Fort Carson sergeants have an expanded set of responsibilities under their new commander.
The effort could yield big dividends in improved discipline and morale, Maj. Gen. Ryan Gonsalves told The Gazette.
Gonsalves, who assumed command of the post in May, spends much of his time focused on overseas missions, where the 4th Infantry Division has troops in Europe and the Middle East. But an increasing focus for the general is how troops live and behave at home.
"What I have talked about is engaged leadership," Gonsalves said. "It's really talking to our young soldiers."
During 14 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gonsalves said, the Army developed leaders who were skilled in combat. But the pounding pace of deployments left little time to teach young leaders the basics of how to mentor troops at home. The first step, Gonsalves said, is for sergeants to relearn how to talk to their troops.
"I want people to learn how to engage," he said, noting that the military in combat functions on black and white communication that doesn't include many discussions of emotion.
Sergeants are getting a new "leader book," a reference guide to help them track the new duties. To make it more friendly to 20-something troops, the book will be electronic rather than paper.
Fort Carson leaders, Gonsalves said, should know the birthdays and wedding anniversaries of their troops. When one of their soldiers has a child, sergeants should check in with the family and celebrate the addition.
"They need to get to know their folks very, very well," he said. "I want them to understand their lives, their families, their backgrounds. I want them to ask to visit their homes ask to meet their families."
The general also wants sergeants to accompany young soldiers when making big purchases.
"Soldiers aren't coming in by themselves to buy a car anymore," the general said. "They are coming in with their sergeants. I want them to have a second set of eyes."
Officers have expanded duties for looking in on soldiers, too.
Soldiers in the post's 1st Brigade Combat Team recently completed a month of tough training at Fort Irwin, Calif. The troops were out of touch with family, but officers made sure the folks back home stayed connected.
"I'm asking company commanders to call parents," Gonsalves said.
The small steps to build tighter units with better discipline are crucial these days because the Army has seldom been busier, Gonsalves said. Fort Carson has units training for possible deployment to Afghanistan, while its soldiers also run ongoing training missions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Tightening discipline in the ranks takes time.
Gonsalves said he is making sure leaders react quickly to trouble.
"When we had three DUIs in a unit over a weekend," he said, "I called the commander; I said, 'Hey, young man, we have a problem.'?"
Gonsalves said that battalion was given training on the effects of alcohol, with soldiers trying on a pair of glasses that simulate drunkenness.
"It really hit home with them," he said, noting that the battalion hasn't had an alcohol-related incident since.
Gonsalves said it's tough making time to fit the new duties in with other Army demands. But disciplinary trends at the post so far show it's worth continued investment.
"We have seen a downturn," Gonsalves said of soldier misconduct. "But its not zero yet."