31 Things Your Senior Rater Would Like You to Know That He Probably Won’t Tell You

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By LTC Dominick Edwards

I have begun a lot of self-reflection as I near the end of my nearly 24-year career in the US Army. One of the topics that comes to mind is how many “unspoken norms” there are in the Army and how we all become aware of them. This list is a result of some of these thoughts that I’d like to share with you and are intended to provide some of my observations gained from watching people who have “done it right.” When I was a battalion commander, I noticed trends in behavior that many did not realize had any influence on their career. I’m not implying that I did it all right, because I learned a lot along the way by watching great leaders and by making mistakes myself.

Below is a short list intended to help you succeed in the Army. I am certain that there are many other things that should be on the list, but here is what I’ve come up with. You may disagree with some points, others may seem too “old school” to be valuable, and some may simply reflect my personal idiosyncrasies. However, I would ask you to read through to the end and consider the points, and discuss among other Army professionals. If you’re in doubt, ask your current senior rater what he or she thinks. The resulting conversation will be very enlightening.

Social Life

  1. Hail and Farewells, balls, dining ins, and other unit social events are not optional.
  2. When the invitation for the event says there is a theme, dress the part and have fun with it.
  3. Don’t wear cargo shorts and sandals to the hail and farewell unless that is the theme.
  4. Unless kids are specifically invited to an event, hire a babysitter.
  5. Don’t bring your dog to unit function unless pets are specifically included. However, if your dog is not well socialized with other people and dogs – it’s best to leave him at home.
  6. You should attend changes of command, changes of responsibility, award ceremonies, volunteer recognition ceremonies and other key unit events. Unless you’re in the field, you can usually break away for an hour to support the unit.
  7. Thank you notes may seem “old school,” but they are appreciated and tell me a lot about you and your values. If you are a company commander and all of your lieutenants and NCOs send one after an event at my home – you wind up looking like a superstar.
  8. When in doubt, err on the side of formality. No one will mind if you’re overdressed or too polite. They will notice if you go too far to the other extreme.

Legal Matters

  1. If you’re going to be a character witness for someone, you should know something about the Soldier’s character – how he spends his free time, who he associates with, etc. Coming in to see the commander as a “character witness” and talking about job performance (he’s never been late, he’s very fit, he qualified expert, etc) makes you look like a poor leader who does not know his Soldiers. It also means you don’t understand what you should be doing. You are supposed to represent the Soldier’s CHARACTER, which requires knowing something about him or her and their Family. You are not helping the commander make a decision because he already knows about the Soldier’s competence in most cases. Most UCMJ is not due to incompetence, which is why you’re called a “character witness.” Additionally, you should know exactly what they are accused of. If you are not familiar with the case, you can never be certain what sort of behavior you might be endorsing. Lots of well-intentioned lieutenants and junior NCOs wind up looking foolish when they find out what that “outstanding Soldier and Leader” is accused of and the evidence that is against them.
  2. If you are a character witness and you know everything you can about the accused’s character, what he is accused of, and the evidence against him or her and you feel that the behavior in question is out of character, then you should stand up for him or her. It’s your obligation as a leader. However, you have to understand your role. You are probably not going to influence a decision on guilt or innocence – you should be contributing to how the commander will mitigate punishment. If the offense is not too egregious and you’re speaking on behalf of a good Soldier, you can save him or her from the maximum punishment.
  3. Items 9 and 10 also apply if you’re asked to write a letter of support on behalf of a former Soldier who is at a different location.
  4. If you are appointed as an investigating officer, do a good job. Your reputation and professionalism are tied to this product. Be thorough and quick. Have someone proofread your investigation. Then have someone else proofread it. The battalion XO and I will read every single page so we can make the right decision on behalf of the Army’s interests. Remember that if I’ve initiated an investigation, then someone has something significant at stake. It could be reputation, it could be thousands of dollars, or it could be a career. You need to be fast to reduce stress on the accused. Your role is to present the facts and recommendations that enable my decision and you have to be right because of the stakes involved. Never forget that every investigation is ultimately about a person and your actions will directly impact him or her.

Dress and Appearance

  1. Somewhere between BOLC and MCCC, most officers figure out if they are going to stay in the Army beyond their initial term. Once you make that decision, you need to buy Dress Mess and start wearing it whenever it is appropriate. NCOs should seriously consider it once they are a sergeant first class and should absolutely buy it once they become master sergeants. Owning Dress Mess is one very visible outward sign that you’re committed to the profession – plus it is significantly more comfortable than the Army Service Uniform.
  2. If you’re a Major, you must have Dress Mess. Field Grade officers wearing the Army Service Uniform at a ball look like rookies. Everyone notices.
  3. Speaking of Dress Mess – pay the extra money for bullion rank. It is worth the cost and I’ll notice. It’s one of those small touches that tells me you’re committed to the Profession. While you’re at it, get bullion for all of your dress uniforms.

Family Life

  1. If you want to stay in the Army for a full career, remember that your entire Family is serving. Get them involved in the Army Life. You all will miss out if the Army is “that thing he does.”
  2. It’s OK if your spouse works.
  3. If the first time I meet your spouse and kids is at your farewell, you’ve messed up and missed a huge opportunity for me to learn more about the type of person and leader you are. You’ve also cheated your Family out of a great experience.
  4. How well you choose your spouse says a lot about who you are.
  5. Help and encourage your spouse to get involved in the Army. It will benefit both of you.
  6. I’m watching your kids. If they are brats and refuse to behave, then I wonder what how you’re going to lead Soldiers effectively. And yes, I understand the difference between a “bad day” and a kid who is undisciplined. I also can usually figure out if your child has special needs that impact his or her behavior. I can absolutely discern a parent who accepts and condones poor behavior.
  7. Teach your children to speak to adults. Teach them to introduce themselves to others. They won’t want to, but it will go a long way in their development and shows what sort of person, parent, and leader you are.
  8. If you are engaged, get your fiancé involved in the Army as soon as you can – preferably before you are married.
  9. Your spouse’s involvement throughout your career is helping shape the sort of senior spouse she will be. Over the years, she will learn how things should be done, how not to do some things, and she will gain friends and mentors along the way. She will also become a mentor to someone else along the way.

General Advice

  1. Every encounter with me matters. Maximize the quantity of these encounters. This is done by attending social functions, unit events, by inviting me to your training events, and by not avoiding me when I’m in your AO.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for counseling or for mentorship; I’ll always make time to have those discussions because I want to be involved in your career and I want to help you succeed.
  3. You may hate the things the Command Sergeant Major does, but he’s probably doing something I asked him to do or something that I delegated to him. The same goes for the Executive Officer and the Operations Officer. I’ve defined their roles and responsibilities very carefully and they are doing something that needs to be done to make the unit run.
  4. You need to know how to write effectively. Poor writing limits your potential in the Army and creates a burden on your supervisor. There will be a time in your career where you are judged almost entirely on your ability to write effectively. Learn the right way to write an award and an evaluation.
  5. I learn about you in various ways. Our direct contact is possibly the least significant since it is very limited. I’m asking your commander about you; I’m asking the Command Sergeant Major about you; I’m asking your 1SG about you; I’m talking to your NCOs and Soldiers about you; I’m talking to Family members about you; I watch how you and your peers interact; the Majors tell me about you; if you are married, I get insight about you from your wife and her interaction with the other spouses (including mine).
  6. If I tell you I want feedback, then I want the truth. I trust officers and NCOs to tell the truth – even if it’s uncomfortable. I trust you all to let me know what’s happening in the unit that I can’t observe. I can’t fix problems that I am unaware of and I can’t help the Soldiers in the unit if no one tells me what is going on.
  7. Finally, always remember that your commander CHOSE to command. Yes, commanders are busy; but they are in the best jobs of their career and they want to make a difference. Never let your perception of how busy you think they are keep you from reaching out. Some of the best conversations and most lasting relationships came from the leaders who took time to seek me out. As I leave the Army, I truly cherish those conversations.

As I said in the introduction, these are some of the “unspoken norms” that I’ve observed over my Army career. Unless you find a good mentor who can be 100% honest, you may miss out on a couple of them. Why is this? There are many reasons that range from leaders assuming you already know this stuff to leaders being reluctant to “put the squeeze on the guys” to attend an event. Regardless, following most of these rules will make your life easier and will help you make a very good impression on your senior rater. At the end of the day, your career success is tied to ensuring he or she knows that you are a great leader and following these points will help make that impression each time you interact.

49 Comments

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49 responses to “31 Things Your Senior Rater Would Like You to Know That He Probably Won’t Tell You

  1. James Creedon

    Phenomenal insights from a great leader!

  2. Patrick

    Thanks for sharing. I totally agree with your norms. Your continous selfless service will never be forgotten.

  3. “I’m watching your kids. If they are brats and refuse to behave, then I wonder what how you’re going to lead Soldiers effectively.”

    Good one right there. I do the same thing when it comes to hiring teachers and coaches.

  4. “Hail and Farewells, balls, dining ins, and other unit social events are not optional.”

    I have found in my 22 years of military service that social events are increasingly an exasperating display of unprofessional and often acceptably immoral behavior in which, commanders, specifically, fail to uphold the stated values of the organization. When YOU , the commander, begin acting like one, I will consider your opinion with slightly more regard.

  5. John Gassmann

    Yikes. I think this list perfectly highlights the difference between officers that came up in the ’90s and those that came up in the GWOT. I agree that some of these things are indicators of an officer’s commitment to the army, but only one, writing, are indicators of actual performance. I appreciate your years of service, sir, but I’m also glad I never had to work for you.

    • Alyssa

      Thats why its what your “senior rater”thinks. Not what you think. Performance in a people profession is more than performing tasks. If that is your view of the army, you’re missing the boat. Anyone can learn to shoot expert. Being a leader is more than performance of tasks. I worked for a baby boomer and learned his expectations. Didn’t matter what i thought he should think. Wish i had his list back then.

      • John Gassmann

        Alyssa, my point is that we should be focused on taking care of those below us instead of sucking up to those above us. I’m far more concerned with how well a platoon leader takes care of his/her troops than if he/she shows up with bullion shoulder boards. As I said, some of these things are indicators of an officer’s commitment. However, the senior rater’s prioritization of them tells me he cares more about keeping up appearances instead of actually building a good unit.

      • Shelly

        John Gassmann, You obviously have missed the point to this useful list that was given and you certainly don’t know the man who wrote it. If you did, this would not be your response.

      • John Gassmann

        You’re right, Shelly. I don’t know LTC Edwards. If I did, I might give him the benefit of the doubt. Reading it without knowing him, as most people will, he comes across as preachy and out of touch. I’m sure that is not what he intended. Unfortunately, this article is already making the rounds and receiving almost universal distain from current and former military personnel. Additionally, some former Army officers I know cited things from this list as their reasons for leaving the service. As I said earlier, our focus as officers should be on taking care of the people under us, not on kissing up to the boss or worrying what he thinks of our families. To me, that’s the mark of a good leader and officer.

      • Randy

        John; you miss the point again. Its not “what your rater thinks” but “what your senior rater thinks”. The raters job is to discern how you did in your current duty position. Your senior rater is the one who tells the Army about your potential. He is the one who tell “big Army” if you have “buy in” or not.

  6. Clint

    The “Social” part is great. How many crying babies at Hail and Farewell’s have I endured and you can’t hear the speaker. Also, pay your cup and flower fund dues, you look like a cheapo and you are forcing others to fund everyone’s gifts. Just man up and pay them, no one wants to hear you whine about them.

    • Cup and flower funds? I thought they were forbidden and shut down sometimes back in the late 1960’s or e1970’s due to several instances of fraud and abuse across the service that made headlines. On the other hand, in the early ’60s, I and my wife were recipients of practically evey item – marriage, baby, farewell, etc – offered, as well as contributing our presribed dues.

  7. Bryan Hanes

    Most of these are spot on. This insight into the perceptions of a senior rater is helpful and should be considered by junior officers and all NCO’s. LTC Edwards is to be commended for his insight, introspection and the sharing of his values, as such sharing is a critical element of leadership and command. Those who chose to make comments trivializing his insights, should try to sit down and write their own and see where they are different and why. They should do this as a junior officer/NCO and review them every 5 years or so to test them for current validity. I guarantee that most of them will evolve over the years. There are valid reasons for each of LTC Edwards points of advice. I would submit that until one has commanded a battalion or higher (constructive credit for XO’s and S/G3), evaluation of a senior rater’s points of perception has as much value as young people who have not yet begun their family criticizing the parenting skills of those who have. Like war stories, they make sense and are funny only if you were there or had been in a similar situation. It should be noted that not ALL senior raters place so much emphasis on the social aspects of service. These are important and should not be discounted, however, there are some senior officers who get a serious ego trip from the perception of power they get from their assignment and think that it is about them and their “superior” talents and personality… it is not. I get the impression that he takes himself a little too seriously rather than his profession and assignment. This perception does not affect the truth in what he says. I would note that a successful battalion command is frequently the final stepping stone before promotion. It is possible that he had prior enlisted service that delayed promotions relative to his years service and the current draw down has caused many competent and some significantly more than just competent soldiers to leave active service. I hope that LTC Edwards new career will involve training/education as I see the seeds of a very effective teacher.

    • Meghan

      I think this is a great list which holds true to my experience thus far. While I recognize this as a mark of LTC Edwards’ time in service and likely branch, I am always dismayed to see spouses referred to as only female. Spouses are so often encouraged to get involved but have to endure the presumption that they are female. I think it makes it very challenging to create an inclusive environment.

  8. CPT Brian Waddy

    Sir,
    Thanks for your leadership and your contribution to our profession.

  9. John Tongret

    Dom,

    This is good advice. I enjoyed reading it and will remember some of these as I assume battalion command shortly.

    John

  10. CPT Quigley

    I printed this off to add to my kit bag. I wish I had this to read as a new lieutenant. I definitely made the mistakes outlined in Legal Matters, largely because I didn’t know any better. He focuses on social events extensively. Some argued (in the other comments) that too many leaders focus on the social aspects but “discard caring about soldiers”. But, I’ve met few leaders in my tenure who intentionally dodge social events yet actually care about their Soldiers. Most (but not all, necessarily) leaders who lead effectively and care about Soldiers also care to at least make face at social events. This is not to say that scumbags don’t play dress up at social hour. But, decent leaders don’t usually skip out on social outings or show up looking like they just picked their clothes out of a duffel bag or came from the beach.
    From my short time working with him, and the feedback I’ve received from those lucky enough to have worked under him as a battalion commander, I believe he’s a leader whose “Senior Rater” viewpoint I can benefit from knowing. He is a leader who truly puts Soldiers and their families first.

  11. Nate

    A solid list from the author of list for whom it worked. I applaud LTC Edwards for publishing it. First of all, he has done something that the vast majority of other officers and NCOs do not do – submitted a written work for public consumption, and signed his name to it. He clearly has confidence that his list works, and worked for him. But every person, every situation, and every environment are different. There are many for whom this list would be of no use, or who would simply disregard its intent. Then, there are many soldiers and junior leaders whose experiences with these edicts have been negative, imposed upon them by less than competent seniors. They too have a right to contribute to the discussion, and hopefully will do so in a constructive way. Regardless, if among the numerous readers and respondents, this list positively influences only one current or future leader, then it is of tremendous benefit.

  12. kat

    these remarks can apply to most businesses, and even your personal life, they involve respect and sensitivity to support your family, your company, or your social clubs. I am in healthcare and find that too many people do not respect themselves enough to present themselves in the best light at every opportunity, Slovenly dressed, crass behavior or course language gives other people, often as a first impression, “a bad taste in their mouth”. While it is true that you can only make one first impression, continual contact can either reinforce the opinion, or go to reviving your reputation, which is hard to do. It is better to not “mess up” to begin with!

  13. Lotta good stuff here Sir. I will hit 20 yrs 2 months and 21 days on 31 Aug. I did not get picked up for LTC (Lt Col as my USAF joint base amigos say it) and I am not in the least embittered by that since I honestly didn’t see myself as meeting my own high standards for who should wear that rank. (I didn’t pursue a Master’s degree and deeply envy and admire those who completed one while doing 40+ hrs/week hospital work in various wards and clinics). I am in the army nurse corps and can say with perhaps some minor terminology tweaking this is great advice surely applicable (with necessary modifications) to any career branch. I would advise you to expand or bulk up this into an actual book. I think it would be a great addition to the leadership literature one now finds at the on post clothing sales store

  14. Fred

    Many great comments and insights, however, the expectations on the spouse are over the top, but very likely true and unfortunate. If you are judging (which you are) a subordinate leader based on his choice in spouse or how involved he/she is in organizational functions, you are off track. Yes, the army is a family but it is not your immediate family. If they do not get involved because of other commitments, it is not right to hold that against them. The other thing is they may not care for people in the “circle” because that is what it equates to. I for one will not force my wife to attend things she does not want to if she doesn’t like the company for what ever reason.

  15. This is great advice! I am sharing it with my management class this morning. It’s directly applicable to any corporate setting, not just the Army. Well, maybe not the stuff about dress mess, but the rest for sure.

    • If you are a corporate leader, or whatever the civilian equivalent of a senior rather is, and you start tying performance ratings, bonuses, etc. to things like spousal engagement, conduct of kids, and attendance/false motivation at mandatory fun events, you will soon be setting company records for turnover and will quickly be turned over yourself. Nobody cares about this crap on the outside. All that matters is whether or not you can drive meaningful, positive change in alignment with company priorities without stepping on too many toes. I work for a major bank at the 1% income level and have three groups currently fighting to hire me onto their teams who all apparently don’t care that I wear jeans everyday. Sad that real performance and results apparently matters more in the private sector than in the armed forces. 60% of this is NA anyway because there are almost no social events at the management level in any organization I’ve worked for (thank God). Maybe two happy hours a year.

    • Nils Koenig

      I disagree Mark. If you’re currently in uniform about to transition to the corporate life and think you’re going to take these life lessons on with you, stop. Please skip reading the “Social Life”, “Family Life”, and most of the “General Advice” sections. Nothing there will help you in the corporate world, and most of it will hurt you.

      – Holding “optional but mandatory” off-hour events won’t fly. Despite the fact that you’re the most awesomest of leaders and have all kinds of great wisdom and advice to dispense, most of your subordinates don’t want to hang out with you outside of work. They’ll quickly move on to greener pastures if you give even the tiniest impression that they have to do so in order to be successful in your organization.

      – Be prepared to receive a major corporate smackdown from your boss if you cause your whip-smart, crazy profit generating whiz kids to quit because you are disdainful of their cargo shorts and sandals. Spoiler Alert: They probably smoke a lot of pot too, better not hold it against them.

      – The tiniest inkling that you are letting your perception of a subordinate’s family/lifestyle affect their evaluation will quickly lead to a lawsuit against the company. This will either end up with you in Human Resources getting a career-limiting counseling statement or more likely a couple security staff showing up at your desk to walk you out the front door.

      – Immediately get used to the fact that you’ll be working with LGBT colleagues. This “male worker with female spouse” outdated thinking doesn’t apply anymore. Leave the Stepford Wives stereotypes back in the 60s & 70s where they belong, this is the new Millennia.

      – Don’t even think about taking your spouse’s opinion of your subordinate’s spouses into account during evaluation time. I can’t even…I mean…jeez…even the idea is so utterly, completely laughable I can’t help but shake my head while writing this. That’s another real quick way to get a lawsuit filed against you and/or the company you work for.

      Now if you go the entrepreneurial route and start your own business/company you can do whatever you want, but your “old school” viewpoints will soften once you realize none of the good people want to work for you.

      The only real good advice here that translates to corporate America is the advice on writing skills. Poor written skills will absolutely limit your opportunity in the civilian world just as it does in the military.

  16. Aaron Wright

    Fantastic words Sir! This is what I miss about the Army; the emphasis on excellent leadership/leading from the front and by example. This should be required reading for all young NCO’s and junior Officers.

  17. John

    This post kept me up at night. I lost sleep over this. I wrote this post and went back and forth on whether or not to hit the “Post Comment” button. In the end I decided that I should, because if I was still serving, I would want my Senior Rater to know these points and maybe some aspiring Senior Raters read this message board. I also feel like it is my responsibility to share my views since the Rated Officer/NCO does not always get a voice. I know how not having a voice felt and it drove me to a very terrible place, and I struggle with it to this day – years after the fact.

    So here are my observations in my years of service of a collection of common pitfalls for many Senior Raters:

    1) In constant moving, deploying, training, we don’t get to spend enough time with our Families. We need that time, if there are too many “Mandatory Fun” events, Soldiers will go, but will grumble about it. Capitalizing the F in Families is not sufficient.
    2) Don’t be constantly judging us or we won’t want to seek you out as a mentor – your counsel is not safe if you report us or judge us at every opportunity. Saying that your wife is “collecting” on me through my wife is something I could not imagine, and somewhat deceitful. It makes me think that every interaction my wife has with another wife is disingenuous and she must have her figurative armor on at all times.
    3) If an HHC command climate survey comes back negative, the BN Command Group needs to take it seriously as well, most Soldiers in HHC don’t interact with the HHC CDR very often compared to the Command Group, especially in a deployed setting.
    4) We’re all on the same team, we want you to succeed, we want to look back and be proud of the time we served with you – don’t treat us like we’re out to get you.
    5) Never stop learning – Think of a 2LT that “knows everything” and will not listen to Soldiers. Senior Raters need to remember that they do not have all of the answers and must be open to correction – privately of course.
    6) Treat your Soldiers with the highest level of respect. Just like you chose to command, we chose to serve too.
    7) You’re just a human – History will forget you. You are not Patton. You are not Eisenhower. You are not Hal Moore. No Soldier is special, neither are you.
    8) I have heard that the greatest predictor of whether a 2LT will stay in or get out at the first opportunity is the interaction with their first BN CDR. If all of your LTs are getting out as soon as they can – something could be wrong with your leadership style.
    9) Physical appearance is not a leadership trait. Getting another person to do something based on how you look – especially if your look is threatening- is not leadership, it’s bullying.
    10) If we are not delivering what you want, let us know what it is that you want. If you don’t know what you want, let us both sit down and develop your requirements together, we want to give you the tools to succeed!
    11) We know that you have a boss, we know that you have to do what the boss says, just like us. We expect you to stand up for us when the timing is right. Saying “No” to your boss – in terms of legality, morality and safety- is not an unforgivable sin, saying “No” to you should not be either – in some cases saying “Yes” is an unforgivable sin. It may take some Personal Courage.
    12) There are things you and your staff cannot control – but you create the environment in which everything is dealt with.
    13) We know if you’re sucking up. You lose respect if you suck up to your boss, because we can conclude that how you treat your boss, is how you want us to treat you.
    14) If I decide that my Family is better off not meeting you – maybe that’s an indicator of my relationship with you. I will first and foremost protect my Family, even if that is from meeting you. See point #2.
    15) Don’t have favorites. You have to rate us, but if you consistently look at one officer and secretly think he or she is your favorite, it will come out in your words and actions.
    16) Welcoming a Soldier does not just include a hail and in-processing paperwork. It also includes how the unit conducts daily operations.
    17) The additional duties that you assign to your staff speaks a lot about your priorities as does the makeup of your staff sections. If one is short staffed and another has excess, it doesn’t take more than a glance to know where your priorities are.
    18) Lastly, if hails and farewells are important, then do not forget to welcome new officers appropriately.

    My parting thoughts are these, this is a collection of traits that I have seen through multiple Senior Raters, not all of them act this way, some of them do. Also the Commander-Subordinate interaction is a relationship. Both are responsible for that relationship, and maybe I have missed some opportunities to mend that relationship. I’ve made mistakes too, none of us are perfect, but we’re all in it together, we’re all fighting the same enemy, we’re all scared of something to some degree whether its fear of failure, fear of not bringing your guys home, fear of going through one more day that was exactly like the last with no hope that it will change.

    Dom, if you want to talk more about this I’m sure by now you’ve figured out who this is. In case you haven’t yet…
    -NF2, Over.

  18. Gentlemen, I stumbled on this post and thought it interesting enough to read. I am old, old school vet, late sixties Vietnam era, served my time in hell type. The world of the armed services was different then, the Army and the Marines had to rely of the draft while the Navy and air Force could pull in their share of recruits who wanted to avoid the unpleasantness of Vietnam. Academy and ROTC school types were easy to spot in the lower officer ranks. Hell, they stood out like red flags to a bull. From Dom the LTC and John the mystery officer I see that the Army has changed somewhat since my tour. Just an opinion, but I would say that you two have a better handle on leadership than many LT or CPT I served under. John, you are correct that a good leader, be he NCO or officer, must care about the men in his immediate command. How do you show that care and concern? A lot of little things and it’s always the little things that matter. When a couple of us had purloined a case of beer a few times and were in the process of drinking it in what we thought was an out of the way spot our captain dropped in on us. “Relax, boy. Mine if I join you? Got one left?” As he opened the can he started to chat with us. Common everyday chat. “I know none of you are going to re-enlist, so tell me what you plan to do after you get out.” He shared a few of his experiences before entering the service. In all, I think he spent a good hour with us, just being one of the guys. Then he stood up and said, “Boys, don’t embarrass me. Do a better job of security, you were just too easy to to discover. And before you leave police this area.” Word got around what had transpired and that man had a wealth of loyalty the other officers didn’t have. When we marched, we marched a little taller. When we went out of patrol we went out with more assurance that we would complete our task and come back. He never had to give an order twice, we willingly obeyed. Oh sure, he had to dish out some punishment a few times but those times he did it with a fairness we could measure.

    The only other time was when a general camp to the base camp to inspect. A few of us were in the trench and he climbed down, raised his binoculars, swept the horizon, and then tuned to us and said, “Hell of a way to fight a war, isn’t it son?” He connected with us, acknowledged our frustrations with that simple comment. We knew he cared. Most of my NCOs were good people, only the ones back at headquarters tended to be assholes. And once we got out LTs properly trained they became good guys. But not all LTs were trainable and more than one or two CPTs and majors were oblivious to our needs. I’ve seen it work in civilian life. The supervisor spends half his time socializing the employees under his supervision. As one moves up that percentage of supervision becomes less but it is still there. And those who can show a touch of the common man and a touch of humility despite their formality make the best leaders. There really are only two dictums in war: know what you have to work with, and know how to work wit what you have.

  19. Luddite4Change

    If I look back at my first unit many years ago, these same norms were present; some explicitly and some implicitly. With the exception of “the family stuff” the good Colonel cites, these are just good common sense rules that apply to civility and professionals acting professionally. I’m a little disturbed that there is no mention of the single officers here, which leads me to wonder if there is not some bias at play.

  20. Paladin16

    This is interesting but in my mind outdated. I think the extreme focus of success dependent on choices in family life and how the soldier lives is one reason military members have such a hard time adapting in the corporate world. As someone who has had success in both the military and corporate arenas, my guidance to leaders who judge a soldier based on his lifestyle, children or spouse is to stop. It isn’t tolerated in corporate America. We all have different interests out of our careers. Also, while attempt was made to say he or she in many areas, towards the end of the list, it was clear and spelled out the spouse is a “she.” No. Just, no. Sincerely happy a lot of progress has been made but so much more needs to be done for performance based progression versus lifestyle judgement.

  21. Daniel Gainey

    Speed and Power Sir, one of the best Battalion Commanders that I’ve had since I’ve been in.

  22. RSO

    31 Things You Want to Tell Your Senior Rater, but Probably Won’t

    Social Life:

    1. If the invitation says optional, the event is optional. If the event is mandatory, don’t say it’s optional. I am not a mind-reader. Also, if the event is mandatory, you should not charge me an exorbitant fee for attendance. That is wrong. The same goes for me purchasing my own “farewell gift” through the cup and flower fund.

    2. I cringe when the invitation for the event says there is a theme because I now have to go spend money on clothes I do not own, with time I do not have, merely to placate someone who will judge me if I don’t.

    3. If there isn’t a uniform specified for the Hail and Farewell, cargo shorts and sandals are perfectly fine. If there is a uniform specified, I will wear that.

    4. I spend enough time away from my kids that I’m not even interested in going to events without them. If your invitation doesn’t specify, I assume kids are invited. If your invitation specifies that kids are not welcome, neither am I. If you play your cards right, my family will naturally gravitate to your events.

    5. What about cats? Are cats okay? Or is your disdain for those members of my family limited only to my children and those of the K-9 persuasion? I consider my dog to be every bit as much a member of my family as my wife and kids.

    6. Changes of command, changes of responsibility, award ceremonies, and other key unit events belong on the training calendar. If these events are important to you and your staff, you will plan for them far enough in advance to give me time to account for them in my daily schedule. If you do not, you have communicated to me that they are not important to you. In the absence of orders or instructions, I will prioritize my time according to what I think will benefit my unit most: training my Soldiers. Perhaps we could improve our training calendar so we use our time more effectively, rather than, “waiting on the word,” and scrambling at the last minute to get 30 Soldiers to the post theater for an event of marginal value.

    7. I don’t think thank you notes are old school; they are old school. I did not grow up writing thank you notes and doing so now is socially awkward for my generation. It’s not that we are unappreciative; our gratitude is simply expressed differently. It makes it no less sincere if we just shake your hand and say, “thank you, sir.”

    Legal Matters.

    9. I believe this is wonderful advice. However, I sincerely wish you, or my rater, had explained this to me before I wound up in Parade Rest with you talking down to me because I didn’t implicitly know this before I walked in. In fact, now that I think about it, there are a lot of things I don’t know and that I would like to learn. Unfortunately, you seem to keep a lot of things “unspoken,” and leave me to figure out through trial and error. If only there was another way to figure these things out besides, “discovery learning.”

    10. I couldn’t agree more, a lesson made clear after our last discussion with me in Parade Rest.

    11. Items 9 and 10 also would have been great to learn at BOLC.

    12. This also is great advice. Again it’s probably something best communicated to me directly, however. Written counseling can be an effective tool, when used properly. A simple policy letter with this guidance would likewise be effective.

    Dress and Appearance.

    13. The most visible, outward sign that I am committed to our profession is my continued wear of the American flag on my right shoulder. Have you seen the price tag on the new physical fitness uniforms? Our new camouflage? And you want me to dump $1200 on a uniform I will wear a handful of times in my career? I see you looking at me with those judgy eyes.

    14. There is no regulation that says a Major must have Dress Mess. If this is a requirement, have it written into the regulations. Some of us would prefer to save or invest for our retirement. Considering the changes to the retirement system, saving money is prudent advice.

    15. Speaking of saving – why would I spend extra money on bullion? If I have to choose between a quality officer that knows how to save money and a quality officer that spends money on frivolous things like bullion – I am going to choose the pennywise officer every time. Thriftiness is a pretty useful quality in an era of fiscal uncertainty and constrained resources.

    Family Life.

    16. Unless my wife and children choose to enlist or commission of their own accord, then my family is not serving. Nowhere in my agreement with the Army did I sign my wife or my children up with me. If the Army is “that thing” I do, it’s because the Army or leaders in the Army have made choices that caused me to create distance between my profession and my family.

    17. Thank you. I will let my spouse know that you have conferred your approval.

    18. If the first time you meet my spouse and kids is at my farewell, there’s probably a good reason for it. Given your admonishment to me that I should know my Soldiers (Legal Matters, #9), I am forced to wonder: have you bothered to ask me why you’re only meeting my family now? There are plenty of perfectly acceptable reasons that I might have for this separation, and frankly, if you have to ask, the problem might be you.

    19. Words are beginning to fail me.

    20. Whether or not my spouse gets involved in the Army is not your concern.

    21. I am not a social science researcher, but I suspect that there is a correlation between the amount of time I spend parenting and the behavior of my children. Perhaps if you respected my time more and you wouldn’t keep me late making absolutely asinine, idiosyncratic aesthetic changes to PowerPoint slides, I might be able to focus more on parenting. Oh, by the way, you are really starting to creep me out. Quit watching my kids.

    22. I would love to teach my children how to talk to adults. I’m going to do that on Friday night while you’re having mandatory optional fun at the military ball. Please don’t judge me for wanting to spend time with my family. Screw it. I’ll go to the ball. But only because I know you place a higher premium on “quantity of encounters” with you than you place on my “quantity of encounters” with my own family. Apparently I’m damned either way.

    23. At this point in our “From the Green Notebook” conversation I am thoroughly convinced I am destined to remain single. Your demands on my time, my money, my family, and me are enough to dissuade any potential spouse. What’s worse? You actually think you’re doing me a solid. Thanks for that.

    24. Mental facepalm. Did you actually just say, “senior spouse?” Nope. A whole lotta nopes. And you wonder why you’re just now meeting my spouse, at the farewell ceremony?

    25. Every encounter with me matters. Maximize the quality of these encounters. This is done by not treating me like you have for the majority of this “From the Green Notebook” conversation. I will continue to avoid you when you’re in my AO until you learn that perhaps it’s the way you’re treating and judging others that has people actively avoiding you.

    26. I actually do believe you want to see me succeed. But if what you have outlined here is the path to success in the Army, count me out. These anachronistic views are emblematic of the Army of the 1990’s where the appearance of quality was an apparently more worthwhile goal than combat effectiveness. It’s time to leave the ‘if you look squared away, people will think you are squared away’ mindset in the past.

    27. I am watching your Command Sergeant Major, Executive Officer, and the Operations Officer. If they are brats and refuse to treat people as they should be treated, then I wonder how you’ve ever led Soldiers effectively. I mean, look at who’s been mentoring them for the last few years. Let that one soak in for a minute.

    28. Pot meet kettle.

    29. You have me confused. Earlier, at #25, you told me that every encounter matters and that I should maximize the quantity of these encounters. Yet now, you’re telling me that direct contact is possibly the least significant way you learn about me. Please refer to #28.

    30. If you want honest, candid feedback, you need to foster an environment of trust and respect. For what I see as good reason, I do not feel that we have that here.

    31. Finally, always remember that every Soldier, NCO, Warrant Officer, and officer CHOSE to serve. Yes, we are busy. But if you want us to go to your unit events and maximize our encounters with you, we need to feel that it’s worth our time. Right now, we’re just not feeling it.

  23. rammstein6

    Having served as both a battalion and brigade commander this list covers some important areas…especially the writing aspect…and serves as good advice to junior officers….but it is not the primary components I would use as a senior rater to evaluate junior officers in my battalion…. i’m surprised this list is so limited in its scope of using duty performance as an important component of what a senior rater wants to pass onto young officers As a battalion commander, serving as the senior leader at the battalion level..the primary aim is to lead, develop, mentor, all the Soldiers in my command IOT build a team that will win on the battlefield…… As a senior rater I am focused on teaching, training, producing, assessing future battalion (and higher) leadership and staff. My concern as a senior rater, in a battalion setting, had far less to do with social parlance…than if this Soldier, this Leader, has the ability and potential to develop and lead a cohesive team that survives and wins in combat. Whatever capacity or mission of the unit….that is essentially what our leaders at the squad, platoon, company, battalion, and brigade level need to do…and do well……As a LT in a platoon/company….. your commitment to the Army rests more on your ability to live the Army Values, act with integrity, moral courage, and function as a leader under pressure…. than the type of uniform or regalia you purchase….that consideration wasn’t on my radar screen…..also as a battalion commander my job was to know my Soldiers….every Soldier……the concept of limited face-time as a LT with your Battalion Commander is only perceived short-coming practiced by the senior leader. A Battalion commander must seek and avail himself- along with the SGM- at every opportunity to maximize time with Soldiers….MBWA…..it’s a component of building the team, knowing your team…..the Army recruits Soldiers, but retains families…..at the Battalion level I would expect and demand that most social events were casual and welcoming to all Soldiers and their families….yes some traditions and formalities need to be maintained……but always in the context of building unit elan, building the battalion community…… A bi-product of the continuing GWOT…..I believe ….is that the Soldiers, the units, know what is truly important in an Army still at war from platoon up to the Brigade level (which in most cases encapsulates a very successful Army career)….it has less to do with the trappings of a Garrison Peacetime Army….and more to do with an effective, functioning team with leaders who can ensure they survive and win in combat. They will follow leaders who practice this……..I don’t believe this dynamic will change soon. Senior raters should look first to develop, mentor all junior leaders to meet this end…..and rate Junior Officers on what is truly important to their unit and their Soldiers

  24. Just a thought to all of you finding fault with the list. Yes some of his ideas seem a little over the top – to you. But you’re missing the point, like it or not, these are your bosses’ expectations (and many of his peers feel exactly the same or very similarly). Your opinion of his thoughts really, frankly, don’t matter one iota. You have two options at this point accept that some (many) commanders feel this way and act accordingly – or – ignore his advice and suffer accordingly.

    My thirty plus year career is now over, gotta tell you I should have done a little more of the formal stuff but in the end I had fun, went from PFC to COL and accomplished all of my career goals leaving on my own accord.

  25. Don

    It’s interesting to see a mix of positive and negative responses to this. I enjoyed the article and advice, especially because of how honest it is. Too often advice is to military personnel is bland or lacking any humanity. It’s good to know what (may) be going through the head of your senior rater as you stand there, sulking in cargo shorts and sandals at another unit event.

  26. David

    Not bad. Disagree with 18. If the first time you meet your Soldiers spouse is at their farewell, that’s the leader’s mess up, not the Soldiers. Know you’re Soldiers and look out for their well being.

    Also, it’s dangerous ground to base your assessment of your Soldiers on others preception. It creates a Good Old Boy environment. Even worse, on others perception of their spouse or family. Go out and look.

    Finally, on 27, your staff is certainly doing what you’ve tasked, but how they go about it can be an issue and reflect poorly on you. Most complaints about the staff isn’t the what, but the how. If you want honest truth, take it, particularly if it’s about your staff.

    The SR is supposed to judge you on performance and potential. Hard truth is that isn’t always the case.

  27. David

    Okay. Disagree with 18. If the first time you meet your Soldiers spouse is at their farewell, that’s the leader’s mess up, not the Soldiers. Know you’re Soldiers and look out for their well being.

    Also, it’s dangerous ground to base your assessment of your Soldiers on others preception. It creates a Good Old Boy environment. Even worse, on others perception of their spouse or family. Go out and look.

    Finally, on 27, your staff is certainly doing what you’ve tasked, but how they go about it can be an issue and reflect poorly on you. Most complaints about the staff isn’t the what, but the how. If you want honest truth, take it, particularly if it’s about your staff.

    The SR is supposed to judge you on performance and potential. Hard truth is that isn’t always the case.

  28. Pingback: On the Platonic Form of Garrison Obedience | queenofthinair

  29. Pingback: 18 Things I Look For in a Senior Rater – The Angry Staff Officer

  30. Brad

    Understanding that I am a few days late reading this to really get in on the conversation…

    I think many of the detractors to this article are, in fact, missing the point. That point is summed up in the title itself. These are things your senior rater “would LIKE you to know, but WON’T tell you.” LTC Edwards is saying, alright ladies and gents, let me open the kimono a bit here for you and do you a favor. Yes, some of the comments are, though I loathe the term, “politically incorrect.” That’s why you won’t actually hear them out of your senior rater’s mouth. That doesn’t mean that they are not true all the same. We all size people up based on a variety of factors. Some of them are conscious, relevant to the matter at hand, and logical metrics for evaluating our subordinates (or our peers and superiors). Others are subconscious and could it be argued that they should not be as relevant as we make them. Again, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that we all do it.

    In regards to some of the specifics, you can decry attendance at social events and the idea that your family and spouse reflect upon you as a leader all you want. You’re beating your head against a wall. Stay home. Skip the events. But when you and LT Snuffy who both did fine jobs as PLs but were ultimately unremarkable in a job that can honestly be done by a well trained monkey, don’t be surprised when LT Snuffy comes out ahead because he also demonstrated a greater interest in Army life and contributing to the organization by attending events and involving his family when you chose not to. That’s not rocket science and it shouldn’t come as some groundbreaking revelation. Every job involves networking. Every job involves some going along to get along. Pissing and moaning about how it isn’t fair or right doesn’t do you any good. And if you should choose to embrace it, you might just actually enjoy it.

    Mess dress; sure you aren’t required to buy it and the article didn’t say that. It said if you wanna make a good impression and demonstrate commitment, buy the uniform that people senior to you, and who intend to make a career out of uniformed service, are expected to have. That seems incredibly logical to me. It sends a message. And if I am complaining about buying it then I have made the good colonel’s point for him. I’m probably not interested in staying long term. If I was then buying it soon as possible—since I do only wear it three times a year—makes a hell of a lot of sense. My cost per wear ratio starts working in my favor a lot sooner if I wear it for 3-4 years as a captain instead of waiting until I’ve been a field grade for a couple years.

    If leaving your dog at home when heading to an event where animals aren’t listed on the invitation or flyer also seems unfair to you then you probably lack the situational awareness to be successful in this job anyways. Again, that’s just not something that should be rocket science.

    I could go on…but I don’t care to nitpick every one of the arguments against his 31 points. Suffice it to say that if you have found something wrong with these pieces of insight from an experienced senior rater then you have missed the boat—by a wide margin.

    And because I feel like a point of reference is always helpful when responding to these discussions…I am a post company command infantry officer that fully intends to stick around for 20 years.

    • John Gassmann

      Brad, I understand your point of view. One of my peers put it this way: “I like this list, in the same sense that I prefer a stark, accurate diagnosis of cancer to rosy pandering.”

      I told him that he was right, that this is like a cancer diagnosis. LTC Edwards is telling us that there is something rotten in the system. As I said in my first response to this article, I agree that some of the things on this list are indicators of an officer’s commitment to the Army and desire to stick around. Much of it has nothing to do with that same officer’s abilities or potential for increased responsibility. Some have pointed out, correctly, that it is the rater’s job to assess performance and the senior rater’s job to assess potential. If that potential is based on the officer’s willingness to buy mess dress and show up to every mandatory fun event, then the senior rater has a skewed vision for what the Army should be.

      Here’s what I’m taking away from this piece. If I’m given the opportunity and awesome responsibility of senior rating US Army officers some day, I will try damn hard to keep my personal observations of those officers’ personal lives divorced from my assessment of their potential to fight and win America’s future wars.

      As a “point of reference” as you put it, I am a post troop and company command armor officer that also intends to stick around for 20 years. I do own bullion shoulder boards and attend my fair share of mandatory fun events. But I understand that my desire to stay and the Army’s need for me may not always be aligned. So I plan to work hard every day to take care of my Soldiers and my unit. I hope my future senior raters will give that more weight in my evaluations than what their spouse thinks of mine.

  31. Pingback: Get Out of the Way and Let Us Do Our Jobs: A NCO’s Perspective – The Angry Staff Officer

  32. Merrell

    “Hail and Farewells, balls, dining ins, and other unit social events are not optional.”

    This crap was the absolute worst. There’s nothing like being a Lance Corporal and seeing some old bozo you’ve NEVER seen before, getting a handshake and talking endlessly while you stand at the POA or parade rest and hope to God you remember not to lock your knees and pass out.
    But the very worst one was when some BC retired and he made as all wear Kevlar and LBV’s…to his freakin’ hail and fairwell.
    As an infantry marine, I was happiest (even when I wasw miserable) when I was doing infantry marine things. Good training or deployments. All this “unit social events” stuff seemed to be a misguided way to punish me for enlisting. I didn’t have a girlfriend. Why on earth would I want to attend a ball? I liked to eat Pizza (or good MRE’s), why on earth would I want to attend a “dining in?”

  33. Pingback: An Involved Military Spouse | Vagabond Librarian

  34. spartacus2002

    Thank you for the article. Unfortunately, it presents the impression that a senior rater’s evaluation of an officer is based in large part upon (1) rater’s OER comments & suggested senior rater comments, plus (hopefully) an OER support form that was not crammed together at the end of the rating period simply for evaluation purposes, (2) informal verbal comments from co-workers in managerial positions both within and outside of the rated officer’s unit, and/or informal impressions these co-workers share with the senior rater to be used in forming his evaluation without meaningful opportunity for the rated officer to address and respond to (hopefully if the comments or impressions were negative enough to be considered in evaluation, then they were also be significant enough to result in a formal or informal counseling of the rated officer so he may provide his rebuttal or learn from his mistakes), and (3) subjective superficial visual observation of uniform appearance and attendance at mandatory fun events (unfair and gross oversimplification but it serves it’s point for later discussion in this comment). There is more, like record of NJP, etc. but these three capture most of it. Point 3 bothers me the most because I cannot tell how much of it is scientifically-derived criteria deliberately chosen because of its historically-proven capability to predict future successful war-fighting field-grade and general officers, and how much is merely a vestige of the traits we scrambled to adopt from the aristocratic European tradition when we formed and forged the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.

    I was an officer from 1993-2005, left service as MAJ. I completely understand unit camaraderie, and “soldierly appearance,” and other things soldiers hold dear. But many of your points suggest a senior rater evaluation of the officer may (not could or should), in significant part, be based on extremely subjective criteria, as opposed to measuring the officer primarily by objective criteria (unit performance on qualification trials is one such measure; how well a battalion S1 shop performed during a brigade-directed Command Inspection is another).

    Herein lies the danger: 1LT Shnozzenbutt is senior-rated by Bn Cdr LTC X, who is very performance-oriented and goals-driven and who doesn’t care about Mess Dress nearly as much as he cares about mission accomplishment — as long as soldiers are in compliance with the appearance standards regulation, that’s fine, because the Bn Cdr wants any surplus attention to detail and effort to be applied to training and mission accomplishment, not uniform perfection. 1LT’s unit’s performance, by objective criteria, is outstanding. NOTE: He doesn’t own Mess Dress. LTC X gives 1LT an outstanding senior rater evaluation. LTC X PCSes; LTC Y assumes battalion command, and while he is all about mission accomplishment, he also relishes the rich history, traditions, customs, & courtesies of Army life. Thus, at his first dining-in he looks to see which officers demonstrate loyalty and commitment to the Army as an institution by owning Mess Dress. Seeing that 1LT does not, he begins to form a subjective negative opinion on 1LT as a leader, manager, soldier, and officer. Human nature being what it is, any further information he receives on 1LT might or might not be applied to confirming his opinion, not altering it; LTC Y is a good man and a good officer, but every person runs that risk of “we tend to find what we are looking for.” Months later, 1LT gets a slightly less enthusiastic senior rater evaluation than he previously did under LTC X despite having the same outstanding job & personal performance in the same job position. Courtney Massengale approves.

    Do you see where I am going with this? I understand that there are intangible qualities we prefer officers to possess which cannot be easily quantified. But, even if we assume that both LTCs are “appropriate” in how they evaluate 1LT, do you see how the subjective nature of many of the author’s points can affect retention, morale, etc.? The point is this: Using the senior rater criteria the author provides, is the senior rater actually evaluating the officer based on objective criteria? Or, more frighteningly, is he actually JUDGING the officer based on subjective impressions? The 1LT of 2016 is the Brigade Commander of 2030. Do we want to risk having cumulative personal details & opinions formed thereupon shape the future fighting force, just because a young 1LT does not exhibit sufficient “Company Man” qualities to please his senior rater? For example, as a mere thought exercise, is it appropriate for a battalion commander to think less of an outstanding ROTC-graduate junior officer who is not yet committed to staying in for 20 years versus the excellent USMA graduate who declares “I love the Army, I’m in this for life!” Seen that happen, and there is no meaningful way to guard against it, given the necessarily-hierarchical and authoritarian nature of the military chain of command.

    Having spent 12 years in the Army, and 11 years in private sector business, there are much each can learn from each other, if the Army is willing to learn. See previous posters’ comments on how certain evaluation criteria (energetically involved spouse, and children who behave well in public, for example) blessed for use in the Army would get a manager fired and the company sued into oblivion in the civilian world, and there is validity as to why. Please respond as you see appropriate. Here to discuss, not to attack. Thank you.

    • spartacus2002

      FYI to all readers and the author:
      1. My rant is directed at the Army Officer Corps’ willingness to use subjective criteria, not the author. The author should be thanked for his candor and honesty in recognizing the current reality and pointing it out to younger officers who, for their career survival, need to know what the author has shared with us.
      2. I suck at math. I meant “The 1LT of 2016 is the Brigade Commander of 2040” not 2030. Barring multiple BZ promotions or a massive & atrittive war, of course 🙂

  35. Mogal65

    Well said sir!

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