#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?

#22 Women in the Army Chapter 3...Ahead of Our Time

One of the conversations I most enjoy when dealing with younger leaders has to do with women in the Army and why they join. In an earlier post (#3 ), I alluded to this and have also made the argument at other times that, in many ways, the Army puts women in a very tough spot. As long as we continue to force her to choose between motherhood and service, we (the Army) will lose. Although strides are being made to improve a woman's ability to both serve her nation and raise a child, not enough is being done.

The attached link is from an article in the New York Times. They have been running a series on women in combat which you can find on their home page. Ultimately, the article highlights the challenge of combining motherhood with service and deployments. Check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/us/27mothers.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

If I were in charge of the Army for a day, my plan would be pretty simple. Since most women can continue their daily jobs for at least the first 6 - 7 months of their pregnancy, they would do so. Unless a Dr. said otherwise. In that instance, the doctor would win. From month 7 on, they would go on maternity leave for 1 year. That would give them the last 2 months to prepare for the arrival of their child, and another 10 months after the birth to bond, breast feed, nurture their infant and work themselves slowly back into pre-pregnancy physical shape. It would also provide the critical time necessary to plan, and figure out how they will provide for their new family when they go back to work. It would simply be as if the world stopped at a moment in time, and then picked up again 12 months later.

What would the 'cost' of this be? Obviously, there is a risk of some Soldiers intentionally becoming pregnant in order to escape an impending deployment, and certainly there would be those who would do so. But they already exist today. My guess though is that it would be a negligible amount. Another concern is that those Soldiers are on the books, but wouldn't be deployable, so I cannot get a person in exchange for them who can deploy. This is manageable at both local personnel and Army Human Resources Command level, especially given 7 months lead time. If, as has been previously stated, only 15% of the Army is female, it is highly unlikely that all 15% are going to be pregnant at the same time. More likely 3 or 4%. (That's a total guess on my part). This is really a very small total number, and of that, those who serve in absolutely critical positions is less than 1%.

If the Army were to do this, would it be reasonable to extend her contract for the additional year in exchange for a year's paycheck and the health care savings attendant to having a baby? I think so. Right now, the Army offers officers the ability to pursue an advanced degree in whatever field they choose in exchange for an extended service obligation. Free education - making them more marketable - in trade for X amount more years of service. So, why not do it for expectant mothers? Now, I can almost hear people saying that a plan like that amounts to an involuntary extension, because if she does not intend to reenlist and gets pregnant inside of a her last year, then you have actually signed her up for however long she had remaining, plus the incurred obligation. Not necessarily. If she chooses to get out on time, then she still can, but the Army will have no obligation to provide for her health care after she leaves the service. All this would do is provide a better choice, allow for critical planning time, and allow a new mother and her infant to spend the first 10 months of their lives together. In the long run, I think many women would feel like additional incurred service would be well worth it.

#21 Is McChrystal reading our Blog?

Check out the link below. Could be we have another anonymous reader! Ha! Wouldn't that be cool!


#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.