Some NCO Advice to New Majors


By: CSM Samuel C. Rapp and SFC Harlan D. Kefalas

Hey Sir! Welcome to the unit. Whether you are the operations officer or the executive officer, we are going to be working close together. NCOs will do most of the heavy lifting with support from a great group of Soldiers. We would like to offer you some advice from our perspective that will make you successful.

Characteristics of successful field grades from the staff NCO:

Treat your relationship with the operations sergeant major the same as your relationship with your First Sergeant (from your company command days). Especially when it comes to manning. Our team will only be as effective as our slowest rower. In turn, the sergeant major will support you the same as your 1SG did.

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Interacting With Your Battalion Commander


By Scott Shaw

So you’re in the Staff College, on the Division Staff, or just about to take that Iron Major position. CONGRATULATIONS! You’re about to assume a very important role. Majors run Brigade Combat Teams and Brigade Combat Teams are what accomplish our Army’s missions. Now, let’s get to work because that’s what field grade officers do.

I have been asked many times, “How can I best interact with my battalion commander?” Commanding through commanders, as battalion commanders do, is much different than the mostly direct leadership style of company command. Many field grade staff officers struggle in their ability to transition from that direct style of leadership to being able to support their commander as he or she “commands through commanders.” In this post, I will describe a few methods that worked for me and may lead you to success with you battalion commander.

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Speak the Forbidden Letters: MDMP


By Josh Powers and Joe Byerly

In many organizations, the letters “MDMP” will send staff officers running. The process can be painful and daunting, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As field grade officers, we control the planning timeline and we synchronize the staff.

We both served as the battalion and brigade level, and we picked up some lessons along the way that takes some of the pain out of the planning process and make it another routine staff exercise.

 Set expectations. In reality, the process of MDMP is more important than the product it yields. The MDMP enables a conversation between commander, staff, and subordinate units if executed effectively. As a field grade officer, your job is to create a quality product, an operation, by managing this process. To do this effectively takes countless repetitions, all while gaining and losing staff officers.

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Field Grade Tales From a Former OC/T


By Jim King

One of the benefits of being an Observer Controller/Trainer (OC/T) is that we get to stand with one leg in doctrine and the other in reality. We learn the theory, but then watch countless units fight it out in the Mojave desert, moving theory into practice. As an OC/T, I watched 34 field grades lead their staffs in the military decision-making process (MDMP). Below, are some of my observations that new majors can use to bridge the gap between doctrine and practice and make their units more successful in planning.

For the uninitiated, MDMP may be considered a four letter word. Most junior majors know the steps but are unsure how to make the process work for them. This article summarizes MDMP, noting divergence between theory and practice.

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In Case You Didn’t Know It, Things Are Very Different Now: Part 2


By: Tony Cucolo

Exceptional Personal Appearance: The Baseline for a Great First Impression

I have taken a lot of good-natured chiding and grief for this portion of the coaching – one of my Majors called it “The Blazer Brief” — but I cannot overstate the importance of sustaining exceptional personal appearance and its impact on making a strong first impression. It simply has to become your lifestyle and habit to be effective. It applies to personal hygiene, uniforms and personal attire. Some tips follow on all.

Good personal hygiene is a given; don’t ever let it slip, and do your best even under the difficult field conditions of combat. You will be expected to be the walking observable standard. Back home, it is much easier to meet the standard and therefore expected. When I was a Brigade Commander, my staff and I had to depart via commercial airline for a training event late one Sunday night. As my staff assembled in the airport, I noted one of my Majors who had dressed for airline comfort (shorts, t-shirt and sandals) and had not shaved since before PT Friday morning. Before I could pull him aside for some quiet coaching, the XO ripped him up, and finished by saying, “You represent all of us, and you don’t know who you might meet on this flight.” Sure enough, I watched a renowned Congressional Representative and Member of the House Armed Services Committee walk down the aisle in coach and sit right next to my very comfortable Major. “Hi, what is you do, young man?” was his first question. After that experience, I didn’t have to say word to him about maintaining the standard.

As a Major you are expected to know what the dress codes are for the terms casual, informal, semi-formal and formal so you may coach young officers. You may find slightly conflicting definitions, so when in doubt, just “over-dress.”

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In Case You Didn’t Know It, Things Are Very Different Now: Part 1


By Major General Tony Cucolo, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Over the length of my time in uniform, I often found myself scratching my head and saying to no one in particular, “I wish someone had told me that…” So, I make it a point to wherever and whenever possible pass on the tribal wisdom and scar tissue that only comes from personal trial and error during long-service in a closed society like the military.

Here’s the premise of this article: the expectations of a Major are very different than those of a Captain, and not everyone knows what these expectations are or the impact they have on personal and professional success. I want to share my thoughts on this to help you be successful – successful for the right reasons.


If you are a Major, you have left the ranks of the “sprinters” and quietly committed to the “marathon” – you’ve mastered your varying pace for the hills and the flats, but are uncertain of the location of that distant finish line. As the underlying title of the article states, you may not realize it, but there are new expectations of you as a Major. Honestly, sincerely, it really is automatic: the day after you pin on or Velcro that oak leaf to your uniform, you are judged differently, and you may not realize it. People (seniors) will watch you, form impressions, and pass judgement about you – and never tell you. Hard to explain why, and some may argue with me, but we senior leaders are quick to correct a Lieutenant and we won’t hesitate to say, “Captain, what the…?” But a Major who just doesn’t quite “get it”? Well…we quietly say to ourselves, “Noted,” and slide the image of that man or woman to the bottom of our mental order of merit list.

I have seen wonderful young officers both in combat and in the garrison environment fail to adjust to the issues I will cover here. They were left behind for the wrong reasons, leaving the Army at a great disadvantage for missing their talent. Certainly a lack of coaching by myself and others was patently unfair. I woke up to my own coaching shortcomings just prior to assuming Brigade Command when an outstanding young Major whom I rated was damned with faint praise and given a mediocre rating. When I confronted the senior rater about it, he told me, “Tim (not his name) is…well, he’s just a rough cut…he’s never grown up…he looks and acts like a Lieutenant…” I was crushed; I had failed Tim. It was my job to “raise” Tim properly, but I let Tim be Tim: with the ever-present dip cup, moderately crude language, clumsy social skills, scruffy outdoorsman appearance, and pronouncements of “Hell, sir, I can’t go to that event, I don’t own a suit…shoot, I don’t even own a tie.” I let Tim be Tim because he was one hell of a fine warrior, the best tactician and trainer I had, and was beloved by all. I thought everyone saw Tim the way I did: a future battalion commander and then some. I was wrong.

Field Grade duties are varied, far-flung, and put you in operational and strategic settings – sometimes with little or no notice – engaging the full spectrum of thought leaders, key influencers and decision makers, from the civilian intellectual elite to senior foreign military officials. I didn’t help Tim understand he needed to make some personal changes for this new level of duty if he was to be taken seriously as a future senior leader.

Smarting from this personal failure, I went into Brigade Command with a pitch deck, a briefing, and a coaching session that is the basis of this article. I have given some form of this article’s contents to the senior Captains and Majors of every organization I led from 1999 – 2014. Over the years and as recently as last month, I’ve passed on the slide deck to countless peers and rising senior leaders. I want to minimize Majors being “noted” and ensure that their success is for their Character, Courage, and Competence, and not lose a good officer because someone felt they were “a rough cut.” I pass on this tribal wisdom to you now.

If you have made it this far in the article, fair warning: some of the things I will lay out for you will seem light and relatively meaningless to men and women in the profession of arms of a Nation at war, but they are still important. Some of what I will discuss sets us apart as professionals, as Officers, and is the Military Tradition.

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Iron Major, Meet Your PAO


By Dave Butler and Dave Chace

In the Information Age, how your actions are interpreted are as important as the actions themselves. This applies not only to the battlefield but to the local community, the greater military enterprise and your organization. As an S3 or XO you’re too busy to worry about about the interpretation part, so having a professional in your organization dedicated to this task is to the key to maximizing effects.

Major, meet your PAO.

When Crisis Strikes. Do you want your battalion’s first and most prominent public reference to be the time one of your platoon leaders drives drunk through the front of the Post movie theater, or would it be better if that incident was balanced against a handful of positive mentions? Probably the latter. It sucks when something bad happens. Crisis management and communication is so much easier when you’ve built a relationship with the officer who will steer the narrative. Rest assured, something bad will happen to your battalion during your tour, and your brigade PAO will have to talk about it—probably before your official CCIR has even hit the Division Commander’s inbox. Engage early, and ask your PAO to help you build your battalion’s public persona ahead of crisis—establishing context and goodwill when your stakeholders will be receptive to it.

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Should I Go to SAMS?


By: Jim Greer

Someone recently asked me, “Why should an officer attend SAMS (the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies)?” But, in fact I think that is exactly the wrong question. The question ought to be, “Why would any officer not want to attend SAMS?”

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10 Rules for the Iron Major


By. Chad Foster

Lists of “rules” are always problematic because they are never really complete or perfect. There is ALWAYS a better way to phrase something or a key idea that gets left out. However, the list below is one that has stayed with me for a number of years. I helped put it together in collaboration with my peers while serving as a Brigade Executive Officer in the 2nd ABCT, 1st Cavalry Division.

A group of us old, “salty” majors put together these “rules” in the hope that that the new majors coming into the unit might learn from it. Since then, I have kept this list with me and shared it with many individuals.

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The Iron Major: War Stories From the Staff

US Soldiers Playing Cards During Break in Fighting

By Steve Leonard, creator of Doctrine Man!!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The “Iron Major” phase of your career can seem to drag on forever, drifting in that twilight zone between the nostalgia of company command and the halcyon days that are sure to come. Every day is another day on staff, where success is often measured in terms of slide production or Unit Status Report ratings. Even the term “Iron Major” is a misnomer, often confused for a reference to physical acumen when it is actually a euphemism for the resolve necessary to endure successive years on staff with little to no authority.

In their own way, those years were also deeply rewarding for me. First as a brigade Support Operations Officer (SPO), then as an Executive Officer (XO), I could share the knowledge gained from a decade’s worth of experience with younger leaders, helping them to grow and develop along the way. I was able to leverage wisdom earned in combat to advantage as we, in turn, prepared to launch into a new war. Along the way, I realized that I had become that “old major” I looked up to as a junior officer; I strived to live up to their legacies, to be the leader I saw in them.

For me, those two “key and developmental” positions defined my Iron Major years. Years of technical development prepared me well for my year as a SPO; a year in the Command and General Staff Officer Course, followed by a year in the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) and an assignment as a division planner only refined that development. Success as a SPO can be attributed to a number of factors, but there are a few stand out from the crowd:

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