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Setting Realistic Expectations for a Reserve Infantry Officer

RudyTwoShoes

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I am interested in becoming a reserve infantry officer.  I'd like to make sure I have realistic expectations about the roles I might take, and I'd like to know if the training will be aligned with those roles.

Everything I have read about the job description is based around leading a platoon in combat situations.  But I've been told there is no chance I would ever lead a platoon in combat as a reserves infantry officer.  Even if I was fully qualified at the start of Afghanistan, there are enough better qualified platoon commanders in the reg force that I would never get the chance.

Is this true?  Do reserve officers really spend their time training for a role they know they'll never perform?  This seems incredibly morale sapping...

Are infantry officers trained well enough to take on a role like leading platoons in Afghanistan, and it's just a numbers game?  Or is this level of competence unrealistic with the amount of training typically available in the reserves?

Rudy.
 

Redeye

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A Reservist isn't very likely to lead a Reg F platoon outside the wire, but that doesn't mean the job sucks - I have plenty of friends who've done tours doing CIMIC, PsyOps, in leadership positions running convoys etc.  I don't think I've heard any of them who've deployed complain too much about what they did overseas.  There are many facets to being an officer, many different parts to play including staff roles etc which are part of the job.  Sure, being a platoon commander and leading a raid or platoon attack is probably the most "fun" part of training but there's much more to the job.

Your initial training is geared toward leadership - first at small party and section level, and then at platoon level, but once you're done that - finished your trade course (DP 1.1) you then start learning about the staff component of being an officer as well, which is what makes the machine work.  We just need to make sure you have the physical and mental robustness to be able to lead before we worry too much about the other stuff.

Have you talked to units you are interested in joining to get a feel for what role you might have, or to any reserve infantry officers?  Best to visit the unit before anything probably, but if you have more questions, you can always post them here or PM me, I can try to give you some answers.
 

shiska

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I also have some questions pertaining to realistic expectations.

I'm curious to know how much paperwork is handled by a reserve Infantry Officer. I'm fully aware that it is a part of the job and its something I'm perfectly willing to embrace but it does worry me that I could end up stuck in an office all day while the non-commissioned boys are having all the fun.

A second question somewhat related to the first, do Officers in the reserves have a higher time commitment or do they follow the same schedule as the other troops?
 

Michael OLeary

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Reserve infantry officers do handle paperwork. It can be paperwork in support of training being planned or recently conducted, paperwork for a course you might be running, or paperwork for the personnel administration of the soldiers under your command. When you are required to be part of training, that is your place of duty.  There will, however, be times when you are in the office and your soldiers are doing something else - quite often that something else is undergoing instructional or refresher training and your administrative duties take priority over being there to watch the NCOs put them through that training.

The big point to take away is to fully accept that paperwork is a fundamental and important part of your responsibilities as an officer - and that it is equally important to have it done correctly and efficiently as any weapons drill.

For further reading, I offer the following: The Young Officer and Staff Duties
 

shiska

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Thank you for the link, I found it very enlightening. I had no concept of just how important these so called "staff skills" truly were.

Please bear with me but I have one more question. As an Infantry Officer am I expected to keep my soldier skills on par with those of my NCM's? If my responsibilities keep me away from the field then one could reasonably expect that I will fall behind when it comes to hard soldiering. It seems to me that this could be the hardest part of an Infantry Officer's job; to be able to balance the business aspect while retaining the ability to lead in combat without becoming a liability. I'll admit this is my greatest fear related to becoming an Infantry Officer. I hate doing anything poorly and can't stand the thought of being considered an oaf or liability by my troops. The basic thought going through my mind is "How can they trust me to lead them/respect my authority when I'm not as good or better than they are?"

Again, thank you in advance for any responses.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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"Officers should attend javelin practice" - Xenophon

I am not an infantry officer, but I have an infantry platoon in my squadron and the general duties and life of combat arms officers are quite similar. For the most part, if your soldiers are in the field training then you are in the field training. You might have to break away sometimes to go to an Orders Group or attend to some matter, but you will be out training. There might be that a day or week has been given to the Section Commanders to train their soldiers on their own while the platoon commanders are being trained by the Officer Commanding (OC) on some aspect of tactics. Still, platoon commanders will be training when their troops are training. There are a few officers in the unit whose duties are primarily administrative (2ICs, Adjt etc) that might be left in the unit lines to handle important matters while the unit is training.

Regarding soldier skills, an officer in the combat arms must certainly be capable with the weapons and tactical techniques of his branch. You don't need to be the best shot, but you should have some skill. Just remember, though, that your real duties are leadership and tactics. You are there to make sure that your soldiers, who should all be excellent shots, are in the best place to use their skills.

As an Armoured Officer I go to the same weapons refresher classes as the most junior 25mm gunner in my squadron. I go through the same gun drill reviews and tests and fire the same shoots on the range under the eye of the gunnery instructor (often a MCpl) for my continuation gunnery cycles. This brings out two points. The first is that I keep my weapon skills up just like my troops. The second is that I am very comfortable conducting my refresher training under the supervision of one of my subordinates. He has taken special training to instruct gunnery training, and has plenty of experience doing it. I offer this only to show that life in an army unit has all sorts of nuances.
 

Michael OLeary

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Just to add to T2B's points, keep in mind that while you have a responsibility to maintain your soldier skills, your job is not to be the best rifleman in the platoon, it's to be the best platoon commander you can be. Your primary tasks and responsibilities are fundamentally different, and in a large part are cognitive and hidden from many of your subordinates. But that doesn't make them less important.

During training, such as on the range, you will have to fire your own Personal Weapon Test, but your job on the range will normally be conducting the range practices, not pumping extra rounds at targets yourself. An extra hundred rounds fired by one of your soldiers who needs the practice is a much better use of that resource than you firing them when your primary role in combat isn't to fire that weapon. Your "weapon" is the platoon itself, and it doesn't matter how good a marksman you are if you haven't focussed on developing that command skill.

You may impress your soldiers by being the best marksman in the platoon (except for the soldier who otherwise would have had the pride and bragging rights among his/her own peers), but that won't last if you're screwing up their administration. Put effort into being competent at both, and keep in mind that many of your future positions will depend much more on the skills you develop in the latter area of development.
 

shiska

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Thank you both for your time and patience. You have put my mind at ease. Next stop, CFRC!
 

Redeye

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And I'll go one better and say that taking care of their administrative needs is often the biggest challenge for reserve officers - we wind up with a lot of demands for time and attention, all to things that require a lot of work.  Do not expect it to be "an evening a week, a weekend a month", because if you take that attitude you'll frankly be of very little use to your unit.  You'll have to put a lot of time and effort, often unpaid, into making sure things happen right.  However, I often find that effort is its own reward when things come together, and lately I've been bounding up a steep learning curve on a lot of that stuff, because a lot of the full time staff that make things happen have found themselves also shouldering a bigger load and relying on them.

Also, an amusing corollary about soldier skills... one of my NCOs was remarking the other day on how sad a state of affairs it is when an officer's weapons handling and fieldcraft are a large bound ahead of many soldiers.  I was honoured to know he was referring to me.  I make sure I keep my skills sharp and display the highest standard I can, it helps me demand better of them.

Michael O'Leary said:
Just to add to T2B's points, keep in mind that while you have a responsibility to maintain your soldier skills, your job is not to be the best rifleman in the platoon, it's to be the best platoon commander you can be. Your primary tasks and responsibilities are fundamentally different, and in a large part are cognitive and hidden from many of your subordinates. But that doesn't make them less important.

During training, such as on the range, you will have to fire your own Personal Weapon Test, but your job on the range will normally be conducting the range practices, not pumping extra rounds at targets yourself. An extra hundred rounds fired by one of your soldiers who needs the practice is a much better use of that resource than you firing them when your primary role in combat isn't to fire that weapon. Your "weapon" is the platoon itself, and it doesn't matter how good a marksman you are if you haven't focussed on developing that command skill.

You may impress your soldiers by being the best marksman in the platoon (except for the soldier who otherwise would have had the pride and bragging rights among his/her own peers), but that won't last if you're screwing up their administration. Put effort into being competent at both, and keep in mind that many of your future positions will depend much more on the skills you develop in the latter area of development.
 

HeavyMusic

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I thought I'd chime in here because this is a fair question and I think it has been answered more optimistically than is realistic. As an infantry platoon commander in the reserves, you will receive an initial amount of training that will allow you to meet a minimum standard equal to the reg force, but only as much as is relevant to take back to your units - in other words, you will not do the mechanized portion and additional training covered therein. So as soon as you are qualified, you are already not meeting the standards required by the reg force. Your phase training will be awesome, get you learning tons of new exciting stuff, and ramp your adrenaline up to a series of unfortunately high expectations. Phase IV (the mechanized platoon commander course) did open up last year for reservists, I was lucky enough to get on myself and it is nice to say that I got the benefit of additional training and perspective, however, it is unlikely that unless I transfer to reg force, I will get much benefit out of the qualification. It is also rumored that the infantry school does not intend to open up the opportunity again - but that's RUMINT and stranger things have happened.

In terms of additional training and opportunities, your training following your qualification will consist mainly of repeating training that occurred while on course (Phase III/DP 1.1/Dismounted Infantry Platoon Commander), however, there will be sporadic attendance from your soldiers (though probably consistent attendance and effort from your best ones) leaving you with a diminished platoon for most of your weekly training and exercises. Your equipment will be limited, in that you will not have the same comms equipment, transportation, weapons, stano, etc. that you will be trained to use on course and will be used to conducting vanilla scenarios in that vacuum of equipment and personnel who are up to date on their skills.Of course, more intense training opportunities will come up during brigade or area collective training, and you may be lucky enough to command a platoon or company on an international exercise in the US or possibly even Europe.

Your time as a platoon commander is where you will have the most fun. It is where you get to participate in the most hands-on training, and get the most amount of face time with your soldiers (probably the best part of the job) before you become a desk jockey. Depending on your unit, the number of platoons, the number of available junior platoon commanders and incoming junior officers will affect how long you hold the position. Some guys will get only one year. Some guys will get five. It depends all on your unit, how well you apply yourself, and how well your peers are able to commit to finishing their own training. Regardless of what your position is, you wil be required to do a lot of paperwork. Doing paperwork does not take you away from training, because you will make time for both. Since training requires soldiers to be present, and paperwork does not, you should expect to put in personal time to finish your paperwork. I frequently finish my staff work at home so that I can dedicate time to my soldiers on the parade square or in the field. If you don't take that extra dedication, the administrative BS will pile up, and your soldiers will eventually suffer for it (or you will when the adj asks where it is).

You will be lucky enough to have plenty of expertise given to you by experienced NCOs who have had the opportunity to work on tour, take part in years of exercises and training, and some who have even been in the regs themselves. None of this is a criticism of the individuals involved or their efforts in doing their jobs as reservists. In my experience they are professionals with a wide variety of experience and strong enthusiasm for their training. These individuals, if you treat them with respect and listen to them, will be sensitive to the nature of your training, understanding that you are purposed with a different position as an officer, than they as soldiers with more hands-on task. A lot of hands-on stuff that you need to learn can come from privates and corporals who can demonstrate any number of skills that you may not necessarily have learned. Asking questions, taking respectful and constructive criticism, and showing a willingness to learn from your subordinates will show that you respect their position as experienced soldiers. Offering them opportunities to voice their opinions on training and tactics will troubleshoot your plans, and make your soldiers feel empowered in their roles (of course, the final decision is yours). If you apply yourself with humor and patience, your soldiers will do the same and show a strong willingness to support your leadership decisions.

Additional courses and training will be harder to come by as you are an officer. Typically, fun skills courses are handed out to NCOs as the troops will in turn get a better training benefit out of it. A Sgt with the Urban Ops Instructor, Recce, CQC, Crowd Control, NBC Instructor, blah blah blah qualification is more useful for teaching hands on skills than an officer. Stuff like jump courses, if they even come to your unit (the moon has turned to blue) are better suited to reward private/corporals/master corporals for strong effort, attendance, attitude etc. or will be driver/comms type stuff that will get them employment later on. The courses you are more likely to receive will consist of staffing courses designed to get you trained for your next level of command, which will feature ever increasing amounts of paperwork. This is not to say that you cannot fight for these opportunities, or that you do not deserve them, but I would carefully weight the benefits of what your team will benefit versus what you will benefit as a result of the training you will receive.

You will get opportunities to run courses yourself as a course officer, mostly recruit and leadership courses. These are excellent opportunities to hone your skills and staff work, be in front of troops, and generally get some field time. Your training will be limited by the level of performance expected of your soldiers, so again, your scenarios will be relatively vanilla as required by the course training plan. As you increase in rank, you will be expected to hand over some of these duties to newer officers for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that they are less likely to be established in their civilian lives and teaching courses is a relatively lucrative and reliable part-time job, but also to allow them the training benefits listed above.

Tour is a whole other matter. Especially since things are solidly winding down there are less and less opportunities for officers. Yes, Psyops and Cimic are something you might get on, but you will probably have to get your unit to put you on the courses rather than getting you to apply directly for the positions. You stand a better chance of getting picked up directly off the course than applying for a Psyops/Cimic position on the tasking brick. These being "field" positions, they are also likely to be grabbed up by the reg force as with more combat oriented positions quickly vanishing, they will be more desirable as opposed to also-ran positions typically granted to reservists. Duty, Ops, and other staff oriented positions are more likely to come up as possibilities than psyops and cimic, or anything else for that matter. That being said, staff positions will be what you make of them. You stand a better chance of being drawn from that pool to a cooler position than not at all. Even if you aren't moved to another positions, a staff position on tour is still filling a necessary role that allows the whole part to move, and you will see greater, more immediate results out of your paperwork on tour, than you likely will sitting in your office back home.

Your eligibility will also be a concern depending on the area you are located in. Ontario guys have a much larger pool to compete with, so you are looking to be a Captain with your AJOSQ and ATOC already in the bag in order to qualify for any position, let alone one that is more desirable. Other areas your chances are greater to get on as an Lt. Your standing on the merit list will also be affected by your participation in courses, brigade events and exercises, and your track record as an officer.

If getting cool hands-on training, and opportunities to fall in as a reg force soldier in the battle group on tour are what you are looking for, you will probably find it more likely to get them as a non-comissioned member. There are plenty of capable men and women in the ranks with degrees and plenty of leadership that could easily be officers, and choose to suffer fools because they don't wish to take on the burden themselves (and to no discredit to them at all).

This probably sounds bleak and isn't what you expected of a reserve infantry officer. They are unfortunately a poorly used resource. On course you will see that they are capable of performing just as well as reg force guys, and in some cases better (in some cases much worse). There are of course exceptions to every rule and there are reserve officers who have had some great opportunities. Participation as an officer will still fulfill a necessary patriotic duty, and support the army. You will receive excellent leadership training that will only prove useful throughout your entire life. You will be challenged in ways that you hadn't ever thought you would. If you have the capabilities to be that excellent leader, the soldiers in the reserves and regular force deserve to have step up to enable their ability to conduct their own jobs and achieve excellence.
 

daftandbarmy

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I've had the interesting experience of completing RESO Phase III Inf, as a reservist, and commanding a platoon in the reserves for a couple of years, then joining the British Army, going to Sandhurst and, within a couple of years of finishing Phase III, leading a platoon of British paratroopers on operations on the border in Northern Ireland.

What did I learn in RESO, and while serving on the armoury floor, that I used on operations in another country's army?

Everything I learned I put into effect in one way or another and, except for the COIN stuff that I picked up in pre-operations training, the basics were pretty much exactly the same on operations. I also learned that - while we love to complain about it - our Infantry Officer training (even as a reservist, which matches pretty much to the Reg F standard) is pretty much the equal of any army's. Now that we've got loads of people with operational experience behind them, I would argue that the training quality is better than ever.

So, don't let anyone fool you. You may not be able to see yourself on ops next week, but who knows what's just around the corner. And if you're going to go to a real war, you really want to be with a bunch of knuckle dragging fanatics like the infantry, and not those other poofters in the 'supporting cast'! ;D
 

Canadian.Trucker

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Most points have been covered, but I feel it my duty to throw in my $.02.

I had the benefit of being a Platoon Commander in Afghanistan.  Did I lead a rifle Pl whose primary job was to close with and destroy the enemy?  No.  I was in charge of a Force Protection Platoon that provided security for convoys moving within the province as well as other secondary duties.  It was still a very rewarding job that allowed me to directly command soldiers in an operational theatre and put my Infantry training to use in the performance of my duties and in the preparation of my soldiers for deployment.

Our role is always Mission, Men, Myself in that order.  I have taken this to heart and have put my soldiers needs above my own.  This includes but is not limited to ensuring the Platoons admin is completed, soldiers needs are looked at first with regards to training and admin.  So as stated you will have the chance to roll in the mud with the boys, and you better be damned sure that you can do it since an Officer that does not share the hardships of his soldiers is automatically looked at with less regard, but that is not your primary job.  As was said the Platoon is your weapon, and you have to learn to wield them with cunning and tenacity so as to achieve the mission.  Being a Pl Comd is an extremely rewarding position that doesn't last as long as any of us would like.  You learn a lot.

Always remember that as a leader you are there to make the tough choices that are necessary.  Listen to your NCO's advice and honestly think about it, but in the end the responsibility rests upon your shoulders.  If you do your job to the best of your ability and have your Platoons best interest at heart, your soldiers will notice.  They know their job and you will learn to do yours, some of it through training some of it is instinct and natural ability.

Good luck to you.
 

HeavyMusic

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7 years later and I found this post that I had written when I was still a Jr Captain and I stand by my statements big time.
I don't even know what incentives you'd offer a jr infantry officer these days in the reserves, especially if you aren't right next to a brigade or division hq.
 

daftandbarmy

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HeavyMusic said:
7 years later and I found this post that I had written when I was still a Jr Captain and I stand by my statements big time.
I don't even know what incentives you'd offer a jr infantry officer these days in the reserves, especially if you aren't right next to a brigade or division hq.

What are you doing now?
 

brihard

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daftandbarmy said:
What are you doing now?

Hopefully everything in his power to enable his platoon and section level leadership to master the basics in realistic and varied conditions, while shielding them from other silliness that would stand in the way of same.
 

HeavyMusic

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Brihard said:
Hopefully everything in his power to enable his platoon and section level leadership to master the basics in realistic and varied conditions, while shielding them from other silliness that would stand in the way of same.

Yeah, pretty much exactly that. Bit of a higher level now. Honestly the most heart wrenching part is just trying to create training opportunities for good soldiers - and we have a lot of them. Opportunities for reserves is the best I've seen it since I got in but even then there barely seems to be an appetite to train reserve soldiers beyond their annual checks in the box. Getting them an opportunity to get on a course, or task is difficult enough - getting them a tour spot is pretty much impossible.

I'm not saying that my experience is what it will be across the board - there's a lot of captains from my generation that have had a lot of cool opportunities, but almost none of those come out of regular class a participation. If you want to go full in class B at a headquarters or school you will see opportunities, but if you are a class a officer with a regular job you won't merit for anything or go anywhere of substance.
 

daftandbarmy

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HeavyMusic said:
Opportunities for reserves is the best I've seen it since I got in but even then there barely seems to be an appetite to train reserve soldiers beyond their annual checks in the box.

This is exactly the same 'ranting type' discussion I've had with several people over the past few weeks. They're the ones doing the ranting though... for a change :)

If you dumb things down too much, smart people will go elsewhere.
 
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