As 12 years of fighting winds down, many Army ROTC Cadets who will be commissioned this year won’t experience war anytime soon. They will not wear a distinctive combat patch that unites soldiers in the profession of arms.
But the absence of a patch in no way diminishes the critical role soon-to-be lieutenants will play in positioning the force of the future, the Army’s chief trainer told senior ROTC cadets at the George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar.
As leaders of an Army that has operated at a feverish pace for more than a decade between Afghanistan and Iraq – with little downtime for retraining and resetting itself – lieutenants will become the architects of a strategy that gets soldiers back to the basics, Gen. Robert Cone, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said.
"You bring new skills to this fight," said Cone, the featured speaker at the closing ceremony of the annual Marshall awards and leadership seminar at Virginia Military Institute sponsored by the Marshall Foundation and the U.S. Army Cadet Command.
"How many think that after ten weeks of basic training and eight or nine weeks of AIT (Advanced Individual Training) we have produced a real soldier through and through? Of course, we haven’t. The fact of the matter is that the business of continued ‘soldierization’ is going to fall on you."
Outlining the makeup of the current force and the direction in which it needs to move, he said junior officers will be challenged to solidify the foundational skills of their subordinates and ensure they maintain high standards and combat readiness.
The Army has been so focused on war that essentials like retraining and schooling have been overlooked.
Within the enlisted ranks, for example, thousands of NCOs have been promoted to ranks for which they lack the requisite education, Cone said.
As shrinking budgets slow the military’s pace, junior leaders, capitalizing on lessons learned from those who have served in combat and new doctrine aimed at enhancing fundamentals, will find opportunities to shape the continued development of their troops after the fighting ends.
The Army of the future – the immediate future, at least – will be governed by more scrutinized spending and tighter budget constraints, Cone said.
That will require leaders, particularly those in non-deployable units, to find different and innovative ways of preparation, he added.
"We will hold you accountable to hold others accountable to meet standards," Cone said.
Cadets who attended the two-day event said they’re ready to face the inevitable challenges ahead.
They found the seminar advantageous, getting to learn more in-depth about the issues that will affect and shape the Army they are about to lead.
Cadet Ronnel Baris, University of Guam, said the opportunity to hear from senior leaders, both commissioned and enlisted at the seminar, laid a foundation for success. The lessons taught also helped give him development strategies about how to approach his mission and bring out the best in his soldiers.
"I got tools to help establish a standard," Baris said. "Now that we’re inspired, we can inspire our troops as well."
The seminar was integral in providing a broader scope of the global challenges facing new officers, Cadet Amanda Reich, Eastern Washington University, said. Discussions such as cyber warfare and simply interacting with fellow cadets with whom she’ll soon serve alongside will go a long way toward her maturation as a leader.
"I’m not nervous" about leading a platoon, she said. "It’ll be a learning experience and challenging. I’ll handle it."
Army and seminar leaders gave their votes of confidence to those who in just a few weeks from the conference will be pinning on gold bars.
The intent of the Marshall seminar is to inspire award recipients to expand their thinking to become better leaders of soldiers.
Gauging the interest and intricacy of questions by cadets, their "minds were at a different level and exactly where they need to be," Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, commanding general, U.S. Army Cadet Command, said.
In closing out the event, he reflected on his time as a cadet from 1980 to 1983 at Ohio State University.
He joined the ROTC program just a year after famed football coach Woody Hayes resigned after an on-field altercation with a Clemson University player.
But Hayes didn’t simply disappear. He asked for an office suite on the second floor of OSU’s ROTC building. It happened to be the same floor as the Army ROTC program.
Twice a year, until he died, Hayes held seminars with cadets, Smith being among them.
He said he’ll never forget the coach’s message on the importance of people: "You win with people."
"What you put into their development will make a difference in how well they do individually and how well the team does collectively," Smith said.
Adding, "As you look across this room tonight and the relationships you have established among yourselves as peers and the investment of seminar leaders and others who have come down to, in some small way, make you better in what you are doing, if you take those lessons … and value the fact that you win with people and not tactics, you’ll be fine."
(Editor’s note: This article is based on a story be Steve Arel, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Cadet Command.)