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A170 Tom Rozman: A Cautionary Tale for Junior Officers

Above: Central Element of the Color, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment

Article by A170 Tom Rozman

Many readers will likely identify with this vignette as it is a cautionary tale and addresses a real situation those of us who served as junior officers in battalions confronted in a number of ways.   Battalion duty has levels of complexity and contradicting situations that may be made worse by time sensitivity of certain aspects of the duty.

For example, in most armies there is for the combat maneuver units systems designed to measure the operational readiness of the battalions on establishment.   These systems of unit readiness evaluation and assessment tend to focus on the maintenance status and operational readiness of weapons, communications equipment and vehicles and other critical mission systems.  The findings of these assessments may have a direct effect on the career competitiveness of commanders at company through brigade and definitely at battalion.

As well, other parallel and supporting systems may not be well aligned to meeting all aspects of needed support.  This situation may be exacerbated by the competence and effectiveness of personnel operating in that system.  An example of this negative force to readiness would be a high priority vehicle system that is inoperative due to a part or assembly that has gone down and is for a number of reasons unavailable in the parts replacement system. This situation can be artificially created if parts ordering is not properly done with the right priorities assigned.

The above situation can occur for more mundane and more generally available parts and systems such as tires or engineer tools typically a part of the tactical vehicles equipment set.   In this latter case occasional shortages may occur in these areas driven by army and national level procurement and budgetary perturbations that bring normally plentiful items and various stocking levels to a shortage level.

In these environments, this may create pressure on junior leaders at platoon and company level to seek alternative solutions.  A company may be short tarps for its tactical vehicles or engineer tools, perhaps even radio components.   On an installation where other units with this same equipment are garrisoned, some junior leaders may be attracted at the expense of their integrity to raid the sister units in “midnight requisition raids” for parts.  While this is not a new phenomenon, engaging in it, regardless of the justification perceived, violates regulations and the integrity of the leader.   If found out, the leader, even a very promising one, may suffer severe military disciplinary consequences that likely will be career ending or worse.  In the U.S. Army’s case it may lead to a sojourn at the Ft. Leavenworth Disciplinary Brigade.

The vignette that follows tells of such a sad tale.

A newly promoted 1st lieutenant had just been reassigned from duty as the executive officer of a mechanized battalion headquarters company to assume the platoon leader position of a mechanized infantry platoon in the battalion’s Company A that would be placed under the operational control of a tank company in one of the brigade’s armored battalions.  The work the tank company would be doing was high visibility for the Army at the time as the Army withdrew from Vietnam and redirected its focus on improving its ability to defeat Soviet Forces on the plains of Central Europe.

It was late on a Friday afternoon on the three day Memorial Day Weekend.  The lieutenant was getting a whirlwind briefing of what he would be about at O500 hours the following Tuesday.  His meeting at the S-3 shop was after a mandatory battalion officer’s call.  His platoon had already been released for the weekend and the lieutenant had the uncomfortable feeling he was being launched on a mission with no foundation, despite some of what he was being told.

After a short briefing from the S-3, an infantry major, the lieutenant was referred to a tall, in shape 1st lieutenant of engineers.  He was one of the assistant S-3s of the battalion.  Though the times were, personnel wise, very fluid and changing as the Army reduced its size coming out of Vietnam and one would encounter many situations, finding an engineer 1st lieutenant in a mechanized infantry battalion S-3 shop was not one of them.  An engineer officer in a mechanized battalion was not a normal expectation.

The engineer lieutenant began to brief the newly assigned platoon leader of the “high visibility” mission.  He knew his stuff as much as was possible in the environment of the day.  Well spoken, confident, he did not talk down to the junior lieutenant but spoke as a colleague with important and necessary information.

The junior lieutenant was impressed with the engineer lieutenant.  More so when he learned that he was a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commissioned graduate from one of the best, if not the best, engineering schools in the country.  The senior lieutenant was the epitome of a promising junior officer of ability and talent as an emerging leader.  So why was he in the S-3 shop of a mechanized battalion?

At some point, the explanation as to how the engineer lieutenant was assigned to the mechanized battalion was provided by another officer.  The engineer lieutenant had been an executive officer of a combat engineer company in one of the combat engineer battalions on the installation.  To bring several key unit vehicle systems that were affecting the company’s and battalion’s readiness evaluations negatively to operational status after repeated efforts to obtain the necessary parts and assemblies through the proper requisition system, the lieutenant chose to organize an expedition.  It was an after-hours raid on a sister battalion for the necessary parts and components.

In the event, the expedition was found out as was the organizer.  Disciplinary action followed. The results of that action essentially terminated the military career of a promising young officer.  The engineer lieutenant had been reassigned after the disciplinary findings and subsequent administrative actions to the mechanized battalion where he was assigned to the S-3 Section until he left active duty.

The infantry lieutenant was deeply impressed by this sad tale.  He had in the short experience with the engineer lieutenant quickly come to appreciate the officer’s abilities.  These abilities  were impressive and he seemed a natural leader.

The infantry lieutenant would remember the cautionary tale, and well he should.  Similar circumstances would confront the infantry lieutenant two years later.  He would take counsel from the engineer lieutenant’s story and, consequently, maintained his integrity while successfully dealing with the issues.   The leadership lessons were heeded to good effect and the engineer lieutenant’s sad fate was avoided.