The SAMS Graduate Field Grade Experience

Know the Expectations

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven

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.

Professional Travel, Like a Pro

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.

The SAMS Graduate Field Grade Experience

A Guest Post by Major James C. Bithorn


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 CGSC Class of 2018

A Guest Post by Brigadier General Ross Coffman

Stay Positive

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.

One More Unto the Breach

A guest post by Steve Leonard

“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.”[1]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.”[2]

Middle Management in the Trenches

A guest post by Teddy Kleisner


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.

Field Grade Officers Play Team Ball

A guest post by Scott Shaw

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.

Thoughts on KD from the Other

A guest post by Major Adam Brady

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.

Understanding of Relationships as an Operations Officer

A Guest Post by Billy Dixon

“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.

A Reflection of Things Learned at Leavenworth: A Letter to Those about to Graduate

A guest article by Kyle T. Trottier


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.

The Professional Checklist

A Guest Post by Aaron Childers

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.

Welcome to Graduation Week!

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.

Click here to keep reading!

Hack Your Inbox

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:

The Outlook Inbox: Be the Master, Not the Slave

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 Meetings Meetings

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 – A Guest Post by David Chichetti

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.[1]  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 Profile – COL Matt Shatzkin

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.

U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Pena