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Understanding AC/RC Assignments.
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Many of us, officers and enlisted, find ourselves repeating those or similar phrases. Too often we allow rumors of the past to determine our views on various assignment positions instead of conducting our own research. After serving for more than a year as a company commander in 1st Battalion (Training Support) (Engineer), 395th Regiment, at Fort Hood, Texas, I have a better understanding of what it means to be in an AC/RC job and how important this assignment is to the Corps of Engineers as well as to the Army. The purpose of this article is to help you to better understand AC/RC assignments.
During the Gulf War, the Army had difficulties deploying the National Guard's "round-out brigades" and high-priority combat-arms units. The old methods and criteria of reporting readiness showed that the units were combat ready. However, when they arrived at their mobilization stations, their readiness reports were dismissed and the units were put through an extensive train-up period that included a National Training Center rotation. The entire mobilization and train-up process revealed numerous problems with the units' readiness, how readiness was tracked and reported, and how the AC interacted with the RC. There had to be a better way.
These experiences led Congress to push for a new system of training and evaluating RC units. In 1992 and 1993, Congress developed the Ground Forces Readiness Enhancement program, which dedicates extensive personnel and material resources to ensure that RC units are trained and ready for deployment. Congress directed realignment of the AC support to the RC with a focus on selected high-priority RC units. The Ground Forces Readiness Enhancement legislation resulted in the dedication of 5,000 experienced AC soldiers to train and evaluate RC units.
In the Engineer Regiment, this is an extremely vital mission, because 76 percent of the regiment is in the National Guard or Army Reserves. The corps-level units that all divisional engineers depend on for support reside in the RC and deploy with us when we fight. To train these units, there are six engineer training support battalions that work directly with combat engineer and bridge units. These battalions are devoted to helping engineer units reach and maintain combat readiness. (Note: Combat heavy, topographic, and other "noncombat" engineers receive similar support from combat-service-support training-support battalions that are manned by Army Reserve soldiers with only a few active-duty team members.) The combat engineer training-support battalions are located throughout the United States (Fort Hood, Fort Lewis, Fort Carson, Fort Knox, Fort Meade, and Fort Jackson) and train all of the priority RC engineer units.
In addition to the six engineer training-support battalions, there are resident trainers, AC officers, and NCOs who live and work with selected priority units every day. The focus of these teams ranges from individual and crew-level training to mentoring NCOs and officers at the company and staff levels on training management. The majority of these resident teams are in the 15 enhanced separate brigades of the National Guard and force-support-package Army Reserve battalions. Together, the training-support battalion and resident team help the RC commander achieve his readiness goals.
The 1st Battalion's mission is to teach, coach, and mentor combat engineer RC units. We do this through a variety of training events that culminate in combined-arms lanes-training exercises that are as close to a combat-training-center experience as we can replicate. To set units up for success at these events, we transport mobile training teams to unit drill locations to teach tactical skills and to certify unit leaders on critical tasks. We also conduct a weekend or an inactive-duty training (IDT) lanes exercise where we take the unit through the crawl-and-walk phases of the lanes-training process. This combination of teaching and assessing led to the title of "observer-controller/trainers (OC/Ts)," which captures the flow of our training year with the unit as well as our focus.
In the training-support battalions, we are all OC/Ts. We teach units their mission-essential tasks, conduct crawl-and-walk lanes during IDT, and then assume the full OC role during their annual training (AT) rotations. Mobile training teams focus on train-the-trainer sessions. This method reinforces the units' chain of command by allowing them to teach their soldiers the tasks instead of having the OC/Ts do it. We instruct company and platoon leaders in doctrine or specific mission-training-plan tasks. At times, mobile training teams may also generate some individual or crew-level training on systems such as the MK19, Volcano, Modular Pack Mine System, and armored vehicle-launched bridge. While these systems have been in the AC inventory for years, many RC units are just now receiving them. Mobile training teams normally consist of two or three soldiers who go to a unit and provide instruction--usually in a classroom environment.
IDT is geared to collective-task lanes training, which focuses on the sapper platoon and takes the unit from the concept-of-the-mission training team to at least the crawl-and-walk phase. A normal IDT lasts two days, from 0800 Saturday to 1600 Sunday.
AT is the premier training event of the year, and everything we do is geared toward this training. Ideally, this is where we bring it all together in a combined-arms exercise. Each OC/T covers a platoon, and the NCOIC and commander cover the company headquarters. Normally, the operations tempo allows OC/Ts to rotate out of the field every third day for resupply runs.
After every IDT and AT, we produce a take-home packet, which is our primary written feedback mechanism to the units we assess. These packets are very high-quality, automated products that include-
* A cover letter from the commander.
* Platoon- and company-level training and evaluation outlines with comments and recommendations for training.
* A company summary for the entire training period that lists strengths and areas in need of improvement.
* A Training Assessment Models report.
OC/Ts can expect to spend more than 100 days each year on temporary duty or in the field, mostly between March and July, for IDT lanes and AT. More than half of the 100 days are limited field time. The remainder of the year is similar to that of any unit in garrison.
Engineer training-support battalions normally have three companies--each commanded by a branch-qualified senior captain (their second command) and five seasoned NCOs (all with successful squad-leader and platoon-sergeant time). The NCOIC's duties are similar to those of a first sergeant. Every soldier in AC/RC assignments brings a wealth of knowledge.
OC/Ts are picked based on their performance and experiences and go through a series of classes and testing before being certified. In our brigade, the certification process is a five-phase program that is monitored and tracked annually. In addition, we certify each OC/T on an extensive list of combat-engineer skills, to include using modernized demolition initiators and live mines. The final phase of our battalion's OC/T training is a "right seat" rotation at either the Joint Readiness Training Center or the National Training Center.
An AC/RC assignment can be challenging and demanding. We operate on the basis of sound doctrine and tactical and technical proficiency. In addition, one must have superior communication skills to teach, coach, and mentor leaders at the platoon level and higher. If you are looking for a rewarding, fast-paced, engineer-specific, doctrine-driven experience, look no further. Continue to make a difference in the future of engineer soldiers. Accept an AC/RC assignment and help achieve the One Army, One Standard goal.
Major Cummins-Lefler is an observer-controller/trainer (OC/T) for C Company, 1st Battalion (TS) (Engineer), 395th Regiment, Fort Hood, Texas. Previous assignments include PERSCOM, DA Secretariat Recorder, Alexandria, Virginia; and Commander, A Company, 35th Engineer Battalion, OSUT, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. A graduate of Howard University Washington, D.C., MAJ Cummins-Lefler has been selected for CGSC.
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Editor’s Note: A version of this article by Duane Clark originally appeared on The Military Leader, a blog by Drew Steadman that provides leader development resources and insight for leaders of all professions.
In an open letter to cadets, Drew Steadman urges these future officers to use their college time wisely to develop into the kind of leaders we need in today’s Army. To develop those future leaders, we need good company commanders and first sergeants to serve as assistant professors of military science and senior military instructors at college campuses across the country.
Two points of the article jumped out as me. First was Major C.A Bach’s advice to student officers: “These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers” and the Steadman’s statement that “leadership is so much more than wearing gold bars and issuing orders. It develops over a long journey of rigorous study, reflection, and hard-fought experience.”
Good ROTC cadre will create leaders, not just officers and will instill in the soon-to-be officers the principles of lifelong learning. It’s time we recognize that assignment as an ROTC cadre is a personally worthwhile experience and an extremely important position in the development of our junior leaders.
While U.S. Military Academy does not seem to have a problem attracting quality instructors, there is a negative stigma attached to leaders who serve as ROTC cadre. As a junior captain, a battalion S3 told me, “Always avoid the three ‘Rs’… Recruiting, AC/RC, and ROTC.”
After 20 months of battery command, I decided to take an assistant professor of military science position and multiple leaders asked,“Oh, are you getting out?” No, I simply wanted to shape the cadets’ experience so they “will be prepared for the challenges that await tomorrow.” When more quality company commanders and first sergeants start taking assignments in ROTC, the stigma of this position will vanish.
Army ROTC has a total of 275 programs and over 30,000 cadets. It produces over 70% of the lieutenants in the Army. Shouldn’t we send some of our best and brightest to develop these future officers into leaders? As a first sergeant or company commander, consider how many times a young lieutenant’s lack of knowledge, professionalism, or competence frustrated you. You can directly influence these areas in ROTC.
ROTC cadets are thirsty to learn and deserve high-quality leaders with the experience and knowledge base to teach them. An overreliance on contractors and lack of selection criteria for professors and instructors can result in a substandard experience. We will never teach cadets to speak in the “language of leaders” if we are content sending second-rate leaders to teach them. A lack of doctrinal knowledge has created “cadet commandism” that requires professional, competent officers and noncommissioned officers to root out.
Serving as ROTC cadre is an extremely rewarding position. Twelve years after my first day in ROTC, I still remember Master Sgt. Timothy Ross and the leadership lessons he taught me. Only a handful of leaders in my career have had that kind of impact, and now I get to be that leader to a new generation. This semester I had the opportunity to teach seven juniors, and have gotten to know each one. It has been a phenomenal experience as I tried to make a positive impact and give these cadets tools to succeed as Officers.
What better way to build your leadership tree than from the ground level? While leader development in the operational domain will always trump institutional learning, there is a reason we recognize three domains of leader development. Seeking an assignment as ROTC cadre is an investment in the institutional domain.
Related: Dear cadets, being an officer doesn’t automatically make you a leader >>
It is also a great broadening opportunity. Having never served above the battalion echelon, this is also the first time I have worked with contractors and Department Army civilians on a daily basis. Coordinating their efforts requires influencing techniques that are different from leading soldiers.
It is also an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and earn an advanced degree. You work on a college campus and most schools offer financial incentives to help pay for a degree. U.S. Army Cadet Command has also collaborated with the University of Louisville to offer the cadre and faculty development course, which provides the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in higher education administration or a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership and learning.
So, besides investing in cadet’s development, you also have an opportunity to invest in yourself, which will benefit your soldiers when you return to the force. Cadet Command is also a diverse and dispersed organization, which means professors of military science are granted latitude in developing their cadets. In my experience, this embrace of mission command has given me freedom in how I teach and guide the program. I am just as, if not more empowered to try new approaches in my current assignment than as a battery commander.
Assistant professor of military science will never carry the prestige of a combat training center observer/controller/trainer, but it shouldn’t be shunned. Good captains and first sergeants should seriously consider this unique opportunity to develop future leaders. Likewise, field grade officers need to stop steering people away from ROTC cadre opportunity. This is a challenging, but rewarding assignment that has already made me into a better leader. Most importantly, this assignment gives leaders a chance to have a real impact on future officers — something that will outlast our time in uniform.
This article, “An Open Letter to Company Command Teams,” originally appeared on The Military Leader.
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The Military Leader is a blog by Drew Steadman that provides leader development resources and insight for leaders of all professions. Follow The Military Leader on Twitter @mil_LEADER