Post Platoon Leader Series: The Psychological Impact of the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant Working as One

pl and psg in afghanistan

This post is part of a series that attempts to add something to the “platoon leader advice” category beyond the typical “be good at everything at all times and you’ll be fine” variety. The intent is to provide more specific (and obscure) advice.

This might seem like common sense, but I’ve seen the opposite of it so often that I thought it worth sharing.

At just about every echelon of command, the Army pairs officers with a non-commissioned officer counterpart. It’s a brilliant system that favors the officer, because he or she is normally paired with a much more experienced non-commissioned officer. I’ve generally seen company command teams (CO and 1SG) and echelons above “get” how important it is for the command team to be on the same page.

At the platoon level, not so much.

When the platoon leader and the platoon sergeant act as one and are in agreement on how to run the platoon, the platoon responds. I have no evidence to back this up other than anecdotal, but there is a psychological effect of the senior non-commissioned officer and the platoon leader actually being in the same place at the same time and in agreement.

I know this to be true mostly because I have seen the effects of the inverse, as both an enlisted infantryman and as an officer. It is clear to everyone in the platoon when the platoon leader and platoon sergeant are not in agreement on an issue.

When this happens, Squad Leaders will tell their guys “Mommy and Daddy are fighting again.”

As an enlisted infantryman, I remember having a very strong platoon leader and a very strong platoon sergeant who both thought they knew exactly how to best run the platoon, and although they were both great infantrymen, their approaches were wildly different. This resulted in very vocal and very public fighting, which could get awkward in the platoon office in garrison or a patrol base in the field (or a hide site in Iraq).

As an officer, I saw other platoon leaders who were adamant that it was “their” platoon and made that point known a little too often to their platoon sergeants. As an aside, I’ve always been of the mind that it’s not the platoon leader’s platoon; he or she just signs the hand receipt.

Before my platoon sergeant and I ever did anything in front of the platoon, we’d talk privately to make sure we were in agreement on what we wanted to do or communicate. Once we understood each other, we’d get out there and do it.

As a piece of advice to new or would-be platoon leaders, I would suggest building a strong relationship with your platoon sergeant, establish the same goals, and to the greatest degree possible, never disagree with one another in front of the platoon.

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What it’s like when a new Platoon Leader meets his Platoon Sergeant in combat

When I saw this scene, I immediately thought it looked like a new platoon leader meeting his platoon sergeant. Especially in a dire situation, like combat. It is one of the strangest arrangements we have – a young, fresh soldier is placed in charge of a few dozen men, many of whom are older and more experienced.

The tit for tat exchange in the beginning of the scene is similar to what will happen over time in a new platoon leader’s experience. Members of the platoon will test the leader by pushing the limits of what can be said in his presence, the other members of the platoon (in this case, the boat) looking on, waiting for the reaction.

Later in the scene, Theon meets his First Mate – which is really more akin to the platoon sergeant in this case. The bald guy in the beginning is more like the super-aggressive squad leader. The First Mate welcomes Theon, and says “They’re not going to respect you until you prove yourself.”

Here’s the text of the first scene above:

Theon: You’re the crew of the Sea Bitch? I’m your commander. Welcome.



Your captain commands you to stop!


Rymolf: Where are we headed, captain?

Theon: The Stony Shore. To raid their villages. There’ll be spoils in it for you, and women, if you do your jobs well.

Rymolf: And who decides if we’ve done our jobs well?

Theon: I do. Your captain.

Rymolf: I have been reaving(?) and raping, since before you left Thelon’s balls. Don’t reckon I’ve got much use for ideas on how to do it. Don’t reckon I’ve got much use for a captain at all. I’m thinking I can do the job of captain real well myself. All I need is the ship. You don’t know where I can find myself a ship, would ye?

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