In the military and many other organizations, commanding officers conduct a change of command between the incoming commander and the outgoing commander.
The change of command ceremony is a formal passing of responsibility, authority and accountability of command from one leader to another.
In the Army, the change of command ceremony is conducted at all levels from the company to Army level.
Prior to assuming command, it’s imperative that you have a change of command ceremony.
If you don’t have a change of command ceremony, you are doing the outgoing commander an injustice and you are setting up the new incoming commander for failure.
Simply put, you must have a formal change of command ceremony.
Your change of command ceremony can be elaborate or simple.
That decision should be made between the incoming and outgoing commanders.
You can host the ceremony at a hotel, parade field or at your unit.
Your location will be determined by budget constraints, training time available and command guidance from higher headquarters.
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Overview of the Change of Command
In the Army National Guard and Army Reserves, most change of command ceremonies take place at the unit armory.
However, I have seen change of command ceremonies on the parade field, in a gymnasium, in a unit parking lot and at a variety of other locations.
At a minimum, you should have the higher headquarters commander, outgoing commander, incoming commander, family members, a formation of Soldiers and the unit guidon or colors present.
Maximum Soldier participation is ideal, but if your unit has schedule conflicts, you can use a smaller element of your total troops.
Just keep in mind that you want your formation to accurately reflect the size of your unit.
During the change of command, the outgoing commander gets to address their unit one last time.
They will have the opportunity to thank family members, Soldiers and anyone else they want to.
Therefore, the change of command ceremony provides closure to the outgoing commander and enables the incoming commander a fresh start.
Normally, the higher headquarters commander, outgoing commander and incoming commander speak at the event.
Most change of command ceremonies last between 30 and 60 minutes in length.
Some high-level change of command ceremonies such as a Division or Corps Headquarters can last nearly two hours.
Please keep in mind that your Soldiers are standing at attention or parade rest the entire time.
Brevity is essential.
The last thing you want is to have several Soldiers “fall out” during the ceremony.
Planning Your Change of Command Ceremony
The secret to conducting a successful change of command ceremony is preparation.
The outgoing leader’s UNIT has the primary responsibility to plan the event.
Typically, the S1, Readiness NCO, First Sergeant and/or XO plan the event.
They must coordinate with the incoming commander, outgoing commander and higher headquarters commander to determine a change of command date.
Once a date is established, the outgoing commander must conduct backwards planning.
Some key planning considerations include:
1. Designated Time & Location: The first part of the planning process is to set a date.
Once you have a date set, your next objective is to secure a location for the change of command ceremony.
If possible, keep it local.
Consider a parade field, your armory, the gymnasium or any other place in close proximity to your unit.
2. Identify Personnel to Attend: Next, you must identify VIPs and key personnel to include.
These are the guests.
They could include politicians, parents, friends, family members and senior military officers.
Once you have a list of participants, you should vet the list with your higher commander and the incoming commander.
After they approve the list, you can move to the next step of the planning process.
3. Create Invitations: Your next goal is to have your support staff prepare invitations for the change of command ceremony.
They can purchase invitations or use a computer software program to create invitations for the event.
Be sure to have someone spot-check the “proof” before they are mailed out to the invitees.
4. Order Flowers, Gifts and Refreshments: The next step is to order flowers for the outgoing and incoming commanders’ spouses.
You should also ensure the outgoing commander gets their military award, such as a Meritorious Service Medal or Army Commendation Medal.
Normally, the outgoing commander gets a replica of the unit guidon in a nice custom frame.
Don’t forget to order refreshments for the event either.
5. Conduct Rehearsals: Several days before the event and on the day of the event, Soldiers and key leaders should conduct a change of command ceremony rehearsal.
This will help work out the kinks and ensure the change of command ceremony is a success.
6. Conduct The Event: Finally, your last step is to conduct the actual change of command.
If you have planned well, things should go smoothly. After the event, spend 30-60 minutes “socializing” and saying “goodbye.”
After that the outgoing commander should leave, and let the new commander assume their responsibilities.
By following the steps above, you should have a successful change of command ceremony.
Next, we’re going to briefly discuss how to successfully prepare your change of command speech.
Tips for Preparing and Giving Your Change of Command Speech
Typically, the outgoing commander gives a longer speech than the incoming commander.
In most company change of command ceremonies, the outgoing Company Commander speaks for five to ten minutes.
The Battalion Commander normally speaks for five to ten minutes and the incoming commander usually speaks for two to five minutes.
After all, the change of command ceremony is really for the outgoing commander.
The incoming commander simply wants to introduce themselves, thank the Battalion Commander for the opportunity to command, and say a couple nice words about the outgoing commander.
If you are an outgoing commander, you should spend a couple hours preparing your change of command speech.
Listed below are some useful tips to help you prepare your speech.
1. Set a Time Limit – Typically a good change of command speech is approximately 10 minutes or less.
Five minutes is ideal.
You don’t want to be long-winded, but you need enough time to say what you want to say.
2. Decide Who You Want to Thank – Make a list of everyone you want to thank.
This includes your spouse, First Sergeant, Battalion Commander, parents, fellow Army Officers, NCOs and Soldiers, peers, etc.
If you are going to have high ranking officers at your event, don’t forget to thank them.
3. Finalize Your Change of Command Speech – Get a piece of paper and write out an introduction, main body and conclusion.
Organize your main points in a logical order.
Edit it a few times to get it the way that you like it.
Consider sharing it with a few of your trusted peers to get their input.
4. Rehearse – Rehearse your change of command speech to yourself and your spouse.
Speak out loud.
You could even tape record yourself and then evaluate yourself.
Eliminate any points that don’t flow smoothly.
If necessary, add or revise any additional points that you miss.
5. Create 3 x 5 cards with Main Points – Once you have rehearsed your speech, put the main points on 3 x 5 cards.
You will bring these with you when you give your change of command speech, in case you blank out or lose your train of thought.
Your goal is NOT to read your speech, but to talk naturally.
6. Give Your Speech – Finally, the big day has come.
You are about to give your change of command speech.
If you have rehearsed and practiced, everything should go fairly smoothly.
And, if you mess up a little bit, you have your 3 x 5 cards for a reference.
As you give your speech, stay on point and remember that your Soldiers are standing in formation!
Keep it short and on point.
Remember, the secret to success is preparation.
By following these six simple steps, you should give a successful change of command speech.
In summary, the Army Change of Command is a very important event.
Whether you are the incoming or outgoing commander, make sure you do your due diligence and prepare.
Sit down with your staff and map out the event.
Follow the advice in this article and you will be well on your way.
What are your thoughts?
What tips can you share for a successful change of command ceremony?
Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.
I look forward to hearing from you.