By Harrison “Brandon” Morgan
As a young Cadet at West Point, like many of my fellow classmates, I dreamed of one day becoming a Special Forces team leader, leading my detachment through the trials of unconventional warfare. During two separate summers, I even attempted both the Combat Diver Course and Special Forces Selection.
It didn’t work out. I’m currently a staff officer in an armored brigade. And I absolutely love it. Before this assignment, I served as a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer in an Airborne Infantry Battalion with a completely different mission, culture, and capability set. The leaders that I have seen who were the happiest and, correspondingly, the most successful in these diverse units displayed the same tenants that can be applied in any formation across the Army.
Know the Unit and Embrace It
Spend one day in the 82nd Airborne and you’ll quickly discover that the unit loves jumping out of airplanes (at night, with lots of equipment), small unit battle drills, and sending Soldiers to Ranger School. The esprit de corps of the Airborne Paratrooper as a tough, energetic, high-speed Soldier burns bright in the crisp maroon beret worn by all within “The Division.” Successful leader’s here can recount the history of their Regiment over the skies of WWII Europe. They study, and study, and study for Jumpmaster School, practicing the “Jump Master Pre-Inspection” until their mind and body go numb. This is far different from an Armored Brigade, where 70-ton Abrams Tanks and the drive to lead the team that qualifies, maintains, and moves these armored behemoths ship-to-shore across the globe are the hallmark of the unit. Small unit leaders must have a laser-like focus on maintenance, gunnery, and the National Training Center, which require a fundamentally different set of demands for the small unit leader. Knowing this, and embracing it, is key to success.
The Army, as a metaphor, is a gigantic machine powered by the team of all teams. Every single Soldier has an important role in driving the unit forward towards its readiness and deployment objectives. As leaders, we are responsible for harnessing and embracing our strengths, while developing an understanding of our weakness and a plan to mitigate their effects on the unit. For myself, as a writer, I embrace writing my unit’s reports to higher headquarters, which some of my peers may shy away from. However, I acknowledge that I can struggle with visual orientation and have to pay careful attention, sometimes relying on my peers with missions like leading Tactical Operations Center (TOC) setup and breakdown, for example.
Know the Leaders and Soldiers Around You
This statement is repeated endlessly through a Cadet’s career, but what does it mean and how do you do this? Take a look at your conversations with your Soldiers; are they only transactional, driven merely by your need to extract information or taskings from them at a certain time? Or do you make the time, especially when it’s limited, to share stories about family, goals, and a good laugh? How is your body language? Are your feet and torso turned towards your Soldiers when they bring you their concerns, or are they still facing the computer? The difference is tremendous and tells your Soldier exactly how much you care, or don’t, about what’s troubling their mind. Soldiers who know their leaders care about their family and well-being will be the ones who give 110% at Live Fire Exercises (LFXs), re-enlist for another tour of duty, and make this Army the incredible team that it is.
You can never be certain where you end up, but you can achieve a profound level of happiness and success by embracing your unit, your inner strengths and weaknesses, and the many awesome things that drive your Soldiers to do the incredible things they do. It takes a deliberate effort on the part of the individual leader, and it takes a team to make your unit the greatest in our Army.
Capt. Harrison (Brandon) Morgan is an active duty Army infantry officer. He commissioned from the United States Military Academy in May 2013. He served as an infantry weapons platoon leader in Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve and deployed to Europe with 2nd ABCT, 1st ID, where he served as the Atlantic Resolve Mission Command Element Liaison to Lithuania. He now serves as the brigade battle captain.
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