Monday, October 09, 2006

My Feelings About Being a Platoon Leader

I've been trying to figure out a good way to word this post for a few days now. I am not really sure why I am having so many problems with it since it boils down to the very simple fact that I don't want to be a platoon leader.

After completing OBC, most 2LTs go to their units, and are assigned as platoon leaders. Occasionally, they might join the staff or have some other job, and if they are in the National Guard, they might quickly find themselves thrust into the position of XO or even Company Commander due to shortages. Basically, platoon leader, or PL, is not the only job for 2LTs but it is the one that is most emphasized. In school, whenever we talked about these kinds of things in class, we basically worked off the assumption that we would start off our careers as platoon leaders, and most of the rest of the cadre I've met since thinks that way as well. These same captains, majors, colonels, and sometimes even generals all tend to tell the same story: it's the greatest and most challenging experience ever; fight to stay with a platoon as long as possible because that's the only time you get to work with men; work hand in hand with your platoon sergeant etc. Last week, one colonel asked us who amongst us wanted to be a PL, and every single person in that class raised their hand, so eventually I did as well. That's the problem I'm having right now: There are other positions available for lieutenants, not everyone can be a PL and some people love and want to do it longer (normally, it's anywhere from 12 to 18 months, but one of our captains was a platoon leader for 27 months) but I can't really come out and say that. I'm supposed to want to be a platoon leader so if I get to my unit and tell them I'd like to be staff, if possible, I'm afraid I'm going to give them a horrible first impression. (I was talking to J about this, and he felt a similar pressure to raise his hand in response to the colonel's question; however, as National Guard, he might have a bit more control about what position he can get.)

There are two reasons that I don't want to be platoon leader, and it's only in combination that they really bother me. Unfortunately, both reasons apply to my situation and there's nothing I can do about it.

1) We're at war.
2) I'm a Transportation Officer.

One of my main weaknesses that keeps coming up over and over again is my lack of command presence. I'm a quiet person, and while that might work as a leadership style in many instances, I'm afraid I'd lose control of the situation if I were ever under fire. Unfortunately, as transportation, I have a slightly larger chance of taking fire or hitting an IED than other branches - after all, transpo leaves the FOB (forward operating base) on a daily basis for convoys while other branches are more stationary (such as AG or Medical Service, which I wanted and still regret not getting). Basically, if I were one of those other branches, I'd feel a lot better about the idea of being a platoon leader, or if I were guaranteed that my unit would not deploy while I was platoon leader, I would be less worried about being a transportation PL. When it comes to Iraq, though, I just feel like I'd be better put to use in a different position, and the troops would be better off with someone else leading them. I'm sure being a platoon leader and working with the soldiers (in some cases as a social worker as one captain has said) would be a rewarding experience, but I don't like the current circumstances.

I don't really have any say where I'm going to go or what I'm going to be, but I hate the fact that I don't even feel comfortable telling higher-ranking officers that I'd prefer being staff to being a platoon leader.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, the Army has been around a longtime. You are probably not the first 2LT with this worry. Next time the opportunity arises, don't raise your hand and go with the crowd. Voice your concern. Then it can be addressed. I bet there is more than you and J in your class with the same concern. It needs to be discussed in an open forum. You don't sound like the type person to go along with the crowd. Don't start doing it now. Oh yea, command presence is nice to have, but in the long run your platoon will respect intelligience and concern more.

spaceCADETzoom said...

You're certainly not alone in any of these thoughts. I'm willing to bet EVERY 2LT feels the same way. I am not blessed with natural command presence either...I'm neither loud, nor outgoing, and can bet I'm even more quiet and shy than you(I was even given the great honor of being ridiculously short, unnaturally attracted to dorky things like comic books and video games, and not knowing a thing about sports--all of which add up to be a great combat arms officer, no?). Despite it all, I just put the joes first and hope for the best. Listen to me, doling out the advice of someone with less experience than you! hah. Just commenting on the fact you're not special with your above misgivings. Even the studs think the same. Confidence comes with trust, faith, etc. From my experience (virtually none), if your soldiers know you're putting them ahead of yourself, I think that's half the battle right there...

Anonymous said...

I feel that way too, and I am much like spacecadetzoom.... I haven't quite started as a PL because my unit just returned from a deployment, but already I am making a bad impression. i've become that LT, the one that all the jokes are about and the one thats always getting made fun of. It sucks because before I commissioned, I was really considering making a career out of the army, and now I can't help but feel like I'm making all the mistakes and screwing up so badly. It's taken a huge toll on my confidence. Up until this point, I've only had peer leadership experience which is only hard because you're all equal, but at the same time easy because I got along really well with all my peers so they were forgiving when I made mistakes (even helped me out with some of them), and accepted me for who I am (my dorky, nerdy side). You're not alone, and the situation could always be worse.

Wayne said...

I say man up, I'm naturally a quiet guy, but when it comes down to it, if something has to be done and your college education hopefully puts your skills a notch above all the enlisted you are over, then you are the one to make sure it happens. I'm a PL in a Trans company in the Nat. Guard, have been for a year now. I was former enlisted and NCO on AD, so of course that helps; but one of the many things my PLT sergeant taught me a long time ago is "When in charge, Take Charge. When you're not in charge, power down, but don't power off." I was promoted to E-5 a month after my 21st b day. I was sent to a national training center and put in charge of 12 truck drivers whom all knew each other very well and most of them grew up together. I got beat up bad, but I learned a lot from that. At the end of the day, 99% of the soldiers out there want leadership not friendship. Caring, thoughtful leadership. Use your experience from college, training in ROTC and BOLC and make things happen. I usually have the best idea on how to get things done in my platoon and when I don't, I yield to whoever and whatever the plan is. Be flexible at times and raise your voice if need be if they aren't taking you serious. Anyway, there are tons of things I could say, but Trans is fun, I love it and plan to do many things with it. feel free to write back if you want anymore unsolicited or solicited advice. Take Care

Jen K said...

Wayne, thanks for the comment, but I wrote that post over four years ago . . . I was a PLS platoon leader for 24 months, 15 of those deployed, am currently on my second deployment and preparing to take command. So yes, most of my fears were very much unwarranted, but I was also very fortunate since none of our convoys ever got hit, so I was never put in one of the super-intense situations, and just had to deal with daily leadership challenges. I'm glad you are enjoying transportation though, I'm still a little sad about my switch to LG.

Anonymous said...

Sir. Thank you for your service first and foremost. I have just found your site and look forward to reading more. I am looking for advice about leadership. I have a question about a person who is a new 2lt platoon leader. He has been in position for less than a year. He wanted, and was offered pre ranger and because at the same time orders to deploy came down, he naively declined and probably over shared his reasons why on a personal level. Is this the type of critical error that can ruin a career? That tab is and has been one of the most important things to him but the timing was wrong. Leading up to this meeting where he declined, his top commander said the 2lt was one of his top 3 Lts. Since this meeting, he has fallen from grace hard and fast. Despite an army com, jrtc rotation, EIB, and a few other personal achievements; he has not regained footing or good graces. My friend has never been in this situation, from Jrrotc through blue cord he has been loved by leaders because he is the hardest worker, the most dedicated, and a servant leader himself, maybe to a fault. Where does a person in this situation turn for advice? My friend is dedicated and loves his men and his job but he is suffering from the constant tear downs that are likely warranted but that come with zero praise for accomplishment and zero insight on how and where to improve. I want to have good advice and am desperate to find what that is.
Ps. This leader is apparently known as a toxic leader.