1st AD welcomes speakers, encourages team cohesion during ‘Iron Summit’ leadership conference

By David PoeDecember 17, 2022

Lead, maintain, and train.

According to Maj. Gen. James P. Isenhower III, the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general, those were the three tenets for almost 800 1st AD and partner unit leaders at the 2022 Iron Summit at the El Paso Convention Center in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 13-14, 2022.

Speakers with and without military experience took to the stage throughout the two-day forum that brought together 1st AD and Fort Bliss leaders from the company levels to brigade levels to talk about proficiency and effective approaches to leading teams.

Iron Summit was a part of an ongoing, leadership-driven campaign the 1st AD has named Operation Ironclad. Underway since 2020, Operation Ironclad committees have spearheaded comprehensive initiatives, like the iron Summit, to ensure leaders have the resources to help build trust and a successful environment amongst 1st AD and Fort Bliss organizations.

Guest speakers included NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary and Author James Kerr, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas James, former commanding general of First Army; and retired Maj. Gen. Robin Fontes, who formerly served as U.S. Army Cyber Command deputy commanding general of operations.

Isenhower joined his division command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams, in opening the forum. He said, doctrinally, it might have been unconventional for the commanding general to be training with company commanders and first sergeants, and that’s exactly why the division wanted to buck the norm.

“We decided it was too important [not to],” he said. “We bring you all in to hear the same message. We want to provide you with some perspectives from renowned speakers from the different aspects of leadership.

“This is leader development,” Isenhower said. “So you ought to be listening and taking notes and figuring out how you can apply the things you learned today to your respective formations, your Soldiers and their families."

Isenhower welcomed local and regional civilian leaders as guests to Iron Summit and said he viewed good civil relations as a two-way street, which was part of the reason ‘America’s Tank Division’ wanted to head downtown to host the event.

“We have the facilities [to host this event] on Fort Bliss, and frankly, it’s cheaper, it’s closer, it’s easier,” Isenhower said. “But we wanted to come down to this location, to put this uniform out into the community this afternoon.”

“So, get out, be in uniform, go enjoy each other's company,” Isenhower told his Soldiers of the extended lunch breaks they’d have during Iron Summit. “But get out in the community and take advantage of some of what El Paso has to offer your forces.”

During Iron Summit, the 1st AD used smartphone app technology to offer the audience uncomplicated ways to interact with the dialogue being covered on the stage, as well as QR codes for guests to get to a web page that covered the day’s agenda and offered information about the event.

“When you’re in the middle, everyone likes you”

Singletary, who served as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2008 to 2010 and is also an ordained minister, spoke on the first day about "Caring for People,” but it was more than that, as he spoke of the importance of courage, character, and integrity forging good leaders. The Houston native, former two-time all-American at Baylor University, and the youngest of ten kids recalled the trials and tribulations his family endured as his father left and two of his brothers died tragically.

“When you're in the middle, you always have friends,” said Singletary, referring to an early moment in his life where he said he wanted to quit on himself, feeling that any striving was for naught.

By using football as a stepping stone, he said he decided he couldn’t stay in the middle when it came to his life, and he encouraged leaders in attendance to avoid “the middle.”

“But you can't be in the middle because you're looking to be -- you've got decisions to make,” he said. “People are depending on the decisions that you have to make.”

He then said again, rhetorically, now to a noticeably more quiet audience, “It's nice being in the middle.”

“Legacy isn't something that happened in the past”

James Kerr, the author of Legacy, an international best seller that analyzes the winning culture of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, spoke on the topic of Leader Development.

He said no matter if it was a rugby pitch, a board meeting, or a battlefield, winning teams focus on excellence, commit to a cause, and build trust in teammates, as just some of the ways “leaders create leaders.”

Kerr spoke about an All Blacks tradition where the new players have to stand up in front of the veteran players. The veterans would say, “we have two questions that we ask everybody, and we have forever. What will you bring to this team? And the second is ... what would your sacrifice be? What will you give up to become everything that you could become? What do we have to give up within ourselves? Irony, resentments, envy. Anger, impatience. All of those human qualities.”

“[The All Blacks] got together as a team and they formed their own legacy. Legacy isn't something that happened in the past,” said Kerr. “It's happening today. It's something we get to create today and tomorrow, and it asks us what are we going to bring? What are we going to do? How are we going to leave our jersey in a better place than when we found it?”

On the second day, following Lt. Gen. Thomas James, who served as the commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division, spoke about Training Management, 1st AD battalion commanders took to the stage to cover training and battle rhythm-related topics. During the afternoon session, division senior leaders also turned the chairs from the stage and faced the audience to encourage conversation.

Like the All Blacks with their investment in their legacy, Isenhower told the Soldiers in attendance that the history of the 1st AD has already been set, but maintaining the standard would continue with dialogue and work, with everyone striving toward the best climate in which to succeed.

“I don’t want any of you to forget this patch, because this unit is more different than any other unit in the world,” said Isenhower. “We are the heaviest division in the world. We bring more combat power than most countries. So, think about that. When the 1st Armored Division deploys, we deploy to finish the job.”

“Professionals, by definition, are inward-looking and recognize where they have shortcomings or deficiencies,” he said. “We're going to talk about how we get better, so there's going to be a lot of discussions in terms of where we have to improve today -- that's what we do as a profession.”