Do you remember when you finally took Company command? The day arrived, you changed over command during a ceremony, then the next day you conduct a 10-mile run no one wanted to do. Then you presented your leadership philosophy, you conducted command inspections for the next month, and you became “King” of your small world. You felt validated, you surged in your inner confidence, which included the “I can do this” syndrome. “I am going to change the Army; I am me!” The family came, and you were allowed to make a speech for the first time! Everyone took photos…you were finally someone important.
What you didn’t realize at that time is that your subordinates and your commanders had as much to do with your future success as you do. It’s hard to succeed with three bad PLs, or a 1SG that just filed his retirement packet, or worse a BN Commander that is a rogue and is a micromanager, and her spouse has decided that he is God’s new gift to the FRG!
For most new FAOs that was your last position. That is what you left, and then you spent the next two to three years in training, and your first assignment as a FAO is now an OSC. Some may have experienced what I did when I had my outgoing senior rater counseling (BDE Commander) – “you have been my number one, but then you decided to leave our branch. I thought about doing that as well when I was your age and rank. I didn’t and now look, I’m a Brigade Commander. Too bad you’ve already committed to this. I support your decision, but since you are not staying the Infantry, I’m giving you the #2 rating. I just can’t waste #1 on someone who won’t command a battalion in the upcoming years.” Others may have experienced an even worse rating. Loyalty is something our leaders seek, and changing branches has a small and short consequence. The transition from basic branch Company Commander to FAO trainee to an OSC first time assignment overseas has its challenges. You have been in the peripherals for years now…it’s time to get back in the trenches and use what the FAO training has provided you.
Performance as a line Company commander is not a direct correlation to future performance as a FAO; however, there are some similarities. If there was something you lacked as a Company Commander, you were given the time as a FAO trainee to reflect upon that and improve your skills. As an OSC you are a small company commander, but now you have people who are not Soldiers or American citizens to lead. An OSC is not a staff officer; you are a leader who works for the SDO/DATT.
The SDO is your Division/Corps Commander, your Components are your Theater Commanders, you serve under the Combatant Commander, your bills are paid for by the Commander of the DSCA, and your serve under the Ambassador who directly works for the President of the United States. You have transitioned from having one clear chain of command to a powerpoint slide with a lot of direct black lines, some dashed long lines, and some red/green/yellow short lines. This is what being the point of a spear means – the spear spreads out as things are distributed from your point.
This post is overly topical about Leadership. Leadership is achieved and lost in the first 100 days as an OSC. Why do you think our Presidents are measured by that same time frame? You as a leader are measured by the same time frame by American standards but maybe not by your partner nations. Their standards may be more or less – like the first meeting you are in, or more as they are likely to judge over time. Either way – the first 100 days the microscope is on you. Everyone is talking. Your preparation before arriving will determine whether or not you are prepared for them, and the current political environment will decide whether or not they are prepared for you. Either way, it’s time to take charge of your office, if you haven’t already done so.
Before you charge off to solve all the problems you’ve heard your predecessor couldn’t do…take a knee. Your future success as an OSC depends as much on you as on those that surround you. You need to understand your environment, and ways to shape it or provide yourself barriers for potential future damage. In Africa, you are the 30th or 16th OSC they have had, or you are the 2nd. You should understand that. As a representative of the United States, your presence equates to potential expectations. You should take the time to know what those previous expectations have been.
Introductions are everything
100 days ago you arrived in your country with your family (dogs, kids, spouse, or not) and a ton of bags sweltering in the sun of Africa at 0200 in the airport. Your OSC staff more than likely picked you up, or at least your DoS sponsor should have (Note: if your OSC staff doesn’t pick you up I’d worry!). You should have moved next to your new home and settled in for the night. I always try to arrive at a new country on Friday (or Thursday for a Muslim country)…that gives me time to get over the jet lag and everyone else the weekend to somewhat relax before game time. When you arrive, you should know who everyone is and greet them with their names. Get home, get settled, and get your family situated. You have two years (or maybe three) there. Don’t overly complain – they don’t care about your travels, they expect a leader.
First impressions: The three people who matter – the SDO, DCM, and the Ambassador
Your SDO already sized you up, to some extent, before you arrived. She has done this by reading your introductory emails, talking to you, and by also talking to her peers who may or not have been your previous Senior Raters during your IRT, Language, or Graduate school time. Those opinions matter, but you have the opportunity to validate them or not. I am a believer that each new leadership position provides the leader an opportunity to excel or fail. Don’t expose any known or unknown weaknesses – your first 100 days are where you prove those to be true or false. Make your SDO question her peer’s thoughts of you.
Your introduction to the DCM and the Ambassador also started before you arrived. You should have sent a BIO to your SDO for onward forwarding. I would advise against letters to the Ambassador etc. An OSC is not a nominative position, so neither has a say in whether you come there; however, AFRICOM did. Each of them is aware of the nomination through the SDO and the prior OSC, so to some extent, your reputation comes into play.
When they say your name what will they say:…yeah the great God of OSCs is coming here to save us, or will they say this guy’s a dud and we are worried? No one ever says – “I suck, but the guy coming in to replace me is Jesus!.” However, some might say “I’m perfect, and I think this next person will do well, or everything I’ve done is going to fail now that they are coming.” At the end of all this, what do you do? You perform, you execute the basic skills you’ve been taught. You take charge of your office. Transitions in leadership positions should not become personal. Whatever you do, don’t blame it on the previous person, their mess is now yours, and your mess when you leave will be your follow on’s. Don’t complain or pass on responsibility.
Meet the staff – everyone (LES’ talk)
From the day you arrive to the day you leave the Locally Employed Staff are the biggest players in your experience for their partner nation. They are incredibly connected, and they are talking to each other. Most of them have been there before you were born. They are watching and talking about you. Not necessarily in an RSO bad way, but in their observances of Americans – you are another new petri dish for them to observe. They love it when you know something about their country. It might seem cheesy, but to them, it means you care. Learn their culture and show it to them every chance you can.
you might not know everything
your predecessor may have cut every corner in the world
ask to see the regulation
Back to being a Company Commander – the most successful leaders in the military follow the same rules you learned when taking company command. Don’t accept anything as “that’s the way we do it” or “well that’s what the prior Commander had us do.” Anytime you take over a command position the first thing you should focus on is the staff and whether or not they are following the regulations that have been established. The first “90” days is always about the “shakeup.” Move the desk, clean the shelves, someone new is in town. Be cognizant that this will create stress amongst your staff, but don’t let their stress override your judgment.
As a new OSC in a foreign country I highly advise you do the following things during your first 100 days:
1) Layout the vehicles – open the hoods – check the oil. Find out what the domicile to duty policy is. Understand what the maintenance costs and schedules for your vehicles are. Personally, drive each vehicle in your fleet for a week. Look at the logs. GOV’s are the #1 reason people get in trouble in Africa. Set a standard – and understand that you may have to cut corners, take those risks as they come. Adhere to the same standard you make others.
2) Inspect every storage space. I found I had a storage space full of old files, old communications equipment and a safe that hadn’t been opened in five years. If you are responsible for it – open it up and question every detail as to why you have this stuff. It took my NCOIC one year to get through the bureaucracy to cut that safe open and destroy it. Nothing was inside, but we didn’t know that until the guy spent two days cutting it open. When you take command, you own it. I owned that safe and I destroyed it – we did it the last month before I left after two years of being there.
3) Counsel – everyone. You’ll need to learn the LES DoS system. This is a good practice in leadership and understanding the differences of your subordinates hiring systems. It is also a good time to honestly talk to your subordinates about what has worked, not worked, and what they want out of the next two years. In the smaller OSC posts your LES subordinates will be your teachers on certain programs, remember that they work for you, but they have more knowledge about the program than you do. Be cognizant that some LES’ may try to work you for an upgrade, or bring out old complaints the prior OSC failed or refused to deal with. I’ve found that dealing with these with an open and objective mind is the best way to eliminate personality conflicts. Stay focused on the facts. Don’t let one LES work you more than another.
4) Prepare for the NCO that has gone off the radar. Emerging a US military NCO into a US Embassy with only DISCS training is almost cruel in my opinion. They’ll find their way amongst the embassy personnel, what you have to watch and mentor them with is the culture shock of living overseas. If they become a member of the AFRICOM J5 UCMJ squad, it will cause you a lot of problems. As well, if you become a member of that crew you’ve now left a Staff Sergeant in control of your responsibilities…talk about a failure in command. Check their uniforms, their PT test, make them shave etc.
5) Look at your bills – understand ICASS. The Devil is in the money as an OSC. Everything you do requires funding, so you should always ask about the funding source, its authorizations, how it is obligated, and how it is executed. You more than likely may be delegated the ICASS budgeting role by the SDO. Take this role on as you wish. Keep in mind it is a leadership role within the Embassy, which will not reflect on your OER directly but could set the stage for you overall. ICASS is a pain…..and becomes almost dramatic as you discuss who needs what, etc. AFRICOM doesn’t care about ICASS, other than your J5MSD budget person, but you should understand it enough to know that it is a part of how the embassy runs. Your participation matters to the Ambassador. Be a part of the 3D system.
6) What are all these things you are signing? I found myself signing a lot of stuff every day, and I asked after about the 100th one why I was signing this. The LES told me that previously it was thought this was required. I asked him what he thought, and he said he thought it was nice, but maybe not necessary. I told him not to do it anymore and see if the host nation complained. They didn’t. Things change, some don’t- some do. Inspect International Travel Orders and make sure there aren’t any circumstances going on there. If a partner nation’s military member is coming to the Embassy to receive per diem, that is a Key Leader Engagement that should be scheduled with the OSC or the SDO.
7) Ask LES’ about ways to improve things – the DoD and DoS do not talk very well. Your LES works for one of three different agencies within the USG, but also has to work within the US Embassy construct – 3D. They more than likely are working behind the scenes in the embassy to “grease” something. You should ask them how to improve it, so they don’t have to do that. Understand that you can change a system within the Embassy that might have been just coasting along with the beauracracy. Don’t rock the boat, but don’t accept the ship either.
8) Don’t sign anything with the other OSC’s approval until you are willing to accept their decisions – unauthorized commitments. Take the time to talk to your GSO about this. What is an unauthorized commitment? They don’t teach you this in DISCS or IRT or anywhere else. You learn it after fact – which means you pay out of pocket for your mistakes. The GSO should be one of your first “friends” you make as an OSC. They may have some interesting insights into your OSC budget analyst that you should know. They also do your housing, cars, etc. The GSO should always be a friend for an OSC!!
9) Try not to be the swinging pendulum – conduct a 90-day Commander’s assessment. Your LES’ won’t understand this – they won’t be critical of the past or present personnel, or they might. Look at the prior AFRICOM IG inspections, specifically any highlighted issues, etc. This is your time to get settled in and set the tone for the next year.
The partner nation
Now that we have covered your embassy leadership duties it is time to move on to the more complex situations you have been dealt. In DISCS you heard “it depends on” a lot, well it does. I hate that response because I think it is the response that says “well I don’t know how that partner nation is,” so I’m going to say “it depends.” You want them to give you an answer and they won’t, maybe the SDO or OSC will. You can’t expect a DISCS instructor to know the in-depth details of 54 African Countries.
This is where the rubber meets the road
About two months into your assignment you should know whether or not you are Lawrence of Arabia or not! You asked for this, and you got it. Personalities, drama, colonialism, and narcism that you never imagined. You should have been exposed to everything you will encounter during your first 100 days. It’s a test if you didn’t know – you are now the 16th or the 2nd OSC the partner nation has experienced. Some partners are still feeling out this OSC business and trying to understand the difference between the SDO and OSC (there shouldn’t be any). American Imperialism is not something African’s are familiar with, for a good reason, we never colonized their countries, yet the rollout of the new AFRICOM headquarters could have been better, and it still resonates today. AFRICOM expanded positions on the continent 500% in the last five years…you may arrive in a country that is a new focus of the U.S. They are still judging us, and you are the central part of that judgment.
Deep dive into their military
Since you should have already deep dived into the programs of USG support to their military it is time to deep dive into their military. You should already know ranks upon meeting their soldiers, and for our Francophone and Lusophone OSCs, you should be aware the positions in their language. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the prior OSCs, but understand they will only contribute a little as they have their jobs to do. After 100 days you should know the face, name, and rank of every major military member in the partner nation. Your Ambassador expects this of you.
One thing we do not do well at as OSCs is Knowledge Management. OSCs aren’t required to sit down after each meeting with the host nation and write an executive summary, or better capture all the things that were promised or not promised. Hopefully, you will start this, and those who follow you will do it as well. It must be stored on the embassy share drive for everyone to have access to it when you leave. This is also helpful a year from now when the partner nation reminds you of something a Component or the SDO agreed to do, but you don’t remember.
At some point in time during the past 100 days, you will get frustrated with the lack of prior history. One way my predecessor solved this was by making a packet (printed one) for every case designator which included the LOAs, emails, inventories, pictures of equipment, etc. You can also upload most of this into SCIP for others to access. I like the folder concept because it allowed me to take it with me to the partner nation and show them things, which also helped to jog their memories. It also will stay in the embassy until it burns down, whereas some database might not last another three to four decades.
Don’t become that guy
That guy is the person who talks down about his partner nation, who buys into colonialism, or who talks about them behind their backs. At the same time don’t become the guy who falls into the Stockholm syndrome either. Lastly, don’t be that guy who thinks he doesn’t work for the combatant command.
The 1st 100 days is a whirlwind and cannot be equated to a US President’s primarily because you do not have the support staff the President does. I do recommend regularly asking “why” and then asking to see the FAM or regulation that supports it. Keep things with the partner nation brief and short until you have all the facts. Do not show weakness, because they understand this changeover. They have watched it for numerous years. You are not the first or the last OSC to meet them, but how you present yourself will matter in how you accomplish your mission.
photo credit: http://rosalielebel75.franceserv.com/armee-afrique.html