So, you are a new Platoon Leader and it is your first drill. This is it! After countless hours spent earning your commission, you finally have it. A platoon. Your platoon. But…now what? What am I supposed to do? Let’s face it, ROTC, OCS, West Point and BOLC all got us to this point, but they never really told me what my job was or even how to get started. If you’re reading this, you’re in luck! Here are my tips and “what to do” guidelines for your first few drills as a new platoon leader.
BEFORE YOUR FIRST DRILL: There are a few important tips that you should know before you even show up. Here are the things that you should do before your first IDT weekend:
- Check Your Ego! Yes, you are a commissioned Officer, but a new and inexperienced Soldier. Do not…I repeat! DO NOT go into your first drill expecting anyone to be impressed with that fact that you are an Officer. The NCOs and other peer you will be working with have years and years of experience under their belts…so check the ego and prepare to use the old proverb: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason!”
- OER Support Forms and Your Chain of Command: If your Commander doesn’t give you a copy of his OER (officer evaluation report) Support Form (DA Form 67-9-1), ask for it. You should have a copy of your rater’s and senior rater’s support forms. Both of those forms will not only give you ideas on how to write yours, but they will also show you how your bosses think yours should be formatted. After you have your bosses’ support forms, start drafting your Junior Officer Developmental Support Form and your support form. You might think that your commander will remember all of the great and wonderful things you did—and he will, after you remind him. A good support form is a tool that helps you get a fair shake on your OER.
FIRST DRILL: This is it. You have talked with your new boss (the Commander). Now, let’s look at your unit and some thing that you should do on your first drill weekend:
- Standing Operating Procedures (SOP). If your Platoon has a written SOP, read, learn and internalize it! Everyone in your platoon needs to be on the same sheet of music if you are going to be successful…that includes YOU!
- You and Your PSG. Without question, your PSG should be the first person in the platoon you talk to. Sit down with him or her and ask for a rundown on the platoon. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- How trained are the Soldiers on critical tasks?
- How do we stand on PT?
- How is morale in the platoon?
- What tracking systems do you have in place and can I get a copy?
- How is maintenance?
- What are our SOPs (other than what you have read)?
- What training is planned?
- How do you visualize our relationship as PL/PSG?
- Are there any major personnel issues/legal cases?
- Who are the problem Solders?
- Who are the studs?
- Remember, it is important that you form your own opinions about your people, but the extremes (good and bad) are easy and your PSG should know them and be able to inform you. Take notes and keep them as a reference for your next upcoming drills…
- Play Well with Others. Cultivate good working relationships with the key players in your new world. In general, people are much more willing to help you if they see you as a friendly face. Examples include: your CO, XO, 1SG, other PLs, supply sergeant, AGR Staff and anyone else you will be working with on a regular basis.
SECOND DRILL: Ok, now you the cob-webs knocked off a bit. You have met your PSG, your AGR staff, etc. and have begun to cultivate relationships with the other leaders in your unit. Now, it is time to start focusing on your platoon!
- You and Your Platoon. You can meet with your NCOs before talking to the Soldiers if you want to, and I strongly encourage it. Definitely schedule a time to talk to your platoon as a whole during this IDT weekend. They will be curious about you, and they need to see your face as soon as possible. You’re not just another new guy; you’re their new PLATOON LEADER. Let them know who you are and where you’re coming from. You don’t have to give them a hardcore speech; just be yourself. Your Soldiers will be able to see through any smoke and mirrors. Let your Soldiers know that you’ve heard good things about the platoon and that you are excited to be there—it helps if you actually mean it.
- Layouts and Property Accountability. You should get with your Supply Sergeant and get a copy of your hand receipt and do a layout of all of the equipment assigned to your platoon. You will inventory and sign for all of it, thus taking responsibility for your platoon’s equipment. You can’t afford to screw this up. Here’s some good advice:
- While you are conducting your inventory, ensure you are looking for serviceability in addition to just how many are there.
- If you have a piece of equipment that is unserviceable, it’s not doing you any good, so you may as well be missing it.
- After your layout, you will need to ensure your hand receipt is correct and begin the process of filling your shortages. This is where your XO and supply sergeant can be very helpful. Both of them can guide you through the process of ordering replacement equipment. Last, but certainly not least, get out those hand receipts and start sub-hand receipting your equipment down to those who will actually be using it, i.e. your Soldiers. Keep these sub-receipts in your Leader’s Book.
THE NEXT FEW DRILLS: You are finally getting the hang of it. You have been doing a lot of work between IDT periods getting your Leader’s Book together and understanding how your Platoon operates. Now, it is time to start making your unit more efficient and developing your team. Here are some tips for the next few drills:
- Platoon Operational Improvement. Look around at how your platoon conducts business. Start thinking about what I call Platoon Operational Improvement. Look for things that could make your Soldiers’ lives easier. Sometimes that may be a tool or piece of equipment that they never had; sometimes it’s streamlining how they do things. Whatever it may be, your guys will appreciate you looking out for their welfare. One important caveat to that is: Don’t make changes just for the sake of change, or to be able to say, “Look what I did.” That won’t help anybody. It will only serve to make you look ego- driven and alienate you from your platoon. Just observe, ask your Soldiers/ NCOs and give it some thought.
- Being with Your Soldiers. Be visible to your Soldiers without being nosy or overbearing. This is easier said than done, but it is worth your effort to get it right. Yes, you will make a first impression when you initially talk to your platoon, but it will take a while for Soldiers to “feel you out” and see what kind of PL you are.
- Counseling. Counseling an NCO who has 12 or more years of time in service can be an intimidating proposition, especially when you have all of about three months under your belt. How are you supposed to tell him or her anything? That is why I recommend doing this step later rather than right out of the gate. It all comes down to how you approach it. Given that each person is unique, there is no set method that guarantees success. Take a drill weekend or two to get to know your platoon and Soldier before initiating counseling, and then proceed with a well-thought-out plan. The bottom line on counseling is that you owe it to your Soldiers to let them know what your expectations are and to give them some direction. Don’t let this one slide. It could come back to haunt you when it’s time to write your NCOERs or when it is time to get rid of that one bad apple!
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your first 90 days as new Platoon Leader are vital. Whatever you do, develop a game plan, stay focused and act professional. Once the first 90 days is up, you should have a good battle rhythm established and things should be moving in the right direction.
What are your thoughts? Feel free to ask questions too. We will do our best to provide an answer.