By Arpi Dilanian and Matthew Howard
Army Sustainment Magazine
As the commander of the Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. Stephen Townsend is leading the charge in building today’s Soldiers while changing the Army for the future. Throughout a career spanning more than 36 years, Townsend deployed to combat at every rank from second lieutenant to general officer, and he commanded some of the Army’s most historic units.
While responsible for the training of more than 500,000 service members each year in his current assignment, he still makes a point to stay in touch with Soldiers at all levels and build the Army team from the ground up. Here are his insights on teamwork and the role it plays in the success of the total Army.
Q: What is the Army doing to develop the leaders we need to be successful on tomorrow’s battlefield?
A: At the institutional level, which TRADOC is responsible for, leader development is integrated everywhere. Every course a Soldier takes, from their initial entry training and basic combat training until the end of their career, whether that be three years or 30 years, it’s all about leader development.
The Army has also created a talent management task force to review policies for leader development and assignments Army-wide. It’s allowing us to see if we need to change some of our processes and really update the way we’re doing things.
At the operational level, our field units and the experience you get in the field Army are absolutely critical to leader development. There’s a lot that goes on out there, and we have a system of after action reviews to capture lessons learned from all across our Army. That information can be spread Army-wide so leaders, Soldiers, and units can learn from the experiences of others, not just their own.
The other pillar to that is self-development. It’s a way to increase your own repetitions because it’s not possible for you to fight enough battles in peacetime. So you have to read those after-action reviews from other people’s battles, and then you have to read history. I think that’s really an important part of leader development.
Q: Looking toward the future, how are we redeveloping the way the Army builds the greatest team in the world?
A: The Army is evolving at a number of different levels. At the organizational level, we just stood up the Army Futures Command, the first new major command since 1973, when TRADOC was created. Futures Command will be responsible for all things future, with a particular emphasis on materiel and how we’re going about equipping. We’ve activated six cross-functional teams that are looking at a range of the Army’s highest priority materiel acquisition programs.
In the area of training, we’re improving initial entry training for Soldiers. We’re making basic combat training tougher, and we’re making one station unit training longer, starting with the infantry course and moving on to other courses after that. In our units, we’re increasing the demands of home-station training because home station is where we actually train and certify units for war. And at combat training centers, we’ve introduced a full-spectrum, hybrid, near-peer threat that is really stressing our units in their full-up collective training.
Lastly, we’re also introducing the new Army combat fitness test. The new test will improve individual fitness and readiness for deployment, and it’s also going to change the culture of the Army.
Q: Do you foresee innovation and emerging technologies impacting mission command?
A: I think innovation will play out in a lot of areas, but particularly when it comes to mission command. Innovation will improve not only our situational awareness at both the individual and team levels but also our common understanding between commanders and the whole team. It will also increase the speed and quality of our decision-making.
Now, all of that sounds really good; it sounds like we should have perfect information and make great decisions all the time. But the problem goes back to this near-peer, hybrid threat we train for and might have to operate against. That threat has the ability to deny our communications and degrade our understanding and situational awareness.
If our mission command system fails or is denied to us, we have to operate off of our philosophy of mission command: commanders issuing mission orders with clear commander’s intent, and subordinate leaders using their disciplined initiative to accomplish that intent. All of it is enabled by trust.
Q: You have commanded at every echelon. What advice would you give a Soldier entering the Army today to be a successful teammate?
A: First, keep your honor clean. Every decision you make and every action you take needs to be based on a foundation of our Army values, your service values, or your national values.
Second, live on amber; be ready. Ready for what? Ready for anything. You should be physically ready and mentally ready. Be ready as an individual Soldier and ready as a member of your Army unit. Be comfortable with uncertainty, and expect the unexpected.
Third, act with disciplined initiative. Our Army has a philosophy of mission command. Leaders give mission orders with a clear commander’s intent, which empowers subordinates to act with their disciplined initiative. Subordinates and subordinate leaders have to be smart enough to recognize when their plan is failing; they need to be smart enough to come up with a plan that will work, and then they need to have the guts to do it. And they need to have the trust and backing up and down the chain of command to empower that disciplined initiative.
Last, lead by example. That applies to leaders, but also to Soldiers as well. Sometimes I’ll say that, and privates will ask, “Sir, what do you mean by that? I’m not a leader.” I believe every Soldier in the United States Army is a role model for somebody. Clearly, officers and noncommissioned officers are role models for their units, but even privates are a role model for somebody. It may be a teammate in their squad or section, or it may be a family member back home, but they are a role model nonetheless. So to every Soldier: lead by example and model what you think a Soldier ought to be. In the end, be the leader you want to be led by.