Saturday, December 04, 2004

Got this one from the comments section of the exceptionally good war blog "My War: Fear and Loathing in Iraq."

The best commander I ever had required his squad leaders to rank all their soldiers from top to bottom, to tell the soldiers where they ranked, and why they ranked there. It was incredibly unpopular, and incredibly effective. I did the same once I was a squad leader even though the CO had moved on. "You are 5 of 8" I would say, "with average performance. You fired 31 out of 40 on the rifle range, scored 270 on the PT test, and finished in the top half on the last ruck march race. To improve your standing you need to score expert with your rifle, get a 300 on the PT test, and finish in the top 10% on the company forced ruckmarch. You are to teach the squad a class on how to zero the AN/PAQ 4, you have 3 weeks to prepare. You also need to start drilling on the Expert Infantry Badge tasks and get ready for EIB testing. The way to improve your marksmanship is to attend voluntary training sessions held every Friday afternoon at BN HQ, where I and other NCOs will teach classes and drill you in the basics. This is voluntary, but if you want to improve you should do it. Afternoon PT sessions are conducted 3 times a week in front of the company, this is also voluntary." etc. etc. Monthly counseling like that and my soldiers were soon the best in the company - and I still ranked them 1-8. They attended the extra training not as punishment but as opportunity-builders. Having them teach each other taught them to teach themselves. Even number 8 was kickass and got promoted - he was an honor grad at PLDC and graduated Ranger school about a year after that - and he wasn't planning on re-enlisting at all when I became his Squad Leader. And I rarely raised my voice. I didn't have to - if I have to yell at you to get you to perform I would prefer you gone, and I would tell you that in a quiet voice and reinforce it with counseling statements. Writing it down seemed to really spark the hell out of most troops.

In one hard-case I had when I was an officer I wasn't sure I could get through to the soldier. I saw potential but he didn't seem to give a damn, always did the minimum, wrote "FTA" on his helmet, shit like that. After his squad leader failed to reform him I wrote to his mother and told her that her son wasn't performing to standard and she might want to get ready for his coming home. I told her he was unhappy in the Army and that the Army was unhappy with him because he didn't give his best. He turned around 180 and begged me to write his mother and tell her he was doing better. I promised him I would do so only if he maxed PT, scored expert with his SAW, volunteered when his squad leader asked for volunteers, and taught an effective class to the squad on range cards. I never enjoyed writing a letter so much as I did writing that one. It also got all the NCOs on my side after that (I was a new PL at the time) and they would threaten "the letter" after that when guys weren't giving their best. That guy didn't stay in the Army but was a good soldier the rest of the time he served. He wrote me a letter a few years ago thanking me and telling me he came to love the Army even though he didn't want to re-up. He is a mechanic now, runs his own business, and is happily married. I never yelled at him once. Just a different culture.

As for who wins wars - privates do the fighting, but leadership is the most important element of combat power.

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