Chaplain (Capt.) Sam Rico, headquarters and headquarters battalion chaplain for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colo., is shown during his 2009 deployment to Wardak province, Afghanistan. (Photos courtesy of Chaplain (Capt.) Sam Rico/Army)
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Leaders are always saying that soldiers are the Army’s most important resource, so why not perform the same routine maintenance on a soldier that you would on a vehicle?
That’s the idea behind a program in development at Fort Carson, Colo., courtesy of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division Chaplain (Capt.) Sam Rico.
“A lot of the counseling we do in the Army — which we need to do — is performance and task-oriented, so we’re trying to engage, as the Army is now talking about, in sort of a cultural shift of leader engagement, to check on their soldiers,” Rico told Army Times.
1. It’s a play on words. Before a recent Community Health Promotion Council meeting, Rico’s executive officer put him in charge of coming up with a catchy acronym for an idea they’d be batting around to promote leader engagement.
“We have fun with all of the acronyms in the Army, with making up acronyms,” Rico said. “So let’s do something real with our delight in coming up with acronyms.”
He started thinking about the preventative checks and maintenance services (PMCS) that soldiers regularly perform on equipment, figuring it could be applied to the soldiers themselves. From there, he turned PMCS into Preventative Maintenance of the Comprehensive Soldier, incorporating familiar Army language from the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.
2. You don’t just “check the block.” Unlike other regularly scheduled Army tests and evaluations, the PMCS program is more of a concept than a task for leaders to check off of their lists.
Rico stressed using the program during brief moments of downtime. For instance, when soldiers are stretching out after a physical training run, a first sergeant should take a few minutes to ask a soldier how things are going.
“We want to make it a little more informal that way, where it’s sort of the air we breathe, and this culture we’re living in,” Rico said.
He also mentioned a tip that came up during Fort Carson’s suicide standdown last September: After a battalion run, leaders and soldiers could meet up somewhere off-post for lunch, in civilian clothes, for some quasi-social time.
He compared the idea to building a culvert when water pressure is building up against a dam.
“A lunch in civilian clothes, where they can just talk, acts like a culvert to let some of the pressure go,” he said.
3. It’s adaptable. Just as there are no time, place or manner restrictions on when you can check in with your soldiers, there is also no quota to hit. It’s more about getting to know your soldiers and deciding individually who needs what and when, Rico said.
“They need regular checks like a vehicle does, but some soldiers will need to be checked on more than others,” he said. “Some might need five minutes every three months and some might need it once a week.”
4. It’s a return to the ideal. Rico lamented that leader-soldier bonds have suffered because of the pace and energy required to wage 12 years of war.
He acknowledged that the kinds of relationships he’s promoting have long been the standard in the Army, but that they still need refreshing.
“Through sensing sessions, there is a level of feedback where the soldiers are saying, ‘I haven’t had a personal conversation with my supervisor,’” he said.
Rico stressed that it’s more important to be proactive than to point fingers about who isn’t doing their job.
“People can say, ‘Well, that’s what they’re supposed to do,’ but that’s maybe become kind of cliche.”
5. You can start right now. The program at Fort Carson is in its infancy, but the concepts don’t necessarily need a written set of guidelines or a training seminar, Rico explained.
“I’ve seen the verbal feedback,” Rico explained. “People are making that rhetorical connection between PMCSing a vehicle and PMCSing a soldier.”