Debate: Should You Turn Down Command?

The question “should you turn down command?” is an important question that very few people ever discuss.  It’s like an omen.  However, I want to share my personal thoughts on this question today, to help you determine what is best for you.

At some point in every Army officer’s career, they will want (or need) a command position.  In most cases, I am referring to Company Command here, but this could also apply to senior command positions as well.  Some officers get the command they want (for whatever reason) and other officers are given a command of a unit they have no desire to command.

When you are offered a command position, YOU have to make the decision whether it is something you want to do or not.  You should never accept a command position to just “check the block.”  Soldiers deserve capable leaders who WANT to lead them!  Never forget that.

Additionally, it’s important to know that not all command positions are equal.  Line units and MTOE units will always TRUMP staff units (HHC) and TDA units.  That doesn’t mean the TDA or staff unit is bad; it’s just not respected as much as the other units by other Army leaders and promotion boards.  For instance, you won’t meet many Colonels or Generals who commanded a HHC.

To put things in perspective, when someone tells me they commanded an HHC, I always wonder why they weren’t given a line unit.  And I know other leaders feel the same way.

Please know that I’ve met plenty of successful HHC and TDA unit commanders.  In most cases, they weren’t any less capable than their line unit commander peers, but they sure were viewed differently!  Once again, there is an omen with certain command positions.

So, if you are faced with the decision as to whether or not you should turn down command, here are a few things you should consider beforehand.

1.  If you turn down command, you might not get another chance at command

2. If you turn down command, you might get blackballed in your state and have to transfer to another state

3.  If you turn down command, you might get something negative on your OER and not get promoted again

4.  If you turn down command of a unit you don’t want, there’s a small chance that you STILL COULD get command of the unit (or type of unit) that you want

And if you take command of a unit you don’t want to command, here are some things to consider:

1.  If you take command of a unit you don’t want command of, your heart won’t be in it and you probably won’t do as well as you would with a unit you wanted.

2.  The unit might not be as bad as you think and the position could turn out to be a blessing in disguise

3.  If you get a successful command of a unit you don’t want, there’s still a small chance you could get a second command of a unit that you do want

4.  If you finish the command successfully, there’s a high chance you will get promoted

At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision.  Make sure that you put some thought into it and be prepared to deal with the consequences (either good or bad).

While I was in, my view was that if I couldn’t get command of the unit I wanted I wouldn’t be a commander.  And things worked out fine for me.  I’m not saying that to brag or boast.  I’m just sharing my personal experience.

Please leave a comment to this post.  Try to answer any of the following questions:

  • Is there an instance when someone should turn down command?
  • What is the best way to do it?

Share any experience you might have concerning this subject.  Thanks.


chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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12 thoughts on “Debate: Should You Turn Down Command?”

  1. My question if about the legality of turning down a Command position. I have alot of anxiety about Command, so much so that I’ve gotten panic attacks just thinking about it. Really don’t think Soldiers should have a commander who doesn’t want to lead them. So I’ve already respectfully requested not to Command twice from the unit I’m preparing to go to and they still slotted me for a Command. Am I legally required to accept if they say “No you will Command?”

  2. I like the point, Bryan, that sometimes there are limited options, and turning down a command would be “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” I like your attitude, and I agree, HHC’s need a different set of skills, not an inferior set. I also agree that the relationship skills necessary to be an effective leader are just as significant. Congratulations, by the way, and best wishes. It sounds like you are off to a good start.

  3. I’m an active duty logistics captain in Korea. Unlike MI, AG or signal officers who can fill BN staff slots for their key development billets, company command is the only KD job for logistics captains. So to me, turning down a command offer seems like a really bad idea. This is especially true given the command bottleneck in my sustainment brigade — 24 staff slots at the brigade and battalion levels vs. 9 company command slots. Given the limited time we have here (2 years if you bring family or are single and extend) a captain should be happy to get any command offered. Sometimes captains run up against DEROS and have to wait until their next assignment. So when I got offered command of a BN’s HHC this past week, I happily accepted. Sure, the prestige of a line command with a bigger MTOE and some lieutenants I could mentor would have been nice, but I see HHCs as requiring a different — not inferior — skill set. In the end, I’ll be KD complete just like everyone else.I’ve convinced myself that — in some ways — the peer-relationship skills required of the HHC CO are just as important as the management skills of a line commander. And given that the BN SPO and S3 shops have as much say as the CO in what logistics companies do, it doesn’t seem to make much difference.But, as you said, the maneuver world is different. If you’ve got time to play with, are an acclaimed rising star, and have a good relationship with your superiors, it might — *maybe* — make sense.

  4. Commanding an HHC is a more difficult task than a line unit. Usually those positions are only filled by senior CPTs as they have do deal with those that outrank him in his own company. Trying to manage staff and the company together is a bigger task. There are not many volunteers for a BDE HHC Company Commander, and it’s not because everyone thinks the position is too easy.

    1. Good points, CPT Halbur.

      HHC Commands are by no means easy. I agree.

      And in most people’s eyes, including promotion boards, a HHC command is considered inferior to a line unit.

      Personally, I would never command a HHC. But, that is just my view on the subject.

      I have friends who are/were good leaders that ended up in a HHC command and most of them were unhappy with the overall experience.

      Thanks for the comment.


  5. “Should you turn down a command?” What kind of question is that? In the Reserves, you are not moving up until you get your command time, it is that simple. And while some officers are cut to be staff and others leaders, the fact is that when one becomes an officer one accepted the possibility of leading Soldier, up close and personal. Indeed, there is a group of officer that do not want to command and they just do the minimum -18 months- but for the rest of us who enjoy being around the [enlisted] Soldiers command time is a special time, like elementary school, or with your first love. Company command is a one-time shot in a career and must be pursued and cherished.
    I am about to finish my command, and I know I have accomplished what I came to do: To make a unit a team. This unity and spirit will stay with them for a long time after I have left.

    1. Thanks for the comment CPT Nieves.

      Personally, I think this is a very important question. Even though all officers took an oath to lead Soldiers, not everyone is cut out to be a commander. And I know several senior officers (Colonels and Generals) who never did Company Command, so you don’t have to have it to be promoted and advance your career. It does help though.

      The last thing I would want is to serve with a commander who was only in command because they needed it to advance their career. Taking command just to get promoted is wrong (as I see it). Soldiers deserve good leaders who WANT to be commanders, not someone just trying to check the block.

      Also, like I mentioned in the article, not all company commands are equal. Personally, I would have turned down a non-MOTE or HHC command if that is what I would have been offered. Once again, that is just my personal opinion.

      Thanks again for the comment. I enjoyed hearing your opinion on the subject.


    2. I have to agree with you, Captain. If someone had asked my dad that when he was alive (retired Army LTC), he would said a few choice words I can’t repeat here. He taught me that you do your duty, no matter what. He often reminded me that sometimes you are required to do a job that you don’t want to do, but it is necessary and you were chosen for a reason. I find myself teaching these very same values to my daughter. In addition, when you join the military, you made a commitment, not just to the things you want to do, but do fulfill your duty to the best of your ability. I think openning the door for a soldier to turn down a command limits them, for sometimes the best leaders emerge from within the most unlikely people. Adversity is a great opportunity. Regardless of how desireable a command post may or may not be, they are all essential, and all core values come in to play. Personally, I think that those who rise to the occasion for the commands that are not sought after display top leadership qualities. It’s an attitude and a choice, and each soldier is in charge of his or her own attitudes and the choices they make.

      1. I see your point of view Amy, but if you want to make it to the top ranks, there are certain jobs you should avoid like the plague. Turning down a command can be a career ender, but it can also be a smart move if you have a certain game-plan for your career.

        1. I have heard that from time to time, but I’ve never quite understood it. I tend to be cut-and-dried about some things like my dad. I can see the value of avoiding certain positions if they don’t fit well into long term plans; however, I think those instances legitimately are few and far between, and there has to be very careful planning involved, something many people do not do with clarity. I don’t agree with turning down undesireable duties under pretense, though. I guess my overall response would be to be very careful, and be honest.

          1. It’s an individual decision. But I do know this. The people who make it to the top ranks (1) avoid weak or undesirable jobs at all costs and (2) they get the jobs they want. As I tell people, manage your career or it will manage you!

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