Advice for Mobilizing Units and Commanders
Recently, DarthVOB sent out an email to mil-bloggers asking for advice on preparing his unit for mobilization and deployment to Iraq. My BN was mobilized in OCT01. Most of us ended up doing two years one way or another. We have deployed soldiers to GITMO, Afghanistan, Qatar, and Iraq.
During the initial phases on the mobilization I was our BN’s mobilization officer. The HHC company commander could not mobilize because his wife was sick so I took over the company on our first day of active duty—and kept the job as mob officer. Fun. Currently, I am commanding another company in our BN. I have been through several rounds of additional mobilizations, and I have soldiers in both AFG and Iraq.
I’m no expert. But this experience, combined with a recent stay at a Holiday Inn Express, makes me knowledgeable enough to fake it. So here’s my advice on getting through mobilization. I wish I could talk more about what to expect in Iraq, but Qatar is as far I got—this time.
So allow me to step up onto my soapbox.
Get ahead of the Admin stuff early. The first days and weeks of your mob are going to be chaos. I recommend bringing on a smart NCO or officer early in order to square away all your admin stuff prior to mob. You can be creative with AT or ADSW orders to get the money.
If you have time, I’d scan each of your soldier’s personnel records and put them on CDs. I’d also have your soldiers hang them in their personal AKO knowledge centers. You don’t want to be trying to promote some kid in Iraq when the documents you need to complete the packets are back home in a filing cabinet.
Promotions. You will be subject to the whims of a more or less broken promotion system once your get mob’d. Try to promote everyone who is worthy before mob.
Medical Readiness. Most people will want to be deployed. They won’t want to be left behind, but lots of reservists have medical issues. Once somebody is mob’d they are sucked up into an uncooperative system. I’d try to do a medical screening prior to mob to try to weed out those who aren’t medically ready. ID them early and don’t take them. A guy with a bad back who ends up in Iraq is going to be a pick burden to you. And you don’t want some guy stuck for a year at Fort Wherever being a medical hold.
Family Care Plans. Every single parent has to have one, and many of them suck. Don’t just rubber-stamp them. A shaky family care plan will collapse six months into mobilization. I had it happen to me with one of my soldiers. Two article-15s and a lot of heartburn later, I solved the problem. My old PSG used to say that sometimes you have to choke a motherfucker to get him listen. I choked a couple stripes off the kid, and he got the point. Be thorough with counseling your soldiers prior to signing off on the plan. If you don’t think its going work, pull in the people who are going to be taking care of the kids in question. If your gut tells you it’s fucked up, you’re probably right. Don’t sign until you’re sure.
Financial Readiness. One of my Warrant Officers owned a multi-million dollar business. Obviously he was one smart dude, but after he got called up his investors began getting shaky—patriotism at its finest. I had to de-mob him so he wouldn’t loose everything. In the process, he had to resign his commission.
One of my SGTs worked for Dell making +100K. Dell picked up the difference as long as he was obligated to be in the Army, but Dell HR had a copy of his enlistment paperwork. He ETS’d mid-way through, and Dell told him that his he re-upped, they would pull the plug on his money—more patriotism at its finest. The point is that you need to develop a simple financial tool that helps your soldiers assess the financial impact of getting mob’d. If someone is going to be put in a bind, you might was to not take them. You don’t want some guy worried about loosing his house in the middle of a war zone. A distracted soldier is a dangerous one.
Get to know your soldiers. Once our BN got called up, we sat at Fort Hood for months and months. Our orders didn’t allow us to bring POVs. We were quartered at North Fort Hood—at real garden spot—but most of the soldiers worked and trained on South or West Fort, thirty miles away.
So a couple weeks into this, our active-duty BDE commander (he’s retired now so I can spout off) declared that he would initially allow 20% of the BN to go home and retrieve their POVs. We were instructed to select the most “mature” soldiers to go home and get their cars. He wanted us to make sure that we were send people who could handle it. What a crock of shit. Gee we must be a bunch of ignorant slack-jawed civilian assholes to not be able to manage a trip to Austin or San Antonio. What’s funny is that our BN had five Vietnam vets, but I guess they didn’t meat the maturity test.
Obviously this pissed me off. So I gathered my company together and had them fill out these little biography sheets that detailed their civilian and military experience. Because of my no-notice assumption of command, I hadn’t had time to really get to know my company. Shit was I surprised at the talent that I had in my hands. Homicide and Narcotics detectives. A medical student (can you guess who did all my first-aide training?). A guy who had been NCOIC of the Fort Hood anti-gang task force. Engineers. A border patrol agent. Combat vets. A guy that had been on a plain clothes force protection team in Europe. A millionaire. College students. Store managers. Network engineers. A poet. Some guy who worked for the government, although he wasn’t that bright.
So, I carried around these sheets with me (along with a slight chip on my shoulder), and I whipped them out the next time I saw the BDE CDR. I told him that he didn’t need to worry about the maturity of MY company’s maturity. I guess he was impressed with my boldness because he never pulled that shit with my company or me again. And he gave me a top block. Go figure.
The point is that you’ve got some talent on your hand whether or not you know it. Make sure you know what you’ve got. You’ll be surprised and you’re soldiers will appreciate the effort. Plus, you’ll be ready if anyone ever brings up the “maturity” issue.
Be straight with families. Your soldier’s families may think they want to hear a rosy picture. Everything is cool and nothing bad is going to happen. Everything will be fine. Bullshit. Everything won’t be fine. Even if you’re lucky enough not have any casualties, things are not going to go perfect. This mob will result in divorces, financial problems, and a lot of heartache. Reunion can be a bitch even for the best marriages. Hell, my wife and I have a great marriage, but even we were at each others throats for a while when we got through the initial honeymoon of me being back home.
So far (KNOCK ON WOOD), we haven’t had anyone killed in my BN. But, we had some badly wounded, and even one kid prosecuted in the Abu Ghraib mess. Bad shit happens. And you, your soldiers, and their families need to be mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared for it.
I would bring families in early and tell them the hard truth. Don’t do it right before you get on the bus to head towards your mob station. Do it a couple weeks early. Let it sink in. Tell the how things work when somebody gets hurt or killed. Tell them how this can impact their marriages. The truth may piss them off, but they’ll thank you in the long run.
ID Cards: Get depend ID card done early. Don’t wait and try to do it during home station activities. It’s a pain in the ass.
I won’t talk about force protection. You’ll get your fill of that. But, I will talk about two elements of training that are often overlooked.
Maintenance: train to maintain. Being the HHC commander was my cross to bear. There ought to be a secret society made up entirely of former HHC commanders who plot against the lucky assholes who have it easy in the line companies.
Nobody wants to do maintenance—especially reservists. Do you turn wrenches in your normal life? Hell no. I take my truck to jiffy-lube. But, as soldiers we have to take care of the things that take care of us. So make your guys get good at maintenance. This applies to all your equipment. Ask Jessica Lynch about good weapons maintenance.
Leadership skills. How many of us are actually “leaders” in our civilian careers? I don’t mean managers, but no shit leaders. Very few of us actually are. But, we expect our young NCOs and officers to take charge and kick ass even though they don’t have experience doing it.
If you have time, create training opportunities that build junior leaders. My personal favorite is the leadership reaction course. Its fun, and it give soldiers a chance to lead in challenging situations.
You are worthless to your troops if you don’t take care of yourself. Don’t get so caught up in being a leader that you don’t take the time to do all the right things for yourself and your families. I was a zombie by the end of the workday during our initial mob, and I I neglected my wife. Anyone from Texas knows that we grow our women strong, but she still got stuck with a lot of bullshit because I was overwhelmed.
Okay, I’m off the soapbox now. Take this advice for what its worth. I’d really love it if my fellow mil-bloggers or anyone else who has experience would weigh in on this. How about some advice for once he gets boots on the ground.