Mission Essential Task Zero: Place People First

By Jeremiah Gipson

Introduction
Our Army’s senior leaders have made it clear that putting People First is our number one priority. Independent studies, congressional oversight, and feedback also make it clear that not all Soldiers trust their chain of command to the degree necessary to build cohesive, disciplined, fit, and lethal teams. Acts of sexual assault, sexual harassment, racism, extremism, and instances of self-harm break the trust within units and with the American people. These preventable events obscure our Soldiers truly remarkable daily accomplishments.

“People are always my #1 priority. Our Army’s people are our greatest strength and our most important weapon system.” –General James McConville, CSA

OPPORTUNITY

Years of continuous deployments have resulted in inadequate training for leaders to meet the needs of the current generation. Junior leaders continue to struggle to provide empathetic leadership to meet the challenges of sexual harassment and assault, suicide, and inclusion. Over time, we have broken the bonds of trust within our ranks and degraded our ability to develop cohesive teams. We must overcome these challenges and prioritize time and resources to change our mission focus to put People First.

RECOMMENDATION
To meet these challenges, U.S. Forces Command (FORSCOM) directed units to schedule monthly Foundational Readiness Days—time focused solely on building trust and cohesive teams across the formation. But leaders can and should do more. I recommend units develop a Mission Essential Task Zero (MET Zero): Implement People First, as a framework for commanders to objectively measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. MET Zero establishes our Army culture as the mission critical priority task, and it can be adopted and approved separately within brigade commander authorities.

The Army’s winning culture is the decisive advantage regardless of environment – installation or deployed theater. Therefore, the development of MET Zero, nested with existing doctrine, AR 600-20 policy, AR 350-1 requirements, and unit Mission Essential Tasks Lists (METL) better aligns Unit Training Management systems. The MET Zero concept integrates into training meetings, quarterly training briefs, and installation resourcing boards. It can be tailored at the brigade level to operationalize the assessments of People First and the Army People Strategy within existing authorities and budgetary resources.

UNIT TRAINING MANAGEMENT
For years, commanders have discussed the mathematical problem between the training requirement and the available time. In many instances, commanders took risk in programs that did not directly generate readiness. In those conversations, commanders talked about accepting risk, prioritizing training, doing less, or executing concurrent training. But yet, we have not found the training balance to protect our culture. MET Zero addresses this issue and places culture in the same Quarterly Training Brief and Unit Status Reporting conversations because it aligns culture with training.

IMPROVED ASSESSMENT

Commanders understand how to train METLs; we are familiar with this foundational training framework. The incorporation of MET Zero into this existing framework empowers commanders to better direct, lead, and assess training while integrating activities to build trust and cohesive teams. This alignment enhances commander dialogue during training meetings, monitors the health of unit climates, and balances Risk to Mission and Risk to Force discussions.  

The Army’s Unit Training Management system outlines ways to evaluate training and provides objective Task and Evaluation Outlines (T&EO) to measure performance. The development and broad acceptance of MET Zero T&EOs could eventually integrate them into the Combined Arms Training Strategy (CATS) database. This would empower junior leaders with a single repository to resource training and external evaluation criteria to objectively measure task proficiency. Until then, locally developed T&EOs can empower leaders to validate the efficacy of People First activities through increased presence and inspections.  

THE IMPACTS OF MET ZERO

The implementation of MET Zero within the battalion has increased the pace of our operation to prioritize People First. This common framework has been a catalyst to create positive inertia throughout the formation. It has empowered our leaders to get to know their Soldiers, take bold action to eliminate the three corrosives, and hold each other accountable. Soon, the MET Zero framework will allow us to measure our performance and assess the impacts on our climate.

CONCLUSION

The culture of the Army is our most important and enduring mission. This MET Zero recommendation leverages the doctrinal processes of ADP 7-0 and FM 7-0 to assess cultural training proficiency based on objective reviews of performance measures. These assessments increase leader dialogue, monitor unit culture, and establish command climate accountability. MET Zero operationalizes the Army People Strategy by investing and prioritizing time, balancing resources, and training leaders across the formation to protect our culture.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremiah Gipson is the Commander of the 4th Engineer Battalion located at Fort Carson, Colorado and Ft. Riley, Kansas. Thanks to all of the leaders within the 36th Engineer Brigade and 4th Infantry Division for shaping the MET Zero Concept.  #Vanguard4theRegiment

2 comments

  1. There will always be a legitimate argument against this: Mission first.

    Absolutely, we should take care of our troops. We should make them feel welcome, and do everything within our means to prepare them to be the best soldiers by which we can accomplish our missions. Yet, we should never overlook the harsh economy of war – soldiers are resources to be expended.

    Very quickly, soldier comfort and the approval of one’s subordinates results in a softening of our collective efficacy.

    Yes, the threats we face now are relatively minor for the average troop: A convoy gets hit, maybe we lose a gunner or a truck…. maybe a mission goes wrong and we lose part of an ODA…. it sucks, but it’s survivable as a force. It breeds complacency.

    It took less than five years to go from the military that won WWII to the one that fielded Task Force Smith as our vanguard. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, DAESH…. none of these were the Nazis or Yamato-damashii, yet a bureaucratic focus on soldiers over mission could easily recreate a Task Force Smith.

  2. Sir, what an interesting way to implement the #PeopleFirst focus/strategy into our current Unit Training Management doctrine and TTPs. I would argue, however, that this type of approach would be ineffective, produce false results, and could lead to a dangerous sense of complacency in regards to this MET.

    This is a “science” of Leadership approach to an “art” of Leadership problem. This is the human dimension, where things are never black/white, and each circumstance is different in it’s own way. We need Leaders at every echelon (especially BN/CO/PLT) to maintain situational awareness on all their Soldier’s behaviors/indicators and who show authentic caring for those Soldiers. It is a 24/7 job, and something no one is every truly a “T” in.

    In my opinion, as a Leader, being able to gauge your success (or lack there of) within the #PeopleFirst LOE is an art in itself. The results lie within the intangibles and requires Leaders to greatly increase their spheres of concern and influence to try to gauge it. We should be taking best practices from the most successful, largest companies in industry to discover different ways they’ve successfully demonstrated care for their employees. We have to be creative and think outside the box to solve this problem (one TTP established by a certain unit to get after this LOE may be the polar opposite of what the next one needs).

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