The men and women of the U.S. Army are amazing. They are truly the essence of what we do every day. Daily they report for duty, eager to learn, eager to do their very best. All they ask is to be well led and well cared for. They will ensure that we successfully access the power of information technology. Our job, as their leaders, is to ensure we facilitate this process. Remember: Everything we do is for them, with them. Improvements in lethality, survivability, and the ability to manage the tempo of the battle will allow us to accomplish our mission, with minimal loss of soldiers' lives. That is what it is all about.
It is important to define early in this discussion the characteristics we want our 21st century soldiers to have. To take advantage of the power of advanced technology, specifically, information technology, I have found the following characteristics to be highly desirable in our recruits:
- Focused, quick learner.
- Comfortable with the technology.
- Comfortable in dealing with ambiguous, uncertain situations.
- Able to make decisions.
- Superb communication skills (orally and in writing).
- Cooperative nature.
- Truly embraces change.
The next issues to be addressed are:
- How we can attract these types of people into our Army?
- How we can select soldiers for specific skills and positions?
- How can we retain them?
A critical point to remember is that today's soldier is extremely trainable on information technology. Lots of people are extremely concerned how we will teach our junior enlisted the technology. Quite frankly, this is the least of our worries: today's young soldier was most likely taught computers in grade school, and is comfortable on a keyboard and dealing with electronic information management.
As I walked through the billets in the evenings, I found the majority of our young soldiers had their own personal computers in their rooms. Rather than watching TV or finding ways to get in trouble, a large number of our soldiers spent their free time accessing the Internet, sending e-mail to their family, playing games on a computer. I have been asked, "How is the best way to determine who should be our computer operators? Should we look at General Test (GT) scores, level of college education?" No. The best way to choose your computer operators is simply to walk through the billets at night and find those soldiers who spend their free time working with computers. For example, the best Maneuver Control System (MCS) operator we had in the 1BCT had a GED, but he loved computers.
An amazing thing happened as we worked the individual training of our soldiers on the high-tech devices we were given. Routinely, our junior enlisted were given a basic block of instruction on how to use the technology, and then they discovered (by working through the issues) the power of the technology. It was only a matter of time before the soldiers knew more by purely experiential learning about the capabilities of the system than their instructors and their chain of command. These soldiers enjoyed the challenge of how to make the technology work to its maximum potential. Routinely, the young servicemembers became the center of gravity on a particular piece of technology, the real experts on a particular system.
Given that our young servicemembers truly have the potential of the technology in their hands, we must empower them to use the technology. A young servicemember must understand that he is a critical member of the team. He must understand what information the commander needs to make critical decisions and fight the battle--and then be comfortable with approaching the commander, regardless of rank, with that information when it becomes available. This only happens through the establishment of a positive, concerned, caring command climate. Every soldier must feel empowered. They must be convinced that the contribution that they can make to the team is as important, if not more so, than those of the more senior members of the team.
Someone once said, "High tech demands high touch." Servicemembers today, just like those of yesterday, are human beings, complete with needs, desires, emotions, and feelings. Just because we have given the human being powerful computing technology doesn't mean that we can ignore his basic human needs.
We are seeing the phenomenon today of "command by e-mail"--and we are feeling the effects. Sitting in your office, pounding out a message on the keyboard, and pushing SEND isn't communicating. Remember--there is a human being at the other end of the e-mail chain. Did he receive the message? Did he access his e-mail that day? Did he understand what you intended to say? Was he able to perceive, by your use of punctuation, italics, or underlining, what you really thought was important?
Today's servicemember wants to feel like he is part of the team--part of the solution to the day's problem. He has qualities, characteristics that can contribute to the matter at hand. We must access those abilities. Most importantly, we must work daily to develop our subordinates. There is nothing a leader does in a peacetime environment that is more important than training his immediate subordinates.
The critical piece to this training is monthly, written counseling. Whether he admits it or not, every servicemember wants to be told routinely how he is doing. It is imperative that we sit our subordinates down at least once per month and counsel them in writing. We must devote the time (and it does take time, but it is time well spent) to articulate in writing our subordinates' strengths, weaknesses, and objectives for the following month. We must--through routine, uninterrupted, focused counseling--tell them how they are doing, and what we want them to do to improve (and just as important, what we are going to do to help them improve.)
We must remember that our subordinate leaders are servicemembers as well and need the same "high touch" that our junior enlisted do. Leaders must also be counseled. In addition, we must provide a mechanism where our leaders (at all levels) can get focused feedback from their subordinates and peers as well as from us, their supervisors.
An issue then develops--retention. We train our soldiers on the use of information technology. These soldiers, often through trial and error, learn even more by teaching themselves and sharing lessons learned. The ever-present contractor sees the talent of the young soldier and then convinces him to leave the U.S. Army, do basically the same job, and dramatically increase his salary overnight.
To that end, we must do something now to retain our quality soldiers, especially those in critical, highly technical skills. Soldiers in these skills tend to be low density (there aren't very many of them) but in extremely high demand. We give proficiency pay to our pilots and our doctors. It is time that we recognize the irreplaceable contribution these young soldiers make and reward them accordingly. However, that pay is only part of the solution. There are a variety of incentives that we can do to retain our soldiers not only today but tomorrow as well:
- We can accelerate their promotions and provide bonuses.
- We can stabilize them in their current position.
- We can focus on their families by providing programs for kids, improving child care, and providing adequate on post housing.
- We can provide employment opportunities for members of their family.
- We can provide them the opportunity to improve their retirement package (a 401k type of program).
We must always remember that "adventure sells." The young soldier, and his young leaders, joined the U.S. Army looking for something different from what society had to offer. If he had wanted to be a computer programmer or a telephone technician, he could have chosen to work for Microsoft or AT&T. Our soldier longs for the "intangibles" that life in service to this nation offers, such as the comradery, discipline, and shared hardships. He wants to travel to far-off, exotic places; do things (jump out of airplanes, rappel out of helicopters) that his buddies back home can't do; and then he wants to be able to go home and brag. We must foster this kind of adventurism.
It is imperative that we look closely at what motivates these high-tech warriors, and then nurture it. An impediment to this process is the current "up or out" policy we have in our U.S. Army. Many of the soldiers with high-tech skills love doing their job (operating ABCS (Army Battle Command System) boxes and installing computer networks), but have no aspiration to be leaders. The idea of being a squad leader or a platoon sergeant isn't appealing to them. In fact, in many cases, it scares them to death. Given the choice to attend the Primary Leadership Development Course or leave the service, many choose to leave. We need to revisit this policy.
We must look closely at our personnel assignment policies. First, we must ensure that we utilize the talents of our servicemembers after they have been in a digital organization. Routinely, we are sending them to units that don't have digital equipment. Information technology skills are so perishable that it is only a matter of months before the soldier has forgotten all that he was taught. Even worse, he did not have the opportunity to train his fellow soldiers on what he did know. He didn't share what he had learned before he changed assignments.
Stabilization isn't the answer. Stabilizing a small cadre of individuals and letting them work digitization solely doesn't do the rest of our services any good. Give a soldier three years in a digital outfit, and then assign him to a place where he can either teach his skills to others or else document his lessons learned.
Stabilization also has another bad side effect, creating over time a "have and have-not" hierarchy within our Army. Some soldiers will always be assigned where the high-tech equipment is, and others will never see it. That is wrong. We must continue to rotate our soldiers through all different types of units. This increases our experience base across the force, and gets everyone to "buy in" to the power of information technology. Reading about how well information technology works doesn't give you the same sense of ownership as being in a unit that has it, with you personally benefiting by the power of the technology.
We must look at how we are training our officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs). We need fewer specialists, and more generalists, in our command posts. Routinely, the battle captain was not able to access artillery or intelligence systems: we had trained him to be an operator. Servicemembers on tomorrow's battlefield must truly be multifunctional and multidisciplined. They must be able to understand a wide range of issues and not be limited to some stovepipe operation.
This, however, is a slippery slope to a dangerous situation: information technology hasn't yet (nor probably will it ever) actually destroy the enemy on the battlefield. Lethal platoons and company teams still have to be maneuvered to bring combat power to bear on the enemy. As a result of that, we still must have young officers and NCOs who are extremely proficient on a particular set of skills before we try to develop them into multifunctional soldiers. Soldiers must always be grounded in the basics.
There is also a move to get our NCO corps doing, over time, more of the particular tasks that we expect of our officer corps today. To that I say great--but! Someone has to take care of the "sergeant's business." Someone has to supervise motor pool operations; check TA 50; lead physical training; and teach, coach, and mentor our junior enlisted. In the 1BCT, we were blessed with a top-notched set of NCOs. They truly took care of the sergeant's business. They focused on individual and collective training up to and including crew level. They deployed the 1BCT, ran ranges, and ensured our soldiers and equipment were prepared for deployment and combat operations. Someone has to do the sergeant's business in the 21st century.
Leader development will be dealt with in detail in a subsequent chapter, but it is important to discuss individual soldier development. We must first focus on the basics in both individual and collective training. For the majority of soldiers, we must not change what we currently teach in basic training. Teach them to be soldiers first before we worry about teaching them to operate high-tech equipment. We found that NCOs, having been trained as Instructor Key Personnel by qualified personnel, were able to train new soldiers on the basic use of equipment in a relatively short period of time.
For the critical, low density-high-demand MOSs (military occupational specialties), we must change our institutional learning base to give them the skills, knowledge, and attributes (SKAs) they need to perform once they reach their first unit. Significant time must be spend early in their development to teach them maintenance and repair procedures for the high-tech equipment.
We must ascertain the best way to continue the education of our critical specialists. Moore's Law states that information technology changes every 18 months or so. Consequently, we must have a system to return our soldiers to a training base (government, contractor, or academic) to keep him abreast with the most recent advances in the technology. In addition, we must provide incentives for self-development. Given certain incentives, soldiers will want to improve their capabilities.
To create an environment where soldiers can flourish, we must create and sustain a real learning environment. As leaders, we must acknowledge that "We don't know what we don't know" as we work our way into the future. We must embrace change, continually search for better ways to use the new technology, and be receptive to good ideas bubbling up from the privates and specialists. Given this environment, the young soldier will improve or hone his special skills, so he can have a greater impact on his unit performance.
It's all about the people. They make the difference; they access the power of the technology; they make things happen. We must first acknowledge all of this, and then align our priorities to ensure we are providing the correct courses of action for the people. All else will follow.
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