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Challenges of the INSCOM Military Intelligence Brigade (Theater) Headquarters and Headquarters Company
Christopher M. Phalan
As a company-grade officer, I think that commanding a Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) challenges a captain like few other jobs. Like any other company command, the commander is charged with the overall training, personnel, and equipment readiness of the company, as well as the command climate, coupled with focusing on developing resilient Soldiers and leaders within the organization. The uniqueness of a HHC command is that of the organization itself. Unlike a line company, the HHC is not constituted of platoons, but of primary and special staff sections that essentially work for the higher command, whether it be battalion, brigade, or higher. Because of this unique landscape, the HHC commander and 1SG must carefully balance company-level requirements of personnel, training, and equipment readiness to enduring taskings from higher headquarters while providing maximum time for Soldiers and NCOs to work within their respective staff sections.
The HHC of an INSCOM Military Intelligence Brigade, Theater (MIB[T]) is not unlike many other brigade headquarters companies, in that its primary function is to provide administrative and readiness support to the Soldiers, NCOs and Officers of the brigade staff. Unfortunately, many company commanders enter command expecting to lead the MIB(T) HHC like a line company and are not aware of the many challenges and nuances of HHC command. The list of challenges is extensive, but the list of solutions and opportunities is just as healthy.
The term Leadership Challenge is heard time and time again throughout today’s Army. A leadership challenge can refer to a myriad of issues from the sub-standard performance of a single Soldier to the complex problems that occur among conflicting personalities within an organization. The HHC is certainly not immune to its own leadership challenges, two of which remain most dominant and in large part contribute to the remaining leadership challenges that the company command team face. To begin with, unlike a line company where every Soldier within the company works towards supporting the company mission under the direction of the company commander, the brigade staff is not entirely beholden to the HHC commander. The brigade staff, even though assigned to HHC and technically under the command and authority of the company commander, does not work to support the company mission, but to support the brigade commander’s mission and vision. To add to the complexity of this issue, the brigade staff, and inherently HHC, consists of more than 15 officers that are either equal or superior in rank to the company commander. As a result, the relationship between the company and the brigade staff presents a unique challenge.
The traditional structure of the Army starts at the lowest level of leadership with the team; the squad, platoon, company, battalion, and so on. The important aspect of that structure is to point out that the company falls under the command and authority of a battalion commander. This organization of command allows for lower-level commanders to seek guidance and support from the next echelon of command. This organization also gives a higher level of command behind the enforcement of good order and discipline at the lower level of command. Alternatively, when a company is left out of the traditional Army organization and forced to stand on its own without a battalion commander to lean on, this can pose some unique challenges in the command climate for the company commander.
Note: Throughout this article, unless otherwise mentioned, the staff refers to the primary and special staff OICs, the officers and senior NCOs (MSG and above) within the staff sections, not the junior enlisted Soldiers and other NCOs within each staff section.
The Company and Staff Relationship
The biggest and most obvious challenge faced by the HHC commander is the relationship between the company leadership and the staff. This challenge lies in three key facts. First, the staff’s primary obligation is to the brigade commander’s priorities and mission, and rightly so since the staff belongs to the brigade commander. Second, even though the staff is assigned to HHC and therefore under the command and authority of the HHC commander, the staff is nowhere in the company commander’s rating chain. The influence that the company commander has over the staff is very limited, except for signing leave forms, because the company commander does not rate or senior rate anyone within the staff. Third, the more than 15 officers that make up the staff are either equal or superior in rank to the company commander. This poses another challenge in that the company commander has little recourse when a staff officer chooses to ignore company policies or chooses not to attend mandatory company training. The solution rests in the HHC commander’s understanding of his or her overall mission, and that is to provide administrative and readiness support to the staff.
The company commander’s primary mission is to provide support to the staff so that the staff can focus on its primary objective of providing support to the brigade commander and the brigade’s mission. This does not negate the responsibility of the staff to provide support to the HHC commander’s additional requirements. The company commander must avoid the “us vs them” dichotomy by developing a mutually supporting relationship with the staff. The type of support that the HHC commander must provide to the staff falls primarily in to basic areas; administrative support and readiness support. Administrative support ranges from processing leave forms, ensuring evaluations and awards are tracked and completed on time, and to ensure all Soldiers within HHC are compliant with medical deployable standards, such as dental and physical exams. The other area of support falls within readiness. Readiness support ranges from personnel and medical readiness, which can be administrative in nature, to training readiness. These topics will be discussed later in the article.
Again, this company and staff relationship must be one of mutual support. This means not only does the company need to support the staff, but the staff must in kind provide a certain level of support to the company. Like any other unit in the Army, the MIB(T) HHC will be tasked with fulfilling miscellaneous requirements such as funeral detail, bus drivers, and Change of Command details; plus, all the additional duties required at the company level such as company retention NCO, Unit Prevention Leader, Armorer, and the list goes on. The MIB(T) HHC does not have a surplus platoon of Soldiers to pull from to fill enduring taskings. For the company commander and 1SG to fill these requirements, Soldiers must be pulled from the various staff sections. This is the primary support that the staff owes to the company; in order for the company to operate within Army standards and requirements, the staff must essentially share its work force, the enlisted Soldiers and NCOs, with the company leadership without undue resistance. The relationship between staff and company is a constant balancing act of requirements and personalities that at any time can falter if one or the other loses sight of the primary goal, which is supporting the brigade commander.
Stand-alone Company vs. Battalion Integration
The MIB(T) HHC MTOE does not fall under a battalion MTOE, at least in the case of HHC, 470th Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade (BDE). Essentially the MIB(T) HHC is a stand-alone company. However, the brigade commander has the authority to align the MIB(T) HHC under a battalion for administrative, UCMJ, and accountability purposes. Fundamentally the HHC would be ADCON to a battalion with some Operational Control based on brigade commander guidance. There are benefits to both arrangements, but each also present a share of challenges as well.
As a stand-alone company, the HHC commander is afforded two obvious benefits not enjoyed by other company commanders throughout the brigade. First, the HHC commander enjoys a certain level of autonomy that allows him or her to operate the company with very little direction from the brigade commander or the DCO. Of course, the amount of autonomy is exclusively based on the level of trust that the brigade commander and DCO place in the HHC commander and on the level of maturity held by the company commander. Second, the HHC command enjoys an increased level of access and face-time with the brigade commander due to brigade level meetings that requires the attendance of the HHC commander and for the simple fact that the brigade commander is technically in HHC.
Another challenge that the HHC commander can face as a stand-alone company is staff entitlement. Officers and senior NCOs within INSCOM often develop an entitlement complex that gives them the sense of exclusion. Simply stated, they feel that they should be exempted from attending simple things such as morning PT formations, maintenance formations, individual 350-1 training, and even weapons ranges. This type of entitlement can drive a wedge between the staff and the company, but also between the staff and the Soldiers within their sections. The solution to staff entitlement is setting early expectations. The company commander must express his or her expectations of the staff concerning formations, PT, and maintenance, early in the command. If the commander fails to set clear expectations early, the commander will have a very difficult time drawing a line in the sand later down the road. Additionally, the commander must gain insight to the staff’s expectations and advice from the DCO and brigade commander. In the end, the company commander needs to accept that he or she may not have 100% of available Soldiers, including officers and senior NCOs, at PT or other key formations. It is perfectly acceptable to focus on the population that warrants to the most development, Sergeant First Class and below.
The largest benefit to an integration of the MIB(T) HHC into a battalion is really the battalion commander and the battalion staff. As a subordinate to a battalion, the HHC commander now has the support and mentorship of the next level of command, that battalion commander. This is very beneficial for a first-time commander. Additionally, having a battalion commander that is present at PT formations and maintenance formations eliminates the HHC commanders concern for staff entitlement. On the other hand, the HHC commander now loses his ability to operate autonomously as well as losing the increased face-time with his or her senior rater. Another challenge that the HHC commander may face is the possibility that the battalion commander may overreach his or her level of Operational Control over HHC. This type of overreach needs to be closely monitored by the DCO and the brigade commander to ensure the battalion commander is not protecting his organic companies by overtasking the HHC.
It is widely known that the Chief of the Staff of the Army’s number one priority is readiness. Therefore, readiness should be every commander’s number one priority. The word readiness refers to two separate things. At the micro level, Soldier’s and units must be ready to conduct the unit’s wartime mission or ongoing operational mission. At the macro-level, all Soldiers, hence the Army, must be ready to deploy for the future fight always. At the small unit-level, readiness begins with the individual Soldier. Readiness at the individual Soldier level means that each Soldiers must ensure they are medically and physically ready, that their administratively ready, that their individual equipment is ready, and that they are proficient in their Soldier skills. Company commanders will spend much of their energy and resources ensuring Soldiers are ready at the individual level. In a brigade staff environment that is reactive to fluctuating priorities and tasks, the challenge for the HHC commander is ensuring that individual Soldier readiness remains the shared top priority. This is not to say that the brigade staff is not focused on readiness. Their focus however, is on the brigade’s readiness, not their own. It is the HHC commander who must refocus the staff when needed.
Individual readiness is typically administrative in nature but does cover some functions that Soldiers must actively participate in as well. Individual readiness encompasses periodic medical and dental assessments, updates to emergency data and life insurance, completion of wills and powers of attorney, and keeping Exceptional Family Member Program information current. This type of readiness is what many commanders call “low hanging fruit”, because most of these tasks are administration in function and take little time to complete. For the HHC commander, this readiness category is probably the easiest to track and ensure compliance. While staff members are hard at work on brigade priorities, it is up to the company commander and 1SG to gently refocus individuals at key times to ensure the staff’s individual personnel readiness remains in compliance.
One of the more challenging jobs for the HHC commander is ensuring 100% of Soldiers are trained on individual Soldier skills and tasks. The challenge lies in the fact that one cannot simply shut down all staff functions to execute a field exercise or a weapons qualification range. Additionally, the continuous operations of a MIB(T) often requires members of the staff to travel across the United States outside of the continental United States (OCONUS) in support of brigade missions. This means that having even 90% of the staff available for training at any given time is improbable. One more added factor, however less likely, is staff entitlement: from time to time staff members believe certain training doesn’t apply to them. The solution to ensure 100% compliance with individual training is multiple training opportunities. As previously stated, the HHC commander’s primary mission is to the support the staff, which often means catering to the staff. In the case of individual training, hold multiple training iterations; e.g. the same range twice in one month or over two consecutive days, multiple iterations of SHARP training throughout the week, or scheduling the same training every Friday for the month.
Collective training for HHC is typically only accomplished at the squad and staff section level. Based on the Department of the Army approved Mission Essential Task List, most of HHC’s collective training is administrative in function, whether it be company or maintenance operations. From a company perspective, most of the collective training only involves the junior Soldiers, Staff Sergeant and below, with senior NCOs as trainers, and is focused on squad battles drills. In the end, the HHC commander needs to understand that his training plan will not be as robust as some line companies. The company commander’s primary focus needs to be on providing individual training, and a lot of it, to ensure 100% compliance across the staff and the rest of HHC.
Without a developed, robust maintenance plan, equipment readiness becomes a second thought and is often ignored until a serious equipment failure presents itself. While this problem can occur in any small unit, the added challenge for a MIB(T) HHC is the size of the population conducting PMCS and maintenance. Simply put, if the 25% of the population consisting of officers and senior NCOS are not down in the motor pool conducting maintenance on the vehicles and radios or in the arms room cleaning weapons, it’s left up to the remaining 50%, after factoring taskings, schools, and leave, to conduct 100% of the maintenance. The only solution is a concerted, planned effort to conduct maintenance. This is done by putting all maintenance on the training calendar and planning maintenance no less that 90-days out on a rotational basis to ensure every aspect of property receives attention.
Ensuring Property Accountability
HHC, 470th MIB(T) has property spread across 10 locations with five locations OCONUS. The HHC commander may never physically see all his or her property during command. Therefore, property accountability at the sub-hand receipt holder and user level is of vital importance, with heavy involvement of section NCOICs and first line leaders. Since the BDE S6 controls all life-cycle IT equipment throughout the brigade, the MIB(T) HHC property book becomes the conduit for all non-MTOE IT equipment going in and out of the brigade. This causes the property book to fluctuate throughout the year, adding to the already complicated accountability issues. Additionally, due to the nature of the intelligence and IT of the MIB(T), the HHC property book is unusually robust with sensitive items (SI). Therefore, the SI inventory adds another crucial part to the Command Supply Discipline Program. The solution to combating lost items, high dollar financial liability investigations for property loss (FLIPL) and missing SI is a strong, meticulously organized Command Supply Discipline Program in which all leaders at every level are involved. The company commander cannot sign the property book every month and then sit on the side lines hoping that sub-hand receipt holders are maintaining accountability. The commander must set policies in place that control the handling and issuing of property. The company XO needs to keep the company commander informed of all new property, lateral transfers, excess turn-in, and missing property so that the commander has the information to make decisions and enforce policy when need be.
Again, I think that one of the most challenging assignments for a company grade Military Intelligence officer is the MI Brigade HHC Command. The nature of the unit lends to creating more challenges than most officers have faced in their career. The challenges of staff relationships, all aspects of readiness, and property accountability can be a heavy load to carry as a company grade officer, especially as he/she commands multiple officers of equal or superior rank. The greatest challenge is not the individual problems, but that these challenges are interlaced, and one solution may cause another challenge to appear. However, one thing is certain, the number of challenges is equal to the number of opportunities, too. Each challenge that we overcame was an opportunity for growth, for both the Commander, the First Sergeant, and the unit.