“Army Strong 101”
My journey in the Army has led me here to NMSU. As the Professor of Military Science, I teach the Senior Level Cadets Adaptive Leadership and Transition to Lieutenant. My program of instruction is mandated by my Army higher headquarters. I believe the best way that I can teach these cadets is to take the PowerPoint™ slides (theory) and use my experiences to translate them into techniques that they will understand (practical application). I view their final year with me as a “finishing school.” Students should be able to demonstrate Be, Know and Do. They learn tactics and small unit leadership their junior year while their last year it is more theory and conceptualization. I take all the skills they have learned thus far and help polish them into tactics, techniques and procedures that they will use for the rest of their military and/or civilian career. I am always looking for ways to make myself a better teacher because as I teach Adaptive Leadership, I also believe that I need to be an adaptive teacher.
Give them “A Way” to “How To…”
One of the things that my cadets find fascinating about this course is the “How To…” Unlike normal students, these students could be called upon to lead men and women into combat as little as nine months after they graduate from NMSU. They want to know what it is like to lead troops in combat. I am able to bring my 25 years of experience as a combat arms Cavalry officer with tours in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 to help educate them. These experiences are more than just “war stories.” They are historical events. I am able to tell them what is was like to lead a platoon of tanks maneuvering on the plains of Germany or how I felt to be in charge of an East-West German border observation post the night the Berlin Wall came down. I can share with them my thoughts as my unit led the US Army’s 3d Infantry Division across the Kuwait–Iraq border and all the way to Baghdad in 2003. I take very seriously my job of ensuring they have the basic skills needed to train and lead our young men and women in combat.
I believe that they encounter their greatest difficulties during this learning process because of their lack of experience. Many of the cadets have a limited amount of life experiences and fewer military experiences. It makes it interesting to try to find a way to put my Army experiences into terms a 21-year-old native New Mexican who rarely has ventured outside the Land of Enchantment can understand. I believe that in order to be truly effective, I need to be able to do this or I’m only in the theory realm. Not all cadets are cut from the same cloth. I have some with combat experience of their own. They bring a more developed level of understanding of what their future holds for them, and motivation from these young leaders is not a problem. They have made a commitment to defend our nation either on Army active duty or as a citizen soldier in the Army Reserve or Army National Guard. They are full-time students who are also actively engaged in leadership within the Corps of Cadets and our campus. During the exchange of ideas, I also try to ensure that the rank structure the Army prides itself on doesn’t stifle them from sharing their feelings because they will offend “The Colonel.” I want free speech, but filtered so it is non-offensive to all involved in keeping with Army values. Give them what they want, be flexible, but be effective and maintain standards.
I also understand that not all these young men and women learn the same way. Group work and Think–Pair–Share are great ways to get them engaged and spark thought. For example, I am learning very quickly that this cohort of students prefers to learn through hands-on and group work. My next class may not learn the same way so I have to be flexible and adaptive to their needs. It is hard to teach ethics “hands-on.” The best way to do this is through case studies and real world incidents that our Army deals with daily in Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States. There are plenty of opportunities for these young men and women to learn from real-world incidences that are taking place both in war and in peace. It is important that in my quest to be a better teacher, I don’t lower the standard as I try to give the cadets the “easy way” based on what they ask for.
We are in the People Business
The area that draws the most attention is their desire to understand how they will interact with their subordinate soldiers. My cadets constantly wrestle with the fact that they will be one of the youngest members of their platoon (between 16 and 50 soldiers) yet they are in charge. They will have sergeants in their platoon with more time in the Army than their lieutenant has been alive. They find it hard to justify telling someone with that much experience in the Army what to do on a daily basis. My job is to instill the confidence in them to overcome their doubts and stand up in front of their soldiers exuding confidence and command presence. I try to instill that if they spend most of their time looking down (taking care of their subordinates) and less time looking up (is my boss watching), their annual evaluation will be written by how well their soldiers perform and make their new lieutenant look good. It is truly all about taking care of your people.
To err is human… Assess and fix it
They are also very interested in what are the common pitfalls or mistakes the brand-new lieutenants make. Many of these “rookie mistakes” are discussed and I try to show them why they happen. I also emphasize that they will make mistakes and will be judged on how well they react to or fix those mistakes. This is all part of the Army learning process but the key to this is that these mistakes do not cause harm or loss of lives. They must learn flexibility and the ability to assess whether they are on the right track or not. At the end of the day, it is not enough to be just tactically and technically proficient. It is a must that they understand that you have to be engaged on the personal level with their subordinates and their lives both on and off duty. I take that to heart as a teacher and I like to believe that I am setting a good example on how the be engaged personally and professionally with them.
• Brad Gavle, Military Science