By Kathy Eastwood, USMA Public Affairs Staff WriterMay 12, 2014
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 12, 2014) -- Inspired by the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic's senior mentor Retired Gen. Frederick Franks, the Mission Command Conference represents one last opportunity before graduation for future officers to speak with experienced service members from the operational force.
In its 17th iteration at West Point, the conference was attended by the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2014, and several dozen ROTC cadets and U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen April 22-25.
For the "firsties," it's the culmination for the capstone core course, MX400 on Officership, and a graduation requirement.
The conference invites a diverse group of tactical and operational leaders from units who have recently re-deployed to serve as mentors. That diversity, to include differing branches, gender, ethnicity and experience, represents a broad spectrum of experience and true-to-life anecdotes to study and emulate.
Capt. Seth Nieman, a Class of 2005 graduate who commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers, was one of the mentors. Nieman trained as a Green Beret and served as a detachment commander in the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). Nieman was wounded in combat and lost a leg due to an improvised explosive device, while deployed to Afghanistan, in 2012.
Nieman spoke with a panel of six wounded warriors about the challenges of leading in combat and continuing to serve after facing adversity.
"I participated in this conference as a cadet," Nieman said. "There were a lot of things I didn't think were important as a cadet, but you will learn that later. You made the decision to serve and you should be proud of yourself."
He recalled being inspired by the Corps of Cadets' brigade commander at the academy.
"Leaders matter," Nieman said. "You are going to go into a most professional Army and you have to carry that torch. I'm excited about that, and so should you be."
The mission command philosophy encompasses the unit as a whole. Commanders have long understood through experience that some decisions must be made quickly and that decision is at the point of action. The idea is to allow Soldiers to concentrate on the objectives of an operation -- not how to achieve it.
Commanders must provide subordinates with their intent, the purpose of the operation and the end state. This will allow subordinates to exercise disciplined initiatives to respond to unanticipated problems.
For this to happen, mission command greatly depends on mutual trust, shared understanding and purpose of what needs to be done. Every Soldier must be prepared to assume responsibility, maintain unity of effort, take action and act resourcefully within the commander's intent.
To emphasize this, the conference invited the test unit for the Army's Regional Alignment strategy, whereby brigade combat teams are habitually earmarked for certain areas of the globe.
Col. Jeff Broadwater, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, discussed his mission, regionally aligned to the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.
"Regionally aligned forces are the new reality for the Army," said Lt. Col. Eric Weis, deputy director of the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic. "The new way we will deploy requires small level engagement and decentralized operations. This is exactly what mission command is about. Col. Broadwater's insights were a tremendous benefit to these future leaders."
In total, 86 operational mentors led panel discussions, to include Lt. Gen. Bob Brown, commander of the Combined Arms Center, and Maj. Gen. Tom James, from the Mission Command Center of Excellence.
One of the main goals of the MX400 course and the Mission Command Conference is to develop a habit of professional curiosity and a personal ethic that prizes total fitness, life-long learning and self-development as an Army professional. The intent is to inspire soon-to-be commissioned cadets and midshipmen and reinforce the values of selfless service and leading with character and honor.
Leader-to-Leader professional development sessions engaged mentors and participants in small groups to talk about challenges on leadership in the Army.
"At each session, three lieutenants shared 10-minute stories about their most challenging experiences, which the mentors and cadets discussing how the mission command applied to them," Lt. Col. Peter Kilner, Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning director, said. "What I loved about the leader-to-leader sessions is that they were a microcosm of our profession. The past, present and future of Army leadership were literally brought together in conversation about leading Soldiers. They exchanged stories, ideas and lessons learned on leadership."
One cadet asked about fraternizing with subordinates.
"What happens if you are in a tavern and your subordinates invite you to sit with them?" the cadet asked.
"Never forget you are in charge," said Capt. Steven Pyles, another mentor with 20 years of experience in the Army. "Stand straight and set that example early on."
First Sgt. Albert Stanley provided the enlisted point of view.
"You have only one best friend in your platoon and that is your platoon sergeant," he said. "You don't want to compromise the leader. Don't be afraid to acknowledge them, call them by name and then tell them to have a good time and leave."
Stanley reminded the participants that getting convicted of drunk driving can be the end of their careers, and they need to act professional at all times. People will be watching.
Another cadet asked Pyles what he should expect when a new platoon leader comes in.
"I focus in on attitude," Pyles said. "Are you coming in with an attitude? That you graduated from West Point and [that] you know everything? I won't be able to teach you anything then. Your attitude is very important to me."
The conversation continued with cadets asking how they should deal with personal issues such as divorce. Stanley recommended they speak to the platoon sergeant, as he or she will usually have some experience in these issues. Stanley also said the unit and everyone in it must have discipline.
"You may take on someone who hasn't had much discipline in their life. They may not have had the correct parental guidance," Stanley said. "We are grooming whoever to become leaders and discipline is a necessity, and they will need to learn that."