Updated: Jul 23, 2021
CPT Nadege Benoit is currently a masters student at Columbia University, pursuing Organizational Psychology. A career Adjutant General officer in the active duty Army, her graduate program is a part of the Eisenhower Leader Development Program (, a collaborative experience between the United States Military Academy at West Point and Columbia University which hand selects high performing officers to become Tactical Officers for each company of West Point cadets (learn more here or here). In this blog she relays her experiences from her time as an aide.
When I was selected to serve as the Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General (CG) of Army Contracting Command (ACC), I received many congratulations from mentors and peers alike. As a career AG officer, I knew the potential that this opportunity held for my career but did not understand the number of congratulatory comments I was receiving. In my first couple of months as an aide, I quickly discovered that although most congratulations were sincere, most were accompanied by surprise and a little shock to see a woman serving an aide to a male general officer (GO). I often received comments by senior officers such as “wow, MG X, has a female aide?” or “it is rare to see a woman as an aide, congratulations” or my favorite “how is it working for male GO?” It is discouraging to hear comments such as the one mentioned above, and a sign that we, as an Army, still have work to do to normalize and accept opposite sex work relationships. However, my time as an aide taught me valuable lessons and broadened my understanding of how the Army works as an enterprise.
Lesson #1- Perception is EVERYTHING At times I felt slightly offended by the questions I received on how it was working for a male GO. It is easy to get flustered as an aide as you are often in an environment in which very senior Army officers are directing questions at you. A good aide will ensure that his or her boss is never put in a position in which others can form negative perceptions about them. Perception is everything in the Army and in the world of GOs. I quickly learned that instead of appearing flustered or insulted by certain comments I should take the opportunity to educate others on how my boss was great because he did not treat me differently as a woman. By discussing how my boss just wanted me to perform and was not concerned by my gender, I subtly educated and delivered a message that perhaps we should focus the conversation on the job instead of the genders of the people involved. Composure is critical when working as an aide, and no general wants an aide that is easily flustered.
Lesson #2- Working For a GO Will Not Fix Your Career If you have been selected to serve as an aide congratulations; regardless of gender, it is a great opportunity. However, be cautious of putting all your eggs in one basket and thinking that this one opportunity will save your career or guarantee your next promotion. Being an aide is a demanding job! General officers have busy schedules, and you are there to help facilitate and balance their work lives. If you are not performing to the level that your GO expects, you can and will be fired. A below-average evaluation from a GO will ruin your career, but a top rating will not save it if you were already struggling. The Army promotes based on potential, and if your evaluations up until the point of your selection as an aide are average, it is risky to assume that one evaluation will save your career. Moreover, when your assignment as an aide is complete, and you move on to your next assignment, you are not entitled to special treatment over your peers or guaranteed the next promotion. GOs expect you to be focused on the task at hand and not worried about your next promotion or saving your career. Serving as an aide can be a stepping stone to expose you to the military enterprise and senior leaders, but it is not a guarantee for future success. Stay humble.
Lesson #3 – It’s Not About Servitude; It’s About Learning The Army considers aide-de-camp positions as broadening assignments for officers that have completed their required key developmental time commensurate to their rank. It considers it a broadening assignment because you are there to learn about how the strategic side of the Army works. I had the great opportunity to serve as the aide to the CG of Army Contracting Command. When I first interviewed for the job, I had no clue what the acquisitions corps was or what ACC did. Although I still do not quite understand the many complexities of Army contracting, I learned an incredible amount of how the Army works with defense contractors and other entities. In my initial counseling, my boss made it clear that being an aide-de-camp was not about servitude but about learning about one part of the strategic Army. At times I summarized or assisted him in creating products to brief to Army senior leaders. My boss also took the time to answer my questions on the many technical terms associated with Army contracting. I did not go into my job thinking I was going to work for a man and that I was a woman, I went into it thinking I was going to work for a GO. If you’re going to serve as an aide take the opportunity to ask questions, take notes, and learn about what your GO does and how he fits into the big Army picture; challenge yourself to learn.
Lesson #4 – The XO, CSM, and Executive Assistant Are Your Greatest Assets It takes a village to manage the hectic lives of GOs. As the aide-de-camp, you will be on a team dedicated to running an efficient schedule. The executive officer (XO), Command Sergeant Major (CSM), and Executive Assistant (EA) in my command were all women. Through them, I learned how to gracefully answer pointed questions on being a female aide. The XO and EA are your links to the office when you travel as well as the continuity. As an AG officer and not an acquisitions officer, I heavily relied on my XO and EA to explain terms and help manage events on my boss’s calendar that I did not understand. My EA had a wealth of knowledge and ten year of experience working for the command. She was instrumental in helping me plan for TDY trips. My CSM was a great asset when coordinating ceremonies and in answering general protocol questions. Through her contacts on the senior NCO side, she ensured that our trips to subordinate commands went off without a flaw. These incredible women taught me to not worry about the opinions of others on an all-female executive suite but to focus on my performance.
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