[March 13, 2020] One thing the U.S. Army Infantry School taught me back in 1983 was that you had better be aware of your operational environment. This requirement meant that each of us Second Lieutenants had to understand and deliberately plan for the conditions, circumstances, and influences that will affect our military unit’s mission.
In this article, I will be giving an example of understanding your operational environment. Being deployed to another country is a good start. Operating in a hostile location helps keep the focus on the priorities and guidance of our senior commander. A hostile environment is not, however, the only place a leader must be aware of their environment.
As a new Engineer Company commander and a U.S. Army Captain at the time, I volunteered my unit for an intense administrative review. My company had many missions. All of these were outside in rough terrain, operating in challenging weather, living in the bush, and having our daily tasks overseen carefully to ensure quality construction projects were on time and budget.
We would also spend about four hours per day on detailed administrative overviews that pushed our workday to over 18 hours for three weeks. There was a lot of stress for my junior leaders. When my soldiers arrived in the cantonment area for administrative tasks, they were dirty, sweaty, and tired, but their spirits were high because they knew that the cleanly, rested admin soldiers were there to help.
On the first day, the administrative help did not start well. The senior admin colonel in charge gave my men an unfriendly dressing down for not having clean, starched uniforms. He told them that their boots were too dirty to wear in his admin shop and that we had to stand in line for an unbearably long time. We had coordinated the timing and coordinated arrivals to prevent this very issue.
As a new company commander, I did not understand the operational environment that my soldiers were now involved. Sure, we had a good excuse for our appearance, but I wanted this event to benefit my unit. Getting into a toe-to-toe match with an Army colonel (three ranks above me) was not a good career move. That night I decided we would change our approach and ensure our soldiers’ admin time would mean a clean uniform and boots.
Instantly upon seeing our soldiers on day two, the admin colonel was happy to work his people harder to help. I now understood the operational environment and got what I wanted. This example shows how it is sometimes easier to realize the priorities and needs of those in a different environment and how for us to adopt it to our benefit better.
NOTE: Want to read more on understanding the operational environment? Here are a few websites: