News: The new observer, coach, trainer: approachable
Story by Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. - Of the dozens of unique unit patches worn by the more than roughly 5,500 Reserve, National Guard and active Soldiers participating in Warrior Exercise 2014, one stands out – that of the First Army worn by observer, coach and trainers, known as OCs, from 189th Infantry Brigade.
Branded with a large “A” that covers most of the wearer’s shoulder, the patch is hard to miss, and even harder to ignore considering an OC’s role as an objective set of eyes for Soldiers in training.
“They see the big First Army patch coming,” said Col. Randall Wickman, brigade commander, 189th Infantry.
Wickman said he and his Soldiers, predominately seasoned noncommissioned officers garrisoned at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., are trying to reverse a preconceived notion that OCs are “very egocentric” and have all the answers.
“To remain humble and focused, we have volunteered ourselves to be observed and coached at the same time,” he added.
Experts from the JBLM Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Training Center partnered with 189th to develop the brigade’s Soldiers as coaches. At Warrior Exercise in July, two civilian counselors from the center shadowed OCs during their reviews with training units and provided on-site feedback.
“If you can be a good coach for yourself, then you can coach another,” Wickman said.
By incorporating Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness techniques into the exercise, Wickman said he hopes to help “operationalize” a program originally designed to promote personal growth and wellbeing.
“They focus mostly on individual person interaction. How do I speak to someone in a learning environment to coach them down the road without being superior?” said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Reitmeier, 189th Infantry command sergeant major.
Adopting the training unit’s goals is one method OCs use to bridge the communication gap between the observer and the observed.
“We do everything as a ‘we,’ as in we are part of that unit,” Reitmeier said.
Staff Sgt. Zachariah J. Hussey, an OC with the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 357th Infantry Regiment, has served for 14 years and remembers the perception he and his fellow OCs are trying to debunk.
“Last I knew of an OC was the dark, mysterious guy in the corner telling me I either did good stuff or bad stuff,” he said.
Hussey tries early on during a training event to establish a connection with the Soldiers he observes. Maybe he relates to a Soldier through cars from his days working in an auto parts store with his father, or just by attempting to imitate a Soldier’s Boston accent.
“It’s casual, everyday talk,” he said. “As an OC, I have to be an open person.”
Openness is a characteristic far from the intimidating image the First Army patch wields, but closer to the perception 189th OCs are trying to create.