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Verify Then Trust

Author Colonel Jabari Miller currently leads the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. He has served as an Operations Officer for Joint Test and Evaluation Command, Aide-de-Camp to the FORSCOM Deputy Commanding General, and as a Military Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. In this post he reminds us of how important it is to build mutual trust at the lowest echelon, or level, of command. Though he takes an Army perspective, the lessons about leading at the O-3 level can ring true across the joint force. Read on to see what he's talking about.

Mutual Trust is a tenet of the Army’s Mission Command doctrine. To enable Success, Trust within a formation must be earned by subordinate, peer, and supervisor alike. The Supervisor gains trust in the subordinate through inspection and observation. Peers and Supervisors gain trust from peers and subordinates through their actions, prowess, and their ‘video matching their audio.’ This note focuses on what Company Commanders (Captain/O-3) can do to enable themselves to trust their formations with confidence early into and throughout their commands. From my personal experience and recent observation of Company/Troop/Battery (C/T/B) Commanders, this is the echelon at which failing to confirm expectations early occurs the most.

Younger Commanders often fail to inspect what they expect early in their command and discover only at “the point of contact” that their personnel are untrained, their equipment is non-mission capable, or that the unit is operating outside of Army regulations. Below are some personal suggestions to prevent this from happening.

Before Taking the Guidon:

  1. Read and understand AR 600-20 (and other Army regulations most applicable to your formation’s assigned mission), relevant TTPs, and Command Policies to ensure you know what you are supposed to and are allowed to do before you assume command. Your professional bearing, physical fitness, and demonstration of tactical, technical and professional knowledge on the first day of your Command are key to you beginning to earn the trust of your subordinates, peers, and supervisors.

  2. Begin to determine which peers you will trust through professional and social interaction (if possible). Command is a wonderful, yet arduous, endeavor. Having a battle buddy upon who you can trust for candid advice and support is of great importance. Find an ally early. Some things you may consider: Who is succeeding? With whom do you have an existing relationship? With whom do you have the same coaches and mentors in common? Who commands a formation like yours? Your peers can make or break you just as easily as your supervisors or subordinates. Find a trusted few, early.

Upon Taking the Guidon:

  1. Pay the “start-up costs” by immediately inspecting what you’re expecting. I suggest the following sequence and deficiencies found in any of these areas should be fixed immediately:

  2. Things that will get you personally in trouble - arms rooms, supply rooms (and associative procedures), and physical security. Have you read 750-1 and installation policies and do the additional duty officers you’ve appointed know what they’re doing? Do you?

  3. Your Battalion (O-5) and Brigade (O-6) Commanders’ priority areas.

  4. Drivers Training - Safety of your Soldiers is a paramount concern.

  5. Determine how you will assess and certify your Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants and Squad Leaders:

  6. At what level of proficiency is each of these leaders?

  7. What knowledge, skills and attributes does each possess that you can apply to future problems?

  8. How are you assisting the Battalion Commander in certifying and training Platoon Leaders, and how are you certifying, training, and retraining your Squad Leaders and NCOs overall? Don’t assume professional military education or their last unit have made them any more than proficient in their assigned tasks. To trust in what they know, challenge them yourself.

  9. Based on your assessments of your formation and the directives you’ve been given by your higher headquarters, determine what you must and what you can train in the time allotted. Once this is done, communicate to your boss what you assess as possible and more importantly what you think you cannot accomplish in the time given. Your candor and diligence should earn you some trust in the eyes of your higher command.

  10. To earn the trust of your subordinates and supervisors alike, do what you say you’re going to do to standard and on time. If you know you won’t be able to do this, REPORT EARLY!

“Trust but verify,” a phrase often attributed to our 40th President Ronald Reagan, might not be an appropriate term for new C/T/B Commanders. “Verify then trust” saves time, money, and lives. In a time when the Army a is relearning how and what to train, with ever-more complicated Systems of Record for our C/T/B Commanders to use, to trust without first explicitly verifying can be disastrous. Take the time to inspect and then trust.

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