SETAF-AF DCG discusses leadership, work-life balance



By Meredith March SETAF-Africa Public Affairs Vicenza, Italy Jun 30, 2021
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Brig. Gen. Aida T. Borras is the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa deputy commanding general, from the Army Reserve component. She recently represented the command in Djibouti and Tunisia at engagements with African partners.  She also served as the exercise director for African Lion 2021 in Morocco. 

As she prepares for additional events scheduled to take place on the African continent in coming months, Borras agreed to participate in a question and answer session to discuss her role as the SETAF-AF deputy commanding general.

Q1. What are your responsibilities as the DCG?

My role here is really to expand the CG’s reach in all things. He can’t be everywhere at every time, so where he deems appropriate, and in cases where the CG has empowered me to act on his behalf, I will ensure that as a command, completely and openly, we’re doing the right thing. 

Q2. How will your Reserve background and experience assist you in this position?

Folks always ask how will your Reserve background and experience assist you in this position, but it’s more about the total force. Yes, we have three components within the Army, but it’s when we work together that we are really the best of the best, at our peak in all things. So, as a Reserve officer on active duty now on behalf of SETAF-AF, really it’s helping the team understand how they can leverage the Army Reserve to meet any mission to which they’ve been assigned and to increase their capability and capacity. Those are really the key things. That’s the part that I bring to the table: understanding the Army Reserve, understanding how we allocate units in support of missions worldwide — the nuts and bolts of bringing a reserve Soldier on active duty for an exercise or for an operational support mission. 

Q3. What is your first impression working with SETAF-AF and our African partners?

This is my first time working in Africa. I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity, all of the things I’m going to learn, and all the people that I’m going to meet both within the SETAF-AF and U.S. Army Garrison Italy community and our African partners. 

I’ve made friends in most parts of the world, and I will now get to add friends from Africa.  How cool is that?  

Q4. What does leadership mean to you?

We have Soldiers who come into the service and they are trying to find their way. Their confidence is not quite there. It won’t be for a bit to come. So, I try to be inclusive in all things. I don’t walk into a room automatically believing that everyone thinks like I think. It’s my responsibility to help their development as a Soldier and encourage the innovation we need today to perform our roles.

In all things, but especially as you get higher in rank, it is about servant leadership – serving your community. It’s important to know what that means because it takes a while to get there. At the end of every day, I ask myself, what did I do for the Army today? What did I do for SETAF-AF today? I take a full accounting of what I did for the team. What did I do to make people’s lives better, not just the lives of the Soldiers, but also the entire community? How can I be better tomorrow? Always going that next step.

It doesn’t have to be the general officer who leads. A private can lead. The situation determines the leader. Whether it’s a private in a community of like rank, where that Soldier takes on the responsibility to lead the group and make sure we’re doing the right thing at the right level – that’s a leader.

I’m also always willing to learn from others as much as I hope to impart knowledge to enable learning. It’s important to understand leadership at every level.  It helps us ensure we can continue to mature that leadership by applying the right lessons at the right time to help Soldiers at each level grow into the military leaders we want them to be. In my approach, it’s very symbiotic; as much as I impart leadership by the things that I do and the engagements that I have, I also try to take from every engagement, no matter the engagement, how someone has exercised their level of leadership at that point. It’s when we stop to listen that we gain the insights that we need. Every situation is different, so the situation will dictate what works. I’m always very open about listening to the challenges that are faced at every level to ensure that I have a really good understanding of how I can, where appropriate, intercede, to be able to reach a positive outcome, not just for the command, but also for each and every Soldier.

Q5: How has your personal life and career informed your leadership style?

I’m married and have five children, and I’m very close with my family. Even though we’re all over the world right now, we stay very connected. It’s that individual family space that really helps me be a better leader. Like others in the military, we are a family who serves. My husband and our oldest son are Soldiers for life. But the interesting thing to remember is that as much as I am a Soldier, I’m also a spouse. So, I enjoy connecting with our family member community. It’s important because when an individual joins the service, that entire family joins the service as well. I recognize my family’s commitment to support me as a Soldier. I never take that for granted. I make it a point to recognize military children, to recognize military spouses, because they make us the Soldiers that we are, more effective. They serve as our safe haven. They’re who we go to for support as much as we do with each and every one of the Soldiers and peers that we come in contact with.

That’s a big part of how I lead. It’s more than from a Soldier perspective; it’s from a whole person perspective.  

My family always keeps me grounded. I honor their commitment to me and our country by paying it forward in everything I do.  

Q6: You emphasize the importance of creating a strong work-life balance. Would you share an example of how you do that in your own life?

In our house, we have the master calendar. Throughout my time in service, especially after having children, it is important that my family understands that they are as important as my calling to serve.

I try to accomplish that by giving them some control with the family calendar. From a very early age, the kids were able to put items on the calendar that became sacrosanct for me. The kids get to tell me, and I get to learn from them, what’s important to them, what requires my presence. That helps me shape the conversation with my leadership and with my Soldiers. If I tell (Soldiers) they need to develop work-life balance, I have to be able to model that too.

The family items are as important as any item on my work calendar. If it’s important enough for them to put it on the calendar, then I’m going to do my best to make that event. I never want to miss that one thing that, for them, makes the entire relationship. I owe that to my family and I owe that conversation with my boss. I don’t expect my boss to know that. So, as much as I use that calendar for my family, I also use it to help my boss understand some of the things that are pulling on my time. And if the mission requires my presence at that moment in time, then it helps to shape the conversation with my family.    

You want to talk about innovation? You want to talk about modernization? Ask a military child to figure out how to tie their military parent into an event and they will amaze you. It’s that type of relationship that helps me balance work and life. That helps me be a better wife, mother and Soldier – and be successful at all of them. Am I perfect? Nope.  Does it always work out? Not a chance, but I’ve at least set the conditions to try to be successful.

Q7. How has the Army made you who you are?

It’s not how the Army has made me who I am, but how the Army helped to shape the leader and individual I am today. Looking at the arc of my career, I’ve learned, experienced and seen the world through an amazing lens. The Army provided an incredible opportunity to a young girl from the South Bronx borough of New York that she could never have imagined. I’ve traveled the world, gained an amazing family, made lasting friendships along the way, and represented my country and its principles of freedom. Thankfully, that story is not unique to me. The Army enables that storyline to every single recruit who utters the oath of enlistment or office.  

Q8. What advice would you give a young Soldier?

I tell all young Soldiers, from private to second lieutenant, three things:

I talk about finances. I encourage everyone to learn how to manage their finances, whether they want to make the Army a career or not, so that at their decision point, they are financially sound to give themselves choices. It really helps to give a step forward.

The second thing I talk about is education. Education ranges all things: civilian, military, personal, spiritual — all those things that make one a total person. You open yourself up to greater opportunities when you adopt a lifelong learning posture. It helps you mature as a person and provides the expertise you need to gain experience. It also helps you think critically about each situation to enable better decision making. Education enables a better you.

Finally, I talk about finding time to invest in themselves. Everyone looks up to someone as the leader they aspire to be. It can be a parent or parents, a spiritual leader, or an industry or military leader. Well, that person didn’t get there by magic. They invested in themselves in order to reach that goal. They worked hard to get to that position or place. That’s really important and can’t be put off until tomorrow. Time management is central to all of that. The seesaw has to be balanced, or something gives. Too often it’s the personal life that ends up paying the price for the military life. Learn to manage time so you can find balance and sustain both parts of your life.

You have to be prepared to meet every gate head on. Is it going to be difficult? Yes. But at the end of it, you are going to be that much further.

Think about a professional athlete. They invest in their ability in order to perform at the peak of their game. As Soldiers, what do each of us bring as individuals to the team?   How do we invest in ourselves to ensure we bring the best of the best to the Army team? Never forget that we train, prepare and sustain our readiness to be the pro-athlete representing America. It’s that level of commitment, to yourself and to the team, that is going to win the day.  

Q9. Do you have any additional advice for SETAF-AF Soldiers?

Say hello when you see me. It’s more than just the salute. If I ask how you are doing, I want to know and I will stop. We can’t say we’re a team and then act individually in all things.

The Army empowers us to action. We give you the tools, we give you the training, and we bring you in as part of the team. It simply takes you and me to make a difference.

There’s a time and a place for the roles that we have in our lives, and you have to be very good about understanding when those times are and rising to those individual occasions. What better way to prove personal capability than to assign yourself a task and then accomplish it? Then, continue to accomplish tasks throughout your career as your assignments call you to go to those kinds of positions and to lead. It’s important to set intentional goals to accomplish tasks, not just because you can, but also because you’re trained, you’re ready, and you have a mission to perform in order to be successful.

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