You get the call from S1: you have a new soldier to go pick up, in-process, and begin your process of giving purpose, direction, and motivation. They have all the shiny new skills given to them from AIT. They have their basic tactical skills given to them by basic training, as well as their field exercises, so they are not a completely blank canvas. You get their ERBs, scan them over, see their birthdays, and you realize they are barely adults, or quite possibly still 17. The next questions you run through with each troop, “Where are your from? Are you married? Do you have a driver’s license? A car? Kids?” You get a short bio. Usually you see one of two things: their parents are still married and there are a bunch of siblings, or, more often these days, you get that the parents are divorced, sometimes re-married, and they only grew up with one of them with a handful of various siblings. What do these things tell you? What is the writing on the wall when you get the background on your troops? You’re basically their foster parent at this point.
A week later you do a barracks inspection and you see their room isn’t clean - dishes piled up, a myriad of empty Cup-o-Noodles cups strewn on their desk, a bunch of clothes purchased at your local mall lay in a pile on the floor. All of their tactical gear is in a clump in the back of their closet. There’s probably a TV way out of their price range along with a video game system fresh out of the box sitting on top of their dresser. A strange smell is emanating from under their bed, and you’ve discovered where the weekend’s pizza boxes were stashed. Easy fix right? Tell them to clean it up and re-inspect in the morning before PT. Most of the leaders in the military have walked in on this very scene. There is more to do here than to tell them to simply clean it up. You should probably teach them how to do that laundry so they can make their clothes last longer. Their diet is atrocious so you need to show them how to follow a meal plan. A meal plan will then lead to a grocery list, so they don’t motor up and down the aisles with one hand out just slap-slap-slapping things off the shelf into their cart. This leads to them setting money aside just for food.
What does a freshly minted troop want more than anything? Typically, they all want a car.. You have to keep them away from the dealerships right outside of the gate…even if you are new to that duty station, you know better. They have this signing bonus money burning a hole in their pockets, and they want some wheels. And they don’t want just any wheels; they want some either attached to 400-horse power engine, or a 12-inch lift. You know they don’t need any of this, but they want it anyways. You tell them they need a 6-8 year old, 4-door sedan (preferably a Toyota or a Honda) and they just look at you like you have a mental disorder. They want something “sexy” that will help them get the second most wanted thing by a freshly minted troop. So, they are either going to take to your reason, or they are going to go get their shiny next year model dream on wheels. Hopefully you go ahead of them and made sure they didn’t lock themselves into a high interest rate.
So after a few months you have taught them to separate, iron, and fold their laundry, to budget for food and fun on the weekends, to set up their TSP, and to buy a car. You were their rock to build a foundation for a future successful life, and the hard place where they had to make some wise but tough decisions. There were probably many more lessons woven into these broad topics, but these are things that you came in knowing. They aren’t from your generation, the last of the “prepared” young adults mostly ready for the world. They could probably re-program your phone, or teach you how to properly work the various aspects of the latest social networking site, but they don’t know their basic life skills. There is more to being a leader these days than just “Shoot, Move, and Communicate”. The only hope those parents around America have is that we have the experience, capability, and willingness to pick up where they left off.
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