Project Mentor: A Case for Broadening Within U.S. Army Cadet Command
Keith Benedict and William Folinusz
"Under [Fox] Conner's direction, Eisenhower found a sense of purpose. For the first time he became a serious student of his profession, which he found to his delight was truly interesting and exciting. – Stephen Ambrose in Ike: Abilene to Berlin[i]
“A mentor is a leader who assists personal and professional development by helping a mentee clarify personal, professional, and career goals and develop actions to improve attributes, skills, and competencies.” – Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development
In the early 1920s, Major Dwight Eisenhower benefitted from a world-class, personalized leader development program. While serving as a Brigade Executive Officer in the Panama Canal Zone under the command of General Fox Conner, Major Dwight Eisenhower, found a mentor that would influence him through the rest of his career as a Soldier and politician. Through routinized daily operations orders and long horseback rides, thanks to General Conner’s close mentorship, Dwight Eisenhower reaffirmed his desire to serve and fully embraced the need for continued preparation for the responsibility of command.[ii]
Today, the Army presents an increasing number of assignments to rising stars after completing “key developmental” (branch-specific) positions, each intended to broaden the perspective of the officer or non-commissioned officer through experience away from “the line.” Graduate or post-graduate studies, service on operational or strategic staffs, and additional tactical experience at centers of excellence or at combat training centers – among other opportunities – offer tangible rewards for individual participants and for the Army profession. Yet, evolving promotion board guidance, the dynamic operating environment, and inelastic personnel models ultimately make broadening opportunity selection an irrevocable decision for career officers and non-commissioned officers.
Beyond the inherent contribution to the next generation of officers, service within Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachments affords leaders an invaluable opportunity to reflect upon their experiences, to broaden their perspective, to practice organizational leadership, and to hone key leader development skills like those that General Fox Conner employed to develop Major Dwight Eisenhower. In the end, an assignment to a United States Army Cadet Command Detachment transforms officers and non-commissioned officers into mentors prepared to provide unique dividends to the operating force. Cadre and Faculty serve as Representatives of the Army, Organizational Leaders, Trainers, and Counselors, making the United States Army Cadet Command arguably the premier broadening assignment for developing transformational 21st century leaders.
The Broadening Menu
The Army requires leaders completing their key developmental positions to pursue broadening in some form. Service as an aide de camp, for instance, allows officers to learn from and interact with senior operational and strategic leaders. Teaching or serving as Tactical Officers at West Point presents opportunities to both complete a graduate degree and utilize that additional education at the United States Military Academy. Other fellowships similarly generate opportunities to complete graduate degrees and then serve in joint or strategic headquarters to learn more about the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army. The Army also seeks leaders for the Security Forces Assistance Brigades, the Combined Training Centers, and the Centers of Excellence, that will hone tactical warfighting skills.
Given the myriad of opportunities available, many leaders understandably prioritize their chosen broadening assignment based upon tangible dividends. They review promotion boards and receive recommendations from their chain of command or from branch managers to obtain degrees and to establish relationships with senior officers. Regrettably, some senior commanders even view ROTC as a “career killer” – a terminal assignment of primary value to those looking to transition out of military service. This leads few officers and non-commissioned officers to prioritize Cadet Command within their preference list, perhaps degrading the quality of training and mentorship received by the next generation of officers. Worse, those seeking guaranteed benefits of certain broadening assignments may miss unique developmental aspects of individual and organizational autonomy enjoyed within ROTC Detachments.
Cadet Command – What it Entails
Operating from 274 outpost-like Detachments, Cadre and Faculty represent Training and Doctrine Command and contributes around 60 percent of new Second Lieutenants to the generating force.[iii] The mission of USACC is to “partner with universities to recruit, educate, develop, and inspire Senior ROTC Cadets in order to commission officers of character for the Total Army; and partners with high schools to conduct JROTC in order to develop citizens of character for a lifetime of commitment and service to the nation.”[iv] ROTC Detachments pursue that mission through three focus areas. First, every year they produce enough officers to fill the Second Lieutenant authorizations for over 16 Brigade Combat Teams for the Active Army and 10 Brigade Combat Teams in the Reserve Component. Second, in order to ensure the quality of those officers, the command develops world-class Cadre. Third, Cadet Command engages the community and connects with the American society it serves through partnerships with Junior ROTC programs and with local academic, governmental, and non-governmental institutions.
Though Cadets remain the primary training audience and the production of Second Lieutenants yields a tangible dividend for the Army, Major General Christopher Hughes has made Cadre development his priority target, “Our Cadets are not the only commodity we produce at Cadet Command. If I do my job right, each and every one of you will become leaders of Soldiers, leaders of Soldiers that are critical to the Army.” He asserts that stronger Cadre will result in stronger Cadets and, resultantly, better officers for the Army capable of building readiness in their future units. “You will be more critically involved and possess new-found methods of problem solving and developing multiple solutions to those problems,” Major General Hughes states, “Our best operational commanders should seek out and recruit you for their formations because you now possess the tools to become some of the best leader developers in the United States Army.”[v] Further, his emphasis on Cadre development has unleashed the full potential of an assignment to an ROTC Detachment by expecting officers and non-commissioned officers to further their education, to hone their warfighting skills, and to become sought-after Observer-Trainer-Mentors when they return to the operational force.
Representative of the Army
Cadre and Faculty serve as the face of the United States Army for their students and their community. For hundreds of thousands of college students, Cadet Command personnel serve as uniformed ambassadors to American citizens that otherwise might have limited exposure to those in the Armed Services. By demonstrating the attributes and competencies outlined in Army doctrine – but in an entirely different operating environment – they improve the understanding of the Army, build trust with young Americans and influential educators, and learn how to engage their community. Cadre serve as on-campus recruiters seeking eligible recruits to form the future Army officer corps, certainly, exercising skills similar to those developed within Recruiting Command. In many ways, Cadre act as bridges between the civilian and military worlds. Military service is often under-represented on-campus. The presence of uniformed officers and NCOs in the classroom and community provides rare insights for many civilians who otherwise would never encounter the less than one percent who have chosen to serve in the military.
For those students that sign up for Military Science courses, Cadre directly influence highly impressionable young men and women. Whereas Drill Sergeants make indelible first impressions on newly enlisted Soldiers, ROTC personnel establish the foundation of leadership and character for the majority of the officer corps. Cadre and Faculty teach what it means to lead Soldiers to malleable and cynical college students alike. They define what is right and wrong on a daily basis and serve as moral-ethical models for the future leadership of the Army. On campus and during Field Training Exercises and Cadet Summer Training, Cadre and Faculty define, embody, and enforce the Army Values. In so doing, they generate an understood “standard” for these officers, making Cadre and Faculty “disproportionately influential” leaders, akin to the role that General David Perkins ascribes to battalion commanders and command sergeant’s majors in the operating force.
Beyond the classroom, Cadet Command personnel engage in routine key leader engagements with influential leaders in the community and university. For the vast majority of detachments, other than representatives of United States Army Recruiting Command, Cadet Command personnel serve as the sole sustained representatives of the Army. Further, the seniority of Cadre and Faculty affords unique access to governmental and non-governmental entities within each program’s area of influence. This leads to routine venues for reflection and sharing personal experiences and lessons learned with the American people, whether through public speaking engagements, office calls, or while guest lecturing in other academic departments. These leaders must then develop confidence embodying the character, presence, and intellect that the electorate expects of professionals in its most trusted institution. Given the desire for increased community relations at Army installations – similar to those that pursue graduate degrees at civilian institutions – Cadre and Faculty learn how to communicate their Army story to a civilian audience and how to build collaborative relationships with partners on campus and in the local community.
More than perhaps any other broadening assignment, service in Cadet Command entails organizational leadership, driving the orders process, and executing mission command. ADRP 6-22, Army Leadership identifies three levels of leadership: direct, organizational, and strategic. For highly successful First Sergeants and Company Commanders, the Sergeants Major Academy and the Command and General Staff College serve as vital institutional mechanisms for preparing proven direct-level leaders to understand and influence organizational-level challenges. Despite the clear benefits of the professional military education in those schools, graduates of those courses have limited opportunities to experiment with newly learned competencies until they return to tactical units.
Immediately upon arrival at an ROTC Detachment, however, Cadre and Faculty become organizational leaders operating in a highly decentralized environment. Though programs vary in size and geographic dispersion, enabling the Cadet chain of command and execution of a multitude of curricular and extracurricular activities inherently exercises organizational-level leadership skills. They serve as mentors for the Cadet staff, teaching and coaching senior Cadets about the various roles, responsibilities, and functions within a battalion staff. Cadre also perform staff-like functions to maintain the program and liaise with one of eight brigade headquarters, they may only visit a handful of times through a two or three-year assignment. Operating at the nexus between Army requirements and the Cadet battalion’s pace of learning, Cadre practice indirect leadership, requiring emotional intelligence and real-time risk mitigation – competencies often not honed until serving as a member of the battalion command group in the operating force.
Cadre also establish the culture of learning and development at each university. Much like assuming command or joining a battalion command group, ROTC leaders establish a command climate and positive environment that serves as the foundation for a future generation of Army Officers. This culture is built in the classroom, in field environments, and through structured counseling sessions and opportunity interactions. Discerning students and Cadets interpret and scrutinize the “why” behind stated values, priorities, and desired end-states, yet once understood become invaluable vehicles for discussions about decision-making and leader actions. A Cadet’s experience at ROTC serves as a “measuring stick” for future interactions with Army leaders. More poignantly, impressionable Cadets emulate what they see and apply what they learn from Cadre, allowing for an unmatched opportunity to reflect on one’s leadership style, behaviors, beliefs, actions and how they impact their organization and subordinates.
Because Cadre and Faculty convert college students into Army officers, they fulfill training functions similar to those exercised at Basic Training Commands, at the Centers of Excellence, and at the Combined Training Centers. Like instructors at a Basic Officer Leader Course or a Captains Career Course, Cadet Command personnel design and lead classroom instruction. They receive institutional training through the Foundation Instructor Facilitator Course at Fort Knox. This training, as well as the newly-developed Master Educator’s Course, increases Cadre and Faculty understanding of adult learning and the experiential learning model, practicing various teaching styles and techniques to maximize the classroom and field experience of new volunteers. They then become eligible to accrue experience teaching to earn an additional skill identifier and the Instructor Badge.
Cadre and Faculty also supervise cadet-led tactical and physical readiness training. They teach and orchestrate implementation of the 8-step training model, coaching Cadets on what disciplined initiative looks like for various leaders during Troop Leading Procedures and the Military Decision Making Process. Like Observer-Trainer-Mentors at the Combined Training Centers, Cadet Command expects its leaders to learn how to facilitate a learning environment in a field setting and to master the art of the After Action Review. Cadre and Faculty experiment with chain of command structure and manage talent to optimize the collective learning experience and the quality of execution. They teach doctrine and observe the output of on-campus training at Cadet Summer Training, where they yet again serve as Observer-Trainer-Mentors for platoon and company-sized elements executing small unit tactics.
At the same, time, the execution of field training also requires real-world coordination and the implementation of program-level Unit Training Management. Cadre must orchestrate efforts to attain shared understanding, make decisions, optimize limited on-campus resources, and build relationships with Total Force partners and installation proponents to sustain and enable Cadet training. In the end, the organizational leader that emerges from Cadet Command will have served as one of only a handful of leaders that designed, planned, and executed at least six field training exercises and contributed in one or more similar manners to the execution of two month-long summer training events.
Perhaps most importantly, Cadre serve as formative counselors for their Cadets, thereby developing critical mentorship and life coaching skills akin to those that Eisenhower benefitted from during his service in Panama. At Cadet Command, counseling occurs formally and informally both on campus and during field and summer training. At a minimum, various accessions processes require in-person counseling to ensure Cadets complete administrative requirements and make informed decisions regarding their Cadet Summer Training, branch, and post preferences. These pivotal interactions directly influence Cadet’s selections and their approach to managing individual and organizational affairs more broadly.
Without the benefit of completing initial entry training, newly recruited students and Cadets come from various backgrounds. As a result, Cadre and Faculty coach and mentor a wide spectrum of young men and women, some of whom lack fundamental resilience and coping skills. Yet, others are highly motivated and quickly absorb constructive feedback. Because Cadet Command personnel may each counsel several dozen Cadets, the sheer number of formal and informal counseling sessions necessitates becoming comfortable with efficiently providing tailored feedback. At a minimum, every instructor will give each Cadet a formal counseling twice a semester. This does not include the event-oriented counseling’s that occur, as required, for unexcused absences, APFT failures, lab evaluations, and other observable activities. The numerous formal and informal counseling opportunities allow officers and non-commissioned officers at Cadet Command to hone individual techniques, and through the course of each semester, reassess, and re-engage their intended audience to generate the desired developmental effect.
Given the unpredictability of the future battlefield and the need for agile and adaptive leaders, knowledge and experience with Army leadership development doctrine serves as the preeminent output from service in Cadet Command. Cadre and Faculty teach the attributes and competencies in the classroom, model them in person, and help Cadets become more self-aware to work towards mitigating weaknesses and leveraging individual strengths. Developmental counseling forms and Specific Observation and Assessment Reports (SOARs) serve as tools for literally hundreds of developmental conversations about character, presence, intellect, leading, developing, and achieving results. Cadre also write dozens of Cadet Officer Evaluation Reports for juniors and seniors, gaining invaluable experience with rater and senior rater profiles and communication techniques. This invaluable experience influencing young men and women and enabling their success allows officers and non-commissioned officers that have served in Cadet Command to return to the operational force capable of quickly identifying priorities for counseling and development – equipping them to serve as the next generation of Fox Conners for future Eisenhowers.
In addition to the developmental aspects of assigned responsibilities within Cadet Command, there are a number of other benefits serving at ROTC Detachments. Living near a college or university campus provides access to educational and cultural resources not readily available at Army installations. Many colleges and universities provide tuition remission for Cadre and Faculty – sometimes even for family members. This allows Cadre and Faculty to further their education at no or limited cost, with no tour of utilization or additional duty service obligation that other broadening assignments entail.
Similarly, service within Cadet Command also may generate opportunities for spouses and families. Being away from Army installations brings certain challenges regarding aspects of family readiness, foremost access to Army Community Services or equivalent programs. However, living in or near major cities offers spouses the ability to leverage educational opportunities to introduce or to reinvigorate paths for a second income for the household. Similarly, for those considering transitioning out of the military, access to local Veteran’s networks and advanced civil schooling may unleash the full potential of the Soldier for Life Program.
Depending upon the ages of children and parents, the opportunity to live near family may prove invaluable. For those whose home of record is not near an Army installation, pursuing an assignment at an ROTC Detachment may entail a once-in-a-career opportunity to enjoy routine access to extended family members. The assignment may afford stability for adolescent or college-bound dependents as well.
Finally, service in Cadet Command provides unique autonomy and the opportunity to live mission command. As one Professor of Military Science - a Special Operations Aviator - stated at a recent 2nd “Freedom” Brigade Conference, “I have had experience with small team and decentralized operations forces for much of my career, and I have never experienced mission command to this extent.” Detachments, under the direction of a Major, Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel, operate as distinct outposts, operationalizing broad intent from the Brigade and Cadet Command Headquarters. Certainly, this may introduce a degree of risk regarding those that do not exercise disciplined initiative to optimize their programs, but therein lies the opportunity for self-disciplined and committed professionals to distinguish themselves by clearly demonstrating how they are achieving results during valuable touchpoints with their leadership.
Though the aforementioned argument suggests the merits of service within Cadet Command, several modifications to the current personnel model might yield an even more capable mentor for the force. Project Warrior, renewed in 2013 and intended to hone the warfighting skills of recent company commanders, affords officers the opportunity to serve for 12 to 18 months at a combined training center and another 12 to 18 months at a center of excellence. This particular broadening opportunity for hand-selected officers produces tacticians capable of cross-pollinating best practices between experimentation with decisive action in the field and the classroom, respectively.
A similar model – perhaps spearheaded within the Training and Doctrine Command or Combined Arms Center –Training headquarters – might yield an even more exciting opportunity with the inclusion of Cadet Command. By affording top-performing leaders in ROTC detachments an opportunity to spend their third broadening year at a combined training center, the hand-selected individuals would acquire valued field experience before returning to another Forces Command assignment. Further, they would apply experience with coaching mission command and leader development to a field environment, honing critical mentorship skills. The opportunity to combine professional education while maintaining operational relevance would inspire future cohorts of ROTC Cadre and Faculty to view the broadening assignment as conducive to continued career progression. In the end, a Project Mentor alumnus would gain repetitions in classroom, garrison, and field environments, producing critical capabilities for Instructor Badge recipients that will yield tangible dividends for Forces Command.
An assignment to Cadet Command affords officers and non-commissioned officers unique self-development opportunities. Cadre and Faculty represent the United States Army and manage talent similar to assignments in Recruiting Command. They also serve as organizational leaders – furthering their understanding of mission command, executing intent in a uniquely decentralized operating environment, establishing a culture of learning, and driving the orders process. This combined with experience designing and running unit training and mentoring Cadets through the 8-step training process yields dividends similar to broadening assignments at Centers of Excellence and the Combined Training Centers. Most importantly, service in Cadet Command provides invaluable repetition engaging with the core substance of leader development, taking ownership of the attributes and competencies outlined in ADRP 6-22, and establishing substantive, professional relationships with future officers, similar to assignments at West Point.
In the end, Cadet Command provides the preeminent holistic developmental experience for mid-grade officers and senior non-commissioned officers. Away from the “flagpole”, and in an unfamiliar and public environment, leaders arise. More importantly, mentors are forged. The Army benefitted from a chance encounter (resulting in a lifelong relationship) between Fox Conner and Dwight Eisenhower. Over the course of three years, they discussed military history, the future of warfare, and challenges inherent with coalition warfare. Given the stakes and the unknowable variables of the next major conflict, the Army cannot leave the preparedness of future mentors, like Fox Conners to chance. Sending self-disciplined and committed leaders to Cadet Command and unleashing the full potential of a “Project Mentor” model between Cadet Command, the Combined Training Centers, and the Centers of Excellence would yield organizational leaders uniquely capable of integrating leader development into operations to build leaders - and mentors - for the 21st century.
The opinions expressed in this article are the authors and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of Defense or U.S. Army.
[ii] Bodner, Diana L., “The Relationship Between Fox Conner and Dwight Eisenhower,” U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA., 2002, accessed 02 January 2018, http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA400970&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf.
[iii] “The ROTC Dilemma.” The New York Times. 26 October 2009, accessed 10 January 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/education/edlife/01rotc-t.html.
[iv] “United States Army Cadet Command Home Screen.” Cadet Command Website, 28 November 2017, accessed 09 January 2018, http://www.cadetcommand.army.mil/.
[v] “CFDC Program Sharpens ROTC Instructors’ Teaching Skills.” United States Army Website, 12 October 2016, accessed 12 January 2018, https://www.army.mil/article/176573/cfdc_program_sharpens_rotc_instructors_teaching_skills.