There are literally dozens of jobs that one takes on when one takes the guidon. I’m writing a book about company command when I’m done with this whole experience and it’s going to talk about all the bat shit crazy things you will see or hear while in command. I’ll also talk about all the truly awesome stuff, too, but it’s not the good troops that keep most folks up at night.
Among other things, commanders are mom, dad, doctor, psychiatrist, teacher, coach, mentor, boot in the ass, divorce counselor, marriage counselor, social worker, sex educator, life coach…the list goes on and on and on. I have THE BEST JOB in the Army. This is the best time I’ve ever had and I know that no job I’ll ever take after this will be as rewarding as this short time holding the guidon.
That said, the one thing that I would strongly encourage all future commanders to dig into, deeply, is jurisprudence and decision making. Why do we say that X is wrong and Y is not? What is the basis for your decision? Is everything black and white and written in stone? And if so, why then, does commander’s discretion exist?
The easiest time any commander will have in deciding who to separate, who to give an article 15 to, and who to attempt to rehabilitate and who to punish will be in that brief window of time before you have become part of your unit. The first 90 days or so when you are first getting situated, you are able to look at the facts as just that, facts and not truly dig into the soldier behind the facts. It’s easy to come into a new unit and say “they’re going to soldier or they’re going to home” when you don’t know that soldier’s story, when you don’t know their wife, their husband, their mom or their dad.
But when you look into the eyes of a soldier and tell them, I’m initiating separation proceedings against you for the following reasons? And that soldier has tried but failed to meet whatever standard you’re separating them for? The decision may still be ‘easy’ in that it’s the right thing to do, but when it’s about a person and not a decision? Maybe not so much.
The legal decisions I’ve made as a commander thus far, I don’t regret. I have reduced 3 NCOs back to enlisted rank. I do not regret this decision on any of the three counts. All 3 made bad decisions that young soldiers should not emulate. Only 1 of them did I think could overcome it. Only 1 do I wish had had the fortitude and the forbearance to prove that he earned the right to return to the NCO ranks. The decision to reduce and separate that particular individual, while the right thing to do for both the army and for the soldier, pains me, because I believe he could be better than what he’s demonstrated. But my belief in him is not enough for him to succeed. I wish it were different but sadly, it’s not.
I’ve also had to initiate separation against two soldiers thus far who have not met the standard regarding height and weight and APFT. These soldiers deployed for their nation, they went to war, they continually volunteer and they know their jobs and yet, I must send them home because they do not meet basic army standards. I know the standards exist for a reason. I know how hard it is to meet these standards for some soldiers. I know because I’m one of them who has struggled her entire military career to stay in shape and meet the standard. I know how much work it takes. And yet I am sending two soldiers home who are good troops otherwise.
Commanders must meet legal standards to separate and as a result of not having legal proof, these folks who ‘everyone knows’ is doing ‘it’ get to continue to soldier. Soldiers could be beating their wives, committing crimes or worse and if all commanders have is innuendo and rumor, commanders have nothing actionable. Rumor isn’t legally sufficient to initiate action. Innuendo does not give a commander probable cause.
Commander’s discretion is a powerful tool but I also understand why some decisions are taken from subordinate commanders. Because while I may argue all day long that X is a good troop who can’t lose weight, the bigger army suffers for each overweight soldier. From health care issues, to stamina downrange, believe me, I understand.
Understanding does not make it easier to tell that kid who’s served honorably; your time has come to an end. Of all the jobs that came with the guidon, becoming the judge and jury has been the toughest. It is the one that keeps me up at night, dissecting facts, looking at other angles, seeking guidance from mentors and checking, did I do the right thing? Is there another way I can look at this? Because at the end of the tour, the responsibility is great, the power is even greater and if you misuse the trust that has been given to you, the harm that you can do is unfathomable.
Why, commander, have you made the decision you made? What is your reasoning? Know this, because the decisions you make have impact far beyond changing command. The decisions you make will resonate with individuals for years.
Did you make the right ones?