On Dec. 4, I formally changed the U.S. Army Forces Command’s priorities to mirror the Army’s priorities: people first, then readiness and modernization.
This change was necessary to fuel the culture change that will occur across Forces Command (FORSCOM), and the Army as whole, to put and truly keep people first. The Army’s People First Task Force will give us our explicit to-do list. Our culture change will drive the application of lessons learned to increase FORSCOM’s units’ readiness: “People First” is readiness.
Make Ourselves Better
In his initial message to the Army team, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville clearly defined people, readiness and modernization for the service. For FORSCOM, there is no change to those definitions:
- People: The Army’s people are our greatest strength and our most important weapon system. We must take care of our people and treat each other with dignity and respect.
- Readiness: Army leaders have a sacred obligation to build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined and fit and can win on any battlefield. We must be ready to defeat any adversary, anywhere, whenever called upon, under any conditions.
- Modernization: The 2018 National Defense Strategy directs the Army to shift focus from irregular warfare to great-power competition. We are at a critical inflection point, and we must aggressively pursue the Army’s modernization efforts in order to maintain our competitive edge.
It seems so simple: take care of each other, train hard to win and aggressively seek to make ourselves better. However, the complexity of the Army, human nature and consistent resource constraints, specifically, time as a resource in high demand, often places those three priorities in competition with each other. Therefore, I think it is important to add depth to the definitions of our priorities. These priorities must be more than just words; they must reflect the Army’s, and FORSCOM’s, culture.
FORSCOM provides staffed, equipped and trained forces to the geographic combatant commanders. People are the foundation of what FORSCOM does. In order for FORSCOM to achieve its mandate, it needs people to train and be trained, people to equip and sustain that equipment, and leaders of character who earn trust with disciplined and fit soldiers, civilians and their families.
Again, this seems so simple to say, yet we need proactive and creative action to combat the three corrosives: Sexual assault and harassment, the growing suicide rate and the presence of racism/extremism within our ranks necessitate actions to change culture.
FORSCOM has instituted organizationwide changes to operationalize people as the No. 1 priority. Two specific changes provide time for leaders and commanders to better know and train soldiers and civilians.
FORSCOM’s Foundational Training Day is dedicated time, once a month, for leaders and led to expend deliberate energy to achieve mutual trust. Every day, FORSCOM’s leaders and those they lead are focused on the mission. On Foundational Training Day, the mission is to build trust … no distractions.
In addition, FORSCOM has eliminated some collective training events required prior to deployment to the National Training Center or Joint Readiness Training Center. This reduction enables units to reduce operational tempo and focus training on the fundamentals. Combat training center rotations are training events, more like progress reviews than a final exam.
In other words, making people No. 1 is not about lessening expectations of soldiers, does not eliminate working late or over the weekend to accomplish the mission, and will not result in an undisciplined Army. People First is mutual trust between leader, led, families and the greater American public.
Placing people first results in highly trained and cohesive teams of teams, is the discreet compact woven into the fabric of our profession, and provides soldiers, civilians and their families unalterable expectations during their service. Defining what People First is and what it is not will not achieve the culture change the Army needs; rather, I see critical conditions FORSCOM units, leaders, soldiers and civilians must achieve to drive culture change.
First and foremost, our junior leader (team, squad and platoon leadership) development programs cannot stop upon assignment to the operational force. It is the team, squad and platoon leadership that either engender mutual trust or provide fodder for social media virility. Each FORSCOM unit will develop a deliberate, iterative and measured junior leader development program specific to its type of unit and location.
Our next critical condition is a baseline, transparent expectation for leaders to know those they lead. At this point, I presume first-line leaders believe they know their soldiers better than they actually do. As is the case many times in the Army, checklists equal mission accomplishment … the completed pages in the green book that list boot size and next-of-kin phone numbers are the façade for leaders knowing those they lead.
For me, truly knowing those you lead means being able to jump in the car and drive to their house in a time of emergency (no strip map required); understanding the dynamic that led to the soldier joining the Army and their motivation to continue to serve; empathizing with what the soldier and spouse struggle with at home daily; and anticipating the hard decisions the soldier’s family may require of them in the next six months or a year. Leaders who understand these things concerning those they lead can operationalize people first.
Know Who You Lead
A shared understanding of the intent of Foundational Training Day among platoon leadership teams through brigade command teams is another critical condition. The intent is to provide time to focus on leaders knowing those they lead. It is the time for mentoring, counseling, team-building and listening. It is not the time to catch up on AR 350-1 requirements or the latest online cybersecurity or other training.
It will look different from place to place, but the purpose is the same. Foundational Training Day provides the resource of time to the teams of teams to achieve mutual trust between leaders and led.
Finally, FORSCOM must achieve the critical condition of defined measures of performance and effectiveness for initiatives to put people first. This should not be hard. For example, if a program to prevent or reduce suicide does not result in fewer suicides, the program must be altered or canceled.
I acknowledge that our struggles with the three corrosives are campaigns, not battles. Therefore, our metrics to assess progress should reflect change to the operational environment, not more PowerPoint charts or bar graphs. Our metrics will be reduction in suicides, reduction in sexual assault/harassment incidents and increased inclusion to eliminate institutional racism within FORSCOM. It will be just that simple. If our initiatives to put people first are not meeting these performance measures, they will be changed or eliminated as programs.
Fit and Disciplined
In FORSCOM’s mission statement, the Army tells us that the purpose of training and preparing the force is to build and sustain readiness. How then can I say that readiness is FORSCOM’s No. 2 priority? It is because putting people first is readiness. FORSCOM’s foundational training approach requires disciplined and fit soldiers as the foundation for small-unit mastery of the fundamentals to win at the point of contact.
Assigning readiness as the No. 2 priority means the tie goes to the soldier, civilian or family member. All things being equal, providing that soldier the time to be with their family for their child’s ballgame rather than staying late at work, when the work can wait, is putting people first and building long-term readiness. There will be times when the Friday release formation is late to ensure Monday’s mission can be accomplished, but placing people first means those times will be abnormal.
The Next Fight
You have all heard the saying, “The enemy has a vote.” Normally, it follows the hard lesson learned by identifying a gap in the plan or underestimating capability, ours or the enemy’s. The 2018 National Defense Strategy tells us to mitigate gaps and properly estimate the capabilities of our enemies by shifting our readiness efforts from irregular warfare to great-power competition.
We cannot expect to be ready for the next fight relying on equipment, training, tactics and operations geared toward the last fight. The Army has the processes and pathways to maintain readiness today (Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model) while progressing toward proper force development for the future fight (Waypoint 2028) to be ready for multidomain operations (AimPoint 2035).
Assigning modernization as the No. 3 priority means that, although our focus and resources are weighted toward achieving our readiness mission, we must keep an eye toward updating our operational approach, revising tactics, assessing new equipment and incentivizing creative thought to transition from the industrial age to the information age. In other words, maintaining readiness means making room for modernization across all our metrics … people, training, equipment on hand and equipment serviceability.
Call to Action
The Army and FORSCOM’s culture must evolve to truly place people first. We prioritize to manage limited resources. People will always be first when it comes to decision-making for resources because people are the foundation of readiness and will enable modernization.
Culture change is hard and requires ownership. Junior leaders must own putting people first and be held accountable for success. Our commanders must develop junior leaders to place people first and be accountable for the success of our junior leaders.
FORSCOM’s mandate is to produce highly trained, disciplined and fit teams of teams that are staffed and equipped to fight and win our nation’s wars. FORSCOM’s mandate requires mutual trust between leaders and led.
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Gen. Michael Garrett is commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He has commanded at every level from company through component command, and led units in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before assuming command of FORSCOM on March 21, 2019, he served as commanding general of U.S. Army Central and Coalition Forces Land Component Command.