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What I've learned as an ODA Commander
Old 04-25-2016, 22:47   #1
xollie316
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What I've learned as an ODA Commander

All,

I've stalked these halls for quite some time, having gone from wet behind the ears ROTC cadet to wet behind the ears 18A in my time reading this forum. I've learned an immeasurable amount from all sections of QP.com, however the one section that seems to be lacking, at least recently, is this one.

I certainly don't know everything or even most things, but here are some things I've learned (usually the hard way) about being a Detachment Commander and Special Forces Officer. Many of them will seem common sense, it is their application in trying circumstances that make them worth stating:



1. Do the right thing, always. We work in an amorphous and uncertain environment. It can be difficult to fully comprehend until you are "in" it, but you must be ready to do what you think is right from the small things to the big, especially when no one is looking. The terms "living in the gray" or "big boy rules" can be twisted to mean "we can do whatever we want" but that is not their correct interpretation. Rather they are a reminder that we (as a regiment) are trusted to accomplish difficult mission in difficult circumstances that others can not be trusted with. Difficult does not always mean in combat, it can be even more difficult doing the right thing on a JCET where there is truly no one to hold you accountable for your actions except yourself.

2. Take care of each other, always. You will stumble just as the members of your team will stumble. The foundation of the team and truly believing in each other will make those stumbles recoverable and you will be better for it. Your care for your team mates can not be produced or faked, you must believe it down to your very bones for the ODA to function properly. Try to use problems and stumbles to bring the team closer together and tighter. Never let someone get isolated or shunned from the brotherhood. If someone is truly not fit to serve, then do the admin work to rectify the situation but until that time your team is your team.

3. Endeavor to be the best dressed and best spoken one in the room. You are the visual and verbal representation of your ODA, it is your duty to represent them properly to the command, outside organizations, Embassy personnel, and anyone else you interact with. Whether you are wearing your uniform and beret, suit and tie, or Assaulter uniform, wear it with pride and knowledge that you are representing an organization bigger than yourself. This goes for your physical fitness as well, you don't have to be the fittest or fastest on your team (in fact you likely won't be) although you will strive for it. You must present the image of the Professional Soldier and Warrior Diplomat and never be a liability. You can't do this if you are overweight. When are going to speak on behalf of your mission and team, which will be often, REHEARSE. There is no quicker way to fail a mission in brief or get turned down for an operation than lack of confidence in your brief and self. Google "confidence through preparation". Have your team shoot holes in your brief as you rehearse.

4. Admit ignorance quickly and seek knowledge. Walking into the team room on day one it can seem as if there is another language being spoken. There is no shame in not knowing jargon, acronyms, group specific information, and the like, as long as you admit and ask to learn. If you ever hear the same term twice and still don't know what it is, you've failed. Look it up or ask one of your team mates, they want you to succeed as much as you want them to. I strongly believe that your time as an officer and the 18A Q Course teaches you how to "Do the right thing," not necessarily how to "Do things right." You may know morally or fundamentally what needs to be done but not how to apply it with in the framework of the organization. Your Team Sergeant and Warrant Officer are invaluable in helping you with this.

5. Set priorities and give guidance. The ODA is a fully functioning machine, it was designed that way. It does not (should not) need you to run it, the Master Trainer / Team Sergeant can do that just fine on his own. Where you can support is by clearly providing a ranking of priorities and giving guidance in how you see them accomplished. The Army as a whole has a bad habit of making everything a priority, one of it's faults. Do not condone this habit. My personal method is to write a list of priorities and Commander's Intent for the week and post it on the team room door every week. It doesn't always change but when it does I deliberately brief it to the team. Sit down with your Team Sergeant and ADC and backwards plan the trajectory of the team, begin with the end state in mind and work backwards to ensure you are all three on the same path. I like to mentally view the path of the ODA as a race track: the ODA Commander sets the boundaries or left and right limits the ODA will operate in, the Team Sergeant chooses the exact route and drives it, and they have both have agreed on where the "finish line" is.

6. Being in command will give you opportunities to avoid discomfort and hardship. Avoid this at all cost. At times your duties will take you away from the "grunt work", however you must always prove and demonstrate that you are a Soldier first and an Officer second. Welcome hardship if it presents itself to your team mates.

7. Counsel your Soldiers. All of them. You rate or senior rate everyone on your ODA, you owe it to them to clearly present them with your expectations, guidance, and end state of how you see their job accomplished. Your counseling should provide them with a guide path to achieve the highest possible rating from you. If you don't do this, you've failed them as a leader. You don't need to tell your junior 18B how to do his job, he already knows and if he doesn't his Team Sergeant will fix it. However since you rate his potential, you need to explain how he can demonstrate the highest degree of potential to you. I look for habits or traits that would make them a successful Team Sergeant in the future: looking up and out from their MOS duties, taking care of their team mates, and a desire to learn and better themselves. Yours may differ but whatever they are, make them clear.

8. Have fun. Trying to do all of the above while drinking from the metaphorical fire hose and getting use to life on a team can be stressful. Don't forget that this is what you've strived for and finally achieved. Enjoy it, being on a SFODA can be the most rewarding experience of your life. There will be plenty of serious things and issues but that doesn't mean EVERYTHING is a serious issue. Lighten up and smile, take a look around. It will go by faster than you can imagine.

9. Take pictures! Take A LOT of pictures. Even when people ask what you are doing or make fun of you, take more pictures. Being too cool for photos is fine when we are all in the moment but you will want memories of all you have done together. Your team mates will as well. I've never heard a Soldier upset over having too many pictures from their past and heard many wish they had only taken more. You will need pictures for storyboards either way so make it count. Keep a large archive and you can give departing Soldiers a CD with as many team pictures as you can manage and have plenty left to make plaques etc so you are not scrounging for one blurry picture someone has on his phone. Seriously, take pictures. Practice OPSEC with sharing them, but take PICTURES.

10. The correct response to, "Is this your first time?" is "No, it is my initial." Trust me on that one.


Hope it helps.
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Old 04-25-2016, 23:39   #2
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Sticky this somewhere!

Captain, welcome aboard. You have already shown the courage to learn...your time will be (unfortunately) short, learn fast, learn much, always ask questions and challenge the answers (most times they won't comfort you.) Sometimes they will not make any sense at all but one day you will look back and say, "God Damn it, that makes perfect sense"...support your Team Sergeant always, he will not steer you wrong, just get you in trouble (sometimes) he has your back; always.

I wish I had many more TL with an outlook like yours, I had many good ones but, you seem to have your head in the right place.

Look forward to the best years of your life, they will be cherished long after you have left the ODA.

A former Team Sergeant gives you a first impression of two thumbs up!!

Congrats and welcome to the Brotherhood...
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Old 04-26-2016, 00:18   #3
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Much appreciated, ODNT. I'll take that advice to heart. Luckily my Team Sergeant has his head in the right place and makes it easy to lead, where do you think I learned all of the above?... Even if he does rib me for still "pissing out Camp Mackall water."

Jokes aside, I obviously didn't invent any of that advice. It is just a list of things I've gathered and learned throughout the years, all attributed to the NCOs and Officers I've had the honor of serving with. Hope that it can help some other 19 year old kid browsing the forum to make the best choice of his life and put one foot in front of the other in the sand hills of North Carolina.

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Old 04-26-2016, 05:20   #4
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Well stated,,
I like..

I would echo all your points as I lived both my military and civilian careers..

I only wish we had digital cameras, smart phones, and GoPro's. #9 is my unavoidable weakest point..
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Old 04-26-2016, 07:42   #5
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Thumbs up

Well said. I had a few TLs who could have learned a lot from this!

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Old 04-26-2016, 08:50   #6
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Yeah ha! #9...13+ years and I swear all I have is a 3x4" of me sitting against a wall all cammo'd up waiting to board a helicopter somewhere (the helicopter isn't even in the picture.) I know there must be more pictures somewhere but most of time the pictures don't lead you to believe any of us were in the Army let alone SF. (If there aren't pictures it never happened Rule #3 never take a camera into a bar!)

I have a grainy VHS tape of graduation my folks made, about an hour of some video taken at a range and playing with Jolly Greens (MH-53s) out of Kirkland and my accidental 5-seconds of fame on an HALO jump in MFF school (the videographer lost contact with a troubled student and as he zoomed to earth he gave me a quick hello, I saluted him with the "Looser" ("L") sign checked my altimeter and waved off for an on-time pull. (Thanks SFC B, I treasure that 5-seconds.)
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Old 04-26-2016, 19:51   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Old Dog New Trick View Post
Yeah ha! #9...13+ years and I swear all I have is a 3x4" of me sitting against a wall all cammo'd up waiting to board a helicopter somewhere (the helicopter isn't even in the picture.) I know there must be more pictures somewhere but most of time the pictures don't lead you to believe any of us were in the Army let alone SF. (If there aren't pictures it never happened Rule #3 never take a camera into a bar!)

I have a grainy VHS tape of graduation my folks made, about an hour of some video taken at a range and playing with Jolly Greens (MH-53s) out of Kirkland and my accidental 5-seconds of fame on an HALO jump in MFF school (the videographer lost contact with a troubled student and as he zoomed to earth he gave me a quick hello, I saluted him with the "Looser" ("L") sign checked my altimeter and waved off for an on-time pull. (Thanks SFC B, I treasure that 5-seconds.)
Cameras certainly don't belong everywhere! Maybe you can get that grainy VHS tape converted over to digital. I remember my parents doing it with a bunch of home movies as our VCRs got phased out in the mid 2000s. Would be worth it I'm sure!

I've been lucky enough to do all my military career in the age of digital cameras. I've got quite a few photos from past deployments but definitely still wish I had more. The "cool guy" photos are great but I really cherish just the mundane photos of every day activities. Prepping trucks, joking in the chow hall, gym feats, and the like.

We got a brief from two very famous Quiet Professionals in the Q Course about their experiences in Vietnam and I vividly remember them both urging us to take photos at the end. Hope I can imprint that on some others.
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Old 04-26-2016, 20:11   #8
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Very good stuff there Thuyền trưởng
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Old 04-26-2016, 20:17   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xollie316 View Post


I've been lucky enough to do all my military career in the age of digital cameras. I've got quite a few photos from past deployments but definitely still wish I had more. The "cool guy" photos are great but I really cherish just the mundane photos of every day activities. Prepping trucks, joking in the chow hall, gym feats, and the like.
I remember taking the Digital Photography course with Nikon N90s at Lewis. We still did film development, but then the guys that were in the beginning of Kodak film came in with their "New" digital back. Same camera body, but a special back plate. Now it's all digital.

I may or may not still have an old Canon AE-1 program.

And no, it doesn't feel like it was that long ago.
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Old 03-24-2017, 15:25   #10
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xollie316,

This is a fantastic post. I'm currently a Cadet (prior service) and I try to impart this sort of knowledge to my fellow Cadets every chance I get; try to help them see the bigger picture outside of ROTC.

I will be an "MS3" next semester and our LTC asked me what I wanted to do within the Cadet COC. I told him I'd do whatever duty I was assigned. He was surprised by that answer, because most people hesitate (paraphrasing what he said). So, I asked him what he thinks I should do. He told me I need to be in position that where I can interact with Cadre. After speaking to some of the current 3’s, I found out those positions are Company 1SG’s and the Cadet CSM.

Reading your post has made me realize what I should have answered.

Thank you,

- JD
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Old 03-25-2017, 00:40   #11
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Many, I always liked this thread. All's I got to add is listen to your men. They may gripe and whine a lot but that's a good thing. It means there is an identifiable problem that may or may not be fixed. When they go silent, you have to dig deeper to find out what's going on...

Part of being a leader is listening. You may not always have a solution but understanding the issue is half the problem to solve.
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Old 03-25-2017, 09:24   #12
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I was always trying to be a shutterbug during my time in the army. In my early days at 2/75 I had boxes of film pictures. Most of them were given away to the guys who were in them. I vowed to go digital after mailing 6 rolls of film back home to my wife from A-stan in 2002 and every roll was x-rayed or exposed enroute because nearly every picture was completely black.

Since then I've been taking thousands of pictures. Sure, a high quality digital camera w/an assortment of lenses is expensive up front, but when you offset the potential cost of all the rolls of film and getting them developed, it pays for itself the more you use it.

My team guys were always bitching at me for taking pics of everything in northern Iraq in '07-'08 until it came time to go home. Then I had guys lined up with thumb drives wanting copies to take home.

I ran into a platoon mate from 2/75 a couple years back and wound up digging up all those old pics I had taken and made digital copies to be emailed to all the other guys he was in touch with on Facebook.

Bottom line: everybody will want pictures.
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Old 03-25-2017, 18:28   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TOMAHAWK9521 View Post
I was always trying to be a shutterbug during my time in the army. In my early days at 2/75 I had boxes of film pictures. Most of them were given away to the guys who were in them. I vowed to go digital after mailing 6 rolls of film back home to my wife from A-stan in 2002 and every roll was x-rayed or exposed enroute because nearly every picture was completely black.

Since then I've been taking thousands of pictures. Sure, a high quality digital camera w/an assortment of lenses is expensive up front, but when you offset the potential cost of all the rolls of film and getting them developed, it pays for itself the more you use it.

My team guys were always bitching at me for taking pics of everything in northern Iraq in '07-'08 until it came time to go home. Then I had guys lined up with thumb drives wanting copies to take home.

I ran into a platoon mate from 2/75 a couple years back and wound up digging up all those old pics I had taken and made digital copies to be emailed to all the other guys he was in touch with on Facebook.

Bottom line: everybody will want pictures.
I wish I had done what you did, you can never go back and relive a moment in time. Perhaps if I had had digital back then I would have taken more pics. Forty years later I have the memories just nothing to back them up. I also regret not keeping in touch with some of the really great soldiers I served with, ya figure you will look guys up when you retire and when that time finally comes you discover that many of them were not as fortunate as you and have been gone for a great deal of years , it was not their widows and children that I expected to touch base with.
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Old 04-20-2017, 16:34   #14
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In a re-read I'm amazed at the life-lessons available in that initial post.
Thanks again sir.
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