ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Army’s top enlisted Soldier, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston has worked to build stronger unit cohesion throughout the force by pushing his signature initiative “This is My Squad.”
Since being sworn in last August, the Army’s 16th SMA has traveled the globe to meet with Soldiers and help them learn about the educational and technical tools needed to become better leaders.
No issue has been off the table. He’s spoken about the positive facets of being a Soldier, how to improve individual readiness like preparing for the Army’s new fitness test, or ways to prevent sexual assault and suicide within the ranks.
The TIMS campaign was designed to replicate strong, cohesive teams often found in Special Forces units, he said last October. A year later, TIMS is being implemented at all echelons of the Army, is consonant with Grinston’s vision for a more cohesive force, and even entered the virtual realm with a mobile app on the way.
It seemed fitting that TIMS was again part of the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition on Thursday. Grinston’s virtual event, however, didn’t focus on his insight. Instead, the spotlight shifted to company-level leaders implementing the approach, how it’s evolved in the past year, and where it’s going.
TIMS at the company level
So “how does the company-level enable TIMS?” the SMA asked, during the split-screen webinar. First up was Master Sgt. Jonathan Wilcox, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (Rear), 75th Field Artillery Brigade, who oversees more than a hundred teammates.
“Our role is to influence and empower sergeants and staff sergeants,” Wilcox said, sharing a camera with his officer counterpart, Capt. Daniel Dickey, the battery’s commander.
Company-level leaders should “challenge them [and] learn more about their Soldiers, and have a shared and daily interaction with their Soldiers,” Wilcox continued, as the SMA nodded.
Another responsibility for company leaders is to “create a positive influence and example for sergeants and staff sergeants,” Dickey added. “We do this by building within their team. Not only will we take care of them, but it teaches them to take care of their Soldiers.”
But the Army isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The panel, much like the entire force, was from all backgrounds. Just below Wilcox and Dickey’s screen was 1st Sgt. Hector Puente, a first sergeant for C Company, 2nd Battalion, 330th Engineer Regiment. There, he is not responsible for any junior-enlisted Soldiers, just squad-level NCOs -- including 12 drill sergeants.
Puente’s role is to “empower drill sergeants with the tools and capabilities they need” to accomplish their mission, he said. In other words, he teaches them how to rely on each other, since they are all peers, and how to take ownership within their squads.
First Sgt. Nathan Brookshire, assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), agreed with Puente. “Our role in TIMS is empowering squad leaders through the mission command philosophy,” he said.
Instead of micro-managing junior NCOs, Brookshire gives them responsibilities and creative control over certain tasks. For example, he recently had Soldiers develop physical fitness training programs with little oversight. “It gives the squad leaders ownership of their training, and builds cohesiveness as a squad.”
Building squad leaders
Education is the key to developing young leaders, Puente said. “We want Soldiers to be educationally sound, [even] in a COVID-19 environment when a lot of classes are canceled.”
Recently, Puente said he witnessed a chain-reaction of Soldiers enrolling into schools after being inspired by someone who recently graduated.
“By developing our staff sergeants as a company command team, that can drive a culture of winning within the company,” said Capt. Douglas Rohde, commander of B Co., 1st Bn. in The Old Guard.
Developing squad leaders is “directly tied to the successes or failures of our company,” he added. “[Junior NCOs] make decisions every day -- in garrison or in other units in combat -- that can have a direct impact on the company and the mission.”
Rohde, who oversees memorial affairs at Arlington National Cemetery, said his junior NCOs are often the senior-ranking officials at military funerals. It’s those leaders, he said, who perform at the highest level possible. Their skills are enabled by trust, but also being given the tools to perform.
Investing time to save it
Nobody has a greater influence on young Soldiers than squad leaders, said Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Irion, a U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory detachment NCOIC. “[Junior NCOs] are the people who Soldiers see all the time, and will have the most influence on them,” which can be good and bad.
By investing in squad-level leaders, like with online schooling and safety courses, company leaders can give NCOs what they need to develop their Soldiers, Irion said.
However, those tactics only go so far. Progress and development can also come by encouraging troops “to get out of their comfort zone,” said Capt. Kenneth Danos, a USAARL detachment commander, adding he recently pushed his Soldiers to try-out for the Best Warrior Competition.
Even if they didn’t win, he said, the experience helped develop them.
Regardless of which question the SMA asked or who answered, one thing was clear: developing squad leaders is vital to the success of the Army. But there is no one school, award, or a single experience that accomplishes this, Irion said.
To truly develop leaders, “you have to give them tasks and let them be leaders,” Irion said. “Let them make mistakes, and let them know when it’s OK to make mistakes.
“Because that just makes us human,” he added. “And it makes us better moving forward.”
At the end of the event, Grinston asked the panel what the Army could do to help. As he had hoped for, there was no shortage of candid dialogue. Issues such as more incentives or squad leaders being able to take time off to learn about their Soldiers were suggested.
“My goal is to make you all the coaches and the mentors,” Grinston said. “When I think of [TIMS], the leaders are in the middle, and I’ll have 50,000 [leaders] because all of our first sergeants and platoon sergeants are trained in that skill.”