Strength In Numbers: Leading From The Front

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Strength In Numbers: Leading From The Front

by: HA(FMF) Paul Aberion | .
3D Dental Battalion | .
published: July 07, 2018

If one was to enquire about the integral principles or fundamental mainstay that can enhance the strength of the military, it starts with emphasizing the strategy and doctrine implemented to reach each unit’s overall objective. The Department of Defense defines doctrine as: "Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application" (Schlesinger 25-26). Doctrine differentiates from the term strategy in that it is a broad term used to describe how the force operates. Conversely, strategy describes the overall approach to reaching the goal at hand. Lastly, tactical doctrine provides the specific targeted operation used to fully implement the general strategy.

An illustration of doctrine in terms of strategic and tactical terms can be exemplified using the “Army of Desert Storm,” as described by Richard Lofleur in his excerpt, “AirLand Battle: Desert Storm.” Lofleur described in his piece how the general doctrine instructed upon the combat commanders was to supervise three types of operations simultaneously. Lofleur states, “In close operations, large tactical formations such as corps and divisions fought battles through maneuver, close combat, and indirect fire support. Deep operations helped to win the close battle by engaging enemy formations not in contact, chiefly through deception, deep surveillance, and ground and air interdiction of enemy reserves” (Lofleur 35-40). Each unit had an initial strategy tasked from his or her chain of command from the logistic level all the way to rear operations and each level had tactical operations needed to be trained to perfection to reach strategic objectives.

Tactics expressed doctrine in specific engagements with Iraqi troops. My viewpoint is that doctrine is a general statement of how we fight; strategy a broad description of how we are going to fulfill our mission; tactics the specific actions to implement strategy. Secondly, leadership plays a concurrent role in the implementation, since my mentor from the 3rd MLG advised me that what makes a good leader is leading from the front and instilling the confidence of the juniors underneath. Such that, he or she knows the leadership has his or her full undivided support, while continuing to train to perfect the commands tactical doctrine instructions.

Implementing the most proficient tactical doctrine is significant only if the leadership understands how to exercise these strategies to the diversity of his or her subordinates. Military leadership plays a key role in the maintenance and proficiency of continual operations accomplished over time. For example, petty officers in the dental battalion need to understand the strength and weaknesses of each of his or her junior sailors and the type of trainings needed to make him or her proficient in each specialty department of the dental field. Moreover, there could be other external forces needed to be observed such as each sailors level of spirit or desire in his or her duties. Mental health and quality of life needs should be assessed as well. The balance of responsibilities and level of trust also needs to meet each junior sailors expectations around the unit to exacerbate the highest level of unit comradery. Dometri Redorf Wilkins piece, “Leading From the Front,” details that: “military leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction and motivation” (Wilkins 45-49). In other words, you cannot influence your junior sailors if you do not know his or her name. In my first duty station, my chief took time out of his weekend to visit me in my barracks and gave me the 2 C’s which you cannot do one without the other. My chief stated that it was important to understand his or her sailor first and then instill in him or her confidence through competence. Confidence is a belief in one’s ability as my chief told me, although one had to have the assertion and willingness or hunger to attain every attention to detail of whatever department he or she worked in to fully exude competence. You can say you are confident in leading a formation in a march, however it holds no value if you do not know how to call cadence. My chief stated that a sailor has come into his own when he or she can correlate both C’s intertwined into his or her repertoire.

You cannot just give a soldier a pistol and expect him or her to be a sniper. Secondly, you cannot ask your naval dental technician to execute an endodontic procedure without knowing his or her aptitude in that specialty or his or her strength and weakness in assisting a dentist. Wilkins believes a leader should “indicate what is expected of your unit, indicate what is expected, determine each marine or sailors level of strengths and weaknesses and how those factors can impede or positively impact the mission” (Wilkins 40-42). Overall, my stance is that the core four power points of great leadership starts with understanding who is the leaders, the led, understanding the situation and conclusively reaching out with communication to make sure each angle of the mission and what impacts the strategies are given full attention. Lastly, I feel the balance of responsibilities across the rank structure should be administered evenly to each sailor since it is integral in the overall proficiency of mission completion. In addition, there are times leaders do not want to take the time to train and mentor the sailors who are not strong in certain responsibilities and the leaders end up sorting out the majority of the taskers to the sailors that are either of high rank or he or she feels confident in completing the task to a tee! This can lead to a domino effect of negative adverse effects on one’s unit. For example, the excelling sailors who are given a plethora of tasks will end up burning out in terms of motivation and eventually crash and burn and it will show in his or her work performance. Lastly, the significant problematic prone sailor ends up feeling discouraged and loses total confidence in his or her use to the unit. As a result, the sailor will just show up to work and often lack any sense of pride or commitment to his work and more seriously, will start breaking down and lose his or her military bearing which can lead to behavior issues and a pending NJP! (i.e- Driving intoxicated, partying past liberty hours, commit a crime off base.) When you add up all the losses of this predicament, you have a lesser degree of work quality from your best performing sailor. Lastly, you might lose a sailor or two because he was discharged from the navy or put on restriction, further decreasing the available enlisted personnel needed to accomplish the mission.

Jonas Rocker Littmore’s article: Leaders are Brewed Not Born, discusses the many skill-sets that leaders can grow into which undermines the common myth that, “Natural born leaders are home grown or starts in the genes. For example, Littmore states, “A good leader must have a thorough knowledge of command essentials. The command essentials are: Command policies, authority, responsibility, chain of command and other channels, military rank, military discipline and conduct, and the enlisted aspects of command” (Littmore 88-90). The quality of work in military subordinates declines if he or she feels as if his or her leader lacks the knowledge in how to sufficiently provide the necessary direction, purpose and motivation deemed necessary to accomplish the mission. The subordinates will only go as far as their leader takes them and he or she will know if the blind is leading the blind. All of a sudden, specific military standards such as military bearing or submission of workload loses its qualitative punch line since the leader has dropped the bar. Therefore, Littmore stresses that leaders should strive to always maintain several components:

A person of strong and honorable character
-Committed to the professional Military ethic
-An example of individual values
-Able to resolve complex ethical dilemmas (Littmore 58-65).

Littmore discusses a paradigm shift in the type of communication leaders provide will be returned with how it was received. For instance, I believe that in order to influence the beliefs and values of your soldiers you must respect your soldiers and have their respect. Littmore discusses four emotions that you, as a leader, must inspire in yourself and your soldiers that will combat: “fear, panic and stress are confidence, purpose, meaning, and self-respect” (Littmore 45). Fear and stress motivated tools can sometimes exude discipline and serious approach in your subordinates, however it can also keep him or her from truly showing his or her potential for the unit since he or she may be clouded in “what I did wrong” and “my Ssgt hates me or doesn’t trust me” mind frame. (Littmore 45-55). The subordinates will be trained with the type of mentorship you provide. If you lead without a focus on the main components Littmore discussed makes a good leader, you will create a bad seed. For example, inept leaders will often lack the courage to take full responsibility as asked of them from their higher ranks. Throughout my duty station in Okinawa I have compiled a list of negative leadership behavior mishaps such as violation of dignity to individuals, mass punishment or ridicule of the troops, hurry-up and wait formations and similar drills that waste time, resting before his men, shirking the responsibility of checking his men's position, blaming the next higher in command for a rough and unsuccessful mission, blaming subordinates for a squad's failure in satisfactorily completing a specific mission, eating before his men have eaten, favoritism and moral weakness. Consequently, a good leader will provide direction through self-learning such as knowing and maintaining standard and setting realistic goals. Training can often become tedious and boring and leaders should be aware of the signs his or her subordinates are reaching a level of motivational weakness. Littmore describes visual behavior such as “the power of illustrating an energetic –Espirit de corps or spirit as sharp as a double edge sword, that can pierce vitality in a unit of depleting subordinate conondrums” (Littmore 34). In other words, a leader’s verbal expressions, ways of communicating and bearing plays a role in that his or her subordinates can catch on to those visual cues and feed off of it. Littmore describes bearing as “an individual’s posture, overall appearance and manner physical movement. It is an outward display to others of the state of your inner feelings, fear and overall inner confidence” (Littmore 63). Even if the leader maybe going through his or her own personal issues or not confident with the progression of the tactical mission at hand, just exemplifying such positive behavior can instill confidence in his subordinates because he or she will see how much faith and belief that leader still carries even with all the insurmountable challenges. I recall observing one of my petty officers military bearing, crisp cadence calling, superb motivational speeches while also learning his father had died and he was going through a divorce. For me, the level of core values and commitment to the mission above all else made me admire him more! When I asked him years later how he was able to have such focus and discipline with his insurmountable stressors, he replied: “You ask for my trust in leadership, I give you my heart and all hoping you reciprocate it back.” That is why a good leader should focus on behavioral improvement such as integrity or sincerity. This is the case since “Integrity is the utter sincerity, honesty and candor. It is the avoidance of any kind of deceptive, shallow, or expedient behavior” (Littmore 34). If your subordinates can not trust his or her leaders trust then why would he or she sacrifice fortitude or livelihood to such leadership?

Another method of strengthening the naval profession would be to change the emphasis of training to be smart or strong. Many enlisted active duty personnel gradually lose the resourcefulness to look beyond the training or execute his or her outmost potential, since he or she feels stagnant or feels as if the training is tedious at best. John Walker Jamison’s article, “Empower for The Veterans,” discusses how “enlisted should be trained in his or her department of work as well as empowered with a skill that can provide him or her expansive career opportunities post military” (Jamison 46). I am in full support of this since my first chief in my first duty station in Camp Pendleton advised me that, a Hospital-man should work twice as harder and think two ranks ahead to avoid retraction. Many enlisted who work on the flight line for the MV-22 Ospreys and CH-K Sea Knight planes are only allowed certain miniscule roles, while line officers are able to learn the equipment space, passenger alignment and capacity and engine types and other in depth insight on flight pilot supply and maintenance. Conversely, many give only as much work ethic as the responsibility asked to garner. Jamison stresses, “The experience and knowledge held by senior NCOs could add vital context to mission planning, but enlisted training doesn't provide enough opportunities to learn mission command concepts. Either because they are not trusted or the traditional belief that the junior enlisted has not been promoted or earned his wings to fly” (Jamison 77-80). A fellow junior enlisted who often is tasked to muster in several combat related trainings, at times feels like a statue or a small plant in a room full of entitled jocks” (Jamison 67). The junior enlisted states, “Sometimes I feel the only value of my time in service is out of gallantry which is important but also just for a paycheck and possibly also sacrificed time that could be used to go to college or to study and train at a local trade school, which he feels is more valuable then mustering and standing in attention at a combat training operation power-point presentation and discussion.
"It's not that our opinion isn't valued everywhere, but I can honestly say our opinion isn't as valued in the planning room, because we're more of an execution element," said Private First Class Aaron Carter, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, at Fort Drum, New York (Jamison 97-100).

Proposed solutions included phasing mission command training into NCO education, and allowing select enlisted personnel to take the same planning courses as officers, allowing a "common level of competence. Leaders in the chain of command need to create some sort of training that includes the skills of each enlisted member. Possible, they should setup one to one interviews or allow each junior enlisted to be trained in several of the same departments as the officers and higher ranks so he or she feels his or her skillset is being utilized rather than taking up space for a task that needs to be done. I observed the growth and enthusiasm in one of my dental petty officers when he was transferred from administrative tasks to his passion for maintenance and mechanical equipment management. Although he had to work longer hours, he was learning a specialty in biomedicine maintenance that he can take with him to a career if and when he leaves the military. Secondly, he became more of a usage to the dental battalion he worked under in that he was able to update and create better safety controls for using the sterilizer and other machinery needed to be in full use to accomplish the mission of keeping the military active duty and their dependents families fully equipped with the most proficient and safe dental maintenance to support their dental needs.

In retrospect, the elevated strength of the navy lies in the numbers or the infantry and how the enlisted active duty personnel is led throughout. I believe the higher ranks and the officers should be given quarterly training on the topics described above to sharpen their leadership skills. Secondly, the enlisted personnel should be regularly monitored to make sure their needs are being met because “take care of me before them” is very important. One cannot help in the mission if handicapped from his or her personal struggles. In addition, respect amongst the ranks should include bridging the opportunity gap between what a junior sailor is capable of doing, by giving them more tasks that will enhance his or her confidence in his or her career path. Lastly, camaraderie and open communication between the ranks will not only improve the proficiency of accomplishing the mission, it will emphasize "strength in numbers."

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