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« on: January 18, 2016, 11:09:01 PM »

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Dance? I'll show you a dance! Fall in for drill!

by Bob Haase

Let's talk about fun activities. I hear a lot of people from different units talking about how we need more "fun" activities because morale is low. They say we need more pizza parties, canoeing outings, and dances. Well, I guess I'm old school, because when someone mentions a dance, I immediately think, "I'll show you a dance, fall in for drill!"

I'm not saying that CAP shouldn't be fun, and I'm not saying those activities don't have their place. It's just that there is so much that CAP has to offer (that no one else can) that we don't need to do all that kid stuff. We should reserve those kinds of activities as a rare reward for when a major goal is accomplished. Cadets don't join to go dancing, eat pizza, or go swimming. They can do those things anywhere. Cadets join to do cadet type things. In my experience, trying to keep cadets in the program by doing things that have nothing to do with the program actually increases the chances of your cadets leaving in the long run.

So why is morale low and what can we do about it? In most units, and I've been in quite a few in the last 23 years, the source of low morale can be identified rather quickly. Many years ago, a group of cadets (including me) decided to look at units that we felt were successful, and tried to identify what elements they all had in common. The result is what we called the GLADE method. GLADE stands for Goals, Leadership, Activity, Discipline, and Esprit de Corps. We found that no matter what kind of unit it was, if it was successful (good retention, active meetings, good reputation around the wing), then it met these 5 criteria.

What was really exciting was that when we applied this test to our units, we were able to quickly identify where we were going wrong. This led to fixes that snowballed into better and better performance. I'd like to describe for you the five criteria and how you can apply them to your unit.


Without clearly defined, measurable goals, your unit will lack direction and the ability to be successful. It is actually pretty easy to figure out if your goals are helping or hurting morale. Just ask yourself and your cadets "What are the goals of the unit?" If a unit has low morale, then more often than not, your cadets will either not be able to identify any squadron goals, or they will say things like "increasing promotions", "have a lot of cadets at encampment" or "improve inspections".

In my opinion, and to be quite blunt, none of those are suitable goals for a squadron. Promotions are a personal thing. The unit should encourage attending encampment, but since cadets do not act as a unit when they get there, it isn't a good team based goal. Improving inspections is really an element leader's goal, or maybe the flight sergeant's. None of these goals is particularly motivating or inspiring.

Squadron goals need to be centered on the things cadets join CAP to do. Nobody joins so they can get promoted or so they can pass inspection. They join to fly, or do ES, or learn about the military.

Goals can be very different from unit to unit. Some units spend all their time doing aerospace. Their goal may be to hold at least 6 fly days a year, hold ground school at the meetings, and maybe even create a "flightline" team that would specialize in maintaining and marshaling aircraft during missions. A unit that was into emergency services would have goals like providing ES training at the meetings so cadets become qualified as early as possible, creating ground teams that go on missions, and holding at least 6 bivouacs a year. A military oriented squadron might have goals like winning cadet competition, increasing the unit's average PT score, and hosting at least 4 weekend activities centered on leadership per year (i.e. leadership schools, basic training weekends, drill instructor schools, cadet officer schools, etc...).

The other aspect of a good goal is that it must require the efforts of the entire unit. Everyone must be involved in accomplishing the goal. Now there are all kinds of goals that are mandated by National or Wing HQ. Those are the ones like getting promoted, attending encampment, etc... Those are important things, but they should be seen as things that will help the unit accomplish its goals, not the goals themselves.

Finally, don't try to please everyone by adapting your goals to everyone's desires. If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. It is usually better for the cadet commander to decide what he or she feels passionate about, and then go in that direction. The main onus for accomplishing the goal falls on the leader, so if the goal reflects their passions, they will be more motivated to see it carried out. Most cadets will go along as long as the goal is achievable, cadet related and they feel progress is being made. The ones who aren't team players can always go join scouts or maybe start a garage band.


This is where the cadet staff comes in. The leader makes sure that the other four elements are happening. In other words, the leader makes sure that the team is actively pursuing goals in a disciplined manner so that Esprit de Corps can increase. If you are a cadet leader just ask yourself:

* Am I providing clearly defined goals to my subordinates? Does everyone understand what our goals are, and am I telling them how the task we have just done is contributing to achieving our goal? Am I showing the cadets our progress towards our goal?

* Am I keeping my cadets busy with productive work that gets us closer to our goal. Am I keeping every single cadet active and involved with the team's work?

* Am I enforcing discipline as well as displaying self-discipline?

* Am I making sure that everyone is included so that everyone will feel the Esprit de Corps that is developing now that we are accomplishing our goals? Do I actively promote the idea that our unit is special and the best at what it does?

There is a lot more I could say about leadership, but since that would fill entire books, I think I will just say that a unit reflects the cadet commander. If you have a do-nothing cadet commander, then you normally have a do-nothing cadet corps. If you are actively leading your troops and not acting like you are lord of the manner, the squadron will normally do what you need them to do. In other words, if you take care of them, they'll take care of you.


Notice that this says activity and not activities. While activities outside the weekly meeting are very important (in fact, required for promotion), what we are talking about here is the cadet corps being active when they are at any CAP function. There is an old adage that a busy cadet is a happy cadet. The average cadet would be happier digging a latrine than just standing around doing nothing. Intuitively this seems incorrect, but in reality this is very true (just think about ex-cadet commanders who end up "cadet advisors". They have nothing to do and are usually bored and frustrated). The key here is that the activity needs to be productive (meaning leading toward a goal that the team can be proud of), disciplined (because discipline ensures success), and led by someone who is known for taking care of their subordinates.

At your squadron meeting, a cadet should be busy from the second they arrive till the second they get into their car to go home. The cadet staff should arrive early so that they are ready to go when the airmen arrive. If cadets are there before opening formation, then they should be inspected and quizzed by their element leader in a friendly manner. This will improve inspections and increase the element's esprit.

As a cadet commander, I never scheduled breaks in my meeting. If we needed a break we would take it, but we packed our schedule with classes, activities, and drill so that the cadets never got the opportunity to be bored. Scheduling a break just insures that you will lose any momentum built up to that point. We always ended out meetings with Monkey Drill. I think cadets today call it O'Grady or Knock Out. We would schedule 10 minutes for this little drill competition right before closing formation. If our other activities ran long or short, Monkey Drill gave us the flexibility to ensure that the meeting was active up to the last minute without going over the normal time. Monkey drill was also fun (the staff would go after the more disciplined airmen and try to make them smile), so it always ended the night on a good note. If the meeting is filled with paperwork or a boring class, you don't want that to be the last thing the cadets do before they leave. They should leave thinking "What a great meeting!"


Being a paramilitary organization, you would think that CAP people would understand discipline better. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is control. When a cadet first joins CAP, enforced discipline is very important because they need to learn how to be a cadet very quickly and because they have expectations about what a military organization will be like. Most expect to be barked at by a drill sergeant the first few weeks or even months. For a short time, they will take the yelling and most will thrive on it. However, after a maximum of 2 months, yelling will lose any utility and will be counter-productive. Even when enforcing discipline, forcefulness and not meanness is the goal.

We need to create self discipline in our cadets. After they have been in for two months, they need to be able to control themselves. Developing self-discipline in others is simple, but not easy. Everyone has heard the adage "Leadership by Example". Personally I think that telling someone to lead by example is pointless. You lead by example whether your example is good or bad. A better term would be "Leadership by the RIGHT Example".

Every once in while, leaders need to take a look in the mirror (both figuratively and literally). Are you being the cadet that you want your subordinates to be? Is your appearance what you expect from your cadets? Some cadet officers and sergeants think that they have the right to live like pigs while they require their subordinates to keep their personal areas inspection-ready. I've seen cadet officers eat McDonalds in front of airmen who had to eat cold pancakes and sticky oatmeal. Nothing breaks down discipline faster than unfairness and arrogance.

As I said above, creating a disciplined unit is simple, but not easy. It requires the cadet leaders to act in an impeccable manner. It means the cadet leader is the last to go to sleep, the last to get out of the rain, the last to eat, and the first to get up in the morning. To paraphrase "Dunks Almanac", if you have a cadet without a jacket, and you are wearing one, you aren't much of a leader. That cadet is certainly not going to make the effort to stay disciplined for a leader or organization that doesn't care about him or her.

A good rule of thumb is that the only privilege of command is command itself.

Esprit de Corps

Esprit de corps is an extremely important factor in morale. It isn't important that your unit be the best in the organization, it is only important that your people feel it is successful. It is not enough to just say it is, you need to show HOW it is. That means accomplishing goals as a disciplined team under the leadership of the cadet leaders.

At Drummond Island Ranger School in 1982, morale was in a hole so deep the Chinese were using it for a soccer ball. Most of us knew that this would be the last year the school would exist, and we were totally depressed. I was a 16-year-old team leader, and my team had pulled "Latrine re-digging" duty. Instead of whining and complaining about getting the "crap" job, I turned the situation around to help my unit. We didn't just dig a hole. We set out to build the Taj Mahal of human waste disposal. We dug it twice as deep as needed, we built walls around it, and we even found materials to make a comfortable seat and hand rails. After building this monstrosity, we formed up, put our tools to right shoulder arms, and marched back to the main camp whistling the tune from the "Bridge on the River Kwai" (that's an old 1950's movie about WWII that has some great leadership lessons in it).

While other teams were falling apart, ours was proud of a job well done even if it WAS just a latrine. My team was able to actively accomplish a goal in a disciplined manner under my leadership. Morale was restored. The cadet commander (who probably thought he was pushing me around when giving my team the assignment) was very surprised when I came in and thanked him for the job.


An important thing to remember when dealing with low morale is that intuition isn't always a good guide. It doesn't make sense that cadets would rather do manual labor than sit around and goof off, but they do. It doesn't seem to make sense that a 10 mile road march with full packs performed by the entire unit in a disciplined manner under the leadership of a cadet officer will do more to raise morale than a party, but it does. The reason that it does is that high morale is not the same thing as having a good time. High morale is about feeling good and being proud about what you are doing. I think this confusion over the meaning of morale is the main reason that units with low morale tend to stay that way.

GLADE has helped me evaluate many units over the years. Most of the time, units go on struggling with low morale because no one knows where to start. GLADE might give you the clues that you need to identify the weaknesses in your unit and then you can go about the task of correcting them.
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CAP Talk  |  Cadet Programs  |  Cadet Programs Management & Activities  |  Topic: Best article on cadet programs & activities

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