By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs
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FORT LEE, Va. – If you’ve never traveled in the world of an aide de camp, maybe you have heard it is like being “a glorified gopher,” – as many describe it – a job full of fetching things and running errands.
Whatever you think of it – the position once held by such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton and George S. Patton – there are the indisputable facts: It is physically demanding, stressful and time consuming. It also is an enriching experience Soldiers are hard-pressed to gain anywhere as junior officers.
At least that’s the perspective of Capt. Brittany L.B. Truesdale. The 28-year-old is still breathing a semi-sigh of relief after recently completing a one-year tour here as the aide for Brig. Gen. Michel Russell Sr., the former Chief of Transportation.
“Your time is not your own when you’re in this position,” said the native North Carolinian. “You’re so focused (on the mission) that whenever it’s over, you’re like ‘What do I need to do to take what I’ve learned and actually put it into action?’”
For Truesdale, putting what she learned into action means supporting others in their military careers.
“While I did learn a lot of things, there are those who didn’t have the opportunity to do this job and who need to know things” said the transporter who is now an Army Logistics University student. “I’m taking the things I’ve learned and sharing it because these are things that help support the priorities of the Army Chief of Staff.”
Truesdale’s journey as an aide-de-camp did not start with her looking to become one; rather, the job found her. She started her career in 2012 as a platoon leader in the 7th Sustainment Brigade at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. After returning in 2014 from a three-month tour in Afghanistan as an executive officer, her battalion commander urged her to consider an aide position, and she soon found she was one of a few officers nominated to serve under Russell. Truesdale interviewed with the general and was later selected.
The position of aide has its roots in the armies of Europe, where highly qualified officers acted as confidants to generals and admirals. In that capacity, they also were conveyors of orders and directives. Hamilton’s duties with Gen. George Washington were similar.
In today’s Army, aides are normally junior officers who act as personal assistants. The higher the general officer rank and position, the higher the rank of the aide (first lieutenants are assigned to brigadier generals, captains are assigned to major generals, etc.) As personal assistants, aides primarily plan and coordinate schedules, but it is a duty that has many tentacles that twist and overlap into protocol activities, editing and preparing correspondence, email management, speechwriting, and other tasks.
“I was constantly gathering information for security clearances and checking flights among other tasks,” said Truesdale. “You are constantly on the phone and constantly multi-tasking.”
In other words, there are defined duties, but there are many jobs and tasks that do not neatly fall into a specific category, said Truesdale. Repairing a computer on the fly, building PowerPoint slides and preparing uniforms are a few that arise from time to time.
Additionally, unique talents and abilities can be a huge bonus in the aide’s conduct of his or her duties and responsibilities. A good aide, for example, is a master of anticipation, armed with several backup plans when the smallest task to the largest mission do not go as planned.
“You’re constantly prepared for anything,” said Truesdale. “So, if you’re on a TDY trip, and he says, ‘Oh, what other units are here?’ You’ve got to have that knowledge. You’ve got to be spun up on what the story is. You have to be kind of a mind-reader; you have to be seven, eight steps ahead of the game.”
Above all else, the aide acts as a sort of shield, protecting the GO from trivial matters so he can concentrate on more important ones.
“The fewer things they have to worry about, the better,” said Truesdale. “You stop stress at the door. If you’re in an airport and you’re standing near your boss and you get a phone call that might cause him concern, go off somewhere else and handle the problem. You fix it and you keep going.They never know there was a problem.”
In contrast to the required tasks, there are those that should not and cannot be done, said Truesdale, noting ethical standards and regulations.
“I cannot pay for anything or pick up his dry cleaning,” she said. “I can’t go out and get him coffee.”
With a wide variety of boxes to check and high expectations to boot, the level of relationship with the GO and a shared sense of duty are important to mission accomplishment, said Truesdale.
“It’s very important you and your boss get along, that you have some kind of connection,” she said.
Truesdale made it a point to note a “connection” is not a given and is largely dependent on the GO. To illustrate, she recalled her interview with Russell. He desired an aide with a high level of integrity. He also wanted an officer who was loyal but not someone bound to him because of who he was.
“You’ve got to understand he’s wearing stars and you’re usually a lieutenant, but you can’t be afraid to question something,” she said. “Rank cannot be an obstacle. You have to be a confidant. You’re his second pair of eyes and ears in the office when he’s there and when he’s not, so you can give him your honest opinion.”
In executing all that she did, Truesdale said her days easily averaged 12 or 13 hours. In addition, there were many sleepless nights, wake-ups at 1 a.m. because of schedule changes and periods of travel in which “I only saw my husband twice a month,” she said.
With so many duties and so much at stake, one might consider the wisdom of taking on such a responsibility. Other than the obvious – travel, choice follow-on assignments and networking opportunities – it is an easy answer for Truesdale, especially in retrospect.
“It was extremely valuable experience because I was hearing things other lieutenants would never hear until they were field grade officers,” she said. “It was common to be in a room with lieutenant colonels or colonels and generals and hear how they discuss issues and topics, how they want things presented to them and where they see the Army headed …I’ve seen the progress on a lot of things and the logic behind them. It’s almost like seeing movies made and getting the behind-the-scenes look at the GOs and how they’re making decisions.”
Among the highlights of her tenure, Truesdale said she witnessed the construct – from start to finish – of Russell’s strategic plan and felt the front seat she was given provided her with rare insight on how the Transportation Corps will operate in the future.
“I saw that he had a vision, and I saw how he made that vision happen,” she said. “To me, that was amazing because there are 64,000 Soldiers in the Transportation Corps. It was a huge learning experience and achievement for me not only to support it, but to support it successfully along with the staff. I had never seen anything like that on that level before.”
Now that Truesdale has the unique experiences under her belt, she is dead set on using it to benefit her peers, her Soldiers and herself.
“What I learned here, I feel, are good tools,” she said. “I’m maintaining the relationships I have with my peers and my subordinates, and I’m passing that information down because not everyone can be an aide de camp but everybody is entitled to knowledge.
“We can make the Army more successful by taking that knowledge and sharing to improve readiness,” she continued. “It’s important to me that when I retire or leave the Army, I want to leave it better than I found it.”