Coming out of Command

I’ve spent time today rebuilding my main computer, and with that, moving and backing up a lot of files.  I ran across a file, the contents of which are below, from an online interview I did with the folks at companycommand.com, back in 2003 or 2004, about capturing and sharing lessons learned about wartime command.  I’d almost forgotten I’d done the interview.

1. What was your toughest leadership challenge, and how did you address it?

Distance, believe it or not. The soldiers were trained, they were prepared, we were resourced in a decent enough manner, and we were ready for war.

When we deployed the first platoon, the company and BN remained in Germany. When the company deployed, the BN remained in Germany. When the BN deployed, they were at Camp VA while we were at an airbase elsewhere. From sensitive items accountability, to Red Cross messages, to counseling, the distance seemed to impact everything. And for me, personally, not seeing the BC and staff daily meant I was out of their MDMP process, out of their thoughts. And that sucked.

But addressing it was easier for us than it was for others – MI geeks often bring their own communications packages, as we did. We established so many channels of communication that there was no excuse for not being able to communicate with higher and lower, or others in theatre and others back home. Being away from everyone meant we – Top and I – made to put in that much more of an effort to reach out to everyone else.

I talked to the forward-deployed platoon and separate section on a secure VOIP system. I called the boss, when he was in the same country, on cell phone, and sent him a nightly (SIPR) update on whatever was on my mind. Top carpet-bombed the staff, thanks to AKO-N and AKO-S. 1SG and I tried to regularly join the Rear D in an AKO chat room. The FRG was usually through NIPR – those topics usually required a lot of detail, something not always done well on the phone but worth the extra effort to put words to the screen, given the emphasis we were placing on caring for our families. And we used digital sending units from Hewlett Packard, for scanning and emailing documents all over the place (great invention).

2. Will your experiences in OIF change the way you lead or train?

No and yes. For training, I don’t think the Army is ready to let us train for missions like OIF-post-01-May. Can you imagine the size of the hairball the safety folks and OC’s are going to have the first time someone tries to haul ass through NTC at 60 mph? Or come rolling through with a gun truck, pedestal mounted by the motor pool, gunner held in place with ratchet straps? But with that, I also don’t think the Army is ready to really gut the MTO&E to resource us with the major items / CL VII items we needed and used, or will push for a revamping of unit METL’s to reflect those tasks that were mission essential during OIF. I’ll add the lessons learned from OIF to my own lessons learned from SFOR and KFOR and everything else.

But yes, this experience will change how I lead and how I train soldiers. We thought waaaaay outside the box, on tactics, on techniques, on what we thought would be our standard operating procedures. I’ve always relied on NCO’s and warrants to come up with the solutions (MI is critically short on LT’s), and that conviction was only reinforced. My old BC, LTC Bill Jones, has totally convinced me that intel needs to be shoved down people’s throats, though I am not sure that the Army is ready for that.

For intel soldiers, there is no replicating being in theatre. I guess I realized a while ago that I was going to become a giant champion for the REDTRAIN program, to send soldiers and, maybe more importantly, NCO’s into theatre to train in Iraq – nothing compares to working and training in the real world conditions, with as much intel business as is being conducted.

And heaven help the OC that tries to keep me from thinking and working outside the box. In fact, heaven help the folks that run the sim centers – they need to get cracking now on overhauling the system. I’m going to have no tolerance for “can’t” during the next exercise….

3. What was most helpful in preparing you for the challenges of command in war?

Serving as an XO and then Detachment Commander in SFOR 1A, and as an S2 in KFOR 1A, absolutely set me up for success. In many ways, those deployments were my training for this one. Using the radio enough, but not too much, when soldiers were under fire, in a minefield, etc. Building the right plan, and letting it be executed without tinkering with it, micro-managing it, etc. And trusting that, though they might be out of comms or out of sight, NCO’s and soldiers do what is right, even when no one is looking.

We were also given an advantage on unit movement – we were already using TC AIMS; we moved by air and rail and convoy regularly; we were equipped and manned for split based operations and trained that way.

On the intel side, it was the Victory Strike exercises – the focus on deep strike operations, the love of imagery by everyone, the mesmerizing draw of a UAV feed, CAS integration, and a willingness to embrace innovation. And yes, it prepared us for the need for too much PowerPoint.

Lastly, from the total-command perspective, out high OPTEMPO already demanded that we have an active FRG. While I understand that it might be different CONUS, USAREUR units at least seem to have a requirement to rely on their FRG’s 24/7, 365 to a) help families solve problems, b) push and pull information, and c) help keep the family members entertained and constructively engaged during Grafenwoehr, Hohenfels, Poland, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc. In taking command and getting that first deployment order for OEF, there was no additional action required to ready the FRG – it was already in place, manned, staffed, and with a full schedule of events.

4. What advice do you have for commanders preparing to lead their units in Iraq/Kuwait?

Talk to you folks you’re replacing. We were to be replaced by our counterparts from III Corps, who were just then fielding the equipment set we had been using for a few years. I talked with their CDR, the warrants cross-leveled, NCO’s compared notes, etc. I don’t think it got to the point of the orderly room clerks talking – but it was suggested. Obviously, the earlier the better, so as to incorporate their ideas, their AAR’s, their solutions into the training plan early enough to make them a part of your own way of doing things.

Smack your S4 around, and don’t settle for not being resourced. From good backpacks, to water jugs, to sunglasses, don’t let money or effort keep you from having what you will need. Lack of money means your S4 isn’t looking hard enough, and if you’re S4 is getting more than 4 hours of sleep a night, he or she isn’t going full throttle.

And mine the professional vein. While the unit you’re replacing can be part of that, find the soldiers and NCO’s in your unit who are flush with related experiences, and get them involved. Yes, hit CALL, this web site, and other places to find the ideas, AAR’s, lessons learned, good ideas. If your taking an infantry company, know that they do a lot of MP tasks; the BC might not support a re-writing of your METL, but he should appreciate your willingness to ready those skills. Arty units are moving missiles and involved in ASP’s – there are all kinds of other skills involved there. Even if you’re not slotted to deploy soon, incorporating these ideas will expand your units capabilities in dynamic ways; will liven up your training; and will give you some professional growth and knowledge that will keep you with your peers and prepare you for those curveballs that always seem to be forthcoming.

Pick a superstar to be your Rear D commander. Train your Rear D commander and your FRG leader; it’s not knowing the answer, it’s knowing how to get the answer / how to solve the problem. Establish, clearly, the pecking order in the unit – and include the Rear D commander and FGR leader in that. Don’t let there be misunderstanding on who answers to who, who reports to who, what the standards and frequency are for reporting (and give your Rear D commander a set format for a daily / weekly SITREP).

Support your FRG. I hit on it earlier, but a kick-ass FRG is probably more of a money maker for a commander than the Rear D will be. Information dissemination, rumor control, problem solving, and distractions were at the heart of our successful FRG – and these are all things that can be done as it all gets crazy in those last months, weeks, and days.

Lastly, train as you will fight. Build the gun trucks early. Push the medical training into everything you do. Cross-level your NCO’s to prepare for the worst case scenarios.

5. What image/event/experience do you think you will best remember in 50 years? or, What story will you be telling?

It’s an image – an image of a village south of Al Iskandariyah, with Iraqi armor setting into hide spots as the afternoon was coming to a close. It’s a long story, not really for NIPR, but it involves my soldiers and I deciding to do something about it, and walking in some A-10’s on this armor unit that thought they would be good to go for the night. For me, it will always remain as one of the great examples of actionable intelligence – from space, through us, across a secure phone to a radio to the pilot, out the barrel of a 30mm cannon and into enemy armor. Far better tales than what we did for PFC Lynch, Dogwood 56, 3 ID at the Haj Sallum bridge, or Leonard seeing his first F16 gun tape and realizing the direct link between his intel assessment and the death of the Iraqi ADA crew.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.