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What is it like to be Commanding Officer in the military?

What are some day-to-day responsibilities? What is it like? Do you enjoy it? #army #military

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John’s Answer

Hi, Madison

Their are actually hundreds of books about the duties and responsibilities of being a "Commanding Officer". With that in mind, I am writing this from the perspective of the behind the scenes or what does it feel like being a commanding officer.

First let me say that just because you are in command you still have a higher commander who is managing you and normally four or five or even more commander. Like all senior managers, some let you do what you want with your commands and others dictate what you will do. I have mostly had the latter. These people have staffs that speak with their authority and sometimes be difficult to work with. I would say half or more of my problems came from lack of support from above.

When looking at just my internal unit, most of the time things ran smoothly but there is a saying 10% of your people create 90% of your problems. I have found this to be more or less true. I never really had much of an issue dealing with soldier problems. The trick is to handle them quickly and with compassion as much as you can. That doesn't mean giving in but often times it means having a hard conversation with a soldier about what they have done, or need to do.

I have told soldiers they lacked the education to get a job they wanted, that they need to keep their personal "At home life, at home!" and for one soldier because no one else could or would, "You need to shower and wash more!" I was a platoon leader for that last one but it goes to show that the commander is part manager, part den mother, part boss but they should never be a dictator. I always tried to get by in from soldiers on the next mission. They new we had to do it because missions are what we do but by giving them a say in execution of there part of the mission they would often feel more responsible for the outcome.

In conclusion, Command is the best, worst, most difficult, easy things that a military officer can do. It will bring out every emotion from joy to rage and have you thanking God you had the job one minute, while hating everyone around you the next and still wondering why your boss picked you over so many other the next minutes before bringing you back to a joy free civilian jobs could ever bring. It is a roller coaster and good Commanders learn to love the ride.

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Jacob’s Answer

Hi, Madison,

I was an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader in the Army. The Army makes a careful distinction about being a "Commanding Officer" versus a Platoon Leader or Executive Officer. Technically, I did not meet the definition of a "Commanding Officer" but I can provide some background on my experience as a Platoon Leader, which might help to answer your question.

At a high level, as a Platoon Leader, I was responsible for everything my Platoon did or failed to do. In garrison (i.e. when we were not training in the field or deployed), my day to day responsibilities included:

  • participating in, supervising, and providing guidance for the planning of the Platoon's daily physical training
  • ensuring my Platoon's equipment was accounted for and in good working condition (including routine maintenance and repairs)
  • planning for and resourcing upcoming training
  • fulfilling additional duties as delegated by the Company Commander
  • briefing the Commander on the status of weapons and equipment, training readiness, Soldiers' medical status, qualification on individual weapons, etc.
  • maintaining the morale and general well-being of my Soldiers

While in the field executing training, primary responsibilities included:

  • ensuring training was executed safely and to the standard delineated by Army doctrine
  • with the assistance of my Platoon Sergeant and the Company Executive Officer, ensuring the Platoon's logistical needs were met (food, ammunition, water, gas, etc.)
  • served as the Range Officer In Charge and maintained communication with Range Control to ensure the range was clear to execute the applicable training (marksmanship, maneuver training with blanks, live fire training with real ammunition)
  • maintaining the morale and general well-being of my Soldiers

While Deployed, primary responsibilities included:

  • planning, resourcing, and executing missions assigned by my Company Commander
  • supervising the maintenance of the Platoon's equipment
  • ensuring the Platoon had all necessary supplies (food, water, ammunition, etc.) to execute its missions
  • liaising with external organizations (aviation assets, military dog handlers, explosive ordnance disposal experts, linguists, etc.) when planning and executing missions
  • maintaining the morale and general well-being of my Soldiers

The scope of your responsibilities as a leader at any level in the Army is very broad. On any given day, I could go from being a tactician to a physical trainer to a psychologist. The Army, and really the military in general, is more than a job, it is a lifestyle. Regardless of whether you are an infantryman, an intelligence analyst, or a logistician, a tremendous amount of responsibility is bestowed on you as a leader. It is an extremely stressful and highly demanding lifestyle with long hours and lots of time away from family and loved ones.

With that said, it can also be extremely rewarding. You will have life experiences that would be hard to find in a different profession and meet extraordinary people from both the United States and foreign militaries. I chose to leave the Army after my first four year contract because of the strain it put on my personal life and the high stress associated with being an Army leader. However, many of the friends I made during my time in the Army are still serving and enjoy their jobs greatly.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Army (and the military in general) is not for everyone. It's great that you're doing some research by asking questions on CareerVillage to see if it might be a good fit for you. Continue to think/read about it and ask questions of other veterans you may encounter. Everyone has a different experience so it's good hear what different people from different branches and specialties have to say.

I hope this helps. Feel free to reach out if you ever have any additional questions. Good luck!

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Conor’s Answer

Hi Madison,

I served for 14 years, before moving on to the private sector. The experience you get from being a young officer is unique. In no other career will you be entrusted with so much responsibility at such a young age. Being put in positions where you are the ultimate decision maker, and being afforded the opportunity to f**k up, is an experience that will benefit you for life.