Today, I’m going to do an interview with Second Lieutenant Doug Oliver, a Mortars Platoon Leader with the 185th SBCT in the California Army National Guard.
What does an Army Mortars Platoon Leader Do?
My job as the Mortars Platoon leader was ensuring that the battalion’s organic indirect fire support element was trained and maintained so they are able to employ 81mm and 120mm mortar systems at the commander’s digression.
The primary day-to-day tasks as a Mortars Platoon Leader in the California Army National Guard (CAARNG) consisted of ensuring safe, but effective training was being conducted to increase the efficiency and competency of the platoon, managing the health, welfare, morale, administrative, and financial aspects of all the soldiers in my charge, and reporting all relevant information regarding personnel and equipment to higher echelons.
What do you like most about your job?
My favorite part about being a Mortars Platoon leader is the soldiers. I take pride in all the guys in my platoon and their individual strengths and weaknesses. I worry about the day I have to leave them to promote through the officer ranks, because I will miss going to bat for them and making sure they are taken care of.
What do you dislike about your job?
One thing I dislike in my job sometimes is the lack of integration between the mortars and the line companies in battalion training plans. Typically, our drill weekend consists of live fires and gunnery outside of large training exercises, but I think some more adjacent unit integration could help us with our overall soldier skills and understanding of how one another operates.
What skills are required to succeed as an Army Mortars Platoon Leader?
One of the skills that are imperative to have in this role in order to be successful (or any role as an officer in the military) is perseverance. The military is filled with jobs that will challenge you and throw you major curves over and over again, and you need to be able to work through them to the best of your ability and try to remain positive.
Honestly, this can swing between being the best and worst part of the job. Another skill that is beneficial to have as a Mortars Platoon Leader is adaptability. This kind of plays hand in hand with the perseverance I mentioned that Platoon Leaders must have.
Once one of these inevitable problem situations comes your way, you need to be able to adapt to the given challenge because the answer will almost without question never be right in front of you.
No matter how much preparation you do and countless hours of planning for every possible situation there will inevitably some crazy occurrence that comes out of nowhere that spurs the ever so appropriate phrase, “WHATCHA GONNA DO PL?”. The key here is to adapt to the challenge and make a decision then stick with it. The worst thing you can do is nothing at all.
If you knew what you knew now, and you were starting over again, what would you do differently in the job?
If I was to go back to the beginning of my term as the Mortars platoon leader at the 185th SBCT, I think I would do a few things differently. The first thing I would do differently is push to be sent to the Infantry Mortar Leader Course at Fort Benning early during my term as the PL.
This course arms you with the knowledge to supervise and direct the fires of a mortar platoon. Instructions include tactical employment of the mortar platoon, graphics, fire planning, mechanical training, FO procedures, and fire direction control procedures. This will set you up for success when it comes to competency regarding the weapon systems you will now be tasked with employing.
I had a bit of an advantage in terms of fires knowledge from my past as an enlisted fire support specialist in the Florida National Guard, but I can see what was already a difficult learning curve being even more challenging if I had not been a fires guy before AND did not attend IMLC.
Another thing I may have possibly done differently would be absolutely burying myself in the various FMs that you will be referencing throughout your time as the Mortars Platoon Leader. These are your tools of the trade as an officer. It is your responsibility to take the time to read and understand the content in the various mortar FMs or at least have them accessible and ready to reference whenever questions about mortar training, capabilities, or control arise.
While I knew what FMs to reference for any given question or inquiry and could have it back to anybody in decent enough time I would have liked to have a better grasp on some of the more detailed sections of manuals like FM 3-22.90 Mortars and FM 3-22.91 Mortar Fire Direction Procedures.
It speaks volumes about your dedication as an Officer in the National Guard to have an advanced level of knowledge about the vehicles and weapon systems you operate. To take the time outside of drill and read material like this will take you a long way in your career.
What are three tips you can recommend for Army Mortars Platoon Leaders?
Three tips I would recommend to someone doing this job is to foster a strong relationship with your Platoon Sergeant, always care for your people, and be the example.
Your Platoon Sergeant is truly the key to your success. You probably know this already from having prior experience as a platoon leader, but this position is no different. They want you to be a leader, make tough decisions, and represent the platoon.
This is a perfect transition into the second tip about caring for your people. Never forget that our troops are by far our most precious resource as a military officer. It is imperative to create a bond with the men and women under your command, demonstrate that you care for them, train them to be warriors, and do everything in your power to develop them into future leaders.
It is really as simple as treating them like human beings and not tools at your disposal. If the men and women under your command have no sense of purpose or feeling of camaraderie and belonging in your platoon then you are severely hindering their combat effectiveness and motivation, which will lead to mission failure and quite frankly the death of soldiers.
When I say represent the platoon, I mean really stand by them and their needs in instances where they may not have a voice. As the leadership hierarchy gets higher and higher some of the decision makers forget about the ground level soldiers during the planning processes. Their field of vision and scope of responsibility get so large that they may not drill down to the individual soldier level because they just don’t have the capability.
As a junior officer when plans make it down to your level if something jeopardizes the health and welfare of your soldiers you need to stand up for them and push back in areas where it is necessary. Be realistic here. Don’t fight things because they are uncomfortable or hard, but take a hard stand when directives are unrealistic and dangerous beyond reason.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Doug Oliver. I was born in Florida and attended the University of Central Florida for my undergraduate degree. I joined the Florida National Guard when I was 18 to pay to go to college and it blossomed into a career that I plan on continuing until the Army doesn’t want me anymore.
I started off as a Fire Support Specialist in 2/124 IN out of Orlando, FL reaching the rank of PFC, and after commissioning through college I transferred to B Co. 2/124 as an Infantry Platoon Leader. During this time, I worked for Allstate Benefits as a Regional Sales Manager and transferred with the company to Southern California.
I then went through the IST process to transfer to the California Army National Guard and assumed the role of Mortar Platoon Leader at HHC 1/185 SBCT in San Bernardino.
I then jumped on a deployment to Afghanistan with 40th ID as a military advising team LNO for a few months. When I returned, I resigned with Allstate to become a Regional Sales Manager for a startup company called Kettlebell Kitchen, which provides healthy meals to gym members.
This job change moved me from Los Angeles to San Diego and I am now slotted to begin working as a general’s aid back at 40th ID for one of the senior officers I worked for in Afghanistan! I enjoy training in mixed martial arts, reading, and dancing like nobody is watching. Hopefully you have enjoyed this article and best of luck with your future endeavors in the military!
Thanks for this amazing interview, Doug. I know our audience will get a TON of value from you sharing your experience as an Army Mortars Platoon Leader. Thanks for your time and thanks for your service.
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