SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii –The 25th Infantry Division Artillery held a four-day series of leader development, team-oriented, and Soldier-development events for the Brigade’s “People First Week” from June 21-24, 2021. The week was designed to “certify” leaders in how to care for Soldiers and Families, and advance ongoing initiatives to improve quality of life for the members of the “Tropic Thunder Ohana.” The events were intended to build cohesion and trust, generate deeper internalization of the Army’s ethics, and reaffirm the 25th Infantry Division Artillery's organizational values.
After kicking off the week with a Brigade formation run to increase esprit de corps, leaders met to cultivate a shared understanding of the values and culture the 25th Infantry Division and 25th Infantry Division Artillery are working toward. The dialogue occurred in a cascading manner from the Brigade leadership through the entire chain of command to ensure these fundamental values were communicated with relevance to every service member.
“Open dialogue is critical,” emphasized Col. Bryan Schott, commander, 25th Infantry Division Artillery, as he outlined what a people-first approach means, and how this ultimately contributes toward mission-success. “Collectively as a team and group of leaders, I want us to have conversations and get to know each other at a personal level. The manner in which we do things is often more important than what we do. How we build something and get from point A to point B is what instills trust, confidence, and commitment.”
“People first to me means shifting more toward showing that you care for the individual Soldier and their personal life instead of just being their boss at work,” expressed Spc. Crecencio Yennie, radar operator, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery.
Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Fluharty, senior enlisted leader, 25th Infantry Division Artillery, said that in ensuring individuals and families are taken care of, valued, and empowered to flourish, leaders should be asking themselves, “What can I do to create an environment of empowerment, flexibility, creativity, and individual development that matures leaders, allows room for growth, and makes all individuals within the organization better? How can I be a more involved leader?”
Cpt. Zachariah White, commander, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery, shared his commitment to developing others, “At every level of the Army, leaders in higher echelons can and should develop subordinates and peers.” He went on to acknowledge that in leading, developing, and mentoring Soldiers, “We may only see the initial fruits of our labor. However, as we train younger leaders our efforts are bettering not only the Army in the long run, but also when Soldiers transition into the civilian sector. It is our duty to train future leaders, to better the Battery, Battalion, Brigade, the Army as a whole, and also the United States."
The multi-day series of events included various opportunities for each echelon to inculcate this people-first approach: section-level counseling sessions, social events such as a Dining In, Cook-offs, an Equal Opportunity sensing session, a Behavioral Health discussion, a Battalion hike, a Sports Cup Competition, preparation for summer block leave, and other family-involved and unit PT events to build trust and cohesion.
“To me putting people first means making sure they’re good mentally, physically, and emotionally,” says Spc. Trenae Thomas, automated logistical specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 25th Infantry Division Artillery. “It’s comforting to know I can trust my leadership. My Platoon Sergeant and Squad Leader take their time to listen to me if something is wrong. If I have issues pertaining to family, they give me the opportunity to set aside work and put family first.”
Spc. Angel Luna, AFATDS computer operator, C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, similarly shared that what means the most to him is when his leaders show they care by asking him how he’s doing, “Taking time to have a good conversation with real empathy.”
Maj. Westly LaFitte, deputy commanding officer, 25th Infantry Division Artillery, reiterated the responsibility of leaders to apply empathetic and personalized, diverse leadership styles that will help each Soldier thrive within and beyond the profession: “Everyone is motivated by different things; everyone is challenged by different things. It is important to reflect on the events in our lives that have changed us as a person, or shaped our perspectives and value sets. As leaders we have to figure out what those crucible events were for our Soldiers.”
Staff Sgt. Luis Ronquillo, section chief, C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery, shared that he learns what motivates his Soldiers so he can serve them better by “Asking them what their drive is, or their “why” in the person and Soldier they are. Personally connecting with each Soldier in your squad or section helps you understand where they come from and how you can tie it all into making the squad or section better.”
Fluharty outlined that in order to prevent negative behaviors that are detrimental to the cohesion, trust, and effectiveness of the Army team, leaders must treat every individual with dignity and respect, display the personal moral courage to hold others accountable to the Army values, and lead with empathy, inclusion, and genuine care for Soldiers and Families.
“We have to get to the left of the problems of sexual violence, all forms of racism, extremism, discrimination, and suicide,” Fluharty reiterated. “It’s going to require changes. We need to get to the point where we don’t need a People First Week, because these values are engrained in everything we do, with buy-in at each level. This week allows us to establish our baseline, and get everyone moving in the same direction.”
In the initial discussion with Brigade, Battalion, and Battery-level leaders, Lafitte emphasized, “Every member of the team has a part in maintaining the Army profession. We don’t change culture by changing culture. We work to positively affect the attitudes, behaviors, and actions that form our collective set of values and norms over the long-term.”
Leaders at all echelons understand their engagement is critical, but junior enlisted also recognize that they are the first line of defense and an example to their fellow Soldiers.
“I want to set the tone and be the example of what a Soldier hopes to become,” Ronquillo stated. To gain trust and respect, he aims to “Always stress the Army values, and strive to integrate them into day-to-day life.”