Staff Skills

The Iron Major Survival Guide: A Not-So-Concise Anthology of Timeless Tips for The Battalion Field Grade

By The Cove May 13, 2019



The Iron Major Survival Guide (IMSG) version 2.0 is a must read for all current and future Operations Officers (OPSO) and Executive Officers (XO). The guide is written by Lieutenant Colonel David Dunphy and is a revised version of his original book 'The Iron Major Survival Guide: Timeless Tips for the Field Grade Officer and Staff Leaders of All Types'.  The guide is a collection of David's 'random thoughts and observations' synthesized from his time as Major and upon reflection as an instructor at Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, USA.

David writes in a humorous and illuminating way, providing tips and tricks to help a staff officer succeed. The book also provides an insight for junior officers to gain an understanding of the inherent challenges faced once they step out of a command appointment into the life of a staff officer.

Chapter I discusses 'The Fundamentals' required of battalion OPSO or XO; however, is applicable to any member of a headquarters. David highlights that a staff officer must not let their standards slip, touching on soldier basics, written communication, personal fitness and emailing protocols.

Chapter II is titled 'The Algebra of Maintaining Good Habits' where David provides candid advice to assist in making day-to-day life as a staff officer as effective as possible. The topics discussed in this chapter include time management, running meetings, sleep plans and working with attachments. Whilst some of the advice is based on US doctrine and terminology, it is as applicable to the Australian Defence Force.

Chapter III which David aptly names 'The Trigonometry of Staff Management' provides sound advice in managing and leading subordinate staff.  David also provides excellent advice when staff find themselves making the statement 'those bastards at brigade' or 'those bastards down at company'. He reminds the reader that HQ staff work as part of a larger team, and to therefore understand the bigger picture and not make 'mountains out of molehills'.

In Chapter IV, David highlights what he believes to be 'The Calculus of Field Gradeship'. Topics in this chapter include the importance of maintaining positive relationships among fellow field grade officers, the importance of both talking and working for 'the boss' which includes picking battles wisely and how to provide the commander 'constructive advice'. The chapter also discusses the importance of staff regularly conducting After Action Reviews (AARs) to maintain effective systems.

Chapter V, named 'Live to Fight another Day' gives some final tips and tricks for remaining competitive for life after a staff appointment.

Whilst this resource may lack subtlety in tone, David provides valuable insight and very relevant advice that any junior or field ranking officer should consider when assigned to a staff role.



The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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