CAB commander talks transition, road to war
Col. Matthew Lewis, CAB commander, discusses the CAB’s road to war in a recent interview. The CAB is supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and the ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan. Photo by: Sgt. Keven Parry, CAB.
Story by: Capt. Andrew Cochran
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The long dwell, reset and modernization of the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division is coming to a close. More than 2,000 Soldiers from the CAB started to deploy to Afghanistan in late July.
The CAB is expected to be one of the last aviation units deployed to Afghanistan and will help with the draw down process, while simultaneously continuing to support the International Security Assistance Force's mission helping the Afghan National Army and the Afghanistan populace.
Col. Matthew R. Lewis, CAB commander, and alumnus of the U.S. Military Academy, Nuclear Science and Engineering department, 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.
Can you describe the CAB's transition process?
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.
What plan did you have for your Soldiers and you to get to know one another?
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.
Can you describe the CAB's road to war?
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 Eagles, and upgrades to our existing fleet of helicopters and equipment.
Intense training as multifunctional 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 involve 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. We are done here in Fort Riley, and we are now in the process of conducting our relief in place/transfer of authority with 3rd CAB in Regional Command-South.
You have mentioned practicing servant leadership as part of your leadership style. What is servant leadership to you?
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.
What can Soldiers expect from you? What do you expect from Soldiers?
Soldiers can expect me to 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.