My Year as a Cavalry Troop Commander
CPT Paul Guzman
This post is the seventh in a series in which the CC/PL team highlights the leadership ideas and experiences of company-grade officers. Interested in contributing? Read more here. This post is from CPT Paul Guzman, a U.S. Army Armor Officer who recently relinquished command of a cavalry troop.The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.
Troop-level command, for me as a prior service NCO, has been the professional highlight of my 14 year Army career. I just want to share a few simple lessons after some reflection in between commands that I think allowed us to be successful most of the time. As with almost everything, the preparation for command has been instrumental. In addition to reading professionally rewarding books like Taking the Guidon, The Last Place on Earth, The Outpost, Common Sense Training, Good to Great, and Small Unit Leadership among many others; having a network of leaders that I could trust and rely on whether superiors, subordinates, or peers both near and far the from the company command forum, that I could and will constantly rely on for guidance and mentorship have allowed me to face almost no challenges or hardships alone.
I have simplified my year as a cavalry troop commander in the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) into five main points:
- Be present, available, and care; establish a battle rhythm early that allows you to be at the decisive operation.
2. Attack everything as your Soldiers lives depend on it; if your boss tells you to do it, it’s important and deserves your attention.
3. Balance mission and family requirements; many hands will pass the Troop guidon, but our families will only have one father or mother.
4. Think like a staff officer, but lead like a commander; no problem or task is too small for command involvement.
5. Continuously check your property book and stay on top of looking deep to build your bench stock of consumables and expendables.
Be present, available, and care; establish a battle rhythm early that allows you to be at the decisive operation.
We all care for the soldiers and families in our command. I would care for the soldiers in my command by ensuring we were prepared to execute any reconnaissance or security mission against any enemy in any conditions.
In order to do so, developing a basic battle rhythm that a previous commander, MAJ Joe Byerly, had shared with me when I was a platoon leader was essential. First, I put as Colonels (R) Tony Burgess and Nate Allen discussed in their book Taking the Guidon my organizations “big rocks” on a blank calendar. Doing so, allowed me to begin to balance my own requirements to both my superiors and subordinates.
I looked at things I absolutely have to do as a commander along with their frequency: from squadron and troop training meetings, command and staff, time to counsel both the soldiers I rate and senior rate, and time for leader professional development sessions based on events on the squadron’s long range training calendar. While this is list of requirements is not all inclusive it provides a sampling of the myriad of task that compete for a commander’s time and we must accomplish. For an example, checkout my battle rhythm on the company command forum.
Establishing a battle rhythm before my commander passed me the guidon allowed me to remain proactive and focus my energy on my “big rocks” as described in Taking the Guidon.
Attack everything as your Soldiers lives depend on it; if your boss tells you to do it, it’s important and it deserves your attention.
I don’t think this needs an explanation; however, the second portion of this may need to be clarified. Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel Commanders have been through a rigorous selection process and while there may be a few bad apples in our Army, the vast majorities of field grade officers are technically and tactically proficient and are serving for the good of the institution. While we may not see the importance of accomplishing a task at the time, chances are they either have additional information or have been though a similar situation in the past. So don’t neglect your boss’s guidance and even more don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Admittingly, most of us don’t want to run to our bosses with every problem or road block we encounter ensuring we understand their intent is vital to successful mission accomplishment. Also remember in most cases there are three or four commanders within our organizations facing similar problem sets and working as a team to solve problems is critical. Our bosses will recognize if we are or are not working well together and in much the same way we want our subordinates to work together to solve problems our commanders must feel the same way.
Balance mission and family requirements; many hands will pass the Troop guidon, but our families will only have one father or mother.
Refer to my battle rhythm comments so you can ensure we are at the right place and the right time and that includes at home with our families. The battle rhythm should alleviate the over tasking or promising our time. I hope to be able to listen to my own advice in my second command, but our subordinates will mirror what we do. Whether it was coming in early or staying late, I often saw my subordinates replicating my behavior. Remember a 20 plus year career in the US Army should be a marathon and not a sprint. As a leader, I often struggled with this because I felt, and I still believe this to be true, that the commander should be pushing his or herself the hardest, but we have to maintain a balance because the last thing we want to do is to finish the marathon without our families.
About midway through command, I began arriving earlier so I can be home to have dinner with my family. I hope to follow through with this in my second command. There were however, small things I did to ensure soldiers maintained balance. We ensured the first day of school for all of the local school districts were on the training calendar and made that the parents’ place of duty that morning. Soldiers were exempt from morning duty so they could have breakfast with their children and take them to school on their first day. Additionally, soldiers we’re allowed to attend holiday, end of school year programs, and parent teacher conferences. Since I have three young daughters, I was able to remind leaders at training meetings and other events of these exemptions as my own family neared some of those events.
Think like a staff officer, but lead like a commander; no problem or task is too small for command involvement.
Detailed planning by good staff officers at all levels allow commanders to make informed decisions and accomplish the mission within their higher commander’s intent. The same can be said for the company level commander; except the company commander doesn’t have a staff to do his or her planning. Therefore, to save our subordinates from wasting valuable training time or preventing our subordinate leaders from being at the decisive operation, we must plan everything deliberately and not use “mission command” as our way to avoid planning.
While there are many requirements competing for our time that may seem like they are below our noise level as commanders, sometimes only a Commander or First Sergeant can cut through the bureaucratic red tape and save our soldiers a lot of time that is better spent training for their real world missions. Whether it is talking with the squadron maintenance officer about maintenance support requirements or discussing property related issues with the brigade property book officer. These are things commanders don’t have to be directly involved in, but handling it once in a while allows us to establish a relationship with the supporting agency and demonstrate to both our subordinates and the particular organization that we care about the mission and the supporting task or duty is important.
Continuously check your property book and stay on top of looking deep to build your bench stock of consumables and expendables.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to command in a brigade that was still going through a transformation from an Armored to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team that I had planned in my previous position as the brigade planner. The transformation and my prior duty position forced me to focus on the property much more than just cyclic inventories and routine monthly signing of the property book. These bi-weekly reviews of the property book with my executive officer allowed the organization to gain efficiencies and to divest the troop of more than 4.5 million dollars of excess or non mission capable equipment.
Focusing on the primary hand receipt, allowed us to save both time and money by reducing the amount of time we spent on inventories, maintenance, or money from our training budget by filling shortages on equipment we didn’t want or need to accomplish our war time mission.
Additionally, it was another venue for me to engage leaders in professional discussion on an area outside of our primary mission of providing reconnaissance and security for the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
As I mentioned, troop-level command has been the most rewarding duty position of my career, and although there have been late nights, weekend calls, various other mishaps; I’ve had a network of leaders from all over the world through the company command forum that I have been able to lean on for support and advice along the way. While, these five lessons may seem oversimplified, in addition to training for our war time mission they have been instrumental to the organizations success.