By Sergeant Major Randolph Hollingsworth
My guest writer for this issue of MIPB is Sergeant Major Lealand L. LaFluer, SGM of the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) and 7th Army Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (DCSINT). He reminds us that caring for our soldiers involves more than ensuring that they are fed, paid, and receive their mail. Caring for them includes training, operations, maintaining, discipline, and having fun. These are all important in
developing and nurturing well-rounded soldiers.
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt, kindhearted but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder, then your soldiers must be likened to spoiled children; they are useless for any practical purpose.
The mission and caring for soldiers go together; neither is more important than the other. Soldier-caring is more than three meals a day and a cot, payday, and mail call. It includes training your soldiers to survive and complete their missions in battle. It means demanding and checking to ensure that they are abstaining from drugs and alcohol abuse; ensuring they are working their military occupational specialties (MOSs); and receiving continual training to improve their skills in their MOSs and in leadership skills. You must ensure that they get the opportunity to be promoted and that they do not have to work for incompetent noncommissioned officers (NCOs) or officers.
Get feedback from them affirming that they fully understand their jobs and their places in the units' hierarchies. Let them know that they are appreciated for their service to the country, the Army, and their units. We must develop an atmosphere where soldiers enjoy going to work and feel positive about their units and their jobs. Counsel them so that they understand their rights and benefits and ensure they receive all that is due them regarding rewards, recognition, and discipline, as the situation dictates.
The term "soldier" refers to officers, NCOs, and junior enlisted; they are not troops, personnel, assets, or "bodies." The U.S. soldier is an adult who made the conscious decision to contract with the Army to serve for pay and benefits. These soldiers are volunteers under a binding oath. The Army and their units have a right to expect honorable and faithful service 24 hours a day for their entire term of service--nothing less. Every soldier has the right to expect caring competent leaders--leaders dedicated to their welfare while they assist in accomplishing the unit's mission.
You must earn respect, trust, confidence, and loyalty. Do not expect these to be issued with your rank. A soldier's loyalty goes first to his country, the Army, his command, and finally to his supervisor. You gain your soldiers' confidence, trust, and respect by the decisions you make and the way you enforce them.
I once saw a young specialist in my company receive an Article 15 for fighting. That evening a soldier from another unit visited our compound and called our commander a name. Our young soldier grabbed the outsider and knocked him to the ground, saying, "No one calls my commander a $*#&! and gets away with it." The next morning he reported to the commander to receive another Article 15. Asked to explain his actions, he told the commander, "Sir, this is my company and you are my commander; nobody shows disrespect to either. Not while I am around."
When the commander asked the young man if he should get a lighter punishment for the incident, he said, "No, Sir! I understood what the punishment would be for my actions before I took them. You are my commander and you have already set the standards in the company. I do not expect, nor want, you to change those for my benefit."Training
Train to standards; training to anything less will only set up your soldiers for failure. Bending or compromising the standards for anyone makes you a failure as a leader. You can and should train to surpass military standards, but never train to a lower standard. When training, know your audience and train to the lowest level of those present. This way, you teach everyone to the same standards.
A test of skill will detect your soldiers' knowledge before and after your training. Use this test to determine where your section, team, or unit stands on each task. A lack of testing will become apparent when you can least afford the negative results. A good soldier team can cover each others' weaknesses, but only if the weaknesses have been identified. Testing also gives the unit a means to assemble teams with the knowledge that the balanced skills will accomplish the mission.
You must train at the lowest level to develop both strong teams and esprit de corps. For the most part, soldiers will work and fight for the smallest element with which they are associated: the team, section, etc. Leaders must use one-on-one, hands-on training as it is the most effective training method for small sections. The leader must also know and use soldier assets to help train new team members. You will see the pride gleam in the face of a specialist when you tell him to take a new soldier and bring him up to speed with the unit.
When deploying elements of your unit, deploy personnel with their assigned teams. Avoid deploying make-shift teams of individuals who have not worked together. Deploying teams that have trained together will give you better results because your teams have developed team proficiency as a result of continually working together.
Train yourself and your soldiers thoroughly. Commanders want to know that the soldiers in their command know their jobs and the unit's mission. That means that soldiers can greet and brief visitors in their sections, no matter what the visitor's rank. This indicates to the higher leaders that the leadership of this section has excelled in all areas, including training and maintaining communications and standards. This also infers that soldiers care about themselves and what they are doing. Senior leadership should not have to defend your area from visitors. We want to welcome visitors because we have the best soldiers in the Army working for us!
Do not confuse the NCO's use of corrective training with discipline--it is training. Conduct this training with no parameters, only a goal. The goal is to retrain deficient soldiers in the areas in which they are deficient. The duration of this additional training depends on the comprehension level of the soldier and his dedication to the training. Soldiers who fail to attain the goals of the retraining should be removed from the military for their inability to conform to military standards.Operations
Good leaders have trained units. They know that their soldiers enjoy demonstrating their hard-gained knowledge. The best impression a high-ranking officer receives of a subordinate leader is the impression demonstrated by the soldiers trained by the junior leader. Let the real experts you trained do their jobs; good leaders know when to step back and let the unit run itself. If you are afraid that your unit cannot complete its mission without you, you have a shortfall in training.
Plan ahead to minimize disruptions to soldiers so you achieve maximum benefits during working and training hours. However, short-notice requirements are a reality; if such a requirement appears, plan its execution first, before reacting. Once the mission is underway and progressing satisfactorily, then address the issue of the short notice.
Delegate regularly and demand honest responses to the progress of your projects. Delegation does not absolve one from the problem-solving process. It means a logical distribution of tasks within the section, team, or unit, and holding the tasked soldier accountable. Delegation develops teamwork and helps to identify, evaluate, and train subordinates. A good example is the old power-down concept: let the lowest-ranking soldier who can do the job do it. The opposite of this is the leader that has no time because he attempts to do all the work he needs to accomplish. The problem is that he does not trust his soldiers to get the job done to meet his and the Army's standards. To avoid this, train your soldiers to meet all standards; then delegate to your soldiers the jobs for which they trained.
Meetings with objectives are valuable if there is an agenda in place. If the meeting calls for a decision, it is the leader's job to make the decision. Once the commander makes a decision, all members of the team, section, or command must comply with both the letter and the spirit of the decision. Lack of support for our leaders means failure for everyone involved.
Staffs make their livings from information servicing. Their thirst for information is boundless. Experience tells me that the path of least resistance is simply to answer tasks, mail, and questions when they arrive and be done with it. He who hesitates is backlogged.
Do not screw up safety! Allow for the latitude to make mistakes; expect them, but keep soldiers and equipment safe. Safety errors have caused death and serious injury; these reflect a lack of caring by leaders. When in doubt, back off and wait for the professionals in that area to arrive. It is far better to waste time than lives.Maintaining
The backbone of any group of soldiers is the self-motivated soldiers. They work hard at their jobs and produce worthwhile results without being coerced into doing so. These soldiers carry their groups through the exercises, inspections, daily work, and the battle. They drive on no matter what, and other, less-motivated soldiers follow them and think they are indispensable. History has proven time and again that no one is indispensable. Hopefully, you will have these motivated soldiers throughout your unit. You must reward, encourage, and protect these soldiers while developing them for positions of greater responsibility.
Do not keep these good soldiers down. Often they do not get the benefits of schools or good temporary duty assignments, mainly because people have the misconception that they are truly indispensable. Leaders must guard against this and turn the good soldiers loose for the long-term good of the Army.
Maintenance of all equipment in your charge is an absolute necessity. As a leader, you are held accountable for the proper functioning of your equipment. This can mean the difference between a successful or failed mission. Perform maintenance daily or on a regular schedule, by the numbers, and inspect frequently. How well a unit maintains its soldiers, their dependents, and its equipment shows how caring and dedicated its leadership is.Discipline
Discipline addresses those areas where soldiers who disobey will suffer the consequences available to the Army and its leaders to inflict. Some of these areas include deliberate lying, not telling the whole truth, covering up, drug use, alcohol abuse, family member abuse, and deliberate or foolhardy ignoring of safety procedures. These infractions must be dealt with within the framework of due process---but never ignored.
A leader's confidentiality is essential for good teamwork. This does not mean he fails to act on information imparted to him, including informing the chain of command when necessary. But he does not discuss soldiers who have problems, personal or professional, with unauthorized people.
There is an erroneous perception by some that there is the requisite "bad cop" in the command. No leader should be getting the job done by imbuing fear or intimidating the soldiers. This method blocks the lines of communication and discourages initiative. When there is a need for a strict disciplinarian, the leader must be willing to fill the bill, but only as a last resort and only as long as needed.
Equal opportunity means affording each soldier the opportunity to go as far as he can within his potential. It also means each soldier will pull his share of the load. Prejudice of any type destroys the potential of personnel and unit success. Leaders must retrain and counsel prejudiced individuals and, if necessary, remove from the service those who continue to display prejudice toward others.
All soldiers are accountable, whether it is accountability for the care and maintenance of their TA-50, personal appearance, conduct, fitness, MOS proficiency, or care of family members, assigned vehicle, or weapon. Failure on a soldier's part to maintain this accountability can result in everything from counseling statements to Uniform Code of Military Justice action. We must take these actions because soldiers should not be required to endure fellow soldiers who willfully fail in their performance of duty. This destroys morale and unit efficiency; failure to enforce accountability will show up when least desired.Having Fun and Rewarding Excellence
When you are no longer having fun doing your job, it is time to leave and find something else to do that you will enjoy. Your soldiers also need to have a sense of enjoyment in what they are doing. I have seen soldiers who have been in the field for months, smiling and bragging about what they accomplished. They enjoyed their jobs. On the other hand, I have also witnessed a soldier who has never been to the field who complained about how miserable things were and how he could not wait until his time was up and he could get out of the military. He had no job satisfaction. Coming to work should not be a miserable experience; one should end each day with a sense of accomplishment and anticipation for the next day's activities.
Time off with family and friends and the ability to travel and relax are important components to a healthy, positive outlook. Taking leave helps individuals to recharge and approach their duties with renewed vigor. Giving passes as incentives for the extra efforts of your soldiers helps to build morale and set incentives for excelling on the job.
Many spouses work outside the home or have enormous responsibilities for their families. Leaders should encourage spouses to participate in the full array of social events, but there should be no pressure to do so. Structure your social events to fit the needs of the unit and the desires of a majority of its members. Hopefully, the command climate will generate the desire for soldiers to socialize together and to play hard together.
Leaders must be compassionate and courteous. Compassion must not be taken for or developed into a weakness. Compassion involves being courteous to all, especially to your soldiers' dependents. It means taking the time to show your appreciation for a good job, however great or small. It has nothing to do with failing to enforce standards to the point of punishment.
Award soldiers who excel. The Army awards program is an open door, adding one more item to the leader's arsenal of benefits which he can bestow upon the soldier. Use these to reward those who put forth the extra efforts in mission accomplishment. I have seen soldiers work diligently during their entire tours and receive no special recognition or awards. The people who observed their work leave prior to the soldier's departure and the soldier receives a lesser award or no award for his efforts. When leaders depart, they need to ensure they prepare awards for their deserving soldiers, even if this documentation is for continuity purposes and is just passed to the incoming leader.
Also remember: impact awards speak louder than an end-of-tour award when it comes to bettering your unit's morale. Your soldiers will see an individual's accomplishments and the presentation of the award within a short period of time. This shows soldiers that they have leaders who care enough about their soldiers to do the right thing for them.
U.S. soldiers are our most efficient weapon because their leaders have trained them well and encouraged them to use their initiative to accomplish their mission. We have no leaderless soldiers on the battlefield; we have soldiers who are independent weapon systems who will continue their mission as long as they have the means. By the good graces of the military leaders I have had, I am the noncommissioned officer I am today.
ALWAYS OUT FRONT!Sergeant Major LaFluer is the USAREUR & 7th Army DCSINT Sergeant Major in Heidelberg, Germany. He is currently working on masters degrees in both History and Psychology with the University of Tennessee where he plans to pursue his Ph.D full time upon retirement. Readers can reach him via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and at German civilian telephone 06221-57-8855 or DSN 370-8855.