Use previous complaints to anticipate future complaints
Among other jobs at Fort Polk, 2011-2014, I served as the executive officer for a company assigned to teach driver’s training. It was with the 162nd Infantry Brigade.
I became somewhat notorious for dumb shit; not harmful, but just dumb. Anyway, I had fun or tried to. Few people knew that I had almost ten years prior as a US Marine before commissioning as a US Army second lieutenant.
Because I looked much younger than I really was, I got away with it, mostly, as people just brushed me off as that lieutenant.
COPIERS, ARMED CITIZENRY, ROLE PLAYERS, SAFETY…
Some of my funnier moments there included stealing (I was following orders) a photocopier, continuing with my armed citizen story despite my battalion commander’s admonition against it (that led to one ass-chewing interrupted and re-scheduled for a follow-on ass-chewing the next week), and leading a series of increasingly hilarious injects (side stories) for my role players to act out.
There goes this saying in the military that if you don’t have time to do it right, you have time to do it again; meaning, don’t fuck up twice. That means one of two things: (1) I train to get it right the next time or (2) there’s no next time.
Because, it’s possible to fuck up so bad… no one wants you to do it again. That was me with the injects and role players. In fact, not only was I disallowed from doing it again… but my battalion decided that no other lieutenant would either!
I also led a safety stand-down once that my battalion commander thought would improve my public speaking skills or ostensibly for some developmental reason. These safety stand-downs have a typical format that she expected me to follow, which of course I didn’t. Rather than telling soldiers what not to do, I decided to share research on what to do.
Since safety talks typically go over automobiles, drugs, and sex… just know that I had fun with that while remaining within the bounds of military regulation but outside of the more conservative attitudes of the military.
I say “ostensibly” above because the military is full of leaders giving bullshit reasons. Are you about to get a particularly undesirable assignment? Consider it broadening… as in broadening your ass cheeks.
I’ll save those stories for another article.
THE COMBAT ADVISOR COURSE
The 162nd conducted the Combat Advisor course, from which grew the Security Force Assistance Brigades, or SFABs. You may have heard the term transition teams to refer to similar efforts.
The SFABs hold the mission to advise and assist the militaries of our partner nations – to train our allies to fight their own wars so that we as America don’t have to. At least, that’s the idea.
In practice, our paternalistic attitude of “I know what’s better for you than you do” plus the partner nation’s attitude of “we really don’t want what you call help” equals “who the fuck knows where trillions of taxpayer dollars went.”
As America grew increasingly impatient with President Obama’s promise to end our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Combat Advisor course, during my time there, shrank from about 10 weeks to 6 weeks. My company’s part, driver’s training, shrank from 5 days to 2 days.
It was a miserable course; the general morale, not the actual course. It seemed like good training. Fort Polk is to the Army what 29 Palms is to the Marine Corps – and I’ve been stationed at both! Yeah, that shit was broadening alright.
Given Fort Polk’s reputation and that the students probably felt like they were in a field environment for the entire duration, well the students weren’t too thrilled.
THE STUDENTS AND THE INSTRUCTORS
The students typically came from the Air Force, Navy or as Federal civilian employees. They tended to be field grade or mid-grade officers or the Federal employee equivalent, medical doctors, dentists, people with advanced degrees in the behavioral sciences or reservists with some particularly in-demand civilian occupation.
All of that added to the general misery as the students felt themselves too good for the training – the military students more than the civilian students. The civilians seemed more fascinated with the newness of their military jobs.
The instructors also looked down slightly on the students since despite their academic achievements, the students lacked the basic individual soldiers skills to shoot, move, communicate, survive, sustain. The instructors were almost entirely active duty combat arms soldiers with plenty of field time.
Once in a while, the students came from US Special Forces. Those guys drew plenty of interest from the instructors. They helped teach the course. One Special Forces Soldier turned out to be someone whom I remembered as a US Marine from 1st Radio Battalion, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. My first unit, 2001-2005. Small world.
So there I was…
I don’t believe I have any trouble with public speaking, despite being a hardcore introvert. I volunteer for it. For the driver’s training course, I would lead the introductory brief.
After the first couple iterations, I notice a pattern in the complaints. At the end of each course, we conducted an AAR (after-action review or report). Unlike many other parts of the military, we updated our material in response to the AARs.
I also took notes of the complaints, gripes, and whining during the course.
We adjusted what we could.
For what we couldn’t, we acknowledged it.
During my third driver’s training course, I decided to fill in the silence on my slide labeled Questions. It came at the end of my introductory slideshow presentation. Normally, when I asked for any questions from the audience at this point, no one asked anything.
I filled it in with frequently-asked questions from previous classes. These FAQs mostly represented the changes that we couldn’t make. Since we couldn’t change certain things, to us, it just sounded like complaining. For example:
• Do I have to take this course? Yes.
• But I’m a lieutenant colonel… Congratulations.
• May I smoke in the vehicle? Excellent idea. We need to see if the fire suppression systems still work…
By anticipating these complaints and acknowledging them, they didn’t come up.