Company Command Series Part II: Preparing for Command

CO COC Pic

This blog post is a continuation of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discusses a method to successfully prepare for command and how to map out your first 90 days.

Successfully preparing for command does not start with your change of command inventories. I argue it must start months before that with deliberate research, reflection, and goal development. Most military officer timelines include a season on brigade or battalion staff before command; that is the ideal time to initiate your preparation. Starting to think about and prepare for command during your change of command inventories is too late; by then, you will be quickly overwhelmed with property accountability, learning the company’s systems, meeting your troops, and the daily demands of a commander. I actually started my command preparation at the career course with specific research. Then, two months from starting my inventories, I began writing my command philosophy and policy memos. Based on my experience and on the ideas from other respected leaders prior to my command, I provide some recommendations on how to prepare for command to make your command assumption deliberate (not reactionary) and well-controlled.

As stated earlier, I began my command preparation at the career course. In line with my particular organizational preferences, I created a “command preparation” binder, broken into categories I felt needed the most preparation attention (training and training management, leader development methods, property, maintenance, fitness, and war fighting focusing on combat engineer tasks). I conducted research across various platforms, and consolidated notes and references (regulation, doctrine, lessons learned from others) in the binder to use during my following preparation and in my early stages of command. Through this early research, I highly recommend you gain a solid understanding of critical systems and commander programs that you will soon be responsible for (master driver, maintenance reports, supply systems to include using GCCS-A interfaces, training resourcing, and SIR reporting requirements). The better you understand these systems before command, the more you can master command early on and not feel as though you are struggling to merely tread water. Take the time while on staff, where you arguably have more than you will in command, to read the governing regulations and talk with subject matter experts for these systems to understand them. The better you understand such topics before command, the better you can control them and speak on them with authority.

Following my initial research, about two months before starting inventories, I began deliberate preparation. I recommend several specific actions during this time:

  • Write your command philosophy. The document should be in your style; that will make it genuine. Many recommend specific formats, keeping it to one page, and so on. What worked for me, despite recommendations, was an Army-style memo that was four pages long. I still don’t regret making it that long; it supported my leadership style.
  • Write the company policy memos. I had the company XO send me the current company policies and I based mine off of those. I address company policy memos in a later post in this company command series. Getting your policy memos and command philosophy legally reviewed beforehand is critical, though.
  • Complete all counseling forms for platoon leaders, XO, 1SG, and others you rate/senior rate. Doing this early not only allows time to make the forms (or memos) quality products, but allows you to rehearse the counseling events to ensure they are meaningful when you conduct them after taking command.
  • Understand how to conduct an inventory. You should not be learning how to inventory your equipment on day one of your change of command inventories. Learn regulation requirements and best methods to conduct your inventories. Remember, your inventories will be the first impression your Soldiers get of you; ensure you are prepared. Use the inventories to meet your Soldiers, ask them about their equipment to assess their mastery of what is assigned to them, sign their driver licenses as the new commander, and so on. Your inventories are much more than just inventories; take advantage of the opportunity.

It’s important to map out what you need to accomplish in the first weeks and months of command. The more you establish that, the more control you will have. I recommend the following events be planned out in your first two weeks, month, and 90 days of your command. This list is not exhaustive of course, but serves as a starting point to establish the early phase of command.

  • First two weeks: all initial counseling complete, publish command philosophy and platoon in-briefs complete (both discussed below), personally meet every Soldier in the company, and visit the barracks.
  • First month: conduct PRT with every squad; initiate your [company leader development program]; all property is officially sub-hand receipted down to the end users; host your first Family Readiness Group (FRG) event; have leaders/spouses over to your house for a get together; establish a company system to track and recognize Soldier/spouse names, birthdays, and anniversaries; and conduct a 100% company urine analysis.
  • 90 days: company Initial Command Inspections (ICI) conducted with battalion and command climate survey with follow-up sensing sessions complete.

Publishing your command philosophy. I did not do this when I took command, but I feel it is worthwhile in hindsight. As the first official meeting after taking command, I recommend gathering your leaders (squad leaders and above) to brief your command philosophy. Do not making the briefing about you; it is not a personal introduction or a chance to brief your ORB. Make the focus on the organization and the audience (your subordinate leaders). After quickly covering highlights of your command philosophy and what you want to accomplish up front (events in first 90 days, above), turn the event into a brainstorming session. Create a company shared vision and goals with your leaders by identifying where the unit is, where you want to be in 12 to 18 months, and how you plan to accomplish that in broad strokes. This gets everyone on the same page, and encourages buy-in and ownership of the vision by your leaders. Lastly, when your leaders enter the meeting, hand everyone two 5×8 index cards; their ticket out of the meeting at the end is to turn in the cards with one thing they love and want to keep in the company, and one thing they want to change in the company.

Platoon In-briefs. Holding an in-brief with every platoon and company headquarters will give you the best initial common operating picture of the company after you take over. Schedule a brief with every PL/PSG team (and XO/OPS SGT for HQ) within your first two weeks. I published the topic requirements to my PLs beforehand, but not the method of delivery; I wanted to get an understanding of the different leadership teams and their styles. Some recommend topics to cover in the brief are below. Establish how you want the briefs to end; I chose to close each one by conducting my initial counseling with the PL and getting to know him/her on a more personal level.

  • Equipment and personnel readiness, to include manning
  • APFT and weapon qualifications (personal and crew WPNs)
  • High risk Soldiers to include a list of all motorcycle riders
  • EFMP and family care plans; list of who requires them and current statuses
  • Pending UCMJ and administrative actions
  • Officer and NCO rating schemes
  • Recommended priority of training (bottom-up feedback; what they want to accomplish)
  • PL/PSG concerns and areas of current focus

Other important tasks to accomplish before or upon taking command:

  • Attend your installation pre-command course; it will inform you of the available resources specific to your post
  • Conduct a UCMJ reading rehearsal with your 1SG; do not make the first time you do one in front of a Soldier
  • Take the online Commander Safety Course (on ALMS) before taking over
  • Take time to reflect and physically write out your desired command end state; the commander’s end state is important in an OPORD to an operation; apply that to your “company command operation”
  • Talk to your BN CSM, XO, and S3 about your company and its leaders; learn about the perception of your company amongst higher headquarters (also valuable to talk to the S1, S4, S6, and Chaplain about the company proficiency in those respective functions too)
  • Know the product requirements from company to higher headquarters before taking over (BN training meeting slides, command & staff, commander SITREPs, etc.)
  • Be in good physical condition BEFORE you start inventories; that focus become a lower priority after you take over through many seasons of command

Being as prepared as you can for command requires initiative and self-development. A great method to support that is professional reading. A short recommended pre-command reading list includes:

  • AR 600-20 Army Command Policy
  • FM 7-0 Train to Win in a Complex World
  • Division, brigade, and battalion policy memos
  • Brigade and battalion TACSOPs
  • Brigade and battalion annual / quarterly training guidance
  • Commander’s UCMJ handbook
  • Taking the Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level, Nate Allen and Tony Burgess
  • The Challenge of Command, Roger Nye
  • Small Unit Leadership: A Commonsense Approach, Dandridge Malone
  • Once an Eagle, Anton Myrer

Please share other ideas and recommendations on preparing for command to provide options to others; I am basing this all off a singular experience.

The next several Company Command series posts address aspects of company level Unit Training Management (UTM) that made my specific program effective. I start by discussing creating a company, and personal, battle rhythm.

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