FORT LEE, Va. – Trust is the dynamic binding force between leaders and subordinates in the Army, and it must be maintained to win the confidence and promote the well-being of Soldiers.
Building trust is difficult if service members aren’t given the opportunity to combat concerns about having their voice heard. Those who fear retaliation are more likely to hide behind a veil of silence thinking it is safer for their career or what’s best for the team.
Silence is deafening, and every Soldier deserves leaders who listen and foster a climate of acceptance. One company command team here is driving a program to forge an inclusive culture of trust that empowers Soldiers to speak up.
The Ordnance School's Alpha Company, 16th Ord. Battalion, 59th Ord. Brigade, recently held a forum for advanced individual training troops to speak openly with senior leaders about the challenges they face in today’s Army.
It had started as an internal company event to create a safe space for Soldiers to speak. News of the forum spread quickly through the school, resulting in more than 100 leaders and students attending the latest session. The environment that resulted, originally designed to focus on trainees, turned into an opportunity for every Soldier to listen, learn and share.
The Alpha Company command team wanted to create a safe space for Soldiers where trust, transparency and candid dialogue between young enlistees and senior leaders could thrive, said Capt. Andrew Lee, the unit’s commander.
The current social climate in today’s Army, as well as other headline events, inspired the team to develop a panel of influencers from across Fort Lee to openly address topics such as suicide, sexual harassment and sexual assault, retaliation, and professional development.
“The company command team wanted to provide our best assets (Soldiers) a safe environment where we have panelists of all backgrounds and ranks come together and help empower our future leaders through shared experiences, mentorship and just reminding them their voice is important,” Lee said.
The session’s discussions were led by a panel of eight senior leaders, varying in rank from lieutenant colonel to chief warrant officer to sergeant first class. While the opening discussions followed a defined course, the remainder of the forum featured candid conversations accented and moved forward by personal accounts and audience questions.
“As leaders, we are charged to bridge the gap between ourselves and our Soldiers,” noted Alpha Company First Sgt. Theresa Allen. “Trust has to be established now, in the beginning phases of the Soldierization process. By doing this, it eliminates a Soldier’s fear of communicating with their leaders. It's about taking care of Soldiers, even when they don't want you to, because ‘This Is My Squad!’”
The panel offered guidance and support on how to navigate scenarios involving SHARP, leadership growth, and family struggles. The forum broke down barriers and gave Soldiers the chance and confidence to ask questions they previously may have been scared to bring up to a leader.
The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program is the Army’s integrated, proactive effort to eradicate sexual harassment and sexual assault within the ranks. It provides every Soldier, regardless of differences, the right to privately speak to a victim advocate, retain confidentiality, and aims to reduce the stigma of reporting for all genders.
The experience left an indelible mark on Spc. Chloe Brown, an aspiring wheeled vehicle mechanic at the Ordnance School. She attended to see the support around her and others in the Army.
“This made me realize a lot of the noncommissioned and commissioned officers actually care about Soldiers,” Brown acknowledged. “It was really empowering to see all of them together to give us their support.”
Brig. Gen. Michelle Letcher, the 42nd Chief of Ordnance, addressed the crowd to drive home the importance of this event in helping all Soldiers.
“It’s a very important time not just in our Army, but in our nation, for us to have a discussion about the service, not just of women, but of all our military members,” Letcher said.
Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, political beliefs or other ideologies, all Soldiers should feel encouraged and comfortable to speak up when they or their teammates feel threatened, This forum inspired a diverse population of Soldiers, and reminded each and every one that their voice matters.
Looking ahead, Lee and Allen both agree that events such as these will foster personal and command growth, and will develop more cohesive teams through mutual trust. Leaders should not shy away from talking about sensitive and uncomfortable topics with their Soldiers.
There is a danger in remaining silent, and professional development that addresses the hard, uncomfortable issues are a stepping stone to fostering a culture of inclusive trust between all leaders and subordinates.
The command team plans to continue organizing more sessions for all Ordnance School Soldiers, and will act as a catalyst for future programs to kindle a binding trust between leaders and subordinates across the Army.