Taking command is a big deal. For most officers, we spend all our lieutenant time with that as the goal. But taking command as a National Guard officer versus Active duty is a pretty different beast. Look, we all want to pretend it’s one team, one fight, right? And – once the bullets start singing around our heads – it is. But until that time, National Guard officers face a somewhat different struggle.
Namely, our struggle is with time. Now, the optimal solution would be for us to just all become Time Lords, which would sort the problem out entirely. But since no one’s MTOE seems to have a Tardis on it, we’re all stuck in pretty much the same boat. And that boat is filled with ever-increasing requirements, seems to keep shrinking, and never has enough time to manage it all. So, here’s a few ways to attempt to stave off the time bandits that try to steal your joy.
1. Higher has their priories, you have yours
Look, it’s no secret that our higher headquarters have a laundry list of requirements for us. Ideally, these are nested with our own. But as so often happens, the company headquarters becomes the last line of defense between “good ideas” and training time for our troops. There will always be more requirements than time available. Therefore, you need to set what your top priorities are, convey those to both higher and lower, and stick to them, religiously. This means telling higher that they may have to wait until the Monday or Tuesday after drill to get a report they want, because you want your full time staff focusing on your soldiers. It means setting out your priorities, clearly, to you platoon leaders to ensure they’re using every spare second to focus on those.
There’s no set list of priorities, that depends on your company. MOS training is usually right up there – because soldiers stay in the more they get to do what they enlisted for, shocking idea, I know – as well as weaknesses you might have assessed for the company (lack of licensed operators, for example). Personally, I found that tactical communication and CBRN defense were perennial weaknesses across the formations I’ve commanded, and so those ended up on the priority list. However you cut it, ensure that you know what your priorities are and keep people informed of them.
2. It’s not on fire until it’s on fire
Every tasking from battalion seems to enter on an email that is ablaze with urgency. Whether it’s the S-4 with demands on inventory numbers, the S-1 ranting over records reviews, or the S-3 screaming for updated numbers, every staff section is going to act as if it has priority over your time. As some famous author may have said, “All priorities are equal but some priorities are more equal than others.”
Let’s go back to your priorities list; does what is being asked for fall into one of those buckets? If so, great, everyone is happy and there’s some good nesting of priorities going on. If not, then ask yourself this: is it really on fire? Is this tasking or requirement something that is going to actually effect your unit’s readiness if it’s submitted later this week versus today? If the answer is no, then slide it to the bottom of your priority bin. It’s amazing how many supposedly urgent emails simply dissolve into the ether if no action is taken. It’s almost like some people like to feel important and send out multiple emails when one would suffice.
That being said…
3. If it’s on fire, adjust fire
Sometimes the only way to find out your boss’s priorities is literally through a trial by fire. You assume risk by placing some taskers in the “to do later when there’s time” bin. However, sometimes those can spontaneously combust and now you’ve got a conflagration on your hands. Usually that happens if an O-5 or O-6 checks in on that requirement. Then you’ve got to adjust fire and move that to a higher priority bin – or not, really. Do what your rank can handle – which in my experience, isn’t all that much. However, you’ve now learned what their actual priorities are, which goes a long way with managing your expectations.
This is all done in order to give you just that extra bit of time so that it doesn’t feel like you’re drowning on drill weekends.
4. When it comes to training, go for the HPT
We’ve all got a mission essential task list (METL) a mile long, and scant days to train for it. When you do your METL crosswalk as you develop your training plan, looking for the supporting collective tasks (SCT) that are the most common to each other. Odds are, you’re going to have some that are very, very similar to each other, or that incorporate many of the same individual tasks. Pick one or two METs, with just a few SCTs that are high payoff targets and train those rather than trying to do more. Do fewer things, better. The temptation is to say “I can do it all.” And while our soldiers and NCOs repeatedly prove that they can, it’s not usually done to standard. So give them the time, the tools, and the resources to train to actual standard.
5. Use your commander’s dialogue
We live in the world of Objective T. Much as we’d prefer to live in the world of Ice-T, sadly, the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood spotlight are not our lot. No, we are confined to gazing at spreadsheets and wondering how in the dickens we are going to achieve anything close to a T- when we can’t seem to get 80% of the unit all together for one training event. For the Reserve Component, the numbers continue to be the biggest hurdle. And guess what? Your boss probably understands that. Because he or she knows that you’ve got soldiers off at schools, split training for family or work-related reasons, or training somewhere else in the state for mission-related purposes. The Commander’s Dialogue exists for that reason. If you have actually conducted realistic training, in a dynamic environment, with enemy threats, in day, night, and CBRN conditions, and all that’s holding you back from a T or T- is personnel who would have been there but for schools, training, or even a recent MTOE conversion, then articulate that to your battalion commander in a memo. If you can back it up with numbers, you will probably be successful. Additionally, your boss will appreciate that you understand your unit, your mission, and Army training management. It’s a quick way to chalk up a win that you might not have received otherwise.
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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare. Support this blog’s Patreon here.
Cover Photo: U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1st Platoon, Regimental Troops Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tennessee Army National Guard participate in a grueling three day live fire course of Advanced Marksmanship Training at Camp Buerhing,Kuwait, Feb.16, in preparation for a security mission prior to deploying to Iraq. During the course, the Soldiers were taught advanced room clearing, mounted and dismounted firing techniques and properly securing VIP’s from one location to the next. This is the units second tour to Iraq in five years. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/4389917909