What does This is My Squad mean to you? Who’s in your squad?
In U.S. Army Pacific, Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Brzak is the senior enlisted leader of the largest area of responsibility of the combatant commands. U.S. Army Pacific occupies over 52% of the Earth’s surface and is home to over 106,000 soldiers, families and Army civilians. It covers over 9,000 miles and spans 16 time zones that stretch from the Pacific coast, west of the international date line, to the Taj Mahal in India.
How does Brzak stay engaged? Every 30 days, he hosts a virtual This is My Squad panel, during which he has candid discussions on the This is My Squad initiative with U.S. Army Pacific soldiers of various ranks from across the area of responsibility. The major subordinate commands are well represented and include soldiers from Japan, Korea, Alaska, Washington and Hawaii.
Recently, while I was the NCO in charge of flag honor, I was walking with a young soldier. After asking him about his hobbies and family, we discovered that not only did we share the same hometown, but that we also attended and graduated from the same high school. I’m glad that I took a moment to speak with him that day, because it reminded me of why I serve. I’d be proud to lay down my weapon next to this fellow soldier and point it downrange at the enemy in order to protect our freedoms and our way of life, for our Army family’s sake, for our children and for their children’s children. It’s amazing what you can learn about your teammates just by having a conversation with them.
This is My Squad is an initiative of Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston. Fundamentally, its core values call for empowerment of first-line leaders, ownership, accountability, morale and unit cohesion. It highlights the positive, while at the same time combating problematic areas within the ranks and throughout the Army.
During a discussion in January 2020 with soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Grinston said, “When you think of ‘my squad,’ you think of something positive you do every day to take care of each other. … Do you sit down with your squads?” he asked soldiers. “Do you spend time with them? … We want to build a committed organization that’s founded in a cohesive team built in trust.”
So, who’s in your squad? The standard nine-member infantry squad consists of a leader, two team leaders, two grenadiers, two automatic riflemen and two riflemen. However, when people think of This is My Squad, the initiative is not only talking about a doctrinal squad in a particular MOS but rather, the team you are part of and the individuals with whom you interact daily.
For example, as a human resources NCO in charge, your squad may consist of an officer in charge, floor NCOs, human resources specialists and a Department of the Army civilian. Ultimately, it is the people you are accountable for when shaping the culture within the squad, as well as being responsible for their individual training and development.
This is My Squad also speaks to the force as a whole. It is a leader’s duty to treat everyone in the Total Army family with dignity and respect. To help achieve this, This is My Squad flattens communication by using words everyone is familiar with and understands regardless of rank, words such as cohesiveness, empowerment, leadership, knowing your soldiers and so on. How many times has a soldier sat in on a brief or operations order or attended a meeting, only to find themselves lost and confused by some of the terminology or acronyms?
If the Army wants people to speak up, and encourages meaningful conversations, then the Army needs to communicate the intent of the initiative in a way that everyone can understand and comprehend. This way, the message is clear and consistent, such as the case with This is My Squad.
This is My Squad is applicable to any operating environment. In garrison, an example might include being proactive in handling a soldier’s pay issues, pulling families into the Soldier and Family Readiness Group to connect with and distribute the latest information while providing a safe venue for families to have candid discussions, or simply recognizing a soldier in front of the company for having the cleanest barracks room.
In a field environment, This is My Squad might look like a first-line supervisor conducting pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections on their soldiers’ equipment and ensuring weapons maintenance is being completed, then using downtime after the mission to have a discussion with their squad on the positive points of the training. During military operations in hostile conditions, taking ownership in a deployed environment means ensuring everyone is doing their job so the squad makes it home safely and in one piece.
With that, let’s not forget about our “squad” at home and those dependents under our care. Many people return home to a spouse and/or children at the end of the workday, or from a deployment after months of being away. An example of This is My Squad at home might be as simple as occasionally enjoying a meal together as a family. For those in the Army family serving outside the U.S. who do not have their family present, perhaps a meal over Zoom or Microsoft Teams is the answer.
In another example, a best practice and new trend across the Army is utilizing virtual platforms such as Microsoft Teams as a way to sponsor incoming soldiers and families. All that is required from the soldier is that they download the free app onto their cellphone. From there, they can video chat with a representative from the unit and have direct access to documents and other tools. This is My Squad in any and all of these situations simply means looking out for one another.
Ownership and accountability go together like peas and carrots. In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, Gump said, when referring to his best friend, “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” The same can be said of ownership and accountability, because they allow for engaged leadership at all echelons. When leaders understand the intent, know their roles and take ownership over something, it promotes creativity because they are willing to put forth the extra effort and are motivated to work around obstacles to see the plan succeed. Given the COVID-19 environment, leaders at every level have had to find ways to stay connected with their formations despite social distancing.
Building cohesive teams is a must if we want to win. Taking a moment to sit down with someone to learn their story is a key aspect to developing positive relationships and building teams. It lets them know that you care. Everyone has something unique about them and has something worthwhile to offer.
The Army’s mission is to deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt and sustained land dominance across the spectrum of conflict as part of a joint force. Accomplishing this requires a contribution from everyone, and teamwork is and always will be the preferred method to do so. This is how the Army is designed to operate. Whether it’s a signal support system specialist setting up an antenna for effective communication on the battlefield, the Stryker systems maintainer servicing an infantry carrier vehicle before an operation, or the infantryman closing with and destroying the enemy, soldiers operate as a team to finish the job.
The core values of This is My Squad give the Army an initiative everyone can get behind and appreciate, regardless of rank, position, where you’re from or your time in service. It empowers a squad leader to take ownership, understand their responsibilities and set a positive culture within their squad, which ultimately will build cohesive teams and allow the Army to prevail in any conflict.
My personal leadership philosophy has always been simple: 90% of the Army’s problems can either be prevented or solved by leaders who simply care. You care to take the time to do things right, you care to have discussions with your team, and you care to make a difference. With that said, how are you incorporating This is My Squad principles into your team?
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Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Signore is the operations NCO in charge for the U.S. Army Pacific command sergeant major, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Previously, he was a rifle company platoon sergeant in the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He served two combat deployments, one to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.