Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, FORSCOM's command sergeant major, survey the work of soldiers deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and assigned to the 458th Engineer Battalion at Camp Taji, Iraq, Nov. 16, 2017.

Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm

Across the military, service members and their families are working through the new normal brought about by COVID-19. Everyone is dealing with a fair amount of stress and we understand how important great leadership is right now. So, we reached out to the Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston (socially distanced, of course) to get his advice for leaders while we work through this pandemic.

He opened up his green notebook and provided the following insights.


1. Lead differently

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, senior enlisted leader for Army Forces Command, presents the FORSCOM Eagle Award during a ceremony Jan. 9, 2019.

Department of Defense

Leadership matters right now. This isn't harder than what is required of leaders in combat, but it is a very difficult time. In combat, you can physically bring everyone together. Now, how do you lead during this time of uncertainty? How do you get the information out? How do you make sure they stay the course? How do you make sure your soldiers are following orders –- which in some cases may be to stay at home and keep everyone healthy?

Everyone agrees that face-to-face leadership is the best and leaders can tell a lot about someone's emotional condition by looking them in the eyes. We still have to do it. Don't fall in the trap of relying on text messages to communicate. I recommend leaders develop a communications PACE plan. Make video chats your primary means of communication. If that isn't available, make a phone call so you can hear their voice. Finally, leaders can use text and email to keep the lines of communication open.

Remember, these are difficult times and leadership is what is going to make the difference for the people in your formation.

2. Get innovative

There are so many opportunities right now for leaders to get innovative with how they maintain readiness and keep their soldiers motivated.

For example, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a battalion conducted an individual 6-mile foot march competition. Everyone used either cell phone apps or GPS watches to track their progress and then posted their times online. The winner with the fastest time received an Army Achievement Medal.

Another unit in Poland conducted EIB training, but included hand-washing and social distancing enforcement during the event.

At the Department of Army level, we are looking for ways to maintain readiness. We started running the Basic Army Leader Course via distance learning. I expect the same of our leaders down at the unit level -- look for innovative ways to accomplish the mission.

3. Stay ready

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston visited the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Jan. 15.

Department of Defense

We all have a responsibility to maintain our fitness and stay focused on personal readiness during this period.

We also have a responsibility and a great opportunity to focus on the operational readiness rate of our equipment so that when we come back to train, our vehicles and weapons are ready to go. Leaders can take advantage of this pause in training to bring mechanics and crews in to bring equipment up to 10/20 standard.

4. Stay informed

Besides company-level leadership keeping soldiers and their families informed, there are also plenty of opportunities to stay up-to-date on the latest news by Department of the Army and Garrison Commands.

I know that unit-level leaders are doing weekly virtual town halls, most garrisons are doing them several times a week and we have done a few at the Army level. Don't rely on hearsay to get your information; tune-in and stay informed with facts.

5. Set goals

Treat this period like a deployment. We not only want to survive it, we also want to thrive in it. A great way to do this is to set personal and professional goals.

Gyms are closed and many of the conditions we had pre-coronavirus have changed. So, we need to reassess our goals. While we can't go to gyms, there are workouts we can do in our living rooms to stay fit. Look for opportunities; there might be online courses or credentialing classes that you can take advantage of to achieve professional goals.

I recommend everyone try to figure out some kind of routine to work toward your goals. Don't wake up everyday and muddle through it -- keep moving forward.

A Proud SMA

At the end of our interview, SMA Grinston shared how proud he was of our Army's efforts to #KilltheVirus; from researching a vaccine to preventative measures and treatment efforts. He also applauded the efforts of our National Guard and Reserve forces who are bearing a large burden of the response efforts across the country.