Advice for Ordnance 2nd Lt. upon BOLC graduation
February 11, 2009
<i>Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools Graduation, Basic Officer Leader Course, December 5, 2008</i>
Good morning everyone. It's a great pleasure for me to be here with you -- I spent three wonderful years as the Chief of Ordnance, and it's always fun to come home.
Congratulations. You did it! Another milestone. Bolc1 ... Bolc2 ... And now Bolc3. You've worked hard and you should be proud of yourselves. I can assure you that your instructors and your chain of command here are all proud of you. And I'm proud of you.
You've worked hard, you've trained hard, and you are about to go out and serve in the greatest Army in the world. You will be serving while our nation is at war. Your country needs you, now, more than ever. And we're very glad you've stepped forward and answered the call.
And though they are not present with us this morning, I can imagine the proud faces of an essential segment of our Army, your families. Army families are a powerful part of the Army team, and are just as responsible for our successes as those of us who wear the uniform.
And so I'd ask you to pass on our thanks to them, for their support, their sacrifices, their strength, and their love for you. Army families truly make our Army strong.
Well, you have your basic course behind you, and are about to go into the real Army and, hopefully, be platoon leaders. So I think it's appropriate for me to spend a few minutes talking about being a platoon leader, and about being an ordnance officer, before we give you your diplomas. Don't worry, I'll try to get done talking before you get done listening.
So, your leave is over, and you arrive at your new duty station ... you'll be nervous, because you're not sure what is expected of you. Just remember, there have been a lot of lieutenants before you, and we've all felt that same nervousness. It's normal.
You'll perhaps be even more nervous that you might make mistakes and people will laugh at you. But don't worry about that - that's your job. All of us started out as second lieutenants, and I doubt there is anything you could do that those of us who have gone before you haven't already done. Just accept the fact that you haven't yet finished learning, and don't worry about what others might think.
But, if I could, let me offer some tips that might make your first days in your first unit a little easier. First, though you are an officer, and outrank every soldier in your unit except the other officers, don't get big-headed. Don't think the rank on your collar automatically makes you smarter than everyone else. Listen to your senior NCOs, and heed their advice. Even though I have been at this for over 34 years now, I still do that.
I'm not saying you should always do what your sergeants tell you -- you'll have to decide on your own about that -- but in my personal experience, they'll be right more often than not. So it's worth listening to what they have to say.
Sometimes, you won't agree with their advice, and you go with your gut instead, and that will be unpopular. But, you have to do what you have to do, and in the end, your subordinates will respect you for having the fortitude to stick to your guns.
I can remember my first platoon sergeant, SFC Grooms. He was a Vietnam veteran, and was older than my father. It was a strange sensation when he called me "sir," and to be honest, on occasion, I slipped up and called him sir. But that's ok. I was a lieutenant, and he expected me to make mistakes!
SFC Grooms was a wise, patient man, who had trained a lot of lieutenants, and he was proud of that. That was his job, and he was good at it. Let your sergeants do their job.
Another group of individuals you ought to listen to is your warrant officers. As members of the ordnance regiment, you're going to be working with warrant officers your whole career, and I strongly recommend you learn about working with them. You might even have one assigned to your platoon, so you will have to learn how to share your soldiers with him or her. Yes, you are the platoon leader, and you are the boss. But the warrant officer is your expert technician, with many years of experience, and I guarantee you our maintenance and ammunition systems would come apart without them.
I've occasionally witnessed lieutenants getting into power struggles with their warrant officers, and I can tell you -- it's not good. Nobody wins, especially not your soldiers. Treat your warrant officers with dignity, and respect the fact that they are the expert technicians in your unit.
Whenever you have time, ask them to teach you about the finer points of our business - most of them really enjoy teaching, and it would not hurt you to know how diesel engines work, the fact that they don't have spark plugs; or how to compute net explosive weight, and how to apply quantity distance factors in ammunition storage points.
If there is something you disagree with your warrant officer about, deal with it in private. Our warrant officers are a national treasure, and the sooner you learn how to get along with them, and get the most out of them, the better off you will be.
Now, once in charge of your platoon, the first question you'll probably ask yourself is what am I supposed to do' That's ok -- I still ask myself that sometimes!
Well, here are some thoughts about what you might want to be doing:
First and foremost, if you are in a TO&E unit, it is imperative your platoon be prepared to deploy and do your mission wherever that may take you. Readiness to do our wartime mission is the most important thing we do - it's what our country expects of us.
Remember, when the call comes to deploy, and it will, the President will not ask us if we are ready - he, and your country, expects that of us. And even though you may not be assigned to a rapid deployment, contingency sort of unit, readiness to deploy is very important, and you can help.
So immediately get into the nitty gritty of the personal readiness of your soldiers. When was the last time they went through a readiness check (things like shots, wills, family care plans for those soldiers who need them, etc.)' Do they have all their field gear' What's the plan for their barracks rooms and cars' All these things and many, many more that you will find in your unit's deployment S.O.P., are things platoon leaders get paid to check.
Discuss it with your platoon sergeant and squad leaders, get guidance from your company commander if you need it, and then dig in and see to the readiness of your soldiers and your unit to deploy. Nothing is more important.
Something else you ought to be devoting a lot of your time to is training. Good training does not just happen - it is planned. If you are not spending twice as much time preparing for training as you are conducting it, you're shortchanging your soldiers.
Learn your unit's mission essential tasks, and read your unit's mission training plan. And then really get your head into the game. This training business is not hard -- what you learned here in the basic course works -- but it takes personal effort on your part.
You cannot spend too much time on this facet of your responsibilities. And your hard work will pay off in meaningful training for your soldiers, that contributes to their individual and collective skills, makes being a soldier fun, and helps improve your readiness to deploy and conduct your wartime mission.
And, if readiness and training aren't enough to keep you busy, you ought to also be concerned about maintenance of your platoon's equipment. This is especially critical if you are in a mechanized outfit, but also applies no matter where you are assigned.
Get your NCOs (or your warrant officer) to show you how to conduct a proper PMCS on your equipment, even if you think you already know how. You cannot appreciate what PMCS is all about until you have experienced it first-hand.
And your NCOs and soldiers will be impressed you care enough about this to learn how to do it personally. And whenever you have maintenance scheduled on the training schedule, demonstrate with your personal presence that this is important stuff.
Remember, you say a lot about whether maintenance is important just by showing up. Use the college degree you have to stand back and look at the maintenance system in your unit, and ensure it is working - and if not, figure out what's broken, and discuss this with your company commander. He or she will appreciate the fresh perspective, and will take note that you are thinking.
You know, a while back, we visited the former Rollins trucking company (now Penske), and asked them how they kept up with the maintenance on the thousands of trucks they had. And you know what they said' They said they used the same system the Army uses. Isn't that something - a commercial firm using the same system we do in the Army' They copied us. That ought to tell you something.
And maintenance is more than just working on vehicles. Weapons, protective masks, tents, and all your other gear need periodic maintenance, too.
And if all that is not enough, make sure you also spend time on property accountability. You may or may not be personally signed for any property, but that rank on your collar makes you responsible to ensure we keep track of what we've been given to operate with.
Remember, it won't be long until you are a company commander, and then you will be signed for everything. Property accountability is not hard -- it's really very simple -- but you cannot hope that it is ok. Hope is not a method.
You have to check and ensure inventories are being conducted like they should be, and that corrective action is taken on discrepancies found. Make sure you get to know the company supply sergeant, and ask him or her to teach you about the things you do not understand. And don't be afraid to get the book out and do a little self-study.
And finally, there's one other important area you ought to be spending time on -- that is taking care of your soldiers. Take the time to make yourself a list of all the soldiers in your platoon, with some key data on each of them, like whether they are married or not, how many dependents they have, their date of rank, and when they are due for a promotion. Pull out your list occasionally and study it, add to it, and use that information to help you get to know your soldiers and their needs better.
I even did this as a company commander -- I tried to know as much as I could about all 240 soldiers in my company. I knew the promotion status of each one, and made sure the deserving ones got their promotions on time, and even early when that was warranted.
Ask to see the unit commander's financial report --you'd be amazed what you can learn about your soldiers just by spending a few minutes on this report -- like if they have pay problems or not, their leave status, whether or not they are being paid for the rank they hold, etc. It only takes a few minutes to scan this report, and you'll be a smarter, better leader as a result. And the word will quickly get around that you care.
Remember, good things happen in units whose leaders care -- and it's often the little things that are noticed, like being the last one in the chow line, insisting your soldiers eat first, and being willing to endure the same cold and hardship they might experience in a fighting position, or at an access control point. Remember, you are nothing without your soldiers.
Oh, and one more thought: you are ordnance officers, members of a technical corps. Try to take some time each week to learn about some of the finer points of our maintenance system, and the logistics automation that helps it all work.
One day while you are in the motor pool, get the shop clerk to show you how SAMS-E works - I mean sit down behind the machine, and have him or her let you do a few entries. You'll be amazed how much you will learn in the process.
The same applies in the shop office, or the ATHP, even in your SSA, whether it's in your company or not. You cannot know too much about this sort of stuff. Automation is going to be a big part of your future, and the more you learn about it, the better off you will be.
In 1975, a year after I entered the Army, President Ford spoke to the graduates of West Point. He said to them: (quote) "you will be charged with the upkeep and operation of technology more expensive and more complex than some Americans will ever handle in their lifetime. More important, you will be responsible for the well-being of other Americans, sometimes in situations where your decisions mean the difference between life and death." (unquote)
After 34 years in the Army, I can tell you, there are no truer words. You are about to go out and join the best Army in the world, as it trains, maintains, and takes care of its people.
Be proud. Enjoy yourself. Do your best every day, and things will turn out right.
And if I can ever help you, or you want to talk more about the things I said today, please give me a call, or drop me an email. I'm easy to find.
Ok, enough from me. Good luck to each and every one of you. Take care ... Travel safely ... Enjoy the holidays ... and then report to your units and give it all you've got.
God bless you all, and especially all of our brave men and women in uniform who are in harm's way, protecting us all, and our way of life.
Oh, and go ORDNANCE!