by Sgt. Kadja Manuel, 509th Signal Battalion

VICENZA, Italy -- The pillars of Strong Europe are the guidance issued by the Army's top leaders to accomplish U.S. Army Europe's desired end state: a strong European collective defense. One of the pillars is Empowering Junior Leaders.

With an area of responsibility that stretches across 24 sites in eight countries, the 509th Signal Battalion needs to lead the pack when it comes to such a task. In that spirit, the battalion has a program known as JSPD, Junior Soldier Professional Development.

The goal of JSPD is to develop a dynamic group of problem-solvers who can identify a problem before it happens and know how to fix it after it happens, if not prevent it all together.

A common Army saying is "NCOs [noncommissioned officers] get it done and make it happen," but with programs like JSPD, that focus shifts to junior Soldiers. With the 509th passing responsibility to all echelons by hosting "Days of Innovation" and writing competitions, this motto within the unit will soon be "Soldiers make it happen."

This approach to empowerment is far from traditional. Traditional leadership logic assumes that that for organizations to be great, they need a strong leader to be in control; however, leaders of the battalion have found that is not necessarily the case. If organizations focus on building strong groups of employees who are empowered and ready to lead themselves, it is much more effective.

This leadership technique moves power and responsibility to all levels, thus creating great leaders throughout the ranks. JSPD focuses more on a direct level of leadership with a small group/task-oriented perspective wherein each member is responsible and has a part in accomplishing the group mission.

The 509th hosts a series of brown-bag lunches where Soldiers discuss various readings about leadership styles. These lunches are pivotal in getting junior Soldiers in the mindset of solving problems as opposed to reporting problems.

JSPD also hosts a "Day of Innovation" each quarter. During these events, junior leaders are given an allotted time to use the eight-step Army training model to plan, train, rehearse and execute an idea that will better the organization, or better yet, the Army. The "Day of Innovation" is one of many ways to teach junior leaders the importance of influence outside of the organization.

During one of these sessions, participants came up with an idea that was adopted by battalion senior leaders: the SERF Team. This Signal Expeditionary Reaction Force is a group of signal subject-matter experts from across the battalion who all have a specific area of expertise and are deployed to assist customers. The SERF Team allowed junior leaders to bring a unique insight to the forefront and improved the unit's manpower allocation process. Another key benefit of the team is that it is led by junior Soldiers, allowing for leadership development and ownership to take place.

For the upcoming quarter, JSPD's emphasis is communication, personal competence and writing. The curriculum is aligned with Army Doctrine Reference Publication 6-22, Army Leadership.

Soldiers will discuss readings such as "Turn the Ship Around" by David Marquet, "The Three Meter Zone" and "Muddy Boots Leadership." The program also hosts writing competitions with topics ranging from the importance of communication and leadership. The goal is to illustrate the idea that there are many attributes and characteristics needed to be a great leader but, if you are not an excellent communicator, it is almost impossible to lead troops.

Battalion leaders hope that JSPD will create a domino effect of dynamic leaders who can extend their influence beyond the chain of command.

"The greatest ideas in the world from the lowest leaders or highest ranking personnel don't mean anything if you can't communicate them," said Col. Carl Worthington, commander, 2nd Theater Signal Brigade. Therefore, JSPD program proponents hope to build competent leaders from the earliest stages of one's career by developing leaders who are able to think critically and communicate ideas.

Whether it's embodying the pillars of Strong Europe by empowering junior leaders, allotting time for Soldiers to get together and brainstorm ways to improve the organization, or just teaching Soldiers the importance of written communication and personal competence, the "Mighty 509th" is interested in leader development.

As Elbert Hubbard wrote in A Message to Garcia, "Responsibilities gravitate to the shoulders that can carry them and power flows to the one who knows how."