Monday, November 15, 2010

Why don't we remember?

That is always a good question. Why don't we invest monetary and intellectual capital in those things we know are critical to success? Why don't we start off with those things that we know were needed last time? Is there a difference between knowing things and learning things?

Is this a human or institutional problem - or a little of both?

Join me over at USNIBlog for my latest post there. I'm pondering and need some help.


ewok40k said...

It's the easy way to forget. Plus its usually cheaper until someone starts shooting.
Russians forgot the lessons of Berlin 1945 and Budapest 1956 to relearn them at Grozny.
No military seems to be immune.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Yes, there is a massive difference between knowing things and learning things.  The difference between tacit and overt knowledge. 

As our combat experiences fade, post WWII, post-Korea, post-Vietnam, and will post-Iraq and AFG, the institutional and personal experiences, and the second-nature tacit knowledge that borders on the intuitive, leaves the service with the veterans of those wars. With it goes a good many of the little but important tricks and innovations that good battlefield soldiers learn and pass on to others.  And with it goes a visceral understanding of what to do and how to do it, and an appreciation of what is truly important and what is ancillary.

Part of that needs to be replaced with difficult, realistic, intensive training.  Demanding of excellence in both tactical and technical proficiency.  Too often, it is during peacetime when the leaders at all levels who embrace and embody their craft and the warrior ethos (there's that phrase again) are moved aside in favor of the smoother, more politically astute, more polished Officers and SNCOs.  Mistakes of aggressiveness are punished at times more severely than those of omission or incompetence, because they risk bringing unfavorable attention upon the senior leaders who understand how to get ahead in the peacetime game.

'Twas ever thus, however, which explains why so many Colonels, Generals, Captains, and Admirals fall by the wayside in the first months of high-intensity combat. 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

<span>It is incumbent upon the senior leadership to be visionary and unyielding in the drive to cultivate and reward tactical and technical excellence.  Unfortunately, the converse is often true, as participation in Diversity Directorates, Key Spouse Committees, sexual harrassment and sensitivity seminars, and the other drains on time, proficiency, resources, and warrior spirit become the measure of "good" units and leaders. Good leaders must resist the pressure for such relatively meaningless metrics, and maintain a command environment that encourages and rewards aggressive and challenging training.</span>

<span>Case in point:  In an armory inspection on Okinawa in 1996, my battery had "excessive" CLP on the M240Gs in our cage.  The Bn Armorer reported it to the Old Man, who, instead of chewing my ass, asked me when the last time we fired them had been.  When I told him we had fired them earlier in the week, as we had a twice-monthly MG shoot to train our crew-served weapons teams, he was surprised and pleased.  When he found out that we had fired most of the annual Bn allocation of 7.62 link because nobody else in the Bn had fired a single round in the FY, he was not so pleased.  The Bn requested more 7.62 linked from Regt, and soon, other batteries were out there with us.  I appreciated his reaction to the "excessive" CLP, and why it was there.  I also let him know that it was the initiative of my Officers and particularly my SNCOs who made that training happen.  Not coincidentally, the SgtMaj of that fine battalion, 3rd Bn 12th Marines, was Carlton W. Kent.

DeltaBravo said...

Watching them erode something that was valuable and functioning well.  Will it have to be a wheel that takes three times the effort to reinvent down the road?  Lack of vision, lack of caring, whatever....

It takes less energy to keep a plane in the air than to land/crash it and then get it back up again... just sayin....

The Usual Suspect said...

You hit the nail on the head:
" Too often, it is during peacetime when the leaders at all levels who embrace and embody their craft and the warrior ethos (there's that phrase again) are moved aside in favor of the smoother, more politically astute, more polished Officers and SNCOs."
It has all to do with the 2, 4, and 6 year cycles and the number one goal of politicians...getting re-elected and nothing to do with the un-sexy (to some), unglamorous, repetitive training to do a job that is essential to the survival of the Republic.  As with the political cycles, there are those whose goal is that first star, then the next and the next.

xformed said...

One thing that has happened, but I suspect more from the old tiemrs volunteering, than a formal request from inside DoD to get it going, was I heard some WWII infnatry guys were teaching our earlier warriors in Iraq lessons they leanred crossing Eurpoe.  Break window glass out, so when you huddle down for a few moments of rest, the broken glass becomes a warning systems for you.

I bumped into friends of CAPT Fred Olds, USN (Ret), by being sent a speech he did at a Riverine Warfare course graduation.  Got his permission to post it about 6 months back.  He and other Brown Water Sailors of the SE Asian unpleantries, stepped in and were training our belatedly stood up neo-River Rats.

Still, it's like I tell people about what I do:  So much of it is "in here," and even if I was to try and train you, much of it is second nature, and unless you commit to an apprentice like follow me around, I'll most likely miss a few things I've "knowN' by extensive interaction.

And then again:  History says (saw it on the History Channel!) just about all of the "rules" of the Bushido Code were crafted when the Samuris had long since seen any combat, as it was their forefathers, now departed who did it.  Garrison "make work" generated a belief system that sent many to their death for a albeit warrior utiopian vision of behavior on the battle field...and got a nation nuked.

Talk about applying the "historical parallels" in a very conter-productive manner, eh?

74 (William Powell) said...

Amen, Brotheer Sal.  Mere redundancy is for optimists!  I get nervous if I don't have at least three ways to do anything.

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Grandpa Bluewater said...

The Tench class had 3 ways to do damn near everything. Normal, emergency/auxiliary, and hand. They all worked and as late as 1971, in that class and followons designed shortly thereafter (sometimes built more than a little thereafter) exercised watch to watch.

The result of recent and ongoing wartime experience when designed and built, of course.

Grandpa Bluewater said...

The Navy has some cultural problems that contribute to the problem.

It doesn't value or reward knowlege of its own or others practical deckplate history (lessons learned). The institutional memory has a half life of about 24 months. Just a few examples:

It doesn't archive, preserve or organize the records and artifacts of its own history. Everything saved is catch as catch can.  Where are the copies of Flucky's, Burke's, or Gallery's standing orders/night orders?  Where are the detailed drawings of ship's by class for reference, and to aid in understanding battle damage reports.

Investigations, when archived, are not easily available, nor are after action reports. We are great at keeping secrets from ourselves and our successors by classifying them to avoid giving away tactical advantages over enemy forces defeated and dismantled decades ago.  Nor do we collect, disseminate and cull best practice based on tactical experience.

Great operators are not encouraged to read the old books. We honor our heroes, but outside of Top Gun, we don't encourage them to come back to the fleet to motivate and advise the young petty officers and JO's very much.  My best friend's son, back from Iraq, told his Dad the memoirs of WWII combat soldiers and the the interviews seen on the History Channel (?) were profitably mined by the corporals and buck sergeants for techniques applicable to house to house and urban tactics.

There are some great blockheads out there.  The Captain who doesn't try to get the War College slot to a good subordinate because all it did for him was to help him understand what he read in the newpaper, or the helo pilot sent there who thought it a waste of time, because his job was to land and take off from small decks at night and bad weather.

The hierarchy of (and within) designators and the "my designator and subspecialty code are the apex of evolution" error. Combine this with a good long shortage of funds and end strength and you get carriers with nothing but fighters, CG's and DDG's in long production runs and ASW types in the reserve fleet and not under preservation, insufficient frigates for any reasonable escort of convoy of critical industrial raw materials, or amphibs, or much beside carrier battle groups, the recurring death and resusitation of mine warfare capabilty and a pervasive lack of military manned fleet auxiliaries.

And finally, a perverse love of damn fool fads, instead of good engineering and maintenence practice, daily realistic drills, adequate manning and excellent training.

And finally, staff and flag bloat. 

ewok40k said...

The great unification of Japan under Tokugawa was conducted using Musketmen who shot charging Samurai to pieces. Once total power was assumed by shogunate, there was great arms hunt to keep peasants unarmed and not entertaining any weird ideas. Oh and there was crackdown on Christianity to keep Europeans from taking a foothold.