By Kari HawkinsJanuary 31, 2018
Walking into the classroom at the Command and General Staff School at Redstone Arsenal, Gen. Gus Perna paused for a moment of reflection on his time as a young Army officer.
With that reflection came guidance from the commander of the Army Materiel Command to the 49 majors and captains attending the Command and General Staff Officers' Course at the satellite campus. The course is the first field grade class that officers attend where they learn how to strategically affect change in the Army as a whole.
"I give you the same great advice I received before I came to this class - stop being so intense, learn from your classmates, understand you are not on the battlefield, don't stress on the day-to-day things. With that, this will be a powerful time for you," Perna said during his Jan. 26 visit. "What you are about to do, I've done and I loved everything about it."
For most of the officers in week four of the 16-week class, the course will be followed by several assignments that will develop their core branch or functional area competencies, both critical for providing experience across the Army's strategic mission.
"You have gone to the next level. When you leave here, you will be responsible for running brigades and divisions," Perna said.
During his first visit to the CGSS satellite campus, Perna stressed the need for officers to ensure Army readiness within their units. Perna recalled his own experience in December 2002 when, as a battalion commander, he received an emergency phone call while shopping with his wife. He reported immediately to brigade headquarters and then led his battalion as equipment and units were moved into Kuwait in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"That kind of synchronized execution of equipment has not been done since 2003," Perna said. "When the Army Chief of Staff talks about being ready, he means being ready today, not in 30 days, 90 days or a year from now. He means ready today."
A lack of logistical experience in moving equipment from U.S. installations to the battlefield, a budget-constrained supply chain, and limited use of seaports and airports are all issues of concern, he said, in supporting future military actions. Additionally, continuing resolutions are stifling the development and investment of the Army's future weapon systems.
As majors, Army officers "leap into the professional Army," a climb in the ranks that requires a high level of leadership skills, Perna said, offering to them his lessons in leadership.
Army leaders are "always being looked at. You have to be the example of our Army," he said. "You must be highly educated, technically and tactically proficient, dedicated to the Army, understanding of the importance of esprit de corps and help us move forward."
Leadership growth, Perna said, occurs when leaders place themselves in situations where they are personally and professionally uncomfortable, where they can broaden their experience and capabilities. "Put yourself in places where you need to learn," he urged.
Effective Army leaders are firm, fair and consistent; calm in the eye of the storm; trustworthy; understand the importance of time management for both themselves and those who work for them; and know how to communicate with their boss, peers and subordinates.
At Army Materiel Command headquarters, leaders are charged with providing details that show progress toward accomplishing the Army readiness mission.
"I want to know what they did to move the ball mission-wise," he said. "I want to know what they did to influence Army priorities. I want to know from their reports how they affected the mission so that I can give them guidance."
Effective Army leaders also are team builders and team players, and think bigger than themselves or their unit.
"We are a team of teams. You need to figure out how to build teams; develop people by training, coaching, teaching and mentoring them; and hold them accountable," Perna said.
"When you make decisions, think bigger than yourself and bigger than your unit. Elevate your thinking to the next level. Base your decisions on what is best for our Army."
During his 34 years of Army service, Perna has come to value balance between health, family and work; and balance between competence, character and commitment.
"Self reflect by understanding who you are. Are you physically fit? Do you know your job? Are you good at your job? Are you committed to your job? Be of the highest character," he said. "If it's not in your heart, then do something else. Be the best Soldier, best leader. I believe in what we are doing. Figure out what drives you and then enjoy it."