By CPT Desmond Clay (LG), CPT Paul Guzman (AR), and CPT Kyle Hensley (LG)
Serving as an aide-de-camp to a General Officer is a humbling and unique experience. This is one of the relatively rare jobs where a junior officer has an opportunity to gain insight on how the “Big Army” runs. Although it has been a few years since we served as aide-de-camps (AdC), there are a few enduring lessons we would like to share. Rarely is the transition period long enough to capture or discuss every possible contingency. Although there is a formal course for an enlisted aide, there is not a course for an AdC. Luckily, there is a General Officer Aide Handbook to help you navigate through this small community with some really helpful tips (1). We think there are six rules for success.
1. It’s all about the boss. There are clear rules as to what you can and cannot do, but generally speaking no officer will ask you to violate the rules. If that does happen, usually the officer doesn’t know the rule either. That may sound surprising, but it’s true. If you have a good boss, it won’t be much of an issue. But you should also work hard, especially at the beginning, to establish technical credibility (good at scheduling, good with Microsoft Outlook and Office, forward thinking, anticipating requirements, etc.). This will allow you to quickly move to a place where you can be a trusted agent behind closed doors. You’ll be an important touchpoint for him or her into how the organization “really” works. Even at briefings, you can be the eyes & ears, especially with the staff (fellow peers who will give you the unvarnished truth).
2. Anticipate his or her needs. Figure out what he or she likes (from the mundane to the more nuanced: does he/she like pre-reads for briefings, how does he/she like to get feedback, what tasks does he/she assign to the staff, how much does he/she engage on various topics). Anticipate what he or she needs early and be a student of his or her moods. This is particularly important because most General Officers go from engagement to engagement all day, so knowing when your boss is low on energy, upset, or suffering from a headache will be a lifesaver.
3. Get to know him or her as a person. Although he or she is General Officer, they are a person just like you and me. Likely, they are attempting to manage all the same things we are managing (family, work, his or her boss, etc.). Take time during the initial few weeks to talk about personal stuff: family, where he or she is from, what it was like when he or she was a junior officer or field grade. Seek his or her advice on your career as much as possible and as much as you want; the best time for this will be during temporary duty (TDY) trips when he or she is away from the office.
4. Leverage the staff and extend influence. You can’t do it all alone. He or she will have a large staff (driver, NCO, security detail, executive officer, etc.) that can help carry the burden. It is critical to maintain positive relationships with the staff because most tasks require teamwork. They can all do more than their assignments. You may also rate or senior rate a few of them, so focus on developing them professionally (make sure that they go to schools, etc.). Chances are, you are not the only AdC on the installation and will work with other AdCs when you are TDY. Leverage those relationships when you encounter a problem and assist when they need help. Network with other AdCs and staff early on. Odds are, they have dealt with a similar issue before.
5. The requests you make of people’s time (for briefings, etc.) are all in your name. Never say, “the commander wants…” This is implied whenever you call ask for something. Additionally, remember that when you go places, you’re going with a General Officer and that’s a big deal. Give the organization an advance notice, and remember what invariably happens when the boss comes to town. Remind them of that too. Your communication with other organizations is critical. Be specific with commanders and staff. Most Generals do not like the dog and pony show: do not allow your subordinates to be long winded. Also cut down on the brief. He’d rather know how soldiers really feel—sincerity goes a long way in these situations. As you manage the schedule and timelines for each engagement, this will be a true reflection of how much work you did prior to the visit setting the conditions.
6. Keep private stuff private. You’re going to see and hear a lot of stuff from senior officers. Don’t share that with other people. Part of command is the personal relationships that you cultivate, and your job is to help your boss: don’t discuss his or her mood with others, don’t reveal their secrets, etc. It’s really hard; sometimes you just need to vent. We wouldn’t recommend revealing any of that stuff beyond your close circle of trust.
In closing, it is always necessary to keep the acronym CAV in mind – Coordinate, Anticipate, and Verify. This is a continuous cycle and it never ends. The key is not if you make mistakes, but how you improve and learn from them. Remember it’s all about the boss if you can anticipate his/her needs and keep private stuff private while leveraging the team to accomplish the mission. Although being an aide-de-camp is a very demanding and difficult job, it is one of the most rewarding positions for a junior officer.
CPT Desmond Clay is a Logistics Officer serving in the 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3ID Sustainment Brigade at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Prior assignments include Aide-de-Camp to the Quartermaster General at Fort Lee, Virginia and Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer in the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. His military education includes Logistics Captain’s Career Course, Basic Airborne Course, Air Assault Course, Master Fitness Trainer Course, Support Operations Course and Unit Movement Officer Course. He holds a bachelor’s of science degree from Jacksonville State University.
CPT Paul Guzman is an Armor officer currently serving as a Small Group Leader at the Logistics Captain’s Career Course at Fort Lee, Virginia. Previous assignments include leadership positions in Stryker and Armored Brigade Combat Teams as well as an Aide-de-Camp to the 3ID Deputy Commanding General for Maneuver. His military education includes Cavalry Leader’s Course and Maneuver Captain’s Career Course. He holds a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Louisville.
CPT Kyle Hensley is a Logistics Officer serving in 1BCT, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His prior assignments include, Aide-de-Camp to the Chief of Transportation at Fort Lee, Virginia, Platoon Leader and Executive Officer for a composite truck company in the 16th Sustainment Brigade at Baulmholder, Germany. His military education includes Logistics Captain’s Career Course, Support Operations Course, Basic Airborne Course, and Unit Movement Officer Course. He holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Colorado State University.
Reference (1): Officer/Enlisted Aide Handbook, (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, August, 2009).
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