Soldiers embrace ‘My Squad’ using COVID-19

Staff Sgt. Jake Reyes, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, teaches proper methods to clear, assemble, disassemble and perform functions checks on a M240B for his unit’s battalion squad lethality competition, prior to COVID-19.
May 08, 2020

FORT POLK, La. — Editor’s note: First introduced by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, “This is My Squad” is an inspiring concept across the Army.

Those at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk are engineering creative methods to embrace this initiative and encourage unit ownership, while also adhering to COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines.

Leaders need to propel Soldiers; they need to go the extra mile in training and leading each individual. In return, as the Soldiers cultivate a pride for their unit, that energy will be poured directly back into their teams, said Grinston.

In a motivational display, several NCOs on the installation wrote down their understanding of “This is My Squad,” and detailed their efforts to embrace its tenets for Grinston to review.

Staff Sgt. David M. Mulcahy

All the way, Sergeant Major of the Army!

My name is Staff Sgt. David Mulcahy. I entered the U.S. Army on Aug. 16, 2011 from Queensbury, New York.

I have served with 3rd Infantry Division (2012-2013), 173rd Airborne Brigade (2014-2016), 101st Airborne Division (2016-2018), and 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment from April 2019.

“This is My Squad”, to me, means a leader works for his/her Soldiers as much, or more, than they do for their leaders.

My squad has found opportunities for our Soldiers to focus on meaningful training in this unique and challenging environment.

We use YouTube playlists on leadership, military history and tactics, as well as practice troop leading procedures and maneuvers in Call of Duty.

Team leaders within the squad also record their own classes and share them with their Soldiers to drive additional conversations.

This operational environment has had the added benefit of Soldiers’ ability to focus on their individual physical fitness, to include the continuation of our company’s thousand-pound club.

With more individualized plans being the focus, greater improvements are being made in our individual areas of weakness, while continuing to build esprit de corps even when we cannot physically be together.
For a team to be truly successful they have to come together like a Family.

Even though Soldiers are physically separated at this time, we are all still united by our Warrior Spirits, esprit de corps and our constant drive to be the best paratroopers we can be.

Geronimo, all the way!

Cpl. Bianca M. Ortiz

“This is My Squad” not only helps build cohesion among units throughout the Army, but also a stronger bond between single Soldiers in the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program.

Our BOSS program gives opportunities for single Soldiers to form friendships with others outside of their unit, whether it’s meeting for the first time at a volunteer event, studying for the promotion board at the BOSS Study Nights or giving each other the confidence to jump out of a plane while skydiving.

Our BOSS program gives Soldiers the chance for their voices to be heard when it comes to planning BOSS events, quality-of-life concerns or if they just need a battle buddy to guide them in the right direction with an issue. At the beginning of April, we began to hold our BOSS teleconference every Monday. During this time, BOSS representatives have planned our virtual competitions and weekly workouts to stay connected.

The JRTC and Fort Polk BOSS program runs througho June 30. Our BOSS Strong competition consists of teams from each unit doing a daily workout to earn points and a chance to win a trophy for their accomplishment. BOSS Strong will give each Soldier a chance to bond with others by staying motivated and healthy.

Staff Sgt. Jake R. Reyes

“This is my Squad” is having a sense of ownership and commitment to a group of Soldiers appointed under my responsibility. Maintaining a healthy relationship with my squad will build a cohesive team through trust.

As a leader, I set the standard to influence my Soldiers, wanting them to be able to say that I’m the type of leader that they desire to be when they are finally in my position. To maintain my squad’s mission effectiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve conducted training via video teleconference calls, face-to-face interactions and homework assignments on Warrior tasks and drills. To ensure that my squad is maintaining physical fitness, we have adapted to the physical training restrictions by designing a physical training plan focused on individual weaknesses and utilized handmade equipment for our success on the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

Staff Sgt. Elin Garcia

My name is Staff Sgt. Elin Garcia. I serve as the flight operations platoon sergeant for 1st Battalion, 5th Aviation Regiment here at the JRTC. My platoon’s mission is to coordinate the launch and recovery of life-saving MEDEVAC missions in support of rotational units, Fort Polk tenant units and our local community. I lead seven Soldiers who are also aviation operations specialists (15Ps). “This is my Squad” is engaged leadership; I have to ensure that my Soldiers are successful, morale remains high and fitness is continually improved.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, it has given us an opportunity to try different battle rhythms and virtual training techniques. We have been able to stay technically proficient while manning flight operations for our battalion, 24 hours a day, in spite of COVID-19.

I modified our duty cycle to provide minimal manning but maximum support for the mission. Additionally, we have incorporated the Facetime application to aid in communications when we conduct our daily sync.

I have integrated two new Soldiers into the platoon, since the COVID-19 pandemic started, by battle rostering an experienced 15P with our new Soldiers. I know that this experience, while challenging, will ultimately make my platoon stronger.

Sgt. Aaron J. Lawson

I believe that it is essential to take total ownership of the condition of the environment in which my Soldiers, my squad and my team serve. My squad includes my Soldiers, peers, leaders and those around me on whom I can extend my own personal influence.

It is my duty as a Soldier and noncommissioned officer to develop my squad and keep the integrity of their morale, mindset and safety to the best of my ability. It is also my duty to strive to be innovative and create solutions to problems whenever my team needs.

Upon the announcement of the COVID-19 restrictions, I used my experience as a software developer to ensure my team had an effective platform to conduct training within a virtual environment.

Several weeks later, the Department of Defense announced the Commercial Virtual Remote with Microsoft Teams. I immediately took advantage of the software and developed a plan for “Virtual SGT’s Time” with scheduled training. I have extended this to Soldiers across the battalion and have been working to develop training plans with other leaders to effectively create a complete digital training environment. This is part of the way I decided to take ownership of the environment in which my squad serves.

Spc. McKayla S. Taylor

“This is My Squad” means using interpersonal communication with your Soldiers to build trust and self-awareness. It is because of my constant communication and involved leadership that my squad works so well together.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we rely on technology to stay connected. We conduct PT at an individual level and send screenshots of the workout to our group chat holding each other accountable and maintaining our competitiveness. We often use the “Nike Run Club” and “Nike Training” apps also.

Daily operations in the S-1 shop are being conducted through telework to minimize the risk of COVID-19. To ensure that actions and training are completed, we use Facetime to have an open discussion about any issues.

I am thankful for, and extremely proud of, my squad. They have remained ready and resilient, despite current conditions.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan G. Searles

Essayons! STEEL SPIKE! Sergeant Major of the Army Grinston!

Conducting training whether it be MOS related or physical fitness, has been a difficult endeavor during these trying times.

However, my squad is a reflection of myself. They learn from me, they watch me and, most importantly, they mirror me. Because of this, I have striven to find ways to continue the professional and physical development of my squad.

I lead my squad in physical fitness training each week through competitions via a running application to track everyone’s run times and distances. My squad sets weekly goals and tries to obtain them.

We also conduct MOS specific training twice a week via Facetime or office meetings, covering such tasks as AUTOCAD designing, building framing and basic surveying techniques.

My squad is a direct reflection of my leadership; and, whether we are distant or nearby, I will continue to push my Soldiers and be the best leader I can be.

Sgt. Daniel A. Gomez

“Steel Spike!” Sergeant Major!

My name is Sgt. Daniel Alfaro Gomez. I joined the Army on April 18. I am married to Laura Aguilar. We have three beautiful children ages 9, 7, and 5.

I started my military career as a 91F Small Arms Weapon Repair and graduated as an honor student from Advanced Individual Training. I have one deployment to Afghanistan. I competed for, and won, the Soldier of the Quarter at the battalion level, as well taking part in the Soldier of the Year competition for the XVIII Airborne Corps. I have also received the Commanding General’s Volunteer of the quarter award while at Fort Polk.

“This Is My Squad” means to me that a leader understands each Soldier has individual strengths and exploits them to better each Soldier as a person, which in turn betters the squad, platoon and company as a whole.

During this time, my squad has found interesting and exciting ways to stay on top of training. While annual and semiannual services continue to be a priority, my squad has been able to overcome obstacles. For example, managing to complete these services, without delay, all while maintaining social-distancing guidelines and personal health.

During this time, Soldiers have been able to focus on their fitness. Being in this environment, a more customized fitness plan has resulted in better performance, as each Soldier can focus on their weaknesses and improve their strengths, without some of the limitations of group-led training.

This environment has introduced a great training opportunity for everyone, to include myself. Since not everything will always be easy and feasible, it has been a great opportunity to think outside the box to accomplish the mission.

We have been able to use various platforms to upload training videos, as well as reaching across formations to co-use BeaverFit boxes to accomplish our personal fitness goals.

We were also able to use the BlueJeans app to conduct chaplain training, ensuring that even the spiritual component of fitness is maintained.

“This Is My Squad” means taking initiative and strengthening squad-level cohesion by using an interpersonal leadership style and innovative strategies to increase capabilities within our ranks. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us, at the squad level, to get creative and instilled an ownership within our squads.

To build a cohesive unit, at any level, requires a cyclical relationship between rousing the individual; and, in turn, the individual galvanizing the team.

The Soldiers at JRTC and Fort Polk show their commitment to this endeavor by overcoming the COVID-19 restrictions while maintaining their working relationships, strengthening their bonds and fueling the pride and ownership of their teams.