Week 5 – BELPS (Part 2 of 2)
Basic Expeditionary Leadership Problems (BELPS)
The final main event of Week 5 was BELPS. BELPS was another leadership training scenario outlined in the syllabus. Here is the info from our syllabus:
Objective: Apply concepts of leadership, followership, problem solving methods, communication, team building, and motivation techniques in a small group under time constraints. Cadets will also assess their role in the group and how they react to group dynamics. Each cadet will have an opportunity to lead a team in a problem solving session and therefore flight size may impact scheduled hours.
Description: The BELPS evaluation is a problem solving, scenario-based exercise designed to evaluate the cadet’s leadership in a field environment. This evaluation is the first opportunity for the cadet to receive feedback regarding strengths/weaknesses in the area of field leadership and is designed to provide the cadet with a ‘benchmark’ regarding areas of improvement.
As for the practical description of the above, our Flt/CC tasked our FDO to make a schedule of all Flight personnel which rotated us as leader, time keeper, observers, and participants. The leader was in charge of the participants, the observers were safeties for the scenarios and also helped enforce the rules, and the time keeper held the stop watch and enforced the time penalties. At the beginning of each scenario the leader was handed a card with a problem to solve. An example of a problem was to move from one marker to another on the grass by using directions for navigation by compass. Some limiting factors could have been to not make noise or members not being able to see. Although the objective is to complete the scenario, it is more important to effectively lead your time through the objective. The grading sheet only awarded one point for mission success but the rest of the points were on different aspects of leadership.
We completed BELPS out in a field on base about a 10 minute bus ride from the campus. Since everyone was required to be the leader BELPS stretched over two days. At the beginning of the day we headed to the field first thing in the morning and we rotated through all of the different scenarios. Our Flt/CC was our grader for every scenario which I really appreciated. A scenario would involve organizing in the unofficial BELPS/LRC/Project X formation which identified basic spots for everyone to stand. We would be given the pre-brief and at the horn we would start the scenario. After the scenario the leader would receive a debrief and a score from the grading form, and we would all reset for the next scenario. The score was unofficial for BELPS but it gave us a good idea of what we needed to do for our official score the following week for Leadership Reaction Course (LRC). The scoring method is exactly the same.
Practically Applying the OODA Loop
- Observe – Something that really helped me with BELPS and LRC (Leadership Readiness Course/Week 6) was practically applying the OODA loop in my head. The OODA loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. When you are waiting for your scenario card you have no idea what to expect. When thrown into a scenario I can become a jumpy person and I can blindly charge forward without properly assessing my surroundings. To prevent me from doing this I would Observe by stopping and literally reading the card to myself. I have a hard time comprehending what I read out-loud under pressure so reading it to myself really helped me. I would then give my group a brief summary of our mission, objectives, and LIMFACs (limiting factors). I would then direct my team to Observe our surroundings and take inventory of anything we were given for the scenario.
- Orient – During the Orient stage I oriented my team and resources into how we fit into the scenario and how we could most efficiently and effectively accomplish the mission. I brainstormed with my team about how we could apply the resources we were given to accomplishing our mission. I asked my team for general strengths and weaknesses for different tasks which may come up during the scenario. I transitioned into the Decide stage by re-stating our mission and asking my team for inputs or recommendations on how we proceed.
- Decide – Once I received all of the inputs I had to force myself to make a decision. I used all of the information given to me thus far to decide on a basic plan. I tried to establish smaller objectives such as getting to the first rally point in X minutes or moving injured personnel by Y minutes. Don’t be afraid to make a decision even if you have no idea what to do. Use your best judgement and make the call with confidence.
- Act – It is finally time to act. Now that you have walked your through the previous three steps the Act stage will feel much smoother. Take note that Act isn’t necessarily the final stage in your scenario. At different times you may be given new information or challenges so you may have to start the process over again. The main thing is to be confident in your decisions and make sure you are leading your team in a forward direction. Your forward direction may be as simple as stopping and reassessing your plan to make sure you are on track.
LIMFACs (Limiting Factors)
- Time is a big factor because you will always be fighting the clock, but don’t let this stress you out. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. If you fail to plan you will either not efficiently execute at the beginning which will consume time or you will receive penalties (which eat a ton of time). Conversely if you make a solid plan then reassess as necessary you will make more efficient use of time.
- Tactics – this one is hard because it is dependent on what your evaluator is looking for. Be smart with tactics. Always move with a sense of urgency but also consider your time constraints. Only low crawl if you have to because it eats a ton of time.
- Penalties – similar to Project X if you break a rule you will receive a penalty. Don’t get flustered. During the penalty reconsider if your original plan is working. Don’t just keep moving forward to eat more penalties and hope you will make it through.
- Bad leaders/bad participants – you know who they are. You guys are a team so help each other out however you can. If your leader is making a bad decision ask your leader, ‘sir I really think we should do it this way because xyz, what do you think?’ Don’t disrespect your leader, but don’t let your leader drive you off a cliff. If your leader has no idea what to do, help them out. At the same time, for the participants everyone is good at something. Take advantage of your teams strengths.
Tips for Success
- It is absolutely essential that your entire team knows what is going on at all times. State your mission and LIMFACs clearly at the beginning of the scenario and make sure everyone understands their role. This is a very easy way to show the grader that you are keeping control of the situation.
- You will be required to delegate throughout the scenario. Get creative with your delegations but be sure you are holding people accountable. Designate a time hack to help you keep track of how much time you have left in the scenario. If you have to move an object from point A to point B designate a person to make sure it is moved safely (even if it is the person who is carrying the object). Designate a person to establish security of your team and keep your team safe while moving.
- Talk to yourself to clearly tell the evaluator what you are doing. For example I would say “Cadet Smith, I am delegating you the authority of security. It will be your job to make sure we are all facing outward and moving tactically, do you understand?” This makes sure you get credit for all of the things you are doing by pointing out your actions to the evaluator.
- Maintain control of your team. If you delegate your authority make sure you are checking in with them on how well they are accomplishing their role. If your team is doing what you don’t want them to do yet tell them to stop then clearly define what you want them to do to reassert your authority. If someone is giving you inputs but you don’t need them anymore politely tell them you have considered all variables and at this time you believe you need to just start moving forward.
- If you are moving along and your plan is being executed just like you planned, tell your team their execution is flawless. If your compass guy is always right on point tell him he is doing a great job with the compass. Don’t just randomly tell your team they are doing a great job because that is considered cheer leading.
- Participants – Don’t play dumb. Just because your leader is in charge doesn’t mean you are a nobody. Don’t make decisions, but say ‘hey leader I think this may work.’ At first my flight thought we had to play dumb and it made the leaders job impossible because he or she both didn’t know what to do and couldn’t use the talents of his or her team. This one is really important.
- Get flustered but don’t show it. Everyone will be flustered, but you will be expected not to show it. You must look confident at all times. If you get flustered you will lose credibility in the eyes of your team.
Application to Reality
I found these exercises to have extremely valuable application to the real world. It doesn’t matter what you are in charge of, the lessons I learned and re-stated above can apply to anything. Leading people in the real world involves having confidence in yourself, knowing your mission, and knowing what resources (including people) you have at your disposal. It involves holding your people accountable if they are not complying with your directions. Throughout OTS continuously consider how you can apply lessons learned during the course to life after OTS.