COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Army and Air National Guard leaders, from company to brigade level, sat in an auditorium listening eagerly to learn more about how they could better serve their units and the Guard as a whole during the Leaders’ Call, an annual meeting which provides a forum for officers and noncommissioned officers from the organization to receive updates from key staff on the strategic plans and projections for upcoming missions.
One after the other, the speakers at this year’s leaders’ conference, hosted by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., the adjutant general for South Carolina, and held at the Soldier’s Support Institute on Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C., Dec. 12, 2015, were stressing the importance of readiness and retention. In order to have a strong force, leaders at every level must be experienced and that experience comes from time in service.
“Today’s Guard is facing unique challenges we must address, as resources and missions are changing with threats around the world,” said Livingston. “Sustaining a force structure and maintaining it is a key component to readiness and the way ahead to face these challenges.”
The theme of this year’s conference focused heavily on ways to improve training and unit readiness in order to retain Soldiers and Airmen in the South Carolina National Guard more successfully.
“Because of people getting out at the end of each fiscal year, the Guard starts off the new recruiting year in a deficit,” said U.S. Army Maj. Rudy Crumpton, Jr., deputy commander of recruiting and retention for the SCNG. “We need to have young commanders, who may not be aware of the bigger picture, to take a closer look at their service members that are getting out.”
Retention is an important part of the big picture because it affects an individual unit’s readiness and the South Carolina National Guard’s readiness as a whole.
“Every year the state is given a mission by the National Guard Bureau and that mission requires us to have a certain amount of Soldiers and Airmen,” said Crumpton. “If we don’t have the amount of experienced people that we need, we can’t accomplish our mission.”
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Brad Owens, director of Joint Staff for the SCNG, sat down during the event with four young unit commanders who seemed to understand the need for retaining service members, based on their high rates of retention. He spoke with them about how they had accomplished increasing and maintaining their units’ readiness status.
The commanders then joined Owens in front of the other attendees to share their retention methods and lessons they’ve learned along the way. The company commander whose unit had maintained the highest level of readiness then had the honor of receiving a streamer for their unit guidon in recognition of their efforts.
U.S. Army Capt. Anthony Gentile, the commander of the winning company, Bravo Company, 1-118th Light Infantry, shared some leadership tips with attendees after accepting the streamer on behalf of his company, also known as The Spartans.
“Service members sign up and stay in to do a hard and very important job, so we need to push them with hard, realistic training. Our jobs are difficult and include a lot of walking and a lot of sweating,” said Gentile. “People are going to complain in the moment but later they will have a great sense of accomplishment and something to brag about.”
During their annual training, Soldiers in Bravo Company participate in a high amount of physical activities, including daily ruck marches.
“As a leader, you need to know that pushing them is for their benefit. They joined the Guard to do their job,” said Gentile. “You are just giving them what they wanted when they joined up. Nobody joined with the intention of sitting around.”
Another factor of unit readiness that Gentile touched on was not wasting the Soldiers’ time. He acknowledged that there was a certain amount of administrative duties in each field but encouraged listeners to value the Soldiers’ hard work and time.
“I was enlisted myself so I know the frustration of sitting around and not doing anything. In my company we train to standard, not to time,” said Gentile.
Another commander who was recognized for maintaining his unit’s readiness level was U.S. Army Capt. Christopher Huber, 1221st Route Clearance Company. His approach also focused on effective time management.
“One thing that increased unit readiness was administrative overnights. We would keep troops overnight during drill weekends to complete necessary administrative tasks all while having fun and forming bonds,” said Huber. “ This gave the unit more time to train during the day.”
During the remainder of the conference, commanders continued to give advice that aligned with Guard priorities for 2016. Effective time management, realistic training and morale were all common themes attributed to service member retention and unit readiness. This year and going forward, the South Carolina National Guard is focused on getting back to the basics.
“I gained great insight from each of the commanders I met with. It was an awesome opportunity for everyone to learn from them because those young leaders are our future,” said Owens. “They are shaping the Guard of tomorrow.”