11/19/2019 | By Brig. Gen. B.G. Edwards Commanding, 104th Training Division (LT)
From the 104th Training Division (LT)Commander
The United States Army has always had great leaders who have risen above hardships and have drawn on a range of leadership qualities to influence Soldiers, build units,and accomplish the mission.
– ADP 6-22
I recently had the unique opportunity to participate in a talent management project for the Army Reserve. We looked into why Army Reserve officers are not applying for command in the numbers necessary to adequately lead the force. And what I learned while participating in this working group was eye opening and somewhat heart breaking. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Cadets are trained to lead from the front in every Army officer producing school. It is the foundation of the Army officer developmental process. From day one, they are instructed to take charge, to lead the force, and do the right thing when no one is looking. It is here that cadets learn the ultimate opportunity to lead others is being in command.
Command is the authority that a commander in the armed forces lawfully exercises over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment. Command includes the authority and responsibility for effectively using available resources and for planning the employment of, organizing, directing, coordinating, and controlling military forces for the accomplishment of assigned missions. It also includes responsibility for health, welfare, morale, and discipline of assigned personnel. - JP 1-02
Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations - ADP 6-0
To command in the world’s greatest Army is truly an honor and privilege. And, it is a tremendous responsibility that should not be taken lightly. To command in America’s Army is the apex goal every commissioned officer strives for...or so I thought. In the past, the selection process for command at any level was challenging to say the least. Boards were held and protocols were followed, resulting in only the best of the best being selected to lead our force. Today in the Army Reserve it’s much different. And that is the genesis of this article.
Today, the Army Reserve struggles to fill its O5 and O6 level commands. It is not a lack of qualified officers, but a lack of motivated officers to update their records and apply for command. The last series of boards fell short of filling all the vacant positions within the Army Reserve formation. But why? What changed? And what can we do to fix the problem? Many issues were raised during the process and this paper does not address all of them. However, it addresses one idea that resonates across several conversation lines. That is the perception of risk vs reward
There is a real perception in our formation that commanding at the O5/O6 level puts your career at risk with no reward. Leaders typically opt to not command in the Army Reserve for several reasons. Time, job conflicts, impingement on family time, and risk of formal complaints are a few of the common ones. The lack of promotion preference or added compensation for those willing to command can be added to this list. One recent and disturbing view is that having a “command isn’t required to be promoted in the Army Reserve.” Another point made by the group was “the lack of fulltime support personnel placed an undue burden commanders,” forcing them to do too many things on personal time just to keep the unit afloat. Not to mention the vast distances between headquarters and subordinate units place great burdens on part time commanders to adequately run these organizations and meet Army Reserve readiness requirements. Considering these conditions, it’s not hard to understand why an officer would want to avoid the “burden of command.” After all, command appears to be a full time job masked in a part time cloak. One that consumes a tremendous amount of personal time without due compensation, decreases the ability to provide for one’s family, and increases stressors with civilian employers. Commanders endure these circumstances without the benefit of added pay or being promoted at a faster rate than their peers. Typically commanders are in position at a time when they are at the peak of their civilian career and family/life obligations. So, why command? I’ll tell you why!
Commanding in the Army Reserve is a challenge but rewarding experience to which more leaders must aspire. The need for selfless leadership in the U.S. military has never been greater. Challenges associated with commanding are real, but are surmountable. Opportunities to serve as a commander provide officers with an invaluable, unmatched experience that cannot be rivaled in the civilian world.
Commanding in the Army Reserve provides leaders with a “leadership laboratory” in which core competencies are challenged, developed, and perfected. Army formations are diverse, and collaborative leaders broaden their problem solving skills portfolio by soliciting input from their organization. The periodic human interaction between a commander and the geographically dispersed members of the unit challenges a leader to be an effective communicator in both the written and verbal form. These interactions do not occur daily in the Army Reserve, requiring a commander to perfect the ability to communicate effectively. Leaders in the Army have relationships with and access to their chain of command that is unmatched in the civilian world, providing leaders with access to senior officers who will coach, teach, and mentor them.
The aforementioned challenges many reasons not to command, and the following tools address how reasons to not command can be further overcome. Various types of additional funding can be made available to command teams to compensate them for the additional time requirements consistent with command. Senior leaders can establish flexible expectations that allow commanders to be at critical career and family events. Promotion and selection board processes can be revisited to favor those willing to command. Families can and should be not only incorporated into Reserve activities but celebrated as a vital component in the success of any Reserve Soldier. It’s critical to our future that we overcome this dilemma because the strategic environment demands it.
The strategic operating environment has never been more volatile, uncertain, or complex. Russia, China, Iran, Violent Extremist Organizations, and other adversaries intend to re-shape the world order in their favor. The reorder envisioned by each of these actors threatens domestic and global U.S. interests and those of our allies. Cyber-attacks, gray zone conflicts, proxy wars, information operations, terrorism, and economic warfare the many tools these adversaries can employ. Targets chosen by adversaries will not be solely military in nature, but doctrinally will include the infrastructure, security, and well-being of American citizens. Future conflict may evolve from being sporadic into an everyday constant, creating an operating environment where quality, dedicated leadership is crucial at every level. These challenges will require military leaders to be innovative problem solvers who can collaborate with multiple stakeholders in both military and civilian domains.
Leaders who hesitate to command in the Army Reserve must understand the stakes have never been higher, and recognize the need America has for leaders with a competitive spirit. Selfless service remains at a premium, with the future well-being of our Nation depending on those who have it. Army Reserve commanders must know that they are not alone in the endeavor. Senior leaders must prioritize the communication with and coaching, teaching, and mentoring of their subordinate leaders. Time with families and career development is a commodity that additional pay and retirement points only begins to replace, but strengthens the financial resiliency of a Reserve leader nonetheless. The shape modern warfare is taking requires leaders who are innovative, decisive, and bold, with the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with multiple stakeholders. Developing these skills in the Reserve is a unique opportunity not typically offered in the civilian world that will make an officer more marketable in the civilian workplace. The Army Reserve needs commanders who recognize these factors and are willing to serve. America’s Soldiers deserve the best leaders we can provide.
“...if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for war.”
— George Washington
Comments and Editorial assistance provided by LTC John Kaikkonen and CPT Eva Gonzalez.