FORT STEWART -- The Army is a tight community, where even one significant problem is one too many. So, the leaders of 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team became concerned when a number of Soldiers were being labeled "high-risk" and the volume of punishments being processed by the unit kept rising.
Agreeing something had to be done, a course was created to try and help reverse the trend. The course, designed to be a little unorthodox, attempted to remind leaders what truly matters and offers different approaches to caring for and developing their Soldiers.
"Of course, you can't change people's opinions, but I do hope we can at least get their mind's thinking," said Sgt. Lisa Griffin, one of the course's instructors. "It was really hard to even come up with the criteria to fill this class because you can't really teach anyone how to care.
Griffin continued, "When setting up the course, I used my own experiences and reasons I like working for my [non-commissioned officer], Master Sgt. Jeff Fenlason. He trusts us and he gives us the freedom to do our job, and I think that is what most Soldiers want. Soldiers don't want someone who is always on their back; they want that trust."
Griffin said, although it was uncertain how this unique course, named Junior Leadership Mentorship Program, was going to be received, by the end of the first afternoon it was obviously a success.
"It was amazing, you could really tell that the wheels in people's heads had started turning," explained the St. Paul, Miss., native. "You could tell they were really thinking about themselves and how they lead. The most incredible part was that nobody bashed anyone else, which you would think would happen in a class like this. We just got them to think about themselves, which is the ultimate goal of this class."
The participants, all junior leaders ranking from specialist to staff sergeant, agreed that the class was nothing like what they were expecting.
"I thought I was doing everything right in counseling, coaching and training my Soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Jack Baker, an Infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st ABCT. "But this class opened my eyes to a few parts I didn't even realize I was messing up on, so I plan on correcting that. What I have learned in this class will now reflect in my leadership."
Although Spc. Vanessa Harbo, a personnel clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st ABCT, has no Soldiers under her right now, she said the class gave her the tools to be more effective in the future.
"The class was nothing what I thought it was going to be," said Harbo, a Pearland, Texas, native. "They don't teach you how to be a leader- they ask you to look at yourself and understand the way you are as a person - because that is the way you are going to lead your Soldiers. The class taught me I can look at my choices and decide what is best for a Soldier and their situation by delving further into why a Soldier might be having issues, instead of just punishing them for the symptoms."
No matter what their individual takeaways were, all the participants did agree the class was refreshing.
"This class is a good reminder for everyone," Baker said, a Cape Cod, Mass., native. "Because in daily life it is very rare to sit around and think about how you can be a better leader. This class was a good reminder to focus on what really matters- taking care of Soldiers."
Although the results of this class are intangible, it is Griffin's, and the brigade's, hope that it will make a difference.
"The long term goal is that these Soldiers will actually put the lessons they took away from this class into effect," Griffin concluded. "You are not going to be able to change everyone, but if little by little they pass along the knowledge to others, we hope that we can at least open their eyes to a different way of leading and caring for their Soldiers."