‘We are listening:’ USAMPS provides forum for junior officers and senior leader
FORT LEONARD WOOD — The U.S. Army Military Police School leadership invited junior MP officers to an open discussion June 5 that covered some of the social issues currently facing this country.
The event, held at Lincoln Hall Auditorium, gave officers currently enrolled in the Basic Officer Leadership and Captains Career Course a chance to discuss topics such as racism and civil unrest with their school’s senior leadership.
According to Col. Matthew Gragg, USAMPS training and education director and moderator of the event, the idea to put together a panel of senior leaders and allow non-attributable comments from MP junior officers was born out of multiple discussions within the school as to the need of addressing concerns.
“Amidst the protests across the country we determined that if the rest of the country was in turmoil, then our students would be feeling the same pain, anger and concern for their families and communities,” he said.
Senior leaders who attended the event included USAMPS Commandant Brig. Gen. Brian Bisacre; Assistant Commandant Col. Curt Schroeder; Donna Ferguson, Behavioral Sciences Education and Training Division chief; Lt. Col. Kevin Payne, Command and Tactics Division chief; Lt. Col. Rodney Johnson, 1st Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment commander; and Lt. Col. Jamon Junius, 795th Military Police Battalion commander.
The event began with an introduction of the panelists, to include Bisacre, who spoke to the lieutenants and captains in attendance.
“Ask hard questions,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable time in America and these are some tough topics for our nation.”
However, Bisacre said he sees the present situation as an opportunity for things to change for the better.
“When you’re trying to drive change you need three things: a problem of national significance, policy makers paying attention, and citizens bringing it up. These three streams brought together doesn’t happen very often. 9/11 was one of those moments, and I think we’re in one now.”
Despite the issues currently being debated in America, Bisacre called democracy in the U.S. “resilient.”
“We are a country that’s still together,” he said. “We tend to make positive change.”
As they each took a few minutes to introduce themselves, the senior leaders all discussed their experiences with race relations throughout their lives. A common theme presented to the future leaders of the MP Corps was that it must be a top priority of every leader in the Army to work at understanding every Soldier comes from a different background.
Schroeder, who said he grew up in an area where “99 percent of the people looked and talked like me,” learned about cultural differences in the Army early on when he was sent to training to become his unit’s Equal Opportunity officer.
“We spent almost the entire two weeks focused on individual biases, how each of us looked at the world,” he said. “I felt out of my comfort zone to say it lightly … but in the end it made me a better leader, a better person.”
Johnson said building relationships is a key element to leadership.
“You will lead a diverse group,” he said. “You need to understand your Soldiers.”
Payne said his Ohio upbringing took him from “not a good area” of Cleveland, to the university town of Athens.
“I had to learn a lot about different cultures really quickly,” he said. “At a certain point you have to stop and listen to understand. Talking past each other creates a fractured society and ineffective leadership.”
Learning to let go of biases was another key point made by members of the panel.
“Get out of your comfort zone and talk,” Junius said. “Hate and bias are destructive.”
Many of the students’ questions dealt with how policy change can be achieved in the Army, and Bisacre pointed to the new Battalion Commander Assessment Program as progress in rooting out poor leadership – as change in the military tends to come from the top down.
“Policy alone doesn’t change things – people do,” he said. “There are bad leaders, but the Army is trying to change that.”
Several students asked about how they can be a more positive influence on their communities.
“Tell your story,” Ferguson advised. “Invite them into your culture.”
The discussion went well beyond the two hours originally planned, and Gragg said the event exceeded expectations.
“We did not want them to hold back and wanted to model a way for them to lead and be a part of these discussions in their units,” he said. “Based off the thoughtful and emotional questions presented by the students I certainly think it was needed.”
Gragg added that opportunities like this are being planned for all future professional military education classes.
“We have identified that this cannot be a one-time thing based solely on the events of the past couple of weeks,” he said. “Although we can’t change society, we can have an impact on what we can control, and that’s challenging our students to continue to confront these issues as our future Army leaders.