Best Way to Avoid being a lousy "Butter Bar" 2nd LT after ROTC & SA??


New Member
Jul 20, 2018
Does anyone have any good advice on how to best prepare in Army ROTC to become a decent Infantry Platoon Officer and to avoid bad "butter bar" lieutenant mistakes?? What are some common mistakes that newly commissioned 2nd lieutenants make after completing ROTC and Service Academies? Would it be highly advised for an aspiring or near incoming Army Platoon Officer to read Army Field Manuals such as "FM 3-0: Army Operations, FM 3-25.26: Map Reading and Land Navigation, FM 3-21.75: The Warrior Ethos and Soldier Combat Skills, FM 3-21.8: The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, FM 3-21.10: The Infantry Rifle Company" and more to prepare thoroughly?

Or is experience the best teacher and new 2nd Lieutenants just have to really learn from their NCO's?

Are there any specific ways an AROTC or West Point cadet can prepare themselves AHEAD of Time to become a great Infantry Platoon Officer, what additional topics should they study or skills to master that aren't usually taught to them in their training initially??
Learning to control the impulse part of your brain.
Listening to understand, rather than listening to refute or respond.
Paying attention to what your NCOs are telling you.
Getting rid of pre-conceived notions.
Being willing to ask for help.
0-1s are expected to make mistakes, many of them, but learn from them.
Never, ever thinking you are better in some way than your enlisted troops. You may have more education (but there are many senior enlisted with advanced degrees), but it’s a two-way street built on respect for their can-do skills and your officer oversight. Hubris has been the downfall of many an officer, both junior and senior.

It won’t hurt to read anything by current and former leaders. You will learn leadership by first learning to follow well and then through experience.

As to reading....Anything by ADM James Stavridis. The papers on stoicism by VADM James Stockdale. GEN Colin Powell, “It Worked for Me.” GEN Mattis’ reading list(s) - just google it.
Last edited:
You can't top the comments of @Capt MJ or @USMCGrunt
Always listen to your Sgts. That doesn't necessarily mean do what they tell you, but take their input into account. You will rely on them day in and day out. Don't piss them off.
Don't walk in the Goat Locker. It doesn't matter that you can knock and be allowed in.
They steer clear of the blue tile, and you stay out of their Goat Locker.

During the underway watch, the OOD decided to test a Chief Petty Officer's seamanship:

"Chief, what would you do if the forward watch fell off the side of the ship?"

"Easy, sir, I'd call 'Man Overboard' and follow the Man Overboard procedures."

"What would you do if an officer fell overboard?"

"Hmmm, The Chief said, Which one, sir?"
Don't think that you are going to learn it all by the time you graduate. You still have to go to BOLC which is where you will learn these things.
Be firm but fair
90% of communication is listening.
Advocate for your troops and take care of them.
Make sure they have the tools and training necessary to accomplish the task.
Do not let anyone screw with your troops,
Always have their backs and they will always have yours. Loyalty is a two way street.
Remember, respect of the rank is implied and expected.... respect of the officer is to be earned.
Good luck.
· To avoid potential EEO allegations, when addressing subordinates your criticisms should only be about their work performance, nothing personal.
· Remember to always praise in public, criticize in private.
· Do not allow bullies to take over by allowing them to have the group ostracize a member for their differences/opinions. Your inaction to address it will be seen as approval of the bad behavior. Sooner or later it will become an issue to the CO & you don’t want to be that officer who keeps saying, “This is the first I've heard about it.”
· Know what’s going on (interpersonal relationships) with your subordinates 2 levels below you (US Army War College lecture
I am not an officer, but I was enlisted and have a child who is considering applying.
The worst junior officers I served under had the attitude of “after all that school I finally get to lead.” The best junior officers had the attitude of a student. Think of your first year as an officer as an internship - eyes and ears open.

Btw: my grandfather was a master chief. When I enlisted, he gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received.
When an officer gives you an order, say yes sir/ma’am. Then go ask the chief for “clarification” and learn how the job is actually supposed to be done.
Last edited:
Btw: my grandfather was a master chief. When I enlisted, he gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received.
When an officer gives you a command, say yes sir/ma’am. Then go ask the chief for “clarification” and learn how the job is actually supposed to be done.

The smart brand new JO, if they were unsure, would run their idea by the Chief first. This way if the sailor went back to the Chief, you knew he had your back. Can't tell you how many times the Chief made me look good as a new JO, loved that man.
The thing about Chiefs or probably any senior NCO for that matter is that we actually want junior officers to succeed. We would rather develop a great officer who may or may not become a great senior officer to lead later down the road. Would rather follow a good officer into harm's way than one who didn't develop the skills in the early years. Makes us and them look bad if they don't get it. Additionally, it's way easier to work with someone to accomplish the mission if we're all on the same page. Don't misunderstand though, if a junior officer comes aboard with an attitude the senior NCO as well as the enlisted ranks and the officer corps has the ability to either make or break carreers and in quick order in some cases. It's like that insurance commercial in a way.......We cover a lot because we've seen a lot. [emoji3]
What a great thread. Son is scheduled to commission NROTC next spring. I shared a link to this thread with him, and suggested he bookmark this, and read through it periodically. Captain MJ, BTCS/USN, truly appreciate your well thought out responses.
So many excellent answers!

My father and grandfather were officers...they always spoke so highly of their NCO's...I almost never heard of an officer's achievements, but I can't tell you how many times I heard "Oh...Master Sergeant XXXX" or "Oh you should see this young talented...I'm blessed to have that type talent to work with."

And that was always their other comment that resonated with me: " work WITH."

I learned early on...the grade/rank tells me nothing of the person. I've worked with and for some senior officers that were not worth...well, you get the idea. I've also been blessed to work with some of the most amazing NCO's and officers. Two of the best became my mentors: and AF E-9 and an 0-6 that retired an 0-10. The chief was someone I could always go to for advice. And as a young lieutenant and then captain, I did that often. He never was too busy and always listened. He had a way of telling me I was doing okay, or screwing up but doing it in such a way that it really felt like I'd figured it out myself. I remember asking "Chief" one day, if it was true he had a PhD? He said yes, it was. I asked why he wasn't an officer? He looked at me, kinda sadly, and then said "LT...I could become an officer and I think I'd be a good one. But then...would I be able to mentor and influence as many young airmen as I do now as a Wing Chief?"

I remember sitting for a moment as that sank in...and then how he sorta smiled as he saw the "clue light" appear in my eyes.

And the best officer I worked for; he later retired as a 4-star. I worked for him as his exec when he was a group commander. He would work you to death; expect your very best, always be available for consult, but that was it...he expected YOU to do the work. He had me do a presentation for him one was a nasty beast; covered our combat efficiency in Desert Storm, other aspects of the operations we performed, etc. I had four days to do it; and I turned it in to him on Thursday, he simply said "thank you Captain, that'll be all."

The next day as I was briefing a student crew, I was called to his office: "come right now" said his secretary. I ran over and knocked on the door. It was opened and he led me in and closed the door. He then turned me around and said: "Sir, gentlemen, this is Captain Steve...he did all that fine staff work you just reviewed; I thought he could answer any questions you might have." And then he excused himself. The audience? The 15th Air Force Commander (3-star) and his staff of 1-stars and colonels. He NEVER took credit for other peoples work.

Read, read, and read more!! "Lorenz on Leadership" articles are on the web, Puryear's "American Generalship" and "19 Stars" are good; a bit dated, but the information is solid.

Learn from those examples you see: good and bad, and you'll do fine!!