#4 Quick Update

Check out today's Small Wars Journal. http://smallwarsjournal.com/ On the SWJ Round-up portion is the following quote:

"We Americans are spouting 'COIN doctrinal precepts' as if they were truth. They are not. Every war is different. Mao didn't know it all nor did Galula - or John Boyd. McChrystal's supposed to be a smart guy; so is Petreaus. Hopefully as both of them gain more Afghan experience they'll discover that they cannot just shift their Iraq experience and continue the march. Afghanistan is whole different mess and the people and the terrain are very different. Then maybe all the talking heads and unthinking tanks will get on board and realize the same thing. Smart people do a lot of dumb stuff because of the herd effect."--
Ken White, Small Wars Council

This is precisely what the I'm trying to get at. The US military, due to size, money, technology etc has become a monolithic machine dominated by the herd mentality and group think. The NCO Corps has fallen woefully behind in leader development and is stuck hiding behind empty words like discipline and standards because the idea of developing creative, adaptive, competent small unit leaders who understand T/P/I and are trusted by the organization to work towards it is too hard. The union that has become the NCO Corps is in my opinion dangerously close to becoming exactly like any large union (UAW comes to mind). What began as a way to ensure a professional quality non-commissioned officer has become so systematic and programmatic that it is perilously close to becoming obsolete. Just like the UAW priced itself and 2 of the 3 major auto manufacturers into bankruptcy. We need to start carving away the excess junk that has become the part and parcel of the NCO Corp (ridiculous arguments about road guard vests, bloused boots, and the friggin' black beret, new guns etc!) and start treating and training our young NCOs for the real challenges they face. Because sure as shit after this war is finally over, the NCO Corp will spend a decade telling itself how great it was...and become more and more irrelevant each day. Why, because as the man said, "Every war is different."

#3 Leadership, Mentorship and Self-Awareness

About 3 months ago, I was asked to bring the marksmanship program to a unit on Ft. Campbell. Their battalion commander had previously been my boss, so it didn't really surprise me when the request came in. While he was my boss, he had heard and seen enough of the program to know that it would benefit his new unit, so he basically just told them that we were going to do it. The dynamics of that week are a subject for another post. Simply put though, because this was a top-driven event, it never really gained the kind of momentum that happens when there is total unit by-in, but nonetheless, we had a successful training week and for some, it turned into the beginning of a different way of thinking.

During that week I had the opportunity to meet a LT in the unit who would be running the range portion of the training for me. This is always important - and somewhat problematic - because I can't run the range myself, the unit does all the leg work, but the actual conduct of the range will be done by me. That means that those who are running it must understand completely what is going to be happening during the live fire itself. Sometimes this understanding doesn't occur and I have had problems with other units because of it, but, for the most part, I can overcome the initial resistance and show the unit how successful and fun marksmanship training can be. Anyway, this LT showed an interest in the how and why of the training and thus began our friendship.

Shortly after that, she called me one day to ask if I would help her with another training event she had been assigned. I agreed and went to meet with her. It rapidly became apparent that given the time, resources and lack of TPI (task/purpose/intent), she was not going to be able to develop a successful plan that would actually train soldiers. She requested - and was granted - a delay to better define the TPI and to secure the proper resources to be successful.

In the interim she and I spent a few days talking about leadership. What it is, what it isn't, how it works, how is it developed etc. She had been raised in the Army ROTC environment - as are many officers - and been told what was required of her, what the Army thought an officer should be, know and act like. She had been told to listen to her NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) and that their wisdom and knowledge would be invaluable to her development. Of course that part mostly came from NCO instructors at her college. Sort of a self-fulfilling cycle, no? I asked her where her "power" as an officer derived from? Who ultimately gave her her authority? Whether or not she believed that the leaders is "responsible for everything the platoon does or fails to do?" She, of course, answered in the affirmative. "Absolutely. A leader is responsible for everything the organization and their subordinates does for fails to do." I then explained what had happened to me in Iraq during OIF 3. How members of my platoon had committed a heinous war crime. (Note: This is a whole separate event that I will go into detail more later, but suffice for now that it is the beginning of my personal transformation.) I asked her whether or not based upon the Army definition (...does or fails to do) if I should have been held accountable for those actions. And then the quibbling started. Well, theoretically, yes, but practically no. I responded that you can't have it both ways. Rules have to be absolute or they don't have value.

Those conversations have begun a friendship between us as she continues to learn some of the complexities of leading human beings. We exchange emails, talk on the phone and generally push each other to think harder. To really see what happens in organizations. That, in many ways, a LT is absolutely set up for failure. To understand the broader context of unit dynamics. To look for resources to assist us in personal/professional development. I am interested in her motivations for being an officer. What is it about her that would accept the obvious (injury, death etc) and the not-so-obvious (being responsible for something you cannot directly control) pitfalls of an Army career? What makes a young woman want to try all that in an environment comprised overwhelmingly of men?

Although I am her senior in both age and years in service to the organization, she is mine based upon rank and legal authority. Technically, she's in charge. I carry out her orders. The problem is that she has little experiential knowledge with which to make those orders. She literally often doesn't know what she is doing. And so she has to rely upon her NCOs to guide her. Ahhh, and there's the rub. First, no one teaches or even talks to NCOs about their responsibilities as a mentor to young officers, and second, not many are willing to take the time to do it without imposing their own interpretation on them. It becomes a situation where she has to seek other officers - assimilated the same way she was - for answers, thereby perpetuating the same lack of learning, while the NCOs are carrying out orders that they often know will not produce the desired result, but have no way of successfully explaining that to their officers.

And so, we interact as equals. That is the key. I, being senior, have to learn from her how she sees her world. What's important to her, what's not? What motivates her, what doesn't? How does she see herself in the organization? How does she see her NCOs? Why? What forms this awareness? Education, experience, communication, socialization? I am coming to learn that if the mentoring relationship is to have any value, I will probably learn more than she will. I will give her my experiential knowledge of the system, and ways to make it move more smoothly or where to expect roadblocks and problems, but the real value will be her assessment of my reasoning. If she cannot put my experiences to work for her in the manner she needs, with confidence in the result, then regardless of whether I am correct or incorrect in my counsel she will not take it. In effect, it must make sense in her eyes. The "teacher" is lead by the "student".

Which brings up the OODA cycle. The 2nd O, Orient, implies an understanding both of the adversary, and the proponent. Not only do I have to know you, but it is critically more important that I know me. For it is me that will color my understanding of you. As she and I continue our dialogue, we are both continuously reorienting ourselves to the other. She is forced to clarify her decisions and look at her world differently than her previous experience allowed her to. I have to be aware that my answers are only truly correct for me. I can't start to believe my own bullshit. For the conversation to have merit, I have to learn to see myself as she sees me. And feel responsible to that.

Which brings me to a lunch date we shared the other day. I enquired how her range had gone and she gave me the whole litany of administrative crap that had gone on, but the truth of everything we had been discussing came out when she said, "We qualified a bunch of people, but we really didn't train anyone."

Ahh, I do enjoy when someone gets it. Makes a lot of other crap much easier to deal with.

#2 Framing the Discussion

Over the past 2 years or so, I have been involved in small arms marksmanship training for organizations part of the 101st Airborne Division. A unit approached me and asked me to develop an instruction and training plan that would improve their soldier's ability to successfully qualify on the rifle range, and by extension become more capable and confident if they ever needed to use their rifle in combat. That program worked extremely well and its' success allowed me to move to other units and run it over and over. To date, I have trained over 3000 soldiers / sailors / airmen / marines both in the States and while deployed.

When the program started, I somewhat believed that my method of instructing was the key to the soldiers success. But, as time went on and different types of units all generally achieved the same results, I started looking at the program itself to see what was going on. In that analysis, I found that there were parts of the program that, indeed, helped to enhance the outcome, but generally speaking, it was still the soldier's task to go and put what they were learning into effect.

One of my bosses then introduced me to the writings of COL John Boyd, an Air Force officer, now deceased, who invented the military theory known as OODA Loops, or Boyd's Law. COL Boyd helped revolutionize aircraft design using the engineering concept of "fast transients". In effect, he needed an aircraft that could turn faster, and gain and lose energy faster than it's adversary. Boyd then realized that by creating that aircraft, he was also having an effect on the pilot. By getting inside your adversaries decision cycle, you had two effects on him. First, you forced him to change his intended plan, and second, you then created an advantage by forcing him to react to your actions. Boyd realized that this thought process happens on every level, personal, militarily, geopolitcally, with individuals, organizations, and nations etc.

In essence, the OODA cycle works as such: I observe something (doesn't matter what it is), orient myself to why it is happening using a wide variety of inputs, decide on a course of action, and then act. The key though is that the OODA cycle must 1) act as a cycle and 2) that the orientation step is the most difficult and complex part of the equation because it relates both to the observer and the adversary simultaneously.

When I looked at the marksmanship program in this new light, I became convinced that the Army conducts most training backwards. Instead of teaching soldiers how to think, it spent most of it's time telling them what to think. By emphasizing rote memorization over active thinking, the Army was preparing soldiers for a predicted action. The adversary will do X and then you will do Y. There were no other options. The marksmanship program was working because I was doing less not more. I didn't prescribe definite actions, I taught principles only and allowed the soldier to figure out what needed to be done to accomplish the task. I might teach a technique, but only to help guide the soldiers learning. Not to do it "My way". Discover your way. If you could hit the target I really didn't care how you did it, as long as you understood what you were doing to achieve success (and more importantly when it didn't work) and could replicate it under various conditions.

At the same time, a group of people were looking at this issue of leader development using the same general idea. Stop telling soldiers how to do everything, and encourage them to learn and critically OODA their world. By doing that, the argument went that since you couldn't possibly teach a learned response to every scenario that would present itself in 4th Generation Warfare (4GW - more on that at a later date), you were allowing them to use the their full compliment of skills to successfully negotiate their reality. This becomes the larger philosophical template that my marksmanship program begins to work in.

I then developed an "Effective Training Design" brief that is the learning construct inside which the marksmanship program operates. This briefing outlines the training issues units face, why they have them and then introduces Boyd's Law as a new way to focus their training efforts. It also tries to orient the audience correctly without passing judgment. It's kind of like trying to convince an alcoholic that they have a problem. If they can't or don't want to see it, then you've got a tough road ahead. In my case, units hire me to fix their marksmanship problem, but the solution I bring them is much more complex than just getting kids to hit the target. I'm trying to get them to see how the very way that they approach their training is the problem - that the leaders actions and decisions are the issue - not whether or not a soldier can shoot. And I have to do that without wearing out my welcome. Not always easy.

So, when I figure out how to attach documents to this thing, I'll share them with you and look forward to your comments.

#1 Welcome Message

Welcome to Fen's Thoughts. The purpose of this is to share my thoughts about a range of subjects, mostly centered around leadership - military and otherwise - and to (hopefully) continue learning and growing in response to yur feedback.

Over the last 2 years or so I have developed an acute interest in 21st century military leadership and training. What will be required of a leader in an incredibly complex, and rapidly changing world that moves and evolves, often faster than we have time to consider? How do you develop soldiers who are required to live in the structured military culture, and yet teach them the skills they need to survive and defeat an enemy who they cannot often see, using tools that prior to this time where outside of the military's purview, in a behemoth organization that by it's very nature is tied to history, and tradition?

There will also be a lot of thoughts about COL John Boyd, who came up with the OODA Loop, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Boyd's Law is an amazing tool for all leaders and organizations looking to ensure that they remain relevant and forward looking in a fast moving, ever changing world.

So, welcome to the discussion. I have no idea where it will lead, but no doubt that it will be a hell of a ride. Thanks for making the trip with me!