By MAJ Mary Jo Abney
“TLAs are just overpaid babysitters.”
YES! This is an actual phrase that has been said. As an NMMI Alumna (JC 01’), this was a surprise to hear and honestly, offensive. I take that comment personal, not because I am a TLA myself, but because the impact my TLAs had on my life as a cadet. With this common comment lingering the campus, there is a complete misperception of what the Troop Leadership Advisor (TLA) does and the impact the Commandant of Cadets and his staff has on the cadets’ lives.
The perception of TLAs being overpaid babysitters absolutely downplays the work the Commandant’s Staff do on a regular basis. While it may be fun to poke and play about what a TLA is, I would like to challenge the question, does the rest of NMMI know exactly what the Commandant’s staff actually do?
As our Dean of Students, Brigadier General Murray (USAF, Ret) states, NMMI is a leadership institution. The moment the cadets step on campus, they are stepping into a leadership internship. When discussing the NMMI Strategic Plan, there is an emphasis on the Leadership Learning Model. This Venn diagram equally distributes the importance of incorporating Training, Academics, and Health & Physical Education.
For the Leadership Learning Model, Training falls under the direct responsibility of the Commandant of the Cadets. TLAs teach, coach, and mentor multiple aspects of leadership skill, character, and discipline. While I can discuss for hours how TLAs make an impact on cadets as future leaders, I will use one simple example to debunk the perception that TLAs are overpaid babysitters: Room Inspections.
Something as miniscule as Room Inspection Standards is actually a training tool that encompasses all three components of skill, character, and discipline. Daily room inspections are more than just making sure cadets are picking up after themselves and not leaving crumbs for little Roswell critters. Think of Mr. Miyagi when he first trained Daniel LaRusso in the art of Karate. Daniel spent many difficult hours waxing Mr. Miyagi’s cars, painting his house and fence, and sanding the patio floor. While Daniel thought he was being taken advantage of, the wise old Sensei was teaching humility, discipline, respect, and defensive fighting skills. Like Mr. Miyagi, TLAs enforce room standards to instill similar values of individual pride, hard work, discipline, and self-respect.
A presentable room is the reflection of a future professional. As Admiral William McRaven stated at the 2014 University of Texas at Austin Commencement Ceremony, having an inspection ready bed at SEAL Training “was a simple task – mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection.” The point to the graduating class of Longhorns was the fact that the detailed tasks to fixing a prestigious looking bed every morning “reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right”.
At NMMI, the standards go as far as squaring underwear at 5.5 x 4 inches aligned at the inner front corner of the closet dresser. This is an example of what taking a few minutes to perfectly align a stack of fabric can do to the overall presentation of an entire room. That, which is a representation of the cadet and how much that cadet is willing to learn, uphold standards, and lead by example. It is also a testimony to character and pride towards presenting quality work.
The discipline of maintaining inspection ready rooms represent a fundamental building block of leadership skill, namely attention to detail and presenting quality work. Like Mr. Miyagi’s hidden karate training or Admiral McRaven’s experience in SEAL training, the details outlined in NMMI’s room standards are an example of the leadership cadets may not realize they are learning on a daily basis. The attention to detail will benefit cadets’ ability to be thorough and concise while achieve accuracy when leading future teams. Like the defensive fighting test that Daniel LaRusso faced when he confronted Mr. Miyagi, cadets realize the standards they live up to at NMMI are life standards and expectations they uphold for the rest of their lives.
This small example is a huge representation of the life lessons that cadets learn in the Corps of Cadets. This is why TLAs are here and a small example of what TLAs do. They do what is in the best interest of their Troops and they are advocates for each of their cadets. They are the unspoken advisors, counselors, first responders, liaisons, and coaches of their everyday lives. There is a common phrase that leadership cannot be taught, but it can be learned. TLAs are the ready example of leadership. Cadets learn through their example and standards. TLAs are equipped with an armament of diverse leadership qualities that they passionately share and convey to the cadets. Speaking from first-hand experience as a cadet, it is easy to say that the TLAs are very special individuals who genuinely care and whose leadership embodies the spirit of NMMI. It certainly is an honor to join the ranks with MAJ Klingsmith, LTC Derrick and LTC McArthur who were TLAs during my cadet years. Most of all, it is a privileged honor to continue the legacy of MAJ Cortez and MAJ Shaw.
While this article barely touched on what a TLA really is, the intent is to shed light and defend the truth that TLAs are much more than what some may think. If a Troop Leadership Advisor at NMMI were to be justly defined, the description would include selfless, genuine, all encompassing, transformational leaders, and servant leaders. They are the Commandant’s team of professionals who instill the traditions and values that make NMMI a leader’s institution.
Major MaryJo Abney is the Echo Troop Leadership Advisor. She is a US Army Reserves Air & Missile Defense Officer and a student in Argosy University’s Organizational Leadership Doctoral program. Passionate about leadership development and the study thereof, she looks to utilize this column as an opportunity to share the ongoing leadership adventures at NMMI while continuing her own individual growth. Her husband, Major Patrick Abney, MBA (NMNG, Ret.) is a huge contributor to these articles.