This is the first in a new series of posts aimed at answering some of the most frequent questions or issues new officers would have when I was a battalion S1/adjutant. They don’t represent any official guidance, just pointers and advice. I welcome any input about each topic from those wiser and more experienced in the comments and/or on social media. I also welcome your own questions if you’re a new lieutenant or cadet curious about personnel, military courtesy, or protocol-type things.
When you are a brand new lieutenant, your focus and training is usually about being the best platoon leader you can be. That doesn’t leave much room for protocol and traditional formalities, especially when text messages and emails are the norm these days.
So it isn’t surprising that lieutenants at their respective Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) would often email or call me to ask: should I write an introductory letter to the battalion commander. The answer is always yes.
Why does it matter?
First of all, sending an introductory letter to your gaining boss is a noteworthy nod to military courtesy and tradition. It’s impressive and shows attention to small details. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the bucket, but many leaders notice the time and deference, and they appreciate it. It can set you apart.
The tired adage “first impressions are lasting” persists for a reason. In a setting where junior officers are competing to be rated in the top half of their peers, everything you can do to set yourself apart from the pack matters. Of course you want to excel at PT, and of course you must perform exceptionally well in your duties, but everyone else is working to be just as good and better. Maybe, in managing his senior rater profile, the boss has to decide who gets a top block evaluation between you and someone who has performed equally well. And maybe the boss chooses you because he remembers you went above and beyond to reach out before even arriving to the unit. Maybe.
Another point to consider is that the commander is likely not the only one to see your letter. In my experience, the XO also reads incoming lieutenant letters. The XO has the boss’s ear on officer personnel moves within the organization and recommendations for special assignments like aide-de-camp nominations. Moreover, most commanders weigh their XO’s opinion of officers heavily when making decisions about a variety of things from taskings to evaluations.
The point is, it might not matter at all. But it could, and besides, what does it hurt? Take some time to write an introductory letter to your future senior rater, your gaining battalion commander.
What should the letter include?
You aren’t writing Shakespeare. Keep it simple and short. The letter should do two things: 1) Briefly introduce yourself; and 2) Tell the boss that you’re excited.
In introducing yourself, tell the boss where you are from, what college you attended, and what your major was. Tell her if you are married or if you have kids. If not, do you have any pets? Don’t get cutesy with it, though. You can write that you’re moving to Fort Wherever with your black lab, Mr. Bojangles, but don’t bother including how cuddly Mr. Bojangles is.
It’s important that you express your excitement about getting to the unit and about how you’re looking forward to leading troops in his battalion. (And if you’re not excited, well you might be in the wrong line of work.) Earnestly say why you’re fired up. What excites you about getting to your unit and getting to work? Is it the chance to apply what you’ve learned? Is it the opportunity to work with soldiers? Be sincere, and be succinct.
And remember: this isn’t a college ice breaker. No one wants to read about something fun you did over the summer or “one fun fact about you.” Keep it respectful, short, informative, and to the point.
In short, I always recommend that new lieutenants should write introductory letters to their future battalion commander. It’s courteous, a good first impression, and it may help to set you apart from your peers. Besides, everyone likes getting mail.
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