The return to the 56th Armored Brigade Combat Team (56th ABCT) as the Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO), has afforded me the opportunity to integrate back into my old unit and reacquaint with great soldiers and officers. The 56th ABCT recently returned from a challenging fifteen month deployment in Afghanistan and is now experiencing additional challenges in their RESET phase. These challenges have brought forth morale issues, potential ethical issues and a vacuum in leadership that has caused the Division Commander to lose confidence in his ability to effectively command the brigade and he informed me that I am immediately taking command of the brigade.
My assessment of the 56th ABCT Brigade’s Afghanistan mission, strengths and weaknesses of the officers and senior noncommissioned officers and the report provided by Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), I have determined that there are significant challenges and changes that are needed within the organization. To address the challenges of the unit and to rebuild a cohesive and successful unit, I will utilize the Kotter Model to examine the causality of the impending challenges and failures of the leadership and the unit.
As the new commander of the 56th ABCT, it is urgent and my responsibility to ensure that the unit is capable of competing, growing and improving, which can only be accomplished through necessary change.1 There are several organizational changes and issues that are addressed in the CALL report that will require the command’s leadership to address. After I conducted a review of the CALL report, I determined that the 56th ABCT performed well, but faced significant challenges to sustaining success and effectiveness.2 CALL reported that the brigade has significant issues of an implied weakened command structure, training challenges and manpower and a poor command climate with espirit de corps unit rituals that progressed to sanction hazing. The weakened command structure is attributed to the role of the Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO) not being clearly defined.
The DCO was tasked with multiple functions that included supervising the Military Transition Teams (MiTTs) within the battlespace of the brigade, operating in the capacity of the public affairs officer for the brigade and addressing the media, synchronization of the Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) that was located at different forward operating base, Liaison Officer (LNO) to the coalition forces and as the chief of staff for the Brigade Combat Teams (BCT). The multiple tasking and command responsibilities of the DCO, gave the impression of the 56th ABCT as having a weak command structure and permeated throughout the command.3 The structural changes of implementing the BCTs continued to be problematic and created training challenges to the Combined Arms Battalions.
During my tenure as a battalion commander within the 56th ABCT, the training was focused on basic infantry and armor skills, but this structural change now requires that the commanders become proficient and train on areas that are outside their expertise. The report identified that there were a significant lack of subject matter expertise to train on the new collective tasks for the commanders of the BCTs, which resonated down to the lowest levels.
Prior to deploying the brigade trained on their assigned combat platforms (M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley), but after arriving in theater they were assigned to operate on the Mine Resistant Armored Protected (MRAP) vehicles. This presented a training challenge, because the brigade did not have any soldiers licensed to operate the vehicles. Additionally, the lack of critical MTOE authorizations for the Special Troops Battalion (STB) and the Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) and the additional manpower demands that pulled soldiers from performing their specific core occupational specialties, presented additional stress and challenges throughout the brigade.
The internal culture of the command presented that there is trust and confidence within the subordinate units and the noncommissioned officers (NCO) were confident in being tactically and technically proficient. The soldiers also took pride in being a part of the 56th ABCT and developed rituals that appeared on the surface to be team building and good natured, but was mere sanctioned hazing by the NCOs and junior officers.4 Additionally, the brigade is in the reset phase of the deployment and the additional red cycle tasking’s are causing additional stress and frustration throughout the command. These additional tasking’s are causing the soldier to spend less time at home, which is attributing to an increase in driving under the influence (DUI) charges, domestic violence and higher than normal divorces. The Command Sergeants Major (CSM) has identified that the NCOs are beginning to have little faith in the officers of the command and believe that they are only out for themselves and not the overall good of the unit.
Discussions have taken place throughout the command of a sexual harassment incident by one of the officers that was assigned to the previous brigade commander’s security detail, which was being ignored by the command due to that officer being identified as a “superstar”. Finally, the brigade’s S3 shop has been identified as being dictatorial to the subordinate battalions in there training needs and was threatened by LTC Fogarty (BDE S3). The multitude of issues and concerns within the brigade, requires that I take a comprehensive approach to solving these problems and utilization of the Kotter model for leading a fundamental organizational change. This model will afford me the ability to conduct an organizational change, through a straightforward, logical and sequential approach of improving the operational effectiveness of the brigade.5 Kotter’s eight stage model will allow me to establish a sense of urgency, create a guiding coalition with the subordinate commanders and staff members, develop a clear vision and strategy that will broaden and sustain the brigade for the future and allow all subordinates to take decisive, empowering and broad-based action that will also allow them to achieve short term wins.6
The problems within the 56th ABCT and with an unsuitable culture and environment, it is imperative that I act with a sense of urgency, to address all problems that are impeding the growth and development of the brigade, as well as taking swift and decisive action to change the culture and environment. I will clearly define the role of the DCO and establish a constructive and progressive command structure. My vision and strategy will be developed on meeting the mission of the brigade and the developmental growth of all leaders and soldiers. To influence a positive change within the brigade, the vision will be discussed with all key leaders that clearly define the expectations of all members of the brigade.
It will be expected that the vision is communicated and explained down to the lowest levels, with everyone understanding their role within the vision and strategy. The soldiers and their families are the backbone and strength of the brigade and their sustainability and well-being will become a top priority of the command. I will immediately discuss with the Division Commander the concerns of increased activity of DUIs, family violence and divorce, which are all detrimental to the soldier and their family and request that the brigade be removed or delayed from red cycle. This removal or delay will also allow the staff to address the concerns of manpower, changes in leadership and the reestablishment of the equipment.
The improvement and building of a coalition will be based on a top-down relationship and will be parallel across the officer and NCO corps. The brigade staff members will establish a cogent working relationship with the battalions and support their training. The resentment developed between the brigade and battalion staff will not be tolerated and I will address all negativity that breeds antipathy across the command. Training will be discussed with officers and senior NCOs, with the officer developing the training based on the discussion with the NCO and developmental needs of the unit. The NCO will facilitate the training that is outlined by the officer.
The battalion command teams will be empowered to take broad based action, to facilitate the needs of their units. They will address the short term wins of all soldiers and provide rewards for outstanding performance and consequence for actions that are detrimental to the growth and development of the soldier, unit and brigade. The brigade will capitalize on the short-term wins, through the establishment of a good news communication guide that I will direct to be disseminated throughout the command. In conclusion, communication is vital and key to success and the growth of this brigade.
In order for the changes to be successful and a positive course change to take place within the brigade, I will direct that the changes be communicated up and down the ranks of the brigade. It is my final assessment of the 56th ABCT that the brigade has diverted its attention from becoming a learning organization and has allowed a negative culture to permeate throughout its ranks. The use of the Kotter model will ensure that I change the brigade into an organization that is capable of learning, sustaining growth and becoming a premier unit throughout the United States Army.
(CGSOC), Command and General Staff Officer Course. “L100 Exam Case Study AY 13-14 “The 56th Armored Brigade Combat Team”. US Army Command and General Staff School Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC), n.d.: 1-9. Turner, Billy Miller and Ken. “Leading Organizational Change: A Leader’s Role.” US Army Command and General Staff School Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC) (US Army Command and General Staff School Command and General Staff Officer Course (CGSOC)), n.d.: 1-9.