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 how to improve your company closeout formations and weekend safety briefs.
To any military service member, just the mention of a weekend safety brief and closeout formation can stir reactions of dread and loathing. I can think of few things that are less inspiring or effective in the military than a long brief where leaders regurgitate the same speech every Friday listing every “don’t” for the weekend. I argue that these closeout formations with the excessive safety briefs are no longer for the Soldiers, but “check-the-block” requirements to cover leaders when the weekend Serious Incident Report (SIR) event occurs, such as a DUI. These methods are ineffective and waste Soldiers’ and leaders’ time. Weekend closeout formations, like many other events, should be valuable and planned-out events that contribute to your company’s culture.
Early in my command, I read two blog posts (From the Green Notebook and The Military Leader) regarding this topic of improving unit closeout formations and safety briefs. They served as the catalyst to end my company’s current safety brief ways and update them with new focuses and methods. I cannot take credit for conceiving these ideas; I encourage readers to check out those posts for further ideas and inspiration.
After getting my 1SG on board with ending our “thou shalt not” speeches every Friday, we initiated the below-listed events to challenge Soldiers in various ways. We found by doing this, Soldiers came to value their contribution to the company more; they recognized that their weekend actions impacted more than just themselves and in time became more committed to the accountability of their actions. I challenge commanders to employ one or two of these recommendations every closeout formation, varying them up week-to-week.
Competition or challenge. Vary up the competition type, whether it be a physical or skill challenge. Regardless, do not inform platoons of the event beforehand. Force them to select one, two, or the number of applicable Soldiers for the event before you announce the event type. This reinforces that Soldiers need to be prepared for any assigned mission.
- PT challenges: The possibilities are endless; one method I liked required two Soldiers per PLT complete the maximum number of reps needed for the 300 APFT score in pushups and sit ups for time. This got Soldiers to care about their APFT maximum rep numbers instead of just the minimum.
- Universal Soldier skill challenge: Have Soldiers assemble weapons, complete tasks with communications or CBRN unit equipment, or tasks to support your unit METL.
- Combatives: Let Soldiers call each other out and roll around on the mat once a month or so. Soldiers will love it and esprit de corps will rapidly improve.
Discuss Medal of Honor recipient. The week prior to the selected brief date, I hand-selected a Soldier and told him/her to choose a Medal of Honor recipient, research that person to include background and the citation, and present it to the company the next Friday. At the designated formation, the Soldier introduced the recipient, told their story, read the citation, and discussed lessons that we can learn from that leader.
Celebrate unit history or historic Soldiers. Your company likely holds a long and impressive lineage. Introducing that history to your Soldiers inspires them to take pride in that tradition and add to the history. Select Soldiers to research specific parts of history and what your company and/or battalion accomplished during them, then share that with the company to include lessons we can learn as Soldiers today. During the Normandy invasion of WWII, my battalion was recognized as one of the first units to land on Omaha Beach, earning the unit motto of “First on Omaha.” Through some research though, my Soldiers and I learned our company in fact landed on Utah Beach accidentally. Following their education, my Soldiers owned the motto, “First on Utah” instead. It wasn’t a dissent from the battalion culture, rather a reflection of their pride in our company’s history.
Recognize a Soldier or formation. Your unit recognition program does not have to be solely based on formal military awards. Publicly recognizing a Soldier for their actions in front of the company and their peers can accomplish a lot for that Soldier’s motivation and commitment to the mission. Make it a point to recognize a Soldier, squad, or platoon every closeout formation. It shows that their actions are noticed and valued.
Inform Soldiers of upcoming events. No matter how thorough your company training management program is, Soldiers will not always know your unit’s future training or plans. Soldiers do not receive the same context, or “why” explanations that you do for what’s going on in the brigade. Use these opportunities to inform your Soldiers about what’s coming up, when the next field time is, or why we are doing certain things the way we are now. Giving context to your Soldiers better enables them to remain committed to your company mission, and provides them your purpose and intent.
There are numerous ways to employ your subordinate leaders in your closeout formations to ensure all bases are covered, to include ensuring weekend safety. One method can include assigning specific responsibilities to different levels of leadership.
- Squad leaders: collect Soldiers’ weekend plans for situational awareness
- Platoon sergeant: talk to Soldiers about weekend actions, the impact of them, and inform Soldiers about local events going on that weekend
- Platoon leader: review or introduce a policy or regulation to improve Soldiers’ knowledge; can include tactical doctrine
- First Sergeant: highlight installation trends or new concerns; recognize a Soldier / squad / platoon
- Commander: address topics to challenge Soldiers and improve company culture
Ensure you plan out this change in your company. Talk with your 1SG and get him/her on board, then inform your subordinate leaders of the new plan so it is not an overwhelming shock.
The next company command series post, part IX, covers using Troop Leading Procedures and orders in the company.