Leadership: Collecting and Distributing Combat Experience

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November 3, 2005: The U.S. Army believes it has figured out the best way to run a war in Iraq, and is scrambling to find enough instructors so that commanders headed there can be shown all this accumulated wisdom and experience. The U.S. Army likes to count things. In Iraq, it counts what the troops do. For commanders of combat units, those totals turn into several scores. It's not, officially, supposed to amount to a grade, or an evaluation of how well the officer did. But it does. And it's been noted that some officers have done better than others. What these officers did is examined as well, and those techniques are noted. The third "rotation" of units are in Iraq now. That means over fifty combat battalions, and as many combat support battalions, have served in Iraq. Lots of successful commanders, and lots of tips on what to do, and what not to do.

Previously, email and video conferences had done a good job of getting the new guys up to speed. But, as fast and efficient as this was, it did not get everyone's useful experiences transmitted to all the new commanders that needed it. The new training program, a one week course, will be held in Iraq for all new battalion and company commanders. While many of these leaders will also get emailed (often from the people they are replacing) information specific to the area they will be operating in, it's the larger number of generally useful tips, from commanders in other parts of Iraq, that the new course will bring together. Now all this stuff could just be emailed, and much of it has been in the past. But it's been found that having a good instructor present the material, and create some dialog, the lessons are absorbed more effectively. This is particularly true when it comes to things like civil affairs (dealing with civilians and negotiating with local leaders.)

The major problem is finding qualified instructors. The best source has been retired officers, especially those with Special Forces experience (which includes lots of teaching other soldiers). This talent pool has already been worked over by the commercial firms that provide instructors for the new Iraqi (and Afghan) armed forces, as well as special training courses for American troops headed for Iraq. It's getting hard for many officers and NCOs, retiring after 20, or 30 years service, to stay retired. The money for these instructor jobs is good, the risk is low, and it's a chance to get involved in one more war.

 


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