Regimental Commander reflects on her year

steenSince her freshmen year, Norwich University cadet Reagan Steen supported her superiors for three years as a cadet, but as the drum beat signaled the start of the first parade of her senior year, she realized that others were now looking to her on what to do next.

As cadet colonel, she has now spent almost a year leading the students in the Norwich University Corps of Cadets (NUCC).
“I wasn’t really someone who thought in my freshmen year that I would want to be regimental commander,” Steen said. “ I didn’t even think at the beginning of my junior year that being regimental commander would be something I wanted.”
But after some encouragement from her friends, Steen applied for the cadet colonel post, seeking to influence how the corps functioned.
“As I took on the cadet sergeant major position (in my junior year) I realized there was a lot of stuff in the corps that I cared about and would like to have some influence on it,” Steen said.
There is little doubt that influence has been felt during the 2014-2015 academic year. Taking on the highest post in the corps has also been an education and a balancing act for Steen, a dean’s list honoree who hails from Detroit. As the spring semester winds down to a close, she sat down to talk about her year.
The application process for regimental commander is different from cadet non-commissioned officer and cadet officer promotion boards, as applicants must provide a resume with a cover letter, and the interview process is a stringent one.
Once applications are submitted and the officer promotion board is completed, select cadets who applied for cadet colonel are picked to go before another board that includes the school’s vice president for student affairs, the commandant of cadets, and the current cadet colonel, Steen said.
The second board then chooses a small number of cadets who are interviewed by Norwich President Richard Schneider, who ultimately decides who will fill the position for regimental commander, according to Steen.
On March 3 in 2014, Steen learned that she was going to be appointed, with Pres. Schneider making the announcement during lunch with cadet cadre and school staff.
“There were mixed reactions and I was warned about that” Steen said, adding that she had been told by previous cadet colonel regimental commander Ryan Sutherland that being regimental commander can be “lonely on top.”
“I haven’t found it to be too lonely on top this year,” Steen said. “I think it’s how you interact with other people that determines that.”
Steen said a key is to know when it is appropriate to joke or when you have to be serious as the regimental commander.
She entered the post having been cadet command sergeant major last year, and admits that she had built up a tough reputation because in that post it was her role to enforce NUCC standards and support what her battalion commander envisioned.
“Some people were afraid that’s how I would be as regimental commander,” Steen said, “but once I was creating the vision, and telling other people to implement it, I could be a little different in my demeanor.”
Heading up the corps while also trying to have a normal college social life requires some delicate balancing. “Just because I’m regimental commander, I am not better than my friends when I’m hanging out with them,” Steen said.
That is also important because putting aside her rank allows people to be more willing to express their views on what is going on in the corps in a constructive way – a way that the regimental commander may not always see.
“Being able to still be casual friends with some people in a professional way is beneficial for me in my position as a whole,” Steen said.
There appears to be a consensus among cadets that Steen has been very approachable and reasonable. For her part, while she has been able to maintain friendships as the regimental commander, decision-making can still be very daunting.
“There’s no one, cadet-wise, telling you what to do” Steen said, “It’s a little scary because everyone looks to you for the right answer.”
Although no cadets were available to provide direction to Steen, Norwich University Commandant of Cadets Russell Holden was a helpful advisor.
“It’s not that I go into Col. Holden’s office and he tells me the decision I should make, but rather he provides me a lot of points of view on decisions,” Steen said.
When you’re at the highest point in the chain of command, trusting subordinates is still crucial, according to Steen.
“I am the top of the chain of command, but I try not to make so I give out all the orders,” Steen said, “I don’t want to take authority away from others. I intentionally want to leave decisions to battalion commanders,” Steen said.
Trusting subordinates by not dictating all of their actions can create a much more fluid leadership model in the corps, she said.
“I don’t want take away leadership from others. I’ll say this needs to be done, but not how, because they might think of ways I never would have thought of for getting things done,” Steen said.
In addition to trusting her subordinates, it’s also very important to communicate with them on decisions, according to Steen,
“When making decisions you have to make the best decision for the people you supervise, not what’s popular,” she said. That is one of the lessons she has learned. “Not everyone in the corps has the knowledge that is used to make a decision; any decision you make, some people will be happy with it, while others will not,” Steen said.
Steen said one of the hard truths of her post is that there is not much preparation that can be done to get ready for the job. No training course is provided for the regimental commander and the job requires you to learn on the job, according to Steen.
However, a good grounding in the corps and how it works is important, she said: The best preparation for regimental commander is doing basic cadet duties starting from freshmen year during rookdom. Her past experience as cadet sergeant major also helped prepare her for the role.
During Steen’s time as the regimental commander, the corps of cadets has undergone a number of changes, such as the introduction of technical standards to rookdom, the focus on sexual harassment prevention, leadership development programs, and improving remedial physical training, according to Steen.
“I wanted to focus on making the corps run the way the corps is supposed to run, without making major changes,” Steen said.
Steen inherited some problems from previous years, such as toleration of poor cadet conduct and conflicts that arose due to different rules and procedures on the ceremony of “class recognition” for rooks.
Those issues of the culture in the corps are not something that can be fixed in one year, but require a period of time. “There’s only so much you can fit into a year,” Steen said, “Mostly what I wanted to do, I’ve done.”
Being the regimental commander affects one’s personal life and can make things difficult because of all the things you have to juggle. As regimental commander, Steen had to manage both the responsibilities of the regimental commander as well as being a full time honors student. She said delegating can relieve pressure.
“Delegate, delegate, delegate, or you’ll go crazy,” Steen said.
Among the many responsibilities for the cadet colonel include managing standards, training, events, and discipline for the whole the corps as well as acting as a public figure during certain school occasions.
“There are going to be days with situations you couldn’t even make up, that you wouldn’t even think about reading in a book because they’re so absurd,” Steen said.
Steen describes herself as more hands off that some commanders, trusting subordinates and later verifying, while past regimental commanders have had more involved leadership styles. Each regimental commander brings a different focus for each year.
“I don’t think I’m better or worse than previous regimental commanders” Steen said. “I think I just have a different leadership style than them.”
Before making decisions, Steen noted it’s important to reflect on past experience as a sophomore or junior, and being affected by previous regimental commander’s decisions. She said she must consider how decisions will affect freshmen, sophomore, and juniors.
As an Army ROTC cadet, Steen will be commissioning as a second lieutenant in May, branching into the medical service corps. While her experience as regimental commander has put her in situations that may not occur in the Army, other experiences mirror what she expects to face and will help guide her in future situations.
“Being put it a situation where you have to make a decision about something you know is going to affect people’s lives will help to give me the confidence to make those decisions once I’m a platoon leader,” Steen said.
Steen advises that all cadets put effort into corps activities in order to truly benefit from them.
“We all chose to all be in the corps and the people who benefit from the corps are those who put in to the corps,” Steen said, “If you never put any effort into finding the good things in the corps, you’re going to be the person who graduates who looks back on the corps as a negative thing.”
As she looks ahead to graduation, she is ready to look at her tenure. “I don’t know (how people will remember me), but I hope people will remember that I was pretty fair with the decisions I made and I hope people don’t remember me specifically, and I also hope that this was a year people where people learned things, had enjoyable experiences in the corps. I hope it’s not me they remember specifically, but rather that this year was a year that was beneficial to them.”

Comments

  1. Gary L. Heinmiller says:

    Greetings,

    I did not graduate from Norwich [Engineering wasn’t my thing . . . by a long shot] but I did finish at S.U. as a Distinguished Military Graduate and Commander of the Counterinsurgency Platoon [thanks to my Norwich training . . . thank you].
    I like to peek in on the Corps on the webcams from time to time though . . .
    Today, as I have on other occasions, some Cadets were doing their “Tour” [been there , , , done that].
    It would seem that having to do a tour is not the best thing in the world, but as I watch them there does not seem to be any Esprit de Corps asked of them by their ‘leaders,’ They do not keep in step or their shoulders back. Their eyes wander . . . like they’re just out for a stroll.
    Guess things have changed a bit, but people can see ’em on the web cam and it doesn’t send quite the message of Military Bearing, or that the Cadets doing the Tours are getting the message of why they’re there.
    [Yep . . . I was on the Drill Team . . . oh well . . .]

    All the Best to the Corps,

    Gary L. Heinmiller – ’65
    Liverpool, New York

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