#23 Circular People

All week long I've been kind of wondering what I was going to write this week. As usual, this thing runs in spurts where there will be a thousand thoughts I want to put down, and then there'll be nothing for awhile. But then yesterday I found 2 articles in Joint Forces Quarterly that caught my eye.

Basically, there is a argument going on throughout the Army, and the defense community in general, between a group who believes that future conflict ( at least for the near future) belongs to insurgencies and counterinsurgencies - variously called 'small wars' or 'long wars' and a group that says that these types of conflicts are not what the Army is intended for, and we cannot lose sight of the need for massive forces in large scale land warfare.

The insurgency/counterinsurgency argument, "Lets Win the Wars We're In" http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Press/jfq_pages/editions/i52/7.pdf is put forth by LTC (R) John Nagl and the large scale war argument "Lets Build and Army to Win All Wars" http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Press/jfq_pages/editions/i52/8.pdf is proffered by COL Gian P. Gentile. Both are very interesting reads and I highly recommend them. Intentionally, these two are pitted against each other to offer a point/counterpoint argument to spur discussion and thought throughout the services. I think this is absolutely the correct manner to look at any change agent. This is the idea of the 'loyal opposition' I put forth in an earlier post (#16).

The point though is that this larger argument is playing itself out everyday in the arena of unit training as well. There are commanders and NCOs who are looking for new ways to achieve our training needs and those who contend that business as usual is the best way to prepare. Obviously, I fall in the camp of looking for new ways to achieve training readiness, but there are those who question the validity of changing a training construct that has worked well for 30 years or more. The issue is balance. When can we continue to train in the manner that has been successful in the past, and when should we look to find new and innovative solutions to solve our training problems? Most importantly, is there a middle ground?

In light of that question, I was reading "Roots of Strategy" last night and there is a section of the book entitled "My Reveries Upon the Art of War" from Marshall Maurice de Saxe, first published in 1757. I found the opening pages to be very interesting - mostly because they are so relevant today. In the opening portion of the manuscript, de Saxe states "Troops are raised by enlistment with a fixed term, without a fixed term, by compulsion sometimes and most frequently by fraud." He then goes on to point out the issues with each method of raising troops. If raised by enlistment, he states it is "unjust and inhumane not to observe the engagement. These men were free when they contracted the enlistment which binds them and it is against all laws, human or divine, not to keep the promises made to them." Seems to me that we are finally figuring that out now with the end of the 'Stop-Loss' program which forced Soldiers to continue their service beyond their contractual end date when the unit was preparing to deploy. The most interesting quote I found in this section however, stated this: "Troops raised by fraud is also odious. Money is slipped into a man's hand and then he is told he is a Soldier." Ahh, there's a good one! Enlistment, or reenlistment, by bribery. Dangling enough money in front of a Soldier that he/she in enticed to join or remain.

de Saxe's commentary goes on and on about different aspects of raising and caring for an Army. Everything from feeding, to clothing, to paying them. The thought struck me that 252 years later and the exact same issues are still faced today. The only thing that has changed are the conditions under which the problem is situated. Hang on to this part...252 years, same problem.

Which, I think, leads me to this thought. The most important part of solving any problem is to understand it first. Building, feeding, paying, training and fighting an Army - or any organization - will always raise the issues of 'how' and 'why'. What is the purpose of the endeavor? And why must it be done this way? These are the universal Task questions that must be answered. The Standard is also equally universal - an army raised must prevail over the adversary. A business must provide a relevant service to its' customer. The Standard, however, must address and answer the 'how' and 'why' portions above. The only thing that appears to continually change are the Conditions under which that Standard is achieved, be it the Army or business. For the Army, that it is currently being done under the insurgency/counterinsurgency viewpoint. Whether or not that is the right answer remains to be seen. However, applying a new solution to a little understood problem won't necessarily be successful, and blind faith in any historically systematic approach is likely at some point to come to a point of irrelevancy.

The key is understanding the problem and looking at all solutions equally. There may be 4 different ways of looking at this: Old problem/Old solution, Old problem/New solution, New problem/Old solution, and New problem/New solution. And the answer to that will be found in the viewpoint of the people in the organization itself. Hang on to this...Old problem/? solution

And so we return to people. As this blog has progressed, at times I have wondered where the hell it's going, or what my point in some of this stuff is. The more I write however, the more some generic themes keep rising to the surface. And they always seem to come back to people. Any organization - an army or a business or the Kiwanis club or faith group has to remain oriented on it's founding principles, and the people that comprise it. I found another example of this 'people first' principle yesterday in "Military Review". http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20091031_art011.pdf This article struck me because of the manner in which MG Stone approached the insurgent detainee problem. Instead of viewing the detainee as only an enemy combatant, Stone looked at them from a human standpoint. They are people. Using that view, he found that most were illiterate and under-educated with little or no skill sets and little hope for themselves or their families. Becoming an insurgent combatant was an almost a forgone conclusion given little or no other options coupled with being manipulated by local religious/political leaders due to ignorance. By addressing these underlying conditions - in light if their status as detainees - and implementing education, job skill and religious programs, as well as protecting and providing interaction with family and loved ones, Stone has seen a dramatic decrease in detainee violence and a 1% recidivism rate amongst those detainees who have been released. Interesting. Treat them as people first and whatever other label second. Old problem/New solution

So, people are the binding parts of the organization. The ''how' and 'why' of the Task must meet the expected Standard as seen through changing Conditions by the people who weave the 3 parts together. People are also found inside of the 'existing solution' and 'new solution' parts of the the training problem outlined above. And these two are almost always in conflict. The 2 groups push against each other continuously and that friction of ideas and methods provides a more clear understanding of the problem and its possible solutions under current Conditions.

This may seem like a very long winded way of arriving at the very obvious conclusion that people are the center of gravity for all problem/solution issues. Most of you - all 3 that read this - are probably saying to yourselves, "Duh! I could have said that in 2 sentences instead of 2 pages!" But, if it really is that easy, then why is it so hard to understand? Why do we still face the same issues as de Saxe did 252 years later with no better understanding than he had? Why do we have the same training issues, the same policy issues, the same social issues? Why are Nagl and Gentile slugging it out on the pages of JFQ? Maybe, it's because we don't spend enough time looking at the solutions holistically, that is, not assigning a value to them, and seeing them through the light of the people involved first. Maybe we spend too much time assigning value judgments up front and not enough time trying to understand the problem before we assign a solution.

And, if you look very very carefully there you'll again run into COL Boyd. Orientation of the people is the key to problem solving, and leadership is best described as providing purpose, direction and motivation to the people who will solve the problem under the conditions that confront them. Now go back to the TRADOC Human Dimension study referenced in post #6. Interesting turn of events, no?


  1. Fen,

    We experience the same type problems within the realm of national security, more specifically law enforcement and the role it plays in providing proactive security.

    A major question we face is do we fight with the "knuckle draggers" of old, using the technology of today, or do we continue to build a force of new agents/officers with little to no experience?

    The other question we have to face is do we continue to investigate the way we always have, reactively...or do we push toward human source development and try to turn this thing into a more proactive type of force?

    We're kind of stuck in the middle between growing a "lighter," more agile force which has no experience, from a force which is used to getting dirty and developing facts and solving cases.

    The problem is that we are forcing out the experienced folks before they have the opportunity to develop the next generation.

    One thing I have to keep reminding myself is that the enemy gets a vote. In our case, it's the bad guy, but an enemy nonetheless.

  2. Frank -

    Change agents seem to come in 2 varieties - those who completely throw out the status quo, and those who work form an incremental change standpoint. Pros and cons to both. The change agent who moves in a completely new direction must be posessed with an absolute courage that he/she is right, and be willing to sacrifice everything to see it through. Those who choose the incremental system try to pick nd choose their spots and slowly bend the organization to a new method. While the aboslute purity of the first is appealing to all of us, the risk vs rewrd payoff if huge and failure can set back the organization by years. The incremental guy can make subtle adjustments over time, but runs the risk of people not recognizing the significance of the changed behavior, therfore it's not really recognized as change at all and becomes the new status quo.

    Interesting that all beaurocratic organizations seem to fit be faced with this problem set, but nevenr seem to be able to accurately figure out which road to walk down. End result? Inertia.

  3. I agree, this crap seems to roll down hill quickly!

    Another problem we face is that the change agent, once identified, will be shunned by the old and sometimes labeled as a "blue-flamer." That person often finds him/herself in a damn if you do, damn if you don't situation.

    I am curious as to what drives a person to want change for his/her agency? I'm talking about positive change, not the kind that helps one get promoted. Do you find it more and more difficult to find someone who doesn't care for the status quo, someone who truly wants to make a difference? I do. I also see many who would rather bitch about the system than to get off their ass and try to make it better fore everyone.

    The newer generation seems to want the benefits and rewards without doing all the work. It's almost like they're entitled by title alone. Make sense?