Monday, September 19, 2011

From Ganjgal to Befehlstaktik

There are broader issues in the background story of the Battle of Ganjgal where SGT Dakota Meyer earned his Medal of Honor. What went on in the TOC, CPT Swenson and more. The details of that will come out over time, but there are a larger things at play here worth considering.

Mistakes will always take place in war even when you have the right people with the right orders conducting the right mission, and we always have to be careful to not do two things; don't twist the 3,000-mile screwdriver (if you have one), or in hindsight pick every action apart as if you would have unquestionably done something different if you were there.

Well, you weren't. You may have, you may have not. What can seem wrong in hindsight can, at the moment, seem very right. That is a simple fact.

Things bad will happen in war, bad mistakes of commission or omission will take place, but there are things you can do to mitigate it. That is what I find interesting, trying to identify those eternal things in the background, store them away, and hope that you might prosper from that knowlege in the future if you find yourself in a similar situation.

First - let's set the stage. The Battle of Ganjgal too place on 08 SEP 09. General Stan McChrystal just took over command of ISAF/US Forces Afghanistan earlier that summer and had released his report just a few weeks prior. Two weeks before that - he released his Direction & Guidance for Counterinsurgency to the forces in the field.

From the UNCLAS version of his D&G, here are some excerpts just so you know what was floating around in the ether.
Protecting the people is the mission. ... We will not win simply by killing insurgents. … we must change the way that we think, act, and operate … how we interact with people, how we drive or fly, how we patrol, how we use force … Security will not come from overwhelming firepower…A military force, culturally programmed to respond conventionally (and predictably) to insurgent attacks is akin to the bull that continually charges that matador's cape … an insurgency cannot be defeated by attrition; … The intricate familial, clan, and tribal connections of Afghan society turns "attrition math" on its head. From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: 10-2=8. From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance. If civilian casualties occurred, that number will be much higher. Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: 10 minus 2 equals 20 (or more) rather than 8. This is part of the reason why eight years of individually successful kinetic actions have resulted in more violence. The math works against an attrition mind-set. This is not to say that we should avoid a fight, but to win we need to do much more than simply kill or capture militants.

Second, conventional culinary action against insurgents consumes considerable resources with little real return and is likely to alienate the people we are trying to secure. Large scale operations to kill or capture militants carry a significant risk of causing civilian casualties and collateral damage. If civilians die in a firefight, it does not matter who shot them - we still failed to protect them from harm. Destroying a home or property jeopardizes the livelihood of an entire family - and creates more insurgents. We sow the seeds of our own demise.
... and so it goes for seven pages. Official investigations point in other directions than the above or the JUL09 Tactical Directive, but having been there eight months earlier under the previous tactical directive - at least my experience is that it is sewn in to everything you do - especially from the Staff level. I do not discount its impact at all.

As ISAF is/was a NATO operation - there was a constant background noise that American forces were killing too much; too quick to use indirect fire; too disruptive. The surge we started in late 08 was just getting heft and moving forward - and the US still had not fully taken back the keys from NATO.

At the exact time Ganjgal took place, the entire ISAF leadership was soaking in the reaction to the Kunduz airstrike and all the gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes that went with it.

Remember the context of the time.

New Commander. New focus. The new Commander put out his guidance - a slight modification of General McKiernan's "Shape Clear Hold Build" - and the forces in the field were in the process of digesting them. Read the D&G in full as linked to above, then read the various reports of the Battle of Ganjgal - and the disconnect is clear on what the theory was - and what the reality of the facts on the ground were.
The coalition forces were taking increasing fire and could observe women and children shuttling fresh ammunition to Taliban fighting positions.
When broad theories meet narrow facts - that is where cracks develop and gaps are created where lives fall in to.

The path from think-tank to General's Desk to Staff back to General's Desk to the field is one well worn. When it results in D&G/ROE you can rough out a general matrix to tell you what is going to happen at the element and unit level.

Many problems can be minimized in the profession of arms by following the basics of Vince Lombardi Leadership 101 - keep it simple, keep it short. If your D&G sounds like the executive summary to a PhD dissertation, you're doing it wrong. If you are writing for the parlors of Georgetown and the salons of Europe but are delivering to the Strategic Corporal, you're doing it wrong.

With that set, here is the rough cocktail-napkin matrix of the interplay between Operational D&G, Tactical Leadership in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center), and Unit Level Leadership in contact with the enemy.

Solid D&G : Right Tactical Leadership:
--- Unit Level Leaders have room to make decisions based on their judgement and the facts at hand. Short OODA loop as the unanticipated happens (as it always does).
--- Judgement is well demonstrated and reflected in execution.
--- Few questions coming up from down the chain, lots of information coming up from down the chain.
--- Core Principals reinforce decisions. Things happen as reasonably expected.

Solid D&G : Wrong Tactical Leadership:
--- Orders seem to need constant repeating. OODA Loop is just an Oooooooo.
--- Unit Level Leaders seem to want to be told what to do or ask questions that are easily answered with a quick reading of the D&G.
--- More questions coming up from down the chain, less information coming up from down the chain. Initiative discouraged; approval seeking encouraged.
--- Core Principals seem to be missing. Things happen that make so sense related to the orders given.

Difficult D&G : Right Tactical Leadership:
--- Potential problems at the unit level are identified and planned responses are prepared to mitigate impact. OODA Loop extended, but functioning.
--- Unit Level Leaders understand the "white space" gaps and are confident of their support by Tactical Leadership if in extremis.
--- Challenges made and requests for modifications/clarifications come up from down the chain; Tactical Leadership responds based on Core Principals. Communication between levels short, decisive.
--- Conflicting requirements are resolved quickly based on Core Principals, judgement, and character of leadership. Deviations are reported as needed after decisions are made.

Difficult D&G : Wrong Tactical Leadership:
--- Orders are seen from a bureaucratic vice military point of view. OODA loop is too long or non-existent. Making no decision is seen as decision making. "Observe" is replaced by "Comply."
--- Unit Level Leaders do not understand the "white space" gaps as they do not know they exist as Tactical Leadership has never thought out or wargamed the implications of higher D&G.
--- Tactical Leadership is self-focused, judgement is supplanted by reverence to specific words in D&G. A palatable sense of detachment, distance, leavened with complacency felt between different levels of leadership.
--- Core Principals are undefined. Judgement is out-sourced. Trust between Unit and Tactical Leadership is missing.

What are the "Core Principals?" Well, that is the question - isn't it? It can depend on the person and their position - but it really shouldn't. Another way to look at Core Principals is to look at what the default Decision Point should be? When all else is confusing - is there one question you keep in your back pocket for guidance that provides a "yes or no" answer that can guide you out of the fog? There should be. One would hope that in every leader's default Decision Point question there is one one shared by all:
- Do I trust my subordinate leaders in the field? If yes, give him what he needs.

That is not an easy question - but it is one that has to be founded in a mindset and a level of trust between leaders - with both commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Knowledge that we trust their judgement based on the fact we know they understand our mission, our commander's D&G, and the specific needs for those under their charge. They have the training and facilities to make the right call. That is the mindset - the result of selecting, training, promoting, and developing leaders that have earned the trust that enables a mindset build on that trust - it is self-reinforcing.

When that doesn't exist, you develop a bureaucratic, dare I say Soviet, mindset. You have no trust in others - only the orders you have from higher. You don't believe in judgement, only the judgement of those who wrote your orders. If there is "white space" then that needs to be filled from - you guessed it - from higher up the chain. You don't lead - you manage the orders given to you by others. You don't look for gaps, you ignore them. It is a mindset of fear.

Do we want officers or automatons? Our nation's history is full of officers who found themselves in situations where they could not "just follow orders" and had to use their training, education, and judgement ... and if that failed ... then their commanders would rely on their subordinates' .... character.

A commander who has trust and confidence in his leadership and subordinates' leadership intentionally writes D&G that has "white space" to give his leaders in the field running room. He knows that he has officers who, on balance, have the judgement, character, and understanding of the profession of arms to carry out what needs to be done for the mission at hand. Likewise, you must have officers on the receiving end that meet that expectation.

Even in the best of circumstances, that doesn't work out sometimes. When things do not work out the way they should in that chain of events from the Operational Level through the Tactical down to the Unit - you need to ask broader questions once you get past the, "He asked for X and they did not give it to him because of Y, and as a result Z happened." You have to ask if we have a system that promotes and encourages the right officers with the right mindset. A military gets the officers it recruits, trains, and promotes.

What are our criteria? What are our priorities? What do we reward? What do we punish? Remember, it is almost never the superficial characteristics of the individuals in the ranks, but the quality of their leadership that makes the difference.

Along those lines, let's pivot slightly to Tom Rick's post over at FP. In it he brings back someone we haven't visited with since 2007, Col. Paul Yingling, USA. You need to read it all - but here is the parts that are germane to our discussion.
Scipio's centurions didn't have 3.5 years of brigade staff time to learn their trade before fighting Hannibal. Sherman's cavalry troops were not made audacious by rigorous PME. Guderian's race to the English Channel was not preceded by a year of stability in ARFORGEN. Patton's tank companies were not the product of enlightened personnel policies. These officers succeed because they had the intelligence to see the battlefield clearly, and the courage to act on their convictions...

Claims that today's wars are somehow more complex than previous conflicts will draw belly laughs from historians. Is sectarian conflict in Iraq somehow more politically complex than Rome's civil wars? Does the rate of technological change in the last ten years in Afghanistan exceed that of the last two years of World War I? Even if we accept the dubious proposition that today's wars are unparalleled in complexity, successful brigade commanders have demonstrated that mission command works. Colonel Sean McFarland helped turn the tide in Anbar Province thanks in large part to the autonomy he granted to Captain Travis Patriquin. Colonel H.R. McMaster's success in Tall Afar was attributable to a command climate in which thinking was required and PowerPoint was not. Have new and unparalleled complexities transformed warfare since 2006?

... Thick orders and elaborate SOPs haven't eliminated costly, stupid mistakes. Consider two of the most heavily regulated activities on the modern battlefield -- air strikes and detainee operations. Air strikes have killed civilians and ground troops have abused detainees, even when the SOPs regulating these activities ran to several hundred pages. ... Leaders prone to crimes and blunders are not dissuaded by elaborate checklists or sternly worded prose.

Yet the production of highly prescriptive orders and SOPs, what Germans call Befehlstaktik, continues unabated; why? The primary purpose of detailed orders is not battlefield success, but rather the protection of field-grade and flag officer careers. In ten years of war, no Army general has relieved a fellow flag officer for battlefield failure. Why so many failures and so little accountability? When a small unit gets in trouble, senior commanders find cover in SOPs thick enough to stop an OER bullet. (I told the troops not to beat detainees; it's right here on page 11.) Rather than preventing battlefield failure, detailed planning often enables it. Senior officers can survive almost any debacle so long as there's a FRAGO and a captain between them and the problem.

Detailed planning can be useful in understanding problems, anticipating opportunities and risks and synchronizing activities. Prescriptive orders and SOPs have their place in performing routine mechanical tasks. However, these techniques are often counterproductive in the fog and friction of combat. Modern combat requires junior leaders capable of exercising judgment and initiative, and senior officers capable of fostering these qualities. It requires junior leaders capable of acting on commander's intent, and senior officers capable of clearly expressing their intent. It requires junior leaders capable of taking prudent risks, and senior officers willing to underwrite and reward risk-taking.
Sorry Tom and Paul for taking such a long pull-quote - but that is so full of win, I can't help myself.

After a decade of war - the Army still has a lot of work to do in order to refine its culture. That should give Navy a pause - we have not had anything close to the trial by fire experienced by the Marines and Army. We are thick with toxic cultural problems, unpurged by the unfudgeable truth of combat. I don't think we need to go through the list again. We haven't even started to clean house - and I would offer with the latest promotions at the highest levels, we aren't going to begin soon.

No institution, much less a military one, is perfect. With continual critical review though, it can get better - evolve - adapt. When critical review is squashed, diminished, mau-mau'd or aggressively punished, then over time a military will degrade, become ineffective, and then put the nation it serves at Strategic Risk.

The Army in the last decade has brought out some great critical thinkers; Nagl, McMaster, Yingling and others; some on active duty, some retired, some have just gone home. Through their efforts, the Army has improved - all that from an institution still seen by many as hide-bound.

Where is our Navy's Nagl, McMaster, Yingling and others? I can think of a few - some we hear from more than others - some we have featured here and on Midrats. Some of the best I know who are still on active duty only communicate via email or FB where they once had a much higher profile. Why? Simple - our Command Climate is worse than the Army's when it comes to dissent. We have had our exceptions when it comes to leaders willing to listen to criticism - Admirals Stavridis and Harvey come to mind .... but where are those coming behind them? Out front? No. Toiling away behind the scenes? Yes.

Why behind the scenes? Simple as described to me by them; fear. Well founded fear; but fear. Every time they stick their head out, they get professionally mau-mau'd to the point they pull their head back inside their shell. After all, they do have a family to feed and hope for future positions of influence; and honestly that is OK. I haven't been the greatest example of intellectual courage either - for the same reason.

Is it really the best path to improving our Navy, pushing our best thinkers in to the shadows? Classifying our INSURVs to hide only our shame from public view? Rewarding the parrots while punishing the eagles and Capitoline Geese?

While Nagl pulled a Salamander and punched out near the first exit - McMaster and Yingling are still on active duty. McMaster received much deserved top-cover to make BG and it is nice to see Yingling in a great O6 job in Garmisch-Paremkirchen.

They are still out front - giving as well as they can to make the service they love better - and by doing so - providing great service to their nation. Creative friction - the heat and sparks of future victory. BZ to them.

What does all this have to do with Ganjgal? Everything. It has to do with how we select, train, and reward leaders - and how those leaders then carry out their responsibilities. It is a larger story than Ganjgal and needs to be reviewed by leaders in all services, because we can all learn from it.

By study, perhaps in the future we will see more CDR Evans, and less Ganjgal TOC.


Salty Gator said...

Sal, great piece.  Going to use this for discussion in my Joint Maritime Operations class when we get to "ROE."  It appears that the only place for disagreement is the Naval War College.  Proceedings, Sailor Bob, even your page, have been thrown in "offenders" faces when their avatars have been exposed for true identities.  Sad.

At least the CMC is still willing to stand up for what he believes in.  hopefully you can post the open letter to SECDEF that he just sent out.  I'm certain that HQMC is bracing for shock from the counterbattery that is sure to follow...

Mike M. said...

It is, perhaps, worth pointing out that while the Navy is sacking COs at the O5/O6 level at a 2/month rate, there is not a proportionate relief rate at the Flag level. 

Roger Fortier said...

The almost right statements such as "Thick orders and elaborate SOPs haven't eliminated costly, stupid mistakes" are key. It is precisely because we rely on detailed orders and SOPs that we don't think in real time and context. This process focus is no match for the non-linear dynamics of a fluid battelfield. 

McMasters and Yingling offer valuable perspective, but they've not penetrated in the institutional army. Institutions rarely self-reform. It takes a personnel purge to change a culture; wholesale replacement of the old guard with younger, newer thinking officers.

In UFG 11 in Korea, command and control was a non-stop power point rodeo that funneled information up the chain where it bottlenecked and tied up commanders and staff in tactical trivia. It's hardly four star stuff to worry about how many tanks remain in a battalion or how many non-combatants processed through a facility.

There remains many general officers in the army who've rightly earned the appellation, "big squad leader."

Mike M. said...

I'll add something else...

There are two basic approaches to problem-solving.

One approach is process-based.  It relies on executing a prescribed process to produce the desired result.  This approach requires little independent thought, and is considered the safest approach.  The downside is that it assumes the process works.

The other approach is product-based.  it is totally focused on the result.  Process and policy are considered a starting point from which to deviate.  This approach is higher-risk, and requires considerable independent thought.  But it holds potential for great success.

A strong military organization needs both types of personalities.  Process-based thinkers are good staff officers.  They will make sure everybody gets the right orders, and the right supplies.  But process-based thinkers must not be allowed to command at the senior level.  Command demands a focus on product - on the objective.  And history has proven that this focus is essential to victory.  Every great commander has been willing to ditch doctrine to win - and the greatest commanders hunted out and honed subordinates with the nerve and judgement to do likewise.  It's why Nelson is held in such high esteem.

Our problem is that in peacetime, excellence in executing the process gets you promoted.  Product-based thinking gets you a reputation as a loose cannon.  It's a formula for disaster.

Mike M. said...

I think it was Patton who claimed that a general should know the locations of units two levels below his own...and give orders only to his immediate subordinate commanders.

Kristen said...

Wow, CDR.  What a great, thoughtful piece.  I especially like the parts about leadership and trust.  Thank you for posting this.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

I consider this the finest work you have done, in a body of excellent postings.  You have outlined perfectly the major and serious issues with our current senior military mindset.   
There are myriad complaints and less than flattering observations on several issues here by your porch regulars, that are indicators of this type of self-defeating CYA micromanaging that gets warriors killed, battles lost, trust in senior leadership destroyed, along with morale.   
Much too much to recount here, but we see the symptoms of this potentially-fatal disease in so many things our services and DoD does and says.   
Keep beating the drum.  Please.  Battlemindedness is critical, warfare has not changed, the warrior ethos is as important as it always has been.  Our belief that somehow all of this could change with the "end of history" is entirely our own folly.   
May the "leaders" who dictated, approved, and implemented these ill-advised, foolish, politically-motivated policies and procedures be damned to spend all eternity to be on the other end of the radio, pleading for fire support, only to have their own voices at the other end denying such support to them, while their comrades who helped perpetrate such ignorant stupidity are the ones bleeding and dying around them.   
But, as Sassoon observed, it seldom happens that way.   
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’<span> </span> </span>
<span>And when the war is done and youth stone dead,<span> </span> </span>
<span>I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.</span>

Grumpy Old Ham said...

Trying for the third time, something funky goin' on with comments...

<span>There remains many general officers in the army who've rightly earned the appellation, "big squad leader."</span>

In the Air Force, they're referred to as "four-star flight leads".

<span>It takes a personnel purge to change a culture; wholesale replacement of the old guard with younger, newer thinking officers.</span>

Spot on...or, to quote Max Planck via Thomas Kuhn:

"a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Grandpa Bluewater said...

Nailed it. BZ.

GBS said...

<span>"In ten years of war, no Army general has relieved a fellow flag officer for battlefield failure."</span>


DeltaBravo said...

When we're talking about white spaces, I'm a little curious looking at the time tables here... is there a "white space" kind of gap between the amount of time some GO/FO have spent in combat versus the subordinates on the ground with repeat tours for 10 years? 

DeltaBravo said...


steeljawscribe said...

<span>After a decade of war - the Army still has a lot of work to do in order to refine its culture. That should give Navy a pause - we have not had anything close to the trial by fire by as the Marines and Army. We are thick with toxic cultural problems, unpurged by the unfudgeable truth of combat. I don't think we need to go through the list again. We haven't even started to clean house - and I would offer with the latest promotions at the highest levels, we aren't going to begin soon.</span>

I would offer for Navy the last time for any sunstantial populace was the latter stages of the Vietnam War -- and for the portionof NAVAIR that pulled duty in SEA, especially those going downtown.  The sort of stuff that led to NFWS and netted aircraft like the Tomcat, Prowler, and TRAM version of the A-6E.  Post Desert Storm/Shield, I'd say less so on all accounts across the Service.
w/r, SJS
P.S.  As fine a piece of writing as I've seen crossing these portals lo these many years I've been reading your blog.  Well done indeed.

steeljawscribe said...

Should have been " "s around the first paragraph - something odd going on w/the comments section today...

Byron said...

I got an "Amen!" for that.

andrewdb said...

Further to your point about picking the right people, check out Mark Moyer's latest book, A Question of Command - he has great examples from the Civil War and the PI, as well as more recent wars.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Sometimes that "white space" is cavernous.  Sometimes it is non-existent.  Jim Mattis was in the first vehicle to ride through downtown Fallujah.  His convoy was ambushed and shot at countless times.  Marines killed and wounded within reach of him.  He understood combat. 

General Mattis would never have denied his troops (Army and Marine) in contact with the enemy the support they needed, nor would he (or his staff) have sat in Blue Diamond picking apart the on-the-spot decisions of combat leaders in contact with the enemy. 

When it came time in Ramadi and Fallujah to deal with the AQI/insurgency, Mattis had two words.  "Heavy kinetic".   And the aggressiveness, bravery, and skill, tempered by superior discipline and judgment, of the Soldiers and Marines in Al Anbar, set the table for the un-dreamt of successes there.

McChrystal's judgment in crafting such ideas that the accidental killing of civilians in a firefight is the equivalent to deliberately targeting them is akin to his decision to allow Rolling Stone into his CP.  McChrystal's solution was to get a bunch of US service men and their Afghan allies killed because of a lack of support.

Avidus . said...

As a former Army NCO in the Canadian Forces I have memories of NATO in Bosnia.  Before patrols soldiers would tape today's Rules of Engagement to the buts of their rifles.  That way when they started receiving fire they could cant the weapon to the side and see what they were able to do - that day.  All changed when General McKenzie arrived, stopped commanding - and started leading.

Suddenly heavy weapons began arriving even though IFOR was not allowed anything higher than a GMPG.  And demonstrations were given to the Serbs and Croats that we had all the good toys now and a leader that would let us use them.

I never went to command college but I went through a very tough Combat Leaders Course at the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle School and I remember some hard lessons about the differences between leading and commanding.  I'll suggest the US Army knows the difference at the company level and below, but is still struggling with such higher than that.  With noteable exceptions that need not be named of course.

Commanding is more about moving pins and covering ass - leading is about influencing human behaviour to accomplish the mission, closing with and destroying the enemy, whether with your rifle or your battalion.  But denying support to troops under fire, regardless of political or geostrategic reasoning is unconcionable and inexcusable.   If higher orders you to deny support to troops in contact because it might kill women and children who are actively supporting the enemy, and thus making themselves combatants, then it is an unlawful order and duty means it must be refused.   They should have been stripped of rank and flogged.

I applaud the Navy's ability to remove senior Officers, but I do wonder if the examples of poor leadership we see in the recent procurement decisions are indicitive of what we will see should a serious naval combatant be faced.  Let's hope not.

Bubba said...

See, men can read poets. 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Hey Bubba, you might wanna try just once not entering the room believing you are the smartest, and doing us the favor of casting pearls before the swine. 

Just once.

cdrsalamander said...

Bubba, URR - please stop here.  If you want to fight, please go over to the other thread.  Not on this one, please.

Byron said...

Phib, you should send this in to USNI for the next "Proceedings"... and yeah, it's that good.

sid said...

CDR, this may well end up being being your most influential post ever.

sid said...

oh yeah ....didn't see this until I emerged from an all day meet honched by a dyed in the wool Diversity type... Didn't take the time to read any of the comments below... So consider my poor contribution as an a priori validation....

Quartermaster said...

The Navy gets morons like Mullen, Roughead and Harvey, and diversity initiatives.

Kristen said...

URR, I totally agree with the last paragraph in your above comment.  You should hear my Army brother-in-law on the subject of McChrystal's ROE.  He was VERY happy when McChrystal was fired.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

First Sgt Bernard would definitely agree.  Why would nobody else see the folly?  Unless they didn't want to see it.   Which speaks to a much bigger problem among senior leadership.

Bistro said...

I have to confess, I enjoyed vtc watching when General Bell was USFK during these exercises. He was like a laser beam and his focus was always at the Army or Corps level except when it came to the essentials (logistics) where he would be happy to dial in and crucify the smoke blowers telling him that fuel at X wouldn't be a problem and he'd invite them to expand on that and give details.

At plans his naval counterpart was rather distracting though in his insistence on demanding to know just who would be delivering the mail. I suggested KBR but the COL had zero sense of humor which amused me no end.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, the greatest generation......

Naval_Historian said...

Honestly, a good starting point for the Sea Service would be a Mission Statement; a fundamental truth that all hands can agree on and that all tactical and strategic thought can proceed from. Accordingly, a suggestion from the past follows:

"The mission of the United States Navy is prompt and sustained combat operations at sea."

Benjamin Walthrop said...

Your post contains quite a bit of "win."  Unfortunately it leaves us with the seemingly intractable problem of designing a process the promotes the "right" individuals with the "right" characteristics that allow them to become great commanders and achieve the correct results.  That's a tough nut to crack, and I'd be interested in hearing your thinking along those lines. I suspect (but cannot prove) that the CIA Operations folks have some interesting data on this very issue.  They face a similar dilemma as well.  

Perhaps the best answer is to just muddle along and let time work things out, but that is a singularly unpleasant idea from my perspective given the high stakes nature of these endeavors. 

In the Ganjgal scenario, the points raised by CDR S. seem particularly relevant.  The results oriented folks were ultimately recognized, and the process oriented folks were sanctioned.  Interestingly, the lower level battalion TOC people stated specifically that the Tactical Directive did not shape their decision making, but I suspect that CDR S. and I agree that this is probably not the whole truth.  It's very hard to tell without the Classified portions of the Tactical Directive, but my gut feel is that the contemporary focus (at the time) on limiting civilian casualties (including infrastructure damage) had a role to play in the unfolding of the battle.  


Benjamin Walthrop said...

<span>Perhaps this could serve as well:</span>

<span>"The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas."</span>

Naval_Historian said...

The Mission Statement needs to be pithy; something the most junior Seaman/Airman/Fireman/Hospitalman/Constructionman can remember and rattle off with no thought. We've spent the last 30 years or so over-complicating things; brevity is the soul of wit.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

We could use General Bell's focus once again with USFK, bistro.  Without going into exercise details (you know why), the magic logistics fairies seem to lately deliver precisely what is needed to precisely where it needs to be, without explanation or computation.

We need General Bell's hard questions.

Grandpa Bluewater said...

"The mission of the Navy is continuous readiness for prompt, sustained, victorious, combat operations at and from the sea."

Now it's ready for prime time.

AFMike said...

Amen to that.  KR 11 was an..."interesting" experience in that regard.  The power point rodeo described above in UFG 11 was in full effect during Key Resolve, at least on the loggie side. Obsess over how many non-combatants have processed through every single facility, but completely gloss over serious holes in theater level plans.  Okay.  "If this was real world, that would be fixed and it wouldn't be a problem."  Ooookay, if that's the route we're going, then why are we all here?  Hell, I was just there to blow all my per diem (and then some) on soju and juicys, but I don't think that's why the AF paid for my plane ticket over.  But hey, at least at that point they were pretending to go through the motions...there were times when they didn't even bother with the charade and the exercise fairy dust came out.  "Well, notionally..."

Of course, some of those issues are hard to deal with when PACOM doesn't take the exercises seriously, but that's an issue for a different day.

Michael Farmer said...

The problem with "Mission Statements" is that they end up as bumper stickers on powerpoints. What the Navy really needs is to figure out what sort of wars we need to fight and then equip ourselves to do so and train for that fight. If we decide that we want to patrol the deep blue sea, then we need to be unapolgetic about not being in the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the last 10 years the Navy has twisted itself in knots trying to prove its relevance against an enemy that forgot to build a blue water Navy before declaring war on us. We needed (still need) to show why multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers were worth the tax payers money. If we are a brown water Navy we need to equip ourselves as such and actually train for that mission. 

As for Salamander's point about the Navy being full of the kind of HQ nonsense that has been beaten (or not) out of the Army and Marine Corp I absolutely agree. When a 3 Star Component Command spends its time enforcing a "the color blue on the slides shall be Blue 201 Grey 4 on the Power Point advanced color settings" then you know they aren't going to be much use in a fight....

Naval_Historian said...


The mission of the Navy is continuous readiness for prompt, sustained and victorious sea-based combat operations.

NOW it's good to go.

Grumpy Old Ham said...

Since URR brought up pearls in a comment below, I'm glad the oyster got irritated enough last Friday to produce this pearl.  BZ, CDR S.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

The mission of the Navy is to give the Marine Corps a ride to where they can kill the enemy.

NOW yer onto something.....  8-)

virgil xenophon said...

Reading all this supurb stuff and the equally compelling comments I think back to CNO Admiral King's "All Hands" telegram/msg issued (iirc) the day after FDR's declaration of war speech in Congress. I don't have access to it now, CDR Sal, if you could dig it up, I think you'll find it represents the finest, most succinct example of a "Mission Statement"  imaginable and well worth reproducing here. In it, recalling from memory, he leaves no one in doubt that the bureaucratic peace-time ways are over and that the sort of people who are always "on orders to stand by for orders" etc., would no longer be welcome in his wartime Navy. Check it out, CDR Sal, I would, but at present by net access is temp limited. WORTH REPRODUCING HERE!

Malachy Marine said...

Try the lack of GO accountability for Abu Ghraib. COP Keating. COP Wanat. Having to clear Fallujah twice... There have been plenty of foul-ups amongst all ranks. Plenty of Marines and Soldiers have been relieved. The vast majority of these have been O-6 and below. How is it that these are the only ones? 

Tom Ricks often calls on the Army (Marines do it to an extent given our naval heritage) to actively increase the Relief For Cause numbers and do so publicly as the Navy does. I, for one, am for public reliefs. Though I do not believe in the zero defect mentality prevalent in the military these days. This should not be a career ender, but it often is. 

Command is about responsibility. Though you may not control and explicitly authorize every movement or action of your troops, you are RESPONSIBLE for them. If they fail, you fail. Learn from it and move on. Sometimes you get your pee-pee slapped, other times you get relieved. General and Flag Officers should be no different.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

I would agree with everything except the reference to Fallujah.  Conway (I MEF) had little choice, as that decision in April 04 was driven by State.  He was as mad as anyone.  Maybe more. 

Benjamin Walthrop said...

"No fighter ever won his fight by covering up -- merely fending off the other fellow's blows," he wrote. "The winner hits and keeps on hitting even though he has to be able to take some stiff blows in order to keep on hitting."

Is this the quote you're looking for?  ADM King was not appointed CNO until March of 1943, so the timing of the message your referencing is a few months after FDR's declaration of war speech if it was released when he was CNO.

Mike M. said...

Yes - in which case heads should have rolled in Foggy Bottom.

Accountability is for civilians, too.

Mike M. said...

Yes - in which case heads should have rolled in Foggy Bottom.

Accountability is for civilians, too.

Mike M. said...

Cultivate the product-based thinkers in peacetime.  And hold process-based thinkers accountable for the final outcome of their actions.

This whole problem is a side-effect of protracted peace.

In peacetime, it's hard to get promoted by being product-based.  It's easier to get ahead by concentrating on the process.  Keep the paperwork in order.  Don't make mistakes.  Don't make waves.  Process-based thinkers prosper.  Product-based thinkers suffer - unless they have higher-level protection.  If you have just come out of a major war, there are enough product-based commanders at a high level to give some shielding to lower-level product-based thinkers.  But as peacetime settles in, the process-based mindset takes deeper and deeper root.  The product-based leaders need to be cultivated.

One of the best methods is to minimize the number of processes that are mandated.  High-level leaders have a terrible tendency to back-seat-drive with mandatory processes and checklists, with only a perfunctory nod to whether the process works or not.  Fewer processes gives product-based thinkers room to maneuver, and send the message that the product, not the process, is the goal.

A related way to cultivate is to use product-based thinkers to lead process-based teams.  And to review processes.  Acquisition, in particular, tends to fall into the process trap.  Get program managers who are determined to get fighting power to the Fleet - and damn the process paperwork - and you can cut a lot of time off a schedule.

It's also imperative that process-based thinkers are held accountable for the ultimate product.  Because it is the product, not the process, that is the ultimate goal. 

Mike M. said...

The mission of the United States Navy is to go where the President commands, kill America's enemies, and take their stuff as prizes.

pk said...


during nam we had a serious shortage of "seat armor" in the helicopters to protect the crews from up comming rifle fire when they were flying. every activity that could do it made bootleg versions of steel "seat covers",  mothers sent their sons copies of the new york and los angeles telephone books...  i'm sure you remember that.

it appears as though the modern roe's and sop's can fulfill that need. also they should make extremely good kindling for starting cooking fires, and heat for those cold nights in the field.

also keep in mind that they make fairly servicable toilet paper when the real stuff runs short.

the "field folk" should be thanking the upper elecheon commands for providing every soldier with an original issue and follow on versions of these wonderful aids.


pk said...

in a civilian meeting about 35 years ago a young fellow from the bottom end of the table made the following statement:

sir, we are duty bound to follow your orders.

if we get orders that allow us a certain lattitude in our work then we will probably thunder along in our usual fashion, but if the opportunity presents itself to do wonderful things we can do them.

if we get orders to be stupid then we have no choice but to do stupid things.

are our generals/admirals through their politically correct staffs ordering the troops to be stupid?

jg said...


Benjamin Walthrop said...

<span>I really like what you've laid out here, and I believe that this goes on in a relatively robust manner in general in the USN.  Of course there are examples when these laudable goals break down some, and the general focus tends to ebb and flow due to real world events as to how successfully this happens.</span>
<span> </span>
<span>I will tell you that I've been heartened to hear a Navy Spec War CAPT type relating the attributes of an aviation officer to a group of fellow CAPT's by saying, "I like this girl.  She was flying strike missions over downtown Baghdad putting HE on the head of the martyrs.  Her actions helped out some SOCOM folks, and she needs to be recognized."</span>
<span> </span>
<span>It's certainly not perfect, but quite a bit of that goes on under the RADAR, and that quiet action is often overcome by the more publicized failures associated with decisions that look very bad in hindsight. The response of the battalion TOC in Gonjgal is the most recent example of this problem.</span>

Benjamin Walthrop said...

<p><span>It presents very daunting challenges to totally eliminate these kinds of apparent errors.<span>  </span>I don’t quite know how to square that circle unless the military is willing to take a more Curtis LeMay approach to solving these issues.<span>  </span>It does raise the question in my mind if the mythology surrounding force protection and the unwillingness of the American public to accept casualties that was widely debated in the late 90’s has somehow crept into the COIN doctrine in an unhealthy way.<span>  </span>This mythology was largely debunked by evidence during those debates, and I tend to fall more in line with Bing West on how to apply combat power in the current engagements.<span>  </span>His approach is much closer to the LeMay spectrum than the Tactical Directive governing the Gonjal action appears to me.</span>
</p><p><span>Way above my paygrade, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on these issues as well.</span></p>

Mike M. said...

It's not as robust as I would like.  The acquisition system, in particular, frequently suffers from a child-like trust in the process.  It doesn't help that a good deal of the process is Congressionally mandated.

Anyone who has made a serious study of weapons system procurement will tell you that the process is broken - and all too frequently, it shows in the weapons foisted off on the warfighter.

UltimaRatioRegis said...


Apologies if I jumped on your tongue with size 13s.  But the tone you used seemed to intimate that I looked down on poetry, or didn't think it "manly".  Quite the contrary.

Here is my point:  I know of very few English (or History) teachers who could adequately explain such works as Graves, or Sassoon's, to a HS student, particularly one without a grasp of the history of those poems.   The same is true of Kipling's works.  They are magnificent insights into the British Soldier's life, community, attitudes, and cares.  And no shortage of incredibly prescient political and social commentary. 

From what I can find, such things are NEVER studied at the secondary level today.  There is nothing for someone 16 or 17 to sink his teeth into, especially if you are male and an Alpha male at that.  Maya Angelou and Alan Ginsburg just don't cut it.  Even the study of someone like Poe, the work studied is usually "The Raven", which he himself hated.   Wanna teach an adolescent about what it is like to love?  Give them Annabelle Lee.   But we don't do so.  Out of political correctness, preception that such works are unimportant, or a lack of knowledge or understanding among teachers who haven't the grasp of such subject matter.

I don't think the poster was intimating that only weaklings and girls read poetry.  But you seemed to be intimating that I thought so.   Which is certainly not the case. 

Bubba said...

No, I was holding you out as a real man, one who could quote poetry.

A rebuke to the poster who denigrated the art some time ago.

As a man with a grasp of poetry, your skin should be a bit thicker; remember, it is the worst who are filled with passionate intensity. 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Methinks Yeats had that backwards, Sir. 

Nothing remarkable in this world was built by someone who lacked all conviction.  All of it was built by people with passionate intensity. 

Certainly Sgt Dakota Meyer lacked for none of it.

DeltaBravo said...

You missed the nights on the porch when the hootie owls were hooting and the crickets chirping and the denizens sat staring into the night with their juleps... passing around and readin' aloud from Kipling.  Good times.  They love poetry here.  Trust me.

So here... I'll set Phib's "philosophy of leadership" dissertation to simple little rhyme.  Because that's what I do:

True leadership - not for the weak
or the untrained faint of heart-
Entrusted with the lives of men
heeds views that stand apart.

Giving right tools and training too
leaders themselves reflect
their trust on others and leeway
to use their intellect.

These lords of war also stand
men under authority
And order them go here or there
with clear simplicity.

Nor do command those to go
Where themselves they will not trod
Nor forbid free will when evil is met...
None prevent, not even God...

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

I thought MARINE was an acronym for My Situpon Is Really Navy Equipment?

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

The time for heads to roll in Foggy Bottom is long past.  We have lost too many lives and too much treasure to those fools trying to implement the 'soft power' that does not exist, nor has it ever existed.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

"Sitting around drinking and quoting Kipling", while someone had to slave down in the burrows beneath the porch, sending up drinks and pizzas, and other munchies on the porch edge elevator.

pk said...

heads in foggy bottom rolling, what a refreshing thought.


Bubba said...

<span> </span>Yeats was right.  Let’s take one example; Healthcare.  We have a broken system.  You cannot defend the status quo, as a nation we spend a fortune on health care and we get a bad result.  For example, my bill for a family of seven is $23,493.00.  The wife had a bone scan, the boys a check up and the rest of us did not even go to a doctor.  That does not include braces, the dentist or glasses.  Toss those expenses in and I’m up to $30,000.00.  Twenty-three percent of my income goes to health care and not a one of us is sick!  Freaking General Motors spends more on health care than steel.

<span> </span>I cannot say that the healthcare I pay for now is better than what I got in the Navy; and what I got in the Navy was socialized medicine.  I can’t choose my doctor, I get who they give me.  I can’t choose the treatments, the company decides.  Not only do I have to pay for my health care, but I have to cover the uninsured; and I have to pay for the health care for those of us who are over sixty-five.  Is there really anyone who can come out and say, “things are peachy, perfect just the way they are?”  

<span> </span>However, we can’t have the discussion.  When we do, “the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  And so it goes. 

virgil xenophon said...

No, (although you're right about the dates--my memory was waaay off on that.) it must have been when he was first installed as CNO. Perhaps I'll root around some, but my present net-connection is bad

Latent Infantry NCO said...

In regards to brevity in leadership, I always referred to a quote by a guy who preferred to go by the initials "B-P" rather than his legal name:

 "If a man cannot make his point to keen boys in ten minutes he ought to be shot!"

Lt Gen. Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, OM, GCMG, GCVO, KCB

UltimaRatioRegis said...

If you have a beef with the price of health care, have a word with the trial lawyers regarding their willingness to consider tort reform.  We can have the discussion.  Provided people do not cover their ears and yell when presented with the facts. 

You want true socialized medicine?  Go to the VA.  That is as good as it will get.

OldRetSWO said...

How "good" the VA is depends on what the illness is.  As a bladder cancer survivor whoich ended up involving 11 surgeries and three organ removals, I was very fortunate to have an outstanding doctor and team.  I know many other survoros through online support groups and those that were in the VA system had MUCH MUCH worse outcomes as measured by level of recovery and length of hospitalization. 

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