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Leaders must know the “real” requirements and stand up for them

The Driver Training Contract That Deviated from The User Stated Objective

Article by: Tom Rozman 

There are times in the staff process of major commands where there are hick-ups and leadership, of even the best sort, may go awry.  The following vignette relates a situation in that latter category.  It is also an example of the ongoing activity that the senior leadership of a deployed field army addresses that seems at first glance to have little to do with war fighting yet, if not done right, may have a very negative effect on initial combat readiness of the army’s combat units.

The major, the battalion executive officer of a mechanized battalion in a tank brigade of a forward deployed armored division,  was working through a perennial challenge of the forward deployed units in Germany.  He was grappling with the ongoing challenge of keeping his battalion’s licensed vehicle driver compliment manned sufficient that all tactical vehicles had drivers with both valid military drivers licenses as well as a U. S. Army Europe (USAREUR) drivers license and vital combat vehicle driving experience.  Ideally, the battalion intended to have a additional licensed drivers beyond the base line requirement in all of its companies.

Both licenses required testing and validation before issuance.  The military license could be handled entirely within the unit system and its capabilities while the USAREUR license, even if the soldier possessed a valid U.S. state driver’s license, required the successful passing of the German driver’s test before the license would be issued.  This was a requirement of the standing status of forces agreement between the U.S. and German Governments.

The challenge the major faced was that the local program that had developed in his brigade, a four maneuver battalion brigade of three armored battalions and a mechanized battalion, for bringing combat vehicle drivers to licensure was typically held up by the German driver’s test.  If a soldier with the preparation given in the unit program to learning the German driving standards failed the test, a delay resulted in form of remedial study and scheduling of the second test.  In some cases a third iteration was necessary.

This delay could become extended and some designated soldiers did seem over prone to not succeeding on the test, bringing in to question the soldier’s personal commitment to obtaining the license.  It must be kept in mind that the combat vehicle driver assumed a significant additional responsibility over other soldiers as a vehicle operator.  He had primary responsibility for the assigned vehicle’s before, during and after operations checks and necessary interface with the maintenance section if vehicle issues developed.  Some enlisted men did not aspire to this level of responsibility.

As a result, the German driver’s test had become a significant “speed bump” in keeping a constantly manned licensed driver compliment in the battalion.  Though the battalion was always able to stay manned, the effort took constant attention given the annual 33% rotation of personnel.

The major at mid-tour, and by the division commander’s direction, was ordered to assume a newly established position at the armored division headquarters that consolidated all training support accounts and systems management in a new Assistant G-3 (general officer staff for plans, operations and training) Training Resources Office that the major would organize as the first officer in that role on the staff.  The concept had been pioneered about two years earlier in the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized), another of the four heavy divisions stationed in Germany at the time by then Major General Paul Gorman.  The current division commander had studied the results and decided to implement the concept in the armored division on his watch.

The major reported to his new superior officer, the division’s Plans, Operations and Training Officer (G-3), a lieutenant colonel.  The G-3 reported to the division’s Chief-of-Staff, a colonel.

In an armored division forward deployed in Germany with a General Defense Plan (GDP) mission on the East German Border and all of the constant gunnery and maneuver training of the division’s subordinate brigades and battalions that went with that mission, as well as being in the throws of a massive modernization and reorganization initiative, the division at the time was a hyper busy environment.  The agenda of current and upcoming projects and workload for the division’s forming training support staff was almost beyond comprehension.  But the staff section of some thirteen officers, non-commissioned officers and civilians quickly gelled into an efficient high performing team.  It handled well the daunting array of projects confronting it.

And it was in this rarified atmosphere several months into the task of organizing an operating the section that the major again encountered his favorite ongoing project from his battalion experience—the German Driver’s Test.  Hardly an issue of much moment one might think compared to other higher profile activity.

Several months into the new role, the major on reaching the office early on Tuesday morning a week before the G-3 would be deploying to Grafenwoehr to attend the 7th Army Training Conference, the major while reviewing just arrived communications in his in-box came across a Twix (a form of secure communication of the time period printed on paper in a specified electronic format, basically a memorandum format).   The subject seemed about right—the finalization of a contract to standardize and support an efficient tactical driver licensure program across U. S. Army Europe (USAREUR).

Grafenwoehr Water Tower on Central Post

But on reading the message, the major was taken aback by what had been determined in the contract to be awarded.  Specifically, a U.S. university operating in West Germany would be awarded the contract.  It would establish a program that would train and certify designated unit driver candidates meeting certain specified criteria allowing issuance of the military driver’s license to the candidate.  Units would be required to provide substantial support resources in form of vehicles, non-commissioned officers and other resources to support the operation of the course.  The program would not address the German Driver’s Test and obtaining of the USAREUR drivers license.  The latter would remain a unit responsibility

This contract award as stated was exactly the reverse of what the units had requested from the program officer at 7th Army Training Command (7th ATC) regarding the contract being developed.  The major immediately reviewed all related previous messages concerning the initiative.  The division had communicated over a year and a half in 20 communications to 7th ATC a consistent message—the units would handle the military license if necessary but at all costs an effective and focused program was needed to concentrate on and expedite the driver candidate’s passing of the German Driver’s test and the acquiring of a USAREAUR Drivers License.  Without such license, even with an issued military driver’s license, the driver could not operate military vehicles  on German roads.

The major immediately alerted the G-3 regarding the message.  The topic was one of the major agenda items for the training conference.  The major reviewed the agenda and provided the G-3 with materials on topics in his area that brought the G-3 fully up to speed on those areas.  The idea was to assure that the G-3 would be able to fully discuss them as necessary at the conference along with input and guidance he had received from the commanding general, the chief-of-staff and the other three assistant G-3s.

The major had also provided the G-3 with a full synopsis of the 20 previous formal communications by the division to 7th ATC on the topic.  He also informed the G-3 that he was in the process of communications with the other divisions and major commands to confirm the positions they had taken up to this point on the topic.  Conferring with the other divisions and commands subsequently confirmed that all had presented the same position.   This information was provided to the G-3.

The G-3 deployed to the training conference at Grafenwoehr and did make the point with the 7th ATC’s chief-of-staff about the apparent disconnect with the program going forward.  Specifically, he addressed what the units had communicated repeatedly as a need in the new contract about to finalize.

7th Army Training Command’s Distinctive Unit Insignia

In the event and in various ways, the apparent disharmony between what the field needed and what the headquarters developed reached forms of resolution.  However, the episode illustrated that even when leadership is focused and all are apparently engaged with a development process, results may inexplicably vary from the intent and need.  In this case, the subordinate organization stood by and communicated its previously stated and many times repeated position—at some cost.  The leaders engaged did do the harder right thing and communicated the difference in positions that had developed at division versus army level.

Despite the issue that developed and the need to quickly diverge from significant priorities to address it, the G-3 Training Resource Section did not have the luxury of  being deflected from other priorities more pressing.  The division staff section continued to march and focus on its plateful of other vital tasks.

Two leadership takeaways seem apparent in this vignette.  Leaders even on a seeming lesser priority must be able to quickly assess the larger strategic impact and take a decision to focus quickly on the issue even in a tightly constrained timeframe.   As well, leaders must maintain momentum on other priorities, especially those that are time sensitive.  And leaders must know the “real” requirements and stand up for them, even if there may be some cost in doing so—later costs may be paid in lives for failure to do so.


Tom Rozman

Tom Rozman graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, the University of Massachusetts Graduate Business School, and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He served in the U.S. Army for 27 years with a last assignment as the director of the Collective Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Tom then continued his career as a member of the Virginia Departments of Conservation and Recreation and Labor and Industry, retiring as a director in the latter. He served for three years on  the Department of the Army Armored Family of Vehicles Task Force.

He exercised instructor privileges at the University of Massachusetts, Western New England College, and Westfield State College for over three years as an assistant professor.

He has published 45 articles in U.S. and foreign military journals and more than 30 manuals, papers, policy documents, and reviews. He has been a valued contributor to e-Veritas since the summer of 2016.