Platoon leaders: Taking charge 

11/1/2010 

Platoon leader 
2nd Lt. Payton Holtz, a leader of 1st Platoon, from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, flies in a Chinook helicopter during an air assault mission in June in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan.

Forrest Berkshire
U.S. Army Cadet Command

A platoon leader is a lot like a parent. He or she must set the example for the family to follow and take responsibility for the well-being of their charges.

This was one of many messages senior noncommissioned officers and officers relayed to cadets at a series of roundtable discussions held in conjunction with the U.S Army Cadet Command – George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va.

The job of a platoon second lieutenant is to be a leader, not a friend, to his soldiers, was a recurring theme

"Keep yourself separated," Sgt. 1st Class Nevin Gamble advised cadets at his session. "Privates are going to test you. They are going to try to be your friends. When they suck you into that hole, they will take advantage of you."

Sgt. Maj. James McGruder said one area where he has seen platoon leaders get in trouble is mixing alcohol with their platoon’s soldiers. He said soldiers are always watching their leader, whether it is in the field or in the club. And, if they see their platoon leader getting drunk in public, when they get into trouble involving alcohol – whether fighting or driving while intoxicated – it makes it harder for the platoon leader to take disciplinary action.

"Don’t go where Joe goes," Gamble said.

"They will throw it back in your face," McGruder said.

Leading by example was just one of many issues two NCOs and an officer talked to each group about during the Role of the Platoon Leader and NCO sessions that every Marshall cadet was required to attend. Most of the time during the informal setting was devoted to fielding cadet questions.

Cadets could choose from a variety of topics ranging from the escalating security challenges in Africa to an officer’s ethics.

Other topics included balancing an officer’s responsibilities with family life, ensuring enlisted solders’ families are a priority, knowing when to take the lead and when to delegate duties to the platoon sergeant and how to manage their own careers, as well as the careers of their soldiers.

"What really struck me was talking about how you’re basically the father to your platoon," Cadet Robert Gallimore, the George C. Marshall winner from University of Tennessee-Martin, said.

Gallimore said he appreciated the forthrightness of the roundtable leaders.

"They made it very clear what we need to know," he said.

Cadet Robin Hofer, from Oregon State University, said the informal environment set the right mood for cadets to ask the questions they might have been uncomfortable asking under more formal circumstances.

"It was always a very straightforward answer," she said. "And they made sure they answered the question."