Life is a balancing act

By Capt. Ryan Jennings.  Capt. Jennings is the Commander of Battery B, 1/129th Field Artillery and Administrative Officer for the 1/129th.  He has served 12 years with the Artillery Battalion including three state emergency duty missions and one deployment to Afghanistan.

As Guardsmen, we have to find balance in our lives to accomplish the mission.  How we allocate our time between family, community, work, the Guard and the numerous other demands in our lives contributes to our effectiveness as Soldiers.  There is never enough time, and finding balance is a very difficult challenge in this day and age.

I would like to focus this post on the importance of taking time for balanced approach to personal development.  By taking time to develop ourselves, it allows us to be better contributors and maintain the other aspects in our lives, which makes us more efficient and stronger Soldiers.   The bottom line is that in order to lead, leaders must first take care of themselves.  If a leader neglects personal needs then he or she becomes an ineffectual leader.

There are three personal aspects I believe contribute to a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle.  Strong leaders must allocate personal time for physical, mental and spiritual development.  The amount of time and effort is METT-TC (mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, civil considerations) dependent, based on the demands in one’s life.  The developments of personal attributes within physical, mental and spiritual health are the cornerstones to overcoming life’s challenges.  Many individuals will tell you they do not have time for this, but the average American watches 2.8 hours of TV a day according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I propose that by reducing TV watching to 30 minutes a day and allocating time to personal development, individuals will achieve greater balance in life’s activities.  The investment in personal development ensures the individual is better postured to overcome adversity.

The first aspect of physical development is ever present as a Soldier.  We must maintain our health to complete the mission.  This includes making healthy lifestyle choices to support physical wellbeing.  As covered in many other posts, eating healthy and getting enough sleep are vital in maintaining physical health and must be a priority.  Also, devoting an hour a day to work out is essential and very doable.  As for the development aspect, try new things to keep it interesting.  By signing up for competitive races or trying new sports, it gives you something to train for outside the annual physical fitness test.  Pick a workout style that you enjoy because you will be more likely to maintain the routine.  I personally like to change workout routines seasonally or about every three months.   In the summer, I focus on running and training for 10K road races, then in the fall I switch to cross training.  Regardless of your method, find a way to stay motivated because no one has ever said, “I hate being physically fit.”

As for mental development, the Army offers many resources.  In the AKO portal, under self-service, you will find the “My Training” and “My Education” pages that offer endless opportunities to feed your educational development needs.  From taking military correspondence courses to continuing civilian education, instructive activities enhance the brain’s ability to learn.  I believe we must challenge our minds and remain hungry for information.  Treat your brain like a muscle and exercise it regularly.   Take time to learn something new every day and at least set aside time to read.  Again, since the average American watches 2.8 hours of TV daily, then they must have time to read at least one hour a day.  Set goals to learn topics outside your comfort zone.  This may include taking a class at a local community college or to learning a foreign language with Rosetta Stone.  Expanding your knowledge base helps you analyze life’s issues from different viewpoints.   As Gandhi stated, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow and learn as if you were to live forever.”

The last aspect, spiritual development, is the most challenging and diverse for all.  Due to upbringing, culture, experiences and many other factors, spiritual health varies widely from person to person.  I believe the spiritual portion of personal development is the most important, but also the least utilized until things turn bad.  Spiritual skills must be developed before they are needed, or they are likely inadequate to cope with the issue.  When spirituality is strong in an individual, often priorities shift to align with personal development and growth.  Time should be set aside to develop spiritual health just like physical training and education.  Devoting time in this personal area helps the individual develop resiliency.  I recommend devoting at least 15 minutes a day to reflect on spirituality and consider taking an hour a week for church services.  A unit chaplain has many resources if you need a place to start your spiritual development.

By developing these three aspects of overall health, a person becomes more well-rounded and adaptable to meet life’s challenges.  If the average individual devotes one hour a day to fitness, one hour a day to education and 15 minutes a day on spiritual reflection, I believe they will find greater joy in life’s trials.  Implementation of each of the three areas promotes stress reduction and enhances personal performance.  Physical health helps provide the ability for the individual to physically accomplish life’s challenges.  Mental development expands awareness and adaptability for astuteness in dealing with life’s challenges.  Spiritual strength allows for great perspective and moral guidance while confronting perceived issues.  In my experience, people that devote time for personal development have more confidence in their ability to accomplish whatever mission life presents.

Artillery Preparing for their “Available” Year

Our guest blog is by 1st Lt. Thomas A. White, with the 1st Battalion 129th Field Artillery

In 2014, the 129th Field Artillery will reach a phase in the current ARFORGEN cycle known as the “available” year. The available year is nothing more than what it sounds like—available to deploy. Since the integration of the ARFORGEN cycle in 2006, the field artillery has deployed units to Kosovo, as a part of Kosovo Forces 10, and Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion was reset in 2009 and quickly began training for a knowingly 2014 available year.

I came to the 129th Field Artillery as an M-DAY Signal Officer in 2009 with little understanding of big picture events that took place across the battalion. I vigorously executed the duties of my job and took care of the communications issues throughout the month and called it a day. Eventually, additional training came with additional duties and a bigger picture began to develop as to how demanding the National Guard is.

In 2011, I was hired into the Army Guard and Reserve, a fulltime employment program, as the battalion training officer and became field artillery qualified. In 2012, I was moved to the battalion administrative officer and am in the process of becoming AG qualified. Since becoming AGR, the complexity of training for dual missions, for literally two days a month and a 15 day annual training, has become a rather large eye-opener as to how important and demanding the National Guard really is.

Having experience in the S6, S3 and S1 staff positions has increasingly broadened perspectives on readiness as a field artillery unit. Readiness is a very broad term, but simply means “the state of preparedness of a unit…to perform the missions for which it is organized or designed.”  Readiness can be drilled down into a multitude of complex subjects that require competent leaders and their direct responsibility to meet those standards of readiness.  Readiness is a part of every staff function down to the battery and company level and ultimately down to the individual Soldier. Individual Soldier Readiness is an effort that focuses on just that, the readiness of the individual Soldier that includes training, medical, physical and mental competencies in order to carry out a mission.

In the bigger picture, the 129th Field Artillery continually prioritizes efforts of readiness so when a mission comes down, we will be able to fully support, knowing that we are “ready” in every aspect of the fight.  At the battalion staff level, the S1 focuses on providing available Soldiers to the fight; the S3 focuses on ensuring the unit and Soldier is fully trained on the mission, the S4 focuses on providing fully capable equipment to the fight; and the S6 focuses on supporting the increasingly demanding communications needs.

For the remaining of training year 2012 and training year 2013, the artillery is striving to meet the goals of the Adjutant General and the Commander in Chief for possible missions in the future.  We, in the artillery, are focused on the success of the dual missions as we continually adapt to the ever-demanding needs of the National Guard.  For the time remaining, leading into 2014, here are a few events that we will conduct in order to ensure readiness.

•    Vigilant Guard 2013 in preparation for Defense Support to Civil Authorities missions.
•    Digital exercises every four months in preparation for DSCA and artillery missions.
•    Annual Training 2013 in preparation for our artillery mission.
•    Warfighter Exercise with Alignment for Training Brigade in preparation for artillery missions.
•    Live fire exercises in preparation for artillery missions.
•    Annual medical readiness event to ensure the medical readiness of the battalion in preparation for DSCA and artillery missions.
•    Warrior tasks and battle drills each month in preparation for DSCA and artillery missions.
•    Non-lethal training in preparation for DSCA and other contingency missions.
•    Individual and crew-serve weapons qualification and training in preparation for artillery and other contingency missions.

Remaining flexible, adaptable and competent in areas of responsibility for each Soldier assigned to the 129th Field Artillery will not only ensure mission success, but provide increased capacities in all the other tangible and intangible areas within the unit. TRADOC Pam 525-3-4, The United States Army Functional Concept for Fires, states that “success in a wide range of contingencies is dependent upon operationally adaptable Fires Soldiers, leaders and organizations that are capable of Full Spectrum Operations.”  Given the truism of the facts, remaining flexible, adaptable and competent is three, of many, core values that must be met in order to meet the operational expectations of our current missions ensuring readiness is achieved when the call is given.

Please provide any questions, comments, or concerns.

A Focus on Training?

By Capt. Ryan Jennings.  He is the Commander of Battery B, 1/129th Field Artillery and Administrative Officer for the 1/129th.  He has served 12 years with the Artillery Battalion including three state emergency duty missions and one deployment to Afghanistan.

The National Guard has continued to evolve since its inception.  The mission has remained the same as the organization evolves to ensure completion of the mission.  Currently the Missouri National Guard is an operational force that is well trained, well equipped, and well manned.  The biggest change I have noticed during my short career is how the Guard trains.  Below I listed a few training methods of the Guard with positives and negatives.  Good, bad, or indifferent; let me know how you feel about the different forms of training.

Online training—Over the past 10 years, the amount of online training has increased exponentially.  The benefits of online training include that it is readily available to everyone and cheap to conduct.  It’s available in many forms to meet the training requirement.  It is also easy to track since it provides certificates.  With the benefits comes equally as many negatives.  I believe that Soldiers fail to retain information due to the learning format.  Many Soldiers view it as check-the-block training and rush through presentations to complete and retain relatively little knowledge.  Online training does not conform to individual Soldiers’ learning techniques.  Despite the many drawbacks, I don’t foresee it going away.

Competitive Events—Competitive events work great at honing the skills of a unit’s top performer.  The techniques Soldiers learn while competing are great at enhancing combat skills.  Competitive events work well as a retention tool since Soldiers feel pride in what they achieve.  The training also teaches the Soldiers to perform under presser, which is difficult to replicate in other forms.  The challenges with competitive events include ensuring units utilize Soldiers from the events as subject matter experts.   The Soldier’s ability to train his new skills is critical in compounding the benefits of the events.  Other challenges include that only a select few Soldiers compete and receive the full benefit.  My hope is that funding shortfalls will not limit these great training opportunities.

Army Schools—Army schools provide a baseline of information that ensures standardizations across the organization.   The schools establish the cornerstone of knowledge each Soldier requires to perform his job whether it is MOSQ, NCOES or functional training.  This training enhances the force by ensuring each Soldier has at least the basic concept required to complete his tasks.

Collective Training—Collective training provides challenging training to all levels of a unit.  It is driven by the unit’s mission and focuses on standardized Army tasks.  The benefit is that unit leadership can focus on weaknesses.  Since the Soldier’s leader conducts the training, it is personalized to best meet the Soldier’s needs.   Leaders experience is applied to the training to better prepare Soldiers to complete the mission.  A unit’s ability to effectively conduct collective training ensures unit readiness.  Soldiers learn far more from collective training because they can make mistakes.  Everyone learns more from making a mistake and then working to fix it.  Individual Soldiers learn more effective ways to accomplish the mission because they are working together.   An additional benefit of collective training is that Soldiers apply training from the other training methods in hands-on scenarios.  The Soldier uses his section’s equipment to perform actual missions.  The stress and realism a Soldier receives in the training is very difficult to replicate in the other methods which contributes to a greater learning factor.  A challenge with collective training is the number of Soldiers and funding required conducting it.  It also requires more training time for the unit to plan.  While these factors are significant challenges, the benefits are immeasurable in a Soldier’s development.

I’m sure that I have left out many valid points so please share your ideas and thoughts.

How Everyone Can Use Artillery

 By Capt. Ryan Jennings.  He is the Commander of Battery B, 1/129th Field Artillery and Administrative Officer for the 1/129th.  He has served 12 years with the Artillery Battalion including three state emergency duty missions and one deployment to Afghanistan.

If you are not an Artilleryman you may not be aware of the five requirements for accurate predicted fire.  There are five requirements that are ingrained in an artillery officer at field artillery school from day one.  Without accounting for all five elements, the artillery fire is not predictable and for some reason everyone wants to know where that 95 pounds of steel and TNT, traveling at over 550 meters a second is going to land.  You may be asking why I would care about this.  I believe that everyone can apply these elements to achieve their goals.  So now what are those requirements of accurate predicted fire and how can I use them?

The first requirement is accurate target location and size.  As an artilleryman it is imperative to know what you are shooting at.  This starts the mission planning by verifying exactly what you are preparing to engage.  If you use these requirements to achieve a goal then this step is to identify your goal.  As stated it must be accurate so specify exactly what you want to achieve.  This includes a time to achieve it by.  If you don’t set a time it’s like shooting at a moving target, which is far more difficult.

The second requirement is accurate firing unit location.  In artillery, you have to know where you are to determine your range to the target.  This is required to determine if you can range the target from your current location with your weapon and ammunition.   As with setting goals, you have to know where you are in relation to your goal.  Some goals may be a ways off and require more powder or a different engagement technique to hit your desired target.  If you don’t accurately assess where you are then hitting a goal or target proves dubious.  
The third requirement is accurate weapon and ammunition information.   As with any weapon in the military you have to know your equipment.  The understanding of what you are shooting and its status is essential in mission accomplishment.  The same holds true to accomplishing goals.  What tools are you going to use to get you to your target?  The Army has a multitude of resources to help Soldiers achieve their goals; but understanding limitations and capabilities of each resource ensures success.  Most achievements require more than sheer determination.  I would imagine an infantryman would much rather have artillery neutralize a tank over engaging it with a bayonet.  In such a way we should achieve our goals using our best resource for the task at hand. 
The forth requirement is accurate meteorological information.  The weather can greatly influence a projectile’s trajectory.  The same is true with working to accomplish a goal.  If operating uninterrupted from an outside force you may meet your goal, but wind and rain could cause you to fall short. Understanding your operating environment is critical for success.  Examine what external factors affect your trajectory to your goal and compensate your course accordingly.  
The fifth and final requirement is accurate computational procedures.  In artillery, one must ensure the correct procedures and computation are performed in order for the other requirements to work.  As with all projects, a missed step or error will alter the results.  When you are working toward a goal ensure you complete every step.  For example, if you have a fitness goal then don’t miss workouts or if it’s an educational goal then you must complete all the assignments.  The procedures you take to achieve the goal must be accurate and timely in order to succeed. 

Let me know if these help you achieve your goals or if you use another technique such as using the Troop Leading Procedures.