So, You Want to be a Professor of Military Science: An Intimate Insight into the Operating Environment of the Army’s Largest Commissioning Source
James . Scrogin and Jason M. Bender
Having recently departed simultaneous assignments as Professors of Military Science at major state universities, the authors reflect on their experiences and observations regarding the unique operating environment that newly assigned Professors of Military Science encounter on their respective campuses, some of the associated challenges that they may encounter, and recommended tools to set conditions for success.
I've crossed some kind of invisible line…. And I don't know how I got here. It's a strange place.
― Raymond Carver, Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories
Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Army released the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Fiscal Year 2018 Professor of Military Science (PMS) board results and selected you to lead an Army ROTC detachment at a major university. CONGRATULATIONS! Similar to the Army’s battalion command central selection process, you competed against a field much larger than is represented by the primary and alternate selection results. More than anything else, you have ‘that something’ the Army seeks to develop and mentor the next generation of future Army leaders. There are likely thousands of thoughts and ideas going through your head right now. We were there, we rucked many miles in the boots you wear now.
As former PMSs, each at a major mid-western state university, we began our assignments at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. The job itself was incredibly fulfilling – that of developing cadets to the point of commissioning – but the position is firmly embedded inside a unique operating environment straddling two worlds: a military organization in which senior field grade officers are intimately familiar operating; and a civilian academic institution with its own set of competing bureaucratic requirements. The latter environment is in some cases vastly different and confusing – at times bizarre – and an environment in which Army personnel have little or no experience maneuvering, making it hard to explain to those with no experience in it. What follows is a collection of our thoughts on the position, as well as our shared experiences over our simultaneous three-year tours, in an attempt to articulate the challenges we faced as newly assigned PMSs – challenges you may face soon too.
The two of us were friends long before we were selected as PMS. We share an Army basic combat arms branch and have roughly similar backgrounds and experiences from time spent in the same non-traditional broadening assignments, and are alumni of the same military graduate program. Similar career experiences during the past two decades left us with an inexorable distaste for mindless bureaucracy, pedantism, or shoddy staff work derived from careless, incomplete, or thoughtless analysis. Neither one of us knew the other applied to be PMS; we only learned seeing other’s name on the results list. Our path to PMS generated professional expectations drawn from an overwhelming desire to teach, coach, and mentor the next generation of Army leaders and spurred by a sense of institutional commitment. We won’t lie; assignment at a major academic institution with an opportunity to pursue our higher education was a persuasive variable in our decision calculus. We’re loath to admit we may have also been unconsciously looking for a break from the demands of year-on, year-off deployments and stress associated with senior planning staff positions at three- and four-star headquarters.
This is our story: it’s a bit long, but it’s all true and we recommend you take the time to read the entire article. Much of this is information we wish we knew before beginning the assignment to help us develop realistic expectations. In the want, and need, to remain transparent, we know our experiences differ with those of some of our peers. In no way are we trying to dissuade anyone from becoming a PMS, or implying our experiences were stereotypical. Since its inception in 1916, Army ROTC’s success in producing the majority of commissioned officers is because of talented, committed officers volunteering to be a PMS (and we’re not discounting the superb junior officers, senior NCOs, and Army civilians assigned there; they have a massive and positive impact too). There are, however, things better learned before reporting to campus, and this is our attempt to shed light on a few of them and help you build your expectations.
Conflicting ‘business model’ paradigms; or, “If you know one ROTC program really well…”
In these troubled, uncertain times, we don't need more command and control; we need better means to engage everyone's intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arise.
– Margaret J. Wheatley
A little suffering is good for the soul.
– Captain James T. Kirk
As mentioned previously other’s experiences differ from ours. There are 276 different senior ROTC host programs exercising responsibility over more than 1,100 different universities and colleges across the country. Overseeing the 276 host programs are eight different, geographically-dispersed ROTC brigades who provide guidance and direction to the programs. The eight brigades are commanded by the U.S. Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, commanded by a Major General (i.e., 2-star general) leading in much the same way as most Army divisions do – just differently. The geographic dispersal of the senior ROTC programs leads to dissimilarities between programs the brigades and USACC try to centrally manage as equals. At best, the diverse differences between programs produces a ‘common operating picture’ of the programs as more ‘mosaic’ than equal.
The Army’s ‘command-directed’ business model focuses on bureaucratic and centralized change management and improvement processes, and ultimately relies on the on-the-ground commander’s understanding and initiative for successful tactical decision-making. How else could events like Bastogne, the Chosin Reservoir, or the fall of Baghdad, unfold if Army leaders resorted to group-think or committee to make decisive, on-the-fly decisions or implement policies which, at face value, appear to be contrary to organizational values or culture, or had to consider the different demographic composition of subordinate units prior to making any decision? The answer lies in our historical understanding and application of mission command as a leadership philosophy. In other words, the commander on the ground, armed with knowledge of our higher commander’s intent and the ultimate endstate, makes the decisions needed to reach the stated goals by employing a relatively homogeneous force.
Here lies the conundrum of Army ROTC: one size doesn’t fit all. The challenge with Army ROTC is distances of even as little as five miles between programs routinely demonstrate massive shifts in diversity, demographics, economics, and academic focus or status. As Army officers we’re products of an integrated and diverse organization; we normally look at adjacent units and see ‘just another unit’. This isn’t the case with fellow ROTC programs, and leads to administration problems at the brigades and USACC. This should be intuitive, but usually isn’t for those assigned to the university-level programs until a few months are spent on-campus. As a result, there are likely 276 different ways for a given PMS to run any particular ROTC program successfully, and no one method guarantees success at another program. In other words if you know one ROTC program really well, you only know one ROTC program.
Before we continue this story, we need to tell you another one…
This is the story of the external military transition teams (MiTT), and the officers and NCOs assigned to them, characterizing the initial security force assistance efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless of the personnel selected, or the units against which teams were placed to advise, many ‘advisors’ characterize their experience as being stuck between two competing cultures (i.e., the host-nation security force and the U.S. ‘partner’ battalion or brigade). These competing cultures frequently didn’t understand each other, didn’t know how to listen or talk to each other, and often had divergent, sometimes contradictory, goals and objectives. To live and thrive as advisors, we learned to successfully navigate in what we called the ‘gray area’ – the space in between the conflicting cultures. During our first all-PMS conference, several of us noticed many of our PMS peers were former MiTT/AAB/SFAB advisors (advise-and-assist brigade; security force assistance brigade). We all laughed out loud at the suggestion a university-level ROTC program is a lot like a MiTT: U.S. Army Cadet Command (USACC) and the respective ROTC brigade are the ‘partnership unit’; the university itself the ‘host-nation security force’.
In all seriousness, the university-level ROTC program lives, eats and breathes within the host institution’s environment (university and surrounding campus), but takes direction and receives the majority of its material support under the authority of the partnership unit (ROTC brigade). In addition to this, a legally binding educational support agreement (ESA) defines what material and monetary support the university provides, and those ESAs vary wildly from program to program and are, in some cases, vastly in need of update and revision. One ESA we know of still stipulates the university provide a stable for the ROTC program’s horse-drawn artillery half-section, despite the university’s inner-city location. Those of us former advisors quickly realized the critical necessity of, once on campus, fully understanding the operational environment if we were to build effective rapport with the university administration and receive support above-and-beyond the ESA. Where an ESA revision process was underway at the direction of the Department of Defense at the time of our departure. To our knowledge it was not undertaken by TRADOC or USACC, who instead pursued updates to the “Application for the Establishment of an Army Senior ROTC Unit.”
Additional university-provided support is, in some cases, crucial for program success and survival while living in a ‘foreign’ environment (i.e., academia vs. military) and interacting with the ‘natives’ (i.e., the university administration), while still answering to the authoritative ‘parent unit’ many hundreds of miles away (for most programs). Full understanding and awareness of local suspense dates, administrative requirements, reporting chains, request and approval channels, and everything else that might cause us to offend our hosts, becomes a critical requirement. Done ignorantly or incorrectly, it becomes a critical vulnerability. University support and good will dries up and an ambivalent or hostile relationship with the host institution leaders emerges. Done respectfully, with us demonstrating a continued efforts to understand the university’s culture and values, and it becomes a critical capability leading to university support exceeding the minimum requirements stipulated in the ESA, and overt efforts at inclusion, solicit our opinions, and leverage military subject matter expertise on a plethora of university-related matters.
As was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, we quickly realized our environmental knowledge was of use locally, sometimes regionally, and it might be applicable at other programs if circumstances were similar (i.e., program force protection issues in larger cities like Cincinnati, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore or Chicago with high crime or higher than normal murder rates). However, circumstances were rarely the same and local knowledge isn’t always applicable at other programs, where trying to apply it sometimes creates additional confusion or obfuscates other problems. As fellow PMSs, we realized, for any number of reasons, USACC and the ROTC brigades, much like partner brigades, largely didn’t have this same knowledge or understanding in their pursuit of ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches for many issues. The lack of program-level experience by many at the USACC and ROTC brigade staff levels often led to the development of concepts based on general – at times faulty – assumptions which made implementation by the PMS difficult at the host institution, something advisors frequently experienced with partner and parent unit decisions for host nation security force units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Examples of these one-size-fits all approaches include:
- Sexual Harassment and Assault Response/Prevention (SHARP) Partnership Charters between ROTC programs and the host institutions. Most host institutions were reluctant to commit to due to legal ramifications and, if implemented, predictably anticipated having to invoke the Freedom of Information Act if host institutions sought access Army SHARP investigation findings for SA/SH incidents occurring during ROTC training or involving ROTC cadets in which USACC pursued jurisdiction. In many cases the only way universities would sign the charters was after the draft charter underwent a thorough legal review by the university, often resulting in a gutted document promising nothing more than the sharing of general information or best-practices between the university Title IX coordinators and the PMS.
- Engagement of university senior leaders by USACC without including the PMS in the communication chain, thereby creating confusion or consternation at the host institution as the PMS spent time with both organizations building understanding to clarify the issue. One particular example saw USACC directly engage university senior leaders (i.e., university chancellor, president, or provost) to inform of changes to the ROTC ‘program’. Unfortunately, the changes were nothing more than modifications to a minor number of individual classes inside the larger curriculum, and simply needed department head (i.e., the PMS) approval.
- Core ROTC curriculum revisions pushed to the programs only weeks before the beginning of a semester, paying no heed to host-institution curriculum approval processes which frequently begins four to six months before the semester’s start date. On average, USACC-instituted curriculum changes published three-to-four weeks before the semester’s start, forcing PMSs to go to college deans and university vice presidents to get in-stride approvals when the changes exceeded the PMS’s approval authority as a department head. As a rule-of-thumb, changes for the spring semester are submitted and approved during the first few weeks of the fall semester, and fall semester changes are submitted half-way through the spring semester – between four and six months in advance.
- Program-level officer and NCO instructors regularly pulled from primary duties as Assistant PMS or Military Science Instructors for planning conferences, instructor certification, and NCO/Officer of the year competitions in the middle of the academic semester and disrupted normal program-level battle rhythms for understaffed programs. This was especially disruptive at the smaller programs with a minimum number of cadre, requiring cancellation of classes or diverting cadre from satellite or other programs to travel to a distant campus and conduct physical training or regularly scheduled one-hour courses.
- USACC directing PMSs to engage host university senior leaders to “make” them concede or acquiesce to Army views, when those views did not aligned with the host academic or business objectives, or cultural values. Similar to advising host nation security forces, the PMS cannot make the university do anything – we have no authority. Those of us who succeeded in influencing university actions or stances, did so because we exercised influence and were held in high regard by our university senior leaders (in other words, we had ‘wasta’). Just as many of our PMS peers did not, and were not. This wasn’t because of any fault of their own; rather, it was because of liberal academic atmospheres that shun anything military as ‘fascist’ or ‘establishment’. Further exacerbating this is USACC’s ‘flash-to-bang’ expectation for results in days or weeks, whereas a university’s decision-making culture at best moves ‘at the speed of slow’.
- Mandating the submission of overseas travel requests for those cadets desiring to depart the United States during winter or spring break for USACC deputy CG approval, with an ‘approval packet’ with seven different forms, including the normal ‘leave and pass request’ and a multi-page ‘force protection’ form created by one of the ROTC brigades for purely internal use.
- A requirement by the USACC Surgeon for daily updates on cadet medical issues, ranging from sports injuries to eating disorders to suicide attempts, when the speed of the on-campus or family-based medical treatment system and cadet responses, even when running at peak efficiency, took weeks for treatment and release of protected medical information. Our continual impression was that USACC assumed cadets have immediate access to non-emergency medical treatment as is case at military medical treatment facilities for soldiers assigned to an Army installation. Unless injured while conducting ROTC training, cadets are covered by family or university elective medical insurance and, if not treated locally, many times travel home for treatment by a family care practitioner.
- The requirement to update the brigade daily when a cadet is involved in a SHARP incident when, if the event didn’t occur during ROTC training (i.e., USACC has no jurisdiction), the university Title IX investigation and student administrative review process take months to complete at their fastest.
These are just a few of the things we experienced during our three years; there were many more. While this may paint an initially dire picture, there were frequent bursts of sanity from those rare uniformed and civilian USACC and brigade leaders and staffers with program level experience – a brigade executive officer or civilian operations officer who served as a PMS, or a brigade Command Sergeant Major (CSM) who was an ROTC Cadet before enlisting. More often than not, these advocates fight vociferously against the more egregious initiatives. In many cases, however, the majority of PMSs chose to ‘shut up and color’, as was the joke amongst the former MiTT advisors. A possible way to mitigate some of these may be to make previous PMS experience a prerequisite for ROTC brigade command selection, something suggested to us by a senior Army general officer; similarly, ROTC brigade CSMs might be selected based on having been a program-level NCO.
When rebutting top-down tasks, our push back focused on our understanding of the host institution and the local environmental when we realized task fulfillment meant doing something fundamentally opposed by the university, or attracting negative attention for both the university and the program (see “Army ROTC red high heels” as a particularly bad example of this). We tried every time to comply with USACC or brigade tasks. In the rare opportunities we didn’t, our decisions were deliberate and based on considerations including: insufficient time to comply; no clear understanding of required response; whether the ‘task’ created unnecessary busy-work without an established measure of effectiveness to track compliance or implementation; if the requirement negatively affected program performance or morale; or combination thereof. (Read Wong and Gerras, “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession,” to better understand this rationale.)
The PMS is not a Commander…
Yeah, I wasn't chosen to be first. I was just chosen to command that flight. Circumstance put me in that particular role.
– Neil Armstrong
To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.
– Andre Malraux
An Army senior ROTC program is first and foremost a university department. By definition (see ADRP 1-02 Terms and Military Symbols), the university level program could be construed to be a ‘battalion’ based on its size and rank structure, but it’s not a battalion based on ‘command’. The ROTC program is a permanent ‘detachment’ based on the organization’s special duties of cadet development and officer production. Herein lies a rub: doctrinally, battalions and detachments have assigned commanders. So do ‘task forces’ despite that organization’s ad hoc nature and limited objectives. Not the senior ROTC detachment – it has a PMS. To add to the confusion, the ROTC detachment is in most cases a formal university department ‘chaired’ by the PMS. (We both held the title of ‘department head’, nominally responsible to a college dean at our respective universities).
Doctrinally, ‘battalion’ and ‘detachment’ are well-defined, but the reality of the ROTC detachment as a university department blurs many lines USACC and the ROTC brigades find difficult to understand while administrating themselves and university-level ROTC programs. As counterintuitive as it seems, a PMS is unable, as a senior field grade detachment commander, to move personal around and fill personnel gaps. NCOs and junior officers assigned to ROTC programs as a ‘broadening assignment’ to gain experience teaching and coaching, and mentor future Army leaders. That said, there were times where we exercised judgement and realigned duties and responsibilities across the cadre and never mentioned it to the brigade. Rather, we simply captured the additional duties and responsibilities in the military and civilian evaluations and we weren’t called out on it. In so many ways, this issue was the situation of, “Ask for permission versus ask for forgiveness” – and we were rarely forced to ask forgiveness when we didn’t ask for permission beforehand.
Department heads at academic institutions have authority over their employees (evaluations, and allocating job responsibilities) and for intra-department administration. Where the PMS maintains the former, he or she does not maintain the latter. A PMS, for the most part, cannot move cadre around to fill gaps. If a program has seven uniformed Cadre, but has a unfilled civilian human resource assistant (HRA) or logistics technician (LOGTECH) position, in our experience a PMS cannot, without the ROTC brigade commander’s permission, reassign the seventh uniformed cadre member to primarily fill the HRA or LOGTECH role, even if the cadre member is a 42A Human Resources Specialist or 92Y Unit Supply Specialist, with additional duties as an assistant instructor because this violates the primary purpose of the broadening assignment – to be an ROTC instructor.
To be totally fair, this inability extends to the ROTC brigade commanders who are prevented from permanently cross-levelling uniformed or civilian personal across the brigade’s formation without permission from U.S. Army Human Resources Command (HRC) or Fort Knox Civilian Personnel Advisory Centers (CPAC) because each ROTC detachment has its own, unique Unit Identification Code (UIC) and associated Table of Distribution and Allowances (TDA). Intra-brigade moves are thus ‘permanent changes of station’ for military personnel governed by HRC, and ‘lateral transfers’ for military civilians governed by the Fort Knox CPAC. Complications abound when the HRA or LOGTECH from one program is directed to ‘cover-down’ on another program due to manning shortfalls. The challenge here is the HRA/LOGTECH from the ‘supporting’ program is not in the rating chain in any way of the ‘supported’ program. Also problematic is when the host program is directed to consolidate tasking and reporting requirements for ‘supported’ programs, or conduct a ‘joint’ field training exercise (FTX), when the ‘supporting’ PMS has no authority to hold the ‘supported’ PMS accountable for reporting requirements and suspenses, or the successful planning and conduct of a combined FTX.
Further muddling this issue is many of USACC’s self-published regulations and pamphlets referring to the PMS as ‘Battalion Commander’. A PMS isn’t a ‘commander’ at all, except when it is beneficial for the PMS to be one – which generally isn’t for the benefit of either the PMS or the detachment he or she leads. In fact, ROTC may be one of the few structures in the U.S. Army – if not the only one – where Soldiers don’t have a company commander. Lieutenant Colonel battalion commanders don’t sign for equipment, but they do sign awards, senior rate soldiers and civilians, and have authority under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As a non-command billet, a PMS has none of these responsibilities or authorities.
PMSs, however, sign assumption command orders, and in some brigades, are directed to sign as the primary hand receipt holder (PHRH) for all Army equipment allocated to the program. A result of this is the PMS having PHRH responsibilities conducting all of the inventories associated with the responsibility of owning a property book, a task conducted by company commanders across the remainder of the Army. Additionally, the PMS is required to sign and submit the monthly Unit Commander’s Financial Report, the monthly ‘Flag Report’, and verify the monthly assignments/attachments report. In these respects, PMS’ fill the role of a company commander, a position normally filled by a captain, sometimes a major, but not a lieutenant colonel.
A final example of confusion created with the PMS not recognized as ‘commander’ is challenge coins. Where a 2001 Training and Doctrine Command regulation informs “TRADOC units and organizations… commanded by a field grade officer” are permitted to use unit funds for the purchase of challenge coins, USACC G8 prevents PMSs from purchasing coins with military funds because they’re ‘not battalion commanders’. Remember, the PMS is an Army major or lieutenant colonel – or a colonel in the case of the Senior Military Colleges – who signs assumption of command orders for the detachment. To overcome this, our cadets raised money through fund-raisers and manual labor to purchase their own challenge coins and unit pride clothing, something we’ll discuss in more detail later.
Insofar as ‘not being commanders’, we and many of our peers wrote ‘Field Grade Commander’ as the first three words of the “Significant Duties and Responsibilities” block on our Officer Evaluation Forms (DA Form 67-10-2, Block IIIc) submitted over our three year tours – a phrase approved by our rater and senior rater in every instance. We were field grade officers on assumption of command orders. In our eyes, problem solved.
The PMS ‘Centralized Selection Board’…
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
– Henry Ford
As was commented on in a previous Task & Purpose article, the PMS Central Selection Board (CSB) process for selecting PMSs is out-of-synch with the current Battalion Command Centralized Selection List (CSL) board timeline and, sadly, this has been the case for many years. This results in many suitably qualified candidates declining ROTC PMS in favor of battalion command. And why shouldn’t they? The Army’s branch management and promotion systems favor the career field choices of officers by promoting those who look most like their branch and their previously successful peers. Very few officers selected for PMS and not for battalion command get promoted to colonel.
Every year, many officers selected for PMS initially accept and begin preparing for the assignment, only to later decline when they are selected for battalion command. Re-ordering the boards will likely reduce scrambling by the USACC G1 to activate PMS alternates after PMS primary selectees decline a PMS position after selection for battalion command in order to avoid the permanent black mark being placed on their Officer Records Brief showing they declined battalion command with prejudice. In order to ensure the best available officers are selected to fill the role of PMS, the Army should re-order the ROTC PMS CSB and Battalion CSL boards and place the ROTC PMS board after the release of the Battalion CSL.
Continuing to refer to the PMS selection board as a ‘centralized selection board’ is confusing for both the officers competing for selection as PMS and those ultimately assigned as a PMS for reasons mentioned previously. ‘Central selection’ and ‘command selection board’ are phrases senior officers understand as linking to command, which being a PMS is not. Army Regulation 600-3 Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management categorizes PMS as a broadening assignment. As the PMS board is for a broadening assignment, and not a key-developmental or command CSL selection, continuing to refer to it as a CSB will surely continue to cause confusion with those deciding whether to apply or not. We recommend calling it what it is – a ‘PMS Selection Board’ – and leave it at that.
We and our peers frequently experienced the situation where a designated PMS replacement was told by their branch they had a better-than-average chance battalion command selection, and the PMS selectee deliberately waited to accept a PMS assignment until the release of the battalion command CSL. In the meantime, the brigades pestered us to submit a PMS nomination package on the primary selectee’s behalf to the university. When the PMS primary selectee declined the PMS assignment in favor of battalion command, we were forced in those situations to submit a second PMS nomination package which 1) created twice the work for us, and 2) inevitably created confusion and raised questions by university leadership as to why anyone would turn down an opportunity to teach. This is best understood as akin to an incomplete staff package submitted for division commander approval, only to be rescinded and resubmitted after reaching the commander’s desk. This isn’t good staff work and breeds veiled perceptions of incompetence.
Underscoring this point warrants a quick analysis of the PMS CSB and battalion command CSL results. Mark Twain is rumored to have said, “There are three kinds of facts: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The statistics from the previous three PMS boards show the mismatch between the PMS and battalion command CSL board release timing relative to the PMS alternate selection ratios. PMS Primary selections for the past three years are: 88 (FY18), 79 (FY17), and 55 (FY16); alternate selections for the same years are: 112 (FY18), 109 (FY17), and 104 (FY16). What this equates to is alternate-to-primary selection ratio (i.e., alternate:primary) of 127% (FY18), 138% (FY17) and 189% (FY16). The implication is HRC and USACC are forced to select far more officers as PMS alternates than are selected for primary due to the high anticipated declination rates for those officers selected first as primary for PMS and again as primary for battalion command. Another way to consider this is PMS primary selectee ‘pre-acceptance’ attrition. Contrast the PMS alternate-to-primary selection ratios to the battalion command CSL alternate-to-primary ratio of 113% (FY17) and 102% (FY18) and a picture emerges of the need to select far more PMS alternates than primaries to accommodate pre-acceptance attrition.
The alternate-to-primary ratio imbalance thus strengthens the rationale to swap the PMS and battalion CSL release dates to reduce the overall number of PMS alternates needed to cover the PMS primaries who decline in favor of battalion command when the battalion command CSL is released after the PMS selection list. Re-ordering the boards will also likely minimize confusion by the host university by keeping current PMSs from submitting two PMS approval packages to the host university when the initial PMS selectee later declines due to selection for battalion command, and an alternate PMS is nominated. Perceptions go a long way to influence views of reality and truth, especially when maintaining a perception of administrative competence is one we all strive to achieve.
Authority as a PMS is limited…
I find your lack of faith disturbing.
– Darth Vader
As mentioned previously, a PMS doesn’t have the authority to reassign their cadre to fill empty billets and they only serve as raters for their cadre members, unless the cadre member is a junior or mid-level NCO. This results in ROTC program-level rating schemes where the PMS doesn’t senior rate anyone other than the junior or mid-level non-commissioned officers (mainly staff sergeants and sergeants first class) and military civilians (GS-7 to GS-11 scales). The PMS rates all of the program’s officers and the senior NCO, including captains even if the program’s TDA includes a major, and the Brigade Commander senior rates all of the personnel rated by the PMS. This effectively prevents a PMS from building a senior rater profile and causes them to move on to your next assignment with an immature profile, disadvantaging their next cohort of subordinates.
Raising this issue to our brigade commander, we were told a lieutenant colonel PMS senior rating a captain, who likely just reported from a company command assignment after being senior rated by a brigade commander, would be seen as a step down by future promotion boards when the captain is looked at for selection to major – a point with which we found hard to disagree. However, after our first annual evaluations where we were rated by the brigade commander and senior rated by the commanding general, our PMS rating scheme was altered by the CG – with approval from HRC Officer Personnel Management Division – for the PMS to be rated by the deputy brigade officer (‘DBO’, a supervisory GS-14) and senior rated by the brigade commander. Where most of us at the lieutenant colonel grade plate were all senior rated at previous assignments by general officers, the explanation struck us as hypocritical and was a situation we endured for an entire rating period. Thankfully, the policy was rescinded by the next commanding general.
Regarding the lack of authority over subordinate cadre, a professionally unsettling event occurred for one of us when we discovered the institution of a ‘flag’ to suspend favorable personnel actions by a brigade commander for a program senior NCO who was ‘under investigation’. Where flags are normally instituted by the first commander in the chain of command, this flag was instituted by a brigade commander at the recommendation of the command sergeant major. Regrettably, the NCO was never counseled regarding the flag institution, nor was the PMS or the Senior Military Instructor (SMI) informed of the flag or the investigation by the brigade leadership. The affected NCO discovered the flag when contacted by a branch manager to inform of a pending assignment deletion for the NCO, who was recently selected for promotion. After reading the military police investigator’s report, the PMS advocated for the appointment of an investigating officer (IO) from another senior ROTC program. Upon completion of the IO’s investigation, an unsolicited and independent review by the PMS of both investigations concluded the military police investigation and subsequent charge, rather than be substantiated by a thorough investigation, were based on faulty assumptions and hearsay; and, the IO’s investigation was conducted in a haphazard manner without rigor. In the end, no basis existed for the actual charge against the NCO. While this tested the limits of loyalty and respect by a subordinate, the brigade commander accepted the analysis of the investigation, dismissed the charge, and vacated the flag the same day.
Your lack of authority extends to cadets, but the real issue here is cadets aren’t soldiers – yet. Yes, cadets take the enlistment oath to contract, but as PMS you hold no real authority over them. As PMS you have no legal (read: Uniform Code of Military Justice), scholarship suspension, or disenrollment authorities. Despite rescinding the authorities in 2015, USACC Pamphlet 145-4 Enrollment, Retention and Disenrollment, dated 2011, still authorizes the PMS to suspend scholarships for scholarship cadets who demonstrated unsatisfactory academic standards (i.e., repeated failure to meet contractual cumulative, semester, or ROTC class GPA requirements) or physical performance standards (repeated Army Physical Fitness Test or body composition failures), and disenroll non-scholarship cadets for consistently poor physical or academic performance, or character that violates the Army Army command policy (i.e., violates the Army Values; see Army Regulation 600-20 Army Command Policy). The authority of the PMS to waive certain civil convictions (i.e., “minor non-traffic offenses with fines less than $250…”) was rescinded and re-delegated to the brigade commanders at the same time. Once rescinded, we had to forward everything to the brigade commander for decision.
Motorcycle safety is thus an interesting example to highlight this issue. Some cadets who live off campus purchase and ride motorcycles to save on fuel and insurance costs and park in designated on-campus motorcycle parking to avoid the headaches of parking a car. Where USACC and the brigades seek to enforce Army motorcycle safety requirements, the PMS, brigade commander, or USACC CG cannot prevent a cadet from riding a motorcycle as long as the cadet follows the laws for the state in which they and their motorcycle are licensed. If the state doesn’t have a helmet law, where soldiers are still required to wear one by Army regulation, cadets are not required to wear one. Before the authorities were rescinded, the PMS was able to disenroll non-scholarship cadets who regularly violated the helmet requirement after counseling on the need to adhere to it. We regularly leveraged or threatened to leverage these authorities for many similar issues. In many cases this sent a loud and clear message to the other cadets, scholarship and non-scholarship alike, of their need to adhere to existing Army regulations for the purposes of good order and discipline. That said, the influence exercised by the PMS generally provides an environment where cadets strictly adhere to existing Army regulatory and command policy requirements because they don’t know they don’t have to. Even after the authorities were rescinded, we didn’t experience problems and we attribute this to our programs’ organizational climate and the cadets’ positive regard of the program cadre. The truth remains, however, whether the issue is seatbelt use, using a mobile telephone while in uniform, or whatever – the teeth to enforce these Army regulatory mandates no longer rests with the PMS.
The only authority retained today by the PMS is academic probation for non-scholarship cadets. All scholarship suspension and disenrollment requests – for whatever reason – must be recommended to the brigade commander for decision. This causes tension between the program, the brigade, and USACC based on how much time elapses between a disenrollment recommendation and a decision is made. Over time, we were left with the impression that 1) the centralization of too many program-level decisions at brigade or USACC added unnecessary bureaucracy hindering timely issue resolution, and 2) decisions and judgements over which seasoned field grade officer are normally entrusted – especially field grade commanders – were too deemed ‘too complex’ for a PMS to exercise. Ironically, our U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy ROTC counterparts retain, and regularly exercise, these authorities with the express intent of relieving their higher of the requirement to review and decide on issues best decided locally by the Professor of Aerospace Studies or Naval Science.
Finally, the poorly communicated requirement for cadets to seek approval for overseas travel mentioned previously is another example of the authority over cadets which the PMS – and the brigade commanders and USACC CG – lacks. Where several of us implemented a program-level ‘leave and pass’ policies to account for pre-planned class absences and departures from campus for long weekends, holidays, or extended breaks and familiarize cadets with Army processes they’ll see once commissioned, the cadets were directed to submit ‘leave and pass forms’ (i.e., DA Form 31) for USACC Deputy CG approval for any overseas travel, but no formal process was established regarding the accountability or tracking. Until commissioned or on orders for training, cadets aren’t soldiers or subject to the UCMJ if they fail to comply with a policy such as this. In other words, except for when cadets are in sanctioned ROTC classes or events, they’re university students. The USACC Deputy CG does not have the legal authority to deny a cadet from traveling overseas as a tourist so long as the cadet takes care of the necessary Department of State and host-nation travel requirements prior to departure or return. In the end, there were no teeth by which to enforce this.
Contact time with cadets is limited; or, “Don’t get bogged down chasing Measures of Performance instead of Measures of Effectiveness…”
The highest levels of performance come to people who are centered, intuitive, creative, and reflective - people who know to see a problem as an opportunity.
– Deepak Chopra
There are at most four collective teaching opportunities in an ROTC program: primary course instruction for MSI (first year), MSII (second year), MSIII (third year), and MSIV (fourth year); physical training (PT); leadership lab; and field training exercises (FTX). As a PMS, we taught the MSIVs and the only mandatory curriculum contact time we had with them weekly was three hours for Military Science classes, and two hours for leadership lab. We both required the MSIV cadet battalion leadership to participate in an additional weekly one-hour cadet battalion staff and training meeting. (The USACC MSL400 curriculum only requires three training meetings for the entire semester.) The MSIIIs met the same classroom requirements as the MSIVs, and both of us incorporated the rotating MSIII leadership into the cadet battalion training meeting as much as possible to prepare the MSIIIs for their responsibilities as MSIVs the following year on the cadet battalion staff. The MSIIs met for only two hours of class each week, and the MSIs only one hour of classroom time. All cadets attended three mandatory one-hour PT sessions and a two-hour leadership lab once a week. We captured all of this in the semester Military Science course syllabi, as most universities prohibit or strongly discourage course ‘touch time’ outside of established course meeting hours (i.e., ‘classroom hours’).
Always keep in mind the cadet is there for the degree, not ROTC; without the degree, there is no commission. As a PMS, your organizing mental frame must be that cadets are college students. It was not uncommon for our cadets to carry between eighteen and twenty-one credits-hours per semester. In addition to extra-curricular ROTC activities (i.e., color guard, cannon crew, running club, etc.), many of your cadets will be involved in intramural or varsity sports, campus clubs and fraternity or sorority life. The non-scholarship cadets, especially, will have part- or full-time jobs as they work to make ends meet. Based on the university, some of your cadets will have internships through their colleges as part of their academic major requiring leaves of absence from the ROTC program for as long as an entire school year. We both had ROTC cadet nursing programs with the additional clinical requirements adding nursing rotations of up to forty hours a week over multiple semesters for each nursing cadet. All of this combines occasionally at one point or another and interferes with the cadets’ participation in physical training (PT), Military Science classroom instruction, leadership labs, or FTXs.
USACC will fill the class and leadership lab ‘touch time’ hours with curriculum. On campus there will be weekend-long off-campus FTXs every semester, staff rides, dining outs, and dining ins. We experienced a brigade-centralized cadet leadership development exercise (CALDEX) seminar at Fort Knox consuming another weekend off-campus. Your university and local entities will request color guards for multiple sporting events, sometimes more than one event a day, or weekend. USACC and the brigades strongly encourage cadets to participate in the Army Ten Miler, German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge events, Norwegian Foot March Badge events, the Bataan Death March, and many, many others. These other extracurricular events take place on weekends, the majority at off campus locations. Factor in your desire to maximize the required curriculum and add other training in order to prepare your cadets for summer training and post-commissioning Army life, and before you know it a good portion of your cadets’ and cadres’ time will be committed every weekend from late August through to mid-May – in addition to the cadets’ already full academic schedule. Your cadre will scratch their heads wondering if they should have stayed in a deployable unit rather than have come to an ROTC assignment.
Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute! What about the opportunity for graduate school or pursuing a doctorate?” Yes, we mentioned it earlier, and it was likely one of the more lucrative attractions for accepting the PMS assignment, just as it was for cadre accepting the assistant PMS (officers) and military instructor (NCO) assignments. But with all of the above, when will the cadre have the opportunity to work on their own higher education, or have a weekend with the family? Those aspirations you had for continuing your own higher education? They remain possible, but highly unlikely even with an effective time management plan. We thought we’d have the time to pursue doctoral degrees – we were wrong. If you do your job right as PMS, you won’t have the time, and you’ll need to actively you’re your cadre to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees and make time for them to do so.
Recall when we mentioned above the majority of your higher headquarters staffers do not have experience at the program level, and in many cases, don’t understand the competing time requirements presented above? The USACC and brigade staffs will forget, at times, cadets are not soldiers and you don’t own every minute of their time. You will see taskers to conduct active shooter drills, or other anti-terrorism/force protection training, participate in community SHARP events, or other additional training and administrative training requirements. Each one of these requirements represents an addition to a zero-sum situation, and will force you to assume risk in modifying the length of the already mandated curriculum and training, sometimes to the point of eliminating mandated curriculum to accomplish the directed tasks when the time simply doesn’t exist to do both.
A prime example of this is the talent management system designed to inform cadets in their branch choice decisions. Imported from the U.S. Military Academy where the cadre exercise oversight of the cadet as an Army-issued entity, talent management becomes a frustrating exercise in futility. Implementation across USACC was problematic at best, as cadets, with cadre oversight, struggled to complete modules on university-provided and home networks using Chromebooks, MacBooks, personal and Army issued PCs, some of which were Common Access Card enabled, some not. Many cadets had to do the time-consuming modules multiple times as the system would time-out or not register module completion. Poor system performance quickly led to cadet apathy, and many resorted to just typing in answers to complete the requirement. This led to ineffective information on the branch for which the cadet is best suitable, and led to even further apathy – defeating the purpose of the whole program. At the time we departed, talent management was continually addressed as a problem, but never resolved.
Tools to Succeed…
Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.
– George Herbert
Armed with all of the information from above, now what? The ‘other side of the coin’ from the negative or discouraging aspects of being a PMS, is the all of the unofficial tools at your disposal to help the program and the cadets which contribute to cadets’ successes in a way we didn’t anticipate before accepting the assignment. Some of these tools outweigh any support provided by USACC on an order of magnitude, and are tools which increase your influence and ‘soft power’. What follows are eight recommendations, not in any particular order, we attribute to our successes as a PMS.
First: Money. Well-maintained university scholarship, alumni funds, and sustained cadet funds give the program a massive ability to overcome Army funding shortfalls and hurdles by enhancing cadets’ developmental opportunities. We learned during the University Senior Leaders Course (USACC’s introduction to ROTC and instructor certification course for PMS and SMI) many of the universities offer room-and-board scholarships for scholarship students as a recruiting incentive. Use them. If you allow any of the room-and-board scholarships to go unused, you’re failing the cadets and your program. Also available are PMS and department discretionary funds provided by any number of non-military sources. Use these wisely – and ethically – to benefit the department and the cadets. Both of us leveraged our university foundation and ‘ROTC Scholarship Fund’ or ‘ROTC Alumni Fund’ to assist those cadets struggling to make ends meet and keep them from seeking additional hours at part-time jobs at the expense of their academic and ROTC pursuits. We implemented a competitive system for cadet applications and held an open and transparent board involving the military and civilian cadre to determine appropriate amounts and approval award of each scholarship.
Your cadets will also likely have a ‘cadet fund’. Be very, very careful with this and ensure it is administrated by the cadets. This will be very hard, but the fund can be ethically used to fund coins, shirts, hats, even paintball guns for training aids, and anything else not authorized by TRADOC and USACC. Please believe us when we say there are a lot of things for which USACC won’t let you use military funds normally allowed in other Army units – it will surprise and frustrate you. Pride is a powerful thing, especially when your cadets show up to campus or USACC events in custom hoodies or PT t-shirts and ballcaps. Develop a relationship with the university athletic department for fundraisers and manual labor opportunities. The participation in athletic department mass labor opportunities allowed one of us to pay to replace computers and audio-visual equipment in a far faster manner than we could through the Army’s information system life-cycle program. Finally, the money from the university discretionary, alumni, and cadet funds allows for military dining-ins and dining-outs, hotel rooms and transportation to-and-from events like the Army 10-Miler, the Marine Corps Marathon, The Mountain Man Memorial March, and other events for which the government vehicles and Army funds cannot be used.
Second: Reorganize the curriculum as necessary. It’s not ‘mission command’ if you don’t exercise initiative and demonstrate creativity in achieving the endstate based on your local environment. We remained focused on cadet personal and professional development, using our own initiative to combine curriculum requirements with FTXs or cadet-planned extra-curricular operations and events to – in our opinion – achieve greater effect than the curriculum requirements alone achieved. Do not hesitate to implement a ‘zero week’ for the MSIVs the week before the fall semester starts incorporating training meeting, training management, military decision-making process (MDMP), counseling and non-commissioned officer evaluation report (NCOER) curriculum requirements from MSL400 as a ‘stage-setter’. We also recommend the conduct of an Army PT test (APFT) for all MSIVs and scholarship students on the last day of the zero week to get a jump-start on fall semester contracting requirements. To facilitate the zero week, we announced the MSIV cadet battalion leadership rotation for the coming fall semester at the end of spring semester, then brought the MSIIIs in as a group prior to attending Advance Camp and gave them zero-week ownership. Part of zero week included briefing the semester and school year training calendar and a dedicated time for them to employ the MDMP just learned and develop the semester base operations order, as well as new cadet orientation – all the week before the fall semester begins.
We focused intently on the cadets’ writing and speaking skills, instituting a graduated writing and oral presentation requirement across all of the MS year groups. The intent was to continually expose the cadets to being uncomfortable in front of their peers, a shortcoming of too many junior officers we both noticed during the height of the Iraq Surge through to the end of Operation NEW DAWN. These individual short-comings unfortunately were carried forward by many field grade officers whose writing and speaking skills weren’t developed sufficiently by the time they were promoted to major. The across-the-board improvements by the end of our third year were pronounced and cadets frequently briefed brigade and university leaders during visits, or were requested to present at, or facilitate, local leadership development activities. In one case, one of our cadets presented an effective argument to a state legislature committee on the chilling effects of the state requiring SMP cadets to pay back pro-rated portions of tuition paid for by that state’s National Guard if the cadet accessed on to active duty at commissioning and failed to complete their original National Guard enlistment contract.
Third: Plan to plan, or plan to fail. Always think in terms of the entire school year, and tie your cadre-involved planning to the summer and winter breaks to accomplish this. To combat the curriculum and additional requirements creep, we both instituted annual planning session every summer encompassing the entire school year. Stability and predictability were our goals, and we achieved them for the most part by anticipating additional brigade or USACC requirements well in advance of publication. Used by the cadet battalion staff, the semester training calendar provides a frame for them to create a semester operations order off which they can generate weekly or bi-weekly fragmentary orders with depth and detail for special events and leadership labs. We revisited the spring semester calendar during the winter break and revised as necessary, and included the cadre of programs nearby ours to facilitate planning of combined (“joint”) events, or to capitalize on opportunities at the neighboring programs. This is also where the conduct of weekly cadet battalion staff training meeting pays off – it forces the cadets to continually think about events in the context of an entire semester in terms of the Army’s operations process (plan, prepare, execute, and assess) rather than scramble at the last minute to conduct a thrice-semesterly ‘company training meeting’ as directed by USACC in the MSL400 curriculum. If you don’t plan a year in advance, the other ‘opportunities’ will pile up quickly. Lastly, prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. If an event doesn’t contribute to the cadets’ development, question whether it’s worth pursuing even if it is your pet rock.
Fourth: Army processes – use them for cadet development. Continual comments from our peers in battalion command centered on ROTC second lieutenants’ lack of knowledge regarding well-established Army processes. It doesn’t matter the cadets aren’t soldiers, they’ll use the processes soon enough. Familiarize them with the processes now by incorporating them into your program’s normal operating procedures. Ultimately, the goal is familiarity with Army processes; consistent repetition breeds familiarity and confidence. To that end, we introduced leave/pass forms as an accountability tool and awards recommendations as part of the counseling and recognition process. Along with the leave/pass form use, our cadres instituted a sign-out/sign-in process to account for student departures and returns over winter and spring breaks, with the accountability and reporting requirements placed on the MSIV cadet battalion leadership just as in a regular line battalion during exodus leave periods. Our recent graduates attending Basic Officer Leader Course – B and branch basic courses confirmed this, providing feedback they were frequently the only one who knew how to use a DA31 for a long weekend pass or to travel home over a holiday break, and didn’t have to be hand-held through the process of creating and submitting it. We also required all MSIVs to produce a junior grade plate NCOERs for all MSIIIs in semester leadership positions, and as a MSIV course semester requirement for all of their MSIII mentorship program mentees. Again, repetition breeds familiarity.
Fifth: Tie program needs to cadet development opportunities. Focusing on individual development, we both developed the standard ROTC curriculum into products entirely deliverable through university blackboard learning systems. USACC maintains a non-dot-mil (.mil) ROTC Blackboard site, but it isn’t very good. Using the university Blackboard system enabled cadets with class or lab conflicts to effectively take the ROTC mandated curriculum in a distance-learning format when necessary, with regular meetings scheduled with the course instructor as a ‘check on learning’. This was a necessity with the nursing cadets whose clinical requirements frequently overlapped with MS courses or leadership labs. Further, the university Blackboard site is generally linked with the student’s university email account and the cadets generally have their university email account on their mobile devices, something ROTC Blackboard cannot duplicate. The cadets then receive immediate notification when updates are posted to courses in which they’re registered via email from the university Blackboard system.
We also implemented independent study classes for non-standard progression cadets to maintain contractual scholarship requirements. How to organize the independent study classes is entirely up to you. We used them to develop cadets’ staff skills while developing viable agreements between the Army ROTC program and other university departments with the institution of memorandums of agreement granting nursing college credit for those nursing cadets who attend USACC’s Nurse Summer Training Program; incorporating Military Science courses into an existing psychology department’s organizational leadership minor, and granting of credit toward that minor for cadet participation in USACC’s Advance Camp and CULP; iterative development, approval, submission, and acceptance of a new cadet battalion shoulder sleeve insignia by The Institute of Heraldry; and developing a Ranger Challenge-like Cadet Field Medical Challenge for cadets pursuing nursing or medically-related majors. The central point here is rather than adding things on top of an already packed semester and school year calendars, use your imagination to create cadet developmental opportunities coinciding with existing requirements to benefit the larger program without creating additional work or time commitments for the cadre or the cadet battalion as a whole.
Sixth: The PMS network. Your biggest strength is the PMS network, and it’s also your biggest safety net. Leverage it by keeping in contact with friends who were or are PMSs, get to know the PMSs in your own brigade whenever possible, and especially those proximate to you and those at schools with environments most similar to yours (and in many cases, those will be the programs with whom your program competes directly for cadets and scholarships). Ask questions of the senior PMSs before asking them to brigade – you’ll often get a far more informed and experienced answer from a fellow senior PMS than you will from the brigade staff, and this is especially true when interpreting USACC cadet-related policy is paramount to success. Most importantly, determine the best method by which all of you can communicate during distributed teleconferences or meetings so share ideas, express concerns, or ask questions of each other in a smaller group, rather than in front of the entire audience, when the question doesn’t pertain to everyone or apply to every program. Regardless of method – whether Facebook Messenger, group emails, group phone texts, etc. – your ability to remain in contact with your peers is crucial to your success. If close enough, drive across town and visit, or call rather than email. In some cases, this made all the difference in smoothing over rough relationships between Army peers who all want the same thing, just in different ways.
A second aspect of this is your ability to enlist PMS peers to conduct ‘strategic messaging’ campaigns and saturate the brigade with questions and concerns regarding a tasker or concept that presents issues. We’ve all be there before when a dialogue needs to be forced open to address whatever the issue is with the boss or the XO rather than an ‘S-shop’ staffer. If the issue was with a USACC decision or task, we reached out to the other PMSs we knew in other brigades and did the same. At times you may be the Lone Ranger; these are times when a quiet PMS-to-PMS conversation pays dividends rather than voicing a concern in a ‘reply all’ public forum. In most cases, we were successful in getting concerns voiced and addressed. As you’d expect, there were times either when we realized we were the Lone Ranger or when the decision was made, and it wasn’t what we wanted, and the remaining course of action was to vigorously ‘shut up and color’.
Seventh: Cadets are young, but they’re not children. The PMS and cadre should not – cannot – view cadets as ‘children’. Avoid that at all costs, and please believe us when we say that mentality is pervasive within USACC, but not in a patronizing or malicious sense. (See David Dixon’s 2015 article, “Your Soldiers Are Not Your Children; Treat Them Accordingly”.) The unintentional mental frame of viewing the cadets as children undermines your influence and lead to a suspicious, sometimes cynical, approach by the cadets to anything the PMS or cadre try to implement. When dealing with problems, whether they be APFT or body composition failures, sports injuries, social problems, academic misconduct allegations, or cadets’ personal financial issues, we exercised our influence by coaching cadets thru the problem to a decision they ultimately made, rather than holding them by the hand to lead them thru to resolution. Here we saw much success, and ultimate failure with a decision to disenroll was rarely the outcome.
Our mantra became, “We’re going to treat you like adults, and if you screw up we’re going to treat you like an adult.” Where at the beginning, cadets came to us with all manner of excuses which unintentionally obfuscated the issue, at the end of our third year the cadets came to us with clear positions and solid resolution recommendations we helped them accomplish with available resources, as mentioned above. The ultimate measure of effectiveness is seeing the older cadets using those same methods to identify and resolve junior cadets’ problems. Over time, we saw disenrollments[D1] and instances of academic probation or suspension decline. We also saw increases in cadets’ looking out for their peers and mentees by discretely voicing concerns to program senior leadership and continuing to monitor over time. Overhearing our junior cadre comment, “Wow, my lieutenants weren’t bright enough to make that kind of recommendation (or decision),” or, “I wish I knew that as a lieutenant,” was a continual source of pride.
Eighth: Avoid hubris. In other words, don’t be afraid to use the mistakes you made as a lieutenant, mistakes your lieutenants made when you were in command that made you look bad, or your cadre’s mistakes and experiences to benefit cadet development. An introspective and reflective nature pays dividends here. If your first action when a serious cadet-related problem arises isn’t to ask yourself whether a decision you made or guidance you gave as PMS contributed to the problem, you may miss out on the real ‘teaching moment’. Worse, if you miss your contribution to the problem or avoid the opportunity to share your reflection with the cadets (when warranted), the cadets likely will see it and this will lead to more problems in the future. This is a secondary benefit of the assignment – your ability to take a hard look and assess yourself as a leader model. It hurts sometimes to admit making mistakes, but the honesty and humility that comes in doing so at the right time will impart lasting lessons the cadets won’t easily forget, and will likely emulate in the future with their own troops. Here, more than anywhere, is the ability to leave a leadership legacy that positively impacts the institution for the foreseeable future. Seeing the cadets grow and develop was the best feeling of our careers, and we were honestly sad to depart the assignment.
What’s the ‘Big So What?’
Every time I walked away from something I wanted to forget, I told myself it was for a cause that I believed in. A cause that was worth it.
– Cassian Andor
If you’ve read this far and not thought, “I’m screwed”, we commend you. Even if we’d read this before accepting the assignment, we would still accept it. Organizational warts, hurdles, and pitfalls aside, the Army needs talented, critically thinking officers comfortable living in the ‘gray area’ to accept the PMS assignments, or its officer corps will suffer in the long run. That’s what this article boils down to: “The Big So What?” The chance to teach, coach, and mentor the Army’s next generation leaders is not one that we regret in any way.
The biggest sense of fulfillment comes when you receive unsolicited feedback from your cadets or about your cadets. One of us inherited a program with an organizational climate negatively affecting both the cadre and the cadets. After much work, influence and the disenrollment or elimination of under-performing cadets and cadre members, four MSIVs – the day prior to commissioning at the end of our third year – commented as a group that the turn-around of the climate was ‘night-and-day’ compared to when they entered the program. They further asked whether the cadet battalion climate was what a ‘real unit’ is going to be like. One of the four, an enlisted Army National Guard Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP) participant, commented to the other three that the cadet battalion climate was far more standards-driven and dignified than was their SMP unit. Another cadet was commended by their U.S. Army Reserve SMP leadership for being better developed than the cadet’s existing platoon leader. Still others were selected by out-of-state National Guard officer strength managers over former SMP cadets from their own states. We already mentioned the cadet who briefed his state’s legislative representatives; positive comments continued to come in from unexpected sources regarding the cadet’s tact, focus, and presentation abilities. Our pride swelled when program alumni returned after BOLC-B and commented they felt far better prepared than their peers from other programs, and wry smiles were always had when they commented on how socially undeveloped the West Point second lieutenants were.
However frustrated we were during our PMS tours, similar to frustration we experienced as combat advisors, our ability to reconcile the contrasting host institution and USACC operating environments allowed us to make sense of the lack of cross-cultural understanding; the lack of authority as a senior field grade officer; and the ever present hazards of self-inflicted and command-directed requirements creep. As long as you remain focused on the ultimate measure of effectiveness – are the cadets progressing appropriately – rather than getting fixated on measures of performance, you’ll reap a personally fulfilling reward of junior leaders growing into themselves as a small part of your professional legacy. That, more than anything else, kept us and our cadre coming to work every day. More than at any other previous assignment, we saw our cadres’ collective actions contribute directly to the long-term health of our beloved institution.
In closing, we wish you good luck in your assignment and we hope that you will find your assignment as rewarding as we did. We also ask you to remember if you know one ROTC program well, you know one ROTC program. THIS WE’LL DEFEND!!
Both authors are officers who were commissioned through Army ROTC, and are graduates of the U.S. Army Command and Staff College (CGSC) and U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). Both officers produced graduate theses focused on different aspects of historical security force assistance (combat advising) training and organizational models. Both served in command, leadership, and staff positions of increasing responsibility from platoon to sub-unified combatant command staffs.
The views expressed herein are the opinions of the authors and do not reflect the opinions of, or imply endorsement by, the University of Cincinnati, Purdue University, 7th ROTC Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or the U.S. Army.