One of my old Army mentors, CPT Goins, once shared some amazing career advice with me that I never forgot. He told me to stay at the bottom as long as you can and then go straight to the top!
He explained to me that the best thing you can do is stay in line units (battalion and below) as long as possible, preferably until you’ve done EVERY job in those units.
For officers, stay in line units until you finish Battalion Command. For NCOs, stay in line units your entire career.
As I matured, got promoted and advanced my career, I quickly discovered that this advice is very true.
The best leaders I ever served with had TONS of “line” experience. Most of them had never been outside of a line unit, and if they had, it wasn’t for very long.
In the Army, the “line” is where it’s at.
Deployable units. MTOE units. That’s what the Army is all about.
All other jobs and units come SECONDARY to these units. I’m not knocking other types of units, but the experience in those units is inferior to the line units.
You won’t get the same leadership experience as an instructor or staff person, that you would in a line unit. You won’t get the same combat experience. You won’t get the same tactics or training experience, either.
Many Officers and NCOs make the mistake of leaving a line unit too early. They either don’t like the field time, the responsibility, or the high OPTEMPO.
So they run to positions that are less stressful, easier, and don’t require much effort or leadership.
As a result, they don’t get the experience, leadership training, or skill-set that they COULD have, had they stayed in the line.
Why do you want to be in line units?
First of all, the mission of the Army is to fight and win our nation’s land wars. It’s the MTOE units that do that. You won’t get much experience deploying, doing tactics, or anything combat related in a non-deployable unit. Last time I checked, school houses and TDA units don’t go to the field much or deploy much.
Next, true leadership is learned and developed in the line units. These units have lots of Soldiers, opportunities for leadership, schools, and real world experience. Leading a few Soldiers as a Staff Officer or Staff NCO is not the same as leading a squad in combat.
I also believe that line units have lots of opportunities for advancement. Most of these units are filled with leadership jobs, if you want the responsibility.
On a side note, I’m not telling you NEVER to leave a line unit. Sometimes you have to take a staff job or a TDA unit position to get promoted. When that happens, by all means do it.
But NEVER leave the line for more than 18 months. If you do that, you will lose a lot of your leadership and tactical skills, you will soften up, and you will become what I call “out of reality.”
To me, the worst leader in the Army is someone who has never been in a line unit and/or deployed.
Nothing beats real world experience.
After all, who would you rather have as your combat leader? Would you rather have a leader that spent the last 15 years in staff jobs and TDA units and never deployed or supervised anyone? Or, would you rather have a leader who has held every leadership job in your unit and has several deployments under his belt?
I know who I would rather serve with.
The longer you are out of the line, the worse you become as a leader. And once you lose those leadership skills, it will be hard to get them back.
What do you think? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
*** This is part of a mini-series. Read the original post about my 37 Career Tips.