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Preparing for the pentathlon: thoughts on combined arms brigade command.

In his 25 July 2006 message to the field, Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter J. Schoomaker announced he was opening command opportunities for combined arms brigades to Field Artillery and Engineer colonels, starting in FY09--combined arms brigades that have been the exclusive domain of Infantry and Armor. The Chief made the case that the time has come to broaden the Army culture, that we need multifunctional leaders--Pentathletes--to--lead the Army.

This decision was due neither to a lack of confidence in our maneuver brothers nor to spread equity among the combat arms for colonel-level command opportunities. This decision was about changing the Army's culture from one that tends to produce leaders with specialties and niche skills to one that produces leaders capable of handling a myriad of complex missions and requirements. It will have a positive impact on the culture of the Army and Field Artillery.

Historical Precedents. Redlegs commanding maneuver brigades is not without historical precedents. In the Civil War, Field Artilleryman General George H. Thomas commanded the 21st Infantry Regiment when it earned the motto "The Rock of Chickamauga." Likewise, General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, a Redleg, distinguished himself in many battles during the Civil War as the right-hand man of General Robert E. Lee, an Engineer and former commander of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.

That these officers could command combined arms formations so successfully largely is due to their shared experience with the Infantry and Cavalry. The shorter weapons' ranges and high density of forces, ultimately, brought a greater understanding of the various roles through personal experience--a condition that has dramatically changed in modern warfare.

Less well known but, perhaps, more relevant is an example from World War II when General J. Lawton Collins selected two Field Artillery colonels to command the 358th and 357th Infantry Regiments. Commenting on his decision, Collins said. "We had no spare regimental commanders available, but our G3, Dick Partridge, who was anxious to get a command, volunteered for one of the regiments. Though he was not an Infantryman. I knew he had received good basic training at West Point [US Military Academy], had attended the German. Kriegsakademie just prior to the war and had impressed me favorably since joining the Corps staff.

"For the other regiment I suggested Colonel George Bittman Barth, then Chief of Staff of the 9th Division. Bittman, like Partridge, was an Artilleryman but also a West Pointer, had been one of my lieutenants in the 8th Infantry in Germany [1921] before transferring to the Field Artillery and had seen combat with the 9th Division in the Mediterranean." (This quote was taken from the book Lightning Joe: An Autobiography by General Collins, reprinted by Presidio of Novato, California, in 1994, Page 209.)

Collins' reflection on his decision is an important one--the Field Artillery men he chose brought unique experience and education beyond their branch to the fight. Indeed, they give us a glimpse into what we need in our future Redleg combined arms commanders.

Future Redleg Combined Arms Brigade Commanders. Recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan also have seen Field Artillery units from platoon to brigade levels serving in combined arms roles with distinction. This recent experience gives a great number of FA officers a unique perspective on the combined arms fight, not unlike their Infantry and Armor peers. When we combine this recent combat experience with the historical precedents that date back to the Civil War, we should pause and reflect on these key questions. What made these officers successful? How can we prepare our Field Artillery Pentathletes for combined arms brigade commands?

Change Our Institutions. Olympic Pentathletes are not developed overnight. Their skills are the products of many years of training and competing to excel in multiple events. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and they prioritize their preparation accordingly.

Today's captains and majors will be no different. The potential to command a combined arms brigade in the future will change their aspirations. They will want more maneuver schooling, more assignments with maneuver formations and a deeper understanding of battle field functions. They will demand opportunities to develop their Pentathlete skills to be ready for "all of the events"--not just one.

Like it or not, these officers will drive a transformation of our culture that will demand institutional change. It is incumbent on our institutions to respond in kind--to embrace the change in culture while continuing to train the core branch tasks to high standards. For the FA School, this means looking inward for revisions and reaching outward to better integrate the other battlefield functions.

This command opportunity will require more than "adding two blocks of instruction" to the FA Pre-Command Course. Like the Olympic Pentathlete, we must look at the total package--how must our current courses adapt? What courses from the other schools merit Redleg attendance? How can we partner with all of the branch schools for an integrated approach to build this culture? What can we offer in return? Infantry and Armor colonels now are responsible for training, resourcing and leading fires battalions without the oversight of the division artillery--so Field Artillery training needs to be part of their command preparation as well. If we are to meet the Chief's intent, we must put into motion those things that will build the broad base of skills required for Redlegs to command combined arms formations.

The FA School can take some steps now to help build these future combined arms commanders. First, the school can establish a mentorship program with selected former combined arms commanders to link one-on-one with officers slated for combined arms brigade command. This cadre of leaders would serve as personal trainers for the first group of Redlegs--and perhaps beyond--with a series of goals to accomplish throughout the year prior to the Redlegs' taking command.

Such a program should leverage distance learning and focus our new commanders on relevant maneuver doctrine and historical examples of key combined arms actions. It would include training in high-, mid- and low-intensity military operations scenarios. A key aspect of this training will be giving commander's guidance for operations--guidance for each of the combat functions during the military decision-making process (MDMP). In the process, the mentor can coach the future commander and share his experience and knowledge of combined arms operations.

Take Stock and Develop New Skills. Field Artillery men bring many strengths to the combined arms fight. Redlegs are known for their attention to detail in planning, high standards in preparation, precision in execution and teamwork throughout.

Lieutenant General Harold G. "Hal" Moore, in his book We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young, says "there are three ways a commander can influence the battlefield: fire support, committing the reserve and his personal presence on the battlefield." Field Artillerymen bring experience in integrating fires and, as fire support officers (FSOs), are side-by-side commanders for many, if not most, of their key decisions--the advantage of participating in these important aspects of command.

While Redlegs should be confident in their abilities, they need to be cognizant of their potential shortfalls as well: maneuver technical skills and training oversight, direct fire gunnery and live-fire exercises, command and control, aviation integration, mobility and (or) counter-mobility operations, intelligence and a general feel for terrain and maneuver in time and space. In addition, they must have the skills to lead their combined arms brigades in operations across the spectrum of conflict from high-intensity to counterinsurgency.

Just as the Olympic Pentathlete cannot focus solely on his strengths, a brigade commander cannot focus on his strengths. He must take inventory of his shortfalls, prioritize what he needs to fix and make a plan to do it--now, prior to command, as well as after taking the colors.

A simple review of the battlefield functions can be a first step in determining where weaknesses lie. A commander must provide guidance for each of these functions as part of his orders process and then assess the state of preparation from battlefield circulation. Superficial actions here can have dire consequences, at worst, and suboptimal performance, at best.

Redlegs should watch their combined arms brigade and battalion commanders closely and solicit their advice on what works well and what doesn't. In this information age, a few well addressed emails to peers and superiors and research of military websites, such as, can go a long way in giving a plethora of policies and proven command techniques.

Be Open to Subordinate Mentoring. Regardless of career preparation, self-assessment results and actions to prepare for the combined arms pentathlon, leaders will have some personal weaknesses. Again, the keys are an honest assessment and prioritization of what skills to address first.

The new commander should consider a straightforward approach to his subordinate commanders. For example, he could say, "Teach me about integrating obstacles into an engagement area" or "Run me through your preparation and execution of squad live fires." Subordinates will appreciate candor and welcome the opportunity to "show their stuff." The Redleg commander can use this approach during scheduled training events.

Just as important are the brigade's principal staff advisors: the command sergeant major (CSM), executive officer (XO) and operations officer. The Redleg commander should ask for a deputy commander if one is not authorized and ask all of them to advise him. In the aggregate, these key advisors will provide experiences that will help balance the commander's weaknesses. They can be a sounding board for decisions and a telescope into various aspects of the unit.

Understand the Brigade Commander's Role. The combined arms brigade commander is not a battalion commander anymore. One of the blessings of brigade command is that there are enormously talented battalion commanders who are selected by a highly competitive process. They will benefit from the brigade commander's perspective, experience, genuine interest and support for their units.

The brigade commander does not reach into their business and "command" their battalions. He gives guidance, resources training and equipment, receives back briefs on orders, circulates during both training and operations, and provides feedback throughout. He demands tough combined arms exercises (CPXs) with both dry and live fires and enforces high standards in peacetime just as ruthlessly as he does in combat.

At the same time, Redleg combined arms commanders should trust their instincts and know that a history of Redlegs past have excelled at the complex task of leading brigades.

Parting Thoughts. We must be careful what we ask for--we just might get it. While Field Artillery leaders have worked hard to gain this opportunity and the Chief of Staff of the Army has shown great confidence in our branch's taking up the mantle of commanding combined arms brigades, we should not believe that excellence will come from "our mere presence on the battlefield." Redleg bravado will go only so far, and, in the end, these combined arms brigades will need competent and experienced, if not gifted, leaders to win future fights.

We must not fall into the trap of assuming talented Redlegs innately have what it takes to excel in combined arms commands; rather, we should take every precaution to develop them to ensure the success of their combined arms brigades and the Army.

Just as Colonels Barth and Partridge had unique experiences and education to help them command Infantry regiments, we must do all we can to broaden the experience of our future combined arms brigade commanders to ensure they provide the skilled leadership their Soldiers deserve.

Indeed, there is much we can do to help these leaders be as successful as the legacy of excellence that went before them. In the end, it will be the Field Artillery and fire support that will benefit the most as this "sea change" in missions will embed combined arms operations even deeper into our culture and ensure we can be the Pentathletes our Army must have for the future.

Colonel Gary H. Cheek is the Chief of Strategic Planning in the Deputy Directorate for the War on Terrorism, J5, on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. He commanded the 25th Infantry Division (Light) Artillery out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, deploying to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom in June 2004 to command the 25th Division's Combined Task Force Thunder, an Infantry brigade, for 12 months. He also served as the Senior Fire Support Trainer (Wolf 07) at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Other assignments include commanding the 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery (1-9 FA), 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Stewart, Georgia; serving as Executive Officer of the 1-41 FA and G3 Plans Officer, both in the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Stewart; and serving as the US Exchange Officer in the Canadian Field Artillery School at the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada. He commanded A/2-28 FA, part of the 210th Field Artillery Brigade, VII Corps, Germany.

By Colonel Gary H. Cheek

RELATED ARTICLE: New AC: Colonel Albert Johnson, Jr.

Colonel Albert Johnson, Jr., became the Assistant Commandant (AC) of the Field Artillery School and Deputy Commanding Officer of the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in a ceremony 25 September at McNair Hall, Fort Sill. The outgoing Assistant Commandant, Colonel Jeffrey W. Yaeger, had served in the position since 21 May of this year.

Colonel Yaeger returned to his previous position as Director of the Joint and Combined Integration Directorate (JACI) in the Field Artillery School. He commanded the 3rd Battlefield Coordination Detachment (BCD) in Korea. He also commanded the Special Troops Battalion, a multi-functional unit dual-stationed at Forts Wainwright and Richardson, Alaska.

Colonel Johnson's previous assignment was as the Executive Officer to the Commanding General of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), FortMonroe, Virginia. He also served as Chief of Joint Operational War Plans, J7, on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

He commanded the 1st Infantry Division Artillery in Germany and, during this tour, deployed to Kosovo as the Chief of Staff of the MultiNational Brigade-East. He also commanded the 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. During this tour, he deployed a significant portion of the battalion to Bosnia in support of peacekeeping operations. Among other assignments, he was a Brigade Fire Support Officer (FSO) and the Division Artillery S3, both in the 1st Infantry Division.



In 1987, Colonel Johnson served in Combat Developments in the Field Artillery School on the Howitzer Improvement Program (HIP) and later as the Chief of the Cannon Division. He holds a MPA from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and was a Military Fellow with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Washington, DC. He is a native of Lawton, Oklahoma.

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Author:Cheek, Gary H.
Publication:FA Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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