Cohesion Assistance Team gets new home, new name

By Randy ReadyOctober 5, 2023

Trainees use teamwork to climb over an obstacle during basic training at Fort Jackson, SC.  (US Army photo by Robin Hicks)
Trainees use teamwork to climb over an obstacle during basic training at Fort Jackson, SC. (US Army photo by Robin Hicks) (Photo Credit: Robin Hicks) VIEW ORIGINAL

The U.S. Army’s Cohesion Assessment Team has been renamed the Cohesion Assistance Team (CAT) as part of its transition from the People First Task Force to the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (CIMT) at Fort Eustis, Va.

The CAT is a cross-functional team that provides brigades and battalions an outside perspective of their organizational climate.

“We are excited to continue the People First Task Force’s great work in this important mission,” said Maj. Gen. John Kline, the CIMT Commanding General. “The CAT is an incredible tool that helps a unit really see themselves and their challenges, and more importantly, assist them in developing an actionable plan to address these challenges and build more cohesive teams.”

Kline was quick to point out the CAT visits are not an inspection, 15-6 investigation, or focused on leaders or individuals. That is why the name changed from assessment to assistance team, based on a recommendation from one of the units the CAT had visited previously.

“Assessment gives the perception that you are being evaluated or graded, which is not the case with the CAT,” said Kline. “This isn’t a ‘gotcha’ moment or a report card. This is about providing a tool to help address the root causes of issues identified during the visit and assist in identifying support and resources to help make their units better.”

Col. Jason Buursma, the CAT Director, said they are gathering trends from their visits to share with the larger Army.

“The challenges we are seeing are not unique just to the units we are visiting, rather they are challenges facing units throughout the Army,” stated Buursma. “While using discretion so as not to identify specific units, we are taking the lessons learned from these visits and looking how we can implement them across the force, whether through doctrine, training, leader development or other resources. We’re not only looking to make the units better, we’re making the Army better.”

A CAT visit follows a systematic, science-driven approach to look at the climate and culture of each individual unit.

The process begins months before the team actually visits a unit, with experts from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) doing a pre-visit survey and pulling existing data, such as the Commander’s Risk Reduction Tool and previous organizational climate surveys.

Next the team does a 10-day visit where they collect personal observations and conduct listening sessions, focus groups, and interviews with leaders and support personnel. The CAT gets granular data from these engagements that provides a detailed picture of a unit’s climate.

The CAT briefs their observations to the battalion leadership and works with them to develop an action plan, with both quick wins and more long terms solutions. The battalion command team then briefs the action plan to the brigade and division.

“We don’t hold back when we present the observations to battalion command teams,” said Kline. “Leaders need to see the hard truths if they aim to truly make their formations better.”

Buursma highlighted the expertise the team brings to the visit, to include operational leaders, behavioral health and legal specialists, as well as support from the Center for Army Leadership and WRAIR.

“We have an incredibly talented team that is passionate about not just identifying issues, but developing solutions to help units build more disciplined and cohesive teams,” stated Buursma. “At the end of the day, our mission is to support leaders and provide them options to mitigate risks to trust and cohesion. The end result is better unit cohesion and a better Army.”

The CAT will be briefing at this year’s AUSA Annual Meeting and providing more insight into some of the trends and lessons learned they have seen to date and what units can expect when the CAT team comes to visit. Their Warrior’s Corner presentation, Helping Commanders Build Cohesive Teams, will be on Tuesday, Oct. 10 from 9 a.m. to 9:40 a.m. in Hall D of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The discussion will also be livestreamed on the CIMT Facebook page and on DVIDS.