Initial Impressions – GS Service with the Signal Corps

One full month as a government employee working for the US Army Signal Corps is perhaps not enough time to provide a fully informed opinion.  Granted I came into this gig with over 30 years of experience in the military where I formed a very definite opinion about what is wrong with hiring, promotion, retention and utilization of the civilian workforce.  It would be fair to say I am biased, but I believe my bias is based on reflective observations.  I could be wrong but I have come to believe I know what I know – right or wrong.

I recently wrote about my tempered optimism for what the Signal Corps might become in this time of transition.   In the last week, I made a realization that another of my own biases might reinforce this optimism.

In 1993 I was stationed at FT Riley Kansas as a young Soldier.  I escaped The Citadel in 1990 and the South Carolina National Guard sent me to OCS but I still felt there was more I needed to learn and do before I was ready to lead troops as an officer.  I deferred the commision and enlisted in the Regular Army, Fort Riley was my first duty station and as such, it was formative in the way I came to see much about the Army.

Back then we went to NTC every year, prior to that we spent many weeks in the field training for that big event.  We conducted real training on Thursdays for SGT’s time.   Mondays and Tuesdays were always spent in the motor pool with the equipment.  PT was rigorous.   In my mind, that place and that time have always been what the regular Army is supposed to be about.  Training was not easy, there was an expectation that you could do your job and everything was focused on the warfighter.

I remember the company commander,  John Smith.  He did not seem to have much of a sense of humor.  I interacted with him daily, I was his training NCO.  He was prior enlisted, previously Infantry and just the sort of solemn, fair but hard guy I thought I company commander should be.  In 1993 there were I think two computers in the company.  I had one as the training guy and there was one in the motor pool.  When the platoon sergeants would send the Joes out to perform tasks they would huddle in the back office to “work on counseling”, after all, it would not be proper to hover over the junior NCOs as they supervised work.   The same was true for the young lieutenants.  They certainly would look silly sitting in the motor pool all day.  Back then, it was proper for leaders to disappear for a bit to let the junior guys figure stuff out.

I suppose in some companies the CO would tell the LTs to go elsewhere for a bit during the day.  Not so it seems was the inclination of CPT John Smith.  During the afternoons I would take in training schedules for signature, his office was always dark except for the light from the windows.   He had a large couch on one wall and that is where he stored his LTs when they were not out and about being seen and leading.  Every day, every afternoon, two LTs would be reclined in various positions of half-sleep on his couch as he reviewed paperwork.  He was just that stern.

To the uninitiated, the picture above seems ridiculous.   I could belabor all of the reasons why the scenario made sense but for the sake of argument just accept that it was proper.

One of those LTs, asleep on then CPT John Smith’s couch was the current commandant of the Signal Corps, BG Christopher Eubank.   I do not tell the story above to disparage him. Twenty-five years later after having been an LT and having led many of them, I think the exact right spot for LT Eubank and his partner was parked on that couch (when not out and about doing LT work).

I only realized last week that I actually knew the general from all that time ago.  The Army is a small organization really.

My renewed optimism for the future of the Signal Corps is perhaps just a personal one.  I know what I took from that time at Fort Riley, I wonder and perhaps hope LT Eubank took away the same lessons. If so, the Signal Corps is in the right hands.

This is not to say there are not challenges.  I have already observed the mind-numbing ineptitude of some of the civilian bureaucracy that surrounds him.  The problems I observed at NTC a decade ago may or may not be present at the top but they certainly exist in the middle!

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