The Lost LT

One week into my new unit, and one of the lieutenants in my Battery said my OER blog helped him. This made me [almost] cry! I definitely blushed. Just recently, a Captain e-mailed me just to tell me “Great job” on my writing. I didn’t know this guy, and he found the blog helpful for his future Platoon Leaders! I was then 100% reminded of why I write. I think I started getting into that rut. You know, the one you fall into when you don’t find satisfaction from your current occupation and you’re just so tired. All the time. For me, this often happens because I don’t feel like I’m fulfilling my perceived mission in life. Whether you believe that mission comes before or after your “essence” (Sartre, anyone?), it doesn’t matter. It’s so easy to get caught in the weeds of meaning. More like…brambles. Lots and lots of prickly brambles. So here I am, the Hermione Granger of your life shining a light into the Devil’s Snare that is lieutenant-ship.

If you didn’t get that reference, it was from Harry Potter…geez.

The doe-eyed LT

My friend and I sat on the balcony of my new apartment. We overlooked the lights of the homes sparkling in the sunset as the mountains cast a shadow over the small valley in the distance. We began to do this often as an unofficial tradition that we comfortably grew into as a part of winding down for the week. There’s something about German summers that makes a person ponder life. Or, maybe it was the wine.

Today’s topic had taken a familiar turn, with me, going on my usual Nihilistic rants.

“Sometimes when I think of it, I just rationalize we’re all going to die one day. For some reason, that makes me feel better. I know that we’re all headed down the same path, so how we influence others now is what matters. That way, at least we’re having some type of effect on the future through the way we treat people. So, even little things, like when I say “Good morning” to a Soldier with a positive attitude makes me feel a sense of purpose.”  

“Do you really think that?” my prior service friend skeptically arched her eyebrows and peered at me through her glass.

Very momentarily, I hesitated. Was this the truth, or was I trying to evade the feelings of anxiety I often have when faced with my impermanence?

Finally, I found a friend who understood my skepticism and feelings of absurdity. Absurdity as in…my life feeling absurd. Fortunately, and unfortunately, she could challenge me instead of nodding and looking confused whenever I shared my general ambiguity with life and current work. Such are the plights of a Philosophy student.

After a moment of thought, I looked her in the eye. With a hint of self-assurance, I replied, “Yes. I do.”

Her combat hardened mind, however, drove a small wedge into my still squishy and optimistic brain as I tried to explain that I find fulfillment in the Army when I interact with my Soldiers. Even on days when I’m stuck in meetings for hours, at least I greeted PV2 Snuffy with a smile in the morning, and maybe—just maybe—that was the one thing that brightened his day. Besides moments like this, sometimes I feel the Army has attempted to compensate menial and sometimes unexplainable tasks with the promise of a paycheck and benefits. Not to say these amenities aren’t GREAT, but are the long hours and stress worth it?

Sometimes I’m left to wonder…do I belong in the Army?

Even for the “pogue-y” Air Defender like me, Army life can be difficult. I think life can be hardest for the new Lieutenant and junior Captain for three main reasons:

1. We’re trying the figure out what we want to do with our lives! Do I stay in the Army? Do I find meaning and purpose in the Army? Do I even like the Army?

2. We enter the Army with the rosy expectation of joining an organization with highspeed Officers and NCOs who are ready to mentor and shape us, but the reality does not always match.

3. We don’t have as much control over our destinies and our units’ destinies as we originally thought. Training plans coordinated weeks in advance are often shot down due to more “urgent” taskings from higher, and this often leads to a sense of unpredictability, and worse, loss of trust in the leadership that claims to protect training. 

If any this sounds familiar to you, do not worry, you’re not alone. I believe that part of the reason for junior Officers’ disenchantment with the Army is that it does not serve the needs of the generation of budding entrepreneurs, fighters for social change, and those who feel their skills are better suited for an occupation that matches their passion and skill set, but with less bureaucracy.  

These small, existential crises coupled with unmet expectations can become exhausting when they occur more often than not. The exhaustion transforms into a feeling of emptiness that comes from working long hours, rushing from one task to the next, and arriving home to simply eat and sleep. Of course, this is not a daily occurrence, but it is enough to cause me to ponder: Are we forced to sift like sand in the desert façade we’ve created for ourselves?

Two different things…

Conversely, even deserts house diverse and essential ecosystems.

Take stock in the small joys of your vital role as a Platoon Leader, Chemical Officer, Assistant S3, oh yeah, and Executive Officer. Remember the Soldier who took the time to ask you how your day is going? What about that time your platoon passed a Battalion exercise with flying colors because they trained so hard? And yesterday, when SPC Smith drank soap water because he thought it was juice? Ok, maybe not as meaningful, but that definitely made you laugh.

Passion for the Army and passion for accomplishing tasks that require dedication and teamwork are not the same. You don’t have to love or even like the Army to find joys within your daily duties.

Understandably, however, these small joys become lost in the muddle of multi-colored power points and drowned out in the sea of meetings.

Go back to your roots. Define your values. Most Officers that I know joined the Armed Forces as a way to serve others and to express their gratitude for the privileges offered to them by living in the US. When I feel lost, I revisit my values.

I reflect, “Did I do my best today? Did my actions align with my values of serving others? If I were to die tomorrow, would I be happy with the way I led my life today?” If I performed according to my ideals, then I must chalk the rest up to occurrences beyond my control. If I made mistakes that day that my supervisor so nicely pointed out, then I learn from them and try not to make those mistakes again. By focusing on the small joys, defining and acting according to your standards, most else will fall into place.

When “counting your blessings” isn’t enough.

I know what some of you may be thinking… “This girl is basically preaching an ‘attitude of gratitude.’ Give me a break.”

Thinking positively is a habit that is difficult to maintain. It becomes especially difficult when you encounter others in your work environment that don’t seem to care. Even worse, when the espoused values of the Army such as selfless service do not seem to align with enacted values, work becomes pretty frustrating. This an extreme bone of contention when dealing with an unhealthy command climate or toxic leadership. How am I supposed to find value and meaning in an organization that doesn’t care about its people?

Even as an Officer who never directly experienced a toxic command, I experienced similar frustrations to the ones mentioned above. Sometimes I feel like I’m in this complicated relationship where I keep giving my partner a chance because he takes me on cool trips outside of the US, and is generally a well-meaning person. In these moments, I gaze at him, give him a half-smile and think, “Yeah. We’re going to be ok.” Then, he says something stupid or contradicts himself. He starts acting possessive. In those times, I just stare into nothingness and wonder how I ended up in this relationship in the first place.

There are a few things you can do in response to a floundering partnership…

You can give up. Do nothing. Don’t write. Don’t read. Stop traveling. Let yourself get lazy and unhealthy. Drone away on episodes of New Girl. Munch on some chocolate and stare off into the distance day-dreaming of past lovers and beaches and opening a philosophy café. This will likely leave you and your partner unfulfilled, unloved and unsatisfied…in more ways than one.  

You can leave the relationship. And that’ ok, too. If you discover it’s healthier for you to move on and pursue other interests, then that’s what you should do.

In the contracted time you cannot pack your bags and move on, however, you can work on another relationship…with yourself. How funny is it that some couples love to focus on the other’s shortcomings without first taking an introspective look? In a similar way that you will never change your partner, you will be hard-pressed to change the Army. In a paradoxical way, the angst caused by the Army has forced me to be free. Starting my blog did not come from a place of wedded bliss with the Army. My blog began from built-up anger and frustration. I harbored anger with myself for making stupid mistakes. I clung on to frustration with the meetings and the slides and the colors and the paperwork and leadership…with everything and everyone from a perceived lack of control.

I finally realized, though, that I had plenty of control—over myself, my time and my actions. I began to write about my experiences as a creative escape. I listened to French parlor music again and ate avocado toast like a good wanna-be hipster. I bought a yoga mat and divulged in an at-home yoga practice. I began reading books on personal development and listening to podcasts on the way to work, or in the gym. I prepared my meals for the next day, and I went to sleep feeling accomplished. Finally, I wasn’t achieving tasks for outside approval or external gratification. I worked for Ive. I worked for myself.  

And even then…

But, what do you do when you enter the abyss and nothing feels right? What do you do on those days when your Commander just lectured you about lack of planning and the S-3 hated your range brief? When your end of contract date constantly lurks in the back of your mind while you’re blasting Rise Against on the radio on the way to PT? For some reason, good habits are the easiest to break.

Start again. And again. And again. Remember how good it feels to take care of yourself and make yourself a priority.

Revisit why you joined in the first place.

Remember your Soldiers.

That way, next time your friend challenges you on how you create meaning, you don’t hesitate. You simply reply, “Yes.” And move on.

“All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

NCOERs

“Ma’am, remember my NCOER is due soon.”

…one week later.

“Ma’am, did you write my NCOER?”

…two weeks later.

“Ma’am, were you able to do my NCOER.”

“Damn it. That’s right. I’m sorry, Sergeant. I’ll start this week, I promise.”

Has anyone ever seen that episode of Spongebob where he has to write an essay for boating school class, and all he comes up with is “THE”.

Sitting at my computer, watching the icon flash on the HRC website, I was Spongebob. I felt like I didn’t even know where to start. I recently entered the unit, and a month later I was writing a complete year’s review of my first platoon sergeant. My first NCOER was one of the most awkward, difficult pieces of Army writing I completed.

And even when I completed it…as I proudly presented my finished product to my platoon sergeant, his voice cracked a little bit as he replied,

“um…Ma’am, it needs more quantitative data. Here are some examples.”

And EVEN THEN, even with the examples he gave me, I ended up editing the NCOER draft he wrote for himself. Pathetic.

With this story in mind, this platoon sergeants helped me with some advice and an NCOER example. Thanks SFC Hemphill!


SFC Hemphill’s Words of Advice 

I felt this was my best NCOER because of all the things I accomplished during that rated period with the training of units to deploy to CENTCOM, applying my expertise, and I had earned my degree.

The 3 points for writing bullets for their NCO’s
– Make sure the bullets are written in past tense and straight to the point.
-What you write for that NCO has to be quantifiable and not fluff
-Try to write at least 3 bullets for each block.

Advice for writing an NCOER for a not so great NCO
– Be honest and truthful when writing that NCOER. If that NCO really didn’t perform great then the counseling you do quarterly should help you write that NCOER. If the NCO deserve one-line bullets it’s because no one held him accountable and help him strive to his potential.

Ive’s (that’s me!) Words of Advice

-Scrutinize little administrative things on the NCOER such as the Duty MOSC. Include the level (i.e. 20 level, 30 level, etc.)

-Make sure everyone is signing at the appropriate time. The order is: rater, senior rater, and rated Soldier.

– If you don’t have a great NCO, be honest. “Has potential” or “requires strong senior leadership to accomplish tasks” are some ways of communicating that who you are rating probably doesn’t need to get promoted any time soon.

-Under “Leadership” you must include that the NCO supported Army SHARP and EO programs

Ok, guys, this one was more short and to the point, ironically, like an NCOER! Happy writing! And remember ask your PSG or 1SG for help if you’re at a loss 🙂

 

Initial Counseling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Oh! And Sergeant!”

“Yes Ma’am?” My first Platoon Sergeant never paused between the two words. He always said “yes ma’am” like he was calling me to attention.

A little too excitedly, I said, “We still need to do our initial counseling!”

My platoon sergeant smirked a little as he left the office. “Yes. Roger, Ma’am.”

I had to build myself up to this. My first big girl initial counseling with my first Platoon Sergeant. I waited four years for this one moment. I would finally assert myself as a leader with my fearless PSG by my side.

The day finally arrived. I wrung my hands together…was that sweat?

“So…this is the initial counseling.”

I smiled nervously as I usually do, trying to counter balance friendly anxiety with my deeper and more serious Platoon Leader voice. You might know the kind. The one where you don’t want to sound too feminine, but you also don’t want to sound like you’re compensating for the estrogen running through your voice box. Just me? Ok. I digress. 

I read through it, sounding a bit robotic.

“Duties and Responsibilities of an NCO. Check.” 

“SHARP and EO. Check.”

I finally tired of hearing the sound of my voice and just set the counseling aside.

I look up at my Platoon Sergeant. “I know you can read this. I just want to let you know that I want us to be a team. I want us to be able to work together. “This is what I’ve noticed so far in the platoon…” I continued on to explain my observations over the last month and we discussed possible improvements.

Although at first, my first Platoon Sergeant and I did not share many commonalities, we did possess these mutual traits: we had a kind of weird, sarcastic sense of humor; we were both rather open-minded people; most importantly, we cared about our Soldiers. Despite any differences between us, the initial counseling established a foundation for our relationship and a reference point during some minor disagreements. Sure, my counseling probably did not reflect the poignance or eloquence of Colin Powell’s first initial counseling, but I attempted to create a culture of open dialogue, team work, and mutual respect within the platoon through the ever mysterious 4856.

During your first initial counseling, you might feel a little silly or redundant. Your platoon sergeant likely endured many counselings with many different characters. Put your hesitation aside! These counselings show that you maintain the proper standard. They allow you to set your expectations so no confusion remains about how you want operations run within your platoon.

Now, without further ado, below are a few stellar initial counseling forms** from friends of mine who were kind enough to donate to the cause! Mine are not here because…they’re on the share drive at my old unit. Sorry, guys.

**Personal Identifiers and organizations were removed from some forms

Also, for the record, I have never read any of Colin Powell’s initial counselings.

1LT Michael Zuniga 

Michael’s MFR and 4856 serve as XO counseling examples. Although different from a Platoon Sergeant initial counseling, it follows a similar format for you to use for any LT Senior Rater counseling.


1LT Hannah Brueck

1LT Xavier Davis

Notice how these counselings state some form of Army Regulation, communicate an expectation, and designate a way forward. The counseling is not a one way street.  Not only should you establish yourself as the senior leader, you must act as such. Follow up, make a plan for quarterly counselings and exemplify standards you want your subordinates to follow. Most of all, be yourself! Authenticity and approachability are keys to any great counseling! You’re not knife handing your NCOs and telling them how to act. This an opportunity to discuss how to make each other better!

So don’t be lazy! Observe your unit for 30 days, and get to counseling, LT!

Pareto unpacked

Wow! It has been a looong time. I can’t believe I haven’t written anything in two months….TWO MONTHS guys! Between PCSing and leave, I apologize. I did not make writing my priority, and I have to say, I do miss it.

Finally, after a month of in processing and waiting for my laptop charger to arrive in the mail (I left it on my flight to Germany—eek!), I feel settled and at home in cozy little Baumholder. And here, you too can enjoy the view from my favorite writing balcony! 

And now on to the good stuff…

In an online leadership forum, I listened to Officers from various walks of life list their top leadership advice in a limited time of ten minutes. Amongst the great speakers, one peaked my interest because it brought me back to a personally controversial time as a platoon leader.

I never understood the power of my emotional perception until I brought up an issue with a leader of mine.

“Sir, I think that maybe sometimes people have two different perceptions of a situation, and that the truth might lie somewhere in the middle.”

The boom of his voice only very slightly crushed my soul when he replied,

“Well, I’m here to tell you that my perception is the reality.”

Roger.

We were discussing the necessity of keeping one of the platoon leaders in my battery. I finally decided that I wanted to speak to my supervisor personally to gauge the issue and whether I could fight for this lieutenant to remain in his role.

Quite clearly, I lost that battle.

The disturbing part, however, was the advice given to me from someone after my failed attempt.

“Don’t shield a ticking bomb. Don’t waste your time on people that can’t be saved.”

And I could never get that out of my head.

Then, a few weeks ago, the advice I heard during my leadership forum sounded oddly familiar.

“Do not expend 80% of your time on individuals in your organization who perform at the bottom 20%.”

In my mind, this roughly translated to, “Don’t shield a ticking bomb.” I quietly grew angrier and more disturbed as I observed this principle applied to leader development in the Army under the veiled threat of “perception is reality.”

Then, a more level-headed mind in the form of my good friend and mentor, Aristotle Alviso, calmed my skepticism as we revisited the curious Pareto Principle…

The Pareto Principle

In somewhat easy to understand terms, the Pareto Principle claims that for numerous events, 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of focused and effective actions.

Although largely a principle used in economics as a resource for evaluating time management, the forum speaker asserted that this idea could also apply to leader development.

Think about it. How many times have you heard the phrase, “90 percent of your time will be spent on 10 percent of your Soldiers,” in a negative sense?

Indeed, as Army leaders, a copious amount of time is spent on Soldiers with issues. Soldiers that don’t shower, Soldiers that don’t clean their rooms, Soldiers that require exorbitant leader development, Soldiers who want to simply survive until their ETS date…Should those Soldiers’ issues remain in your front view mirror while your superstars get left behind in the rear?

How much time do we dedicate to developing our top performers? How often do we focus on the strengths of our subordinates as opposed to their weaknesses?

“But Ive,” you say, “every time I do an outstanding job, I don’t get more developed, I just get tasked with more and more work. Now I don’t get home until 2100.”

Yes. I understand. Performance punishment is a common practice in the Army and probably in many organizations. If you experience this, my best response is: learn from those lessons and do not continually task and burn out your best Soldiers. My platoon sergeant and I would likely choose our top Soldiers for missions because they executed their duties efficiently and competently. Was this the right answer? Not always. We were all burnt out by the end of the year…

One of my NCOs, however, incredibly developed his Soldiers and applied the Pareto Principle without even realizing it. By the point he entered the platoon, his squad included a number of Soldiers with untapped potential. He recognized his experienced Soldiers who could perform to a certain standard and put them to work. He trained his Soldiers to become not only more proficient at their jobs, but also more prolific leaders so that they could replace him in his absence. By focusing on the top performers and developing their leadership, he expended less effort in compensating for underdeveloped or inexperienced Soldiers in his squad while simultaneously building a more trained and capable team.

In the face of this one allegory, you may ask, “What of the rest?” Did he simply ignore them? Did he let the “ticking bombs” stay ticking?

No, he did not. He could not, however, focus every minute of his time on every single Soldier. Your team leaders can keep an eye out for individuals who need more attention. You, as a more senior leader, need to learn to differentiate between the internally motivated top performers, the externally motivated performers who need more guidance and mentorship, and the non-performers who don’t care. By doing this, you use your time wisely and effectively without letting bias perception dominate the development of others.

So perhaps…my philosophy falls along the lines of 70/20/10, where 10% exceptionally perform (these are the PFCs that take initiative and execute competently), 20% go above the standard expectations (i.e. a SPC that maintains a positive attitude and works hard, but occasionally makes PVT mistakes), and 70% perform at or below the standard (see example below).

Sorry to break the news, but your platoon/company/battalion is not your start-up business. You cannot immediately fire all the NCOs that claim they do not know how to dispatch equipment and allow their privates to do the job for them the night prior to a certification. Yes. True story, PLs.

You also cannot recruit and hire people who are intrinsically motivated to serve. Some individuals joined the Army to pay for college or support their families. Others simply did not experience proper leadership and mentorship. These causes for joining the Army do not equal to indifference towards the service, it just means that your approach to training and development must change.

When I heard the advice of avoiding “jumping on a bomb,” I understood the implication. I understood that you cannot allow yourself or the organization to suffer because of someone who simply does not care or displays complete incompetence. After two months of reflecting upon my encounter with my senior leader and the “advice,” I received, I realized that some operate under the guise of “80/20” without taking in the possibility of “70/20/10.” When we allow a narrower point of view of our subordinates take over, we tend to give up on someone with greater potential than perceived because we focus on that individual’s weaknesses instead of building his or her strengths.

This type of perspective comes from the highly under developed philosophy of “perception is reality.” This point of view hinders leaders from recognizing the difference between exceptional performers and above the standard performers. From my experience, this is the lens some supervisors view their subordinates because they fail to recognize causes for lower performance or make snap judgements from first impressions.

For these reasons, I currently tend to branch away from strictly referencing to the 80/20 rule in the military, but I support the general idea of focusing dedicated time on developing the high performing Soldiers in the unit.

Plausibly, this lieutenant was given many chances to enhance his performance. A senior leader can only do so much before letting someone go. Perhaps, however, supervisors and more experienced leaders in the Battery (myself included) could have aided him along the way.

In the name of proactiveness, some methods of avoiding the perceived lower performers from falling through the cracks include:

  1. Shoulder tapping: praising individuals about their accomplishments and informing them of their potential for extreme success within the organization. Recognizing their talent whilst their direct supervisor/leader coaches them through deficiencies or weaknesses
  2. Creating an environment tailored to high performance: maintaining a standard and acting as the exemplar for your organization. Praise a job well done and encourage subordinates when the job is not performed satisfactorily without patronizing them.
  3. Avoiding performance punishment: Why do leaders task the same people to do the same jobs over and over again? Because it takes more effort and time to build proficiency at all levels. Instead of performance punishment, empower your top 10% performers and trust them to train and mentor their subordinates. Do not allow the fear of failure to dominate delegation of tasks unless it’s a life or death situation.
  4. Coaching for performance: Try to ask questions to raise your subordinates’ awareness of themselves, the situation and how to solve problems instead of directing them straight to a solution or answer.

The intention of this discourse is not to lay blame or make myself sound self-righteous. I have a lot to learn on my journey, and I only observed so much from my little Platoon Leader fox hole. My writing reflects my perception of a situation, an attempt to analyze it objectively, and learn from mistakes at all levels. In recognizing this, keep in mind that my personal experiences, as well as yours, only serve as a partial reality.

 

2 Years in Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 years in review…a shout out to my friends from WP and BOLC. From left to right, Branch Night when Shon and I found out we both branched Air Defense, our BOLC Socratea philosophy discussion group, some friends from class, and finally BOLC graduation!

“It’s so hard…to say good bye…to what we had. The good times that made us glad outweigh bad.”

If you didn’t recognize the lyrics, take a stroll down memory lane with me to the 90s when R&B was great and Boyz 2 Men were the vocal crushes of the day. Well…they were my crushes at least.

Kind of an unfitting song for what I want to express, but I tend to cope with my sadness with a bit of [weird] humor. A week ago, I made my way from Korea, Japan, Seattle, Dallas and FINALLY to Richmond, Virginia. That’s right, Lost LT family, my chapter in Korea closed when I tearfully hugged my platoon sergeant good bye. By June, I will say “Guten tag” to Germany!

Welcome to the Army. Ever since my childhood as a wee Army Brat, I grew accustomed to waving good bye to friends. These constant farewells caused me to become oddly detached, well rounded, and healthily resilient. Saying good bye to my first Soldiers, Warrant Officers, NCOs, and friends however, is like saying to good bye to my closest family. The weird uncles…the doting mother…the emotional dad who bottles up his feelings…the brothers you bully around…your sister who has a constant existential crisis…it’s all there. We grow a bond. We power through difficult times together and then we must let go and move on. A bitter sweet feeling swells up in the pit of my stomach when I reflect on my time in Korea. I felt purposeful. I changed and grew so much in this short but exhausting year. Even when tired, angry, or upset, my Soldiers kept me going. And now I’m moving on to the next LT marker of my life…becoming an XO.

**Cue internal screaming**

Since this blog became inspired by long days of reflection about the ways I could improve myself and help others, in honor of my year and 4 months in Korea, I will leave you with my top lessons learned as a platoon leader. Some friends of mine also offered up much clearer and specific lessons learned that are far more helpful than mine. Seriously…read their stuff.  It’s good.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  2. Don’t sweat the big stuff.
  3. Don’t sweat. Glisten.
  4. Make time for yourself. For the love of God, don’t sacrifice a meal to finish a power point.
  5. Foster good relationships with the other Lieutenants.
  6. Use apd.army.mil for EVERYTHING from TMs, DA Forms, DD Forms, etc.
  7. Go to your supply sergeant and learn how to fill out a shortage and 2062s for sub-hand receipts. Make an effort to learn about command supply discipline. Create a LOGSA account, type TMs when searching for one of the many LOGSA apps to download TMs for your equipment.
  8. Fight for what you believe in…even if it means getting into respectful, measured arguments with your commanders (behind closed doors).
  9. Do not EVER compromise your integrity and your authentic self.
  10. Shield your Soldiers from poop.
  11. Correct sub-standard performance immediately and humbly
  12. Make your corrections a learning point.
  13. Support your chain of command in front of your Soldiers…even when you don’t want to.
  14. Empower and develop your NCOs. Sometimes that means allowing them to fail.
  15. Let yourself fail and learn from your mistakes.
  16. Do your best to conduct a good left-seat, right-seat
  17. Seek a mentor. If your chain of command doesn’t do it for you, don’t be afraid to seek counsel from the S-3 team or other Officers or First Sergeants in your Battalion.
  18. Create your own opportunities.

CPT Aristotle Alviso

  1. Don’t be the single point of failure for your organization. All knowledge and lines of communication should not only rest with you. Some try to adopt the expert mentality and forget that one day, you will leave the platoon so make sure the platoon can still operate once you leave.2. Prioritize developing your NCOs. For some, you may be the only one that cares about where they are and where they can be 5, 10 years down the road.
  2. Network like crazy. Good leaders and ambassadors of their organization don’t say they are the only ones that can get the job done. They know who knows what and can leverage their relationships to benefit their soldiers, other units in need and themselves.

2LT Dante DiGiansante

  1. Don’t be afraid to be right. Even though you’re brand-new and this is your first unit, that doesn’t actually take away from your foundational knowledge. Don’t be afraid to correct an NCO if you see something wrong. Even if you get criticism, don’t be afraid to back your position.
  2. Be resilient. If you’re resilient, people will notice it. Things will go wrong very often. Your job will sometimes feel like putting out fire after fire. Don’t let that change you.
  3. Don’t become risk adverse. Learn to become a better problem solver instead of simply avoiding the risk.

1LT Alejandra Pinheiro

Always sub hand receipt everything down, make sure the 1750s are 99% accurate before you leave to a training, and label your equipment if it’s an equipment that several platoons have.

1LT Oren Rosen

  1. Ruthlessly pursue information. Don’t ever settle for “We can take care of that tomorrow…” or “It shouldn’t be done”. Find out the answer and 100% pursue getting a concrete answer that satisfies your boss’s intent.
  2. You are probably never going to have one single “Ah ha!” moment when everything clicks. However, you will look back on a series of events or experiences and see how you learned from all of them. So stay patient and hungry to learn and develop!
  3. Bend over backwards to help your battle buddies out (especially fellow LTs). They will save you.

1LT Kieran James

  1. Don’t come into a new unit swinging your rank around. Take the time to learn the rhythm and leadership styles within your unit before you decide to make major changes. Your commissioning source didn’t prepare you for 90% of the issues you’ll face in your job. Understanding who to talk to and how to talk to them is the hardest thing you will learn how to do, and it will take time to do it.2. Caring for Soldiers means being tough but fair. Your Soldiers don’t need more friends; they need competent leadership that is both flexible when extenuating circumstances (emergencies, family issues, AER and financial help) arise, and is able to give tough love (training 10-30 level tasks to standard, APFT, height-weight) when Soldiers forget how to prioritize their own welfare. And incentivizing success is just (if not more) important than reprimanding failure.3. Being involved daily is the key to gaining the trust of your Soldiers and establishing yourself as a credible leader. Know how to do a full PMCS and be able to demonstrate to your Soldiers. You’d be surprised how receptive they are when you’re the one busting track or crawling under your track to remove belly plates.4. Property, property, property. Can’t stress it enough. Knowing the equipment you are assigned for, understanding what equipment you need but aren’t, and having everything logged efficiently will make or break you as a new LT.5. Learn about Soldier education opportunities and make sure your Soldiers have all the information and resources to access it. Most get out after 4-ish years…. it’s your responsibility to help them think about that transition and what they need to be doing for themselves and their families on the back end of their time in service. Same goes for financial readiness and savings plan.6. Finally– don’t underwrite counseling statements: initial, periodical, event based (positive and negative). Articulating exactly what you want done and following up regular makes it infinitely easier to enforce over your 9+ months leading a section.

1LT Zoe Kreitenberg 

  1. No one uses email at the platoon level like they likely do at your commissioning source. Most of my Soldiers didn’t even know how to check their military email. You have to figure out how to communicate effectively with your voice and ensure that your message properly reaches the lowest level.2. You probably aren’t going to shoot the terrorists or create master war plans on the daily, but you will manage the hell out of your equipment and your personnel. Keep track of things. Spreadsheets on spreadsheets.

1LT Lashondra Maddox-Phung

  1. Jump on the LOGSA train early, which fortunately, I had an awesome sponsor who got me started on it as soon as I got to my unit. Inventories will be slightly easier when you learn to navigate it for TMs and FEDLOG. I second the comment on sub-hand receipting. In the event that you do have to pay for property as the result of someone else’s failure, at least you’re not alone. Ensure you counsel that individual on their responsibilities of being signed for that piece of equipment.2. NCOs are not exactly what they tell you in BOLC. You DO NOT always get stellar NCOs who can mentor new, naive, and clueless LTs. Trust but verify. Seek answers and don’t settle when you’re not receiving results.3. When you’re good, you’ll end up getting more tasks than others who honestly don’t care or are simply lazy. It’s okay to say you can’t do something. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will step on the breaks for you. Being in a new position, you really have to take the reigns on your career and move it in the direction you want it to go in.

1LT Eric Schneider-Cuevas

Everyone always makes it out to be like if you, as an Officer, can’t smoke everyone in your platoon then you’re a failure. From what I’ve seen soldiers don’t necessarily care about your physical ability but more about how much effort you put in. It’s not about being the best, it’s about trying to be better.

1LT Matthew McCormack

  1. Rank only loosely correlates with skill, experience, or work ethic. I have had E-7s not know what they’re doing and not help and at all, and E-4s that are incredibly professional and hard working. Get to know peoples’ individual talents, who needs their hand held through a task, and who the go-getters are.2. Usually any clerical task/paperwork can be done in about 5 minutes, so knock those out first. Then move on to your “thinking” tasks (counseling, figuring out what training needs to get done, going through and prioritizing other tasks, etc), which usually take about 30 minutes to an hour, before finally moving on to “physical” tasks (executing training or classes, moving equipment, searching through multiple regs to see what you have to do, etc). This prevents you from getting piled under a bunch of little tasks you might forget.

2LT Kunal Jha

Jha loves to tell stories before diving into the moral, so first, I simply received this golden nugget of wisdom:

“Don’t be petty.”

Then, he finally, after typing a three-paragraph long story about a guy he really didn’t like, he went into more detail:

“You will find some peers you like and some you can’t stand, but the biggest thing is to keep a clear head and respectful demeanor with everyone. The Army is a small place and you can’t be throwing verbal knives around because just as easy as you throw them at others they will be thrown at you.”

Hopefully some of this advice helps you on your journey towards success. Your first year will be tumultuous, stressful, and incredibly rewarding. You will so much about yourself and others as you enter the large psychological Inside Out movie that is the Army.

Happy wandering!

Below are links to some of the sites that will help you on your journey:

LOGSA (for TMs): https://www.logsa.army.mil/

APD (for DA, DD, TCs, FMs, etc): https://www.apd.army.mil/ 

 

 

 

A Break then a Pause

 

 

My best friends from Korea and I spending leave in Vietnam!! We went on a tour with Ethnic Travels, an amazing agency that takes visitors off the beaten path in Vietnam and supports local business and families. Oh the places you’ll go when you take the opportunities to explore the world.

I love my Soldiers more than I love you.

My friends from BOLC sheepishly entered the Officer’s Club for “Right Arm Night,” an event tailored for lieutenants to gain insight from senior leaders stationed at Fort Sill.

After awkwardly mingling for a while and making a really off the wall comment to a Lieutenant Colonel about my friends’ plan to watch Sausage Party that weekend, I finally peeled myself away from obligatory socializing as I noticed a group gathered around our class mentor, a colonel I admired and respected for his obviously genuine care for Soldiers.

He allowed us to ask some questions to which my friend, Hannah, inquired:

“Sir, how do you balance your family and work life?”

For a split second, I noticed a micro-expression of discomfort wave over his usually optimistic and confident face as he bluntly replied,

“I don’t know.”

Well, I thought, guess there’s no hope for the rest of us.

He continued,

“Once, my wife and I were discussing that I spent too much dedicated to my work and Soldiers, and I told her, ‘I love my Soldiers more than I love you.’”

This guy said WHAT.

“And it was the absolute truth. These Soldiers’ lives were in my hands. We would deploy together and I was responsible for their well-being, to make sure they accomplished the mission and made it home alive. I had to love them more than I loved myself or my family.”

This guy is crazy.

Fast forward to April 27th 2018, and I realize that I’m pretty crazy too.

I love my Soldiers. I care about my Soldiers’ welfare more than I care about my own. I care about their successful accomplishment of whatever mission we’re handed, but I also care that our higher leadership respects their time.

And all that care wrapped up with a beautiful bow of administrative responsibilities, deadlines and extra duty can take an extreme toll on your mental, emotional and physical well-being which in turn may hinder your ability to lead and problem solve.

So, detach yourself from your computer, do some yoga and TAKE A BREAK.

Ok…you don’t have to actually do yoga, but at least mindful meditation. Just for me?

BREATH and BALANCE

“I’ve never taken leave during my whole time in Korea.”

My mouth silently opened wide in disbelief as I sat down with the platoon leader I would soon replace. Is this what my life is going to be like?

His eyes glazed over in somber reflection. “I should’ve gone out more.”

This platoon leader cared for his Soldiers and his job. He was extremely well known for being one of the most competent lieutenants in the battalion…but also, one of the most cynical.

Let’s be honest here, the government really makes you earn your paycheck. The military is not afraid to work you to the bone, but you have to learn to say “no” for the sake of your well-being and perhaps more importantly, the well-being of your Soldiers.

In my short year and a half in the Army, I have not only witnessed the negative effects of junior leaders unable to pull themselves away from their work, but the effects of that on senior leaders as well. From midnight phone calls to answer questions that could easily be answered the next morning, to sleepless nights working on power points, and last-minute weekend deadlines, Army leaders are notorious for their…admirable work ethic.

When you overlabor yourself, whether you realize it or not, this will influence your ability to work effectively and coherently. These hindrances to your mental capacities then affect your attitude. Unfortunately, the platoon leader I replaced became so overworked and frustrated with the decision making of higher leadership that he became an extreme cynic…and did not hide this trait from his Soldiers. Although I respected his dedication and extreme competence, I observed that his Soldiers began to reflect his poor attitude. In turn, this attitude decreased morale within the platoon and reinforced lack of support for the chain of command.

Unfortunately, I believe this cynicism stemmed, in part, from his refusal to take breaks or leave. By constantly remaining at work and declining to remove himself from the office in order to mentally “restart,” he was at constant level of unnecessarily high stress. In turn, it became increasingly difficult for him to find some simple joy or optimism in the workplace. He did not allow himself to appreciate Korea to its fullest extent and soon, everything about working in Korea became draining.

Like I’ve said before, Soldier and leadership performance, for better or worse, is a reflection of your leadership. You can’t always control silly Soldier decisions, but you can shape the command climate within your platoon. When Soldiers observe you overworking yourself and hating the Army as a result of the constant work, they will subconsciously mimic this behavior. Worse, they may simply lose motivation to progress in their personal and professional lives. Do yourself and your Soldiers a favor and let them see that you have a life beyond the Army and that you know how to manage your work, emotional and social well-being.

Everything is an Emergency…until it’s not

When I had one of my rare, mini freak-outs, one of my trusted NCOs came up to me and said, “Ma’am. One day, I was running all over the place worrying about a ton of different things and trying to get everything done. And some great NCO said, ‘Calm down. Every day there’s a new emergency.’” The whirlwind in my mind suddenly halted and a light shined down on me as I grasped the wisdom in his words.

Many people, in and out of the Army will encounter this issue. We love to misuse the word “priority.” Paradoxically, everything becomes a priority.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

How can you prioritize tasks when every task is a priority?

Here’s the answer…

Are you ready?

Nothing is a priority until it becomes one.

Very likely, the work today will continue to exist tomorrow. The issue that arose today can likely become fixed tomorrow. Unless your task affects your unit’s mission capability or impacts your subordinates’ lives immediately, the memo, awards or brief that you need to finish can likely wait. When you take leave for even just a week, you can remove yourself from the stress and intensity of leadership. When you decide to leave work at 1700 instead of 2000, you can take time to invest in yourself to work out, cook dinner instead of eating at Popeyes, go to sleep early or splurge on a movie. Yes, you will encounter some late nights or extremely early mornings. Yes, Officers are always on duty. Taking a rest, however, does not equal quitting or letting anyone down. When you take a rest, you come back to work refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. You won’t be a shiny brand-new lieutenant unblemished from the dents and scrapes of late night convoys and weekend written OPORDS, but you’ll at least be freshly washed.

In places like Korea and jobs like the Army, sometimes freshly washed and vacuumed is the best you can get. All you have to do is look at the cars in Osan Air Base to know that!

I know I make all of this sound extremely easy. It’s not. Sometimes commanders will compel you to work beyond duty hours and sometimes you’ll compel yourself to work beyond the required time, but you must find the will power to tear yourself away and create daily rituals where you invest in personal care.

Take time for yourself. Take emergencies in stride, priorities at a slow jog and sprint to personal health. Breath, find a semblance of balance. Repeat.

And here are some more pictures of Vietnam because I loved this trip so much!

 

 

 

Introduction Letter

I was really tempted to title this, “We just got a letter!” Images of Steve from Blues Clues just danced in my mind as he sang, “We just got a letter! We just got a letter! We just got a letter, wonder who it’s from?!” 

Anyone? Ok. Hopefully I’m not alone in this.

I digress. To the original story. 

“What battalion are you going to?”

“Yeah, I heard from my battalion! We’re going to 2-1!”

The chatter of my BOLC classmates aroused my curiosity…and my anxiety.

How does everyone know what battalion they’re going to? I haven’t received a message from anyone…

THEN FINALLY. I received a message on my e-mail:

“Please complete your 5434 on ACT for sponsorship.”

My eyes gleamed and I did a little dance because I finally received a sponsor from my unit

Angels sang in the background…I had a home.

Suddenly, something stopped me mid-chorus. An important reminder of something I had to do…

Remember who you are, Simba.

No. Wrong memory association.

Something about…a letter.

A distant voice from one of my mentors whispered in the recesses of my mind. “Oh Ive, and when you’re at BOLC, send your battalion commander a letter of introduction.”

The Air Defense gods’ light shined upon me as my memory replayed this scene in my brain.

The BOLC instructors previously mentioning a memo format for the introduction letter on the BOLC share point might have been helpful too…

Either way! THE LETTER. The letter to your company commander and battalion commander sets the foundation for your first impression with the woman or man that will become your senior rater. If the odds are in your favor, these same individuals will become your close mentor throughout your time as a platoon leader. Thus, in the words of your favorite NCO or university professor, it would behoove you to write an introduction letter to your battalion commander at least two months prior to your report date.

The introduction letter should reflect your personality, but of course, keep it professional. I suggest you outline your college background and familial background, report date, and any accomplishments relevant to your time as a platoon leader or future duty. I mentioned a lot of my study abroad experience, for example, to emphasize my cultural awareness because I would work in Korea.

You may also include how you plan to contribute to the team and your leadership philosophy. My letter did not include much of the latter, but since you should provide a memo of your leadership philosophy to your platoon, take time to reflect and write about your leadership approach and emphasize your willingness to learn and work as a team player to the commander.

Limit your letter to one page to restrain from writing a small autobiography.

Below I included my letter from BOLC and my Battery Commander’s letter from Captain’s Career Course.* Notice that my Commander included his experience as platoon leader and executive officer. If you have any prior job experiences or military background, include it as well!

 

 

 

You may notice that I mentioned which battery I wished to work with. Perhaps to some this request may seem presumptuous, but I currently work with Delta today, so it worked out! Create your own opportunities.

I know it may seem a little silly or arrogant to think that this letter is that important, but imagine how impressed you might be if your NCOs put forth the effort to formally introduce themselves to you in a letter. In a land where “perception is reality” unfortunately pervades as the underlying justification for snap judgements, take advantage of the opportunity to shape your leaders’ perception prior to meeting you. Don’t skip this very easy step! Happy writing and good luck!

 

OER Support Forms!

Teach North Korean Refugees is a Non-Profit Organization dedicated to teaching North Korean defectors English. With  some help, I coordinated an event where five refugees shared their stories of escape to the Soldiers in our Battalion. If you find yourself stationed in Korea, look up this incredible organization! Also, this serves as a small example of what you can do to contribute to your unit and write on your OER Support Form 

I walked into my new commander’s office for my second initial counseling.

I guess we’ll see what this one has in store…

My first initial counseling proved standard at best. The gist of it: “Be accountable. Lead. Don’t mess up too much.”

So, in my attempt at optimism, I figured my next initial counseling could only improve.

My eyes widened as my commander placed a whole packet in my hand complete with a memo outlining his expectations.

“Ive, these are my goals and expectations for you. By the end of the week, I want you to start your OER Support Form so that you can set yourself up for success when the time comes for me to write your OER.”

I nodded my head, probably a little too enthusiastically.

“Roger, Sir. On it.”

In the meantime, my mind panicked. OER Support Form? What is that? Sounds like extra work.

Time for long inquiries over wine with my long-time friend and mentor, Google.

Actually, I first relayed all my questions with my real mentor, my dad. Then…I reconfirmed with Google. Who doesn’t like a good excuse for an evening of wine and research?

So. OER support forms. They are 20 percent pain in the butt and 80 percent extremely helpful, especially as a starting point for listing goals and accomplishments in your rated time.

The Officer Evaluation Report (OER) Support Form allows you to state your personal goals in your specific job position and your accomplishments. More importantly, it empowers you to write your own evaluation so that the supervisor can simply copy, paste, and edit your writing for your OER.

Below is an example of my OER Support Form…

 

 

For platoon leaders, notice that the Company Commander, a Captain, serves as the rater, and the Battalion Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel acts as your senior rater. On the OER, the rater annotates the comments and achievements for each leadership attribute (Character, Presence, Intellect, Leads, Develops, and Achieves). The Senior rater writes a “Senior Rater comments” paragraph outlining your potential and rates you against other same ranking Officers in the same position. Note that these are not located on the OER support form. You are the sole creator and editor of the support form!

“Part IV: Rated Officer’s Duties and Responsibilities” outlines the four Ws of your specific duty. For the past year, I served as a platoon leader in a Patriot Battery. This responsibility coincides with my MOS, 14A, Air Defense Officer. Your duty description or location, however, may not necessarily align with your MOS. A Chemical Officer, for instance, may be assigned to S3. Although that Chem O may work with operations and perform tasks with S3, her rated time should describe the duties performed as a chemical officer for the battalion if assigned as the Battalion Chem O. Accordingly, Part IV must define the actual duty, not perceived duties since the OER will focus primarily on the aspects outlined in the “duties and responsibilities” portion.

Ok! Now on to the fun stuff. The “Major Performance Objectives” refer to the personal goals you desire to accomplish within your rated time. I advise that you nest these within the battalion’s and the battery’s mission to provide a reference point. At the same time, however, tailor the goals to your leadership style and personality. Under “Character,” for instance, I understood that I soon would become the senior LT in my battery. My commander and other lieutenants would look to me for guidance and direction. Although aware of this new-found responsibility, I created a habit of remaining quiet in training meetings for two reasons: (1) lack of confidence in the face of extremely competent contemporaries (2) lack of self-control. I tend to get angry over certain decision making… While I mentally noted this goal, writing it in my OER support form allowed me to create a tangible and obtainable objective. Now, I don’t shut up. Yes, I might be considerably outspoken at times, but each time I voice my suggestions (or…educated opinions) I know I tried to make a difference. More significantly, I consistently attempt to stay true to my self and my values.

In line with those personal goals lie “Significant Contributions.” These contributions answer the question, “What did you do to make yourself, platoon and battery better with regard to each leadership attribute?” Consistently scoring a 300 on the APFT, for example, is a strong bullet that would transfer onto the OER.

Since the OER Support form is a living document, update this at least every month. By the time your OER is due, translate your bullets into a small paragraph so your rater can transpose your significant contributions on to the OER.

Thus, “LT Velez earned a 300 on her APFT” becomes:

“1LT Velez carried herself with confidence and professionalism at all times. She possessed the presence of a future Battery Commander while maintaining a high level of professional bearing. Demonstrated her presence by maintaining an impressive 300 APFT score and set the example. Displayed robust resiliency in the face of pressure, certified first time gos during two Gunnery Certifications.”

Do not underestimate your contributions! You will become surprised at the incredible amount of work you accomplished in your time as a platoon leader. Whether you earn a first time “Go” on an evaluation or coordinate a battalion event, the sky is the limit. We just get so bogged down in work that nothing feels noteworthy by the end of a year. If you do not take responsibility for your achievements though, no one will. So go get started on that support form!

Leadership starts with you!

My platoon and I on a DMZ tour in Korea. Dorasan station is the northernmost station in South Korea which one day will hopefully run between North and South Korea.

“Emotional what?…oh my God…seriously?” one of my squad leaders exasperatingly muttered under his breath as I pulled up the power point I created for my second Leader Professional Development (LPD).

My easy to anger mind wanted to throw the laptop and stomp out of the office, but thankfully self-regulation kicked in and I patiently announced to my group of Specialists and Sergeants, “Good afternoon everyone. Today we’re meeting during lunch to have our LPD on emotional intelligence, or EQ. I know that some of you might think this is dumb,”

I shot a glance at my squad leader.

“but when I first learned about this, it changed my perspective on my personal interactions. My hope is that you can glean something out of this lesson too.”

What soon followed was a synergistic conversation full of personal reflection and renewed motivation to make the platoon better. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey describes “Simply defined [synergy] means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.”

As a new platoon leader one of the greatest challenges you will undergo includes building synergistic relationships with the leaders in your platoon. The Army may promote values that each Soldier must follow such as duty, integrity, loyalty, and a myriad of other mottos wrapped up in the bow of selfless service, but in reality, Army culture is diverse. You will encounter Soldiers from varied backgrounds who react differently to situations and may possess difficult personalities. Some Soldiers may never have experienced responsibility in the scope of hierarchical leadership, or perhaps even more difficult, peer leadership. Yes, basic training bears the burden of transitioning civilians into trained Soldiers, but the privilege of transforming Soldiers into leaders belongs to the NCO Corps…and you.

Accordingly, you, your platoon sergeant and squad leaders are responsible for the synergy that occurs in your platoon. You must not only enact the espoused values of the Army, but you must also aid in the creation of unifying parts that make your platoon a team not just in name, but in spirit.

Leadership development…everyone needs it, but not everyone gets it.

Wake up new Lieutenant! 

Recently, the Office of the Chief of Air Defense Artillery (OCADA) held a brief with our Battery proclaiming a new program that will push any promotable E-4 to the NCO board regardless of disapproval from higher leadership. Currently, the platoon sergeant with approval from the 1SG, could deny an E-4 from attending the promotion board if they felt that individual did not demonstrate the qualities of an NCO, or needed further development. Regardless of the pros and cons of this new program, the message from OCADA is clear: start developing your future leaders.

Although this program is not currently in place, you will encounter an individual with four chevrons on their chest and wonder, “Eh…How did that happen?”

Watch your judgements. A majority of the time leaders are a reflection of their past leadership. Very few break out of the chains of learned behavior. During West Point’s version of Basic Training, Beast Barracks, cadet squad leaders would wake us up by loudly banging on our doors. The worst part, however, was the obnoxious way each and every Cadet Sergeant bellowed, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake UUUUUUUUUUUUUUpppp, New Cadet.” They would perform this deep, sing-song condescending ritual every morning with variations throughout the day. “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurry UUUUUUUUppp New Cadet. Weeeeeeeeee’re waiting on yoooooouuu.” “Quuuuuuuuuuuuuiiicklier New Cadet. IIII’mm catching up to yoooouu.” After my nine weeks of training, West Point freed me from their voices…until I became a squad leader. The echoes of past Cadet Sergeants haunted me. This time, however, the voices belted from my peers’ patronizing lungs. We exemplified the reflection of our past leadership.

After this experience, I became keener on observing the leaders within my ranks at West Point and eventually, the ones in my platoon. I became acutely aware of the differences between my squad leaders, my platoon sergeant and myself. At times, the enacted values did not reflect the espoused values I wished for my platoon simply because we came from different backgrounds.

In the face of such great adversity, what’s a ma’am to do?

Don’t throw your hands in the air and give up! You and your PSG will intimately understand your subordinates’ personalities. Use this knowledge to your advantage, and host your own LPD. An LPD can range anything between a financial literacy course to creating a mission statement. You can discuss ADRP 6-22 on Army Leadership or task your squad leaders to create their own LPD to share with the platoon leadership. Regardless of how you want to run it, LPDs serve as a way to create the unity and free form thinking vital to a synergistic relationship between the senior leaders and junior leaders in your platoon.

And if you don’t want to, or don’t feel ready, that’s ok too.

I did not host my own LPDs until I became a First Lieutenant because quite frankly, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Honestly, I still feel that way, but with slightly more experience. If you do not feel comfortable with holding professional development discussions or classes, the best development you can give is to enact your espoused values. Actions speak louder than words.

Define your values and make sure they align with the Army’s values. Remain steadfast and flexible. Reflect and repeat.

Now, you can navigate your way through the haze of many situations…like this one.

My platoon sergeant was once again giving an inspiring speech to our platoon after PT.

“Hey guys, you need to give your best during PT. This is something you control.

Always a supporter of PT, I let my PSG do his thing. I nodded my head in agreement, You preach Platoon Sergeant. Hell Yeah.

If you want to give a little attitude or whine like a girl on her period, that’s on you, but you need to give your best effort.”

Wait. What? Whyyy did you say that?

I loved my platoon sergeant, but I knew what he said was wrong. After ruminating for a few minutes, I called him over after PT, and in my nervousness I accidently barked, “Sergeant!” He quickly turned around, mocking me with a smile on his face, “Ma’am!”

My heart started involuntary racing as I began. “So…when you gave that speech to the platoon about being a woman on her period and whining about PT…you can’t say that.”

He looked a little taken aback, but laughed a little bit. “But ma’am…it’s true!”

“No, Sergeant. When you say stuff like that, you’re teaching our guys to look at women differently. What if we had a female Soldier? She would feel separated from the group. And just in case you didn’t notice, I’m a woman and I get my period every month, and I still kill those guys in PT.”

My platoon sergeant peered at the ground for a second and replied, “You’re right ma’am. I’m sorry.”

And that was that. No hard feelings, no harsh words and no big arguments. But, you can bet that small talk caused a slight but noticeable cultural change in my platoon.

Yes, you can be a stud at your craft. You can talk the big talk about awards you received. The battalion commander can know about all of your achievements and all the LPDs you may or may not choose to hold. In the grand scheme of things, this means nothing. The culminating illustration of leadership comes in the form of your example and ability to confront certain issues, especially when they involve your Soldiers.

All that being said…

In my eyes, the most humbling and awe-inspiring attribute about the Army is that we truly are in the business of developing leaders. We are shaping leaders who will potentially lead Soldiers in combat. We are shaping leaders who will serve as representatives of the United States internationally and domestically. We are shaping leaders who may become parents. We are shaping leaders who may become spouses. We truly have a direct influence on a percentage of America’s citizens. These features of our occupation, however, only come to fruition when we take the extra step.

Alright, alright, I’m off my soap box! In the words of Ben Parker, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” And you, LT have some surprising power and huge responsibility…even if your squad leaders may roll their eyes at your cheesy LPD.

So, go out there, create some synergy, progress yourself and more importantly, progress your junior leaders.

Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance!

I remember the first few days in my Battery, I scuttled around like an awkward penguin following Soldiers to their equipment. Mustering up my best smile, I asked them to show me around the motor pool.

A week into the unit, I learned about “PMCS” and maintenance. I watched Soldiers go through the “reader-doer” method where one Soldier reads from a list of checks on equipment and the other Soldier performs the check. I even greased a fifth wheel! I felt accomplished. Patting myself on the back, I thought, “This leadership thing is easy! I just follow my Soldiers around and ask them questions.” In the famous words of Donald Trump, “Wrooong.”

Two months into my time in Korea, and Table VIII certification week finally arrived. Although I proved myself tactically competent, technically, I could still use a lot of work. For those of you who are not artillery, Table certifications are the validation of your equipment and crews’ ability to fight in a war time situation.

I confidently carried something called “dispatches” into the commander’s office for signatures.

“Hi, Sir. Here are my…” I struggled to remember the name.

The commander glanced down at the first page of the dispatch.

“2LT Velez. What’s wrong with your dispatch paperwork?”

Oh, that’s what they’re called. Cadet Velez’s essence transferred into my body as I peered at my dispatches like a deer in the headlights. “Uhh…Sir, I’m not sure.”

My commander silently smirked. “Sit with Chief, here. He’ll explain everything.”

And so, my training began…

The only way to learn about your equipment is to go out there and do some maintenance, and know about the paperwork associated with it! You sign for your equipment, why not learn how to take care of it?

Generally, maintenance occurs every Monday throughout the day. In the afternoon, units will have a conventional maintenance focus such as: windshield wiper fluid check, generator checks, etc. Each day of the week, Soldiers will perform Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services (PMCS) prior to training.

PMCS is considered as a -10 and -20 task. -10 tasks are operator level, while -20 tasks are at the company level. If operators cannot fix a fault, their next step will be to utilize a mechanic for a -20 task. Soldiers are responsible for the services, inspection, detection, and correction of minor faults before these faults cause damage, failure, or injury.

Soldiers will go through the “reader-doer” method. Every vehicle will contain its own Technical Manual, or “TM” with a PMCS check-list. In order for them to perform a proper -10/-20 level PMCS, they must meet the following standards:

  1. The equipment is Fully Mission Capable (FMC) -Fully Mission Capable (FMC)

-On-hand parts installed/maintenance complete

-Required parts are on valid requisition

-Higher maintenance on valid work request

  1. All services performed
  2. All urgent Modification Work Orders (MWOs) are applied
  3. All Basic Issue Items (BII)/Components of End Items (COEI)

on-hand and serviceable or on a valid requisition (slide-10)

THE BIG BAD 5988-E

You can’t avoid it! You will look at a 5988-E! The more familiar you get with this elusive little document, the more you’ll learn about your million-dollar equipment.

I would say the 5988-E is the most essential part of your dispatch. Keep in mind that each unit has an SOP outlining what the dispatch contains. A basic dispatch will include a cover page with the operator and first line supervisor name and signature, the dispatcher’s signature (the PLL clerk who works for maintenance), the 5988-E (or 2404 for equipment that is not in GCSS Army) line dated, or annotated with faults. Each day, operators will close out the prior day’s 5988 with a line date. Dispatches will be completed and inside the vehicle prior to any movement off site.

What’s that green stuff coming from my truck?

Three classes of leaks can come from your vehicles. Stains and discolorations in your equipment can also denote a leak. Keep these in mind when you spot check your equipment because some leaks can deadline (X) your vehicles.

Class I. Leakage indicated by wetness or discoloration, but not great

enough to form drops.

Class II. Leakage great enough to form drops, but not enough to cause drops to drip from item being checked/inspected.

 Class III. Leakage great enough to form drops that fall from the item

being checked/inspected.

Some tips:

  1. Start with the basics. What’s your BII? What are the basic checks for vehicles? At least follow your Soldiers through PMCS on Mondays and close out on Fridays. Platoon leaders should walk through their equipment with the Platoon sergeant and perform spot checks on before closing out shop for the weekend.
  2. Check the air pressure tank for your breaks, especially in the winter time. Any extra condensation build-up can render your breaks inoperable because the liquid froze the breaking system.
  3. Find out which pieces of equipment can cause your unit to become non-mission capable. If your whole mission is air and missile defense, for instance, and the equipment that tracks missiles becomes inoperable, your battery is NMC.
  4. It’s not always broken! Soldiers love to call equipment “broken.” Go out with your platoon sergeant or squad leader and inspect the equipment yourself. Ask questions and get the operators’ gears moving. They can likely fix whatever was “broken.”

Final Thoughts?

I think not! Coming soon are more maintenance focused posts. There’s just so much! This post, however, serves as a basic introduction to maintenance.

Big thank you to the Central Army Agency and the Ordinance Basic Leader Course for providing a wonderful power point PMCS refresher course, and the 5988-E slides. I told you the Army has a lot of great resources!