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

Field Grade Leader: The vast majority of the audience are either junior Majors or senior Captains preparing for key and developmental jobs. What advice can you offer these individuals on getting back into the motorpool after being gone for a while?

I think a lot of people would tell you that you have to get back to the basics and then they’d tell you what those basics are. One of the first things they’d say is “you’ve gotta do command maintenance.” I think there is a problem with command maintenance. Going to the motorpool and having all your Soldiers inspect vehicles just for the sake of inspection is potentially a great waste of time. I really don’t think it is the right way, even though we’ve done it as long as I’ve been in the Army. So on one hand people are telling you to go back to the basics and on the other hand I’m telling you some of the basics are less effective.

What we’re actually talking about is evaluating readiness. That’s what maintenance and the motorpool process are all about. The problem is that we often lose sight of that outcome. The maintenance process is filled with too many checks, balances, and associated tasks. Eventually we become focused on tasks instead of outcomes.

Before focusing on command maintenance, first look at the before, during and after checks to see if they’re occurring for your equipment. Before we go on mission, we check the vehicle. While we’re on mission, we check the vehicle. The place where we usually mess up is the after checks. If someone is returning the vehicle at two in the morning, the tendency is to throw the log book and the keys in the box and not do the after checks, which are potentially the most crucial. Simply enforcing the standards of before, during and after checks can impact your readiness.

Next, look at your services. In my experience, we are really good at doing command maintenance tasks, but most units are late with services. That’s pretty ironic to me because services are based on tangible indicators of potential and probable maintenance requirements. Services are based on the number of hours that something has been used or the amount of time since the last service. These are more effective indicators than just going out and inspecting the same thing every week.

I would also focus on the quality of services. For example, how often does equipment come out of services and break? I would look at these performance measures and challenge the quality of the service process. I’m convinced that the more effort you put into scheduled maintenance, the less unscheduled maintenance you’ll have.

Readiness isn’t a thing that happens in a moment. If I’m trying to get an indication of readiness, I need to look for dynamic means to measure it, such as an unannounced call out of certain equipment or roll out of a platoon. You don’t even have to move vehicles, just inspect them. That’s how you actually test if something works. Don’t stop with vehicles either: do it with generators, weapons, and communications equipment. Codify the program and make it part of your organization.

I would make those three areas the cornerstone of my maintenance program, not command maintenance. Command maintenance floods the system as opposed to cleaning it out so you can see where the problems are and be predictive. The best advice I can give is to pursue the outcome of readiness, not the task of inspection. If you stay true to that principle then you will be better off.

Field Grade Leader. As a field grade leader you are an influential advisor to your commander. What are your thoughts on speaking truth to power in this capacity?

There are probably four or five pieces to speaking truth to power which aren’t “rocket science” to describe; however, they are certainly easier to list than to do effectively.

The first point is that it takes repetition to speak truth to power effectively. A lot of folks think that it simply means saying no to your boss. You may very well be able to do this easily, once. Speaking truth to power effectively is about doing it consistently when necessary. It takes practice and repetitions to get it right. One way to practice is by listening. Instead of just focusing on your portion of a brief, get beyond your immediate tasks and absorb the information the commander is receiving. Then, absorb the commander’s responses, comments, guidance and decisions, with the goal of understanding the commander’s perspective on things. Again, easy to say, harder to do—more on this in a moment.

The next point is credibility. If I am the subordinate who always goes to a superior to say that his idea won’t work then I will likely not have credibility. If my work ethic is lacking, if I’m not loyal, or if I am missing some other core value, then my credibility will be lacking, and my ability to speak truth to power will be hampered.

The next piece is strategic thinking. As a battalion S3 or XO there are only a few years difference between you and your commander. It isn’t too hard for the battalion S3 to think like the battalion commander. What’s hard is for the battalion S3 to think like the brigade commander or even the division commander. How does that S3 get inside the division commander’s decision space? I see decision space as the room someone has to make a decision. This space could be bound by time, experience, authorities, or a range of other things. Getting in someone’s decision space is about understanding these dynamics. The division commander probably considers a lot of things that do not come naturally to the average Major.

There is no easy, overnight way to develop this piece. There are ways, but they require commitment, discipline, and insight. I suppose that applied mentorship and experience through certain assignments would also be beneficial. Ironically, I would propose that the strategic thinking requirement is arguably the most important piece of speaking truth to power effectively.

Finally, you have to be mindful that leaders say they want subordinates who speak truth to power, but in practice our culture does not necessarily reinforce the behavior. You have to be honest while developing the competency and know that it will often be met with resistance. In short, I think speaking truth to power effectively is much more difficult than we make it out to be.

Field Grade Leader. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the Warrior Logistician Blog?

Certainly, I’ve been blogging since around 2008. I got focused in 2009 when I was halfway through Battalion Command. I decided that I really wanted to reach more Lieutenants early in their career and influence them with my ideas about being a logistician. I moved my material to Facebook and have been doing it ever since. I’ve kind of come and gone on the theme. I started out focusing on tactical things. Since then I’ve expanded to more strategic content and where the Profession and Army may be headed. I still haven’t broken the code on how to reach more people. It isn’t about me, but rather about the connection to the audience. I want them to see me and say “hey, that’s a real person with challenges who is figuring stuff out, just like me.” That’s Warrior Logistician.

Field Grade Leader. Do you have any advice for someone interested in starting a blog?

Take the motto from Nike: “just do it.” It is probably one of the easiest things to do in the context of cost and time. I wish more people were involved, but I like how it isn’t centrally controlled, how it is a grassroots effort. If you have an idea put it out there and don’t worry about it being fully developed. We are all living in this space, why can’t we live in it professionally, behave responsibly, and grow ourselves at the same time?

If you’re thinking about writing, just do it. If you aren’t interested in writing, be an active participant in another forum. The challenge of blogging is that sometimes you post something and wonder if it is a tree falling in the forest. Is it the worst thing in the world, or are people reading it and using it? It’s hard to know the value of your posts without feedback. Furthermore, it’s not so much about “likes” so we feel good about ourselves, but rather generating comments that round out the discussion. There is great value in a professional discussion with a variety of views and perspectives. If there’s disagreement in the discussion it is actually very healthy as long as it is done in a professional manner.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *