#19 A Strategic Communication Follow-Up

Below is an email response that I received from a retired Sergeant Major who I met for a short while in Afghanistan. He is replying to my comments regarding "Strategic Communication" in a blog by General Campbell (See Post #11):

MSG Fenlason,
Two things a leader is supposed to do: 1. Lead Soldiers and units during battle; 2. Prepare Soldiers and units to fight the battle.
COL Mike Malone

Stability and Counter Insurgency Operations are part of our Doctrine. We don't like to participate or take the lead in these operations, favoring offensive and defensive operations instead, but it doesn't mean we don't have competent doctrine to effectively manage and accomplish Stability and Counter Insurgency Operations. I hate what occurred with your element, and especially the outcome, but I can't see blaming the highest levels of command for this breakdown.

As you read these excerpts from FM-1, Chapter 1, remember the opening to the NCO Creed: I am a noncommissioned officer, a leader of Soldiers. No one is more professional than I.

• Army professionalism is intellectual, physical, and moral in nature; it requires expert knowledge of the concepts and tools of its trade. It is intellectual because the unique body of expertise required in military operations is extensive. The conduct of war, its technology, and the execution of military strategy, operations, and tactics are complex matters, certainly as demanding as the practice of any other profession. Moreover, Army professionals must exercise their expertise against intelligent adversaries. The consequences of failure in our profession—both for the Soldier and the Nation—are more dire than those in any other.

• The need to master the intellectual, physical, and moral aspects of warfare forms the basis for our system of professional military education. Every Army leader must master all aspects of warfare, personally committing to the career-long process of learning, evaluating, and adapting to changing security environments, technologies, and military operations. Through this process, The Army professional continually develops expertise in the practice of the art and science of war.

• Leadership is vital to maintaining an agile and versatile force. Leaders inspire Soldiers to behave professionally and to accomplish missions effectively.

• 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.

• Today's environment demands more from Army leaders then ever before. The Army needs adaptive leaders—leaders that can successfully operate across the range of military operations. It needs adaptive leaders who can be home one day and, within hours, conduct military operations anywhere in the world. The Army needs adaptive leaders who can operate in all technological environments—from hand-to-hand combat to offensive information operations.

FM 3-0, the Army’s keystone doctrine for full spectrum operations, presents a stable body of operational doctrine rooted in actual military experience. It was published several months before 9/11 occurred, but we didn't focus on or teach in our institutions more than Offensive or Defensive Operations in chapters 7 and 8.

The answer to the current dilemma was always in FM 3-0, chapter 9, just as it was in FM 101-5 beforehand.

9-16. Stability operations are inherently complex and place great demands on small units. Small unit leaders are required to develop interpersonal skills such as cultural awareness, negotiating techniques, and critical language phrases while maintaining warfighting skills. They must also remain calm and exercise good judgment under considerable pressure. Soldiers and units at every level must be flexible and adaptive. Often, stability operations require leaders with the mental and physical agility to shift from noncombat to combat operations and back again.
Considerations for Stability Operations

• Understand the potential for unintended consequences of individual and small unit actions
• Display the capability to use force in a nonthreatening manner
• Act decisively to prevent escalation
• Apply force selectively and discriminately

The Soldier’s heart, the Soldier’s spirit, the Soldier’s soul, are everything. Unless the Soldier’s soul sustains him he cannot be relied on and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.
General George C. Marshall

What you had was a leadership breakdown. Where it occurred is open to debate. The pillars of leader development include operational assignments, institutional learning, and self development. I know ANCOC didn’t focus on these skill sets and I am convinced your previous assignments didn’t adequately prepare you or your troops for this type of combat. The same is probably true for your commander. In retrospect, you now have the insight to be a better Platoon Sergeant and would no doubt train and prepare your soldiers differently.

If I remember right, you took the helm of that platoon shortly before the deployment, so nothing may have made a difference. Still, I think you underestimated the gravity of your leadership responsibilities and are still failing to come to grips with your own shortcomings, or the shortcomings of the entire NCO development system.
Your argument is 75 years out of date:

"The commander who lacks the moral courage and the professional skill to develop and maintain a thoroughly competent corps of noncommissioned officers throughout his command thereby demonstrates his inability to assume the responsibilities of leadership in combat. Such a commander forfeits the confidence and respect of his subordinates. He destroys the morale of his organization. He will surely fail in battle. Success in combat depends upon the character and qualifications of the noncommissioned officers commanding small units. They must be outstanding leaders with a high sense of duty and a strong will. They must be resourceful and willing to assume responsibility. In order to insure that our noncommissioned officers are equal to the tasks that lie ahead of them, commanders of all echelons will give their personal attention to improving the quality and prestige of those noncommissioned officers who exercise command responsibilities." -1944 War Department Circular 70

Today, that is a leader responsibility, not a commanders.

What follows is my reply to him.

Thanks for replying to my post. It surprises me how few NCOs are paying attention to the discussions going on in higher echelons of the Army. I see that you are retired now, congratulations. I also see that you are back at Bagram, so I know that you will continue to assist leaders with the development tools they need. With regard to your specific comments regarding my post, I must admit on first reading to have become angry. However, as I read it again and again, those emotions passed and I would like to address it as best I can. Forgive me if my thoughts become somewhat disjointed.

First, there is no doubt that there were many leadership failures in 1st platoon and many people (investigators, lawyers, reporters, Senior Army Leaders etc) have all tried to place the correct accountability in the right places. All of us who were a part of that leadership team own a portion of that responsibility, not only the commissioned officer corps. As you rightfully stated though, nothing in my previous 16 years in the Army - operational, or institutional prepared me adequately for that particular set of circumstances. In fact, I and others, did the best we knew how to do under the circumstances. In the end, the were no Army "approved" solutions to those events except for people taking what they believed to be the morally correct actions when the incident came to light. Others are allowed to have their own opinions of our actions and decisions, and we have to live with their judgements. It is also pertinent to state that I took over the platoon in-country, after they had suffered 4 KIA (PL, SL, TL and Soldier), had a PSG quit, and another get fired. I was the 3rd Platoon Sergeant in a 45 day period. The day of my arrival, the American portion of their FOB burned to the ground. The murders of the Iraqi family happened on my 5th week in charge. On that day, I was short my Platoon Leader and 2 Squad Leaders due to EML. I am not making excuses here, those are statements of fact that represent the conditions at the time.

Having said that, my purpose in responding to that particular blog and bringing up the 1st platoon war crime was not to "blame" the Chain of Command, as you suggested, but to highlight the fact that there can be tactical, operational, and strategic impacts of an individual Soldier's action(s) and yet we do nothing to train the Soldier to be aware of this. In the case of first platoon, there is evidence that when my Soldiers were attacked and abducted at the AVLB in June, that that attack was in retaliation for the actions of the other Soldiers in March. Additionally, the 2BDE, 10th Mtn unit that replaced us in Sep 06 had 4 Soldiers abducted in the same general area. It was reported in the international press at the time of the attack against the Iraqi family that a local Imam stated that "It will take 10 American lives to avenge the rape and murder of that Iraqi girl." That message was reiterated when the video of the abduction of my Soldiers was released on the Internet. Today, I read an article in INFANTRY Magazine (Marcgh-June 09 issue) that outlined the efforts of C 1/187 who replaced the 2/10 unit in Yusifiyah. There, the actions of my Soldiers continued to have locally strategic effect on the decisions and actions of both AIF and US forces. So, 4 Soldiers commit a heinous crime in early 2006, the effect of which is felt in '07 by the 2/10 unit and has operational implications for the 187 unit that followed them. Being that the Sunni Triangle was also considered the southern route into Bagdad, and that the incident galvanized and solidified tribal support for AQI against US and Iraqi Army forces, it seems reasonable that there can be theater strategic consequences to local actions.

I think what bothered me the most about the blog was the post that followed mine where it was implied that Strategic Communication is the pervue of CJTF or 3 star officers. That I take offense to. As Admiral Mullen, General McChrystal and others have said, it's not what we say, it our actions that count. That is a lesson that can be taught to all Soldiers, and something recognized by the 1/187 article. The unit took special pains to remind Soldiers that even if they suffered casualties etc, that random violence or a disproportionate response was not going to lead to mission success. In fact, that is exactly the same message that General McChrystal published recently in his guidance to US forces in Afghanistan - it is our actions at the local level that will carry the day and provide the concrete proof of the loftier "Strategic Communication" of senior leaders. I found it interesting that none of the other posters picked up on that idea. Maybe because they were too interested in the theoretical implications etc. It really is a simple message. Why should it be a sort of cottage industry for senior leaders?

We live in an instant communication world. The actions of a Soldier at any point on the battlefield can have immediate world-wide impact. The actions of 1st platoon both in the March incident involving the Iraqi family and the June incident involving the Soldiers at the AVLB were reported internationally overnight, and caused responses at the very highest levels of the Army and our government. In light of that, the idea that message sculpting can only be done by very senior leaders in almost laughable. In my case it was done by Steven Dale Green, a 23 year old kid from Midland Texas.

Finally, the only part of your reply that personally bugged me was your assertion that I have not accepted personal responsibility for what happened. I will tell you that not a day has gone by in the intervening 3 years that I have not asked myself what, if anything, I could have done differently. I have paid an emotionally heavy price for my time as the Platoon Sergeant of 1st platoon, and believe that I did the best I could do, with the Soldiers I had, under the circumstances I was faced with. Others may have done things differently than I did - with potentially different results. We will never know. That is the burden of leadership and command. It is the burden that with neither pride nor regret I carry daily. You are correct when you said that that time has made me a better leader. Crucibles have a way of doing that.

I would very much like to continue this dialogue with you if you are so inclined. In the short time we shared in Bagram during RIP/TOA, I was very impressed by you, your actions and your committment to the NCO Corps. Thanks for your time. Jeff Fenlason

There is a lot of really good stuff in this exchange. Please read it and absorb what he said. All that doctrine and manual stuff is important. How you accomplish those things is critical. That is the very hard work of leadership.

#18 OODAing (Not oogling!) Women In Combat Chap 3

I want to take a step back from the "Women in Combat" Posts because I think that this is one that can very easily get off track. My point in "Women in Combat #1" was to share my Orientation with others. By knowing where I come from generationally, and by Army conditioning, it helps frame the larger discussion. My point in "Women in Combat #2" was to point out that while this is a significant event, it will only have true merit when it is no longer an event at all.

To OODA this will take time but here's my shot:

OBSERVE: The manner in which the current war is being waged has placed more women into what has traditionally been termed "direct" combat. This method of warfare has brought the current tactical requirements into conflict with the Combat Exclusionary Laws as currently written.

ORIENT: This is the one that gets hard and happens at many levels at the same time. It will contain more assumptions than hard facts.

1. THE WAR: First, as stated earlier, this is a non-traditional method of warfare, one that the Army was not really manned, equipped, or trained to meet head on when it started. Up to 2001, the Army was designed to worked linearly and in depth. Every system we had was designed with that assumption as a start point. Units and equipment were designed to work in complimentary fashions across a front. It was also envisioned that wars would be between States/Nations with some form of nationally based political will to drive them. It is also reasonable to suggest that any war would be relatively short due to technological advances that allow immense amounts of violence over an extremely short period of time. Hence the idea of "Shock and Awe". That is not the current state of insurgent warfare. The current state suggests an amoebic, non-nation/state that is fighting an ideological war to be waged over long periods of time with no clearly defined "ultimate" winner or loser indicated by some formal surrender document. It is more likely a contest of moral and political will.

2. THE ARMY: Since the design was for a linear, in-depth Army, the separation of direct combatants from non-direct combatants was defined mostly by physical space and distance. It worked on a likelihood or probability model; and any adjustment related to the assignment policies of women was safely rooted in the notion of physical space, which provided a political 'comfort zone'. Policy adjustments made were more closely related to professional development / career enhancement reasons. Politically and socially, this probably began to occur in the mid-to late 70's and early '80's with the proliferation of women into the general workforce in more "white collar" jobs which ran along similar career progression paths. This implies that at the time when political and social change indicated an increased role for women in general, the Army found a similar way to increase professional opportunities by opening more and more career fields to them. But, still using the probability of a linear battlefield, this didn't present too much of a political risk - for either lawmakers, or the Army - because the likelihood of direct combat remained remote. A corollary to this is the move to the all volunteer force. Without the draft, the Army had to compete with the civilian workforce for Soldiers, and opening career fields to women was one way to enhance the Army's ability to attract talent. As a lawmaker, I can now support the inclusion of women into professional society - including the Armed Forces, while at the same time retaining my conditioned belief that they shouldn't be in direct combat. As long as the physical distance remains great enough, then all will be well.

3. WOMEN: There is an often used phrase called "the role of....something...in society". We have heard it many times as, "the role of women in the Army". The very word 'role' implies a defined set of norms, behaviors and expectations. I think the word 'role' actually does women in general a disservice because it is limiting by definition. This holds true for everyone, but has had an extremely adverse impact on the progress of women in society. For Millennials, the idea that women can do or be anything they want is no longer just some hopeful dream of school aged children. It is a truth. Women hold high positions throughout society in business, politics, education, the arts etc. You name the field, and it will be filled with talented women who are advancing their particular endeavor to new levels. But, that has not always been the case. In my lifetime, going back from the expected 'roles' of my grandmother, my mother, and my sister there has been a dramatic shift. That fact is evidenced best by articles such as the one about CSM King. We are still at a point where the first woman to do anything is considered a novelty. And the problem with novelties is that while some become the standard bearer for future generations, some remain nothing more than novelties. Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman on a major political ticket in the mid-80's, but her short-lived candidacy was a novelty. Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Donna Shalala - to name a few- show the impact of women as standard bearers.
In all societies though, females play the singularly unique role of being able to give birth. Whatever other standard is applied, they are the ONLY way to guarantee the continuation of a species. That gives them the unique consideration of something that must be protected in order to guarantee survival. In plain terms, they are a natural resource - just like water and the other requirements to sustain life on the planet.
That understanding has led to behavior patterns in men and women that date back to beginning of history. Women as child-bearers and family leaders and men as providers. And war is a form of provision. If you see war as a way of providing or protecting a value system or political state of being, or the extension of a religious philosophy, then the idea that men provide those things by waging war is not that hard to grasp. The current state of women suggest an equality rarely seen in history which brings into question the behavioral norms for all of society.

4. DIRECT COMBAT: Combat is messy business. For those who have witnessed it, it has devastating effects. The more 'direct' it is, the more personalized the mess. Dropping a bomb from an aircraft can have a massive effect, but it will not have the same personalized effect of having to set gun sights on another human being and killing him/her. It takes 12lbs of finger pressure to pull the trigger on an M16 rifle. 12lbs of pressure and you can end a life. Hand-to-hand fighting is even more personalized. Men and women both are capable of exerting 12lbs of trigger pressure to equal effect. There is no other realistic physical requirement to be a combatant that gives men an advantage over women. The Army will let a 97 lb weakling join the infantry even though he lacks the endurance to carry the load, the strength to pick up a wounded comrade, or the physical stature to conduct hand-to-hand combat with a foe. Because he is male the Army will sign him up to be an infantryman if he so desires. No thought is ever given to his ability to carry out the messy business of direct combat. For women, this is not the case. Apparently, a vagina and breasts create some unknown form of physical limitation that does not exist in men. Any more fit person - larger, stronger, with greater endurance - will have an advantage in direct combat. There is no gender associated with that fact.

DECIDE: Looking solely at the current battlefield, the current law, the need for Soldiers and the demands placed upon them, as well as the societal evolution in expected norms and behaviors, it becomes apparent that the Exclusionary Laws as currently written have become out dated and require (a) abolition by willful choice, or (b) to be allowed to exist into antiquity until they are no longer relevant to the discussion. Currently, it appears that the Army has chosen plan B. By not facing the issue completely, the Army is accepting that the requirements of the war will simply render the current laws archaic and they will die out in time. That there is another option is not really being considered. Therefore, the Decide seems to be between (a) willful change and (b) the decline of relevancy over time.

ACT: Since the Army has not chosen to frame the argument with an A or B option to be studied or reviewed, the OODA loop cannot be fully formed. Since we are apparently working with only option B, then any new Observe can only be seen through that prism. The one thing that can absolutely stop the OODA cycle in it's track is a failure to allow the Act to create a new Observe.

Those are my initial thoughts on applying the OODA Loop to the Women in Combat question raised earlier. I encourage you to comment. When I wrote Chap 1, I intentionally included the "eat it, kill it, or fuck it" phrase to demonstrate the method or mindset that was ingrained in me as a young infantryman, and to admit it's relevance in the context of direct combat. It was not placed there to suggest that that mentality was the sole domain of men. Other arguments regarding physical differences between the sexes similarly are not the sole domain of one gender or the other. Ultimately, it is my belief that any Act taken with regard to Women in Combat is ultimately social in nature and as such is very much open to any change, positive or negative, in prevaling social norms.

# 17 Women in the Army Chap 2

This year we saw the first female 4 star general, General Dunwoody, and now the first female Commandant of the Drill Sergeant School. The glass ceiling has cracked. It will be broken when we have our first female Chief of Staff, or Sergeant Major of the Army. Link below:


Another good day for all women. As strange as it may sound, examples like this have been relatively new for the Army. I'm not sure, but I believe it was only in the mid to late 70's that we saw the first class of female officers go through West Point. Congratulations to CSM King. A role model for all Soldiers who proves that hard work, determination and a sense of service are the exact things that make the Army a great place. While this a great story for female servicemembers, the truest measure of equality will be when this isn't a story at all. When we are no longer breaking gender / race barriers and the measure of worth is only viewed through the lense of ability and a desire for excellence.

# 16 Human Organization Link -

Check out the link at the bottom of this. It's entitled "Resilient Structures". I found it this morning and the very first paragraph jumped out at me.

"After awhile, human organizations seem to deteriorate. Often the individuals in them will be busy, spending long hours going to meetings, producing PowerPoints etc., but the amount of useful work - measured by successful new products, for example - keeps going down. This isn't a description of every organization, but you have to admit it's depressingly common."

Welcome to the United States Army. (Sarcasm intensified for effect)

The 2nd paragraph goes on to say,
"You also know, however, that the pattern can be reversed IF energy - primarily in the form of new ideas- is brought in from the outside to keep the organization fresh and competitive. It's not easy, but through techniques...it is possible to reverse organizational decline."

As an aside, this may be yet another reason for the officer / NCO divide. For the NCO the unit pretty much remains the same. Same organization, same day-to-day tasks, same eventual deployment etc. The only thing that changes is the name of the person at the top. Each new chain of command says pretty much the same thing on Day 1 i.e., "we're going to be combat focused, take care of families, work hard, be a team etc etc, but that gets ground down pretty quickly by the daily requirements. Within 6 months or so in an average organization, it becomes hard to tell one set of leadership from another. "Oh great! Another good idea! Can anyone remember what happened to the last one? I can't seem to find it anymore." For the officer, however, this is another one of their very limited opportunities to gain valuable knowledge, experience, and career progression. And so the opportunity is faced with renewed energy and purpose and a sudden awareness of the weight and burden of command. The idea of being responsible for people, and events, sometimes outside of their direct control becomes all to real. (More on that in another post.)

The linked article goes on to say that bringing outside energy into the organization - in the form of new ideas that challenge current norms - is a requirement for it's continued growth. In fact, it goes on to point out that in some cases, that outside energy is an actual physical requirement for the organizations survival. This brings up the idea of entropy. As you read some of the comments below the main article, you find one that brings forth the idea that corporations sooner or later must implode. They do so because they reach a point where the successful ideas of the past coupled with a focus away from the original product and on to profit margin makes them work towards a status quo arrangement. The current state of General Motors would be a good example of this. What had worked before - a safe product, consistent profits etc, created a corporate culture that valued continuing along the same path. Although in the current market world I'm sure that there were folks at GM who foresaw the impending crisis, the corporate culture was so pervasive that they were probably seen as heretics within the company. From an Army perspective, "That's the way we've always done it". Add to that both the corporate and military aversion to risk and generational prisms, and it's pretty easy to see how the entropy can take hold. Now, after the bailout, GM is aggressively fighting to return to profitability with new products, new ideas, and a new focus on the customer. The entropy has been removed by force.

Another good example of this might be Microsoft and Apple. At first, the very introduction of new products and the low cost proliferation of technology was the focus for both companies. However, there was a time in the mid-to-late 90's when Microsoft had become so huge that it shifted focus away from the needs of the users and on to protecting it's market share. Only after a change in leadership at the top has there been a refocusing on what made them successful in the first place. Conversely, Apple stayed more closely tied to the customer (the bottom), took innovative steps (IPOD, I phone) and has remained people/product focused and therefore has created a class of products and technology that has gained them an extremely loyal following.

The Army works completely on people. Forget for a moment all the technology, equipment etc and recognize that the Army is people. In that manner it shares many of the same characteristics of any large corporation. While it is not culturally profit driven, the culture of "We can do anything the Nation asks us to, at any time, in any place" has the same effect on how we operate. There is a professional Soldier culture - absolute dedication, self and family sacrifice, the 24 hour work cycle. Maintaining the facade for the American people that they can relax because our wise sages have already worked out the correct answer to every possible scenario. There is no contingency that we don't already have a plan for. In fact, in many cases, that last sentence is true. Somewhere in the Pentagon, I'm sure that there is a huge room filled with contingency plans for all types of crises. The question is how may of them are relevant? The mere fact that they exist has the effect of providing a false sense of security and introducing a complacent mindset (entropy). "Don't sweat it...OP PLAN 123XYZ was written 5 years ago to provide the answer to the problem." Never mind that there have been huge political, technological, or historical changes in the intervening time. Ultimately, that room becomes a huge guessing game of trying to figure out the next fight and hoping to god you don't get it wrong.

In the link below, you begin to hear about dissonance. A discordant sound. Something out of harmony with the host environment. Ahhh, the Disgruntled Employees Club. The critical voice of dissent. The loyal opposition. That person or group that is waiving the red flag and talking of impending doom when everyone else is cheering and paddling the canoe. These folks are critical to organizational health. When I say loyal and critical, I mean exactly that. Soldiers who truly care about the unit and look at it with a critical eye. Not just bitching for bitching's sake, but those who feel out-of-step with the leadership. In general, one of the two groups, the Top and the Bottom has to be correct. So, if the Bottom is out-of-step then the Top will never be as successful as it could be. If the Top is out-of-step then the Bottom will soon lose faith and become self-protecting. Either way, entropy or organizational implosion will be the result. But those individuals in the unit/organization/corporation who truly value the people, the challenges and the mission (be it military or corporate) who feel out-of-step need to be sought out by the leadership and listened to.

We all need to look at ourselves critically and figure out whether or not we are creeping our way towards entropy, or are we seeking out the dissonance around us and using it to see our world more clearly and to stay ahead of emerging challenges.


#15 Women in the Army Chapter 1

As you may have figured out by reading this blog, I usually work from small to big to small. That is, I take something that I have seen, find it's larger thematic idea and then try to return to the original thought. In essence, without always knowing I was doing it, I have learned to OODA my immediate environment and then tried to make it fit into a larger scale or scope. Yesterday's post "What a Week" is an example. A small comment by one person, coupled with a normal training event by a unit, take on much larger thematic views ( i.e that leadership requires a very honest sense of self and that any training properly conducted can have 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order effects that may actually outweigh the actual purpose of the training itself), but always returned back to the original person or observation.

This method of thinking has allowed me to develop an ability to take large themes and give them an immediate local impact, or conversely, take a small local observation and follow it outward to it's larger thematic implication(s). Sometimes this thought process works very well and other times it doesn't, but when it fails, it allows for another OODA cycle and forces a reevaluation of the original premise.

To the right of this post are a listing of websites that I follow or use for resource material. Last night I found the "Women in Combat Compendium" http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=830 on the Strategic Studies Institute page and began to read it. It presents a historical, anecdotal, and scientific review of the issues surrounding the assignment of women in the Army - a subject that I have an interest in due to my involvement with units that are gender neutral.

In an earlier post "Further Up the Road" I included a thought from my friend Erica that Millennials might be more comfortable dealing with vague and ambiguous situations than are earlier generations. As I was reading the "Women in Combat Compendium" (WICC) document last night that thought came back to me in a different light. As you read the it you see that (1) We have a policy in place that is almost impossible to strictly enforce and therefore leads to local interpretations based upon senior leader thoughts and feelings about the issue, (2) The Army absolutely needs all the Soldiers it has - male and female - in order to function, (3) Social attitudes towards women have changed greatly (at least in current generations) and slide back and forth along a generational scale, and finally that the actual physical nature of the current fight could be the final straw that breaks the back of exclusionary practices throughout the Services. It's awfully hard to find the 'front line' anymore both literally in combat and figuratively with regard to the current law. Additionally, I had never considered the cultural effects that the current laws have on female Soldiers, both officer and enlisted. It's an interesting read, and the comment section that begins on page 13 of Appendix 1, shows how much societal expectations and norms in the Army have changed - in some cases - and how much they have not in others. But I also think it is critical to point out that the respondents in this study are all senior (Lieutenant Colonel and above) officers who would be approximately 40 - 50 years old.

The second O in the OODA cycle stands for Orient. As I have mentioned before, this is the most critical and complex part of the cycle because it requires self awareness - why you are the way you are - and an awareness of why the adversary is the way he/she is. All seen without judgement or moral implication. Your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors become the prism through which you make your Observations (the first part of the loop) and will likely guide your Decide (the third part), which will determine your Act(the final part). So, in order for me to explore this issue fairly, it is helpful that I try to understand my Orientation. Without it, there is no frame of reference to explain my attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

I was cultured into the Army in an all male infantry unit in 1990. I remained in that world until 2001 when I was assigned as a Drill Sergeant at Ft. Jackson, SC. My early frame of reference therefor is from an 18-24 year old, all male environment. I am also a Gen Xer, born in 1968, who brings with him the prevalent attitudes and ideas of my formative years, roughly 1980 - 1990. As infantrymen, we were bred to eat it, kill it, or fuck it. We lived in a type A, macho world of young men trying to prove who was the toughest. Alpha male stacked against Alpha male. Women were so rare in our barracks and unit area that when the pizza delivery girl would show up at the staff duty desk, you could smell her perfume and deodorant. The smell of baby powder was so foreign to the antiseptic smell of floor wax and pine oil coupled with sweat, funky clothes, and testosterone that it stuck out, and we would go find a reason to pass the staff duty desk to see what she looked like. She was an object. Wallpapering our rooms with centerfolds was acceptable behavior. We were guys. We believed we were the kings of the world. And, as harsh as the "eat it, kill it"sentence above may sound, in many ways those things are a baseline requirement for inculcating the required behaviors for the violent, disturbing contest that is direct, close-quarters combat. You really don't ever want to completely lose the basic human domination, survival oriented, kill-or-be-killed, behavior mechanism. Not if you intend to survive close combat.

By the year 2000, women had begun to show up in Infantry brigades in staff sections and in support roles and I somewhat understood that we were slowly turning a corner with regard to the assignment of women in general, so when I went to Drill Sergeant school, I did not protest when I was assigned to serve at Ft. Jackson. In fact, I welcomed the assignment because I knew that my first real interaction with female Soldiers would happen in a very well controlled environment. There were rules and regulations and policies for training and safety that would both protect her and me if required. If the Army was going to have more women in it, what better place to see how they work than a hugely controlled environment like Basic Training?

Ft. Jackson is the Army's largest Basic Combat Training center, assimilating almost 30,000 Soldiers a year into the Army. Using the generalized figure that 15% of the Army is female, that equates to 4,500 enlisted Soldiers per year. That number does not account for officer assimilation's from West Point or ROTC programs. However, it is likely that the Ft. Jackson number is actually higher than 4,500 because the Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) that regularly enter the Army there are all coded mixed gender. There are no male only units on Ft. Jackson, as there are at Ft. Benning where all Soldiers who have chosen infantry as their MOS attend Bsaic Training.

Sometimes the Army can be quite progressive. An example is a small line in the training guidelines that mandates that 2 training events must be gender neutral - combatives and pugil stick. The regulation specifically stated that you could not intentionally seperate the genders during these events. Soldiers would only be separated by general body size and weight. If you had a small, medium, or large framed male and a similarly sized female, then they could fight each other during these events. In fact when our company conducted combatives training, we intentionally trained one male and female per platoon and they would become the demonstrators during larger unit training. This had the effect of (1) Showing males that their female counterparts could present an equal threat on the battlefield; thereby discounting the western cultural belief that women are not combatants and are to be protected, and (2) It proved to women that they could compete and win in physical events against male counterparts. The same held true for pugil sticks. Watching a male and female Soldier battle each other with an huge padded jousting stick is to watch an entire behavioral and cultural system turned inside out in 3 minutes or less. Once she hit him hard enough to ring his bell during a bout, he rapidly ceased to see her a a woman and only as a threat. Conversely, once she figured out that it was possible to beat a man in this physical challenge, she fought as viciously as any of her male counterparts. Mutual respect for the warrior abilities of the Soldier (not male or female) was the general outcome.

In 2004, I had the opportunity to be the first 1SG for a Forward Support Company as the Army went through the transformation process. By definition, my company - while legally assigned to a Brigade Support Battalion (therefore skirting the legal issue of women in direct combat) - it would be permanently attached to an Infantry battalion. Our company would provide the cooks, mechanics, truck drivers, fuelers etc to an Infantry battalion preparing to deploy to Iraq. There I saw men and women serving equally next to each other without regard for gender. We all slept in the same tent in the field, we grew the company together, my Soldiers lived in the same barracks complex etc. We were E Co, and E Co had men and women in it. We were also supported by an awesome Infantry battalion chain of command who accepted, respected, and supported our efforts. We faced some unique challenges in the early days, but overall, the infantry battalion treated us as much a member of their family as they did any of their all male infantry companies. Gender didn't matter - work ethic did.

I guess my point in this post is that we are in a strange new world with regard to the Combat Exclusion Rule and the assignment of female Soldiers. I have been fortunate enough to see the positive change that they have had on units both in garrison and deployed. Although they may find it somewhat confusing that we even have this law, it grew out of a cultural norm that colored the Army (and society at large) for many years. It is very much a product of my lifetime. Now we find ourselves in a place where senior leaders need to examine the practical realities of the current war, the requirement for talented Soldiers in all aspects of the Army, and look at what the future requirements are likely to be and have the political and practical courage to make the appropriate adjustments to the law. Only then can we make assignment and administrative policies aimed at retaining the female Soldiers that we have - and attracting more - instead of forcing them into jobs they don't want, with rules that aren't applied equally and putting them on the slippery-slope side of political intervention.

If we do this, we will be one step closer to achieving the parity that all Soldiers deserve. That being, the right of an individual to serve their country in the manner that best suits their talents, motivations and professional desire.