FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – The 101st Airborne Division’s (Air Assault) conducted its inaugural Eagle Day Nov. 13, in which leaders suspended routine operations to engage their Soldiers and carry-out activities designed to build cohesion, strengthen resilience and promote healthy behavior.
“The focus is on being engaged,” said Maj. Peter Robinson, chaplain assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “It’s hard to understate how important that is. We ought to be engaged leaders each day, but it is a gift that the division has set aside a day every month to focus on this. There will be positive outcomes.”
Eagle Day will take place the first Friday of each month, unless there is a day of no scheduled activities, in which case it will fall on the second Friday of the month. Focused on the squad-level, units develop and tailor activities that address specific goals. Activities can include physical training, team building, suicide awareness, SHARP training, and discussions about diversity and inclusion.
Personnel from the division, garrison and tenant organization will rotate between units monthly providing support, education and other resources to help execute Eagle Day.
The staff of the Fort Campbell Ready and Resilient Program, or R2, work to strengthen individual and unit readiness while fostering a culture of trust and reinforcing Army values, said Becky Farmer, R2 Performance Center manager. They address barriers to good communication and how to have difficult conversations. They also train leaders on what makes teams function well and the dimensions of what makes for good teammates.
“Trust is foundational to these concepts and the R2 performance experts can enhance the counseling process by guiding NCOs on how to build trust with their subordinates, making those discussions more effective,” Farmer said.
By building trust and cohesion, she said, Soldiers and leaders within the unit are more likely to lean on each other when they experience difficulty, seek help from their peers or leaders, and conversely peers and leaders are more likely to identify and act when a Soldier is trending to-ward a negative behavior or outcome.
The topics are serious, but some activities add challenges and fun.
She and other performance experts from the R2 Performance Center hosted a physical training class on the inaugural Eagle Day where squad leaders from 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, took turns at three stations designed to provide a workout and build teamwork with the added task of solving mental challenges and puzzles.
“Each station will have some sort of mental challenge,” said Courtney Folkes, the R2 performance expert who led the class.
At one station, participants with their backs turned away from the group had to explain to group members how to assemble a puzzle of wooden pieces while others carried heavy cow bells. Others had to do burpees or jumping jacks and push-ups while their teammates solved a mental challenge and at another station, they carried water jugs or dragged 55-pound weights.
“The point of most of this is to increase communication,” Farmer said, as she watched the early morning activities. “They may not realize they are working on communication.”
The lanes mimic troop leading procedures, she said.
Although units complete different activities, Eagle Day focuses on core tenets signified with the acronym “EAGLE” – exceptional athlete warriors; Air Assault culture that is a people first organization; generate lethal, cohesive teams and squads; leaders connecting with Soldiers; and eliminate sexual harassment, assault, racism, extremism and suicide.
Putting people first means taking time to work on those skills without distractions, Robinson said. Soldiers strive to do what their leaders check on, so if leaders put the emphasis on being engaged and set aside the time, Eagle Day will have a lasting impact throughout the year.
Chaplains from across the division also helped facilitate activities. One group had a talk in the sunshine while sitting on the back of a truck at a motor pool, while another had a picnic on the division parade field to get to know each other better, and another group sat in a spread out circle talking about diversity and inclusion.
Eagle Day is an excellent way to make time for those lessons on a regular basis, said Chap. (Lt. Col.) Eric Leetch, division chaplain, adding that he is thankful Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, made it a priority.
During a recent talk, he spoke of the importance of making time for supporting people.
“What is the resource and cost we would have to spend if we are really going to put people first – and the bottom line is time,” Leetch said. “It takes time for leaders to focus on their people. I think Eagle Day is wonderful because it does put on a training schedule every month, time for those myriad of things – counseling, Soldier-leader engagement, suicide prevention, so on and so forth. You need commanders from the highest leaders saying this is a priority and how do they express it’s a priority? It’s by allotting time to it.”
Relationships and readiness
Leetch said Eagle Day also will make good use of chaplains.
“What Eagle Day provides is an opportunity to be with the junior leaders and focusing on them and making sure they’re equipped,” he said. “The chaplains are being utilized and I’m excited to see the commanders putting them to work.”
Eagle Day will lead to better relationships and teamwork, Robinson said.
Another component for the chaplains is emphasizing spiritual readiness. A unit ministry team with 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, hosted “Protecting the Tribe,” leadership training that included suicide prevention. A ceremony celebrated by Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd BCT, focused on honoring the fallen. Discussions among teams included spiritual readiness and being prepared.
“I used that as an opportunity to address some of the pieces of spiritual readiness, which is an emphasis the division put down last month,” Robinson said. “That’s an emphasis on are you ready to deploy, take life, see life taken and come back with your soul intact.”
Soldiers who took part in one type of activity in November may do something completely different in December.
Leetch said the topics are to commanders’ discretion and set the tone for each unit’s Eagle Day activities.
“There’s a lot going on because each unit is doing different things and next month they will too,” he said. “That’s the beauty, you don’t have to try and get everything in one Eagle Day because we know on the calendar it’s going to be there next month and the month after. You can develop a comprehensive plan.”
Eagle Day gets down to the foundation of readiness, Leetch said.
“These small units, squads and platoons, they’re not just a unit, but a tribe or Family,” he said. “When the Soldiers trust the leaders and the leaders know their Soldiers, that unit is by definition ready, because they can do anything – they can train, they can deploy, they can go to combat and they can handle adversity. We spend time on the range shooting, go to JRTC for training, but if we’re not a cohesive team at the lowest level, with trust being shared, then that’s going to be exposed.”
Farmer said R2 performance experts can train leaders in strategies and techniques that target trust, communication and cohesion.
“They can address barriers to good communication and having difficult conversations,” she said. “They can train leaders on the aspects of what makes teams function well, along with teaching.
R2 performance experts also can enhance the counseling process by guiding noncommissioned officers on how to build trust, Farmer said.
“Eagle Day is also an excellent opportunity for unit master resilience trainers to teach resilience skills,” she said. “These MRTs must teach 12 resilience skills per year, and there are 12 Eagle Days per year, so incorporating MRTs into Eagle Day training is a great idea.”