173rd Airborne Brigade commander works for readiness, looks to Plato
October 28, 2016
VICENZA, Italy — Shortly before Col. Greg Anderson took charge of the Army’s contingency response force for Europe, he drafted a memo outlining his command philosophy. It didn’t quote the philsophers of war Carl von Clausewitz or Sun Tzu. Instead, the infantry officer named Plato’s four cardinal virtues as the basis for his leading the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The memo discussing justice, wisdom, courage and temperance was one of six he sent out to his troops after taking command in July last year. Others concerned leader development, his vision for the brigade, training and readiness.
“It’s a summation of all I’ve learned. It’s years of experience,” both personal and professional, Anderson said in a recent interview. “Whether I was in Haiti or Bosnia or Afghanistan or Iraq... Hell, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve learned more from (soldiers) than they have from me.”
Clearly a man who believes in communication, Anderson said that his troops — based in Vicenza, Italy, with elements in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and deployed in eastern Europe and Turkey — need to understand a mission to ensure optimum performance.
“You can have the best equipment and training in the world but if your people aren’t ready, it’s all for naught,” he said.
Ensuring that the brigade is ready to deploy with little or no notice is a change from the regular deployment cycles, timelines and checklists of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 173d is expected to be ready to deploy within 18 hours to support operations in the U.S. European, Central and African Commands areas of responsibility.
The 173rd has been at the forefront of efforts to reassure eastern European allies worried about Russia’s intentions after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and subsequent shows of aggressive force across the region. Terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria are also threats.
“I don’t know where we’re going,” Anderson said of potential deployments. “But I know we’re going as we are.”
The 173rd in 2014 deployed to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in what is now a large-scale series of continuous exercises known as Operation Atlantic Resolve. also deployed a battalion to Ukraine to train the newly formed Ukrainian national guard.
“I think we were in 11 countries when I took command,” Anderson said. “That’s been a challenge — for readiness, oversight and that they get the resources they need.”
“We’ve been incredibly active,” Anderson said. “It’s like a time warp. (During) six months here, (troops) will do more live fires, they’ll see more countries,” he said, than in pretty much any other unit.
The brigade trains continuously with NATO allies and partners — in Italy, Germany, eastern Europe and elsewhere. As well as facilitate interoperability, the exercises build trust. “You can’t surge trust,” Anderson said. “You have to build trust before the problem.”
On a readiness scale of one to 10, Anderson said the brigade was at a seven or eight. To get to nine or 10, he said, would require more repetition of exercises with the whole brigade, as opposed to its components, as well as vehicle modernization and improved “speed of assembly.”
Readiness is more than assessments, manning levels and maintenance reports, Anderson said. “Readiness is physical, and perhaps more importantly is a mind-set,” he wrote in his readiness memo. Equipment shouldn’t be maintained to pass inspection but because troops may need it in combat tomorrow. The focus on physical fitness, he wrote, should be replaced by a focus on physical toughness, on the stamina combat requires. Resilience, he wrote, should be developed into self-reliance.
“When you guys get on the airplane, are you ready or not?” he said in the interview. “You do not want the answer to be ‘no’ because you’ll pay in blood.”
Anderson said the brigade had made significant strides in the past year. “Readiness is trending well and our junior officers and NCOs are the decisive piece of this.”
Readiness is the priority, but in combat, Anderson said, it’s not the only virtue.
He recalled watching a firefight from a hilltop in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2011 as four of his soldiers moved forward under fire to drag an injured child to safety.
“They didn’t have to do that. No one ordered it,” he said. “All these little acts of humanity. We were able to make gains just by being good people.”
In a nutshell, Anderson said, Plato’s four virtues come down to serving others. “It all comes back to how the community succeeds in a world that’s a tough place to live in.”