Leadership On the Objective: Soldier Transition Points

Let’s start this string with something we might not always think about at the beginning of something — the end.

Key transition points in one’s life, career, education, begin with “the end” of something else.

The end punctuates the experience to a certain defined point and marks the beginning of the next phase. Transitions are sometimes subtle and at other times abruptly noted (positively or, unfortunately, negatively) by graduations, ceremonies, or processes directed by law or regulation.

It’s not lost on me that the first impression is lasting. No doubt. The end, however, is meaningfully final and, in our business — it can be a crucial moment.

As leaders, in our own time, of a sophisticated force so steeped in tradition and deeply rooted in long history, we should pause a moment to understand how critically sustaining our impact on “the end” can be…

THE TASK: Leaders. Take a few moments to assess how we set the tone for punctuating the end of a Soldier’s time in uniform. We are wrapped up in the daily effort of tasks aimed at mission accomplishment. With the distractions of the daily effort, how well are we doing at accomplishing this critical part of our mission?

Think a few minutes about the following leader challenges. How will you tackle each of these scenarios? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Critical thinking is the goal. Show your work. No points are awarded for “the answer”, but the thinking leading to your answer is where the lesson will be found. For brevity, pitifully little information is provided – so goes life. This is what you have to work with, but it’s enough to facilitate the discussion…

Scenario 1: MSG Smith is retiring after 24 years of service. She has deployed twice. She served four years on active duty as a Marine before joining the Guard. Once a “lock” for first sergeant, she was injured in a car crash last year and is now non-deployable. She recently decided to retire “to keep from blocking someone from a promotion.” Her last drill is in three months.

Scenario 2: SPC Jones served six years and is reaching his ETS. He joined for a $20,000 bonus and the GI bill. He earned his college degree and has decided he has gotten all he wants out of the Guard. His unit was called forward for a deployment to Iraq, but he was in AIT then. His MOS required a long AIT and a long ASI producing course. No known deployments are on the horizon. Leaders have tried unsuccessfully to retain him and he’s decided to leave. This is his last drill weekend.

Scenario 3: 1LT James has been passed over for promotion. He did not complete his bachelor degree and by regulation must be discharged. Leaders have exhausted all efforts to seek waivers to no avail. Soldiers respected him and many say they will miss him. “Who writes these rules?” they grumble. “With his job and the deployment, when was he supposed to go to college?”. His last drill is next month.

What do you think?

My Regards,

COL Hagler

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15 thoughts on “Leadership On the Objective: Soldier Transition Points

  1. Scenario 2:
    You’ve got a Soldier with his first term behind him, bonus paid, MOS training complete, and civilian educaiton attained. What else could the National Guard offer them?

    The Soldier here is a SPC after 6 years of service, you would think by now a Soldier dedicated enough to remain in good standing within the National Guard for 6 years would be a SGT. Offer a position of leadership within the unit if available.Next, the Soldier has a degree, explain the benefits of becoming an Officer or Warrant Officer within the National Guard. Going from Enlisted to Officer is quite the jump and I would think that it would be something that would be appealing for someone willing to give it a shot. Then, the Soldier’s unit was deployed and depending if the Soldier was feeling “left out” or not might open another avenue of approach by informing them of the ability to volunteer for deployments.
    I feel that today’s National Guard leans heavily towards the new enlistments by basically giving them anything and everything the National Guard has to offer while leaving the seasoned, highly trained, and capable Soldiers that have dedicated more time even after the initial bells and whistles offered upon enlistment basically whats left over. If the National Guard were to focus slightly more attention to the Soldiers they have, they might be able to retain them.

  2. FIRSTIES!!!! (Blog term used by the first poster in a thread to celebrate the achievement)

    The situations are very thought provoking. Scenario 1 tells the story of a great American who is the epitome of Selfless Service. Hopefully the company leadership has used their time wisely with MSG Smith. There is a perception that these types of Soldiers often go unnoticed, largely due to their strong desire to help others than help themselves. Retirement awards are great but I often think they don

  3. This is a great point to make: a good first half is commendable, but the end game determines the real winners.
    MSG Smith’s actions are admirable. It’s good she recognized her need to step down and allow someone fully capable of accomplishing the mission take her place. Her situation is really not all that different from 1LT James’. She doesn’t fit the bill for the job any more and needs to be let go. It’s infinitely more graceful to step down before someone asks you to.
    SPC Jones may have decided to stick around were he able to make SGT. After all, a bachelor’s degree should count for some extra promotion points and he’s shown the initiative to work hard and accomplish real goals.
    1LT James has had enough time to earn his degree and has failed himself and the Guard. By not making his education a priority he has forgotten the first line of the Warrior Ethos, “I will always place the mission first.” That Bachelor’s degree was his mission and both he and the Guard are worse off for him having neglected it.

  4. Teammates,

    Insightful comments thus far. I’m encouraged by the dialog and look forward to engaging the team in this forum. As the author, I can tell you these scenarios are compilations of numerous actual events. I toss them out there for Soldiers to generate dialog and to consider actions/philosophies in advance of being faced with an actual set of circumstances. Anything worth doing right is worth practicing and thinking through in advance. If this were a battle drill, there would be a prescribed standard and we’d be graded a solid “go” or “no go”. Problem is, this isn’t a battle drill, but we’ll still be faced with actual circumstances such as these and will very definitely be graded “go” or “no go” (or some shade thereof.). I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Leaders at all levels are responsible for retention, Guard presence and positive public perception of the organization. Ultimately, the strength of the organization is impacted – by you.

    My Regards,

    COL Hagler

  5. Interesting situations that are actually all quite common.

    The first scenario is a picture of a fine leader. She has made a tough decision and a selfless one. Retirment ceremonies, parties, certificates and awards are basically a testament to what she has done in the past 24 years. These are important and serve a valuable purpose in recognizing past accomplishments. The key to this, however, is recognizing the fact that she is leaving because it is time (due to medical hardships)…not necessarily because she is done. Senior Leaders such as this are still an asset after they are out of uniform. They are typically the best resource for groups such as FRG’s and can provide valuable introspect to current unit members long after they are retired. It is important that the unit embraces them as family and include them in future events long after they take off the the rockers and chevrons. What better way to honor their service then by asking them to continue it?

    Scenario 2: Seriously, what more can we ask of a Soldier? Not all Soldiers are career Soldiers. The Army offers them a job, training and education…they, in return, sign on the dotted line and commit six years to the Army. That is honorable and commendable. Counsel the Soldier, sell them the benefits of their continued membership and if they don’t bite, well, then thank them for the sacrifices they have made, publically recognize their honorable service and let them know that they are welcome in our ranks if they realize they would like to return.

    My approach to the third scenario would depend on a number of things. If the LT has reached maximum time in grade and has not met the minimum requirements of the next rank, then the laws of the land says it is time to go. Similar to situation 2, this Soldier has honorably served for 6 years…that is an accomplishment in and of itself. If he is done, then counsel him and thank him for his service. If the Soldier is a good leader, then why not attempt to retain him? Why couldn’t a good officer become a great NCO or a great WO? Bottom line is that Guard service is tough…it is hard for a traditional Soldier to deal with the stressors of civilian life while fufilling professional requirements. In active duty, they would send this Soldier to school and pay him while he attends. This issue would never come up. Why not adopt a similar program in the Guard?

  6. All three of these scenarios are common scenarios which we, as leaders, are presented with throughout the performance of our duties. Some Service Members who wear the uniform will proudly wear the uniform until s/he is required to retire due to maximum time in service, time in grade, age, or until medically unable to continue. Other SM decide to take off their uniform at the successful completion of their contractual requirements.
    Scenario 1 is an example of the ideal leader, someone who displays impeccable selfless service, and truly is a great credit to the NCO Corps. I feel this NCO

  7. (Scenario 1) I can respect what MSG Smith is doing by retiring, and opening up a slot for someone else to be promoted.
    (Scenario 2) This is so real, I agree the soldier has been in for 6 years and still an E4 with a degree he should be a SGT. I have a question, did the soldier have a mentor? If so, the mentor would have known what the soldier’s intentions was for his/her career. As leaders, every soldier should have a mentor. A mentor should not be an additional duty.
    (Scenario 3) With this 1Lt James is respected by his soldiers, well the command should look into the warrant officer program maybe he can stay a becaome a warrant until he finishs his education. Never give up when you have leaders that soldiers respect. Remember, we have to respect the rank, but when a soldier respect the person that’s a soldier you want to keep!

  8. Why would the guy in Scenario 3 deserve your efforts after eight years of demonstrated non compliance culminating with an award? What expectation for success do you have as a leader that this Soldier would go through with the required military education for warrant or enlisted service after demonstrating nearly a decade of a complete lack of initiative to get a bachelors degree? Is there a return on investment anywhere here or at least an expectation of a return on the investment? As a follow up, wouldn

  9. The first is a simple one to answer but complicated to accomplish. First, there should be an award for service if it is appropriate (be sure to put this in plenty in advance as it takes months to approve some). Second, which I have not seen done in the Guard when it should, is a retirement ceremony as prescribed in the FM 3-21.5 paragraph 10-4. If you read that section and make it happen, you will leave that soldier with one of the greatest honors ever.

    The second is still fairly simple. Be certain to recognize them and thank them for their service. Submit the most fitting award recommendation and present them with something from the unit that has a piece of each soldier on it. Sometimes a nice plaque or pictures of the unit with the names of the soldiers on it as some of these soldiers have been brothers, sisters, and mentors. Such an item must be curtailed to meet the personality of the soldier. The soldier fulfilled their duty honorably and must be recognized for it in front of their peers.

    The third situation is a tough challenge. First the leaders must do a proper assessment of the leadership potential of the soldier. Just because soldiers like him does not mean he is a good leader (obviously he failed to meet his mission). If the soldier is a true asset to the unit, then he could be retained as an NCO. The challenge is to present to the soldiers of the unit that this soldier did not meet the requirements and must be held accountable. If a commander fails to hold soldiers accountable for their actions, it sets precedence for their entire command. But showing the soldiers how to bounce back from adversity by keeping the soldier as a leader in the NCO corps will set an example for soldiers to follow (so long as the soldier performs well).

  10. I would never have pictured myself as a blogger, yet here I am.

    In the first scenario, we are looking at a Soldier who has, in my opinion, given all that she has for the Guard. She has served four years past what she needed for retirement, she has deployed more than once, and the it appears that her injury is really the only thing keeping her from serving even longer. She certainly deserves a service award and a quality retirement ceremony in front of the entire unit, as mentioned elsewhere. The act of acknowledging her sacrifice and service not only gives her the recognition she truly deserves, but it also gives the opportunity to set this NCO up as an example for all others to follow. Junior NCOs and enlisted in the audience can see that service of this type is appreciated and rewarded, giving them an additional incentive to continue serving and giving them a model for service.

    Scenario two offers an entirely different challenge. There may be no way to convince this Soldier to continue serving at this time, but there are a few opportunities. First, as with the MSG in the first scenario, they need to be thanked for their service. While not twenty years and retirement, six years of honorable service is quite an achievement, something that the vast majority of his peers are not capable or are not willing to undergo. This needs to be expressed to the Soldier. Others have spoken well to mentioning the benefits of service as an officer, should the Soldier be open to the idea. And, as others have written, this Soldier needs to know that his service is honored, that the skills he learned are valuable, and that he is more than welcome should he decide in a few years that he wants to return to the Guard. I have met more than a few rock solid Soldiers who returned to the Guard after a break in service, and leaving this Soldier with the right final experience might plant the seed for later return.

    The third scenario may be the toughest of all. There was a definite breakdown somewhere along the line with communication to ensure that this Soldier received constant reminders and mentorship to complete their education. The Soldiers in the ranks need to know why standards for finishing education are important as well, so that they are not left believing that the Guard “let the Soldier down.” Finally, others have noted that service can continue as an NCO or possibly a Warrant Officer. These need to be expressed to the Soldier as opportunities to continue serving.


    CPT Frank

  11. Sir,

    Concerning your third point:
    I dont know about a communication breakdown or constant reminders. If that is truly necessary, then the individual shouldn’t be an officer. Now, checking in with the soldier to view progress is absolutely a leader role. But we cannot see a soldier fail and assume that leadership could have fixed it. Sometimes it just falls on the soldier. The best will always come out on top, and they wont have to be dragged there.

  12. SFC Walling,

    I agree with you, the only thing I would add is that I believe that there is a fine balance to be achieved between assisting Soldiers to do their best and reach their potential and coddling them. As leaders we are called upon to mentor subordinates, and in my mind this includes career counseling. Of course, to an extreme we can not take their classes for them, so in between is a proper balance to be struck.


    CPT Frank

  13. In my opinion, the proper balance is laying a road map for them, give them some ideas on time management, and other such guidance. To me, it stops there. If there is alot of contact needed, then I believe that this soldier should not succeed. My idea is not to build leaders, but to build self sufficient soldiers that can do alot with almost no direction. Fortunately, that turns them into great leaders. The best leaders I have, are ones that I have instructed to act on their own decisions and correct as necessary. We need self correcting and self motivating soldiers. It makes mission accomplishment so much easier. I agree with you to the extent that you check on their progress, and give them the tools to succeed. But for those in a leadership position, you should be able to lay out the tools and that be enough. I guess my happt medium is a little farther to one side than yours.

  14. In the first two scenarios both soldiers got out of the guard what they wanted and decided to move on to other challenges in life for different.
    The Lt. needs help to identify a course of action so he can get a degree so a good leader can be retained and the experience gained in doing so can be passed on to subordinates in helping them reach their goals while being a citizen-soldier.

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