FORT RILEY — The quiet time for the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division is coming to a close.
Approximately 2,200 soldiers from the CAB started to deploy into Afghanistan in late July.
The CAB is expected to be one of the last aviation units deployed to Afghanistan and will help with the drawdown process while simultaneously continuing to support the mission to help the Afghan National Army and the people of Afghanistan.
Col. Matthew R. Lewis, commander and alumnus of the U.S. Military Academy, the nuclear science and engineering department of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, recently took some time to answer questions about the brigade’s road to war.
Q: Can you describe the CAB’s transition process?
Lewis: The five battalion commanders and I were notified last summer that each one of us would be transitioning with anywhere from five months to just over two months of command time before the CAB deployed.
Knowing we had such a short window of time, we started Skype teleconference sessions about every six weeks.
The discussion topics included our command visions and how best to get that across to soldiers and families, what our priorities would be when we first assumed our respective commands, what challenges we may face during the first 30 days of command and making any key last decisions before deployment.
My most important objective during these sessions was to establish a dialogue and level of trust and respect between myself and my commanders so each could feel comfortable with coming to me, asking questions and receiving guidance.
Q: What plan did you have for your soldiers and you to get to know one another?
Lewis: Due to a scheduled pre-deployment site survey, I knew I would have only one day after assuming command to impart my leadership style, vision and command philosophy onto my subordinate commanders and staff.
To solve this, I brought my battalion command teams, my company command teams and my staff together as separate groups and talked to them about my career and vision while also asking each to provide a feedback card to me with family, career and one thing to sustain and one improvement for the brigade. I got some great feedback and reading material for the long flights, and it gave me a perspective on the brigade I could use to make last minute changes prior to deployment.
Q: Can you describe the CAB’s road to war?
Lewis: The road to war started with a campaign plan by predecessor, Col. Mike Morgan, where the CAB first went through an intense modernization period, receiving the Army’s newest aircraft, such as UH-60M Black Hawks, CH-47F Chinooks and MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and upgrades to our existing fleet of helicopters and equipment.
Intense training as Multi-Functional Aviation Task Forces at the combat training centers in California and Louisiana supporting brigades from both 1st Inf. Div. and across the Army and High Altitude Mountainous Environment Training in Colorado followed.
The last steps involves the transition of leadership and all of the last details of deployment, loading the containers, getting helicopters to port, ensuring soldiers and families are ready.
Q: You have mentioned practicing servant leadership as part of your leadership style. What is servant leadership to you?
Lewis: I believe in helping people, and I genuinely care for soldiers and their families. For me, practicing humility and placing the team first is most important. I am a sucker for believing in people - even those who fall into trouble. I believe with the right mentorship and leadership, you can help just about anybody become the best they can be, inside or outside the Army. I genuinely care about, and have empathy for, my soldiers as they struggle through the everyday challenges of life. Soldiers are never alone. Everything we do is as a team, and I am here for you.
Q: What can soldiers expect from you? What do you expect from soldiers?
Lewis: Soldiers can expect me listen to them and provide guidance, to give the resources and establish the priorities to accomplish the mission and to make the hard decisions we sometimes face as an organization. I expect my soldiers to be confident, competent, loyal, humble and, most important, provide feedback. I know I can’t be everywhere, and I know I don’t know everything.
We are not a zero-defect Army and never will be. I want you to learn, make honest mistakes, innovate and create, to give your all and take the initiative, but to not ever lose your bearing and to always tell the truth. Yes, you may be punished, but I’ll still care for you. I will not condone gross negligence and violating your integrity, ever.