PL vs PSG: Duties and Responsibilities

This video was about two years in the making.  I talked with several Officers and NCO’s about what they thought, and even had a few former PSG’s review my script.  Among all the requests I have received, this topic was the most popular. 

The hardest thing to do as a junior officer is to stay out of your PSG’s way.  The work he does, though it is difficult, is well defined. Here is the thing though.  The Army did not hire you to do well defined work (well, unless you are a Pilot, then just fly that bird).  The Army hired you to do the work that is not clearly laid out, or at least to define the work that needs to be done.

But, for now, I want to focus on one part of the LT’s duty that I didn’t spend much time on during the video; Extending your influence to and beyond the Chain of Command.

It is up to you to develop the working relationships with Officers and NCO’s across the command and even outside the command to accomplish your mission.  I will give you a few examples:

- In my second command, my XO had a great relationship built with the deployment center.  She did this before it was needed, and maintained it throughout her time in the Company.  When we had an emergency deployment, she was able to leverage her relationship to get expertise and assets assigned to us to make our mission happen.

- One of my fellow PL’s was able to build a relationship with the turn-in yard OIC during our deployment.  With this, he was able to get extra engineer tools for his build section, and made it easier for them to do construction jobs.

- I play poker with one of the G1 guys in our command.  When I was assigned a task to get mail moved from one country to another, he was incredibly helpful in making it happen.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is not about making friends or developing long term relationships with other Soldiers (though that all helps).  It is all about developing a contact and letting them know you are worth their effort.  When you ask for something, are you going to follow up on your end of the task? Are you the kind of officer that will be there to help them when they need it? Hell, do they even know who you are and what your job is?

All of this may sound “political”.  When I was a 2LT, I hated this kind of stuff.  It took me until my second command to understand the true value of networking like this.  Not only can this help accomplish your mission, but it can help you in your personal life as well.  Do you want to get that one assignment? Well, who do you know?

Thanks for your patience between videos! I love doing these, but they are very time consuming!

Training Leadership

If you have seen my videos or columns, then you know that my focus is on Task Accomplishment. I have always felt that there are enough people out there talking about leadership that I did not need to duplicate this effort. I have no problem with those who choose to write about Leadership, but of the literally hundreds of articles I have read on the topic, only two or three have ever given me the kind of information I found relevant or applicable.

That being said, I recently read an article by “The Military Leader” titled “Have We Removed Leadership from Leader Development?”  It took me reading the column three times to really grasp the message (no fault to the author, I was a bit slow on the pick-up). Bottom line up front, how do you focus on teaching Leadership, not just conducting task focused development of leaders, in the Operational Army?

This was a good article, and I suggest you give it a read. I will be looking forward to his next post, where the Military Leader will be writing about his suggestions on how to make Leadership the focus of Leadership Development Programs (LDP). Here are my thoughts ahead of this.

1. Put effort into what you do in classrooms.

I can’t tell you how many LDP sessions I have been a part of where I was in a stuffy conference room or the Old Man’s cramped office, listening to people who outrank me drone on. Even in the best case scenarios, it is hard to get anything out of them. I have to admit, I have subjected my subordinates to them as well. Why do we punish ourselves so?

Because we have to put LDP on the calendar. It has to be a deliberate action so that we can demonstrate to our superiors that it is a priority of ours so we can get them off our backs.  As long as we are going to make this a deliberate session, why don’t we deliberately plan for it?

Set up table top exercises, where learning is an end result of the audiences actions. Guide the discussion towards an endgame, but let the participants figure it out. Establish realistic, challenging scenarios with multiple solutions. Highlight where core leadership competencies aided in solving the problem, or where lack thereof hindered them.

2. Get out of the classroom.

Why are we in the old man’s office in the first place? There is no amount of coffee that can make a classroom an optimal training environment for any task, much less developing leadership. Get the group to meet somewhere that changes the environment. Stay away from any environment that puts subordinates on the defensive (motor pools, sand tables, company areas ect..). It may sound unconventional, but I have always found the best place is the Officer Club.

Power down the scope or audience. Invite only Lieutenants or Captains.  Or even better, only 3-5 people at a time. Come prepared with a topic and what the end state of the training is. Focus on things that have happened. This can be something that occurred during a training event, or it could be something more administrative. Ask your subordinates some pointed questions. What they want to accomplish? What was the mission? What happened? How did you apply core leadership principals?  Guide their analysis of the event, and let them come to their own conclusions.

3. The two times rule.

I am an intelligent guy. You are an intelligent guy/gal. Chances are, your bosses are intelligent, as are your subordinates. We are all intelligent people. 

That being said, there is no reason to prove it by holding our subordinates hostage to our speeches during LPD sessions. Your audience will have tuned out after a few minutes (on purpose or not). Even if you have spent days or weeks preparing what you are going to say, at some point, it will be ineffective.

Your subordinates should be doing at least twice as much talking as you.  Listen to what they have to say. Let them come to their own conclusions.  If they are not the lessons you are looking for them to divine, guide the discussion away from that lesson and step back. Admire the intelligence of your subordinates.

4. Trust vs Gotcha.

Because Leadership is an abstract topic, honesty and openness are everything when discussing it. Though there are wrong answers, there is no one “right” answer. Feeling free to expose failures and preconceived notions will allow the learning process to take root, yielding positive results.

This will all be destroyed if there is a “Gotcha” environment. I hate to say it, but there needs to be a “safe space” set up. Not in the terms of sparing someone’s feelings, but somewhere that your subordinates can be OK with identifying and confronting their shortcomings.  Allow yourself, or your subordinates, to harshly critique (see: Monday Morning Quarterback), and that subordinate will no longer trust the training. This may cause them to shut down completely.

Conversely, allow your subordinate to show off when they have succeeded, but keep the focus on how they succeeded, not that they succeeded.

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To be sure, not everyone can be taught to be a leader. Expecting that an LPD program can create leaders out of anyone is faulty. But a leader can come from anyone, so it is your (and my) job to try our best to teach leadership. 

Bottom line, Prepare and take it seriously, try to do it outside of a classroom, let the audience do the talking, and create trust.

Poland's Problem

What follows is a bit of fun I had after finishing The Ghost Fleet by P. W. Singer and August Cole.  Overall, I give the book 4 out of 5 JPRs (John Patrick Ryans, the only official method of judging military fiction). If you get the chance, give it a read.

This goes without saying, but spoilers lie ahead.

“Mr. Prime Minister, Accusing the Russians of an insane scheme such as this will only cause our already strained diplomatic relations to collapse”

“Not to mention the possibility of further economic harm.  The foreign minister is right.  If we accuse Moscow of taking these unbelievable actions, they will sanction our agricultural industry even further”

“Which part is unbelievable, Minister Wasiak, the fact that Russia has half of their land forces in Belarus for an unscheduled training exercise, or that our Ukrainian allies have intercepted ‘Training Documents’ outlining a campaign plan to take Warsaw?”

Tomasz Kowski grew tired of the back and forth between his Defense and Foreign ministries.  During his two years in office as the Prime Minister of Poland, he had found only one thing that could be relied upon; that the Council of Ministers would fall apart whenever a Russian topic was discussed.  This was not without reason, but the predictability of the outcome was never in question.

“Defense Minister Malinowski, if the threat is real as you say, then where are the Russian Air Forces?” countered Minister Skalecki, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Your own intelligence indicates that though we don’t know where they are, we know where they are not.  Their European and Black Sea Bases are nearly empty.”

“Not to mention the lowest Naval Presence in the Baltic or Black seas have seen sense 1995” added Piotr Wasiak from the Ministry of the Economy.

“You both seem to have a very tenuous grasp on reality, my fellow Ministers”, Grzegorz Malinowski calmly retorted, “Your knowledge of trees causes you to miss the forest in front of you.  If they do intend to make a move on us, they will not need their Naval or Air forces.  Their S-400 systems would knock our Air and Missile forces down before they could be effective just as our PATRIOT and AEGIS systems would. My colleagues, this war would be a battle on the land”

“This war? You talk as if this is a foregone conclusion.  Do you wish to invite this?” said Minister Skalecki, badly masking his rage, “If we demand and threaten the Russians, they might just take your offer, Minister, and…”

“Gentlemen, stop” Tomasz finally said, tired of the debate, “Minister Skalecki, there is no reason we cannot simply talk to the Ambassador and demand an explanation.  And Grzegorz, any Action taken against us would invoke an Article V vote”

“Mr. Prime Minister,” Interrupted the defense Minister, “We cannot trust NATO.  And we must remember, the last time we trusted an Alliance to stop an enemy, we found ourselves invaded from both East and West”

“Grzegorz, this is not 1939.  And even if we cannot trust NATO, we can certainly trust our American Allies.”

“Who only have sent one Brigade after we asked for a Division! The new garrison area at Drawsko Pomorski has been finished for more than three years now, and yet it remains nearly empty!”

His headache was building again.  He knew that bringing on Grzegorz as his Defense Minister was a bold choice, but he also knew that his skill in Military Affairs was matched only by his recklessness in the political world.

“Enough.  Minister Skalecki, contact the Russian Embassy.  Summon the Ambassador to explain this exercise to us tomorrow”, Prime Minister Kowski calmly, but with a hint of annoyance in his tone.  It was already past midnight, and this emergency session needed to come to an end.

“Sir, that will not be necessary” Minister Skalecki said, looking at a message his watch relayed to him, “It seems that the Russian Ambassador is already here, demanding an audience with yourself and the President.  And he has the Chinese Ambassador with him.”

“A declaration of War, I am sure” Minister Malinowski snorted, “And while their troops take Bialystok, we debate in this damned palace”

“Grzegorz, stop.  Minister Skalecki, bring them in.”

“Without the President? Sir, let me call his aide and get him on the Vis from Washington.  This will not look good if you go around him on diplomatic issues again.”

“No reason to do diplomatic work from a Vis screen.  It is better that we receive whatever news these two have without it being on the net.  Please, invite the good Ambassadors in” 

Minister Skalecki waived to one of the aides to bring the Ambassadors before the Council.  The aide tapped a panel on the wall, signaling the guard outside to open the door. Two figures rounded the corner and entered the room with a third, much taller man behind them carrying a briefcase that seemed to be shackled to his wrist. 

“Ambassadors, what is the meaning of this?” Prime Minister Kowski demanded.

“Prime Minister Kowski, I was instructed to pass this joint message to both yourself and your President.  Please have him join our conversation immediately, as the contents of this message are extremely time sensitive” stated the Chinese Ambassador.

“You may not make such a request.  In fact, I question your purpose in being here.  We know well of the massed Russian formations in Belarus, and we have seen some very troubling documents.  We require an explanation from you, Ambassador Ovechkin.”

“Prime Minister, the contents of our message will more than answer your questions” Ambassador Ovechkin mumbled.  A bead of sweat appeared near his right temple, slowly traveling towards his jawline.

The Prime Minister grimaced with annoyance, “Well then, tell us what you came to say, Ambassador. I am authorized to act on behalf of our President in his absence for matters of Foreign Policy, or did your government not teach you that?”

The Ambassadors looked at each other, Ovechkin nodding to the Chinese Ambassador after a slight pause.

“Mr. Prime Minister,” started the Chinese Ambassador, “As we speak, a combined Russian and Chinese force is conducting Air Strikes against American bases in Japan, Korea, Guam and Hawaii.  A force of Chinese Infantry and Armor have landed at Honolulu, and we have significantly degraded the American Global Positioning Satellite network.  Within the next days, we will be in possession of Hawaii and the American Pacific Fleet will be destroyed.”

The board erupted into near chaos as every member was outraged by the information, seeming as it could not possibly be true.  The room became nearly inaudible when the defense minister slammed his fist on the table, pointing an accusing finger towards the Russian Ambassador.

“Speak your words, Ovechkin.” growled Minister Malinowski, “Deliver your message so that your service may be complete and I can have you arrested for the scum that you are.”

“Mr. Prime Minister,” continued Ambassador Ovechkin, straining to stay composed as sweat started to pour down his face “The message we are delivering is being delivered to every member of NATO and the Organization of American States as we speak.”

“But the point of the message is this,” the Chinese Ambassador interrupted, annoyed by the Poles arrogance and Ovechkin’s incompetence, “We know that NATO is on the brink of collapse.  Your alliance will not survive the next Atlantic Council meeting, where your ‘Allies’ will vote not to come to America’s aide.  Poland’s Nuclear Umbrella will be gone, and you have the bulk of the Russian land forces knocking on your border.”

“We do not want war, Prime Minister Kowski,” said Ovechkin, “but if you vote to activate Article V, or you support the Americans, we will have no choice but to move against Warsaw.  I have been directed that if you do not comply, I am to issue a declaration of war.”

The third, taller man lifted his briefcase to show the cabinet. A silence fell upon the room.  The entire cabinet was in shocked disbelief.

“Tell your governments” started the Prime minister, standing slowly with tips of his fingers touching the top of the table, “That Poland stands by her Allies.  This disgusting act of aggression will not stand.  If you are to issue your declarations of war, issue them now.”

Skalecki looked up at Kowski in near panic.  Malinowski looked up, nodding approval behind a mask of anxiety.

“You are not a wise man, Mr. Prime minister.  You have twenty-four hours.  If your country does not comply, you will regret it” the Chinese Ambassador stated in a disgusted tone.

With that, the Chinese Ambassador turned and left the room in a huff.  The Russian Ambassador, attempting to maintain a stoic look but failing badly, looked at the Defense minister, quickly darting his gaze away when the prime minister met his eyes.  He left the room, with the third trailing behind him.

As the doors closed, Foreign Minister Skalecki stood to speak, but the Prime Minister raised his hand, signaling him to remain silent. 

“We are at a crossroads gentlemen.  We hold the fate of our People in our hands.  Minister Malinowski,” said the Prime Minister, using the Defense Ministers full title and name for the first time, “What course of action to stop the Russians do we have, without NATO?”

“Sir, our people will fight the Russians till their last breath… but I fear that we could not stop them with only unilateral action.  We will be overrun before the American units in the West and Germany can take effective action, and if what they say about NATO is accurate…”

“It is, Minister Malinowski” interrupted Minister Skalecki. “The Alliance has been on shaky ground since Syria.  France, Spain and Turkey will not support the Americans.”

“The Germans and British?” Asked the prime minister.

“The British will help, but their hands will be tied by Geography.  As for the Germans? There is no way to know for sure, but what can they bring to the fight? They are as restricted by Geography as the British, and they have a land border to worry about, should the Russians make it past us” stated Malinowski.

“Our first concern must be our People,” started Skalecki. “If we can avoid a war that we will likely lose, we should, even though our ties to the American run deep.”

“Our lines of communication run long.  If we commit to war, we must know that America can continue to logistically assist us.  We cannot guarantee that they will have the ability to do so, especially if NATO dissolves.” Stated Malinowski, starting to regret his aggressive stance.

The Prime Minister sat, resigned to the impossible situation he was presented with.

“We must help the Americans, yet we must ensure our own survival” he mused, “Get our President on the line, he must be made aware.  Grzegorz, work with your chiefs and develop a plan to support the Americans covertly.  Work back-channels, find out what we can do to assist the war effort.  Minister Skalecki, summon the American Ambassador immediately, and tell him to bring his Defense Attaché with him.”

“Gentlemen, we will support the Americans.  But we cannot support them if we are destroyed in the process.”

“There may be a way that we can ensure our survival and help the Americans,” the Defense minister started, “but it will be very risky.”

“And what is that?”

“Nuclear Weapons”

When Veterans Bully other Veterans

The Military community, among all communities or cohorts in the United States, is the most likely to “police” its members.

This is very much by design.  It is hard to see or know this when you are a Private or a Junior Officer.  At this level of experience, you can’t see the Forrest through the trees because you are more focused on what actions you need to take in order to keep your boss off your ass for the next 24 hours.  But this self-policing mechanism allows leadership to know that the individuals at their subordinate units will stay within legal, ethical and regulatory bounds while accomplishing their mission with very little oversight.

But, this mechanism too often bleeds into off-duty hours activities and even worse, to the civilian world.  Now, it is not that I disagree with it carte-blanche.  In fact, it is usually harmless.  But because of our ingrained desire to call others out along with the perceived social benefit of doing so, this policing can quickly become bullying. 

Image taken from this article.  Original source unknown.

Image taken from this article.  Original source unknown.

Take a look at the picture above.  What is the first thought it elicits?  Is it anger at the circumstances that lead the owner of the sign to contract PTSD?  Is it a desire to be considerate and use fireworks that don’t focus on noise?  Or is it that the owner is an entitled ass who is looking for sympathy and public recognition, deserved or not?

The problem I see is that too often, we assume the third.  Now, I have long felt awkward every time someone thanks me for my service.  Make no mistake, I am proud of my service.  But it took place mostly behind a wired fence, sending emails and coordinating support for real ground-pounders.  So, I find myself with very little mandate to criticize my fellow veterans.

But, let’s pretend that I was such a bad-ass that to find a peer I would have to travel back in time to meet Audie Murphy.  Do I then have the mandate to criticize other veteran’s actions? Do I have the moral authority to judge other veterans, their mental states and their service and then to find them wanting or even detestable?

I would respond with a resounding “No”.

And the reason for this is simple.  There is no reason to judge them in the first place.  There is nothing to gain, and the community does not improve because of it.  You don’t know what they have been through or what their mental state is. Everyone handles stress and trauma differently, depending on who they are and what their experience is.  I have seen manly monsters break down upon receiving an upsetting email from their boss, just as I have seen seemingly meek people run havoc over crisis situations and save the day.  There is no reason to assume anything upon a quick glance.

Now, you can’t stop yourself from having the thoughts or knee-jerk reactions.  To demand that would be inhuman and unrealistic.  The real question is, what action will you take when these thoughts occur?

Screenshot taken this article.  Source of original picture unknown.

Screenshot taken this article.  Source of original picture unknown.

The author of this article does not like people who display the signs as shown above.  His entire editorial harangues veterans who have these signs as entitled brats whose service most likely does not meet the impossible standard that the author has set.  He makes wild assumptions based on pictures that he has acquired through Facebook or other social media, seemingly borrowing his assumptions from others then amplifying them.

Screenshot taken from article.  Source of original picture unknown.

Screenshot taken from article.  Source of original picture unknown.

In a way, my own article is policing and I am guilty of the same action.  I think that the fact that there is no want for context in the referenced article is the difference.  With any of the pictures that the author presents, there is a major lack of context.  But the author displays his background and thought process, all possible context included save for what he has done to be in receipt of such judgmental license.  He does include a slight out that yes, some veterans are legitimate in their needs for such a sign.  But two token sentences after over 1800 words deriding the signs seems like an intellectual cop-out more than anything.

He also pre-defends himself against accusations that articles like this are the reason that veterans don’t reach out for the care they require.  He states, “First, I think anyone with problems should get help for those problems. I mean actual, professional help, rather than engage in attention-seeking behavior that reeks of entitlement.”

The assumption here is that the veteran has not done that already and that this is not part of what the professional has suggested.  But even if this were not true, perhaps the veteran simply can understand their own limitations.  Maybe they understand that explosions, even of fireworks, can be upsetting to them.  Instead of just “dealing with it” and moving on, taking action to not fear simply existing on the Fourth of July is more than appropriate. Is the sign a panacea that will cure the ills of the veteran? Absolutely not.  It is just a sign, and it is only as effective as long as it is seen and understood. 

So why does the author take such issue with the sign and those who display them?  I could say that they are trying to down someone simply for being week.  But I don’t think that is the case.  The argument the author displays lends credence to that thought, but it is not the purpose of his writing.  Is it that the author is trying to jealously guard some perceived pool of virtue that is exhaustible and beyond value? No, though the author certainly would claim that he and few others have the right to draw from that pool.

The article is really about policing other veterans.  The author finds himself as the arbiter of what is deserving of praise and what is not; of who is truly a combat veteran and how they should act.  Just like he must ensure that everyone maintains their uniformity during an in-ranks inspection, he feels that actions taken when off duty must meet a set of unwritten regulations that the author is privy to.  And in his quest to ensure that these right and left limits are enforced, the only tool he has is to bully and deride others.

Are there veterans who take advantage of the public’s perceptions for personal profit or social status?  Absolutely.  But they are few and far between.  Just like you should not judge all gun owners by the behavior of a mass murder or all preachers by the actions of one pedophile, you should not judge all veterans by the conduct of one jackass.  This is especially true when the behavior has no perceivable consequence to you.

But, should my reasoning seem unconvincing to you, let me suggest a different course of action.  Instead of writing an article deriding what is seen as a breach of conduct, why not speak to the fellow veteran and ask them why they chose to post the sign?  If the suspicions are true, ask the veteran to take the sign down and preserve the pool of virtue.  If they are false, you gain the opportunity to let a fellow veteran know you are there to support them, growing the bond of brotherhood that the uniform creates.

But I have an idea why the author didn’t. And I am keeping that to myself.

CSDP: Types of Responsibility (And notes on being an Aide de Camp)

So these videos seem like they are turning into a Quarterly occurrence.

I do mean to put them up more often, but man are things getting busy here in Europe.  As our old friends LTG Hodges, Commander of USAREUR says, “We have to make 30,000 look and feel like 300,000”.

Speaking of Generals, let’s talk about being an Aide de Camp for a moment.  Now I have never been an “ADC”, but I now know quite a few and work with them closely.  I can assure you that as a learning opportunity, there is probably nothing better than being an ADC, no matter who it is for.  The meetings and places you get to go to offer a glut of information that, quite frankly, you would never get from almost any job you would have in a normal career progression.  On top of that, having an evaluation from a General can only do good things for your career.  As they say, “Not all ADCs make General, but nearly every General was once an ADC”.

But you know what else they say about ADCs?  “You are office furniture.  You will be used until broken and then replaced.”

Ouch.

It is very true.  Every single ADC I have met has suffered through very long days and very rough working conditions.  I am not saying Generals are dicks or that they are bad to work for (though some are).  But the demands of the job and the hours you work are extreme.  My longest days are nearly always shorter than an ADC.  And, if ADC’s are anything, they are expendable.  There are always more Captains and LT’s.

So take that into perspective, if you ever are given the opportunity to be an ADC.  If you are successful as an ADC, you are set for your career.  But you will be sacrificing your personal life and, indeed, your family life (if you have one).