|Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems &
Key Leader Engagement is getting increased attention in mobilization
training at Fort McCoy.
Key Leader Engagement includes how a U.S. Soldier meets, greets and
communicates with senior local national personnel in an area of
operation, such as a local village.
Soldiers from the 111th Engineer
Battalion visit with local village officials at a village as
part of Key Leader Engagement training at Fort McCoy. On the
left is 2nd Lt. Ehigie Obasohan and next to him Staff Sgt.
Theodore Steadman. The two local officials are cultural role
players assigned to the 181st Infantry Brigade, the mobilization
trainers at Fort McCoy.
Convoy commanders, typically staff sergeants to lieutenant colonels,
frequently stop their convoys and dismount to meet and greet local
officials. Those talks involve many subjects, such as plans for U.S.
logistical aid to a village to construct or repair wells, medical
facilities or schools, or to determine locations and movements of
suspected insurgents, according to Lt. Col. Timothy Senecaut, commander
of the 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. The 111th
conducted mobilization training here and deployed in support of
Operation Enduring Freedom.
Key Leader Engagement instruction has been on the mobilization training
agenda for many years. But it is receiving more emphasis because of the
importance of building and sustaining relationships with the people in
the country where U.S. forces are operating.
Senecaut was one of those convoy commanders walking up to a local school
principal to discuss U.S. aid to the school. “We are making sure the
Soldiers on the ground are sensors and ambassadors to win the hearts of
the local populace,” Senecaut said.
“We are training with the current guidance of General David Petraeus,”
Senecaut said. “We carry out the mission to understand the culture we
are operating in — cultural awareness — and to interact with the local
people.” Senecaut listed the “locals” as mayors, sheiks, police chiefs,
school principals and teachers, even shopkeepers, and, at higher levels,
governors of provinces and tribal leaders. The leaders are portrayed by
cultural role players at Fort McCoy, some of whom are native Iraqis and
“We need to spend time with these leaders and establish a rapport with
them,” Senecaut said. “A major thing for us is to ask those leaders
about how their families are doing, and what are their interests and
activities. Everybody likes to tell their story.”
“We don’t just go in and conduct business,” Senecaut said. “We engage
their leaders on a personal level. When we meet for the first time, it
is to establish a friendship. When we meet for the second time it is as
brothers. We express our concern to make their lives better and
Senecaut said maintaining eye contact with the local leaders is very
important, as is maintaining good posture, leaning forward into the
conversation and not slouching.
“It is also important to properly introduce your assistants and to
emphasize the importance of your meeting with the local leaders. And to
be cognizant of everything going on. A wheelbarrow outside a house is
just a wheelbarrow to me, but it is likely a prized possession to the
local leader for them to make a living. To have you or your assistant
taking notes will impress the local leader, but you must ask permission
“We have very motivated Soldiers here,” Senecaut said of the 111th
Engineers. “They are all eager to learn. This is the fourth and fifth
tour of duty for some of our Soldiers, but they are still pulling out
that different and new nugget of training here.”