Leadership: Learning To Be A Switch Hitter

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January 3,2009: The U.S. Army is fixing the way it remembers things. This is very important to many of the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them remember their fathers or uncles, who served in Vietnam, complaining about how everything was reinvented back then, even though old soldiers, or marines, remembered doing the same kind of work before World War II.

No one wanted to have all the new ideas and techniques developed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or retrieved from Vietnam, or earlier, experience, lost. But the army had already noted the problem, back in the 1980s, when a "Lessons Learned" operation was set up. CALL (Center for Army Lessons Learned) proceeded to capture lots of combat experience from Vietnam, Korea, Vietnam, and even earlier. The CALL researchers soon noted reoccurring patterns, certain ideas and concepts that kept getting reinvented. They were ready when September 11, 2001 came along.

Earlier this year, the army went one step further, and came out with a top line field manual (FM 3-07) "stability operations" (the kind of "small wars" being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The army has always had an FM-7 for "full spectrum operations" (total war, against troops in uniform, armed with a full spectrum of weapons and tactics). Now it is committed to training for both types of combat. The key to this is training the commanders. One discovery in the last decade is that the troops can switch from conventional combat, to irregular type operations, more quickly and efficiently than their bosses.

In 2009, the army will begin holding brigade level training exercises for conventional warfare. These will mainly be for the commanders. The army has simulation technology that makes it cheap and easy to set up a realistic wargame, with brigade, and higher level, commanders, standing in their usual headquarters (everything from a tent, to an office suite back in DC, full of PCs, datalinks and flat panel displays), having to deal with realistic wartime decisions.

Brigades that are now able to stay at their bases for 18 months, will also have a chance to practice conventional warfare, as a brigade, at the electronically monitored training centers. This sort of thing, an army innovation of the 1980s, has proved to be the closest thing to actual combat ever developed. What the army is seeking to confirm is the usefulness of combat experience, which so many troops now have, to enabling them to quickly relearn the skills needed for conventional war. In practice, much of what a soldier does in conventional, or irregular, warfare, is the same. Shooting accurately, carefully planning raids or patrols, attention to detail and discipline are all used in both forms of combat. There are different tactics, but these are learned more quickly by troops who have been in combat. Being a combat veteran makes a big difference, and the coming series of conventional war exercises at the training centers will measure how much.

The army also wants to measure how quickly the commanders can switch from conventional, or irregular warfare, and back again. The colonels and generals now have their two playbooks, and over the next few years, they will be tested.

 

 


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