WASHINGTON — “You have the most important job in the Army.”
These were the words Maj. Gen. Trevor Bredenkamp led with during a discussion with captains and senior noncommissioned officers attending the Company Commander/First Sergeant Pre-Command Course at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23, 2023.
The pre-command course is designed to better train and educate company-level command teams in the responsibilities of their position and provide best practices while assigned to lead in the National Capital Region.
The Joint Task Force - National Capital Region and U.S. Army Military District of Washington commanding general, along with Command Sgt. Maj. Veronica Knapp, the command’s senior enlisted leader, spent over an hour with the current and future company leaders to provide senior mentorship before the Soldiers took positions in their respective units.
“Every Soldier in the Army is assigned to a company,” Bredenkamp told the cohort. “As a company commander, you have the ability to individually mentor lieutenants, sergeants, Soldiers and have an impact on that formation.”
Among the topics covered, the concept of unit climate remained central.
“You all are where the rubber meets the road,” Knapp said. “You drastically impact the climate of the organization.”
Soldiers assigned in the NCR face several challenges which, Bredenkamp admits, are much different than other units. Leaders, he says, must remain engaged to identify and address those challenges directly.
Command Sgt. Maj. Knapp directed leaders to stay on top of the routine administrative requirements which can have serious impacts if not properly maintained, highlighting finance reports as one example.
“Is the pay correct? You might have a young Soldier out there, married with a few kids, living in D.C.,” she explained.
Noncommissioned officers are typically responsible for validating their Soldiers are receiving the correct entitlements, like basic allowance for housing. From 2022 to 2023, Soldiers assigned to the NCR saw a 12% increase in BAH to offset rising housing costs in the area.
Knapp said leader development was a key component to avoiding issues.
“First sergeants, you must have a program to develop your junior NCOs,” Knapp said. “That cannot be overlooked, no matter how busy you are. That’s the most critical population that needs development.”
Knapp noted that several issues happen because team leaders and squad leaders don’t know about programs designed to deal with specific situations because they were never exposed, not because they were at fault.
She also encouraged leaders to find developmental opportunities for Soldiers in low-density, high-demand jobs where there might not be a lot of leaders with that same specialty.
“Sometimes there are brand new Soldiers, right out of training, who are put into NCO positions and they don’t get development,” she said. “Reach out across the NCR and find opportunities for them.”
Bredenkamp echoed his sergeant major’s sentiment saying there was no more valuable investment in time.
“We assume people coming after us know all the same things we know,” he said. “We can say it’s important to be trained, disciplined, and fit, but a lot of that comes when people feel like they’re in an organization that is looking out for their well-being.”
He highlighted “predictable training schedules” as one of the most important ways commanders can achieve that.
“The most important thing you do every day is decide what not to do,” Bredenkamp said. “Command teams should be able to provide predictability. You write a contract with your Soldiers what that schedule is going to be.”
He recalled visiting Soldiers near the end of the duty day who were waiting around to be released.
“What happens is you have Soldiers with families, maybe they’ve made plans, but that Soldier doesn’t get home in time,” Bredenkamp said. “Now you’re creating family stress and stress at work. Your ability to create predictability is very important.”
Bredenkamp’s parting wisdom reiterated the importance of building that kind of positive command climate.
“The care, compassion and empathy you show your Soldiers as a leader will be what gets them to accomplish any task, no matter what adversity is out there,” he said.
In addition to mentorship from the MDW command team, students in the course received best practices from current company command teams from across the organization. The course also included formal training in topics such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, medical readiness, unit maintenance operations, retention, and Soldier and Family programs.
The five-day course wrapped up on Oct. 27th with nearly 50 more Soldiers better prepared to serve in command teams throughout MDW.