The Importance of Good Communication Skills for U.S. Army Officers

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Captain Walker: Army officer

Captain Venson J. Walker is a 25 year Army Veteran who joined the Army in 1991, right after Operation Desert Storm. He served as an enlisted soldier for 15 years before going to OCS (Officer Candidate School) where he received his commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in 2005. When asking Captain Walker why he decided to be part of the 1% who serve, he replied, “The army has a bond that attracts me, the togetherness, the brotherhood and it provides the opportunity to travel more and explore the world.”

Captain Walker received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Criminal Justice from the University of Hawaii in 2001. He was awarded the Combat, Airborne, Sapper and Rigger badges from various Army schools in the late 2000’s. He is currently serving as APMS (Assistant Professor of Military Science) for Grambling State University Army ROTC.

A Normal Work Week

As an officer and a leader, there are no lazy days. Whenever Captain Walker was asked about his weekly schedule, he replied, “It is a very tedious and demanding position that requires me to respond to numerous emails, prepare cadets for summer camp, write multiple reports for the battalion, and ensure all training operations are planned at least a year out.”

Captain Walker reiterated that communication as a whole is one key factor an Army officer should possess. Being a leader in the Army requires one to put the correct information out and a clear commander’s intent, which is crucial to the success of the mission as well as the lives of the soldiers on the battlefield.

Officers and Their Communication Skills

Officers are the experts of the Army and their communication skills are critical to their success as well as the welfare of their soldiers. As an Army officer, Captain Walker stated, “Officers have to be able to attend meetings, conferences, and briefings with their superiors and be able to disseminate the information to their subordinates without changing the commander’s intent.”

Captain Walker used former Commanders in chief as examples with their multiple motivational speeches to U.S. troops throughout their presidency.

Consequences for Poor Writing/Communication Skills of Officers

When asking Captain Walker about the consequences of having poor writing skills as an officer, he replied, “It can be a difference between life and death situations for not being able to support your soldiers in the battlefield with the right equipment at the right time.” During the battle of Fallujah (Iraq 2004), a platoon of 40 soldiers lost their lives after being given the wrong grid coordinates from the company commander. This led them in the nerve center of insurgents which resulted in a despairing situation.

Officers Daily Communication Challenges

The Army heavily relies on officers to coordinate every mission and ensure they meet the standard and regulations. Captain Walker illustrated his challenges by ensuring every single soldier received and understood what is expected of him or her. He specified, “At every 05:00 formation, I always have at least one or two soldiers late or missing. When the squad leader reciprocates the information I put out, he/she distorts at least 25 percent of the original information.”

He shared a story with me about a 17 year old soldier who lost her life in Afghanistan simply due to the fact that she was late during the briefing and the wrong information was given to her from her fellow soldiers. The officer appointed over her failed to ensure everyone was correctly briefed on the mission.

Final Thoughts

Communication is an essential tool for Army leaders to have a mutual understanding, share ideas, and successfully execute missions. Despite the help of technology to ease the communication process, only skillful writers/speakers can benefit from it. My interview with Captain Walker was very influential with his regards and warnings not to extensively rely on technology to communicate, but to use technology to improve my skills

Marius Tchounke, Guest blogger