Editor’s Note: A version of this article by Duane Clark originally appeared on The Military Leader, a blog by Drew Steadman that provides leader development resources and insight for leaders of all professions.
In an open letter to cadets, Drew Steadman urges these future officers to use their college time wisely to develop into the kind of leaders we need in today’s Army. To develop those future leaders, we need good company commanders and first sergeants to serve as assistant professors of military science and senior military instructors at college campuses across the country.
Two points of the article jumped out as me. First was Major C.A Bach’s advice to student officers: “These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers” and the Steadman’s statement that “leadership is so much more than wearing gold bars and issuing orders. It develops over a long journey of rigorous study, reflection, and hard-fought experience.”
Good ROTC cadre will create leaders, not just officers and will instill in the soon-to-be officers the principles of lifelong learning. It’s time we recognize that assignment as an ROTC cadre is a personally worthwhile experience and an extremely important position in the development of our junior leaders.
While U.S. Military Academy does not seem to have a problem attracting quality instructors, there is a negative stigma attached to leaders who serve as ROTC cadre. As a junior captain, a battalion S3 told me, “Always avoid the three ‘Rs’… Recruiting, AC/RC, and ROTC.”
After 20 months of battery command, I decided to take an assistant professor of military science position and multiple leaders asked,“Oh, are you getting out?” No, I simply wanted to shape the cadets’ experience so they “will be prepared for the challenges that await tomorrow.” When more quality company commanders and first sergeants start taking assignments in ROTC, the stigma of this position will vanish.
Army ROTC has a total of 275 programs and over 30,000 cadets. It produces over 70% of the lieutenants in the Army. Shouldn’t we send some of our best and brightest to develop these future officers into leaders? As a first sergeant or company commander, consider how many times a young lieutenant’s lack of knowledge, professionalism, or competence frustrated you. You can directly influence these areas in ROTC.
ROTC cadets are thirsty to learn and deserve high-quality leaders with the experience and knowledge base to teach them. An overreliance on contractors and lack of selection criteria for professors and instructors can result in a substandard experience. We will never teach cadets to speak in the “language of leaders” if we are content sending second-rate leaders to teach them. A lack of doctrinal knowledge has created “cadet commandism” that requires professional, competent officers and noncommissioned officers to root out.
Serving as ROTC cadre is an extremely rewarding position. Twelve years after my first day in ROTC, I still remember Master Sgt. Timothy Ross and the leadership lessons he taught me. Only a handful of leaders in my career have had that kind of impact, and now I get to be that leader to a new generation. This semester I had the opportunity to teach seven juniors, and have gotten to know each one. It has been a phenomenal experience as I tried to make a positive impact and give these cadets tools to succeed as Officers.
What better way to build your leadership tree than from the ground level? While leader development in the operational domain will always trump institutional learning, there is a reason we recognize three domains of leader development. Seeking an assignment as ROTC cadre is an investment in the institutional domain.
It is also a great broadening opportunity. Having never served above the battalion echelon, this is also the first time I have worked with contractors and Department Army civilians on a daily basis. Coordinating their efforts requires influencing techniques that are different from leading soldiers.
It is also an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and earn an advanced degree. You work on a college campus and most schools offer financial incentives to help pay for a degree. U.S. Army Cadet Command has also collaborated with the University of Louisville to offer the cadre and faculty development course, which provides the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in higher education administration or a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and learning.
So, besides investing in cadet’s development, you also have an opportunity to invest in yourself, which will benefit your soldiers when you return to the force. Cadet Command is also a diverse and dispersed organization, which means professors of military science are granted latitude in developing their cadets. In my experience, this embrace of mission command has given me freedom in how I teach and guide the program. I am just as, if not more empowered to try new approaches in my current assignment than as a battery commander.
Assistant professor of military science will never carry the prestige of a combat training center observer/controller/trainer, but it shouldn’t be shunned. Good captains and first sergeants should seriously consider this unique opportunity to develop future leaders. Likewise, field grade officers need to stop steering people away from ROTC cadre opportunity. This is a challenging, but rewarding assignment that has already made me into a better leader. Most importantly, this assignment gives leaders a chance to have a real impact on future officers — something that will outlast our time in uniform.
This article, “An Open Letter to Company Command Teams,” originally appeared on The Military Leader.
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