A Case Study of Fort Leavenworth
Dr. Kate Dahlstrand
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In February 2023, I received a phone call from Lt. Col. William Richardson, the equal opportunity program manager for the Combined Arms Center (CAC) based at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I had recently volunteered to serve on a new committee put together by the staff of the CAC commanding general, Lt. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., who wanted to address workplace climate concerns identified on Fort Leavenworth, investigate solutions to those concerns, and offer recommendations that would result in Beagle “pinning the rose of responsibility” on individuals given authority to make change happen. As Richardson explained the mission and purpose over the phone, he also outlined a specific feature of the committee that promised to yield positive results. “I hate to ask you this, ma’am, and it goes against everything I’ve been taught by my family and the military … but I need to know how old you are. I need to know what generation you belong to.” I told him I was a member of Generation X and then gave my preference on which issues I wanted to help solve. I was now a part of the CAC Cross-Generational Team (Cross-GEN).
Beagle assumed command at Fort Leavenworth with a plan to enact something he had put into place at previous assignments. The plan centered on crowdsourced teams, which might normally be formed because of an inspector general directive, but he told his staff, “Let’s get volunteers to do it.” He laughed as he recalled his staff’s reaction. “Sir, that’s a bad idea,” they told him, but they followed his guidance. He wanted the person “that is the happiest with the command” and the “person that is most disgruntled.”1 He got what he wanted.
Reverse Mentoring and Cross-Generational Workforces
In the 1990s, General Electric CEO Jack Welch ordered five hundred of his top managers to go into the office and find young employees who could teach them about “the Internet.”2 By the turn of the twenty-first century, workforce periodicals and peer-reviewed journals began publishing regularly on the benefits of “reverse mentoring” efforts throughout the corporate world and beyond. Younger employees and junior staff offering advice up to their superiors has the potential to fundamentally alter a workplace dynamic for the better. Beyond the potential to tap into technological expertise, placing the junior team member on equal footing with senior leaders when problem-solving fosters strong intergenerational relationships and develops a path for building a “leadership pipeline” that can inspire members of an organization.3
Beagle adopted this model for problem-solving and applied it to the scenario at Fort Leavenworth. It made sense to do this because of the population distribution at this particular Army post. Home to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, the Mission Command Center of Excellence, the Command and General Staff College (CGSC), and many other organizations belonging to CAC, Fort Leavenworth’s population distribution does not mirror the average Army base. The officers outnumber the enlisted. When schools like CGSC break for summer or a holiday, more Army civilian professionals are working on base than those who wear a uniform. The population is older, more educated, more male, and whiter than many other U.S. Army bases. Diversity mainly exists in the ages of those employed at Fort Leavenworth. That fact formed the basis for how the problem-solving team would address issues highlighted in the climate survey.4
The Department of Defense conducted a Defense Organizational Climate Survey (DEOCS) for CAC from October through December 2022, resulting in some action items for Beagle, who arrived to take command that same October. For the most part, the soldiers assigned to and the Army civilians employed at Fort Leavenworth take pride in being a part of the U.S. Army. The survey, however, raised concerns about the command climate and the workforce culture, and those concerns deserved to be addressed. Another survey, the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, revealed similar issues. Rarely are these surveys conducted simultaneously but because they were, it resulted in a more refined assessment of the organizations on base.5
Respondents to these two surveys revealed some employees reported working at an unsustainable operational tempo. Other respondents pointed to personnel shortages contributing to increased stress in the workplace. A backlog of Defense Travel System vouchers paired with continuous temporary-duty missions in some organizations created unsustainable stress levels and increased unpredictability. Other concerns brought to light included insufficient access to behavioral health and primary care providers and a health-care facility struggling to meet the demands of the community it served. People questioned the civilian hiring practices of CAC leadership and wondered if retiring O-5 and O-6 level officers endured much critical scrutiny by the screening processes currently in place. CAC employees working at satellite campuses in other locations felt unengaged by Fort Leavenworth leadership and supervisors. The military police community felt isolated from the rest of those working and living at Fort Leavenworth. Affordable childcare options were dwindling as the population adjusted to new inflated pricing throughout the country. Navigating the post housing office for maintenance and administrative processes were highlighted as a generally disappointing experience, and respondents pointed out that the rising cost of off-post housing is not commensurate with the basic allowance for housing rate. A vocal minority complained about Army policies emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Finally, respondents to the DEOCS described a hardworking base that suffers from silos of information and a lack of faith in supervisory leadership.
Volunteers and Subject-Matter Experts Come Together
In response to these initial perspectives and perceptions from within the organization, the CAC Military Equal Opportunity Office organized a team of cross-generational volunteers and identified resident subject-matter experts (SMEs) on all issues raised. Team leaders were identified or volunteered for their roles. Beagle required all volunteers and SMEs to serve on these teams from 22 February through September 2023. All were formally tasked with the mission of conducting a series of focus groups to validate concerns raised via the most recent CAC DEOCS. The guidance was simple: the CAC Cross-GEN team would “conduct CG directed sessions, interviews, and other engagements during duty hours,” and it outlined specifically that “responsibilities as a Cross-GEN Team member take precedence over all other military duties until complete.”6 From there, they would employ the first four steps of the seven-step problem-solving process outlined in Field Manual 5-0, Planning and Orders Production. With the perspectives of the Fort Leavenworth workforce that spanned multiple generations, critical and creative thinking took place aloud, in small groups, and with a deliberate approach toward flexibility in thought.7
In other locations, and at smaller and larger scales, Beagle entered command with enthusiasm toward driving change. While all commanding generals are required to develop action plans to address climate and workforce conditions raised in surveys, there is a standard template in place and, generally, that is all that is ever really required. “This? This is next level,” claims Richardson, “Nobody here has seen anything like it. But Lt. Gen. Beagle brought it with him.” At Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the volunteers were called “Tiger Teams.” The volunteers from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, called themselves the “Dream Team.” When the workload for an average soldier or Army civilian professional is heavy as a routine, “you don’t volunteer for extra work when you are just trying to survive in your own job,” so the response shocked Richardson. The CAC Cross-GEN team was completely manned by volunteers eager to begin work. “I know exactly how it happened,” he explained, pointing to the town hall state of command briefing Beagle held in the first few months of assuming command. “It was Lt. Gen. Beagle’s initial town hall.” He reached out to the audience with sincerity, he concluded, and it “resonated with them so much that they wanted to be a part of it.” Richardson credits the people who volunteered to be a part of the solution as the primary inspirational factor for his staff. Richardson and the rest of the coordinating team members ran with that momentum.8
Problem-Solving in Practice
From the first meeting of this team, Beagle was clear about its purpose. Feedback can inform the incoming commander, he explains, “but what are you going to do with it once you have it?” He asked the volunteers and SMEs three simple questions that would guide their discussions moving forward:
- What do we start doing?
- What do we stop doing?
- What do we keep doing?
The CAC Cross-GEN was designed to verify systemic challenges like concerns about infrastructure, the needs of the workforce and on-base housing communities, and climate gaps that existed in the workplace environment. Part of the investigation would be locating root causes to real and perceived problems and then developing applicable solutions at the installation level. They were also designed to assign accountability for the problems identified.
Lt. Col. Michael Jones, a civil affairs officer and instructor of joint interagency military operations in the Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations, identified this holistic and deliberately informed approach as a key contribution to why he volunteered. “There’s a follow-through mechanism that is built into this methodology that is sometimes brushed aside in other instances,” he asserted, highlighting that “this is the first time I’ve seen a dedicated team assigned to stick with the identified problems, the resolutions, recommendations, and implementations through a whole process.”9
The CAC Cross-GEN members were not assembled to solve unsolvable problems. They were not seeking to assign blame for any specific issue to a specific individual or organization. Nor were they to use the team to find solutions to individual team member problems. Instead, they were to leverage the expertise they brought into the team and work together to solve big problems.
The difference between this initiative and others with similar desired outcomes is how each step is informed. As directed by Beagle, team members left their rank at the door and met as equals with the goal of improving working and living conditions on base. Personal beliefs were set aside, and participants were asked to listen closely and with empathy to their teammates. Each member brought insights, expertise, and experience into the room, and these were shared at all levels. Representing the different perspectives that exist on post, the team functioned as a relatively unbiased group, trusted to discern fact from fiction and differentiate perceptions from reality. The volunteers and identified SMEs were divided into three separate teams.
Team 1 focused on installation activities mentioned in the survey’s comments section. The team leader, Jessica Brushwood, volunteered because of her interest in improving the child youth services on base. She works full-time for the spouse development office and welcomed the opportunity to meet people from around the military base. The volunteers, who came from 500th Military Police Detachment, Army University, and Mission Command Center of Excellence, were teamed with SMEs representing installation housing, the commissary, military police and gate access, information technology administrators from the G-6 office, and the base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation office. Each member did research in isolation, working on the identified issues that they chose to research. When the team came together to discuss their findings, the topics were discussed at length, with feedback provided from everyone in the room.
Team 2 investigated organizational processes under the leadership of Lt. Col. Philip Turner. Volunteers from 15th Military Police Brigade, Army University, Force Design Directorate, and the Combined Arms Center-Training office worked alongside representatives who could offer expertise on taskings, predictability in training, equal opportunity, telework guidelines, hiring processes, and improving the training initiatives that focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The team met in person on a weekly basis, tackling one topic at a time and engaging in spirited conversation.
Team 3 focused on the more abstract issues raised in the surveys like organizational culture and trust in leadership but were also tasked with further investigating inadequate support for behavioral health and the timeliness of appointments on post. Volunteers investigated the perceptions of unsustainable work tempos, where extending faculty preparation time between class schedules had been highlighted by the professors and instructors stationed at Fort Leavenworth as something that could alleviate work-related stress. Some described it as the “squishy” team because it dealt with issues that affected morale, culture, and work/life balance.
Team 3 met on a biweekly schedule in one of the library classrooms. As the team lead, Jones started each meeting with the goals for that day but quickly removed himself from the front of the classroom Everyone was on equal footing, and he used a dry-erase board to capture the thoughts and ideas of team members on the topic assigned for that meeting. One of the most surprising aspects was the instinct for crossover between the teams. “Conversations (could) dispel perceptions just by having everyone in the room,” Jones stated and was encouraged when solutions outed themselves. “Solutions that already existed. Opportunities for collaboration. Identifying where solutions could be developed in concert,” these meetings allowed the teams to find solutions together.10
Investigating Solutions to Problems, Real and Perceived
Putting volunteers who spanned the spectrum of the Fort Leavenworth experience in the same room instigated conversation from the very beginning. Having all the SMEs in the same room several times over the course of weeks and months had a significant impact on the project. Watching members of the behavioral health community engage in meaningful conversation with the CAC chaplain team to discover paths where one could facilitate the other as they both deal with manning shortages was fulfilling to witness. And while the graphics offered in the PowerPoint offered a clear path, the actual journey looked far messier in practice.
A vocal minority of respondents took offense to the rollout of diversity, equity, and inclusivity initiatives throughout the U.S. Army. Over the course of eighty-nine pages, in the anonymous comments section of the DEOCS, the phrase “Get rid of DEI training”—or a similar sentiment—was expressed over a dozen times. Those comments sparked some crucial conversations about how DEI training is done throughout the Army and here at CAC. The book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High defines them as “emotionally charged, high-stakes” interpersonal exchanges on tough issues that focus on creating mutual respect and understanding.11 In crucial discussions there are two or more people, the opinions of those involved vary, and the topic can be one that causes emotions to run strong. DEI training will continue but members of the Cross-GEN Team identified where challenges remain in conducting this instruction thoughtfully and with consideration for all involved.
Members from Teams 2 and 3 came together in April to address this challenge. The abstract issues of trust and morale were directly tied to the very real measures of an Army University DEI initiative that had been introduced poorly, in a large town hall where a senior leader highlighted that Fort Leavenworth suffered from having too many “old, white men” employed. Both students and faculty felt uncomfortable—and even targeted—during training that, if done with more rigor and care, can strengthen the U.S. Army. When volunteers from the teams met, insights were shared that informed new guidelines for crucial conversations. Small groups work much better when they are led by members who are trained in how to facilitate conversations on inclusivity. Recommendations to address this issue include a formal incorporation of how to objectively facilitate crucial discussions in the college’s faculty development programs, an addendum to the newcomer’s briefing that explains DEI and the Army values to new CAC employees, a leader’s course (train the trainer) on how to objectively facilitate crucial conversations, and the development of a long-running leader development program.
John Pilloni, deputy director at the Department of Command and Leadership, will be pinned with the rose of responsibility for these actions. He will be supported by the personnel working for the Army Management Staff College. Recommendations on how to train for difficult discussions and establish a working climate that promotes strength through diversity is just one critical aspect this Cross-GEN has addressed. Turner reflected that this issue was especially important to get input from all the generations present. “When a DEI initiative is planned and executed effectively,” he argued, “there is no gap between the concepts it embraces and the Army Values, the founding documents of this country, all the way through Civil Rights Act of 1964 and beyond.”12 Recommendations for the program will emphasize a diverse nation of individuals who can embody Army values, be leaders of character, and become Army professionals.
It is all rooted in Army leadership skills and competency. It has always been in place from the very beginning, but engaging in crucial conversations with small groups that represent different points of view or generational frames of reference adds a new dimension that was not necessarily considered important to the problem-solving process. When Field Manual 6-22, Developing Leaders, defines the tenets of developing leaders, one of the essential aspects that makes the Army successful is fostering supportive relationships and a culture of learning. Because the Army relies on effective teams to “perform tasks, achieve objectives, and accomplish missions,” team building requires developing trust amongst members.13 By asking questions that explore (1) whose interests have historically been served and (2) whose voices have historically been silenced, the CAC Cross-GEN combined generational perspectives and professional experiences to strengthen the fighting force and meet the population where it exists today. The gap is in the application of communication and understanding. DEI training should be facilitated in a manner that unites us.
In another effort to understand Fort Leavenworth issues on a deeper level, I, along with my fellow team member, Dr. Christina Love, spent some time investigating “what right looks like” as far as fostering a healthy work climate. Investigating trust in leadership led team members to critically engage with the perceptions versus the realities of leadership at the supervisory level. In the survey, personnel described supervisors more concerned with self-promotion and expressed concerns that there was no clear path for a long-term future at Fort Leavenworth.
Love works as the director of the Spouse Development Office at CGSC. During our biweekly meetings, she and I noticed that the Training and Doctrine Command Research and Analysis Center (TRAC) was regularly put forth as an example of office transformation and workplace satisfaction. I initiated contact with TRAC, set up a meeting, and Love and I spent an afternoon with their director, Pamela Blechinger, and her leadership team. Together, we explored Blechinger’s leadership style, her development of what she called a “culture of excellence,” and identified recommendations Team 3 could take to the larger group on how to replicate the successes TRAC has achieved in recent years. Unsurprisingly, Blechinger’s headquarters team had been practicing reverse mentoring for years with a dedicated focus on recognizing the talents and strengths of junior staff. TRAC implemented an office policy of openly acknowledging that effective mentoring happens in both directions and building trust is recognized as a continuous cycle of working with and learning from each other. To use Beagle’s metaphor, TRAC has been running laps for a while now, and they have benefited from constantly seeking ways to develop, train and retain their workforce.
Ultimately, any discussion of how to strengthen the U.S. Army must begin by creating paths for meaningful conversation between those who serve, in uniform or as a civil servant.
Not all issues required long-form investigations, and so soldiers and employees at Fort Leavenworth may have noticed some changes made by Beagle as soon as the survey results were returned. An anomaly to U.S. Army normal practices, “Reveille” sounded at 0600 hours on post. That has been altered to reflect the more general practice of a 0630-Reveille call. Additionally, QR codes are popping up all over the installation, promoting resources available to soldiers, ACPs, and family members in a concentrated effort to flatten communications. Beagle issued new guidance on staff duty requirements that reflect how the responsibilities can be covered in a way that makes sense in a post-COVID-19 workforce. Commissary staffing, a large complaint on the DEOCS, was filled to 95 percent by April 2023. Easy solutions could be implemented quickly, once identified, and the more complex issues requiring more nuanced solutions received more time dedicated to development of recommendations.
The Second Lap
Transparency in processes, in how decisions are made, and in the creation of roles and responsibilities has revealed itself as the cornerstone for success. There is more work to be done.
The model of these teams is something that can be applied at an installation, division, brigade, battalion, or organizational level. It has a demonstrated success record with Beagle’s last three duty stations, but it depends upon community buy-in and continuity through commands. All three teams used slightly different approaches as far as timelines, but they all went through the same process.
Early actions have yielded promising solutions, and more nuanced problems have been considered from multiple perspectives. It resulted in answering many questions raised in the survey, and opportunities for the Leavenworth community to meet each other, share information and resources, and problem solve with common goals in mind. Most importantly, however, the process is replicable and demonstrates effectiveness where instituted. With proper momentum, it can continue beyond whatever commanding leadership introduces the problem-solving method.
Does the ability to have crucial conversations about difficult topics make the U.S. Army a less effective fighting force? Does it make us less lethal or less successful? There’s a messaging component to this. Again, generational perspectives inform the debate.
According to a special report prepared by the National Security Critical Issues Task Force, by 2015, millennials surpassed Generation X as the dominant generation in the U.S. working force. In its findings, the National Security Critical Issues Task Force recommended that employers who want to develop loyalty from the younger generations should focus on career development opportunities, mentorship at all levels, and fostering a sense of purpose throughout organizational culture.14 Understanding what millennials value in the workforce, and what Generation Z that follows them wants, will have to be considered as the U.S. Army investigates and refines recruiting and retention efforts.
In January 2023, Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville highlighted that retention is at a historical high. However, the end strength goal for active-duty troops in 2023 dropped by twelve thousand troops from last year’s goal.15 That is a recruiting issue. In 2022, the U.S. Army missed its recruiting goal by fifteen thousand soldiers.16 Ultimately, any discussion of how to strengthen the U.S. Army must begin by creating paths for meaningful conversation between those who serve, in uniform or as a civil servant.
By the time Beagle’s next town hall takes place later this year, there will be a list of people and organizations expecting taskings, those “roses of responsibility” that he promised at his first town hall in February. Some of the responsibilities fall on the shoulders of Beagle, but many of the solutions will need to be worked on at length by others throughout the Leavenworth community. This first year of his command is considered the first lap. It’s a process: the interplay of feedback, then the drilling into of feedback, then reporting back to the formation. Did we move closer to a desired end state? The laps have to continue.
Any continuity between organizations must come from the people who work at Fort Leavenworth understanding the process. And it has to continue beyond Beagle’s tenure as commanding general. Military leaders seeking to replicate the process ought to plan for continuity operations beyond their time in command so that problems addressed never reemerge after the next change of command. The largest challenge to a successful desired end state, however, is fostering the buy-in from the community. The CAC Cross-GEN will continue, they will need new volunteers for to weigh in and offer their experiences and perspectives, and they will shape the working and living conditions at Fort Leavenworth.
- Milford H. Beagle Jr. (lieutenant general, U.S. Army), in conversation with the author, 21 June 2023.
- Kim Lee DeAngelis, Reverse Mentoring at the Hartford: Cross-Generational Transfer of Knowledge about Social Media (Boston: Center for Work and Family, May 2013), 4, https://dlib.bc.edu/islandora/object/bc-ir:100770/datastream/PDF/download/citation.pdf.
- Wendy Marcinkus Murphy, “Reverse Mentoring at Work: Fostering Cross-Generational Learning and Developing Millennial Leaders,” Human Resources Management 51, no. 4 (July-August 2012): 550, https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21489.
- “Fort Leavenworth Statistical Data (As of 30 September 2022),” U.S. Army Fort Leavenworth, https://home.army.mil/leavenworth/application/files/3516/7761/6276/FT_LVN_Statistics_Card_FY22_for_print_5_x_6_f_and_b.pdf. As of 30 September 2022, there were 5,175 military personnel assigned to Fort Leavenworth and 6,965 Department of Defense civilians. “CAC Cross-GEN Team Guidance, LTG Milford H. Beagle Jr. Commanding General” (PowerPoint presentation, Combined Arms Center [CAC] Headquarters, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 31 January 2023), slide 17. Fort Leavenworth employs a multigenerational workforce comprised of five active working generations. Traditionalists, also known as “the greatest generation,” were born on or before 1945 and make up 1 percent of the total CAC workforce. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, make up roughly 42 percent of the workforce. The independent “latchkey” generation, Generation X, was born between 1965 and 1980. They currently make up about 36 percent of the CAC workforce. Millennials, born between 1981 and 1995, make up 18 percent of CAC; and the youngest generation in the workforce, Generation Z, makes up just around 3 percent of the base employees.
- The Defense Organizational Climate Survey, available at https://www.defenseculture.mil/Assessment-to-Solutions/A2S-Home/, is developed by the Office of People Analytics and hosted through the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, available at https://www.opm.gov/fevs/about/, is developed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and administered annually to employees of departments and large agencies, as well as smaller and independent agencies that accept an invitation to participate.
- Headquarters, Combined Arms Center OPORD 230131-T6V5_ (Action Plan as Part of Command Climate Improvement), Fort Leavenworth, KS, 7 February 2023.
- Field Manual (FM) 5-0, Planning and Orders Production (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], May 2022), para. 3-7–3-13, fig. 3-1.
- William Richardson (lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army), in conversation with the author, 27 June 2023
- Michael Jones (lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army), in conversation with the author, 12 July 2023.
- Joseph Grenny et al., Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio, 2013), 1–2.
- Philip Turner (lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army), in conversation with the author, 19 July 2023.
- FM 6-22, Developing Leaders (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, November 2022), para. 1-6.
- Ian Brinksman et al., Millennial Considerations on Insider Threat: Are We a Threat or an Opportunity? (Washington, DC: National Security Critical Issues Task Force, Georgetown University Center for Security Studies, 2019), 7, 20, https://georgetownsecuritystudiesreview.org/2019/05/24/nscitf-report-on-millennial-considerations-on-insider-threat/.
- Davis Winkie, “Army Doubles Down on Retention for Fiscal 2023 Amid Recruiting Woes,” Army Times (website), 18 January 2023, https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2023/01/18/army-doubles-down-on-retention-for-fiscal-2023-amid-recruiting-woes/.
- Lolita C. Baldor, “Army Misses Recruiting Goal by 15,000 Soldiers,” Army Times (website), 2 October 2022, https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2022/10/02/army-misses-recruiting-goal-by-15000-soldiers/.
Dr. Kate Dahlstrand is a historian for the U.S. Army and works as the managing editor for the Research and Books team at Army University Press. She earned her PhD in American history from the University of Georgia in 2019. She is a U.S. Army veteran, having served as a combat medic and noncommissioned officer during the Global War on Terrorism, and deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005–2007. She is currently writing a history of how the U.S. Army bases were named in the early twentieth century.
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