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"Your job will not always be to build the ships and steer the wheels. Eventually you must chart the courses to ensure those you lead know where they are headed." ~ Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Reinert, 88th Readiness Division commanding general

I started my military career as an Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadet at Iowa State University in 1979, and commissioned as a U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer in 1983. I have now been a Soldier for 35 years, serving on Active Duty, in the National Guard and in the Army Reserve. I am also a traditional Army Reserve Soldier, and have been a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Iowa for over 27 years.

Those years have afforded me many opportunities to lead and -- more importantly -- countless opportunities to learn.

Leadership requires learning and being able to apply that hard earned knowledge to future endeavors.

Significant lessons I've learned:

1. You need to prepare for ambiguity and change.

Whether you are trying a case in federal court, helping the Afghans establish a court to resolve terrorism cases, or engaging in kinetic operations, your plan will not survive initial contact. You need to embrace the fact that change and ambiguity is a given in our profession, and you must think, plan and develop multiple courses of action to respond when you encounter previously unforeseen challenges.

In Afghanistan, with Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 and the Rule of Law Field Force, we were responsible for helping the Afghans use their legal system to establish and maintain the rule of law while also training the Afghan Detention Operations Command to conduct detention operations that were compliant with International Humanitarian Law.

In order to be successful, we had to work closely with the Afghan Supreme Court to get the National Security Justice Center the ability to try all counter-terror/insurgent cases from all over the nation, the Afghan Attorney General's office, the International Red Cross, coalition partners, foreign governments who would accept detainees for transfer and the U.S. State Department, to name just a few of the groups with an interest in our efforts.

Every day presented a new challenge that required evaluation and course adjustment. You always need to watch for the black swan -- the unknown, unforeseen event that changes everything.

2. The "box" of conventional thinking is a construct of our making.

As a lawyer I have had the opportunity to see many leaders in action, and was blessed to be able to serve as a commander at multiple levels. The best leaders are not afraid to challenge the conventional view and look at problems from multiple perspectives. Use your staff and your peers to help challenge your assumptions and test your plan. They will help you understand the second and third order effects of your decision before you make it. With this ability a leader can reduce the number of blind spots and identify a host of new opportunities, each with its own advantages and challenges.

The primary mission of my current (and last) command, the 88th Readiness Division, is to operate all the micro-installations (Army Reserve Centers, Equipment Concentration Sites, etc.) in a 19-state region from the Ohio River to the Pacific Northwest. We have just short of 300 separate facilities. Some, like Fort Sheriden, Illinois, have dozens of buildings, and many of our facilities are stand-alone, not located within a larger Army installation. When leading a complex operation, you must challenge conventional thinking and look for opportunities to get more while paying less. This may be by "looking big," like studying all the infrastructure and building a facility sustainment plan so you can predict which roofs will fail in a given year, and fix them before the rains come. It may also be "looking small," like ensuring the simple everyday tasks, such as preventative maintenance, are done to extend the life of equipment and help Soldiers get their important work done. I am blessed with a very experienced staff who taught me the value of thinking outside the box.

When a system is unresponsive or inefficient, a leader has to be willing to change the game by doing "test and learn" pilot projects, sharing the results with others and reinforcing success.

3. Leading change is a critical leadership skill that must be taught and cultured.

As our adversaries (and potential adversaries) evolve, and our budgets constrain, change is inevitable. My most challenging times to lead an organization were in a time of transition or change.

From helping establish the Legal Command to working with the international community to establish an effective process for use in the Afghan legal system to investigate, detain and prosecute terror suspects, as a leader, I needed to embrace the fact that change was inevitable, and many of the decisions driving that change were made by others.

The key to driving change was affecting others to make their decisions in a manner that did not unduly constrain my decisions. Leading change requires leadership down (within your organization), up (to leaders above you to help them make the best decisions possible), laterally (to help coordinate with your peers so the decision will be executed appropriately), and externally (to help keep external influences from resisting the change or injecting new issues to resolve).

4. When you lead and where you lead has a lot to do with how you lead.

-Garrison Leadership

I am a traditional Troop Program Unit Soldier. In my day job, I continue to be an Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of Iowa. I have also been an Army Soldier for over 35 years with service on Active Duty, in the National Guard and in the Army Reserve.

Holding and managing two demanding and dynamic careers required significant understanding and sacrifice by my civilian employer, coworkers and military leadership.

Experiencing the unwavering support of my civilian employer and coworkers to cover down when I was on Reserve duty or deployed made me a better leader in both careers. It showed me how to get better balance in my life and help others learn how to balance all the competing things pulling us in multiple directions.

Life happens to our Soldiers. We need to help them find a path to better balance of dual careers and family, with family coming first and foremost.

-Deployed Leadership

Leading a team while deployed will test everything you have ever learned about leadership. In CJIATF 435, the mission was complex and the environment was unforgiving. We lost Paul Goins and Michael Hughes on Feb. 10, 2014, to a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. We lost others from our formation due to accidents and other causes.

Leading a team through loss is particularly difficult. I was blessed to learn that skill firsthand from Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Inch. Deployment leadership requires an extra measure of compassion, empathy and caring.

5. The Soldier shapes the position, but the position also shapes the Soldier.

Positions that have shaped me as much as I have shaped them include serving successively as commanding general of Rule of Law Field Force, deputy commanding general of CJIATF 435 and then as commanding general of CJIATF 435.

I was in Afghanistan from May 2013 through October 2014. I was able to learn from great leaders like Gs. Joseph Dunford, John Campbell, Mark Milley, Joseph Anderson, the late Maj. Gen. Harold Greene and many others. The length of the deployment coupled with the complexity of the missions significantly shaped my leadership tendencies. The fact that the commands were combined with coalition partners, joint with the other U.S. services, and interagency working with numerous U.S. civilian agencies, was by its very nature a complicated endeavor.

The pace of the commands, coupled with the complexity and extreme sensitivity needed to effectively conduct detention operations and Rule of Law development, made me much more adaptable and able to operate effectively in a volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous environment.

-Military Judge

I started my career branched as a Military Intelligence officer assigned to the 234th Signal Battalion in the Iowa National Guard. After law school, a branch transfer to the Judge Advocate General's Corps, and numerous advisory and leadership positions, I was selected to be a military judge and presided over the trial of courts-martial of Soldiers accused of committing crimes from Absent Without Authority, to Rape and Murder.

Many criminal cases are resolved by the accused admitting he or she committed the crime. As a military judge, it fell to me to talk to these young men and women, who joined the Army (most after Sept. 11, 2001) to serve the nation and protect us all. I had to get details about the crimes each committed and their greatest failing as a Soldier. I had to lead them through a process to help them atone for their misconduct, and then had to impose an appropriate sentence. This is the first step towards rehabilitation. These discussions taught me the value of empathy and the value of being able to help someone at their darkest hour.

-Platoon Leader, Second Lieutenant

The 234th Signal Battalion in the early 80s was a great unit with a very experienced cadre. With the dated equipment they had, the Soldiers could do amazing things, but were limited in their ability to operate with the other components of the Army. As a second lieutenant, I learned from some amazing senior noncommissioned officers, many of them veterans of Vietnam. They taught me how to treat Soldiers, build a team, adapt to changing events, and overcome adversity.


These are interesting times with interesting challenges.

Leadership today requires a deep understanding of the strategic environment, nesting your plan within it and communicating your vision to the lowest levels to synchronize all the members of your team. It is no longer enough to lead, you must be able to build a team of leaders.

Good leaders lead, but great leaders build a new generation of leaders.


Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Reinert began his military career as an Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadet at Iowa State University in 1979 and commissioned as a U.S. Army military intelligence officer in 1983. He also holds a law degree from the University of Iowa. While in law school, he served with the Iowa National Guard before transferring to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps. In his civilian capacity, Reinert serves as an Assistant United States Attorney in Iowa. In his military capacity, he is currently serving as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve's 88th Readiness Division headquartered at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and is preparing for retirement from the Army in December 2018 after 35 years of service.