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.
Defining that guy. You all know the guy I’m describing; there’s been one in every peer group since the inception of the United States Army. He’s always right and usually represents the most important subordinate unit. He is an expert at arguing, and can get exactly what he wants if he presses the right buttons. He’s good at everything, and can’t understand why his higher headquarters is so inept. He is confident, and has no problems burning someone down to get what he wants. As a Major, that guy in your peer group is more lethal than ever. the wrath he has the potential to unleash on a Captain or Lieutenant is amplified by the oak leaf on his chest. He can crush a junior staff officer without even trying. His years of experience provide confidence, knowledge, and a jaded approach to each problem set. That guy can derail any meeting and quickly pull a team apart by troubleshooting the plan.
During my time in an SBCT I served as a Brigade Plans Officer, Battalion S3, Battalion XO, and culminated as the Brigade S3. The Brigade S3 job was hard for a number of reasons, best described by my Brigade XO:
Being an XO is like riding a bike, except the bike’s on fire, you’re on fire, everything’s on fire, and you’re in hell.
Amongst other challenges, you are responsible for leading a peer group of S3s towards mission accomplishment. Each Battalion S3 had a Commander with their own vision, intent, and priorities. Our job as operations officers was to mesh commander’s intent with reality, resources, and higher headquarters. Over the course of three years in the Brigade I interacted with numerous peer groups, and picked up a couple of tricks from outstanding officers on how to truly help the team. Here are a few observations:
Have a positive and objective attitude. Of all the advice I give majors going into KD time, being positive is the most important and also the hardest to maintain. Being a Battalion XO is not glamorous, especially when you receive the 5th SIR for the weekend and it is only Friday afternoon. You’re starting to feel old, you work way too much, and the days of company command seem like a distant memory from youthful days past. Your tainted attitude can quickly derail a meeting with only a few sarcastic comments. Rather than being that guy and skeptically dissecting each topic, think through how you can help each initiative succeed. How do you contribute to success? How are you enabling the unit to reach commander’s intent? If all else fails, just keep your mouth shut. There are few places in the Army where you’ll see more brain power consolidated than when field grade officers come together to solve a problem. We are powerful when we collaborate, but only if individuals come to the table with a positive attitude and are willing to compromise. Which brings me to my next point…
Your organization is less important than our organization. A tough facet of being a being a Battalion S3 or XO is the balance between your commander’s intent and the Brigade commander’s intent. The Brigade S3 is in a knife fight. He’s frantically struggling to spread the appropriate range time around while balancing the Division tasking cycle and thirty-seven new equipment fieldings. Help him by nesting your Battalion’s concept in a manner that accomplishes mission, maximizes available resources, and meets the Brigade commander’s intent. Lastly, be ready to step up to the plate and help out a sister organization when they are in need.
Solve problems before anyone else knows they exist. This one is crucial — I picked the TTP up from the guy I followed as the Brigade S3. He had a gift for identifying a problem, coming up with a solution, and proposing it to the team before anyone else even realized there was a glitch in the system. Back to collaboration — there isn’t a problem in the world that an S3 can’t solve, all they need is time and a little mental energy to apply to the problem set. As the Brigade S3 I knew I had all kinds of problems, but not nearly enough time fix them all. I’d gladly implement a system or solution that one of the Battalion S3s put together.
Choose your battles wisely. There are certainly times as a Battalion S3 or XO that are not sunshine and rainbows. Your staff will fall apart, you’ll miss suspenses, and some CPT on the Brigade staff will incessantly send direct emails on his singular project. Before you blow someone up (higher, lower, or adjacent) take a minute to think through whether or not this is really something worth fighting over. Burning down a captain or lieutenant often gets the results you’re looking for, but you don’t want to become that guy who is constantly nuking other people for the slightest issue. There are times when you’ll need help, or need to unleash on someone who truly deserves it. Is this one of those instances? If not, don’t be that guy.
Being a team player is always important, but is absolutely essential to surviving your KD time as a Major. Play well with others, take care of The team, be willing to sacrifice to help another unit accomplish mission. At the end of the day, your job revolves around training Soldiers and increasing unit readiness; these mission are more easily accomplished when you row together as a team.
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