Three Meter Zone: Common Sense Leadership for NCOs. Welcome to the world of the 

noncommissioned officer, the ultimate in hands-on, front-line leadership: the three meter 

zone where the work of the soldier occurs. ... a full fledged study of leadership for NCOs, 

by an NCO.
Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal


 


CANTEEN CUPS

A study in accountability, serviceability and attention to detail

1SG Gerald J. Schleining Jr.


 

I once had a Command Sergeant Major that had a real simple outlook on the Army.  He was very black and white, rarely finding any gray in what it was that we as soldiers were expected to do.  He prescribed to the “KISS” method when doing everything.  One day as the Sergeant Major was conducting an inspection of our rooms and TA-50, he shared his simple philosophy with my room- mates and I.

He said that “Its all about canteen cups”.  Holding up my room- mates canteen cup he explained that everything in the Army revolved around the canteen cup.  Accountability, attention to detail, maintenance, responsibility, and pride.  The canteen cup could be used as a measuring stick for of all of the above and ultimately determine weather or not the soldier was deployable, accountable, and professional or not.

 

You see first and foremost the Sergeant Major looked at accountability of equipment.  Did we all have our cups?  Second is attention to detail, a trait that we soldiers must have, no matter what your MOS.  It is details that can save lives and accomplish the mission.  Focusing on the little things over and over.  Not being satisfied that the cup is cleaned on the inside, but that the handle functions properly and the outside is as clean as the inside. The canteen cup being cleaned and maintained or just thrown back into the carrier can be the difference between soldiers eating or not, it can be the an issue of survivability on the battlefield or non battle loss (getting sick). Having a cup in the field when there are no other means of containing chow, and maintaining the strength of your section in the field.

 

The Sergeant Major went onto explain that it was an indicator of the company maintenance plan.  He suggested that it was a classic case of leadership expectation and how maintenance is conducted on all our equipment.  If leaders failed to inspect the cleanliness of the canteen cup then what else are they overlooking.  If they do not expect the canteen cup to be clean, then what about other TA-50, what about weapons?  If they are unaware or allow unserviceable canteen cups in their section, will they allow unserviceable uniforms, boots and equipment?  The canteen cup measured the level of detail in the leadership.

 

Responsibility for your own equipment was his next lesson.  He failed to see why soldiers did not take ownership in their equipment.   We used to have a saying “Take care of your equipment- it will take care of you.”  That is why we polish our boots; keep our uniforms in good repair, clean our TA-50 and weapon systems as well as our organizational equipment.  So that when needed they will be there and serviceable.  The canteen cup again became his metaphor of choice.  As luck would have it, the sliding retaining clasp on my canteen cup was bent and not functioning properly during the inspection.  The Sergeant major told me to take the cup and fill it with the hottest water I could find in the barracks and carry it back to him.  I did as he instructed, let the water run in the sink for a good five minutes and filled the canteen cup, as a carried it at a quick time back to my room the handle, not functioning properly began to give way, I quickly grasped the body of the canteen with my free hand and immediately found it to be extremely hot.  By the time I returned to my room to the waiting Sergeant Major, my First Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, and roommates my hands were red and half the water was left in a trail on the floor.

The CSM yelled a resounding, “AAHHHH HA!”  We have seen a clear demonstration of the importance of the canteen cup.
1.  Un-serviceable handle indicates that the squad leader had not inspected it for serviceability.
2.  Because it was not functioning properly indicated that I was neglecting my responsibility in the up keep of my equipment and therefore demonstrated a lack of attention to detail and pride in a snap shot view.

3. The cup was clean, but lacked functionality, therefore it was useless in the field. 

 

The lesson of the canteen cup became the standard by which we conducted our business.  It reinforced those things that are important to a soldier.  It clearly outlines the bottom line of Accountability, Responsibility, Maintenance, and Attention to detail.   It focuses attention to the little things that affect the “Bigger picture” which ultimately as a soldier is tested and proven when surviving on the battlefield. 

 

Ever since that day, I have reflected on the “Canteen cup” as I now perform inspections of soldiers.  And now that I am a little wiser and have a better understanding of leadership, I too find that the canteen cup is in fact an indicator of both the leaders and the soldiers of the unit.  It quickly lets a leader know what is being maintained or not, it is a measuring stick of accountability, and shows the level of detail in which the soldiers go about their daily business.  As a metaphor it translates to everything that we do in and out of the field. 

 

Copyright© 1SG Gerald J. Schleining Jr