An Adjutant’s Advice

One of the very first stops an officer makes when he or she arrives to a new unit is the office of the Adjutant. It makes sense as the Adjutant is usually the S1 Officer-in-Charge, the personnel manager and supervisor, in charge of handling the personnel manning of the organization. But the wise and experienced officer knows that the Adjutant is more than just a pit stop. He or she is a gatekeeper, a hub of information, and one of the leaders in the organization who has the boss’s ear.

Here are some pointers from this Adjutant, ranging from how to best use an Adjutant’s skills to your advantage to how to best manage your records and career.

Pulse Keeper of the Organization

A situationally aware Adjutant not only serves as the subject matter expert for the S1 lane of sustainment, he or she is also keyed in to the entire organization, top to bottom. When you’re new to a unit, make the Adjutant’s office one of your first stops. He or she can give you the organizational and operational rundown, passing that SA on to you.

Does the Adjutant know everything? Does he or she know the intimate nuances of your branch? Usually “no” to both questions, but the Adjutant does know the OPTEMPO, the deployment timeline, the major calendar events, the boss’s priorities, the organizational expectations, and the general lay of the land. You’ll get the details in due time, but the Adjutant can get you in the right grid square, especially if you only just started unfolding the map.

The Adjutant is also a great point of contact to gain an understanding of the organization’s social and protocol expectations. From the Cup & Flower Fund to the fine points of whether or not the commander expects leaders to send thank you notes, the Adjutant can help you make the right impression.

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Ask the Adjutant about appropriate clothing for unit social functions (Courtesy Operation Supply Drop)

The Boss’s Trusted Advisor

An effective Adjutant knows everything from the mood of the boss to the general climates in the numerous platoons. Commanders and other staff officers would come to my office more times than I could count asking me if I’d seen the old man and if he was in a “good mood.” Gauging the unit’s climate is the Adjutant’s business, and it helps that Adjutants are perpetually in need of a signature.

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And forging signatures is harder than it looks… Just kidding. Don’t do that. Ever.

 

Similarly, in a lot of organizations a trusted Adjutant is in charge of sensitive correspondence and is privy to a plethora of close-hold information like investigations, congressional responses, and career-influencing decisions like separations and assignments. As such, Adjutants are often influential advisors and confidants to commanders. We won’t spill the goods, but the positioning does make Adjutants uniquely qualified to know the commander’s “isms” and how he thinks.

Take advantage of that insider knowledge and sit with the Adjutant before stepping on the old man’s carpet.

The Adjutant Works For You

The effectiveness of AG types is rooted in the networks and contacts that we’ve cultivated (among other things). Knowing exactly who to talk to-and having developed that relationship over time-can be the critical help you or your organization needs in a pinch. Just two examples that come to mind are quick-turnaround deployment orders and fast-tracking awards requiring high-ranking signatures.

Not much turns around quickly in the personnel actions world, but when it does, it’s because people with the right connections (or the right pay grade) are pushing it through. Take advantage sparingly because “favors” can only be cashed in so often.

Control Your Own Career

It can be intimidating for a brand new lieutenant to arrive at a unit, and even more intimidating when the boss asks that same lieutenant what he or she wants to do after this job… on the first day. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not having a good answer in that scenario, but that question should get the ol’ brain churning.

The Army is full of opportunities for good leaders to pursue outside of the “normal” career path. They include graduate school, aide jobs, instructor gigs, congressional fellowships, joint assignments, functional areas, and many more. If that’s something you want to do, it’s up to you to seek out those opportunities, and don’t let anyone impede you. Talk to branch. Read MILPER messages. Call program coordinators. Develop your own networks and connections.

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Or something like that…

 

On the flip side, don’t be disrespectful. Tell your boss if you talk with your branch assignment manager or if you want to pursue new gigs. It’s professional courtesy to be forthright with your intentions and actions, and you never want to burn bridges, for two reasons: 1) you never know when you’ll need a recommendation, and 2) you may end up back in your basic branch with a newfound bad reputation.

Along those same lines…

Update Your Records

Be proactive about updating your records. It’s easiest to upload a new training certificate to your iPERMS right after your receive it. Get it and submit it. Then stash it in your “I Love Me Book,” right after you scan it and back it up on a thumb drive. And the cloud. Okay, so maybe I’m being excessive, but not by much. You are responsible for maintaining your records, and it always pays to back those records up with redundant redundancies. I can tell you that the S1 shop from your unit eight years ago probably won’t still have your Air Assault graduation certificate that you’re desperately trying to replace before the board.

Those records happen to also include your Officer Record Brief (ORB, or ERB for Enlisted Record Briefs). Your ORB is your resume to the Army world. It is a reflection of your entire career. What you’ve done, where you’ve been, what schools you’ve attended, where you live, how much you weigh, even where your spouse was born. To use an overused phrase, it would behoove you to take charge and clean your document up. With advice from your Adjutant and your boss, get your ORB right. Believe me when I say that it’s very easy to tell if you’ve never bothered to update your ORB.

Disclaimer

To be clear, I use words like “often” and “usually” throughout this piece because not all Adjutants are created equal. Because of force structure, the Army has routinely assigned new lieutenants to Adjutant jobs in recent years. Some Adjutants sink where others swim. This is also, unfortunately, true for captains and majors in battalion and brigade Adjutant roles. Your mileage may vary.

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Not all Adjutants are created equal.

On a completely unrelated note, it is a little known fact that Adjutants in office are authorized to serve as notaries under Army regulation and federal law. Don’t abuse it.


The job of the Adjutant may not be the sexiest position in the Army (especially considering the embarrassing rite-of-passage experience that is the Adjutant’s Call), but it is a vital and valuable role in an organization. Leverage that value when you can, but understand that, like anything, you get in what you put out.

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