Sweat the Small Stuff

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There is a book by the name Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – and it’s all Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. Is a book that shows you how to keep from letting the little things in life drive you crazy (more of this review). The author explains how readers can better interact with colleagues, clients, and bosses while minimizing stress and bringing out the best in themselves and others. In this article I am not advocating sweating the small details that this book discusses and bringing an unmanageable stress level into your life. On the contrary, “Sweat the Small Stuff” in this case means, “pay attention to details as you progress through your training.”

The picture at right is of me training a firing party at Spangdahlem Air Base while I was attached to the Base Honor Guard there as an AP3 member. You will notice that we have a Belgian civilian and a Belgian Army Warrant Officer (American E-8 equivalent) joining us for this training session and even though all of the Airmen there were fully trained, they still practiced the basics. No one moved to the next step without us all mastering the previous step. We all paid attention to the minute details because that was our job: to flawlessly render military honors. We had the added honor/responsibility to render those honors in northern Germany and France and also in Luxembourg, Belgium and Netherlands.

I recently came across a YouTube video of a high school JROTC team’s first performance after most likely a week of training. While I would never expect a team to be perfect or anywhere close to that, this team’s performance lacked many of the basics that should’ve been taught to them. The students are doing the best with what they have to work with and what they have been given and I commend them on that. But, they are already behind since they all really need to go back to the very beginning and master the fundamentals, as I’ve said.

I have to hand it to them they had an exhibition routine that was within the time limits. However, many of the cadets did not display on knowledge of the fundamentals of drill. Fundamentals like:

  • Standing Manual* (attention, facing movements, center of balance, etc.)
  • Unarmed Marching Manual* (foot alignment, proper body carriage, arm swing, etc.)
  • Plus much more

*Terms I use in educating and training.

Watching the video was a sad testament to what might be called the “gotta-have-it-now” mindset that seems to be prevalent today. When a team trains, everyone on that team must master the fundamentals before moving on to learn more advanced concepts. Throwing a routine together in a short amount of time will only look like you’ve thrown a routine together in a short amount of time. You have to have a plan and that plan needs a strong foundation or you may not achieve the goal as expected.

The American military is built on, among other things, the principle of trainees mastering “the small stuff” before moving on to the “big stuff.” If a trainee cannot be trusted to fold their underwear in a 6 in. square, for example, how can that trainee be trusted to take care of an aircraft when lives depend on it?

Lives do not hang in the balance in the military drill world and I do not want you to think that I am trying to link the two, I’m just making a comparison: master the basic step and then proceed to the next step. Master that step and proceed and so on.

Pay attention to what you are doing as a team and don’t leave someone behind who needs some extra help. Anyone needing extra help needs some one-on-one time to help him/her progress and keep up with the rest of the team.

If you are the one training, please make sure you do not gloss over any of your training program (I hope you have one written down): train others to take your place. If you are a subject matter expert then train others to be subject matter experts.

Now, so sweat the small stuff.

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