# 34 Just One

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I should do, and with the grace of God, I will do."

Everett Hale

"Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can."

John Wesley

Sometimes I wonder what my purpose in the Army has been. The institution is so large and cumbersome and filled with differing viewpoints and priorities that it can be easy to get lost inside it's vastness and forget the critical importance of just one person. But, as arrogant as it may sound, I do believe that I am important to the Army. That I give it as much as it gives me. Professional happiness occurs when that relationship continues to stay in balance. That both sides feel as if the other is holding up their end of the bargain.

And I think that my belief is crucial to becoming a good leader. The belief that at a certain place, at a certain time, under certain circumstances that I am the one best suited for the task ahead. That belief provides me the 'food' that sustains my professional being. It drives me each day to learn, share, adapt and grow. In many ways, I must believe in my own sense of calling - even sometimes when the institution doesn't seem to agree.

True wisdom, however, may come from the million missteps and mistakes that it takes to figure out what that calling really is. Some people are destined for very public greatness and some will toil a lifetime in obscurity for one anonymous moment, but both must believe in their singular importance and contribution to their organization. Someday, a scientist in a laboratory will find the cure for cancer. I wonder, will we herald their name as we do for the greats of other pursuits? The countless hours spent in a lab learning and pushing and staying after all the others have gone home because they believe that they are the critical component to beating the disease.

In my case, the relationships I have formed over the past 3 years, my ability to see some deficiencies more clearly, and the freedom to try to address them has been a large part of my personal/professional recovery. A recovery that I see as an honest exchange between the organization and me. I needed some time, some space and a project to regain my energy and passion. The Army provided me with that, and in return I developed and assist the Army with the products I've created. Very mutually beneficial. At least I hope so. It certainly is from my perspective. The catch is making sure it stays that way from theirs.

I received an email last week from my boss's boss and in part it read "MSG Fenlason is passionate about getting it right." Funny, but I seem to hear the word 'passionate' a lot. In Army speak it seems to mean someone who doesn't know when to 'shut-up and color with the rest of the kids'. It can be the back-handed compliment that really isn't a compliment at all. This one came about because of the body armor work I've done. My bosses don't really understand the problem, because they have never taken the time to critically look at it. All they know is that little thank you notes show up in their in-boxes every now and again and they get a little unnerved because someone outside the organization is giving me credit for something they had no awareness of or interest in. And now someone else is telling them that it might be important.

That's OK though. In many ways, I really don't care anymore. My calling is to serve the Army, not a person. I sometimes think a lot of people have forgotten that. Although there is a chain of command, and a structure, I serve those Soldiers who receive my marksmanship training; I serve those units looking for a different way to train; I serve the women who will someday get proper-fitting equipment because of our efforts, and my passion. Those are my Soldiers. And they are the reason I serve, and I believe that I am well-suited to serve this way. I do not serve the guy at the end of the hall who happens to be in charge today. The time he will be here is too fleeting. The Army endures.

I guess I'm writing this today because I was reading FM 6-22, "Leadership", and came across the following quote, "Competent leaders know the best way to create a solid organization is to empower subordinates." It seems to me that one of the major roles of a leader is empowerment of subordinates. Although not tacitly recognized in our doctrine (previous quote aside) - and paid very little attention in practice - development is what ensures the sense of inclusion and purpose in a subordinate and that is what creates both the climate and the culture of the Army. It's why I write this. For the blog to work, it reaches up and down and sideways. I get mentored and developed, and I try to offer that to others.

This type of development has happened at 4 distinct periods in my career: When I first joined and was chosen to be the radio operator for my platoon, when I came to Ft. Campbell the first time and was set on a professional development path that came to signify the middle portion of my career, when BS 'adopted' me and kept feeding me opportunities to grow and when RW gave me a place to go as I attempted to get back on my feet after Iraq. The constant theme of these four periods has been that someone senior to me created an opportunity and pushed me through a door. Sometimes I went looking for that door, and they simply provided passage, but sometimes they had to show me where it was and then say, "Go on. You'll be OK. Walk through."

I am only one. But I am an important one. Not irreplaceable, but important. I serve the organization in a way that only I can. A specific manner and method unique to Fenlason. And I think it's important for people to consider that. What is it about you that is unique and critical to wherever you serve? Why are you better suited to the issue than someone else? Do you know? Have you considered it? While many years ago, before life intervened, I may have had dreams of professional grandeur, today they are slowly becoming more focused. It may not ever be my lot to lead troops in combat again, but that experience (for better or worse) is what led me to where I am now. A place where my talents for observation, analysis, team building, and Soldier empowerment seem to work very well.

It is also a leaders responsibility to develop those traits in their Soldiers. To find the unique contribution that one individual can make, develop it, and let them make it. To assist them in finding what it is that they do best and providing them the opportunity to do it. Funny, but FM 6-22 does mention that. I have been blessed throughout my career to have this gift given to me. It is now my obligation and my calling to try my best to do it for others. This may be the greatest gift of leadership. It's greatest challenge and the truest measure of the strength of any organization's ability to endure over time.


  1. Fen- no smart feedback from this member of the peanut gallery - too tuckered to. However, just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your perspective, retrospective, and your voice. You make sense. :)

  2. It was clear to me after less than a week of active-duty as to why there is such a high attrition rate in the army. I've yet to meet someone who truly enjoys their job, instead it seems everyday they are just trying to endure it for that much longer. Never have I ever witnessed another profession of such unhappy and dissatisfied Americans.

    It is very refreshing to read these blogs and see that there are others who have genuine concern for the greater good. Unfortunately, I think deep-seated problems in the army have only begun to be recognized due to the high attrition rate in recent years.

    It is a shame that is what it took to get the high-ups attention. What will it take to reverse the process now and fix the problems we all encounter? I shudder at the thought.


  3. LT - I'm interested to know why you think there's such a high attrition rate. From your comments, I surmise it's because of job satisfaction, but I think it goes a little deeper than that. I think the culture of the Army is so top-heavy that the 'little people' feel undervalued many times and that the rhetoric that is so easily thrown about regarding Soldiers doesn't ring true with them. It should be recognized, however, that the exodus in the officer corps actually begn prior to 9/11 which implies that something else besides eduring numerous deployments etc is at play. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Fen writes "...development is what ensures the sense of inclusion and purpose in a subordinate and that is what creates both the climate and the culture of the Army."

    When you look back on your career, the assignments you enjoyed the most were the ones where you learned and grew the most. Development is always the key, and it very much creates an environment of inclusion and purpose. The lack of it lands people in LT's world where they just try to survive another duldrum moment in their service.

    "Develop subordinates" is mentioned in many leadership regs and pubs but seldom practiced the way the authors visualize. The dividends can't be overstated and yet we don't give nearly enough of our attention toward it.