#20 Guest Post from Mac re: #19 and the Lessons We can Learn

Fen, below is a comment to "#19 A Strategic Communication Follow-Up". Sorry it's in an email but I needed to go back and forth between what I'm writing and what was written.

Interesting exchange. As I read the SGM's email, it took a minute to realize who it was as I had read much of what he wrote in the not too distant past. This is, of course, because that SGM gave myself and the other junior enlisted in our office the same messages as "homework" during our brief time in his presence. As an example of mentorship, this particular SGM is perhaps unique from my perspective. I did not have to go to him seeking answers or guidance; He came to me to purposely impart knowledge and experience.

However, in the context of your original post on Gen. Caldwell's piece concerning Strategic Communication, I think he misunderstood what you were saying. I am in total agreement with your thesis that Strategic Communications in this war are not singly the purview of those who wear brass and operate at the CJTF or even Brigade level; That the individual soldier has a role to play in communicating the strategic message. I also think the leaders operating at the CJTF or higher levels of command realize this fact. The problem is at the intermediate and lower level, to include the individual soldier. At those levels, for multiple reasons, the idea that Pvt. Snuffy needs to be just as involved communicating the strategic message as LTG Sniffy is not realized, most critically by Pvt. Snuffy him/herself.

The strategic message is the basis for the overall mission of the organization. It is the purpose in Task, Purpose and Intent at the "Strategic" level. In the context of COIN, the organization's task is to defeat the insurgents by winning over the support of the people. The organization's purpose then is to convince the people that it is safer and more beneficial to work with the organization rather than the insurgents; Thus the message "We are friends, they are foes". The organizations intent is to communicate this message through words and deeds in order to demonstrate the validity of the message. If the words and deeds validate the message, convincing the people of the truth of the message, the people will gravitate to the organization and away from the insurgents thereby reducing the support for the insurgents. Without the support of the people, an insurgency will die thus bringing about the accomplishment of the task. That is a general, theoretical explanation of COIN. It is far more complicated.
The point is that the "words" put out at the strategic level are only validated in the eyes of the people by the "deeds" performed by the soldiers at the tactical/interpersonal level. Therefore, it is vital that ALL members of the organization be aware of and understand the impact their actions have on the accomplishment of the Strategic Mission. This requires more than an abstract awareness of the "message". It requires a constant awareness of the shifting environments the soldier is interacting within.

Having and maintaining that constant situational awareness requires the ability to see beyond your immediate physical and mental environment. In other words, to see the "Big Picture". The soldier, at all levels, will have smaller, individual missions (tasks) to accomplish. Accomplishing these smaller missions all play a part in the organization accomplishing it's overall strategic mission. Thus, it is required that all members of the organization, while accomplishing their immediate tasks, maintain an almost subdued or subliminal awareness of the overall, higher purpose of the organization; The Strategic Mission, the Strategic Message.

Far too often, even those of us who understand the Strategic Mission and Message in the abstract fail to contribute to its communication and success in the physical. We conceptualize it in the sense of, for example, the interactions of a PRT or a patrol in a village. In those instances, the effects of the message to be communicated is easier to visualize. Win the trust of the villagers, turn them to our side, deny the enemy support and sanctuary. You could say we communicate the message "outside the wire". But by limiting our understanding of the Strategic Message through the prism of "outside the wire", we render the implications of our interactions with local nationals "inside the wire" invisible. We hire hundreds, perhaps thousands of LNs to do work on our FOBs. They clean our latrines, mop our floors, build our buildings, wash our dishes and fuel our vehicles. They are paid to do these things. We do this as part of our Strategic Mission to build a viable, stable state part of which is a viable economy. It is better they earn a wage for building something instead of planting an IED. For some reason, because they are on the FOB, we take for granted that they have been "turned" to our side, never stopping to think that our words and deeds "inside the wire" may "turn" them to the other side. Therefore, though they are there, they are not there. They exist physically, we see them and are aware of there presence. But they are invisible in the abstract, larger picture so we fail to see the impact of our conduct on Strategic Communications within the confines of the FOB. I will give you an example.

While at Bagram working in the JOC, I got involved in a small peripheral way in an incident concerning a KBR foreman, the LNs working for him and an Afghan interpreter working for us. The project was the gym under construction on the JOC compound. I'll get into the dynamics of the situation later. For now, let's just say the interpreter had some concerns about the conduct of the KBR foreman and for some reason was directed to the J3 office to address them. He came to the office late at night when only myself and the Chief of Training were in the office. I got involved initially to steer him out of the office and to whoever may actually have been able to address his problem. It was not something that pertained to the operations of the J3 office. First we went to the gym to talk to subcontractor overseeing the project. From there we went to DIVENG for further guidance and found out the person to talk to was an Air Force LTC at the FET. Thinking my job was done I told him where to go the next day and wrote down the LTC's name. However, the interpreter was still lost and asked if I would go with him. I agreed to help him and told him to meet me at my office the next morning and we would walk down to the FET. I realized I had now become the interpreter for the interpreter. Maybe a better description would be the guide through the Byzantine corridors of the military bureaucracy. The next morning, he showed up and I told my immediate superior where I was going and then had to give a quick explanation why. My immediate superior was my NCOIC who told me not to get involved or wrapped up in something that was not my concern but did let me go. Basically, he told me that infamous line "stay in your lane". We went to the FET, talked to the LTC and from there I explained that there wasn't much more I could do to help since I had a job to do and by virtue of my rank would not be all that effective. I returned to my lane.

I mentioned the dynamics of the situation which were influential to my getting further involved than I normally would. The interpreter had witnessed the KBR foreman, an Iraqi-American oddly enough, verbally abusing and berating the Afghan workers. He tried to intervene to explain to the foreman that what he was doing was, in Afghan culture, insulting and humiliating and even offered to help talk to the workers to get the Foreman's point across in a more calmer manner. The foreman's response was belligerent and berating to the interpreter. It was also in front of the Afghan workers. Interestingly, the interpreter's concern was not about the treatment he received but the impact it and the the treatment of the workers might have on a wider level. In other words, how it effected the Strategic Message. You see, as he explained, those workers go home at night and they talk to the other Afghans who don't work on the FOB. The Taliban's Strategic Message is that the Americans and their allies are not in Afghanistan to help but to subjugate and exploit the Afghan people. The actions of that foreman had the potential to validate the Talibans message and invalidate ours. If those of us in uniform allowed that to happen with no repercussions on the foreman, not only would we help the enemy but we also might demoralize and turn our ally; i.e the interpreter. So I saw it as part of my duty in accomplishing the Strategic Mission to help the interpreter address his concerns. If I had followed the guidance of my NCOIC, I would have been shirking my part in accomplishing that mission.

My NCOIC at the time was SFC Fenlason who is now MSG Fenlason writng posts on a blog about Strategic Communication. Hmm...sooo tempting. But seriously, the purpose of this story is not as an indictment or attack on MSG Fenlason. It's more of an AAR or Lessons Learned purpose. I don't know if you were even considering Strategic Communication at the time. If so, it was probably in the context of what happened in Iraq or "outside the wire", which is understandable. Personally, I think far too many of us, myself included, who worked in the JOC far too often contextualized the Strategic Mission and Message in the framework of "outside the wire". It was that incident with the interpreter that made me more conscious of the Afghans working on Bagram thus more conscious of how our actions on the FOB effected the Strategic Mission. So I bring this story up more for the sake of contemplation.

The SGM wrote:
" Army leaders adopt and internalize Army values and develop the requisite mental, physical, and emotional attributes. They learn the interpersonal, conceptual, technical, and tactical skills required to lead soldiers and accomplish missions. Leaders motivate subordinates, conduct operations, and continually develop and improve their units, their Soldiers, and themselves. Leadership is a life-long learning process—in the classroom, in personal study, and in practice.• Adaptive leaders must first be self-aware—then have the additional ability to recognize change in their operating environment, identify those changes, and learn how to adapt to succeed in their new environment."

As a soldier and an NCO, I need to know my mission, both my immediate and strategic mission. How can I adapt, how can I motivate subordinates if I don't know the "why" of what I'm being ordered to do? The same applies to those NCOs and Officers above me. How do they motivate me without explaining to me the "why" of what they want me to do? We are told in the Army that shit rolls downhill. Is it too much to ask that a little info follow it?
There is much more to discuss in terms of what the SGM wrote. I hope others join the conversation. For now, I'm signing off. I've already spent all day, two packs of cigarettes, and not enough coffee writing this. I'm almost dreading Monday morning.

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