So You're Taking Command
by Captain Phillipe J. Creetol
All professional officers look forward to taking command. They see it not as a "ticket punch" to promotion or branch qualification, but as a venerable duty. In effect, you are going to be responsible for between two and two hundred (or more) lives. There is no set way to initiate your command. No two commanders think, act, or feel alike. They will each handle things differently based on their judgment and past experiences. What works for me may not work for you, but it will give you another perspective as you begin your command.
Before you take command, do a quick self-examination. How is your family life? Are you having marital troubles? Is your spouse or a child seriously ill? Are there any other "personal problems" to consider? If there are, you might want to rethink taking command. As a commander, you need to have your life in order because you will devoting nearly every waking moment to the soldiers in your command. This does not mean that you give up your family during command, but you must be focused on your soldiers first.
You also need to think over your command philosophy. What are your views on
Set your views down on paper at least thirty days before you take command. Compare them with your battalion and brigade commanders' command philosophies for consistency. Also show it to other officers whom you respect for their views.
- Soldier care issues?
- Supply discipline?
- The role of your subordinates within the company?
- Management philosophy?
Your First Thirty Days
As the incoming commander, you will be in the company for approximately two to three weeks before you take command. For the most part, you will be involved with inventories and reviewing the company's mission essential task list (METL) and previous quarterly training briefs (QTBs). Remember during this time that you are not in command. Set the standard: look and act like the future commander. If the commander is doing things or has polices with which you do not agree, you should not say anything. Soldiers will also ask you about your opinion on various policies and so forth. Do not fall into the trap of telling them that you will change a specific policy the day you take command. Do not be the one who subverts the commander during his last weeks of command.
The change-of-command inventory is your first real chance to appraise the company's standards. Is the inventory included on the training schedule? Is there a published operations order that covers who will do what and when? This is your first glimpse of your company and how it runs. If the appearance of the change-of-command inventory is "fly-by-night," then the odds are that the company as a whole operates in this manner.
As you go through the inventory process, examine everything. Inspect all equipment for both accountability and serviceability. Ensure that you physically see all items for which you are to sign; if you do not see it, do not sign for it. Do not accept the old it is in maintenance or we do not have a technical manual for it. Demand to see everything. No matter how familiar you may be with a piece of equipment, make the soldiers produce the documents that identify the components. If they do not have them, then it is a sign that they have not been doing proper inventories. If it needs to be coded out or direct-exchanged, then have the supply sergeant do it right then and there. Your goal is to view 100 percent of the property and that you sign for and possess only the equipment that is serviceable.
At the end of each day, meet with the supply sergeant, executive officer (XO) (if you have one!), departing commander, and 1SG to discuss the day's inventory and view the updated handreceipts. Stand tough on supply. It is the first standard that you will set and it allows you to set yourself up for success by starting out with all of your property inspected and properly sub-handreceipted. One last thing: the current commander needs to be present during this meeting. Do not let him off the hook. If the inventory is on the training schedule and is covered by an operations order, then there is no reason he cannot be there.
During the thirty days, also look at your company's METL and the past two QTBs. Become familiar with the unit's mission and the company's performance. Though no two units do QTBs the same way, all of them discuss the METL and various unit statistics such as the weapons qualification, linguist proficiency, and so forth. This will give you a paper view of the company that you will then fuse with what you have seen during the change-of-command inventory.
The final angle you will want is the view from higher levels.
Talk with the battalion command sergeant major, XO, S3, S1, S2, S4, and chaplain. (I assume that you already talked with the battalion commander about your future company.) Ask what they perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses of your company. You will have a pretty good feel for how your company stands in terms of training, supply, maintenance, and soldier living-conditions. Finally, attend all unit meetings (company and battalion training, and battalion command and staff) with the current commander. Let him do the talking and use the time to get a feel for how the unit operates both at the battalion and company levels.
Determine Your Goals
You should now have a very good feel for your unit. The next major step is to determine where you want to go. Your commander will have some ideas (philosophically as well as via the QTB) on what you should accomplish. There are two approaches: no changes for the first thirty days (sit back and watch approach) and changes within the first hour. This is totally up to you. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. My view is that this is your unit, and your company directly reflects you. You are responsible for everything, good, bad, right, or wrong from the moment that you take command. If you are uncomfortable with a policy or procedure, then change it.
You Are In Command
Take your 1SG to lunch the first day and discuss what you have seen and what you think of the company. See if the 1SG has the same "read" of the unit. Let your 1SG know what you want to do and why. Regardless of personalities, you two must work as a team toward a common goal. Its critical that the two of you are on the same sheet of paper and represent a united front.
Afterward, take your key leaders (platoon leaders, platoon sergeants, etc.) to lunch and have the same type of conversation. See what they think. There is always resistance to change so be prepared to hear why they cannot change. If they have good reasons great. If not, let them know what the plan is and have them implement it.
The final piece to this is talking to the company as a whole. Assemble the unit in a post theater or battalion classroom, the mess hall, or wherever you can get everyone together. Let them all know your command philosophy and what you expect from them.
Finally, do not view your fellow commanders as "the competition." In today's Army, it is easy to feel that you must outdo everyone else to get ahead. While you want to do the best job that you possibly can, do not forget to work with your fellow commanders. Each commander will have skills or experiences that can help you. You will also have certain techniques or policies that will help them. Work together and share the information. Try to meet each one every week or two and discuss what is new and any problems that you may be having. They may be able to give you a different twist on how to handle a certain situation.
Command is the best experience that the Army has to offer. The workload can be tremendous, but then, so can the satisfaction. Remember, the bottom line of command is taking care of soldiers. Set them up for success by ensuring that they can fight, win and survive on the battlefield. Do your part, do it well, do it with the interests of your soldiers first and foremost, and you will be successful.
Captain Crettol is currently the Commander of Alpha Company, 326th MI Battalion, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He has served in various armor and cavalry units before being detailed to MI. Captain Crettol has a bachelors degree in European History from Boston University. Readers can contact him at (520) 533-6583, DSN 821-6583 and via E-mail at Crettolp@ huachuca-emh1.army.mil.