Mentoring, Mission Command, and the Value of the Officers’ Mess – Increasing the ‘Speed of Trust’

Dining Out Night in the Kokoda Barracks Sergeants Mess, in 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Warrant Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy)

This blog reflects on the important role of the Army Officers’ Mess in the author’s early regimental service.

Traditions of the Army Mess

A quick online search will inform the inquisitive officer that the military tradition of the Mess started with the British, in or around 1740; with the Officers’ Mess. Soon after, Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes were established. Messes provide an opportunity for military professionals to gather and socialize, on a more-equal footing. Young officers have direct access to the Brigade Commander and Commanding Officer, and other senior regimental and formation officers. Vis-à-vis, junior sergeants have direct access to their Regimental Sergeant Major and other senior soldiers of their unit or formation, and vice versa.

Personal Experiences, Opportunities, and Our Future Aiming Mark

As a junior officer from the late 1990s in Army’s 1st Brigade, I was fortunate to serve under several fine commanding officers and brigade commanders. All these officers knew me personally. My association with two of the four brigade commanders at this time was solely through our engagement in the Robertson Barracks Officers’ Mess. Which as a ‘subbie‘, mind you, was not always a good thing …

Within such an environment, the astute observer could only conclude that for the young officer, the Officers’ Mess was a happy hunting ground for some ‘free mentoring’, life skilling and training.

Indeed, the price of mentoring was simply to summon the courage to utter the words ‘Good afternoon Sir / Ma’am, my name is Michael Scott. I am a subbie in 2nd Cavalry Regiment / 1st Armoured Regiment. Would you like an iced-Vovo / cucumber sandwich? … Or can I get you another drink?’–whether alcoholic or not. Upon return, a conversation generally followed.

Indeed, as a young officer, I was encouraged (the language back then of course was more forceful and direct) to introduce myself to every Commanding Officer in the Mess, to the formation Chief of Staff, the Brigade Major, the Divisional Quartermaster, and the Brigade Intelligence Officer—every senior officer within the formation. That is, the junior officer was encouraged (directed) to undertake the simple courtesy of initiating and extending an introduction through conversation from junior to superior. And given that Mess life was compulsory, not to mention fun, the alert junior officer could quickly map the complex human terrain of the Mess and know who every sub-Unit commander in the formation was by name.

This understanding of commanders across the entire formation became important when the Brigade deployed to the field during the training year. Over the Regimental or Formation Combat Net Radio, a callsign was a person known to other commanders. This familiarity within the formation facilitated combined arms teaming and battlegrouping–particularly if the mission called for hasty re-tasking and/or regrouping of platoons, troops or sub-units from one Battlegroup to another; or to the Brigade Commander as a Reserve Force.

Officers of the formation knew of each other, each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and our likely reactions to certain circumstances. Messes supported the application of manoeuvre, and the employment of mission command. Messes delivered and deliver an important capability outcome to Army.

Officers learned from each other; through successes and through errors. Messes formed, and form, the basis of a regimental military education for professional soldiers, which we must never lose sight of.

To paraphrase Covey, there was and is a realised ‘Speed of Trust‘ within the unit or formation on account of the Army Mess. There is a tangible benefit to the profession of arms and a dividend to the generation of land force capability. To put a dollar figure on the value of this human network—that is underwritten by our Messes—would require a large number of 0’s. The Mess truly is far more than bricks and mortar. The Mess is far more than the Bar. The Army Officers’ and Sergeants’ Messes are an essential institution for the profession of arms. They must not be allowed to atrophy or be economically rationalized into the pages of history.

About the Author

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Scott is the Commanding Officer of the Warrant Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy, where professional military education opportunities are actively, and compulsorily, pursued in the Kokoda Barrack’s Officers, and Sergeants, Mess.