[November 19, 2023] It was a red-letter day. On March 17, 2008, I took command of a Brigade in a U.S.-based unit. Brigade is the level of command that truly separates the best from the very best. The change of command was terrific, with hundreds of soldiers, mentors, family, and friends present. Immediately after I sat down with my new Division Command, he promptly handed me a Letter of Reprimand.
Once all the ceremonial piece of the day was complete, it was time for me to discuss priorities with the Division Commander and seek his guidance. All four Brigade Commanders were present; obviously, I was the new man on the block. Having just returned from Iraq only a few days before, I was ready to get back to work and see more of my family.
My Division Commander was a no-nonsense two-star Major General. Like me, he believed that when you are put in charge, you are immediately responsible from that moment forward. An old rule in the military says when in charge, take charge. And that means immediately. There is zero grace period and no honeymoon.
I was given a Letter of Reprimand because my unit had not performed up to the standards he had set. I just happened to be in charge at the time. Let me be clear, a two-star letter of reprimand can be career ending, but not in this case. Some of my family were upset; I was not. They feared the letter was unfair. But, I understood that the person in charge was in charge and fully responsible and I was in charge. Civilians usually don’t understand.
I had five Battalion Commanders working for me, and it was clear that their units had not performed to standard. That is why the Brigade had failed. I sent a copy of my Letter of Reprimand to each of them with a note that said:
“Today, I received a two-star Letter of Reprimand. I am not upset or concerned whatsoever. I know where the problem lies. I will not give you a Letter of Reprimand because I know my letter is sufficient to motivate you to perform up to standard.”
For the next couple of years in command, my brigade achieved all Division standards and ranked first place throughout the Division. We all remain friends to this day. The reason was that we worked together as a close-knit team. And everyone understood that I was in charge on the first day.
I was reprimanded on my first day. And that was okay.
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