During the high op-tempo of the wars, "we've maybe lost some core competencies, both in proficiency, and maybe in customs and traditions and courtesies," said Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the Defense Department's top senior enlisted adviser. (Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane / Air Force)
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The Defense Department's top senior enlisted adviser is spreading a new set of ideas that he hopes will help guide the force through the current drawdowns and back into a more garrison-oriented lifestyle that may be unfamiliar to many of today's youngest troops.
Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia calls the concept "Bridging the Basics," an effort to fuse the best training and leadership tactics from both the youngest, battle-hardened and tech-savvy troops, as well as the older generation of time-tested leaders who came of age in the military before 2001, or even before 1989, when the force spent a lot of time "training for a war we never fought," as he put it.
As the senior adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Battaglia has been visiting installations around the world, spreading the word. Battaglia believes many of today's youngest troops never had the kind of training and development in what an earlier generation of noncommissioned officers would consider basic military skills. The frantic pace of operational tempo during the past decade required many units to focus on near-term missions rather than a broader commitment to military professionalism.
"We've maybe lost some core competencies, both in proficiency, and maybe in customs and traditions and courtesies, that we just simply didn't have time for because we were preparing for the next deployment," Battaglia said in a recent interview. Senior leaders should be realistic about what today's lower-ranking troops really know — and don't know.
The "Bridging the Basics" concept is underpinned by concerns that many troops, particularly soldiers and Marines, may struggle to adjust to a slower deployment tempo. Some may be frustrated by a feeling that they have less responsibility and fewer professional challenges. A key task for military leaders today will be finding ways to keep those troops busy, personally fulfilled and professionally proficient, Battaglia says.
Battaglia wants younger troops to renew a commitment to the trappings of military life, which includes crisp uniforms, tidy workplaces and rigorous training drills, along with the marches, ceremonies and rituals that help build unit cohesion. Newly minted NCOs should be reminded of the importance of face-to-face interaction with their troops (and not always rely on email).
Battaglia is encouraging salty, old-school leaders to welcome the use of tablet computers, electronic record-keeping and social media as tools to lead, monitor and motivate their troops. "We can't go back in time," Battaglia said. Senior leaders — the colonels, chief petty officers, sergeants major — should be helping to weave together the best cultural and leadership practices of the past generations. "These leaders can serve as conduits who have seen both sides and can help fuse this together."
Battaglia said he was motivated by the realization that today's youngest troops often feel unconnected to many traditional aspects of military life and the skills officially linked to their career fields. For example, many pilots who fly planes designed for hunting submarines have spent more time flying intel missions over land. And many of today's Marines have limited exposure to maritime missions that are central to their service's history.