‘Understand people around you,’

During a professional development session Jan. 30 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston shares information about the “This is My Squad” initiative that encourages group activities to build unity and promote communication between Soldiers.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – To help build unit cohesion, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston encourages Soldiers to adopt a culture similar to that of the Special Forces.

Speaking to troops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord – and to others watching via Facebook Live on Jan. 30 – Grinston asked Soldiers to engage in more activities together, including physical training sessions and meals.

“Do you sit down with your squads?” the SMA inquired. “Do you spend time with them?”

In the Army’s new “This is My Squad” initiative, units focus on the positive aspects of a Soldier’s life and place greater emphasis on a “collectivist culture” where the group is prioritized over the individual.

“When you think of ‘my squad,’ you think of something positive you do every day to take care of each other,” Grinston said.

When Soldier focus is shifted to shared experiences, a sense of unity is created, and the SMA believes that’s needed to solve personal crises and combat misconduct. By engaging with fellow Soldiers, squad leaders also can better detect personal dilemmas and emotional hardships.

“We want to build a committed organization that’s founded in a cohesive team built in trust,” Grinston confirmed.

The SMA hosted a panel of five noncommissioned officers from Lewis-McCord to discuss the new initiative and how to solve common problems at the squad level. Examples include working with Soldiers who harbor negative attitudes and working with peers of equal experience.

Staff Sgt. Gabriel Christiansen said one private last year confided in him that he had been the victim of a $20,000 financial scam. Christiansen helped the individual acquire a loan to help pay for the debt and worked with the Soldier’s bank to alleviate the financial strain. The staff sergeant said keeping regular contact with his Soldiers made the problem-solving opportunity possible.

“That’s the goal: to understand the people around you,” Grinston observed. “You’re going to find something about the person sitting next to you that you never knew.”

Christiansen, Staff Sgt. Thomas Hahn and Sgt. Shylar McIntire said that developing an understanding of what motivates Soldiers could help them with poor attitudes. Counseling sessions and communication with each squad member can keep people on the same page, a quality essential for cohesion, Grinston interjected. Learning squad members’ hidden talents also could reveal Soldier strengths.

Christiansen said the emphasis of communication and preparation helped him become a successful squad leader and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter repair technician for the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Lewis-McChord. He has seen results whether on the firing range or in a convoy.

“The job of a squad leader is a constant cycle of training and mentorship,” Christiansen said. “And if you’re a prepared squad, you know that you’re never done actually preparing.”

Grinston said that squads extend beyond the categorical level. Command staffs, special units and Soldiers’ families also act as squads that impact the military member on a professional and personal level.

Staff Sgt. Carolina Ruiz, a human resources specialist and former drill sergeant, said Soldiers in her squad share meals and cultural experiences to remain close. She added Army teams could resemble the nuclear family.

“In order to take care of my squad, I must know each individual member of my team,” Ruiz said. “Knowing Soldiers builds trust and mutual respect.”

Finally, cohesive teams through repetition can adjust to unpredictable adversity, whether on the battlefield or dealing with financial problems or divorce, Grinston said.

“Repetition and discipline over time builds cohesive teams that can be adaptive,” the SMA emphasized.