Academic journal article Military Review

Enhancing the Platoon Leader Experience

Academic journal article Military Review

Enhancing the Platoon Leader Experience

Article excerpt

IT IS WINTER at Fort Leavenworth. and the three strands of barbed wire that separate Kansas from the North Pole are doing little to slow down the Polar Express on its journey south. The children, in a rare display of excellent timing and good form, have gone to bed early and have yet to squawk. A fire burns in the fireplace of these fine Old Army quarters. On the parson's table beside my chair sits a glass of old Jameson's Irish whiskey and a glass of clear spring water. And, with a drink and a fire and a cold Kansas night come memories:

Of a lieutenant fresh from basic and airborne courses feeling prepared to be a lieutenant but not sure if he is prepared to be a platoon leader in this new unit in this strange, new place.

Of learning that it takes time to "get good" at a job, then time to "be good" and to know what "being good" feels like, and how much fun it can be when you and the platoon are "good."

Ol overhearing a conversation as a junior staff captain: "Welcome to the Cav lieutenant. We ride hard and fast here, so stow your gear, draw your TA-50 (Table of Allowance), take your Advanced Physical Fitness Test (APFT), and get ready because we go to the field next week. Oh, by the way, here is our Lieutenant Certification Program. Make sure you get it done in the next 90 days."

Of recognizing that the Lieutenant Certification Program taught lieutenants good things if only they had the time to learn them.

Of a story told by General Bruce C. Clarke: "When a new regimental recruit was ready to be taken before the sergeant major, he was well turned out and formally presented. The sergeant major sat very militarily behind his desk, and the recruit stood at rigid attention. The sergeant major covered briefly the long, glorious history of the regiment. He then covered several things that all men in that regiment did and several things they did not do."1

Oja conversation with a young second lieutenant whom I had taught as a cadet: "Sir, things are OK here at Fort Bragg. I've been here three months and don't expect to get my platoon for another two months. I'm the assistant S4 and not really happy about it. I don't do very much other than make copies and run errands."

Of my thoughts that, in the Army, we have ceased to make a "big deal" out of things that should be a big deal. Since we seldom wear Class A uniforms, we seldom put on unit awards, and we are lucky if anyone in the battalion knows what they mean. Organization days (if we have them) have become merely family and unit sports days with little, if any, mention of the history and traditions of the organization. Officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) assume, execute, and depart from difficult positions, and because it happens all the time to us collectively, we forget that it is a big deal to us individually.

Qf Army promotion policies that have moved the pin-on date to first lieutenant to 18 months and captain to 42 months so that much less time is available for young officers to figure out how to be good lieutenants.

Of the question I believe all NCOs must ask, "Is this new platoon leader any good?"

Of conversations with officers recently departed from S3 and executive officer (X0) positions: "We try to ensure each lieutenant 8 to 12 months of platoon-leader time; they typically will only get one platoon."

"Getting Good"

With a drink and a fire and memories always comes a conversation with Conscience, who asks, "So what is the problem, Major, and what would you do about it if you were King for the Day?"

"Well, Conscience, the problem is this: given that today's lieutenants have limited platoon-leader time, how do organizational leaders set up lieutenants for success so they can quickly move through the "getting good" phase to maximize their time at "being good" platoon leaders?

To answer that question, we must first define what the lieutenant must "be good" at. …

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