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Leadership Lessons Experience Gained in Command/Management of Battalion to Brigade Size Organizations

Article by A170 Tom Rozman

Thirty-six months of command/management or directing of the operations of two Army battalion size organizations and a third Commonwealth of Virginia organization of battalion/brigade configuration ranging from 250 to approaching 800 employees/personnel imparted significant leadership insights and lessons learned.  This article examines some of the more significant of these “takeaways.”

Two of the organizations, the first and second commanded, were similar in mission and composition being mechanized infantry formations.   The first organization included a half tank company detachment and other supporting elements under operational control.  The two organizations primarily differed in size, operational organization and context of mission.  The third was a state level civil service organization of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s uniformed Park Service whose detachments were spread over an extensive geographic area of the state encompassing over 40,000 acres of real property.

The initial unit was U. S. based and assigned to support field testing of a new armored vehicle system over four months of operations in spring and summer 1976.  The second unit was a forward deployed mechanized infantry battalion with a NATO General Defense Position mission along the West German/Czech Border commanded for over two months during fall 1983.  Again, the third organization was a uniformed service state parks region managed and directed from August 1993 to December 1995. To note, all three organizations employed weapons as an element of the mission.

The Units

Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle Developmental/Operational Test 2 Motorized Rifle Battalion (MICV DT/OT 2 MRB): Motorized rifle battalion composed of over strength Company A, 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 58th Infantry with Headquarters, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th (Provisional) Platoons, Weapons Platoon, a detachment of three tank sections (7 M-60A3 tanks) from 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor and additional attachments from 1st Battalion, 58th Infantry (250 personnel).   The Motorized Rifle Battalion was organized from May-August 1976.

1st Battalion (Mechanized), 46th Infantry: The author served as the acting battalion commander of the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade’s mechanized battalion for 64 days in 1983 (October to December) while the commander was deployed separately to the Netherlands for AUTUMN FORGE 83 (involved six exercises to include REFORGER and ABLE ARCHER 83). The battalion comprised some 700-800 troops.  The 2nd Brigade was a four-maneuver battalion divisional armored brigade.

Virginia State Parks, Region 2 (Piedmont): A 10 staffed park region (11 parks) expanding to 12 staffed parks to include the Parks Division’s logistics center. The region comprised a year round staff of 48 employees that expanded to 250 salaried, state hourly and concession employees from May to September. A partial region profile notes 27 armed conservation officers, a vehicle and rolling stock fleet of 100 vehicles, 300 buildings, 300 miles of roads and trails, six conference centers, four cabin complexes, nine camp grounds, 6 beach/water livery recreation areas, 9 retail stores, 8 restaurants, 2 museums, and 10 shop complexes (40,000 acres).  This organization had the structure and mission of an organization approximating a battalion to brigade size operation.  It was spread over the several thousand square miles of the Virginia Piedmont.  At peak periods during the summer season, park visitors/guests could reach in the range of 20,000 or more. This assignment was from August 1993 to December 1995 (30 months).

The Lessons

The first unit, the MICV DT/OT 2 Motorized Rifle Battalion (MRB), on fairly short notice pulled together assets from several organizations at the strength of two armored force companies and some additional assets to perform a sustained operational mission for four months.  The MRB commander with support from the testing agency assembled the elements of the battalion and proceeded through a training and validation period concerning Soviet organization and tactical employment of a motorized rifle battalion and the prototype version of the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) and other ancillary test equipment.

1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion (Mechanized). 58th Infantry
formed on the company street, a unit of the MRB.

The MRB commander also had to assure the logistic and support system necessary to sustain four months of continuous MRB field operations as much as an hour distant from base. The MRB was to maintain and sustain a 95% armored vehicle availability for the extensive schedule of  force on force armored assaults planned to develop the needed data necessary to test the prototype infantry fighting vehicle and support the decision to accept or reject the prototype.

MRB vehicles assembled at a test area assembly point.

Not only would the logistic support system have a requirement for rapid recovery and field maintenance of deployed vehicles from the mechanized units but especially from the armored detachment and its base unit as the tanks were critical to the battle scenarios being conducted. This meant assurance of the necessary support for the tank detachment of three tank sections and the assigned 7 M60A3 tanks from the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor such as tank recovery and replacement if a tank went down.

A column of M60A3 Medium Tanks.

The MRB would also have the responsibility to sustain all necessary troop support in form of rations and medical support and other classes of supply.

This aspect was compounded by several missions that the base unit, the mechanized infantry company, continued to execute several critical parallel missions one being the retraining of some 25 non-commissioned mid and senior sergeants in Army overstrength military occupational specialties as infantry sergeants.

The MRB commander was allowed a maximum of autonomy in exercising command.  Auftragstaktik, known as mission command in the US and UK, applied in terms of the MRB commander’s mandate within the constraints of  various attack scenarios required by the test plan.

MRB units positioned in an assembly area in the “maneuver box” on the west side of the Ft. Benning, Georgia military reservation.

The MRB’s mission proved a demanding sustained effort.  The leadership approach proved effective in that MRB early formed into a highly competent and an effective tactical organization.  It performed its tactical mission exceptionally well and perfected its supporting logistics in such a way that it met and exceeded mission availability requirements.

So effective did the MRB become in the operational area that in a late test unscheduled early morning excursion attack with, unknown to the MRB commander, a large coterie of Department of the Army, Department of Defense and Congressional oversight committee members observing, the MRB had become so proficient in a SOVIET assault that the MRB overran the MICV equipped force losing only one tank.  (This excursion may have contributed to the later addition of the Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) Missile launcher containing two missiles when loaded on the left side of the MICV turret when fielded as the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV).

MRB commander Captain T. Rozman.

Much of this success was due to application of mission command with all MRB leader team members.  The mission was demanding and extended and the support and operational requirements to execute successfully and sustain mission effectiveness required an optimum application of mission command within the leader team.  In the event it worked and worked well.

Some key takeaway lessons learned from commanding the MRB follow.

  • Always remove as much ambiguity as possible from understanding of the mission but allow subordinate leaders maximum flexibility in their area within the parameters of the mission.
  • Respect reporting leaders and develop them as leaders able to operate independently within understanding of the mission…but maintain effective mentoring relationships with all leaders that build trust and mutual respect.
  • Engage support leadership as if they are the battle leaders…they are as critical to success as any leader on the team. If they fail the mission will be deeply compromised.
  • The commander should maintain a constant wargaming of the situation to identify likely or emerging issues that will or may impact the mission and develop feasible courses of action that can be promptly applied.
  • Maintain maximum command flexibility; the operating environment is dynamic and seldom behaves in a fully predictable manner, the command must be able to adapt and do so quickly.
  • The commander must make a concerted effort to know his reporting leaders such that the relationship with each may be tailored to achieve optimal effectiveness.
  • Recognize all leaders for their contribution to success…they made success possible.

The second battalion size organization commanded was the 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 46th Infantry, the mechanized and fourth maneuver battalion of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division then garrisoned in Erlangen, West Germany.  The brigade was an armored heavy or tank brigade with three tank battalions.  If its primary NATO General Defense Position mission activated, the brigade on alert promptly moved its battalions to the ammunition supply point and then to the Czech Border one tank battalion being released to VII Corps reserve on movement.

The battalion was organized per the effective Modified Table of Organization at the time with a headquarters company, three lettered mechanized infantry companies and a combat support company with some 700-600 troops assigned.

The author joined the battalion in late June 1982 and in October assumed acting command for 64 days until December while the assigned commander was deployed to the Netherlands for AUTUMN FORGE 83.

During this over two month acting battalion command, the battalion was busily preparing and ramping up for a very heavy gunnery, Army Readiness Training Evaluation Program (ARTEP), and combined operations exercise with the battalion’s Bundeswehr partnership battalion, Panzergrenadierbataillon 122, at the major training areas of Grafenwoehr, Hohenfels and Wildflecken, four multi-week operations in fairly rapid sequence.

Left, is Oberstlieutenant Bucher, Kommandeur des Panzergrenadierbataillons 122 (Lieutenant Colonel Bucher, Commander 122nd Panzer Grenadier Battalion), Panzerbrigade 12 der 10. Panzerdivision, Center Lieutenant Colonel Werner Banisch, Commander 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 46th Infantry Regiment , 2nd Brigade 1st Armored Division, and left, Major Thomas Rozman, Executive Officer, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry. The two battalions were partnership battalions paired due to their flanking general defense positions of their respective army corps. Note: Colonel Banisch was a fluent German speaker born in Silesia who had previously served as a non-commissioned officer in the Canadian Army.

Left to right Major Rozman, Oberstlieutentant Bucher and Lieutenant Colonel Banisch, field grade officers of the 122 Panzergrenadierbataillon and 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 46th Infantry at a Stamtisch at the Officers Kasino at the Grenzland- Kaserne, Oberviechtach, Bavaria.

The battalion was also beginning the modernization and reequipment process to accept the new Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicle as replacement for its M113 Armored Personnel Carriers.  The reorganization was a major one that included accepting a fourth mechanized infantry company, deactivating the combat support company and assigning some assets to a fully reorganized headquarters company and the forming of Company E, the new antitank company.

Adding to the acting commander’s workload, the commander had left a fairly heavy docket of field grade nonjudicial punishment cases to be heard.

The over two month acting battalion command tour would prove a very busy one indeed.

The tour was successful with all objectives being met and exceeded.  The success was very much a product of the effectiveness of the relationship the acting battalion commander, battalion primary staff officers, company commanders and battalion command sergeant major maintained.  As with the MRB a mission order approach was applied.

Though the acting commander was only at some four months with the battalion on assuming acting command, effective relationships with the battalion leader team were already in place, formed during a previous gunnery deployment to Wildflecken Major Training Area shortly after the acting commander signed on as the battalion executive officer.

Key leadership takeaways from commanding 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 46th Infantry follow.

  • The obvious but in the event not always the case and worth stating, an officer at company or higher organization level in the executive officer or next under the commander role, no matter how short their duration in the unit, must maintain a constant mental construct of readiness to assume command. This mindset was essential to the success of this acting battalion command tour in a forward deployed mechanized infantry battalion.
  • Effective leader relationships with all commanders and primary staff and the battalion command sergeant major are critical to successful exercise of command. Effective battalion leadership is a team sport.
  • At battalion a leader must have a mission focus and general competence in the type organization and knowledge of its parts sufficient to be able to act with a solid grasp of the organization and its capabilities employing them effectively.
  • The commander must gain the confidence of direct reports.
  • The commander must be constantly assessing the battalion, its area, its mission and developing situations to insure as proactive a stance for any mission or contingency as possible.
  • Always validate assumptions and discern the real facts in the decision process.
  • Make maximum use of all leaders on the battalion leadership team.
  • Maintain engagement with leaders on the leadership team…know them as people and learn their capabilities and where possible their interests.
  • Establish strong working relationships and the best two-way communication possible with the brigade commander, executive officer, command sergeant major and primary staff officers. Maintain effective liaison with these colleagues.
  • Establish effective relationships with the other battalion commanders and their staffs.
  • Take care to exercise the battalion staff in small and more comprehensive ways in the most critical functions assuring the capability to meet mission standards.

The third battalion/brigade size organization experienced was the Virginia State Park’s Region 2 (Piedmont).  As previously indicated, this organization due to magnitude of the operation and geographic configuration and extent had aspects of a brigade organization.   The initially 11 parks, nine staffed, expanded to 10 staffed parks of 11 and two newly acquired parks that were planned to become full service staffed parks.  The region as noted earlier also operated the Parks Division’s Logistics Center at Pocahontas State Park near Richmond, the largest park in the system at 8,000 acres.

The Virginia State Parks Region 2 Leadership Team—region manager and park managers at Twin Lakes State Park Cedar Crest Conference Center 1995. From left to right: Jess Lowry, Sky Meadows; Mark Schuppin, Holliday Lake; Anthony Widmer, Occoneechee; Edward Swope, Pocahontas and State Parks Logistics Center; Scott Shanklin, Bear Creek Lake; Douglas Graham, Lake Anna; Herbert Doswell, Twin Lakes; James Zanarini, Staunton River Battlefield, Timothy Vest, Staunton River; Brian Heft, Smith Mountain Lake; Thomas Rozman. Region 2.

As previously outlined the Region saw an extensive operational activity. At the time, along with regular operations, the region in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Design and Construction Office, was overseeing or conducting some $30M in general Obligation Bond capital projects, some $800K/year in Maintenance Reserve projects and several hundred thousand dollars in Recreation Access projects.  Many of these projects were completely under park region project management.


Guidon Region 2 (Piedmont), Virginia State Parks

The region also engaged in joint police operations with county, local municipal, and state police in a number of operations one being a 4th of July task force formed to reinforce a park that intelligence indicated was being targeted for gang activity to disrupt the holiday use of the park.  The taskforce formed from park assets on the park of concern reinforced with officers from other region parks and local and state police presence.  This well coordinated initiative early established conspicuous presence at the beginning of the holiday that discouraged untoward gang behavior.

The region headquarters maintained regular coordination with government agencies at county, municipal, state and federal levels.  Two significant examples of many were the interface with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the renegotiation of the Occoneechee State Park lease, the only Virginia park established on federal land, and the Virginia Army National Guard for a successful campground restoration effort.

In the latter case, the region headquarters was confronted with the loss of the campground at Holiday Lake State Park an hour west of Richmond as a result of a severe microburst storm. The estimated $200K budget to effect reconstruction was not in the budget but the campground was an essential recreation asset in the area.  The region director approached the state adjutant general’s office leading to coordination with the state’s Army National Guard and the assignment under operational control of a combat engineer platoon from the 229th Combat Engineer Battalion for its two weeks of summer active training in Summer 1994.  This resource and several others allowed the campground to be rebuilt and brought on-line before the end of the summer.

The park region had an operating budget, less salaries, of some $2.5M.  With salaries and capital projects the combined annual budgets ranged at some $35M or more in mid-1990s dollars.

The geographic extent of the region stretched from the town of Marshall in Northern Virginia to the North Carolina border in the south.  The west limit was Smith Mountain Lake and the east extent was Chesterfield County.  The Headquarters for the region was then in the Zinke Building in Richmond.

In addition to regular park operations the region operated the only two battlefield parks in the Virginia Park’s system, Sailor’s Creek and Staunton River Battlefield State Parks.  The two Virginia battlefield parks were extremely popular with the Civil war reenactment community.

One Sailors Creek reenactment over a three-day weekend in 1995 involved over 5,000 reenactors and an estimated 10,000 observers. In addition to the foundation that coordinated the event, Twin Lakes State Park Staff and other park staff brought in to assist, as well as local and state police traffic control and joint security operations in the area, the event was a massive undertaking logistically and operationally but extremely successful with no incidents.

A line of Federal Reenactment infantry at the Virginia Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park reenactment of 1995.

A line of Confederate Reenactment infantry at the Virginia Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park reenactment of 1995.

Additionally, a major some $20M project in all aspects was the expansion of the  small 6 acre fort site of Staunton River Battlefield State Park, an unmanned satellite park of Staunton River State Park, in a private public partnership with Old Dominion Power and several other local and state agencies and foundations into a brand new full service park of 270 acres with full infrastructure later further expanded to some 450 acres.

L-R Region 2 Manager Tom Rozman, Parks Division Director Joe Elton and Staunton River State Park Manager Tim Vest at a recognition event for work resulting in the expanded Staunton River State Battlefield Park.

Operating this extensive and varied Parks Division support and region program for 2 ½ years provided the following leadership takeaways.

  • The region leader in such an extensive operation can only operate effectively by employing the “Auftragstaktik” approach to leadership.
  • All park managers functioned like company/battalion commanders That because of geographic separation and local conditions required maximum operational flexibility and independence against mission. Seasoned managers adapted quickly to this approach while some newer managers worked into it with the right mentoring and support.
  • Stress cooperation on the leadership team and emphasize that there are no favorites…each leader is a valued member of the team to be optimized.
  • Provide resource support fairly and equitably reinforcing each leader’s sense that their work and leadership are important to the whole.
  • Region leader presence is important and should reinforce other leaders in their work and initiatives.
  • No leader on the leadership team should be caused to avoid communicating…even bad news. If the latter, we work it together and achieve the best solution.
  • Credit success generously recognizing the leader whose initiative made success possible.
  • Empower the leaders of the leadership team to take initiative and be innovative in their work.
  • As region manager always be a resource for park managers to engage in problem solving but foster the habit of never presenting an issue without two elements: what you are doing to sustain operations now: what you recommend doing to correct/improve the situation.
  • It is absolutely imperative that the region manager have the best possible staff relationships with the division controller, and other key staff elements and agency senior leaders in the chain of authority. Support from these critical offices was essential to region ability to successfully conduct its fiscal year plan.

Summary

The leadership lessons learned in these three battalion/brigade excursions had several different takeaways but there were some key common areas that applied to all three and had broader implications as other leadership experiences would underscore.  One of these was the development of a “real” leadership team that pulled together and supported each other.  The application of such team leadership approach proved vital in a last Army assignment which was completed as the Director of the Collective Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, U. S, Army Training and Doctrine Command in the ability of the directorate to lead an Army wide initiative to build what became the highly successful Combined Arms Training Strategy (CATS).

Another was the criticality of developing leaders able to operate independently within the sense of the organization’s mission.  A third was the senior leader’s ability to function as an effective mentor reinforcing other leaders.

A last and critical item was leader competence that resulted in confidence of the leader to perform as the leader and confidence in other leaders in the leader team of the region leader’s ability. In all three cases attention to these areas produced very good collective organizational results and mission accomplishment.

Additionally, the lessons learned would be “payed forward” to great effect in following work.  As noted, in the Army experience, application of the leadership lessons learned proved critical in developing the Army wide CATS that bore much fruit in the initial operations in the Mideast following the 9/11 attacks.

Immediately following the park region assignment as another example, some 17 months of work as the Capital Outlay Operations Manager reporting to the Director of the Design and Construction Office of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation would be greatly enhanced by the experience.  Application of the lessons learned would prove invaluable to assist project teams to bring approaching 400 project lines of over $100M in capital projects in 1995 dollars to successful completion.

This application was followed by 19 years as the Central Region Director, Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.  (The last two years were focused on the occupational health operations in the region.) In this last case the leadership lessons and experience acquired from the three battalion/brigade level experiences would be shared in a wide range of applications.

One application most significantly and far reaching in effect, was in the resolution process of some 13,000-14,000 audits (inspections) of the occupational safety and health systems of small to international corporate employers operating sites in the region’s 32 county and municipality jurisdiction centered on the state capital region of Richmond.

These interfaces and sharing of leadership lessons occurred with site leadership up to senior corporate leaders.  Many of these shares had an impact on preventing injuries and saving lives and many findings and resulting improvements in systems and leadership had national and international significance.

Notes

Note 1: reinforcing the above experience, the author, prior to the MRB command, had completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the Parachute and Ranger Schools at the U.S. Army Infantry School.  He had served at battalion level as the executive officer of a mechanized battalion headquarters company, an assistant S-1 (personnel officer) of an infantry battalion and S-3 Air (plans, operations and training officer) of an infantry then a mechanized infantry battalion for some 25 months.  He had led an infantry, a mechanized infantry and an infantry battalion medical platoon for 17 months and been a mechanized infantry company executive officer for 6 months.  He had led an infantry battalion detachment of 70 then 50 troops for four months on a separate mission and a mechanized infantry company for six months.

He had also served as a tank brigade headquarters company executive officer for four months and on an infantry division staff for six months (3 months as the aide-de-camp for the assistant division commander for maneuver and 3 months as the aide-de-camp for the assistant division commander for support).   These assignments had occurred at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Hood, Texas, and in South Korea.

Note 2: Prior to the acting command of the forward deployed mechanized infantry battalion in West Germany, the author had served for four months as the battalion’s executive officer. Previous to that duty the author had been the plans, operations and training officer of an “in effect” training battalion for 36 months in form of a Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) battalion at the University of Massachusetts. 

Additionally, after promotion to major while assigned to the University of Massachusetts unit, assignment followed as the operations officer for two months of the 1st ROTC Region Advanced Camp Patrolling Committee at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina (two previous two-month summer cycles as a captain had been spent as a patrol committee lane evaluator).

As well, the author had completed the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at the U.S. Army Infantry School and a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Massachusetts.   He also had completed the Command and General Staff Officer’s Course at the U.S. Army Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

Note 3: Following the acting command, the author would serve 12 more months as a mechanized infantry battalion executive officer and 18 months as an assistant forward deployed armored division G-3 (Assistant G-3 for Training Resources) followed by 36 months on Department of the Army staff and then 42 months on U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command staff the last assignment being as Director of the Collective Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training (the seven years on 1st Armored Division, Department of the Army, and Training and Doctrine Command staffs involved significant program management responsibilities such as development of the Army’s Combined Arms Training Strategy). Then followed a year as the Virginia State Parks Division training officer before the Virginia State Parks Region 2 Manager’s assignment.

Note 4: All of these preparatory experiences would add substantial perspective and leavening for the three leadership roles when assumed.  They would contribute to the author’s early effectiveness as a leader in each of the three roles.  

2 Comments

  • Chris Chance

    August 4, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    I have been following Tom Rozman’s contributions to E-Veritas for a number of years, and salute their inclusion. They are excellent examples for all leaders. I look forward to reading them, notably the Lessons Learned. Thank you.

  • Tom Rozman

    August 7, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you Chris…if the pieces add benefit and useful perspective to practicing and developing leaders in their practice, we are serving our leader community as hoped. Bill Oliver’s idea has then borne useful fruit.