Leadership on the Objective: “How the Colonel Did It…”

Author’s Note:  I am not a nutritionist nor am I a fitness expert.  The information I’m providing is simply an insight into what works for me.  Certainly, there are experts in each of these fields of study and I encourage you to consult with them as well as your own personal physician.  Additionally, I am relaying information I found helpful, but I am not endorsing a specific product, book or supplement.  Since I have blended together information I found personally helpful with regard to my specific circumstances, I am not specifically attributing information to any single author, expert or co-worker.
Ahead of an AAR in Indiana, an NCO and I were killing a little time when the conversation took on the topic of fitness, weight loss and diet.  We spoke for a short time and he recommended, “You should write something called ‘How the colonel did it.”  I have thought about that conversation many times over the last few weeks and decided to relay what works for me in an effort to spur some personal reflection for you.

I serve as the Missouri National Guard Chief of Staff, but realize that few among our  11,500 really know me.  So here’s some background.  You can skip the next several paragraphs if you like, I’m only including them to describe the evolution in my thought and fitness and nutritional habits.  If you’re in a hurry, skip all the way down to the heading “How the Colonel Does It.”

My family and I moved to Missouri in July 2006 to assume the role as Director of Operations on the Joint Force Headquarters staff.  My fitness level was average.  I passed all my APFTs.  I am 72 inches tall.  My weight then was exactly 203 pounds (the cutline for may age group on the Army height/weight chart to determine if a body-fat worksheet is needed.).  I have been subject to “taping” since just after I received my commission in 1988.  Beginning in 2006, my weight was about to substantially increase.

I threw myself into the work of the J3 and did not establish a good battle rhythm.  One day – the first day, after I ran during a lunch hour in Jefferson City, a colleague called me from St. Louis.   “Hey.  Just a word of warning…  The Chief will chew you for doing PT when you’re supposed to be working.”  Word gets around.  So I stopped.

Arriving early and leaving late every day, working nearly every weekend, my normal PT routine (if there ever was one) slowed to a near stop.   Then, a year later, I simultaneously assumed the role as Chief of Staff while my wife deployed with her unit, leaving me with one-and-three-year-old boys — a geographic bachelor dad.  I’m not the busiest guy in the organization, but I did get a lot busier than just the year before.  I began eating whatever was quickest to grab and eat while driving from home to the Montessori School, work and return.  I consumed high volumes of processed foods and hardly cooked at home other than to heat something up.

My weight at the end of her deployment in 2008 topped 235 pounds.  My fitness level was at an all-time low.  I was motivated to do something about it, but was deeply frustrated with my condition and the mountain I was surely going to have to climb to get out of this mess.

Later in 2008, the pressures of my job began to build and I suddenly found myself in a deep emotional crisis.  Thank God I have a strong wife and loving family!  The stress, frankly, was killing me.  The blood pressure medicine I’d taken since my mid-30s had to be adjusted.  I considered – even discussed with doctors medicine for depression and did take a high-powered prescription sleeping pill every night for over a year.   Something else happened as well.

Because of the stress, I had no appetite for anything.  The result was unbelievable and visibly-pronounced weight loss.  I fell from 235 to 175 in a matter of months.  Concerned colleagues began to inquire whether I was feeling ok.  A few bluntly asked if I was sick.  Did I have cancer?  Of course I told everyone I was fine.  I did not, indeed, have cancer.  But, truth be told, I was sick.  I had to get a handle on things and I had to get control fast.  Stress was going to drive me to the depths of depression and I had to be doing damage to my body.  This isn’t a column about stress management, but suffice it to say, I had to adopt a different philosophy—and I did.  It is definitely intertwined, but that’s a subject for another time.

Thankfully, body fat, when burned, supplies a good deal of energy.  I lived on energy from body fat and whatever I could bring myself to eat as I regained control of this situation.  Years ago I once joked with a skinny, cigarette-smoking NCO who had the task of taping me for the body-fat worksheet calculation.  He said, “You know sir.  The best thing about all that body fat is that if you and I were stranded on a desert island, you’d live longer than me.”  I replied, “That’s true.  Because, I’d kill you and eat you!  Besides.  You’re already cooked.” Excess body fat, sort of, saved me during this time.  Now, I don’t need it anymore.

Feeling better about a lot of things, I began to pay attention to diet and exercise.  Exercise relieved stress in a productive way.  Diet began to focus on fueling my system instead of making me feel better and things began to work for me (or so I thought).  I regained a little weight, but my body mass index, which dipped into the “normal” range for the first time since 1988, remained normal.  I really looked forward to running and ran a lot – sometimes as much as eight miles a day, but never less than four miles – four to five days a week on any day it was above 10 degrees – heat doesn’t matter too much to me.  I had no idea how to work out except for push-ups and sit-ups (guess where I got that workout plan?).  Then I consulted a nutritionist and a personal trainer (both assets we have and make available to our MONG Soldiers).   My weight and fitness levels began to stabilize and I felt (and still feel) great.

Then it happened.   A difficult setback…

As a brigade commander, while on State Emergency Duty in Southeast Missouri in April 2011, I contracted a lung affliction, diagnosed as a reaction to black mold.  The official diagnosis was pneumonitis, which is non-bacterial pneumonia-like inflammation of the lungs.  Though I used to be able to run six or eight miles a day, I could barely run two miles.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t run.  Doctors prescribed steroidal drugs, breathing treatments, and antibiotics for spinoff infections.  Finally, in about late August, I took a turn for the better.  But while I was still eating a “very healthy”, calorie-correct standard American diet of high fiber, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat protein, my weight began to CLIMB.  For months, I had lost my high-calorie-burning activity: running.

Then it happened again.  Another setback.  My wife deployed again.  A geo-bachelor parent with boys now six and eight, full-time chief of staff and brigade commander—and with my weight on the rise, I had to do something.  My weight in November 2011 topped 200 pounds.  I was on the edge of hitting my screening weight of 203.  I began to investigate a solution.

Because of my research, I came in contact with a number of studies and began to find that I, like millions of Americans, have been led astray.

The best part of being an American Soldier is not the standard American diet.  In my opinion, it’s holding us back and spinning off new epidemics of diseases once confined to a small minority of people.   The introduction of high-fructose corn syrup into highly processed foods appears to be directly attributable to the substantial obesity crisis in America, including early-onset diabetes, heart disease, and other weight-related ailments, such as increased stress on joints such as knees, ankles and hips.   Corn syrup and other processed sugars are in most prepared foods.  Finally, I understood.  I can’t eat lower calorie, low-fat, high carbohydrate, packaged foods with nutrition labels on them, telling me how good they are for me.

A frequent theme among top-rated research efforts in the field of diet and nutrition is that we need a radical departure from the official standard American dietary guidelines.  Another common element are warnings against processed foods, high fructose corn syrup and other processed sugars.  Counting calories does matter.  I’ve done that for several years, but the right kind of calories matters more.  Frustrated, I needed something simple.  Having the benefit of a neighbor who is a professor at Mizzou focused on the nutrition and fitness field, I began to understand the benefits of a diet rich in lean protein and unprocessed carbohydrates.   Yet I needed something clear-cut.  Counting calories, guessing about caloric counts, fretting about how many calories I have left in my day, etc., wasn’t efficient.

I adopted a simple, “one ingredient rule”.  In a matter of weeks, with no significant adjustment to the physical fitness regimen I can squeeze in with my wife deployed, my weight began to drop to its normal level.  As I write this today, I am at 182 pounds.  I’m usually around 180 +/- a pound or two, which is a very healthy weight for me.  I’m still in the rebuilding phase of my fitness regimen, held back primarily because of an extraordinarily heavy travel schedule beginning about mid-January.  Still, knowing and proving 80% of body composition is determined by diet, I have successfully, maintained my weight where I want it.  By the way, I have eaten at dozens of restaurants on a near daily basis over the last four and half months (and restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, are typically a common foe of anyone trying to maintain a healthy weight and fitness routine).   At the end of that long travel period – I weigh the same.

Additionally, my motivation shifted.  Originally, I did things – whether the techniques were right or wrong – to comply with Army standards, period (emphasis added).  Now, I focus on living as healthy as I can because I want to live long enough to enjoy my children and grandchildren.  Living longer includes an emphasis on stress management.  Good health and fitness goes a long way toward reducing the stress that our high operational tempo environment places on our leaders.

So… Here’s what you’ve been waiting for…  Here’s what works for me.  Here’s “How the colonel does it.”  Again, study first and then consult your physician and fitness experts before you do anything drastic.

“How The Colonel Does It”

1. I do my very best to eat foods comprised of just a single ingredient.  Generally, this means I rarely buy anything with an FDA nutrition label on it.  As a result, I’m always guessing about how many calories, fat, sugar, etc., is in the product, but there are guides available to get me close enough.  I don’t buy low-fat products – yogurt for instance…  I get the full-fat kind.  The low-fat kind has to be processed and other ingredients are added to compensate for lost flavor.  Dairy comes naturally with fat in it – so be it.  I buy lean cuts of meat, such as steak, fish, turkey and chicken (although, I’m going to research and refine my diet somewhat based upon additional analysis regarding red meat and my blood type – you can and will refine your intake based upon increased knowledge and confidence in the data presented as you learn who can be trusted, who’s being funded by whom, etc.).  When I shop, I buy organic – whenever possible – raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, meats, yogurt, cheese, olives, olive oil, etc.  I focus a lot on unprocessed foods.  That leaves out multi-ingredient foods like: cereal, bread, desserts, crackers and other snack foods – even popcorn.  Pretty much, based on research I believe in, I’ve given up all grains, including beans, peanuts, oats, etc.  I missed these foods initially, but find I easily do without them.
2. I limit calorie intake to solid foods.  I don’t drink soft drinks, juices or other high-sugar, processed drinks.  It’s easier to list what I do drink: primarily water, coffee, wine and light beer (very light – 3.2% alcohol– 55 calories).   If the alcohol in my diet surprises you, don’t let it.  I’m German by heritage and I’m the Chief of Staff of this place – there will be beer.  Plus… wine tastes good.  I plan to actually live and enjoy some of the finer things in life.  Dry red wine is a single ingredient item and the drier the wine the lower the residual sugar.  Some studies tout health benefits.  I’d drink wine anyway.
3. My daily diet is very consistent from day to day.    Whether I’m forced to eat out a lot or not, here’s what I eat.  I view food more as fuel with therapeutic values, but I still love to eat.  Therefore, I have built a consistent menu of things I love to eat.  No matter the meal, I strive to balance higher glycemic foods (foods which will raise my blood sugar quickly), with protein.  There’s a reason for this, but I’m already way long on this blog entry.
a. Breakfast.  I typically eat three eggs fried in olive oil – over medium, a strip or two of bacon for flavor only (there’s no nutritional value in bacon), regular plain yogurt flavored with fruit that I wash and peel or chop myself such as an orange, blueberries, strawberries (sometimes all of these together and usually a half to full cup of fruit).   On the weekends, or if I can get it while traveling, I add steamed asparagus (I love the stuff).  I drink one large cup of a bold-flavored coffee with real half and half.  Fried eggs?  Yes.  Over-medium.  A good deal of the yolk stays on the plate, but flavors the meal.  About 50 to 75% of the time (100% when at home), I remove the yolks from two of the three eggs and just cook the egg whites.  One yolk is flavor enough (the dog loves the extra yolks).  My neighbor published a study last fall showing protein intake in the morning staves off morning hunger until lunch.  That’s my experience exactly.  My children eat a similar breakfast when I’m home to prepare it for them, except the eggs are scrambled and one loves strawberries, while the other loves apples.
b. Morning Snack.  None.  I’m busy and not hungry.  Maybe a small amount of nuts if I do get hungry, but that’s not too common.
c. Water.  A decent amount, but not what I’d describe as “a lot” throughout the day.
d. Lunch.  Salad.  Lots of single-ingredient items like lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, olives, turkey, chicken or tuna, (yes… sometimes, but not always, a little bacon for flavor only), some cheese for flavor and, depending upon mood, salsa and jalapeño peppers or another kind of dressing ranging from balsamic vinaigrette (my favorite) to even a ranch or bleu cheese (but again, never the “lowfat” varieties of either).  I stay away from high-sugar-content dressings s like Thousand Island and French.  I drink water for lunch.  My children are likely eating a horrible concoction of processed foods while at school.  I’ve eaten with them a few times.  The meals there are high sugar, high starch, processed foods of their choosing.  Given a choice of healthy foods or peanut butter and jelly, chips, Rice Crispy Treats and milk, it’s pretty easy to figure out what an eight-year-old is going to choose.
e. Afternoon Snack.  Rare, but sometimes done…  Olives and high quality cheddar cheese is my favorite.  Nuts are most common and easiest to store.  Again, I drink water as I feel like it.
f. Dinner.  Dinner basically boils down to very simple meals.  Four to six ounces of chicken, primarily, lean fish or beef (red meat as a rare treat.).  I grill or bake the meats, grill or steam vegetables with my primary emphasis on asparagus, broccoli (generally raw), or my meal might be a salad with grilled chicken (except that I like to put it in buffalo sauce).  Sometimes I just eat lean tuna with some dill pickles and a little cheese and tomatoes.  It just depends.  One of my favorite meals is zucchini sautéed in olive oil with mushrooms, kalamata olives and parmesan cheese with spaghetti sauce (another thing I can’t get enough of… I just have to be selective about the sauce I buy – can you believe many sauces are loaded with sugar?).   I drink water (Perrier is a favorite for dinner) and either wine or beer.    My kids generally eat the meat I prepare, but prefer raw fruits, carrots, raw broccoli and milk or orange juice to drink.
g. After Dinner Snack.  None.  With a 0400 wake up, I’m too tired to stay up past 2100 and I eat enough at dinner to leave me very satisfied for the night.
h. I tossed out most processed and multi-ingredient foods that used to fill my kitchen cupboards and refrigerator.   The place looks pretty bare a lot of times, because fresh food spoils quickly, so I don’t buy in bulk anymore.
4. I exercise.  I love to run and am currently rebuilding my routine and distances as geo-bachelor parenthood allows.  During the week, I have a high school student come over at 0500 every school day to wake the boys, feed them and get them ready for school.  This gives me the time I need to run and costs me $8 an hour for about ten to twelve hours a week.  I also lift light weights, do plenty of push-ups and pull-ups and several different kinds of abdominal exercises.  The abdominal exercises were prescribed by a physical therapist years ago to strengthen my core muscles to keep my lower back in line and eliminating chronic, sometimes-debilitating back pain.  Because of previous injuries and my injury-prone nature, my wife has issued a lifetime ban on organized sports such as softball and rugby.  I have never had a cavity, but thanks to rugby, I’ve had thousands of dollars worth of dental work and thanks to baseball and softball, I have broken a collarbone twice, fractured the ball joint to the same shoulder and broken fingers, sustained a concussion and have had plenty of stiches in my chin and above my eye.  You should see the other guys!
5. I sleep.  I sleep as a priority.  I sleep between six and eight hours a night with a high majority of sleep periods nearing eight hours.  This is an absolute must.  I have carefully arranged my schedule and routine to make sure I get the sleep I need.  I’m a dad.  Kids wake up in the middle of the night.  That happens.  I just try to recover and go to sleep on time the next night.   I go to bed on days off, when I get them, at the same time as I do on days I work.
6. I self-monitor.  I weigh and record my weight every day.  Now that I have a predictable diet, as long as I stick to it, I don’t track calories much anymore.  I do from time to time, but if I generally eat exactly the same things every day, I don’t.  I know my net daily caloric intake (total calories minus those burned through exercise )is around 1200.  That’s far less than the standard American diet recommendation of 2000 calories (I try to never intake 2000 calories in any given day – exercise or not).  In fact, when calculating my resting metabolic rate and deducting calories burned from physical activity, the standard American diet recommendation and the wrong kind of calories via multi-ingredient foods, demonstrably caused me to gain 3.2 pounds a month from May 2011 to November 2011.  The math matters.  Calories matter.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
7. What I am not; what I don’t do. 
a. I am not hungry.
b. I am not a vegetarian.
c. I do not abstain from alcohol.
d. I don’t avoid fat for the sake of avoiding fat.  Lean does not mean fat free.  “Fat free” things are processed and have multiple ingredients.
e. I do not have nor have I ever had cancer or any other chronic disease – except for back pain caused by a degenerative disk disease.
f. I do not lift heavy weights.
g. I am not training for a marathon or another single event.  I’m training for long life.
h. I am not a rabid health nut.  I don’t condemn others for their choices.  I just try to lead by example – take it or leave it.
i. I cannot eat whatever I want and run it off later.  That works for young people, gives them a misleading sense of overconfidence and allows them to build the kind of habits I suffered from for 20 years.
j. I am not on a kick.  After nearly four years, I think my initial weight loss is going to stick – not rebound upwards.
k. I am not perfect.  I do not have the perfect diet and I work in a place where there’s cake or candy available on a near-daily basis.  I do my best not to become the “accidental fat guy” by avoiding these temptations as much as I can – but I do succumb to them sometimes.
l. I am not an expert.  I am continuously researching and evaluating.  Therefore, I am evolving.  If I can’t find an empirical connection I can demonstrate by my own experiences, I continue to research in an effort to refine and sustain progress.
m. I am not terribly disciplined.  That’s the reason I have to have simple rules to follow.
Ok.  That’s how I do it.  Find out what works for you.  Be ready.  Live for life.  I’m interested to know if you have any tips or if this is helpful for you.  If you don’t do anything else, take a small amount of time and do some research.  If the lawyers let me, I’ll return to this blog with a list of references I have consulted.  Keep in mind though, I have blended and tailored a plan to fit my personal needs and lifestyle.

Thanks for what you do.

My Regards,

COL Hagler

Leadership on the Objective: Installing the Element of Doubt

HONDURAS and GUATEMALA — Boots are dirty again.  National Guard, Navy and Air Force reservists along with a handful of active Army support Troops are on the ground in Honduras and Guatemala this spring and summer.  About 250 are deployed in each country at any given day.  They are engaged in an exercise known as “Beyond the Horizons”.

These engineer-heavy task forces are oriented on construction tasks, building new or renovating existing schools and clinics in small villages throughout the countryside.  Some new construction is targeted to replace infrastructure lost to Hurricane Mitch – more than 13 years ago, and leaving villages without local services ever since.

The tasks are clear.  The plans are drawn.  The Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors are getting the job done.

For many younger Troops, this is a first trip out of the United States.  Veterans find themselves in different circumstances than offered by previous deployments.  A few have done both and reminisce about humanitarian and civic assistance missions they’ve been a part of over the years.

At a town hall meeting with Soldiers, the usual topics don’t present themselves.  Usually, people want to know about promotion processes, changes in the kinds of units and the ability of the state to pay for certain kinds of schools.  This town hall is different.  The focus here is laser-like and oriented on what more can be done to help the local people.

On the work sites, the spirit of cooperation between US and local citizens is alive and easy to see.  The transformation of young US Soldiers and young host-nation Soldiers, local children and adults alike is ongoing right before our eyes.  It is a magnificent sight to see.

It’s at this point where an otherwise casual observer, who, if he takes a little effort to look just a bit closer, can begin to see an intangible, but important element beginning to appear.

It won’t be immediately known, nor, hopefully, may it ever need re-emerge in a life-time, but it is there – forever.

It is the element of doubt.

The element of doubt is a crucial by-product of the goings on during these engineering exercises in our neighboring countries.  The element of doubt all parties come away with from this place may far save more blood and treasure than is ever invested in a small village school or clinic.

When the day comes – and it likely will, the element of doubt installed here will be used to formulate the questions and to create the tone of tolerance or acceptance of similar, but diverse cultures.  “Are you sure?” the now 12-year-old, then thirty, may ask, “I don’t remember the Americans being that way.”

“I doubt that’s true,” they may say.  They can say it because they’re armed with the personal experience necessary to say it.  Similarly, the Soldier who sits in the coffee shop and reads the headlines years from now thinks the same… “I doubt that’s the case.”

The first-hand experience is far more credible and powerful than the second or third-hand “information” conveyed by mass media outlets who formulate the daily news or simply relay the messages of populist, power-hungry, self-centered leaders.

Then, the rest of the questions will come.  Others, who find “those in doubt” more credible than the television news, can then join the dialog with their own doubts and questions.  Incomplete or misinformation becomes more questionable and harder to comprehend.

Engagement in such a meaningful measure as we see now and in decades past in Honduras, Guatemala and other places around the world can be, in fact, far more powerful than the meager investment of taxpayer dollars here may seem to suggest.

If power were measured solely in dollars or mere tangible evidence left behind such as a small village school, the Beyond The Horizons exercise series could not statistically match the tangible loss of life and trillion dollars of national treasure expended in open, hot conflict.  Engagement in the form of Beyond The Horizons, and activities like it, would seem powerless to do anything meaningful at all.  The opposite is true.

At the end of the day, the Soldier’s spirit is renewed.  The same is true for those who now have come to know us.

To be certain, not all can be resolved or prevented with dirty boots, dirty fingernails, sweat, a shovel and a smile between new friends.  However, the opportunity to sweat together in cooperation can be far more positive, meaningful and powerful than our fully demonstrated ability to bleed in opposition to one another.

I have no doubt.

This element of doubt may be a key to peace.

This summer, it has been effectively installed here in these critical places – the minds of all touched: US, Guatemalan and Honduran alike.

Leadership on the Objective: Delegate, Empower, Expect, Inspect

Commanders, Officers, Sergeant Majors and First Sergeants, NCOs,

As the state leadership continues to emphasize individual Soldier and Airman readiness (ISAR), unit-level leaders begin to feel the pressure to implement programs, operate within TAG intent, and to improve their unit’s readiness level.  There’s a lot to do.

I believe the state headquarters is ready to fully assist by arming unit-level commanders with the tools necessary to achieve success and to improve readiness across the board.  Commanders and first sergeants, who had a lot on their plates already, need to immediately accept the state’s assistance to facilitate their unit’s success.

Here’s what needs to be done.  Lift your attention from each individual Soldier to the unit level.  Make sure you’ve attained and arrayed the right resources against the task and then return your attention to the Soldier-level.  There are a number of additional duty assignments in the unit simply needing to become “primary” assignments when it comes to ISAR.  Commanders should appoint NCOs from throughout the organization to accomplish a whole host of responsibilities within the unit.

– Unit Marksmanship Coordinators

– Master Resiliency Trainers

– Unit Fitness Coordinators

– Unit Retention Counselors

– Combatives Instructors

– Observer Controllers

– and many others as directed or supported by the Joint Forces Headquarters and regulation

Prioritize these key tasks and then delegate them to the NCOs with these duties and responsibilities.

Empower “coordinators/counselors/trainers” by making sure they are “what right looks like.”

Empower them by seeing they attend JFHQ, RTI or National Guard Bureau Professional Education Center-sponsored training courses, conferences and events.

Empower the unit chain of command to identify Soldiers who need benefit of additional attention, training or routine updates in certain areas and then employ the NCO charged with the specific responsibility to the task as a priority on drill weekends.  Orient these subject matter experts on executing training across the unit as necessary.  The unit fitness coordinator for example, should develop and lead instructional physical training for everyone in the unit as well as tailoring specific programs to Soldiers with varying needs.

Empower the “coordinators/counselors/trainers” by including them in training meetings (regardless of rank).

Empower them by handing them the task and giving them the resources to get the job done (in most cases this merely means “time” and not always “money”).

Expect these NCOs, the unit chain of command and individual Soldiers to achieve the standard.  Ensure there are consequences for failing to meet the standard.  Ensure there is incentive to achieve the standard and to achieve above and beyond the standard.

Expect the “coordinators/counselors/trainers” to be the subject matter experts who facilitate Soldier success.  Expect Soldiers to react positively to the emphasis and to achieve the standards.

Inspect – routinely inspect – the process and the product.  Look for progress or lack of progress and then adjust resources as necessary.

Inspect by requiring routine reporting from each additional duty area assigned.  What is the standard?  What is the goal?  Where were we?  Where are we?  Where are we going?  How are we going to get there?  What resources are needed to get there?

Inspect by taking a critical look at the information these reports communicate.  Is the test or measure accurate?

Delegate.  Empower.  Expect.  Inspect.

Resource the priority.  Get the result.  Sustain the result.

My Regards,

COL Hagler

Leadership on the Objective: The Mean Season

Teammates,

In Florida, they call the hurricane season the “mean season” for obvious reasons.  This year in Missouri, we’ve had a mean season of our own.  The Missouri National Guard has operated under an almost-continuous, Governor-declared state of emergency since December 31, 2010.  Our current emergency order for flood and tornado response and relief operations has been extended again through December 15.

I appreciate the service of the thousands of Soldiers and Airmen who have given their all to protect Missouri’s citizens and to mitigate damages throughout these tough times.  Two members lost their lives and others sustained serious injuries in either the events themselves or the response effort.  Many have sacrificed weekends, holidays, Family time and time away from their employers to respond, often on short notice, and for lengthy periods. Many of the members performing emergency duty this year are now deployed to the Middle East.  Dedicated, selfless service is not in short supply.

Looking back to December 31 when this all started, the weather across the state was unseasonably warm.  That day, I ran outdoors in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.  About mid-way through my run, my phone rang with the news tornadoes struck Fort Leonard Wood, Rolla and the suburbs of St. Louis.

Weeks later, with the heat a distant memory, that disaster was followed by the most significant state-wide snow storm in memory. Two months after that, another tornado hit our own Lambert Air National Guard Base and the St. Louis airport.  Following that, the Missouri National Guard ramped up to fight unprecedented flooding along the Mississippi River and its inland tributaries in southeast Missouri.

Just as the southeast flood-fight was drawing to a close, the most horrific and devastating tornado in recorded US history struck Joplin, killing 162 citizens and destroying everything it touched within a more than one-mile by seven mile area in the heart of the city.

Even as our relief efforts continued in Joplin, we mobilized more forces along the Missouri River in the northwest.  While on the decline, the Missouri River is expected to remain above flood stage well into the fall.

Immediate response by the National Guard expanded the capabilities of local officials to deal with these disasters.  Applying organized, disciplined, trained and equipped military manpower to the efforts of civil authorities proved to be a winning combination. Staying on mission, the Missouri Guard established a task force to oversee debris removal in Joplin and to provide critical supervision to facilitate success for a disaster relief jobs program – many of those jobs aimed at cleanup and debris removal in Joplin, but also in other disaster impacted regions of the state.

This “mean” season highlighted the great capability of our National Guard.  It proved the worth of well-trained, well-seasoned leaders who can think critically through problems and apply the instruments of military power to the task at hand.  We do the bidding of the people of Missouri and during this long effort, our troops handled themselves extraordinarily well.  I offer each of you my thanks for a job well done.

v/r

COL Hagler

State Emergency Duty Rollup. (Click to download)

Leadership on the Objective: Responsibility, Authority and Latitude

Leaders,

No matter our position of assignment, we operate with three intertwined elements – responsibility, authority and latitude.  To keep this short and sweet, I’m going to ask you to consider “latitude”.

We understand we have the responsibility to “do the right thing”.  We, as commanders, have the authority to “do the right thing.”. Or, as staff officers, we have the obligation to advise the commander about “the right thing.”. That said, we rarely discuss “latitude” and we really should.

Accomplished and seasoned leaders refuse to enter into a debate between the “right thing to do” and the “wrong thing to do”.  This kind of discussion serves no purpose other than to reveal weak leaders who remain incapable locking their integrity and selfless service value-based mind-set into the default setting of “do the right thing” and “do it the right way” as well as “do it to standard.”

Leaders don’t debate about “doing the right thing.”

If leaders levels below ours do their jobs well, leaders at our level should be faced with deciding between a “right” course of action and another distinctly different “right” course of action.

Here’s where the real leadership challenge resides – between “right” and “right”.

So how do you choose?  How do you decide?  How do you exercise your latitude?

Course of Action A (Good for one Soldier, but not the unit):  This COA is absolutely correct.  It does benefit the Soldier more than the unit, but legally, there’s nothing wrong with it.  If we take this decision, we will likely face this situation again six months or a year from now.  Then again, this decision may pan out to prove the benefited Soldier will once again be a productive member of the organization (but perhaps there is long track record of performance which doesn’t seem to support that outcome).  No matter.  Four Soldiers junior to the benefited Soldier will operate a pay-grade above their current level, but will not be promoted during this time.

Course of Action B (Good for the Soldier, good for the unit):  This COA is absolutely correct.  It does benefit both the Soldier and the unit.  Legally, there’s nothing wrong with it. Easy. Right?  However, often times this COA may not present itself for a number of reasons.  Also, some solid analysis needs to be done to accurately determine positive impact in the way we expect it.  We don’t want to falsely rationalize our way into a course of action.

Course of Action C (Good for the unit, seemingly not so good for one Soldier).  This COA is absolutely correct.  It does benefit the unit more than the Soldier, but legally, there’s nothing wrong with it.  This COA allows for increased unit readiness, fairly takes into account the impact to four Soldiers over just one and accounts for respectful treatment of the Soldier impacted.

Which COA should you choose?  Which one should you choose if COA B isn’t possible?  Why should you chose one COA over another COA.  Both or all three are “right”.

How will you choose to exercise latitude in this case?

Be careful.  Be deliberate…

Another trait of an accomplished leader is careful, considered consistency.  If you set down a path, you’ll only be able to depart from it a few, very justifiable, times before your subordinate and higher-level leaders lose confidence in you.  Accomplished leaders know confidence is the coin of the realm when it comes to effective leadership.

Let me know your thoughts.

V/r

COL Hagler

“Mission first.  Soldiers always.”

Missouri Communities of Excellence: “Leaning” Forward

Usually when you hear that an organization is leaning forward, the idea that comes to mind is that the future operational climate is being considered and the subsequent events and task associated with the pending change are being developed. When it comes to process improvement “leaning” forward takes on a dual meaning, it not only means to look forward to new operational climates it also means that the way to achieve the objectives of the new climate require current organizational processes to be reviewed for efficiency. Essentially these processes will be “leaned” out for better productivity and to eliminate wasteful activity that potentially accumulated over years.

What this means for MONG is we will be getting back to basics and reviewing our core processes for improvement potential, it started with the development of an updated strategic plan and then on to an organizational assessment and finally with a list of process improvement projects that are and will continue to find better ways to do what we do best, create a ready and relevant force. We owe it to our Soldiers, Airmen, Civilian Employees, and their Families to do all we can to create the most efficient force we can generate. Programs like the Missouri Communities of Excellence (MoCOE) are the way ahead for this effort. The strong pillars that establish the frame work for this program create an environment of continual process improvement and evaluation of the organization.

MoCOE has the additional benefit of empowering our future leaders to begin getting an enterprise perspective of the organization by making real change in the processes that affect them on a daily basis. Involvement in this program by junior leaders provides an opportunity to get involved in organizational issues and become part of the future of MONG in a way that was not available in the past. I urge all of you to learn as much as you can about this amazing new program and what you can do it assist in making MONG more relevant and ready each and every day.

Leadership on the Objective: Be Prepared to Own It

Teammates,

We protect good people from bad people and bad things.

We can’t escape this simple purpose for our being.

No matter the situation, especially if it’s a bad situation, the first uniformed person on the scene – owns the scene.

If you’re traveling home after a long day and you happen upon a car accident –  be prepared.  You own the scene.  What happens until law enforcement arrives is your call.  Every civilian will back away or take your instructions.  People are thirsty for leadership.  You’re going to provide it – guaranteed.  Are you ready?

The weight and the consequences of your leadership on the objective are significant and can mean the difference between life and death.

Understand this…  You are in the life or death business.  If the public doesn’t know anything else about you – they know this.  When they see the uniform, they have high expectations.

Over the course of the last month, Missouri National Guard Soldiers and Airmen stepped into the life or death business.  From a car accident in central Missouri to flood devastated regions in the Bootheel, to an active shooter on a college campus in Rolla, to Afghanistan, Missouri National Guard Soldiers were the “leadership on the objective” making the difference.

In Afghanistan, Soldiers advanced national security objectives and risked life and limb in the process.  Here in Missouri, Soldiers engaged in an unprecedented struggle with Mother Nature to protect good people and their livelihoods from her wrath.  In Rolla, Soldiers locked down the Armory located near the scene of an active shooter on the Missouri S&T campus, protecting civilian participants involved in an activity at the armory.  In central Missouri, a Soldier was the first on the scene of a car accident.

The formal count we can keep are two recommendations for the Soldier’s Medal and a Purple Heart among a handful of Army Commendation Medals recognizing quick actions on the objective to save lives.  The unknown countless?  Beyond measure…

Be prepared to own the scene.  Be prepared to make a difference.  You will.

Protect good people from bad people and bad things.  That is your mission.

V/r

COL Hagler

Leadership on the Objective: Power of Ceremony and Tradition

Teammates,

Some thoughts and then a challenge.  Stick with me.

Over the years, especially over the last several, I have attended dozens (perhaps a hundred or more) ceremonies to bestow promotions and awards, recognize excellence, transfer command, honor retirees or to pay final tribute to fallen comrades.

If you attend several of these events in rapid succession, which happens from time to time, you gain a sense of “the routine”.  At a recent promotion ceremony the honored officer paid tribute to those who had mentored and groomed him and he recognized the great sacrifices endured by his wife and children over the years.  After his very appropriate remarks, his colleagues filed by to congratulate him and to thank his family for their service.

I watched all this with a measure of pride and a realization the event I was privileged to witness was far from “routine”…  It was, in a word, powerful.

There was no sense of routine at all.  Instead, there was a full sense of tradition.

Our organizational history fills libraries.  Large buildings at each of the senior service colleges, the Army’s Command and General Staff College, and more, house volumes upon volumes of historical records.  Selected works of history find their way into the homes of professional officers and non-commissioned officers.  The internet is teaming with millions of articles and accounts of battles won and lost.  They are accompanied by the tales of great heroism and hard lessons learned.  We need that history.  History is a crucial aspect of who we are and the foundation of the traditions necessary to carry forth our craft in an effective, respectful and honorable way.

Here’s what’s not in the library…  Large swaths of essential organizational history pass before us without fanfare and certainly without proper documentation, cataloging and rigorous vetting necessary to give these events academic standing.  Yet, the history survives and lives on.  The reason?  Ceremony and tradition.

The next time you prepare for a ceremony – no matter its purpose, reflect on a few simple maxims.

Our organizational history will be fully present during the event.  The otherwise insurmountable bonds of gravity, time and space, even death, will momentarily yield to the power of ceremony and tradition and bend to pass through the place and point in time of the ceremony.

As the honored reflects upon those who impacted success, important elements of history are revived and re-lived.  Ultimately, we momentarily lose focus on the honored officer or NCO and become personally reconnected with those who impacted our own successes and our organization’s legacy.

Listen carefully and you will hear names of those you remember.  You will generate your own memories of people like them and the things they did to groom you and to push, pull or to motivate you along.  You will remember the times of your great personal pain or sacrifice and realize how connecting with others helped you and them to “Soldier up” so your team could persevere and succeed.  You will remember the great joys of Soldiering and the experiences no other uninitiated citizen could ever know.

Understand these feelings and these memories, facilitated by tradition and ceremony, come forward from the far reaches of your mind to form the most important aspect of our organizational history — the critical, personal, living connection.

Beyond ceremony and tradition, I charge you to be cognizant today as to how you approach daily tasks (simple or complex).  What you say and how you lead Troops to satisfy these tasks will have meaningful impact on those who will someday stand before an audience of Soldiers, friends and family and unknowingly recall your contribution to our living organizational history.

Those are my thoughts.  Here’s the challenge.

In a quick sentence or two, name someone who had a positive impact on you or someone you know and tell why.  You’ll be proud you did and, the impact of those you named will become documented history for others to see.  They deserve to be remembered.

My Regards,

COL Hagler

Leadership on the Objective: Choose Your Pain

“We will all experience one pain or the other – the pain of discipline or the pain of regret – but the difference is that the pain of discipline weighs only ounces while the pain of regret weighs tons.” — Jim Rohn

In other words, the pain of discipline is fleeting, but positive.  The pain of regret is negative and long lasting; perhaps forever.  What kind of pain are you willing to endure?

How do you live with “the pain of discipline” and avoid “the pain of regret”?  It’s more than just believing… It’s the doing…  I think to live with purpose you have to have live by a plan rooted in a personal and deeply held core value.

Our great National Guard and those you love and honor need selfless leaders now, more than ever.  I charge each of you to personally embrace the pain of discipline so we all need not live in the realm of the pain of regret.  The lure of instant gratification is strong, but the outcome is short-lived (and the long regret is terribly lasting…  More so based on how deeply you offended your own values system).

Senior NCOs who formulate questions for appearance boards seem consistently fond of this question: “Of the seven Army Values, which one is the most important to you?” My answer?  Selfless Service.

Selfless Service is more than a value – it is a plan.  It is a lifelong guide path.  It requires discipline to stay on the path and while there is most certainly pain associated with that path, it is the pain of discipline.  It is worth it.  In the end, it is not pain at all.  It is growth and investment in growth disguised as pain… When you “sacrifice” and set aside 10 percent of your paycheck today to secure your family’s retirement or education later, it’s not really viewed as a sacrifice in the long run (is it?).

I believe the ills and evils of the world depend fully upon selfishness (not selflessness) to flourish.  I cannot think of any sin – not even the often debated concept of original sin, that isn’t ultimately rooted in selfishness.  There are consequences to selfishness leading to sin.  In our organization, this selfishness manifests itself in acts such as: drug abuse, drinking and driving, inappropriate relationships, suicide, travel fraud, theft, abuse of authority for personal gain and other acts associated purely with self gratification and anything (and everything) but selflessness.

When we act selfishly (and we all do to some degree), our other values are degraded as part of the price.  First to suffer damage is the value of Personal Courage, then Loyalty and Respect.  The many fortunate among us are able to recover from selfishness and quickly right the wrong because we have woven a strong safety net out of the Values of Duty, Honor and, more importantly, Integrity.  The more frequently we compromise and rationalize away our values to justify our acts of selfishness, the less likely our safety-net Values will be strong enough to catch us and to give us the second chance we need to recover from our mistakes.  Certainly the leading consequence to us because of our own selfishness is the pain of regret.  The leading consequence of our selfishness on others can be mental anguish or physical pain, even death.

Blogs, especially the Leadership on the Objective series, are established to send a message and to gain feedback.  I value that feedback immensely, but more important today, I want to send a message at the risk of receiving little feedback in the hope I will achieve some reflection.

“A selfless person is one who is more concerned about the happiness and well-being of another than about his or her own convenience or comfort, one who is willing to serve another when it is neither sought for nor appreciated, or one who is willing to serve even those whom he or she dislikes. A selfless person displays a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to [put aside] personal wants, and needs, and feelings.” – Elder H. Burke Peterson, from “Selflessness”

Find your purpose in life.  Live with a purpose.  Be a positive influence encouraging others to live selflessly and with great purpose.  Ultimately… Live without regret because you have earned the right to do so.

COL Hagler

Leadership on the Objective: The Black-belt Soldier

What is a black-belt Soldier?  What does that descriptive term mean to you?  As a leader, how do we facilitate the mindset necessary to transform those among us who view themselves simply as employees into the holistic concept and objective state – Soldiers (not employees, but Soldiers).  How, then, do we train, groom and mentor Soldiers into “black-belt” Soldiers by the time they are Staff Sergeants?  What assets do we, as leaders, have at our disposal?  What do we need to re-prioritize within our own resources to achieve our objective end-state (in terms of time, facilities, training priorities, additional duties, etc.)?

A few years of operational experience has taught me the solutions to many high-risk, complex problems are built from this fundamental combination: organized, trained, equipped, disciplined military manpower.  The key ingredient: discipline.

Discipline is more than doing the right thing when no one is looking.  It is a fabric from which all things “military” are cut.  It is the underpinning of every successful military effort.  It is the defining characteristic separating a Soldier from everyone else.  Everything must be built upon and hinge upon individual and collective discipline.  We cause rational people to do irrational things for rational reasons.  We employ the disciplined application of violence to achieve peace.

The Adjutant General has set us on a course to allow empowered and like-minded leaders to build – not just Soldiers, but black-belt Soldiers.  These are men and women who stepped up.  They moved away from their high school peers and shouldered a responsibility others would not or could not shoulder.  They want to be Soldiers.  They are novice Soldiers when they graduate basic training and AIT.  They are motivated and ready to take on the craft.  They want to be full practitioners of the craft.  And we reward them with….  PowerPoint briefings!!!

It doesn’t have to be this way…  Under the guidance given by the Adjutant General, Troop Command leaders are empowered to reduce the amount of ‘mandatory training’ delaying much of this requirement to post-mobilization.  The boss has accepted some institutional risk.  What are we, as leaders, going to do with the time he has given us?

Individual Soldier Readiness is non-negotiable.  We will focus on making our Soldiers ready:  DMOSQ, NCOES to grade level, security clearances for those requiring them, family care plans as required, medical and dental readiness, physical fitness, mental/spiritual fitness…  All positives and, frankly, benefits of membership.

How do we achieve physical fitness along with the transformation from employee to Soldier?  We put Troops on the path to black-belt, master of our craft status by the time they reach the rank of Staff Sergeant.  We provide physically demanding, mentally challenging, skill producing training…  Instructional PT (every drill).  Marksmanship training building to gun-fighting skills.  Combatives training.  Individual MOS sustainment training.  Small team and crew collective training.

We resource excellence.

We expect excellence.

We get excellence…

What are your thoughts?

COL Hagler