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The Army is the largest or the United States Armed Forces (Reynolds & Shendruk, 2018). Like other military branches it exists for the purposes of defense and to serve the national interest. Like any organization, such as a corporation, it has a stratification of leadership with higher positions holding higher responsibilities over larger portions of the institution. This holds more emphasis in the military due to chain of command. Decisions, policy, and regulation trickle from higher echelons down to the lowest levels. When all levels are synchronized, and moving towards the same end state, it fosters disciplined initiative and efficiency. When synchronization does not occur, or subordinate leaders misuse time available, efficiency is lost. This is in detrimental to being able to generate and employ combat power. Even well-intentioned decisions and outcomes can produce this, with faults occurring at the direct, organizational, and strategic levels.

In warfighting the Army’s direct level of leadership is the most exposed, consisting of the team to company level. Leaders have to manage their team’s roles in operations while also providing holistic coaching and mentoring to service members (HQDA, 2012). Being at the bottom of the Army’s structure there is no shortage of requirements, from combat task to administrative, that these leaders are charged with. So many, in fact, that it is impossible for the direct level leader to be fully aware of all them.

A common fault of a direct leader is erring in the attempt to balance needs of individual team members with productivity towards mission sets and administrative requirements. This is an easy trap to fall into given the high operational tempo facing many units. It is worth noting, some momentum has been gathering to reduce administrative burdens at the direction of the Army’s top leaders (Millet & Esper, 2018).

I experienced this during 2016 while assigned as a platoon sergeant in a field artillery battalion. We were under two separate brigade level headquarters, division artillery and the brigade combat team. In preparation for the BCTs multiple combat training center rotations we would service infantry companies as they executed platoon and company live fires. We were to be collectively trained to a platoon level certification to support (HQDA, 2019). Additionally, the DIVARTY placed further training requirements on certification levels and their own additional, high impact, training events. This was compounded by the doctrinal requirements prescribing semi-annual certifications. When a critical member of a howitzer section was injured, attended school, or left the unit certification and qualification was lost from the section to the company. Which then required additional training and renewing certifications. My subordinate leaders, and to extent myself, tended to fail in cross training during available time for the interest of continuity. Time for opportunity training was being forfeited at the chance of giving the team a break. Albeit, much of the break time was used to meet other demands, such as menial tasks, a litany of details, or other required training.

The organizational level of Army leadership extends from the battalion through division. It is here that the logistics, larger operational planning, and power of the purse meet to enable the lower echelons. Like smaller organizations, there are no shortage of demands and mission sets. There is a propensity for these organizations to take on more of a work load, without pushing their concerns higher, and seemingly with little regard for the burden already being shouldered at the direct level. Again, drawing from my experiences as a platoon sergeant, there were considerable obstacles to overcome from the battalion and brigade elements. Chiefly, in the reporting of the sunny disposition.

To meet all the training events previously mentioned, it takes considerable effort in the maintenance system. This required involvement from every level of leadership, accurate reporting, and also that funds are applied against requisition of parts. This is coupled with the fact that no commander wants to call their teams out or unavailable. This produced a less than honest assessment of capabilities being reported by the battalion. In maintenance, for example, I continuously found myself without the required parts to keep my platoon worth of howitzers, and wheeled vehicles, fully mission capable. This was despite placing parts on order, ensuring both the platoon and maintenance sections had correct documentation, and that it was all recorded in the Army’s automated maintenance system. The battalion would report equipment fully mission capable, then would lose the justification for ordering parts, and refused to deadline equipment to ensure funds were prioritized for said parts. In three instances, the automated maintenance system was purged, each time with the promise that it would correct errors that were supposedly ours.

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This continued for the entirety of my tenure, despite three combat training center rotations and a yearlong stint as the Global Reaction Force (Pernin et al., 2016). At each major event blame was placed on my team for not having fully mission capable equipment. We constantly struggled with loss of wheeled vehicles. The chief reservation of this inaccurate reporting is the repercussions to be faced if placed into combat with the same degraded equipment. The U.S. had just escalated intervention in Syria the year prior (The Associated Press, 2019). Instead of having weapon systems that could achieve near to first round fire for effect capabilities we would be relegated to antiquated methods that require more time at all levels of the fire process. Time that would presumably be spent as observing elements are in contact with an enemy. Moreover, we could potentially be static on the battlefield, unable to move without reliably maintained wheeled vehicles. The organizational leaders placed priority on being able to take on more events over the very possible reality of our on-call mission.

The strategic level of leadership seamlessly overlaps the higher echelons of organizational leadership, reaching to the National Command Authority. The title can be deceiving, as there is much administrative and policy directed from these top echelons. The stand out issue I’ve experience due to strategic policy is professional growth for subordinates and peers.

Professional enhancing positions for field artillery men and women are very much top heavy. There is no incentive for branch to move lower enlisted between units. Moves to other organizations would allow greater exposure for future senior leaders to experience different organizations, weapons systems, and leadership relationships. This could be done cost effectively by conducting moves without changing stations, as almost all posts have multiple like organizations. This idea benefits sergeants and staff sergeants, as a change in organization would remove them from an environment they developed in, granting better optics as a leader.

Junior leaders are essentially stuck in place in order to meet key development time. This key development time is weighted with greater emphasis on one or two positions. Positions that place junior leaders in operations or administrative billets are considered, colloquially, to be unbeneficial for their career. However, would it not be valuable for the Staff Sergeant to have the exposure of seeing the operations process? Is it not valuable for a junior leader to understand the myriad of channels that a battery, or company, training room utilizes to provide administration for the element? Even if causing a slower promotion timeline, the investment in establishing administrative expertise would be significant value added to the Army.

Junior leaders are effectively offered broadening opportunities only if the timing is right. Should promotion occur too close to a proposed assignment they could be kept at the unit to begin time in their next key development position. It is no longer unheard of for service members to reach sergeant first class at the same duty station, even in the same organization. When afforded broadening assignments the value of those assignments towards promotion are held to only a handful of positions (Williams, 2018). With the desire being for holistic leadership, as expressed by the Army, there are potential gains to be made by in providing junior leaders with any broadening assignment.

As a result of the Army’s professional growth model, within my experience in the field artillery, I consistently received under experienced junior leaders. This tied into the difficulty of managing training at the direct level. Maintaining readiness, just in regards to personal, was endless and never plateaued into a sustained period. This was further impacted by the decisions, and the consequences of those decisions, at my organizational level of leadership. It is not an unfair assumption that this is occurring in other formations.

While faults at the three levels of leadership are not of ill intent, they drastically impact the warfighting readiness and capabilities of the platoon. The Heritage Foundation’s assessment of the U.S. military power rated the Army’s capability as only marginal (2018). With effort the appropriate actions and policy could be emplaced, at all levels of leadership, to reduce the burdens placed on our most exposed elements. It would pay in dividends, not only for the boots on the ground warfighter, but to the Army’s overall capability.

References

  1. Headquarters, Department of the Army (2012, August). ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership. Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/adrp6_22.pdf.
  2. Headquarters, Department of the Army (2018, February). TC 3-09.8 Fire Support and Field Artillery Certification and Qualification. Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN14888_TC%203-09×8%20FINAL%20WEB%201.pdf.
  3. Milly, M.A. and Esper, M.T. (2018, April 13). Army Directive 2018-07 (Prioritizing Efforts – Readiness and Lethality). Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN9184_AD2018_07_Final.pdf.
  4. Pernin, C.G., Best, K.L., Boyer, M.E., Eckhause, J.M., Gordon, J., Madden, D., Pfrommer, K., Rosello, A.D., Schwille, M., Shurkin, M., and Wong, J.P. (2016). Enabling the Global Response Force: Access Strategies for the 82nd Airborne Division. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1161.html.
  5. Reynolds, G.M. and Shendruk, A. (2018, April 24). Demographics of the U.S. Military. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/article/demographics-us-military.
  6. The Associated Press (2019, January 11). A Timeline of the US Involvement in Syria’s Conflict. Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/96701a254c5a448cb253f14ab697419b.
  7. The Heritage Foundation (2018, October 4). Introduction: An Assessment of U.S. Military Power. Retrieved from https://www.heritage.org/military-strength/assessment-us-military-power.
  8. Williams, J.D. (2018, August 3). Career Management Field (CMF) 13 FY 18 SFC Centralized Promotion Selection Board Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.army.mil/asset/19546.

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