By Lt. Col. Alfred Boone
Reception battalions have been in the business of receiving, processing, training, shipping and discharging Soldiers for decades. For years, leaders at RECBNs have received new recruits and in some cases instilled fear in them in a way to be effective. But since the days of “Stripes” reception battalions have changed, and so has our business.
Military leaders need new tools and techniques to face a fast-changing and unpredictable type of Soldier so our leaders in an Initial Entry Training environment train Soldiers in ways that build a culture of trust, readiness and commitment to service. Leaders in the IET enterprise need to be 100 percent committed to the less than 1 percent who serve.
Leaders at reception battalions may need to adjust their mindset to a culture to survive and succeed, given that they, too, faced unprecedented uncertainties when they arrived at a reception battalion years ago.
Most leaders understand that these four things: Meet the Soldiers, Make Decisions, Focus on Mission, and Communicate the Army Vision; are essential for leadership. But seeing them embodied, experienced witnessed and applied is where it makes a difference.
Meet the Soldiers
From day one, creating a personal link is crucial to leading people through challenging times. An important facet of our profession entails bringing civilians onto the Army team.
As the bus arrives on the installation, civilians are greeted by drill sergeants, with their distinctive headgear, and in 90 minutes or less their Day 0 brief is complete and are off to their respective reception companies.
Day 1 brings another story as these civilians, now in Army Physical Fitness Uniforms, are greeted by their team of stern drill sergeants and processed along until they are shipped to Basic Combat Training or One Station Unit Training. During their tenure at the 43rd Reception Battalion, I meet hundreds who are eerily silent as they witness in-processing operations unfold.
Routinely 20 to 30 minutes on Day 1 as Soldiers sit in a tiered auditorium, I stride in the room to the front row and introduce myself to the nearest Soldier. I shake hands, ask them where he/she is from and exchange a few personal words, and then move on to the next Soldier. I share similar experiences in which they are about to experience and inform them that they can make it. The Soldiers are visibly relieved to see the battalion commander instantly find common ground across a diversified crowd.
Prior to departing the auditorium, I respond simply, “Congratulations.” The Soldiers are reminded that they answered the call to the Army and national service. Leaders are reminded that they, too, started from humble beginnings, either in life or in rank, and that the brief moments they get to meet the new Soldiers are precious.
Leaders should strive to make every engagement with a Soldier as personal as possible. An individual handshake, a brief look in the eyes — these small actions make an indelible impression, serving to focus attention and ensure retention of the mission and message that leaders seek to convey.
Making good and timely calls is the crux of responsibility in a leadership position. Every day, leaders at the 43rd Adjutant General Reception Battalion in-process hundreds of Soldiers. On arrival, drill sergeants explain the next several days of in-processing; then soldiering begins.
The next morning comes early, and drill sergeants are ready to go. Feeling the effects of the little sleep in the barracks from the night before, Soldiers are tensed and often amazed how leaders manage to strategize in-processing.
The ability to make fast and effective decisions that draw quickly upon the actions and insights of all those on the “front lines” is among the defining qualities of combat-ready and emotionally intelligent leaders within a reception battalion.
It is encoded in a leader dictum: When you’re 80 percent ready — act. Do not shoot from the hip, but also don’t wait for perfection. Of course 80 percent is not a strict metric but, rather, a metaphor for the need to balance deliberation and action. The lesson is directly applicable to the Profession of Arms: If you can’t learn to make good and timely decisions under ambiguous conditions, you’ve chosen the wrong profession.
Focus on mission
Establish a common purpose, support those who will help you achieve it and do not strive for personal gain. Leaders at all levels must unequivocally commit to two objectives within a reception battalion: 1 — accomplish the mission, and 2 — increase Army Readiness. Mission first, then team, then self.
At any given time in the past decade, less than 1 percent of the American population has been on active military duty, compared with 9 percent of Americans who were in uniform in World War II. As a result, there is a growing generation gap, with younger Americans far less likely than older ones to have a family member who served.
With an ever smaller share of Americans who currently serve in the Armed Forces than at any other time since the era between World Wars I and II, a new low has led to a growing gap between people in uniform and the civilian population.
Given that information, Army leaders at the 43rd Adjutant General Reception Battalion must make a 100 percent commitment to the less than 1 percent who are eligible to serve the nation.
Communicate the Army Vision
Make the objective clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them. With nine companies in our task organization, it is a reoccurring practice that I visit them all.
With such a diverse background of military occupational skills and branches I routinely communicate the Army Vision in the form of Leadership Professional Developments or Staff Rides. These Staff Rides are intended to sharpen the strategic thinking of leaders by witnessing how others operate.
In one case, we traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with 16 leaders and gathered at several two-star commands, and all leaders conveyed they now understand the “bigger picture.” As commanders, we often visualize the outcome of a mission, and we should be reminded of just how important the clear expression of strategic intent can be for achieving the mission. Leaders and subordinates alike must understand and communicate the Army’s vision.
Conveying strategic intent is one of the skills essential to aligning all leaders across an organization to reach a common goal and leaders must rely on their subordinates’ ingenuity for getting there.
(Editor’s note: Boone is the 43rd Adjutant General Reception Battalion commander.)