Four Elements to Being a Successful Battalion XO (2023)

Four Elements to Being a Successful Battalion XO (1) U.S. Air Force photo by Alejandro Pentildea, March 4, 2019

Being a Military Intelligence Battalion Executive Officer was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a major. I enjoyed every moment in the position, and I was fortunate to work for and learn from a great commander who went on to become a Military Intelligence Brigade commander. After successfully completing my time as an executive officer, I always thought it was important to share my experiences so that others can succeed. So, here are four things I think every battalion XO should consider to achieve success: (1) be the sounding board for company commanders and the staff prior to their meetings/briefings with the battalion commander, (2) work with the battalion S3 to achieve process efficiency/effectiveness across the staff, (3) ensure your unit’s Command Supply Disciple Program (CSDP) effectively drives maintenance excellence, and (4) develop a great relationship with the other XOs, peers on the brigade staff, and peers on the installation.

1). Be the Sounding Board/Coach and Mentor for your Company Commanders, Company XOs, and Staff

The XO has a privileged position to discuss issues with the battalion commander behind closed doors often including the command sergeants major (CSM) as well. These discussions are significant conversations between you, the CSM and the commander that not only build trust in your relationships, but also allow you to have insight into how your commander thinks. These conversations must be kept between the command group. However, based on what the battalion commander shares with you, you have the responsibility to help guide the company commanders and the staff to help meet the commander’s intent, just as the CSM is guiding the senior NCOs.

There are times when company commanders and the staff need your counsel. Encourage them to use you (sometimes make them use you) as a sounding board before they meet or brief the commander so you can help prepare them for success. When company commanders and the staff would use me as a sounding board, they were successful with the battalion commander. They would always come back and tell me how much they appreciated my advice. I would enjoy the expression of confidence on their face when they would stop by and thank me with a big smile. That’s when I knew the team won. When they are successful, you are successful. It is significantly important to be the sounding board and set the team up for success. Being a coach and mentor for those officers is critical, and with formal and informal counseling, they will help the unit achieve success. If the XO does this correctly, everyone wins and you will be surprised how smoothly the unit runs.

2). Work with the Battalion S3 to achieve process efficiency/effectiveness across the staff

The XO must be focused on running effective systems and processes. You must be able to execute these duties in order to allow the commander to command.Your “battle buddy” is the S3 and vise-versa. The two of you must work together to ensure guidance is disseminated with one voice under the commander’s intent. The XO primarily focuses on developing the processes with the staff sections outside of the S3, but it is still critical to collaborate with the S3 so that shared understanding and seamless process integration is achieve across the staff and to the companies. The S3 and I built a phenomenal relationship that helped the entire battalion run more efficiently. We always tackled problems together, and if there was a difference of opinion, we would work out the issues between us. Dysfunction between the XO and the S3 is noticeable, and it never ends well for either one, so make it your purpose to be a great “battle” and work as a team of organizational leaders to build a great battalion.

3). Ensure your Battalion Command Supply Discipline Program drives Maintenance Excellence

As the XO, one of your most important duties is to achieve maintenance excellence. This means you need to take a hard look at the brigade and battalion Command Supply Discipline Program, review your unit’s 026A maintenance reports, maintain a clear picture of the battalion’s excess property and shortages, sit down and talk with the maintenance officer in detail, and continuously maintain a presence in the motor pool during the week to execute spot checks. Developing the company XOs is also critical. While some company XOs understand maintenance from their platoon leader time, others may not have been platoon leaders at all. In a Military Intelligence Battalion, many of the company XO’s were assistant S2s or officers-in-charge (OICs) of an intelligence section with little maintenance experience. In either case, having monthly LPDs and routine events such as maintenance days, maintenance challenges, and maintenance walks are critical parts of developing the company XOs to become future successful battalion XOs and improving the maintenance efforts in the unit. All of these items help drive maintenance excellence.

Additionally, it should be a goal not only for you to ensure your unit is ready to complete its upcoming exercises/deployments with fully mission capable equipment and fully trained maintenance personnel, but also to compete for the Army Award for Maintenance Excellence (AAME). It may be harder for some units to compete, but if you set this as a goal for your Command Supply Discipline Program it will help provide focus for your subordinate units. The maintenance officer, S4, and the battalion property management officer are critical in this effort. They should be a part of your maintenance inner circle helping to maintain glide path toward the AAME goal. If you build your CSDP with their input and the goal to compete for the AAME, you will find everyone will focus on maintenance with high standards and the success of the CSDP will help write the AAME submission packet. In the end, you may win not from doing anything special, but doing everything right.

4). Develop a great relationship with the other Battalion XOs, peers on the BDE Staff, and peers on the installation

Finally, you must develop a great relationship with the other battalion XOs, your peers on the brigade staff, and the installation. I many times found myself getting updated information from the Garrison XO or the Sustainment Brigade XO on events and fielding of equipment in Korea that helped the planning process for my unit. In one instance, since my Battalion and the Sustainment Brigade were located at the same base, I gained information on fielding before my Brigade S4. But instead of sending the information out to everyone, I contacted my peer at the brigade and let him send out the information. Being able to work with the other battalion XOs and your peers helps you build credibility, but more importantly enables your battalion to be successful. Your reputation will spread as a team player, and others will return the favor to help your unit succeed as well.

These four elements helped me achieve success as a XO, and I hope they help you as well.

MAJ Jason Quash is a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and has a Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He is currently a student at the Joint and Combined Warfighting School and serves as the Joint Target Intelligence Development (JTID) Deputy Branch Chief in the CENTCOM J2-Joint Targets Division. He has previously served as a Brigade S2, a Battalion S3 and Executive Officer, and the Secretary of the General Staff for the 1stInfantry Division. He has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and Korea.

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