My Supply Support Activity Platoon Leader Experience

My first real job as an Army Officer was working as a Supply Support Activity (SSA) Platoon Leader.   My SSA was part of the 64th Forward Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Carson, Colorado.  I was a brand new Quartermaster Second Lieutenant (23 years old) fresh out of the Officer Basic Course at Fort Lee.

In case you don’t know what an SSA is, a Supply Support Activity is really a fancy word for a “warehouse.”   It’s similar to Home Depot, Sam’s Club, or even a large grocery store.  Our SSA stored Class IX (Repair Parts), Class II (Expendable Items) and Class IV (Construction and Barrier Equipment).  We carried about 1,100 different items in different quantities.  The inventory value was just over $6 million.

64th fsb

64th Forward Support Battalion Unit Crest

As a young Second Lieutenant, I was excited to lead Soldiers and get some experience.  I knew that I had a huge task ahead of me.  To be quite frank, I sometimes wondered if I could handle the responsibility.  Looking back, boy was I “green.”  Not only was I young and inexperienced, but I was going through some turbulent times in my life.  I had a bad attitude and wasn’t a very good officer or leader.  Nope, I’m not proud to admit that to you but it is true.

I was fortunate to learn a lot during my 12 months as the Supply Support Activity Platoon Leader.  In the paragraphs below, I want to share some of my successes and failures and what I learned from the experience.

My Biggest Mistakes

I made lots of mistakes as a new Army Platoon Leader.  Here are three of my biggest mistakes:

  1. I acted like a know it all – I can’t believe it, but sometimes I acted like an elitist.  For some reason my new “power” went to my head and I had an ego problem.  Sometimes I acted like I was better than others, just because I was an officer.  Thankfully, I changed my viewpoint in no time.
  2. I tried to be my Soldier’s friend – Hands down the biggest mistake I made as a new Supply Support Activity Platoon Leader is that I wanted to be liked by my Soldiers.  As a result, I tried to be their friend.  We weren’t on a first name basis or anything like that, but I think I went a bit overboard trying to win everyone’s approval.
  3. I didn’t help my peers very much – I looked at my peers as my competition.  That was stupid.  I should have gone the extra mile to try and help my peers, to benefit the company as a whole.

Of course, I did lots of other dumb things too.  But I can’t share everything I did wrong.  There wouldn’t be enough room on this one page for that.

What I Did Right

Fortunately, I did some things right too.  Here are three things I did very well as a Supply Support Activity Platoon Leader.

I learned from my mistakes – This is hands down the biggest thing I did right.  Like I said, I did a lot of things wrong, but I tried to learn from each mistake and become a better leader and officer.  I’ve always focused on continuous improvement and wanted to be the best I could be.

I worked with my NCOs – I’ve always known that NCOs are the backbone of the Army.  I was smart enough to work with my NCOs.  I asked them for advice and tried to stay out their way so I didn’t micro-manage them.  I had some great NCOs: SSG Drain, SSG Shen, SSG Pearson, to name a few.  If it wasn’t for them, and Chief Robles, I wouldn’t have achieved success.

I rewarded/recognized my team – I put lots of soldiers in for awards.  Whenever someone did something “above standard” I tried to go out of my way to recognize them.  I put soldiers in for AAMs, unit coins, COAs, etc.  Whenever someone ETSd, PCSd or retired we did an award dinner/lunch and award for them.  This had a big impact on morale.

What I Learned from the SSA Platoon Leader Experience

  • I learned the importance of Class IX Repair parts and how they affect a unit’s readiness. Maybe the combat arms guys get all the glory, but they wouldn’t survive long in combat without operational equipment.
  • I learned the importance of maintenance.  I learned that proper maintenance is vital to the success of any unit.  I learned that all units need an effective maintenance program.
  • I learned to take pride in being a logistician.  I learned that there is nothing wrong with being a logistician.  I learned that a good logistician is worth his or her weight in gold.
  • I learned that one person can make a huge difference.  I learned that one person truly does make a difference.  One good leader can transform an entire unit and turn the Bad News Bears into the undefeated varsity squad (thanks LTC Perna).
  • I learned the importance of keeping accountability of your property.  I learned that the Army takes property accountability very seriously.  I learned the importance of doing inventories regularly and properly and knowing the status of your equipment and property at all times.
  • I learned that you can’t do everything yourself. I learned that the best leaders surround themselves with superstars.  No matter how good you are, you can’t get everything done by yourself.  You need to delegate lots of things and you need good, trained people to get those tasks done without you supervising them all the time.
  • I learned that you better treat your people right, because they are the ones who ultimately determine your success or failure.  Your people are your greatest asset.  You should treat everyone using the Golden Rule.
  • I learned that your rank does not make you anything.  If anything you rank reveals who you truly are on the inside.  Give someone power and rank and you will see who they truly are in no time.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for reading my post about what I learned as a Supply Support Activity Platoon Leader.  I hope you can learn from some of my successes and failures so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. I’d love to hear from you.  Please tell me about your first Army Officer job and what you learned from the experience.  Just leave a comment to share your story. Thank you.

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2 thoughts on “My Supply Support Activity Platoon Leader Experience”

  1. I appreciate reading about the leadership experiences of others, especially when the author is as candid as you were. Self-evaluation is difficult, but it is imperative for growth. You willingness to reflect back honestly is refreshing, and the steps you took towards improvement reflect the true heart of a leader. Several years ago, a mentor (former military) recommended the format you used–three successes, three opportunities and lessons learned–to me, and it has proven useful, if not a bit painful, at times. This format is flexible, and can be used by anyone, really, who is committed to personal or professional development. You set a good example for fellow soldiers to follow.

    1. Thanks, Amy. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Good leaders admit to their mistakes, learn from it, and get better. I was a horrible young officer, but I got much better as I matured and learned new skills. I had some great mentors, read some great books, etc. I’m nowhere near the person I used to be.

      Chuck

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