ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- First Army leaders welcomed the new commander of the 85TH Army Reserve Support Command during a commanders orientation on Oct. 22 in First Army headquarters here.

Brig. Gen. Kris Belanger assumed command in August but did not have a change of command ceremony until Oct. 21. The day after the ceremony, the orientation was held to foment a stronger working relationship between the 85th and other First Army elements. Belanger appeared via teleconference from Arlington Heights, Ill., home of the 85th.

Topics included First Army history, leadership, command relationships, logistical support of the Army Reserve, budgeting, and personnel management. There were also overviews of the special staff sections, such as the staff judge advocate, inspector general, and safety offices.

Belanger stressed the importance of communication in resolving issues, adding that she has an open-door policy.

"One thing I want you to understand as brigade commanders is that at any point in time, you can come directly to me. That's a commander-to-commander relationship that I never take for granted," she said. "Please utilize me, I have a couple of you already on speed-dial and I don't mind at all. I understand the challenges out there with our Reserve Component."

She also alluded to the increasing complexities in the world and the corresponding increase in reliance on the Reserve Component that may result.

"There's a heightened sense of awareness that we are preparing for increased activity. Without expanding on that too much, I can tell you I am leaning forward in the foxhole. I am moving out trying to make sure that the staff knows exactly what we need to do," Belanger said. "Our first mission with respect to readiness is getting out to every brigade support element as quickly as possible. What we're going to do first is to meet with the brigade commanders and brigade staff. We want to find out how you're working and


what your priorities and goals are, so that we can support you and you can support us. Together, we'll make this organization even better."

Getting out in front of problems and addressing them directly is also crucial, she added.

"I've only been in this position a couple of months trying to assess what's going on and figuring things out," Belanger said. "I can tell you that from where I sit, the biggest challenge is with our brigade support elements, and the communication seems a little bit broken. If there's anything that I could stress right now to the brigade commanders, it's how do we communicate from our chair up here at the 85th to our battalions? Once we fix that, I feel everything else will start to fall in place."

Above all else, readiness takes precedence. "That's the Chief of Staff of the Army's priority and it's First Army's priority," she said. "But we can't get from here to there if I don't get the brigade support elements engaged in who their customers are. They are there to service the Reserve Component battalions. We have a great team in place that can help you do anything when it comes to the Reserve Component battalions. Those brigade support elements that are embedded within your brigade are there to be the Reserve Component experts. They are the conduit."

Meanwhile, Col. Shawn Klawunder, First Army chief of staff, addressed the value command orientations can have in both the short- and long-term.

"I commanded the 181st Infantry Brigade two duty positons ago," he said. "We held a new command team orientation when I was there. It was probably the best thing that I did to prepare me for assuming a relationship with our Army Reserve battalions. Coming from a tactical, active component, I had absolutely no understanding of Army Reserve matters and how to integrate Army Reserve forces."

Above all, he told attendees, make sure during the orientation to address what you are unsure about, in order to build crucial relationships.

"The most important thing about this conference is the conversation between you and the leadership in the 85th," Klawunder said. "Ask the questions and the more we can talk through these things, the better off you're going to leave here. It's not about getting through a bunch of slides, it's about you getting to know the leadership of the 85th and knowing who you can reach out to and ask the questions and solve any problems with Army Reserve battalions."

This, in turn, will serve as a springboard to vibrant and efficient working relationships that will set everyone up for success.

"We're not going to solve all the problems in here, obviously, but at least we'll be aware of them," Klawunder said. "When you leave here, you should understand the brigade's relationship with the 85th Army Reserve Support Command…and know who is your brigade support element, and how can you use them most effectively. If you get those things out of this conference, you're doing great."