DRAWSKO POMORSKIE, Poland – Soldiers sit in the shade to escape the hot sun under the Polish pine trees as they wait their turn to complete the squad live-fire exercise. The evaluated exercise consists of navigating through the woods towards an objective under the direction of their squad leader.
In the U.S. Army, a squad leader is a noncommissioned officer who leads a squad of typically 7-10 soldiers broken down into two fire teams.
The Army utilizes a chain of command to attain command and control of the ongoing mission. A chain of command is a line of authority that consists of senior leaders and junior Soldiers with various leadership roles. Squad leaders are one of these key roles and are part of this chain of command. As such, they follow the orders of their superiors and direct their subordinates. Squad leaders possess a wide variety of leadership traits that help them excel in overseeing a squad. They have a passion for their profession, are role models on and off duty, and have the depth of character to be firm but fair.
“The role of a squad leader is vitally important in the career of an NCO. As a Soldier and team leader, you are expected to be a doer and be hands-on. As a squad leader, the NCO takes a step up and has to plan and lead and trust their team leaders to accomplish the tasks given,” said U.S. Army Capt. Evan Kraemer, commander of Chaos Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “Squad leaders control the fight on the ground at its most pivotal and deadly points. Good squad leaders save lives in combat and inspire Soldiers to be better in garrison. I am lucky to have some of the best squad leaders I have ever seen working in Chaos Company.”
The squad leader has the greatest impact on their Soldiers because they spend so much time interacting with them. One of the main qualifications looked for in a squad leader is a strong moral character. The squad leader must set a good example and put their Soldiers’ needs before their own.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John Sciara is one of the squad leaders assigned to Chaos Company and has served in the Army for the last seven years. “I’ve been in the squad leader role for about a year now,” said Sciara. “The most important thing I do as a squad leader is to take care of my Soldiers. I’ve always said it’s my Soldiers, then the mission, then myself – I always try to put my Soldiers ahead of myself.”
A squad leader prepares their Soldiers for wartime missions. This position supervises and manages other soldiers and first-line supervisors, also known as team leaders, within their squad. An Army squad leader is the tactical center of a squad, maneuvering and leading their team to meet the objective. A squad leader ensures that each Soldier follows military standards. There are frequent opportunities to lead by example, especially when executing an order on a mission.
Successful squad leaders are physically fit, mentally prepared, and can lead their squad under stressful situations. They have leadership skills, good weapon handling, and great marksmanship. These qualifications are continuously evaluated by senior NCOs, platoon leaders, and company commanders. Sciara’s role as a squad leader is evaluated by how successfully he leads his squad through a series of obstacles to achieve a goal.
“Today, as a squad leader, I effectively bound two teams through the wood line to engage and destroy nine simulated enemies as my Soldiers retrograded to a concealed position. I think we did pretty well today,” said Sciara, “I’ll go back with my team leaders and we’ll talk through everything that has just happened. From there we’ll come up with a course of action to do better next time.”
Successful squad leaders possess a strong sense of duty, exceeding basic directives from the company commander and first sergeant by going above and beyond their duties. They also possess initiative, which squad leaders can demonstrate by taking proactive steps to address situations rather than waiting for an order.
After the live-fire exercise, Kraemer described what he and his first sergeant were looking for when evaluating one of their squad leaders. “We are looking for a combat leader that can take control of a situation, and lead Soldiers. We look for a good understanding of doctrine and tactics. Beyond that, there are many intangible traits we look for like how they control the tempo and the pace of the fight, how they interact with their Soldiers, and how they work with their team leaders. At the end of the day, mission success and working together as a team is what wins the day for most squads out at squad LFX.”