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Leader Professional Development in the DISCOM

The commander of the 1st Armored Division Support Command confirmed the authorís belief that, in peacetime, Army leaders should get to know the Soldiers on whom their success depends in wartime.

I am the commander of C Company, the direct support heavy maintenance company of the 123d Main Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division Support Command (DISCOM), in Dexheim, Germany. For the past 6 months, my first sergeant and I have been supporting numerous missions simultaneously. Our Soldiers are spread out across U.S. Army Europe executing many important maintenance missions that prepare other units’ Soldiers and equipment to go to war. Many of the missions have come with little or no notice, so we have had to stay on our toes to ensure that nothing goes awry and that our supported units have everything they need to make them successful during their deployments.

Because of our hectic operating tempo, we were surprised when, in September, we received an operation order telling us about an upcoming 2-day leader professional development event that the 1st Armored Division DISCOM Commander, Colonel Guy C. Beougher, and DISCOM Command Sergeant Major Patrick J. Douglas had arranged for 4 and 5 October for all of the company commanders and first sergeants in the DISCOM. As busy as I was, I knew Colonel Beougher was even busier. How on Earth would he have time to take 14 people on a leader professional development event for 2 days?

Later, after I had adjusted my calendar and made sure everything was covered for those 2 days, I sat back and pondered a few things. In the past, I had often thought about how much the Army values the opinions of an officer’s senior rater when, in reality, some of my past senior raters would not recognize me if I were wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Another thought was that we all manage unmanageable schedules, but we have to remember to do the things that are most important, although those things may never be asked of us.

In the Army, we all have 36 hours of work to do for every 24 hours on the clock. When we go to war and find that we have to trust our missions to people we don’t know, we may wish that we had spent more time on events such as officer and noncommissioned officer professional development and officer calls. We may wish that we had spent a little more time counseling our subordinates and developing them into logistics leaders. The fact that the DISCOM commander was taking the time to get to know his subordinates reminded me of the importance of being able to evaluate subordinates two levels down.

Leading from the Front

On the morning of 4 October, the company commanders and first sergeants gathered in front of DISCOM headquarters for an invigorating run while toting rubber M16 rifles. Colonel Beougher was in the lead, as he was throughout the entire training event. We kept a steady pace for approximately 3 miles. The whole time I was running, I kept in mind that the man leading the run was approximately 10 years older than I was. There was no way that I could feel sorry for myself when my weapon grew heavy or the pace seemed tough. His mindset illustrated why we must ensure that there is time in our hectic schedules to “lead from the front.” Our Soldiers notice everything that we do and where we spend our time. If we are never around them and never get to know them or check on what is going on, they will rightly assume that we don’t care about them. The run helped ensure that we were physically fit and mentally prepared to fight and win on the next battlefield.

After the run and breakfast, we boarded a bus that would take us to the Hohenfels Training Area (HTA) at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (formerly the Combat Maneuver Training Center). During the 4-hour ride, Colonel Beougher showed us how to use “hip-pocket training.” We played a quiz show-type game, with questions from the –10 manual for high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles (humvees). The game was entertaining, and we all learned things that we didn’t know or had forgotten.

At HTA, we headed directly for the engagement skills trainer (EST), which is a multipurpose device designed to support the indoor training of squad-sized units on basic and advanced marksmanship and fundamental tactical engagement skills. It tracked the shots from our individual weapons and provided accurate feedback on how we were shooting. We were all impressed with the realism of the HTA scenarios.

After the EST training, we donned 35-pound rucksacks and prepared to march more than 3 miles to the site where two helicopters were waiting to pick us up. We kept a quick pace for the march, and stopped only once to rest. Colonel Beougher knew a few shortcuts to the site, so we took a couple of jaunts off the beaten path to save time.

Our timing was perfect; we reached the pickup zone at exactly 1530. In logistics, timing is everything. I was lucky enough to get a seat in the helicopter that had been decked out to carry the 1st Armored Division commanders, and the flight was exhilarating.

After landing, we marched approximately 3 more miles to the village of Emhof. We stayed at a quaint gasthaus called Kellermeiers that has a storied tradition of housing many famous military leaders as they passed through the Hohenfels area. After dinner, each company commander or first sergeant presented a 20-minute briefing. The briefings highlighted the Army’s transition to two-level maintenance, convoy leader training, live-fire exercises, in-transit visibility, the transition of military occupation specialist 91W (health care specialist) medics, the brigade support battalion task organization in a brigade, and training at home station. A key lesson that we all learned was that, if your boss asks for a 20-minute briefing, it’s a good idea to rehearse. Also, don’t actually plan to talk for the full 20 minutes.

What to Do When Bad Things Happen

During the evening, reality hit home in the form of a phone call telling us that one of our heavy equipment transporters carrying an M1A1 Abrams tank and its crew had turned over at the HTA. No one lost his life, and the injured Soldiers would recover completely. However, we realized that, even when we are gone, the world doesn’t stop turning and things will happen during our absence. We must be sure to take measures to prevent accidents, and it is vital that the people that we leave in charge in our absence know what to do when bad things happen. They need to know all of the proper reporting mechanisms, and all relevant people in the chain of command should have thorough contact information so they and others can take action quickly. Nothing is more frustrating than having an emergency situation and nobody knowing who is in charge.

When we were notified about the accident, we discussed the situation with the 1st Brigade Combat Team commander at the site and, after tasking the executive officer and acting first sergeant of B Company to deal with the accident, we chose to go on with training.

In the morning, Colonel Beougher and Command Sergeant Major Douglas left the training site and went to the hospital to visit the injured Soldiers and the S–3 took charge of the training event.

Convoy Operations Training

The next day, we took our bus back to the EST building, where we had a demonstration of two Army training devices designed to help train Soldiers on convoy operations—the Laser Convoy Counter Ambush Training System (LCCATS) and the Deployable Instrumentation System–Europe (DISE). Using the LCCATS, Soldiers can engage full-scale, computer-controlled targets set at various distances and placed in a number of actual terrain and combat scenarios. The DISE is a combination of live instrumentation systems that provides fully instrumented training feedback. Using the DISE, commanders can meet their training objectives anywhere, anytime. The system also provides fully instrumented after-action information that supplements observer-controller comments.

The leader professional development event at Hohenfels was a great experience. We left Hohenfels rejuvenated and with more energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge than when we arrived. Following Colonel Beougher’s example, we will be sure to make time for teambuilding and creative training in the future.

Captain Stephen M. Crow is the Commander of C Company, 123d Main Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division Support Command, in Dexheim, Germany. He has a bachelor’s degree in education from Ball State University. He is a graduate of the Army Airborne and Air Assault Schools, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.

The author would like to thank Major David W. Banian, S–3 of the 1st Armored Division Support Command, for his assistance in writing this article.