This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.
“There were many ways of being a good adjutant, but several factors were common to all of them, and the three first were that one must lose all sense of humour, all sense of proportion, and all desire to win or keep friends.”
– John Masters, Bugles and a Tiger.
Congratulations should be given to anyone appointed as a regimental adjutant. Luckily, the long years as a captain have granted them both the ability to bend the space/time continuum in preparation for managing the Commanding Officer’s (CO's) calendar, and a sense of preternatural foresight for their boss’ whims, wants, and machinations for the unit.
In a failed attempt at shaping operations, my boss sent me John Masters’ ‘Bugles and a Tiger’ whilst deployed – one of the more outstanding books on regimental culture – perhaps in the hope I would embody John Masters’ recollection of Bill Mills from the introductory quote and terrify the subalterns to greatness. This characterisation of a regimental adjutant is beyond my ability to replicate, but irrespective of my success (limited) or failure (daily) as the adjutant, Masters is correct that it is a most prized appointment.
The list of jobs for an adjutant can be endless; however, I have found that the adjutant must focus on a few key areas: incident management, relationship and reputation management, and regimental culture.
The adjutant is the unit incident manager. Unfortunately, Adjutants will be the individual primarily responsible for dealing with soldiers who – in the nicest terms – do not adhere to Defence's values. And sometimes … worse. No matter how considerate any individual is, reserves of empathy and compassion will be long gone by mid-year. Involuntary Cessation of Service notices will be drafted for the smallest infringements, and the adjutant’s level of animosity will deepen depending on how many times the duty officer calls on a Saturday or Sunday morning about the latest unit atrocity.
Without joking, an adjutant must have incident management policy on hand. The Army Incident Management Playbook is an adjutant’s quick reference guide. Advice from the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) and Executive Officer (XO) is invaluable, and their experience and knowledge should be leveraged. The formation S1 and Legal Officer will be well acquainted with the unit adjutant. Use them to review administrative action, and as a sounding board for possible courses of action. I have found that this helps align me to provide appropriate advice to my CO and aligns the CO’s intent and course of action with formation headquarters across the personnel, legal, and command functions. Depending on an incident’s severity, the advice an adjutant has sought and clearly articulated, will assist understanding up the chain of command on how an incident is being managed at the unit level.
The adjutant will become intimately familiar with the Army Incident Management System (AIMS). AIMS is undoubtedly a system designed for Windows 95 and operates like it’s on a dial up internet connection. Think of AIMS’s functionality and useability as a character-building exercise. Regardless, before releasing an initial incident report; the reporting of the occurrence, action taken to date, and the commander’s evaluation must be succinct and accurate.
Avoid acronyms and write actively and with clarity. No one wants to read the member did this, and the member did that; avoid any possibility of contributing to the reader’s confusion. Good AIMS reporting provides the adjutant – as the unit’s incident manager – time to deal with the situation; bad AIMS reporting comes with a reputation cost to you, the CO, and your unit.
Relationship and reputation management
Relationship and reputation management for the Commanding Officer and the unit will fall in part to the adjutant. I have tried to palm most external liaison off to the Operations Officer (OPSO), XO, and RSM by maintaining an aura of misery and unfriendliness. Nevertheless, the adjutant will draft some of the CO’s correspondence: letters of congratulations, RSVPs, updates to unit association members, responses to demi-official letters, and invitations to unit activities.
Grasping the boss’ style is important, but even if you don’t, decent drafting of their correspondence provides them necessary space to think and makes small time savings for them in a busy weekly calendar. On the CO’s behalf, the adjutant is ensuring important relationships are being maintained within the unit, across the formation, and out to families and others.
Seniority as an adjutant does have its advantages. When returning to a unit where you did platoon command time you’ve likely been out of the unit for four or five years so no one remembers what a disgrace you were as a lieutenant. The aura of being the adjutant can help you reinvent yourself. Additionally, with seniority you can develop a near-peer relationship with the sub-unit commanders, OPSO, and XO on the premise you’ll soon be one of their peers.
The relationships you build with the unit’s O4s greatly enhances the CO’s understanding of what is going on in the unit and provides the O4s insight on the CO’s plans. Husbandry of these relationships creates good awareness across the field ranks.
As part of relationship and reputation management, the adjutant will have insights into matters before they develop into reportable incidents, usually through the duty chain. Adjutants must remember every time they go to the CO with a problem or an issue as there is a cost (to the CO’s time and to your reputation). What this specific cost is cannot be adequately explained, and is an intangible of personal judgement, backed by an understanding of the CO’s intent. The adjutant must know when to hold information back from the CO to deal with an issue at a lower level and when to elevate an issue to the CO for decision.
The adjutant is the custodian of the unit’s officer culture. It is wide ranging responsibility (and one which will link you closely with the RSM) and includes liaising with allied and affiliated units, preparing for ceremonial activities, policing any actions before they result in a notifiable incident during a regimental dining-in, and being involved in the unit’s history.
A key focus of regimental culture should be the subalterns. The senior subaltern is the adjutant’s key conduit for success during their tenure in inculcating a unit’s traditions within its junior officers. As the adjutant, you should empower the senior subaltern with a formal duty statement signed by the CO which alleviates you of a number of tedious duties; namely organising the unit duty roster. An adjutant’s time management is directly related to an ability to task lieutenants through the senior subbie.
Equally, the adjutant must invest in the junior officers – you are there to mentor lieutenants along with their OCs. Provide career guidance, check their platoon commander’s notebooks, direct them to polish their sam brownes (and make sure they all have one), fault correct with consistency, and dispense advice freely. Be genuine and be approachable. I have found that I cannot fake a level of regimental strictness that I don’t possess – much to my CO’s disappointment – nor am I going make officers roll dice to determine how many extra duties they get. It is a fine line between ensuring the lieutenants have healthy respect for the position of adjutant while ensuring they are ably supported to be better junior leaders.
The appointment of adjutant is highly rewarding. It is also position of trust. When its duties are executed poorly, the reputation of the unit is undermined, as is the work of commanders and key staff at all levels. When executed well, an adjutant’s outputs are unlikely to have the visible impacts across the unit as a sub-unit commander, or even the staff work generated by an operations captain. Yet, the adjutant should remain confident that their role is indispensable to the CO and that they are an example to all other junior officers.