This article was a submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.
I commissioned as a lieutenant in May 2020, an unusual and unprecedented time for Army and Australia on the whole. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, working from home was a new and exciting concept, and the Army, and the 2nd Division in particular, was undergoing a significant transition to the C2 of domestic operations. I marched into this operating environment as a brand new officer, excited for the challenges I would face, but nervous to take command of a troop. I’d like to reflect on the lessons learnt and experiences gained over the course of my time as a troop leader.
I commissioned into the RAAC as a SERCAT 5 member and immediately took control of a troop in an undermanned squadron missing several key appointments. As is the nature of the aptly named ‘Choco Lotto’, I came into a squadron that, while undermanned, made up for the lack of personnel in enthusiasm and experience. Interim performance appraisal was due, and the regiment had been identified to lead the C2 element of the border closure between NSW and Victoria. The rapidly shifting battlespace, and fast paced learning tempo would be where I learnt my first major lesson in command: work closely with your NCOs. The symbiotic relationship that exists between officers and NCOs works strongly to the benefit of both cadres, and valuable insight can be gained merely by asking questions. As an officer, always be enthusiastic and understand your role as the ultimate decision maker, but never be afraid or reticent to ask for advice from an NCO and listen to what they say. Often, they will have seen the problem that you face before and may well understand how to solve it then and there. There is a wealth of experience in the NCO cadre, and they will often times have downright brilliant solutions to problems faced. Appreciate your NCOs, look after them and they will look after you.
My next major lesson learnt was that regardless of corps, your skills as an administrator are of equal importance to your skills as a tactician. Administration facilitates all things through Army. An understanding of how to facilitate training and your soldiers’ career progression through good admin is paramount. Clerks will support you through the learning process, but do not mistake their assistance as a willingness to do your job for you. The well-rounded officer or NCO will have a robust understanding of administrative procedure to guide and influence the best outcomes for their subordinates. There are people in place that can help you with your admin, and you should always ask for help when you need it. Do not set a soldier’s career back a year because you were too afraid to ask for guidance on how to fill out a PAR. Those around you will be willing to offer guidance and advice, and you should be willing and eager to receive it. A willingness to listen and learn will make you a more robust and well-rounded leader.
As a leader, don’t be afraid to get involved. Understand the jobs of your soldiers and do your best to get involved in what they do whether that’s PT, vehicle maintenance, or general training. In the words of General George Patton “Always do everything you ask of those you command.” Be willing and able to participate. Nobody expects you to be an expert in all fields, but you should have an understanding of the jobs of your subordinates. If you don’t, ask them! Constantly pursue new knowledge, read and educate yourself, study doctrine and history, but most of all – get hands-on when you can. Take every opportunity to work alongside your subordinates. For SERCAT 5 officers or NCOs, do everything you can not to be stuck behind a desk on a training night. Get out and amongst your soldiers and understand who they are and what they do. Learn their names, their circumstances and their desires for their careers and training. At the end of the day, we as leaders cannot do our job without soldiers to lead. Invest time and energy in your subordinates and they will reward this with their best efforts.
Lastly, constantly work to develop your tactical and strategic acumen. Make mistakes in training and learn from them, because you will not be afforded the same concessions in combat. While a junior leader – when the opportunity presents itself – try new things, develop TTPs, and train your subordinates. The profession of arms demands excellence, and this must be constantly developed and refined by combat leaders. Do not dismiss the training you receive in infantry minor tactics as being not your job. History has shown us that the last line of defence and the difference between success and failure is often logisticians, cooks, and headquarters staff forced to fight defensive battles to prevent breakthrough by the enemy. Leaders in arms corps should not dismiss their combat support peers as incapable or a burden to the fight, and CSS corps should never let their foundation warfighting skills fade, as logistics and C2 nodes are prime targets on the battlefield. Leaders at all levels and in all corps must maintain a bias for action and a hunger for victory to maintain our proficiency as a fighting force. To quote Heinz Guderian: “you hit someone with your fist and not with your fingers spread”. Our fighting ability as an army relies on an understanding of the principles of war by our leaders, and an embrace of a combined arms approach to manoeuvre warfare. We have no time as a small, professional army for infighting or rivalry between corps or units. In order to achieve the point of breakthrough and victory with maximum aggression and violence, all arms must be working in unison. In the same manner, in order to achieve best success in your career, you must embrace the opportunity to learn from colleagues in other corps. Understand logistics as an arms corps leader, and you will understand how to mitigate one of the most significant frictions you will face and protect your key vulnerabilities. As a logistician, understand the demands of combat and how you can support the combat arms.
There are many lessons to be learnt as a leader in the profession of arms, and these lessons will continue over the course of your career. Never assume that you know everything, but back yourself and trust what you have learnt. Be confident, but not arrogant. Stay approachable, and genuinely care for your subordinates, and they will reward you by working hard to achieve the goals of the team. Embrace the unique challenges of military leadership, and enjoy the privilege of leading Australian soldiers. It is a privilege that is afforded to a select few, count yourself lucky to be amongst them.