WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 2, 2016) -- Put on a pot of Earl Grey, because the next time the sergeant major of the Army comes to your installation, he just may be hosting a book club where he and Soldiers will discuss titles with subject matter relevant to the profession of soldiering.
While as part of his book club, the SMA aims to visit with and talk with some Soldiers, the real goal is to provide junior leadership with an opportunity to discuss with their Soldiers, outside of normal training, the Army-relevant themes and topics present in the books selected.
"We already ask Soldiers to read and understand regulations and policies -- this is an opportunity to start a new initiative that's fun, while also helping our squad leaders guide discussions on topics that relate to our profession," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey of the book club. "It shouldn't feel like another task. I don't want to force Soldiers to do this. I want them to want to read with me."
The three books Dailey proposes be on Soldiers' reading list include one science fiction novel, and two non-fiction titles. They are:
-- Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game," a science fiction novel that focuses on futuristic military space conflict and the leadership and ethics of the titular military recruit, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. Discussion on this book should happen between July and October of 2016
-- Simon Sinek's "Leaders Eat Last," a non-fiction title that discusses how good leadership puts the needs of their team before their own needs. Discussion on this book should happen between November 2016 and February 2017
-- Simon Sinek's "Start With Why," a non-fiction tile that discusses why leaders do what they do, rather than how. Discussion on this book should happen between March and June of 2017
Right now, the SMA is reading "Ender's Game" in preparation for discussions he plans to have with Soldiers about the book, beginning in July. By then, the SMA's office will have also provided a discussion guide for that book to help junior leaders discuss it with their own troops.
Master Sgt. Michelle Johnson, a spokesperson for the SMA's office, said that Soldiers who want to read along with the SMA should not be focusing now on getting all three books, but should instead focus on locating a copy of "Ender's Game" and work on that title alone.
While all three titles can be purchased online or in book stores, Soldiers who want to participate should not be required to purchase any of them. Instead, Soldiers should check with their local public or post Morale, Welfare, and Recreation library to see if the title is available in a hard copy, or online for digital checkout, said Karen Cole, director of the Army's MWR Library Program.
"There should be print copies of Ender's Game at your local MWR library, and there are copies available on the Army's virtual library through Overdrive," Cole said. "All you need is a library account."
Cole said she is working to increase availability of all three titles in either hard copy at MWR libraries or online at OverDrive.
None of the three books that have been suggested by the SMA involve the U.S. Army directly, though one does involve a futuristic, science-fiction-based military. But all three books provide opportunity to discuss themes and topics germane to professional development, as practiced by those outside the Army.
According to Dailey, one of the reasons for standing up a book club was to generate discussion of leadership concepts outside of the military world. He's asked NCOs to "take our blinders off" and learn how the business world, academia, social scientists, for instance, are doing business or explaining the world.
While participation in the SMA's Book Club is voluntary, Soldiers who want to participate can expect that the next time the SMA visits their installation he'll have also scheduled time with Soldiers in squads who volunteer to participate, to lead discussion on one of the titles he's recommended.
Johnson said the SMA believes the book club will provide increased opportunities for squad leaders to interact with their Soldiers outside of regular training and instruction. So Soldiers can discuss the books together, even without the SMA in the room -- and it's the expectation that they will do just that.
The SMA also hopes the book club concept will help establish critical reading as a crucial skill for NCOs, considering the reading, research and writing curriculum now prominent in Army professional military education, including the Basic Leader Course, the Advanced Leader Course, the Senior Leader Course and the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.
In the future, selections for the book club will come from a list generated by Soldiers themselves. It's expected there will be an SMA Book Club-related website available in July that will allow Soldiers to make such recommendations, and to also house a discussion guide, links to library resources, the SMA's book review, and on-line discussion sessions.