior officers and prepare them to take the reins of the future force. The biggest challenge we face is where and how this mentorship will take place. Our most junior officers have been raised in an environment where social media and electronic messaging are the predominant methods of communication. While it will be imperative for senior leaders to gain confidence and competence in the digital realm, the possibility of mentorship ever becoming a solely electronic endeavor is something that should be discussed.
Colonel Raymond Kimball, author of, “The Army Officer’s Guide To Mentoring,” claims the transition to e-mentoring is logical due to the convenience of social media, the amount of time younger officers spend on these mediums, and the diminishing use of the O-club and squadron bars as centers of mentorship. To continue October’s theme of Digital Leadership, I reflected upon my e-mentorship experiences in the form of MyVector and Facebook and the effectiveness of each.
Australian Army soldier Private Ben Hale from 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, provides security at the airfield in the Townsville field training area during Exercise Brolga Run on 19 October 2016.
The debate still rages as to whether social media (SoMe) is a tool for good or evil within military circles. What’s not up for discussion anymore is whether it’s going to last. A recent study on Australians’ usage of SoMe indicates 80% of the population use it; 60% use it every day; 30% it’s the last thing they do at night before going to sleep; 13% use it while on the toilet. I’m totally comfortable with at least three of these stats, and I think we all recognise the numbers are way below the true figure for accessing the internet on the loo. For what it’s worth I’m firmly entrenched in the “good” camp, but recognize that just as there are huge opportunities for us, those opportunities also exist for our adversaries. Below I’d like to highlight what I think is one of the most important opportunities SoMe brings to the profession of arms; getting our people to replace funny cat videos with professional development as their main use of SoMe and how through a focus on this opportunity we also assist in building the counter-narrative to those who wish to use it for nefarious ends.
“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.” –Henry David Thoreau
Army digital Mission Command Systems (MCS) are supposed to increase efficiency by developing a common operational picture (COP) and improving situational awareness. However, they often produce the opposite: a false depiction that inhibits subordinate initiative as we fixate on systems at the expense of time, effort, and larger than necessary command posts. Unless we approach their use in a disciplined manner, judiciously applying when and how to utilize digital systems, even the best systems will create additional work, waste time, and inhibit Mission Command.
Imagine you find yourself in an austere wartime environment, newly appointed to lead a Joint Task Force (JTF). The bad guys look like civilians. You have never fought a war quite like this one, a decentralized one with no clear endstate. These are the conditions Army General Stan McChrystal faced when he took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Middle East. The enemy was a formidable, decentralized force able to reassemble themselves and make decisions when their leaders were not able to make real-time decisions for them.
Many of us in the field grade ranks may consider ourselves “digital natives,” the catch-all term for people who grew up with digital technology as an integral part of our daily lives. Some of us were undergrads when a new website called “The Facebook” went live in 2004. Shortly before (or after) we were commissioned, Apple launched a never-before-seen product called the iPhone. While we may not be true digital natives in the sense that we used those products every day as children, there’s no doubt that our youngest lieutenants and troops fall in that category. Digital natives or not, there is one fact none of us can deny: social media systems are transforming our culture in a rapid and unpredictable nature, and those changes are going to impact our forces just like every other cultural shift in our society’s history. When it comes to accepting those changes and integrating them into our daily operations, we have no choice but to engage.
June 28, 2012 – Photo by Staff Sgt. Brendan Mackie
Social media has grown so much that it inevitably bled over into the profession of arms. The majority of Soldiers have a social media account. There is no better opportunity to reach these young Soldiers on a more consistent level than using these platforms.
Social media provides everyone a platform and what we do with that platform is important. I have decided to use my platform to assist in the mentorship of the younger generation of Soldiers within the National Guard. As a Major in the Florida Army National Guard, I understand that I must transition from the role of mentee to mentor. I have always been fond of the benefits of social media and I believe it is a great way to facilitate digital leadership.
US Army photo by Spc. Christopher Brecht. March 10, 2017
Information moves faster than ever before in today’s age. The 24-hour news cycle and social media allow for instant publication from anyone with a computer. As leaders in this digital age, it is our responsibility to understand capabilities and limitations of information flow, understand that facts are becoming more distorted than ever, and acknowledge that newer generations are more inherently involved in technology than we are. I also believe that leaders must, at least topically, understand some of the new ideas and technologies that are being developed. A leader’s ability to evolve with the ever-changing landscape of the digital world is essential to our success.
In the spring of 2012, I heard some advice during a professional development session that caused me to reevaluate my daily routine. That morning, the Deputy Commanding General of Operations (DCG-O) conducted PT with the officers of our battalion. After PT, we assembled in the battalion classroom for a professional development session. We were all eager to hear from an officer who had an exceptional reputation as a leader and warfighter.
During the session, the DCG-O described his time in multiple leadership positions from platoon leader to his current position. He talked about the responsibility entrusted to us as commissioned officers along with some of the best practices he learned over decades of service.
As I sat down to begin writing on the topic of self-discipline in our profession, something seemed off about the topic. I felt the framing of the question was not correct and my thoughts could not align with the terms. I realized that we might best master the art of self-discipline when we start viewing our profession as a true vocation.
U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Gabriel Silva, May 5th, 2017
U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jesse D. Leger. May 23, 2017
The commonly accepted definition of self-discipline is the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses. It is the ability to pursue goals despite temptations to abandon them. Self-discipline means following a proverbial compass. This compass includes moral, ethical, and legal azimuth checks and one must also follow this compass to an endstate. It is the foundation that drives an individual to succeed in the completion of tasks, the accomplishment of goals, and it is also the driving force behind happiness.
When considering self-discipline within the profession, there are a few different aspects to consider. Self-discipline can be a blanket term for all of the individual responsibilities that one must ensure they maintain or complete. Some examples of individual responsibilities that require self-discipline within the profession are physical fitness, medical readiness, and professional military education.
U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Clayton Cupit
Balance is a commonly misunderstood topic in the Army. When leaders mention the need to have balance, many react with an eye roll (here we go again), or a smirk (does it really exist?). Many leaders are viewed as having workaholic-like characteristics. A cursory Google search confirms this: Army leaders possess workaholic characteristics. We come in early to free up time during the day; we spend more time at work than intended; we work hard because our buddies are working hard.[i] But we are who we are: Soldiers and leaders who have endured 17 years of persistent conflict, force structure realignments, force reductions, and lowered promotion rates. We are in a profession that comes in early, works hard, and depending on requirements, stays late. Balance is difficult to understand.
My recent promotion triggered me to reflect on my years as an “Iron Major,” the years often considered the most challenging in an officer’s career. It subsequently led me to reflect on the ebbs and flows of balance during my career and ask myself where I was out of balance, why I was out of balance, and how did I manage to balance it all? When I looked at the problem through this lens, I concluded balance really does exist, and it is a combination of personal choices and professional requirements.
Balance – it’s a concept many military professionals embrace philosophically but fail to employ in their day-to-day lives. We are committed to our profession, and with that commitment comes significant responsibility. We carry the organization’s weight on our shoulders all day, every day, knowing our performance impacts Soldiers’ lives and their ability to accomplish mission. Further, we know that most jobs are “make or break” for our military careers. If you want to be a battalion commander, you have to excel in key and developmental positions. We know our personal lives are important, but that often importance gets lost in the grind of our daily duties: emails, meetings, last-minute tasks, serious incident reports; the list goes on and on. This article isn’t intended to solve balance, providing a simple equation to calculate how much time you need to spend at the office today. Unfortunately, it just isn’t that simple. The purpose of this essay is to provide a better definition of balance for the military professional.
U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine
“Discover what it is that makes you passionate then grab a firm hold. Cherish it proudly and guard it with great DetermiNation.” -Linda Henson
It is Friday afternoon in the office and you can barely hear yourself think. People are talking, phones are ringing, keyboards are clicking, and meetings are being called. You find yourself wondering, where was this energy on Monday? On Tuesday? Why does the noise-level steadily increase throughout the week until it becomes a deafening roar on Friday afternoon? Just as you prepare to leave for an anniversary dinner with your spouse, the brigade executive officer calls a meeting with all the staff primaries to discuss the operations order he just received from division. Regretfully, you call your spouse with the news that you’ll have to reschedule the dinner – again.
Senior leaders throughout my career have always told me to live a balanced life. “The Army will get you when it wants you,” they would say. “Take advantage of family time now.”
I once asked a panel of senior leaders – a former member of the National Security Council, a former Service secretary, and a retired commanding general of a combatant command – how they found balance. Without hesitation, they smirked and replied, “At this level, it’s just about impossible.”
In a high operational tempo, high demand, high responsibility career in the military, how do career professionals best find balance?
As officers (both commissioned and non-commissioned) our personal and professional lives are bound together, trying to split them apart is an exercise in futility. The real question isn’t how to achieve a nirvana-like balance between personal and professional time – it’s determining WHY we feel the need to work the hours that we do. Once we answer that question for ourselves, we own it as grown men and women. I offer a few points to my fellow officers: the Army is a profession, but not an excuse to neglect yourself or your family; bottom line, it’s about how much you get done, not the hours spent at work; ensure you aren’t wasting your own time or that of your unit; do the routine things, routinely; make time to think about the next set of objectives; trust and invest in systems; and lastly, know your red lines.
You are probably expecting me to offer advice on how to achieve a state of bliss between service to the Army and time with your family. Sadly, I believe that achieving perfect balance between work and family is impossible. Balance, by its very definition, implies an equal distribution of weight. However, in my opinion, any implication that a service member can achieve a perfect balance is a lie. Instead, as Army Leaders we find ourselves in a state of constant internal conflict, an emotional struggle between the duality of our obligations to duty and to our loved ones. On one hand, we have the obligations to our oaths, our Soldiers, our unit, and a desire to accomplish the mission. In direct opposition, but no less important, are the commitments we have made to our loved ones and family. In more simplistic terms, you love two families; one of brothers and sisters in arms and equally important, your family. You will struggle to give both families the time, energy, focus, and love they both deserve and require. Nevertheless, it will never be an equal distribution, the gravity of this profession and the sincerity of love prevent this. If we try, seeking perfect balance becomes an unwinnable zero-sum game where a relationship will collapse.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum
Successful leaders understand the value of command guidance and task prioritization. Through 17 years of war, sequestration, and military force reductions, our armed forces are consistently asked to “do more with less.” It is the job of commanders and supervisors at all levels to separate the mission essential from the extraneous in order to give both themselves and their subordinates ample time to rest and recover.
Major James Bithorn recently wrote an excellent post with the goal of preparing new graduates from the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) for their next few years following graduation (check it out here). My goal is to complement his well-written article with a description of the expectations that newly minted SAMS planners will encounter, particularly at that first assignment – the post-SAMS utilization as planners at two or three-star headquarters.
I’m typing this post from row 34, seat F, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, at about 31,000 feet. I’ve been on and off of the military travel circuit for about eight years now, averaging between four and twenty-four weeks TDY annually. I’ve had some great experiences over the years, from the jungles of Malaysia to the trains in Tokyo, but these experiences have come at a cost. Each hour on the ground in Malaysia requires days of travel, impacting the military professional, their organization, and their family. This post serves as a guide for those professionals on the TDY circuit and focuses on methods to reduce the stress associated with travel, maintain a healthy lifestyle while away, and maintain proper contact, both personally and professionally. Though I provide a bunch of links to useful products, I am in no way affiliated with or receiving compensation for endorsing them.
You have spent the last nine months working hard – reading 300-400 pages per night, writing, and revising your monograph repeatedly, studying for oral comprehensive exams – and now you are finally ready. Having walked the stage at Marshall Auditorium and the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) in your rearview mirror, you can now focus on the next three years of your life as a Field Grade (FG) Officer. Given that the Army has made an investment in your ability to solve complex, ill-structured problems, how do you take this knowledge and apply it as a Corps or Division planner and later as an S3 or XO? The following is a compilation of lessons learned – some easy and others a bit tougher – that I have gathered during my tenure in a Division. This essay traces the path of a maneuver Field Grade, from utilization as a planner to Battalion and finally Brigade FG time. Though the paper follows my perspective as an infantryman in a BCT, my aim is to provide a resource useful for any SAMS graduate, regardless of branch.
Congratulations to the graduates of the 2017-18 GCSC class. In a few weeks, you will depart Fort Leavenworth and starburst outward to new assignments across the world. But before you move to the next part of your career, I would like to offer you one piece of advice. Almost two decades ago, I was in your shoes and I dealt with many of the same struggles that you are about to face. Since that time, I have witnessed the annual arrival of new Majors to our Army units. Through these experiences, I have come to believe that there is one leadership quality that separates a Major who makes a positive difference and those that fall victim to what I call the Angry Iron Major Syndrome. The pattern begins early, with your experience in prior units or during your year at Fort Leavenworth. The symptoms start with seemingly innocent conversations, such as when peers gather and every conversation devolves into raging against the ‘Army’ machine. Some of this venting and discussion is cathartic, but much of it becomes poisonous. Be mindful that, when you introduce and perpetuate this perspective, negativity can lead to cynicism and emotional frustration. If not controlled, this pessimism can become your defining characteristic. I believe that the attitude that you bring to your next series of assignments will determine your effectiveness and your legacy.
“What the graduates of Leavenworth provided… was a shared language and attitude towardproblem solving.” – Peter J. Schifferle, America’s School for War
In his 2010 study of officer education and Fort Leavenworth’s impact on the Second World War, historian Peter Schifferle opens with a discussion of the early influence of Leavenworth graduates on the Allied Expeditionary Forces under General Pershing during World War I. Pershing leaned so heavily on those officers that “a standing order required that every Leavenworth graduate disembarking in France would be detached from his unit and sent directly to Chaumont.”Charles Herron, chief of staff of the U.S. 78thDivision and himself a Fort Leavenworth graduate, underscored the value of those men to the American leadership during the war, stating “[A Leavenworth man] understood what you said and you understood what he said.”
Congratulations graduates, you’ve now entered middle management!
In all seriousness, well done to you all. The Army will be glad to see you back in the ranks making a difference – after some energizing leave, I hope.
It’s my honor to join “The Field Grade Leader” in offering you a few points to reflect on as you transition to your next Army adventure. For whatever my insights may be worth, I’d like you to consider the following. First, entering middle management, or what the CGSC calls organizational-level leadership, is not a quantum leap from what you knew as a company grade leader, at least not the quantum leap that it was built up to be when I attended CGSC ten years ago. Second, for most of you, your near-term calling is to succeed as a Battalion S3 or XO, not a member of a General Staff. My comments that follow are entirely focused on this reality.
The transition from company grade officer to field grade officer can be a difficult one. After all, at the point that transition is made, an officer has spent up to 15 years training to serve and then serving at the Company level. Company grade leadership is very personal, and company command can be a very individual time. Sure, the Company Commander has a supporting team, but at the end of the day, the company reflects the Commander. Many officers, myself briefly included, leave command and think that they did all (or most) of it. Some may have (but again, unlikely). Even if they could have led their companies all by themselves, the end of that possibility is at the company level. No one can lead a battalion or brigade-sized formation by themselves.
Congratulations on finishing ILE and beginning your transition back to the Army. There are many outstanding articles providing in-depth recommendations for your field grade time here on The Field Grade Leader, From the Green Notebook, the Modern War Institute, etc. What follows are a few recommendations that I gave to peers going into KD positions in the 1st Armored Division.
“Similar to this larger outward understanding of unit relationships was an inward understanding of myself.”
To say having the opportunity to be a Regimental Operations Officer (Ops O) was a formative period in my career would be an understatement. It was my first experience moving from the troop and squadron level to a position which exposed me to the regimental headquarters and its interactions with the base, other units, and higher headquarters. When the Field Grade Leader asked me to capture a few thoughts as to what I would pass on as keys to success at this level, I quickly thought of the one theme that carried me through. During my time as Ops O, the most important aspect was relationships, both with respect to the unit in a broader context, and my relationship with myself. Understanding the relationships the regiment had with other units and organizations as well as respecting and knowing the limits of the relationship with myself were lessons I have carried with me in my career. I have also had the opportunity to pass these thoughts onto my previous subordinates who have subsequently completed the Ops O role. Moving into the regimental headquarters as an Ops O caused a required shift in focus as my areas of responsibility and interest grew significantly.
Like many going through Professional Military Education courses at Fort Leavenworth, I often wondered if there was value in what I was being taught. I often would wonder whether the course material would ever achieve practical application. Twelve months later I wonder no more. Below is a compilation of my thoughts on the CGSC curriculum that was useful throughout my deployment to Afghanistan as a J35 FUOPS Chief followed by a series of command post exercises in preparation for a division warfighter exercise.
I use checklists for everything from work-related tasks to items around the house. They help me organize my thoughts and let me view all of my tasks on one sheet of paper, but that is not why I like them. I enjoy the instant gratification of checking the items off. I enjoy this so much that if I accomplish a task not on my checklist, I will go back, add it, and then mark it completed.
This series is focused on those leaders departing the schoolhouse and heading back to the force. For the next week, we will provide new/awesome content from those leaders who preceded you.
Today’s post takes us back to the beginning of The Field Grade Leader. Help us get the word on the street by sharing this content on social media!
Your Field Grade In Brief
Each time a Major joined our Brigade, the XO and I would sit down with them to discuss success during KD time. Our Brigade Commander always said that leaders invest time in priorities, so the XO and I would invest scarce time in setting new team members up for success. We’d talk through annual training guidance, policies, the battle rhythm, and other information we saw as essential to a good start. Of all the topics, I’d argue the most important was being a team player and good peer. The discussion would usually go something like this:
At some point in the near future we’ll be sitting in an S3 sync, and one of the guys will be on a rant about a task or the next iteration of collective training. He’ll tear holes in the Brigade staff’s work while dropping sarcasm bombs on anyone who attempts to provide a diverging opinion. You’ll look at me, I’ll look at you, and we’ll both remember this discussion. If we haven’t shared a moment like this in the next month or two, then you’re probably that guy.
Over the past few days, we’ve had a great social media discussion of email and maximizing the tools available in Microsoft Outlook. Developing personal systems enables you to control your inbox instead of letting it control you. This post captures the best tips and resources from this discussion.
First, we are proud to feature a guest post from The Army Leader titled The Outlook Inbox; Be the Master, Not the Slave. This post includes awesome insight based on the author’s professional experience. Check it out:
Over the past few days, I’ve made some adjustments to my system based on feedback from this forum. I am a huge fan of testing, refining, and iteratively adjusting personal systems (goals, email, task management, etc). I am still making tweaks to my Outlook inbox, but here are some of the best hacks I’ve discovered:
Meetings are often the bane of a staff officer’s existence. I’m pretty sure you could name a few meetings you’ve attended in the last month that were of no value to you or your unit. As organizational leaders, we seek the opposite, to host meetings that effectively employ the time and talents of the teams we work on. Leaders who run good meetings set a clear agenda, establish the conditions to meet it, encourage discourse, and clearly capture the outputs and way ahead. This article provides practical thoughts to set conditions for better meetings.
Photo Credit: Eric R. Lucero, U.S. Army South Public Affairs, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, May 3, 2012
Terrain Model construction is an often undervalued step to enhance shared understanding of the mission. For a combined arms rehearsal (CAR), a good terrain model is necessary to enhance collaboration and dialogue requisite for good planning and unity of effort. But both the literature and training on this skill are thin. The March 1998 CALL Newsletter “Rehearsals” has good information, but could be updated to meet the requirements of the modern battlespace. Captains Career Courses and the Command and Staff College have not dedicated curriculum to this subject. At the Brigade, Division and Corps levels, site construction is often last in planning priorities. This results in the purchase of large-scale maps or simply arraying plotter pictures of objectives. These techniques are expedient but do not accurately convey the challenges of terrain. As a result, rehearsals can suffer, sometimes causing confusion or even embarrassment. To better convey the commander’s intent, units must build an intricately detailed terrain model to provide clear visualization.
Field Grade Leader: Welcome to the forum. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career.
My name is Colonel Matt Shatzkin. I’ve been working at the War College for two years and have been in the Army for 28. I’ve been a logistician for most of that: I was a branch detailed officer, started out as Infantry, and have been a multi-functional logistician ever since. I was in the 3rd Infantry Division as a Lieutenant, did a tour in recruiting command, at the Joint Readiness Training Center, and at Transportation Command. I was in the 82nd two times: as a Major and as a Battalion Commander. I got a Ph.D. after Battalion Command and spent some time at Army Logistics University before my current assignment. I’ve been married for going on 18 years and we have two boys.