FORT RILEY, Kan. – Army Capt. Lisa Halvorson’s troops have called her "Mama Halvorson" since she took over the 1st Infantry Division’s Company C, 601st Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, nearly two years ago.
Halvorson, a signal officer who served as commander of the "Crusaders" until a few weeks ago, is an experienced soldier with just a hint of a southern drawl. And being Mama Halvorson to her troops suits her just fine, she said.
"I love my soldiers," Halvorson said. "I'm not just here doing a job, and they can tell."
Halvorson took command of Company C in October 2010, about halfway through the unit's deployment to Iraq. Quickly, the new commander realized her troops faced some challenges, and she began designing a plan to strengthen the men and women in her unit.
"I asked myself, 'How am I going to mentor all of them to become better soldiers?'" Halvorson said. "I immediately stopped, though, and said, 'No, how can I help my soldiers become better people?'"
Over time, Halvorson's plan to make her team into better soldiers and better people evolved into a schedule that included weekly classes covering topics such as resilience training, life skills and sexual assault prevention. The goal of the classes, Halvorson said, was to help to teach her soldiers how to "live the right way."
"In the beginning, we were building the trust level and getting to know one another," she said. "I talk a lot, but when I'm talking to my soldiers, I listen a lot, too."
Once the Crusaders returned to Fort Riley at the end of their deployment, Halvorson added more elements into the plan to strengthen the company. Monthly family readiness group events, long-range calendars and classes designed to address the unit's specific needs all provided stability and predictability as the soldiers returned to their "normal" lives back in Kansas.
"Charlie Company is a very tight group of soldiers, and they watch out for each other like family," said Lt. Col. Allan Lancetta, 601st ASB commander. "[Halvorson] and her leadership have found the right balance of educating soldiers, training soldiers and engaging soldiers."
The plan that kept her soldiers and family members safe during an often challenging reintegration time was not created in a vacuum, Halvorson said. To create something that works, she said, it was necessary to get out from behind her computer and really get to know her soldiers.
"Leaders need to step outside their offices," Halvorson said. "When you step outside your office, you will really see what is going on."
The Crusaders' success hasn't gone unnoticed. In December, the company received the 1st Infantry Division's "Encased Saber," honoring a record of more than 1,400 days free from alcohol- or drug-related incidents. At the award ceremony, Halvorson said her company's success could be traced to engaged leaders at all levels who listen and use their resources to take care of soldiers.
"Long gone are the days when a commander or senior noncommissioned officer simply scared people into listening," Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Sasser, the division’s senior NCO, said during the saber presentation ceremony. "Saving a career, and, sometimes, saving life requires outside-of-the-box thinking like this. This is a great accomplishment."
Halvorson concluded her time with the Crusaders at the end of August. Although she is no longer with her team -- men and women who she still considers family -- the signal officer will never forget the lessons they taught her during the past 20-plus months.
Halvorson said she hopes her soldiers do not forget the lessons she’s tried to teach them.
"I hope what I did here made them stronger," she said. "I hope that caring for them, listening to them and really seeing them will lead them to be positive, successful leaders and people in the future."