Today is my last day as the Regimental Administrative Warrant Officer of the First Battalion, Scots Guards. I arrived at the Unit in Catterick Garrison in June 2015, and I leave the Battalion, a little over three years later, in Aldershot. This job will, in all probability, be the pinnacle of my career as a Military Administrator, so I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a little advice to those who follow me, and indeed to the twenty soldiers of my Detachment whose careers have substantially more life left in them than my old thing. I am the oldest soldier in the Battalion, and have almost twenty-four years experience in both the Territorial and Regular Armies, with twelve years service in the Sergeants’ Mess.
My first piece of advice is to Empower your junior soldiers. Be satisfied where possible with setting intent and allowing your Sergeants and Corporals to achieve the desired objective; sitting on your hands will be uncomfortable, but it will allow your subordinates to grow. Don’t insist on uniformity, allow and encourage creativity and accept that what matters is the result, not the process of achieving it. Protect your subordinates; this is what is meant by ‘looking after your troops’, not merely a parochial paternalism, but a protective hand encouraging professional development and initiative. In doing so, we create the conditions where our JNCOs can thrive and, moreover, where we have time and space to deliver greater effect as leaders and managers.
Train for the Known, Educate for the Unknown. Much like learning to drive, the course at the beginning is only the start of the story, it takes years to build up both the technical competence required to be a good driver, and the instinctive knowledge to master your art. Encourage your soldiers to exploit training opportunities, but also ensure they have the basic skills in numeracy, literacy, and information technology to carry out their duties: this is not the level currently required for promotion, it is much higher. Similarly, encourage your soldiers to develop critical-thinking skills and gain further and higher education qualifications, this will allow them to operate in the white space where the training doesn’t cover the lived experience. Provide your troops with professional military education, CLM is not the be all and end all, it is the beginning. Allow day release, encourage learning; it will hurt, but you will see rapid results.
Your troops may be Combat Service Support or even Command Support specialists, but Experience both at trade and as a fighting soldier is critical. We must strive to deploy our soldiers on exercise and operations as often as possible, and to allow them to operate both within their experience level and well outside their comfort zone. All personnel need to have the wherewithal to operate at least two ranks up. When I deployed to Iraq in 2003 I did so as a substantive LCpl, acting Cpl, and local Sgt, it was the most valuable experience of my military career and allowed me to be comfortable in organising and deploying to exercise and operations for years to come. Some people will resent being deployed, after all not everyone joined the Army to go to war, unfortunately this is not, and cannot be allowed to be, a choice. A soldier without operational or exercise experience is as much use as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.
Experiment often using the training, education, and experience gained as a handrail. Today’s solution will not survive contact in the modern Army’s current culture of continuous adaptation. In my current Unit, we have experimented with centralised administration, a centralised iHub, and latterly an enhanced iHub concept; each adaptation has been a success but has pointed the way to greater improvement. Don’t forget, we are improving to give our commanders and soldiers an edge, greater readiness, something which will have an effect on their preparedness for the battlefield. Having experimented, it is vital that we Engage. By engagement, I do not just mean internally, although this is vital, we must engage with those in similar positions outside the Unit struggling with the same problems; tell your story externally and be prepared to share, we are one Army not a personal fiefdom, knowledge must be spread, embedded and exploited to be of any use.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must act to Endorse our actions. What do I mean by this? Quite simply we must protect those we have empowered, providing top cover for mistakes while giving credit for success, we must ensure that we reap the benefits of education, experience and experimentation and absorb the lessons within Unit SOPs and wider doctrine, and perhaps most important we must encourage innovation and adaptation. The end result of this? Trusted, adaptable, and curious soldiers, able to think for themselves and deliver on their own terms, creating competitive advantage by out-thinking the enemy. I leave to fight a desk in Whitehall from September, cementing my career as a Chairborne Warrior.
Many thanks, have a good weekend,