Soldier Initial Counseling: Counseling Tips for Small Unit Leaders

In today’s post I want to talk about Soldier Initial Counseling.  I cannot stress the importance of counseling enough.  As a leader, counseling is one of your most important responsibilities.  Unfortunately, most military leaders don’t do a very good job with counseling.  Simply put, they don’t make the time to do it.  As a result, many soldiers DO NOT know what is expected of them.

My best advice to you is to “make the time” for counseling ALL of your soldiers, including your new soldiers.  Keep it a top priority and realize that it is part of your job.  Even though it will take some time to do the counseling, they payoff is huge.  Your soldiers will know what is expected of them, they will respect you more, and you will have fewer problems in your section/unit.

Listed below, I want to share a few tips to help you have a successful Soldier Initial Counseling Session.

When Should you Conduct the Soldier Initial Counseling?

You should conduct the Soldier Initial Counseling within the first 30 days of starting a new job, or within 30 days of a new soldier being assigned to your section.  Initially, you should do a verbal counseling within the first day of meeting your new Soldier.  The sooner you do the counseling the better.  You can type up the results on a DA Form 4856 a day or two after the fact and have the Soldier sign it.  Don’t forget to put it in writing!

What Should the Soldier Initial Counseling State?

The Soldier Initial Counseling is done on DA Form 4856.  You can type up a standard Memorandum for Record and use it as an attachment with the DA 4856. At a minimum, this is what I recommend:

  • Their job description
  • Your personal and professional expectations of them such as drinking and driving, sexual harassment, the Army Values, integrity, etc.
  • Report time for work and location of formation
  • The chain of command and contact information
  • The unit history, mission, vision, name and motto
  • Upcoming training events and training schedule

All of these things should be verbally explained to the soldier and written down on their counseling statement.

Tips for Success

During the Soldier’s Initial counseling, try to do the following things:

1)      Introduce them to the chain of command and their peers

2)      Make them feel welcome to the unit

3)      Find out if they have a family, and if there are any pending issues with their family

4)      Give them a copy of the alert roster and chain of command

5)      Find out what some of their personal and professional goals are

6)      Find out where they are from, some hobbies, and personal interests

7)      Walk them around the unit so they know where things are

8)      Make sure they have all the personal gear and equipment they need to succeed

Once you have done these things, you can summarize everything on a DA Form 4856 and have the Soldier sign it the next day.  This is the process I used to counsel new Soldiers and it worked well for me.

If you have any tips you would like to share concerning the Soldier Initial Counseling, please share your input by leaving a comment to this post. If you have any questions about Soldier Initial Counseling, you can also ask those below, and I will do my best to provide an answer. Thanks.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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10 thoughts on “Soldier Initial Counseling: Counseling Tips for Small Unit Leaders”

  1. These are some very good points. I believe that the sooner you set expectations and open the lines of communication, the better. Instead of doing this within thirty days, though, would it be better to shorten that timeline? You might not want to have a formal sit-down the first day (when the new soldier might be feeling a bit overwhelmed), but perhaps something within the first two weeks would be optimal.

  2. As a Team Leader and/or Squad Leader you have a very important job. You have to take the time and energy to sit down with your Soldiers and counsel them. I know it’s time consuming, especially for ARNG and USAR NCOs, but you owe it your Soldiers to evaluate their performance, to groom them, and to help the advance their career.

  3. I believe a good way to do an initial counseling is to sit down with the Soldier and verbally tell them everything you expect of them. Ask them questions, answer their questions and let them know what the standards are. Once you finish that, within 12-24 hours you can give them your written counseling for them to review and sign. It really is that easy. It takes a little bit of preparation but I know you can get it done.

  4. Great post, Chuck. Most young Soldiers get counseled by their first line leader. It’s pushed down so hard from the CO and 1SG. It’s normally the NCOs and LTs that don’t get counseled like they should.

  5. Yes, Army unit leaders should put everything they have time for in writing but especially the parts of their jobs as important as counseling. The DA Form 4856 should be completed carefully. Again, I think the leader should encourage the soldiers to ask questions by the end of each counseling. Guide them to find the answer such as Socrates would. These kinds of tactics will make the job of the leader and the soldier more rewarding, plus each is completing a necessary mandate of the Army. Hope I don’t sound too preachy.

  6. Neil ODonnell

    The sooner you have hold the initial counseling session, the better. As for documenting these sessions, completing the DA Form 4856 promptly is important. Delaying the documentation of meetings will likely lead to a loss of information. As for pointers on what to discuss during the first session, discussing hobbies and personal interests are a great way to open up the communication. Introducing soldiers to others in the chain of command could also help ease a soldier into her or his new assignment.

  7. It seems almost like moving to a new town and having to attend a new school. You just want to feel welcomed and feel like you’re one of the guys and a part of the crew. Feeling welcomed to the unit would be paramount for me.

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