Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Leader Engagement Key to ‘Bridging Basics,’ Battaglia Says

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2012 – Service members of all ranks and experience should know that they are the ones with the institutional knowledge needed to build a bridge between generations and develop the force of the future, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

With the end of the war in Iraq and the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan, the military is transforming itself into a leaner, more garrison-centric force, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia said in a roundtable discussion with reporters. That force -- called “Joint Force 2020” in Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s Capstone Concept for Joint Operations -- also will be highly agile and technologically capable.

These profound changes mark a return to military life that more closely resembles the pre-9/11 era, Battaglia said. However, he added, the idea that a “back to the basics” approach is necessary to address the transformation might be catchy, but it’s incomplete.

“It removes … a whole generation that has just a great source of innovative thinking … that can help us be a better force,” he explained.

A military of the future that relies solely on the training methods and standards of earlier generations won’t be successful, he said. Rather, service members should “bridge the basics” by fusing those fundamentals that remain unchanged -- for example, customs and courtesies and active leader engagement -- with ideas and technologies that have been proven over the past 11 years.

“‘Back to the basics’ implies … that we’re taking you somewhere you’ve once been,” he said. It also implies that the knowledge of post-9/11 service members isn’t working, he added, or that it’s not as effective as it could be and therefore can be ignored.

Neither of these things is true of today’s military, Battaglia said. “We can’t just step back in time,” he added.

The way a peacetime military functions is very different from what service members who enlisted in the years following 9/11 have experienced, Battaglia said.

“Our military lifestyle and day-to-day living [consisted of] exercises and maybe peacetime sorts of operations, but for the most part, it was aboard the bases and the garrison,” he said. “We were able to keep ourselves occupied, proficient, ready and relevant as a force.”

Service members of Battaglia’s generation trained for a war that they never fought, he said, as they served in a military built during the Cold War. “And that obviously changed in September of 2001,” he noted.

Practically overnight, the normal operational tempo transformed from “reset and dwell” to “over and back,” Battaglia said.

“Dwell time [at home stations became] nothing more than getting ready for the next deployment,” he said.

That caused some basic military skills to be temporarily shelved, Battaglia said.

Battaglia said he’s convinced that the military leaders of his generation can use their experience in a peacetime military to guide the current generation of warfighters through the transformation into Joint Force 2020. “It makes so much sense that instead of taking one ‘back to the basics’ or returning to the basics, we need a bridge,” he said.

“We feel that today’s generation of innovative thinkers and technologies allow both ‘basics’ to be very applicable to … bringing our force to Joint Force 2020,” he said. Leaders need to use the knowledge of today’s generation of service members rather than alienating them, he said.

Key to the “bridging the basics” concept is active leadership engagement, something that can’t be replaced by technology, Battaglia said. Leaders at all levels must spend time talking to their troops to not only evaluate what skills and knowledge they can contribute to the unit, but also to assess their well-being, he explained. The military needs to stay leadership-centric and technology-enabled, not technology-centric and leadership-enabled, he added.

“While we live with the email and social media -- that can still be utilized and utilized very effectively -- [that] doesn’t have to be the sole source and sole way [to communicate],” he said.

As a doctrine, bridging the basics is still in its infancy stages, Battaglia said, noting he is working with the senior enlisted advisors from each service and from the combatant commands to further develop and spread the idea.

“We have a generation of service members who have operational experience. … I’m convinced that that’s going to bring more value to keeping our force trained and educated for whatever contingency may come up next,” he said. “Where we need to take it is into the educational institutions and the academies that our [service members] attend.”

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