Reviewing Joint Publication 5-0

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On 16 June 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff promulgated Joint Publication 5-0. This joint doctrine update was six years in the making, and reflect both lessons learned and new paradigms of planning and operating joint forces. Here are my thoughts on the latest in joint planning.

What’s Right     

The updated version of Joint Publication 5-0 has a multitude of changes that planners operating at the Joint Staff, Combatant Commands, Joint Task Forces, and other joint commands should understand. Some are simple, and do not require detailed discussion such as the name change from “Joint Operational Planning Process” to “Joint Planning Process.” Some of the more significant concepts in the joint planning doctrine update include the expansion on the discussion of risk, the expansion on the discussion of assessments, and the addition of an appendix on red teams. These changes and additions reflect the joint planning community’s ability to learn, reflect, and adopt some of the best practices taking place in the joint force.

Few things are as powerful to a commander as an effective Red Team. Employed properly, a Red Team will challenge the assumptions of a commander and his or her staff. Effective Red Teams do not kill the plan, rather they help the commander and staff identify weaknesses and holes in a plan, thus making said plan stronger. The discussion of Red Teams begins on Page IV-3, where there is a discussion on the role and actions of Red Teams in planning. This short discussion expands into Appendix K of Joint Publication 5-0 “Red Teams.” Within the Red Teams appendix, there is a detailed description on the role of the Red Team in each step of the Joint Planning Process. There are a limited number of dedicated Red Team personnel throughout the joint force; the Red Team Appendix recognizes this force limitation, recommending that Joint Commanders prioritize Red Team Support.

                In Chapter III, Strategy and Campaign Development, the 2017 version of JP 5-0 expands the discussion of risk. With this updated doctrine, there is a requirement for Combatant Commanders to assess strategic risk, combine it with the military or operational risk, and include an assessment of the two in Commander’s estimates and in the Annual Joint Assessment (AJA). Paramount to understanding the discussion of strategic risk is the directed timeframes. According to the 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 “For strategic risk, CCDRs identify the probability and consequence of near (0-2 years) and mid-term (3-7 years) strategic events or crises that could harm US national interests, and they identify the impacts of long-term (8-20 years) trends and future adversary capabilities.”  This is an astounding aspect, as historically, Combatant Commands rarely looked past the 5-year timeframe of POM[i] Cycles, leaving it to the services to think about the mid to long term future.  

                Since General McCrystal delivered the standard three courses of Action to President Obama, Combatant Commanders have been providing a menu of options for the execution of various plans. The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 recognizes this aspect of planning, and formalizes that Combatant Commanders “provide multiple options to the civilian and military leadership so they can better understand how their decisions (to include timing of those decisions) can impact an operation.” Th recognition that the purpose of Joint Planning is to provide civilian leadership with military options to exercise in conjunction with other elements of national power provides clarity to what men and women working in windowless rooms sacrifice their time and energy for.

                As a plan moves from a concept and into execution, an assessment of said plan is critical. The assessment process is not new to joint planning; however, the updated doctrine on joint planning expands and updates the discussion. Indeed, similar to joint targeting, strategy, plans, operations, and assessments operate in cycles. Joint force commanders and their respective planners must understand how actions positively or negatively affect movement towards an objective or end state. Effective assessments ensure joint force commanders can adjust plans as operations unfold. The expanded discussion and emphasis on assessments is another welcome addition to our joint doctrine.

What’s Wrong

The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 removes “deliberate” and “crisis action” planning terms. The theory behind this change is that both “crisis action” and “deliberate” planning use the same processes. In my opinion, this is wrong. Any planner who has spent time in a Combatant Command J35 or J5P Division can tell you that “crisis action” and “deliberate” planning both use the seven steps of JPP, but that is where the similarity ends. Historically, crisis action planning occurred within a time-constrained environment while deliberate planning took place over an extended timeframe, often spread out over the course of two years.  Moreover, in crisis action planning, various planning products from the Pinnacle OPREP 3 to the Commander’s Estimate, through publication of Execution Orders took place over the course of days and weeks.

The 6-Phase Model  Rather than limiting creativity, is brought clarity and a common language to joint planning across the plans community. 

The 6-Phase Model  Rather than limiting creativity, is brought clarity and a common language to joint planning across the plans community. 

                The constant of every Combatant Command numbered plan is the 6-phase planning model. Over the past couple decades, the 6 phases of joint operations has served as a common reference point, or terminology for joint planners. Indeed, when any planner or commander speaks about Phase III, other planners instinctively understand what part of an operation the discussion is centered on. The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 maintains a detailed discussion on phasing, the purposes of phases and transition between phases to name just a few. However, this updated doctrine removes the 6-phase planning model. The removal of the 6-phase model is a mistake. This will lead to various Combatant Commands and other Joint Forces developing their own phasing construct. Doctrine provides a common language, and veering away from a common phasing model creates an unnecessary risk to the joint force.

Summary/Conclusion

                The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 is a welcome and much needed update for joint planners across the force. The addition of an appendix on Red Teaming should provide a powerful tool to enhance contingency plans. Further, recognizing the difference between strategic and operational risk is paramount to get planners to look up and out, in lieu of down and in. On the downside, the elimination of the six-phase model has the potential to generate risk in coordinating and synchronizing global operations.

 

[i] POM: Program Objective Memoranda; the resource allocation decisions of the Military Department in response to, and in accordance with, the Guidance for Development of the Force (GDF) and Defense Planning Guidance

The Inverted Triangle of Joint Planning

For the past 18 months, my assignment with the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command enabled a different perspective on planning. On each mission, one of the products our command continually produces is an Operational Approach. The Operational approach is the culmination of operational design, and provides the commander and staff a visual of how the command visualizes the problem, along with the ways and means to achieve an endstate. While in previous assignments, the Operational Design aspect was a part of the planning, it was not stressed as an equal, or even superior product to other aspects such as Mission Analysis or Course of Action Development. I now look at Joint planning as an inverted triangle with Operational Design at the bottom, feeding the rest of the process. 

Operational design, as described in  the updated Joint Publication 5-0 is "is a methodology to aid commanders and planners in organizing and understanding the Operational Environment. Operational design contains four specific components to include understanding strategic guidance, understanding the operational environment, defining the problem, and developing an operational approach.  

Joint Publication 5-0.16 june 2017 Page IV-7

Joint Publication 5-0.16 june 2017 Page IV-7

An Operational Approach, as defined by JP 5-0 is "a commander’s description of the broad actions the force can take to achieve an objective in support of the national objective or attain a military end state." It is within this product, that the commander and his/her staff can communicate how they envision the problem and the broad ways to solving the problem. The Operational Approach brings order from chaos

The use of operational design to build the operational approach is the aspect of joint planning where members of the staff should be in the same place. While other parts of planning such as Mission Analysis, COA Development, and Orders Development can occur within separate cubicles, every brain is necessary at the onset. No one person within a command has a monopoly in knowledge, and everyone on the staff knows something nobody else does. All this knowledge must be brought to the table at the onset of military problem solving. 

The bottom line (not up front but 4 paragraphs in) is that if the Operational Design sucks, no matter how good or thoughtful the rest of the planning process is, the final product, Operations Order, or mission will be no good, either. Indeed, planners assume the greatest risk to both the mission and to the force when they fail to consider the aspects of operational design. No matter how well conceived the mission statement at the end of Mission Analysis, or the tasks developed in COA Development, if the staff and commander are solving the wrong problem, subsequent planning and execution are fruitless endeavors, no matter how hard or long everyone works.

While the greatest risk of failure occurs at the bottom of the inverted pyramid, it is the execution of the plan that receives the most attention. It is within the execution of a Joint Operation that the greatest amount of people are acting towards an endstate. Although Clausewitzian friction is greatest in execution, if the commander has identified the right problem to solve, friction becomes easier to overcome.

Thinking of Joint Planning as an upside-down pyramid is a way to visualize where planners assume the most risk. Everything in joint planning hinges on solving the right problem, and communicating the commander's visualization of how to solve that problem to all echelons.     

Army Friendship and the Food Court Theory

               In late summer of 2012, I PCS’d  (Permanent Change of Station) from Stuttgart Germany to Williamsburg Virginia. To me, this was an ordinary move; with the exception of it was the first one with my wife and two kids. My wife did an awesome job of getting the kids and dogs ready for the move, but was quite upset that the friends she had made over the past three years would no longer be with her. My simple, albeit snarky comment was “Welcome to Army Friendships.” Naturally, she asked “what’s Army friendship?”

                Army friendship is the development of close bonds for a limited amount of time. Typically, the timeframe of an Army friendship ranges from the duration of a 2-week TDY to a 3-year permanent assignment. Army friendships end with the near complete cut off of communications, with the exception of liking a Facebook status, or commenting on a random photo posted to social media.

                My first experience of Army friendship occurred nearly 22 years ago. My friendships developed at Fort Jackson through eight weeks of basic training. My squad and more broadly my platoon developed some deep friendships, often sharing personal information normally reserved later in life for a spouse. We swore to eachother we would remain in touch, I have not heard from any of them since we walked off the parade field on graduation day. The thanks you get for feeling sorry for someone and giving them your cheese spread.

                I have developed other Army friendships over the years, to include friends in Airborne School, the Officer Basic and Advanced Course, ILE, as well as time in combat, or in the famed 101st Airborne Division. Some of these friends came to my wedding, and now we barely speak to one another. Those in the military tend to understand that this is completely normal. 

               When I think about Army friendship, my mind races to the cinematic masterpiece Stripes. Thought the comedy of Bill Murray, Harold Ramus, and John Candy, my view is that above all, the move is about friendship (strangely I have the same opinion about Ghostbusters, it’s not about fighting ghosts, it’s about friendship). If Stripes were to reflect reality on greater scale, each character would PCS and never talk to the others again.   

                The advent of social media allows us to continue Army friendships, although they are never quite the same. I find Facebook useful to link up with friends over lunch or coffee nearly everytime I am TDY. Moreover, each TDY I test my “Food Court Theory.” This theory states that if you sit in a PX food court long enough on any random day, you will see someone you know. My current job takes me TDY often, and this theory has yet to fail me. However, the impact of social media has done more than sustain friendships.

Sit here long enough and you will see someone you know

Sit here long enough and you will see someone you know

                 Social media allows soldiers, and to a greater extent men and women from all services to form friendships and connections that never would have formed twenty years ago. While this seems like an obvious statement, the impact is real and a condition the force should embrace. For instance, junior soldiers can now engage senior leaders through twitter and other on-line forums. This breaks with the traditional relationship of a specialist never speaking to a lieutenant colonel informally. The corner office barrier does not exist on twitter. Make no mistake, this is a good thing.

                Personally, social media has not only allowed me to connect with Army friends while TDY, it has forged new friendships. These new friendship have been paramount in my professional development, often creating ideas (and sometimes shooting down bad ideas), to develop and write about.

                When our time is done on this earth, our greatest moments are the time we spend with people. Parents, siblings, spouses, children, and yes Army friends. I am thankful for all I have and will know.

 

The American Military Hall of Fame

The American Military Hall of Fame

The greatest professional athletes reach the pinnacle of their post professional career though induction into the Hall of Fame. From Cooperstown to Canton, from Toronto to Springfield, the busts of the world’s greatest athletes are immortalized. Selection into each hall of fame is subjective, determined by a select group of men and women. Criteria ranges from statistical achievements, championships won, longevity. Conversely, factors such as a toxic personality or accusations of cheating can prevent players with the greatest statistical achievements from gaining entrance.

If the United States Military, established a hall of fame, who would gain entrance?  Who would be a part of the initial classes of inductees? What should be the location of the Hall of Fame?

First, the elgibility requirments. 1) Must have served in the American Military. 2) Must be out of the service for at least five years.


The freshman class of the Military Hall of Fame includes Generals and Admirals responsible for the victories in America’s Major Wars. In this aspect, winning a war relates to winning championships. 

George Washington: Washington comes near Honus Wagner territory in terms of percentage of votes. Although Washington may not have the military honors of a U.S. Grant, or George Marshall, his generalship set the path for all those that would follow. For example, had Washington led the Army in the Revolution, other HoF inductees such as Grant and Pershing may have had an unremarkable military career putting down rebellions in Calcutta. Further, Washington has a brand. Easily recognizable on the One Dollar Bill, the Quarter, and Mount Rushmore, Washington built a brand more recognizable then Michael Jordan. In this aspect it is unlikely someone will replace him as the GOAT. Washington gets in with 99.7 percent of the vote, with one or two voting against due to Washington having been a slave owner.

U.S. Grant:  Grant finally saw eye to eye with President Lincoln on how the U.S. Army should fight and win the Civil War. Grant gains entrance, despite having fought in the West, which is similar to athletes today playing on the West Coast, thus receiving little media attention. Indeed, Grant’s reputation as one of the all-time greats is due to his campaigns in the East, while his victories in the West are often forgotten.

Jack Pershing: Pershing had a storied career, beginning with the Battle of Bud Bagsak during the Moro Rebellion phase of the Philippine–American War, continuing into the expedition to Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa, Pershing would then serve as Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in the First World War. It was Pershing who ensured American soldiers were not thrust into battle to quickly, nor assimilated into the European armies. The parallel command structure was paramount to allied success. Following the war, Pershing assumed his role as Army Chief of Staff

George Marshall: The architect of World War Two. Simply put, Marshall was FDR’s indispensable general. If Washington, Grant, Pershing and are the equivalent of the best ballplayers or quarterbacks of their time, Marshall is a combination of Bill Belichick, Scotty Bowman and Phil Jackson of his era. Marshall groomed a generation of leaders below him, to include the likes of Eisenhower. One can put Marshall on the top of a “coaching tree,” in the same manner one puts Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi.

Chester Nimitz: Nimitz achieved the rank of 5-Stars, but more importantly was responsible for victory in the Battle of Midway. Midway gets Nimitz into the freshman class over other naval legends such as John Paul Jones, Admiral Dewey and Ernest King. This is similar to how Super Bowl III propelled Joe Namath into Canton.


The Greatest of All Time

The Greatest of All Time

The Sophomore Class includes some of the freshman’s class subordinates. Further, with this class, some individual achievements become part of the reasoning for induction into the Hall.

William Tecumseh Sherman: The man who would conceptualize total war in his famous March to the Sea. If Grant was Babe Ruth, Sherman was Lou Gehrig. Following the war, Sherman began the Army’s Command and General Staff College. The latter achievement pushes him into the sophomore class of inductees. Sherman

Alvin York and Audie Murphy: the first NCO to enter the Military Hall of Fame. York’s induction is due to his actions where he earned the Medal of Honor. Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier of World War II, which includes the Medal of Honor. Further, Murphy was injured 3-times in combat, and all this before his 21st birthday.  Murphy would easily earn the votes to get in.

Earning the Medal of Honor is not an automatic induction. Any Military Hall of Fame would certainly include a Medal of Honor Wing. However, just as pitching a perfect game does not make one a hall of famer neither does earning the Medal.

George Patton: A subordinate of Eisenhower in World War II, General Patton would easily make the hall of fame. Indeed, if there were such a thing as military talk radio, or a military version of Mike and Mike, some of the debate would center on Patton’s status as the GOAT. Let’s be honest, if people gambled on the outcome of battles in World War II, Patton would have never been an underdog.

Winfield Scott: General Scott’s comparison is Cal Ripken. Although not singularly responsible for for victory in America’s major wars, his tenure as Commander of the Army, his actions at Vera Cruz, his diplomatic skill as President Jacksons emissary to South Carolina during the nullification crisis, and his conceptualization of the Anaconda Plan are but a few of his notable achievements throughout the course of his stories career.

Alfred Thayer Mahan: In the late 19th Century, Mahan published his seminal work The Influence of Seapower upon History 1160-1783. His book and subsequent lectures would influence navies across the globe. Mahan gets in while Billy Mitchell of the Army Air Corps waits another year.


The third class of inductees begins with the Revolution and brings us into the modern era

Nathaniel Greene: An underrated General who passed away shortly after the Revolution. His career is similar to Sandy Koufax, brief but dominant.   

Billy Mitchell: The father of the U.S. Air Force.  Despite his temporary ban and courts marshal, Billy Mitchell was paramount in the development of U.S. Airpower, an asymmetric advantage we hold over most of the world today.

Dwight Eisenhower: His performance as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe gain him entrance into the Hall of Fame. Further, Eisenhower was a five-star general. The five-star rank is the equivalent of hitting 500 home runs or winning 300 games. Barring a steroid era in the future where dozens of American Officers promote to General of the Army, it is a solid statistic by which to judge.

Matthew Ridgeway: Ridgeway won a championship in World War II, then made it to  game 7 in the finals in Korea.  

Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell: Lets be honest, these two men are the last GOFOs to win a championship, and when discussing the greatest of all time, championships matter. Generals of the current conflicts such as Tommy Franks have made the playoffs, but seem unable to win in the post season. 

Future inductees in no specific order

Douglas MacArthur: MacArthur will gain entry into the hall in one of his last years of eligibility. MacArthur did earn 5-Stars, was awarded the Medal of Honor, and held a host of command positions over his storied career. However, there remains a group staunchly against his entrance into the American Military Hall of Fame.

Omar Bradley Hap Arnold William Leahy Ernest King and William “Bull” Halsey: All members of the 5-Star club.  

Henry Knox, Ethan Allen and Daniel Morgan

John Paul Jones, Oliver Hazard Perry, Matthew Perry, Admiral Dewey

John Boyd

Phillip Sheridan and George Meade

Fox Conner: You can extend the “General Tree” beyond Marshall back to Fox Conner.

Chesty Puller: The most decorated Marine in U.S. history.

Hyman Rickover and Bernard Adolph Schriever make the cut for their work during the Cold War.


Very Good but not quite in

Jimmy Doolittle: The Doolittle Raid provided a psychological boost, but like Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, one major accomplishment does not make a hall of fame career.

Alfred Wedemeyer and Walter Bedell Smith:  Fantastic Officers, but their major accomplishments came as lead staff officers. Dale Murphy sends his regards.


Not Getting In

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and any other person who fought for the Confederacy. Much like Pete Rose, any military accomplishments have been tarnished by their decision to fight against the United States. In fact, participation in a rebellion against the United States government to preserve an economic system based on slavery is actually much worse than gambling on the outcome of baseball games. Confederates have a lifetime and beyond ban from entering the American Military Hall of Fame.


Location

Where to put the American Military Hall of Fame can ignite debate in the same manner of who should get in. Considerations include ease of visitation and historical significance. Washington D.C. has prime real estate, but the city has multiple museums and historical sites to visit. Baltimore is close to the U.S. Naval Academy, and New York City is an epicenter of tourism.

It pains me to say it, but I would put the American Military Hall of Fame at West Point. West Point offers the history as the alma-matter of many inductees. Further, home Football games offer the perfect venue to honor new inductees.

The Location of the American Military Hall of Fame

The Location of the American Military Hall of Fame

Speaking of Him Again

“In Winter trenches, cowed and glum

With crumps and lice and lack of rum,

He put a bullet through his brain.

No one spoke of him again”

-Siegfried Sassoon: The War Poems

In January of 2013, Colonel Rick White left this earth. I would like to speak of him again.

I’m sitting here this Veterans Day in Afghanistan thinking about the one individual in the military who had the greatest impact on my career. It takes about a second to come up Colonel Rick White.

I served on the Brigade staff and as a Company Commander in 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. This was 2005–2006, when things were not going so good. First hand, I saw a collective group of junior officers come together for a common purpose in the most demanding of human conditions. Fortunately, we had a leader like Rick White.

Our Brigade had a book written about us. Blackhearts, by Jim Frederick detailed how one of the platoons in our first battalion descended to hell. The book came out a couple of years after the deployment. Locked in my bedroom one evening I read it in four hours.

Our Brigade lost 55 soldiers, killed in action over the yearlong deployment to South Baghdad; 56 when you include the suicide of our deputy commander six years later. Adding up the wounded raises the number to a couple hundred, and it’s impossible to count when you include the mental issues soldiers in our brigade continue to face a decade later. It’s hard to argue that in my adulthood there is anything else that could have a greater impact on my intellect, my career, or my life. Moreover, I can’t begin to describe this impact without talking about with the man who was my immediate boss, a man who I talked with every single day.

I first met Rick in early 2006. He had just been assigned to second brigade of the 101st Airborne Division as the Brigade’s Deputy Commander. One sensed an intensity with Rick immediately, and I could tell that the staff, and the brigade as a whole was now better off with him on board. About a week later, I would run into Rick on a Sunday morning at the local O’Charleys in Clarksville Tennessee. Like me, Rick was a single officer with nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than to get brunch, a bloody mary, and watch some football. Rick was also wearing a CCM jacket to go with his Maine Blackbears cap. No doubt, I was going to enjoy working for him. Even better, Rick was a member of Theta Chi, a fraternity that every graduate of Norwich University is familiar with.

As the Brigade neared its deployment, we had to undergo a Convoy Live Fire. Every individual in the Brigade, from the Commander on down had to participate prior to the Iraq deployment. Rick’s emphasis on the officers of the Brigade staff executing the live fire properly truly set him apart. He reminded us that nothing would set him off more than an officer not meeting the standard, to include the wearing of proper gear. He was intense, and his focus led to a successful live fire, which in turn got us ready for the long slog ahead.

Throughout the deployment, Rick maintained his intensity. He was a champion not just for the staff, but for every soldier in thee Brigade. Following a force protection assessment of an outlying FOB by Division HQ, the assessment team made the recommendation that the soldiers at the FOB …This set Rick off, here were soldiers on patrol nearly 16 hours a day, often outside the FOB for days at a time, and when they return they only want to eat and sleep. Rick exploded at the briefer, essentially saying “we ain’t fucking doing it.” Three days later a division FRAGO came out directing every unit on the Liberty Base Complex to fill sandbags to deliver to outlying FOBs. Good on the briefer for taking the message to higher. Sometimes you just have to speak your mind, no matter who the audience is.

What truly made me appreciate Rick was our daily meeting. Rick, the JAG, the S2 and I would meet every morning to review detainee packets and to make recommendations on their disposition. Rick was calm in his decision-making, and listened to everyone in the room. Rick also took ownership of the detainee facility, making frequent visits to the soldiers who worked there. It was an underappreciated, yet difficult job. Rick saw gaps where no one else did, and filled those voids with his leadership. I have taken this lesson to heart over the past ten years and use it as a blueprint in my life as a staff officer.

In warfare, you are not an intellectual and you’re not a warrior unless you have passion for what you do. Passion is what best describes Rick White. He served as out deputy commander for our training prior to and throughout most of our deployment. Rick was passionate for every soldier in the Brigade, from his peers to the newest private. I watched him threaten the brigade staff on the consequences of not wearing proper equipment during a live fire exercise, and I watched him travel to every single outpost and checkpoint manned by soldiers of the Strike Brigade. Intellect is more than knowledge; it is part passion and loving what you do. Rick put a bullet in his head a few years back. Every Memorial Day weekend, and every Veterans Day I change my Facebook profile to a picture of us standing on a FOB adjacent to the Euphrates River. It is literally the least I can do to remember him. When my packet went to the last promotion board, I checked my file to ensure everything was in order. I found myself staring at an OER I received as a junior captain, only because Rick’s signature was in the rater block. This year I did my best to write and speak of him. It’s a little bit more. The best I can do is carry a small piece of his passion to the career I have chosen.

“How are things in Heaven? I wish you’d say,

Because I’d like to know that you’re all right.

Tell me, have you found everlasting day,

Or been sucked in by everlasting night?

For when I shut my eyes your face shows plain;

I hear you make some cheery old remark –

I can rebuild you in my brain

Though you’ve gone out patrolling in the dark.”

-Siegfried Sassoon: The War Poems

The People You Meet

Been thinking about some deployments and some interesting people I have met over the years.  So here we go...

The intensity or frequency of my travels over the past two years brings me to airports around the nation. At each stop, I consider myself lucky to have the privilege of access to USO clubs in each respective airport. They vary in size from small (Newport News) to lounges with sleeping rooms (Miami). Indeed, most serve food, non-alcoholic beverages and offer free wifi to service members passing through. The USO also sponsors tours of celebrities, from athletes to comics, to rock and movie stars.  

My favorite Army celebrity story to tell occurred on literally my first day in the Army, and had nothing to do with the USO. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school I attended basic training at Fort. Jackson, South Carolina. A group of about 25 of us departed the New York City MEPS station to JFK airport for our flight to Columbia, South Carolina. While waiting for our flight, another soldier spotted “the old guy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on a pay phone. (This was 1995, before cell phones and smart phones). A group of us decided to approach him as soon as his phone call ended. An hour later, the airline began to boarding our flight. As a group, we approached Mr. Sutherland, who was still on the phone. He waved us off, when another member of our group said “Mr. Sutherland, we are headed to basic training; we just wanted to say hello.” Donald told whoever he was talking to (I like to think it was Kiefer), to “hang on, I am going to talk to some kids on their way to the Army.” He spoke with us for about 10 minutes, and even signed autographs. The only paper I had was a New Testament Bible handed out at the MEPS station. Mr. Sutherland signed it “Dan, Best of Luck in the Army…-Donald Sutherland.” I still have that bible today.

Seeing celebrities continued following my commission from Norwich University in 2000. As a young second lieutenant in Korea, a WWF sponsored wrestling event took place at our Camp. The highlight was the former Intercontinental Champion of the WWF; The Honkey Tonk Man. My photo next to him after the event is one of my most prized positions, although I was disappointed he did not break a guitar over my head.

I have met other celebrities throughout my time in the military, mostly through USO tours. These include in 2003 shaking an in his steroid prime Roger Clemens's hand, and having Wayne Newton serve me Thanksgiving Dinner at the Camp Doha dining hall. On a deployment to Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division in 2005/2006, I had the chance to speak with Al Franken following a show on FOB Stryker. What I love about comedians and celebrities is the political aspects stay behind, and their genuine humor comes to the forefront. Al Franken was the perfect example of this trait.

Al Franken enjoying his coffee, telling jokes to the troops of 2/502 in Baghdad

Al Franken enjoying his coffee, telling jokes to the troops of 2/502 in Baghdad

As a young second lieutenant in Korea, a WWF sponsored wrestling event took place at our Camp. The highlight was the former Intercontinental Champion of the WWF; The Honkey Tonk Man. My photo next to him after the event is one of my most prized positions. The sad part is, up until he posed for the photo, I still considered him a "bad guy," along with his loudmouthed manager Jimmy Hart.  

Within each USO show, there is a visible contrast between athletes and movie/TV stars. The athletes seem to be comfortable with the long travel, the the long hours, and the ability to go off script when interacting with the troops. Actors less so. I attribute this facet to long grinding seasons of professional sports. This observation became clear to me on a recent deployment to Afghanistan. Ray Allen, formally of the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat seemed in he zone while talking to troops on Bagram Air Field, as Olympic Gold Medalist Maya DiRado. Actors Scarlett Johannsson and Chris Evens a bit less so.

I am thankful for the opportunity to meet some interesting people over the years. I am also greatful for the entertainment said individuals brought to various deployments. Often, their travels go unreported, and to an extent I am sure they prefer it that way.

‘Blackhearts’ : A view from the inside

By Dan Sukman

Best Defense guest columnist

Tom Ricks has repeatedly cited in this blog Jim Frederick’s 2010 book Blackhearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death, about B Company, 1/502 (1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade) and their yearlong deployment in South Baghdad.

This deployment, from September 2005--2006 was marred by two distinct incidents. The first was the DUSTWUN (Duty Status: Whereabouts Unknown), when members of Al Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped and murdered three soldiers. The second was when a squad from B Co 1/502 raped a young Iraqi girl and murderer her and her entire family inside their own home. Frederick offers insight and analysis into how these events unfolded. The book is generally accurate in the portrayal of events and personnel involved, but for those of us who were actually there can attest, there is more to the story that has remained in the shadows for too long.

I was a member of the Blackhearts Brigade throughout the deployment. During the first six months I served as the Brigade Provost Marshal and the second six months as the Headquarters Company Commander for the Brigade Special Troops Battalion. When Blackhearts was released, I purchased the book on Amazon, and when it arrived, I practically locked myself in my bedroom and read the book in one sitting. Over the past seven years, whenever I have had the opportunity to catch up with a member of that Brigade, be it over lunch, dinner, drinks, or just running into each other in the PX food court, the subject of the book inevitably comes up. Typically, we agree that the book, for the most is accurate, but lacks sufficient context. The shortcoming of the book is that it failed to capture a complete picture of events leading up to and during that 12-month deployment. Everyone has a perspective on what happened, and what we should take away from that deployment. As one who lived it, here is my perspective.

Toxic Relationships

Blackhearts details continually and painfully the leadership failures of various members of leaders at the level of Platoon, Company, and Battalion. What the book does not discuss are the varying toxic relationships that developed prior to the deployment that endured throughout the year. These toxic relationships occurred between Commanders and their Command Sergeants Major (CSMs), between the staffs of the 4ID and 2nd BCT, and between the leaders of the division and of the 2nd Brigade.

The relationship between the Brigade Commander and CSM began to deteriorate months before the deployment. Indeed, by the time the Brigade was packing connexes and boarding aircraft, the Brigade CSM and Commander barely spoke to one another.

The relationship between a commander and the senior NCO is key to a unit’s success. Commanders rely on their senior enlisted advisors to speak truth to power, and in turn, senior NCOs must trust that their respective commanders will consider and respect their wisdom and advice. When this relationship sours, the effects ripple through the ranks. From my time with the Blackheart Brigade, I developed and maintain a deep respect for both the Brigade Commander and CSM, men, who deeply cared about the mission, and their soldiers, but I wish their respective relationship could have been repaired.  There are times when two competent leaders are paired in a Commander-CSM or Higher to Lower Commander relationship. Sometime these relationships flourish, and other time they deteriorate. The Army as an institution should examine how to enable leaders to repair relationships, or how to break up command relationships without putting careers at risk.

While the CSM – Commander relationship went sour, the relationship between 4ID (Multi-National Division Baghdad) did not fare much better. This mistrust began prior to deployment, and as a result of the Division’s Warfighter Exercise. The Brigade elected to send only one officer (yours truly) and one NCO to participate. As the Blackheart Brigade was deploying three months before 4ID, the brigade focus during the 4ID Warfighter was deployment preparation. The Blackheart Brigade also participated in a multi-day leadership-training program (LTP) with the 4ID staff. However, these two short events were inadequate to develop the relationships and trust required between two warfighting commands.

When a division and a subordinate brigade have a poor relationship from the onset of a deployment, again, the effects ripple through the ranks. This tension was palpable at the staff level whenever the division and brigade staffs interacted. A combination of mistrust and lack of empathy built up over the course of the deployment. With this dynamic, complaints about lack of resources or faulty policies often went unheeded. When senior leaders at different echelons have a conflict (based on personality, perceived performance or lack of empathy) it is incumbent upon those leaders to put their differences aside. Sadly, this never occurred.

This highlights a shortcoming of the modular BCT construct. When one unit falls under a higher-level command with which they have neither trained, nor developed relationships prior to combat, the Clausewitzian friction--the countless minor incidents that make the simple very difficult--floats to the surface. The subordinate unit tends to be unfamiliar with standard operating procedures, ranging from the mundane markings on PowerPoint slides to the complex understanding of how a commander processes information and makes decisions. Conversely, the higher headquarters may be unfamiliar with the subordinate’s capabilities, ranging from weapons systems and training efficiency to leadership effectiveness. Highlighting this aspect was our Brigade’s transformation to the BCT construct in the year prior to deployment. We were just beginning to understand our own capabilities. Expecting a distant headquarters to understand and employ capabilities properly may be a bridge too far.  Under this force generation model, absent a doctrinal change requiring extensive pre-deployment integration, understanding personalities of commanders and staffs simply does not exist. In this model, every game becomes a pick-up game.

The last relationship to highlight is that between the 48th Enhanced Brigade Combat Team of the Georgia National Guard and the Blackheart Brigade. Our brigade took over the Southern Baghdad area of operations from the 48th. Almost immediately, tensions developed between the two units. The outgoing command had the perception that our brigade did not understand the complexity of what we were about to engage in. Conversely, a perception developed within our Brigade that the 48th was filled with amateurs, who had long ago reached their limit of advance. The reality is that both units deployed with professionals, doing their best in a complex environment. Frederick discusses this at some length early in his book. This toxic relationship between the brigades would be one of the first elements of an “us versus them” mindset that would prevail throughout the deployment.

At the tactical level, when thinking in time and space, units occur risk in two areas; during times of transition, and in the seams between unit AOs. When the Army moved to the BCT construct, the number of transitions under a Division HQ increased, thus maintaining a higher level of risk throughout the course of the war. The mistrust between the 48th and the Blackheart Brigade exasperated this risk to a higher level.  Unfortunately, these toxic relationships set the stage for events yet to come.

Relationships, be it inside of a marriage or between military units is built upon trust. When trust departs the relationship, chaos ensues. As the relationships between senior leaders in the battalions, brigade and division went sour, an “us against them” mentality developed at the various echelons.

From the Brigade staff officer perspective, 1st Battalion created a culture of superiority. The same perception developed with the Brigade MiTT team, which was headquartered in Mahmudiyah alongside 1st Battalion. From the Brigade perspective, these units were cocky, with a holier than thou complex. From their perspective, Brigade, and to an extent Division HQ, just did not understand how tough they had it. 

This same corrosive dynamic would play out between our brigade and the division. Frederick alludes to this dynamic in Blackhearts: Mistrust between headquarters leads to soldiers believing their commanders simply don’t care and cannot be trusted. When soldiers lose confidence in their leadership they tend to quit. (Blackhearts comes to this conclusion, as does the book When Soldiers Quit, Studies in Military Disintegration)

This conflict between headquarters is common within the military, however leaders at all levels should recognize the risks inherent when this dynamic goes too far. The more latitude a higher headquarters allows a subordinate element to conduct tactical operations based on their intimate knowledge of the AO, the higher the risk that these actions will not fit into the broader campaign. This is why a unit’s understanding of the higher HQ strategy and intent is critical. Likewise, a subordinate headquarters refusing assistance from a higher headquarters out of an arrogant sense of loyalty to the brigade, battalion, company, or platoon tribe, it creates risk in executing missions with inadequate capabilities. Further, this loss of trust can lead to the subordinate units conducting operations completely unrelated to the higher commander’s intent. Once the trust began to erode, things only got worse.

Adding to the friction involving the Blackhearts Brigade was the nature of the fight. The Brigade was assigned to South Baghdad. This area of operation was distinct from other Brigades within MND-B, with both the terrain and the enemy completely different from other brigades’ area of operations in Baghdad proper.

1st Battalion, on which Jim Frederick focuses in his book Blackhearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death, was at the southern edge of not only the brigade’s, but also the division’s, area of operation. Moreover, the Brigade bordered the Marines operating to the west of our AO, making coordination with a non-army unit an added element of friction. This relatively remote area was rural, characterized by flat terrain and a series of canals, which often limited maneuver space in contrast to the urban areas of Central Baghdad (urban areas can limit maneuver as well). Much of the area was populated by Sunni tribes, and as such was neglected by the Shia-led government in Baghdad. Further, the South Baghdad area of operations was populated by former senior Ba’ath party and military leaders who now found themselves unemployed, disenfranchised, and with no hope for livelihood or power in the future. This dynamic allowed Al Qaeda in Iraq to prosper, and thus was the main adversary facing our brigade. This was in contrast to the Shia militias metastasizing in Central Baghdad at the time.

Paramount to success in warfare is understanding the nature of the fight. Complicating the fight in South Baghdad was a complete misunderstanding of the local power structure. In an effort to empower the central Iraqi government, our Brigade initially sought to build up local government officials, who more often than not would find themselves on the short end of an assassination stick. It was not until well into the second half of the deployment that our brigade shifted effort to local sheiks and tribal chiefs at the expense of town mayors. This coincides with a broader issue the Army faced at the time, a lack of counter-insurgency doctrine that identifies the most likely center of gravity as the people (FM 3-24 was not published until after our deployment). Indeed, the Brigade received the Effects Based Operations Handbook prior to our rotation at JRTC as a model to plan operations. The poor relationships, downward spiral of trust, lack of common understanding of the situation, and absence of doctrine created a perfect storm for the events to follow.

In the Blackhearts deployment, a key mission of our Brigade was to train the local Iraqi Army Brigade. This became the mission of an ad-hoc organization known as a Military Transition Team (MiTT). In 2005/2006, the Army was still relying on MiTTs pulled out of hide to train the Iraqi Army. The 2nd Brigade MiTT pulled officers (to include a Battalion Commander), NCOs, and junior Soldiers from the Brigade to form the team. Indeed, the BSTB Battalion Commander led the MiTT, along with a maneuver battalion XO. In organizing for this mission set, we assumed risk within our maneuver units in terms of manning and leadership. While this risk may have been identified, it was never adequately mitigated as evidenced by some junior Soldiers operating checkpoints for days on end--alone, unafraid, and at times ready to commit war crimes. The MiTTs became a pick-up team within a pick-up team in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Bagdad.  This was a recipe for failure.

This risk does not simply fall onto the brigade, or even the division, but rather how the military was completely unprepared for the nature of the fight. The Army would correct this failure by standing up organic MiTT teams who would train together at Fort Riley prior to deployment. In 2005/2006, this adaptation to the conflict had yet to materialize. The Brigade MiTT team had little time or capability to truly form the team prior to deployment, but would itself adapt and perform well under trying conditions.

Conclusion

In 2014, retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger published his thoughts on the war with a book titled Why We Lost. The soldiers of the Blackheart Brigade had significant accomplishments, to include inflicting great costs to Al Qaeda in Iraq and providing time and breathing space for the central government of Iraq. We had multiple tactical victories, methodically moving forces into previously enemy held territory (as mentioned in Rick’s Book Fiasco pg 426-428). The counter to this view is that once Green and his team raped and killed a little girl and her family, the battle of South Baghdad was lost. We simply cannot claim, as many in Vietnam did, that the Army won every tactical victory. Just as the Army lost in Mei Lai, when Green and his team did what they did, one can argue that we lost in Yusifiyah. The tactical and operational effects of the Rape and Murder may have been fleeting, but for a moment in time, the Army lost the moral high ground.

I have had eleven years to think about this deployment. For many of us it was the defining year in our military career. To this day, the challenge coin I carry in my wallet is not that of my current unit, but rather of 2nd Brigade’s 05/06 deployment. The events that unfolded in South Baghdad are complex. Jim Frederick’s Blackhearts told the story of a platoon, a company, and a battalion. But “Blackhearts” is the nickname of the entire Brigade. The Blackheart Brigade achieved various levels of success and failure throughout the 12-month deployment.

At a personal level, the Blackheart deployment changed me in three distinct ways. First, working as a staff officer on combatant command and other high-level staffs, I do my best to communicate subordinate command concerns while formulating plans and orders. These concerns are typically communicated from subordinate staffs, and can often be solved at the staff level. Second, the Blackheart deployment taught me that I must be honest in communicating risk, both to my own commander and to higher-level staffs. Articulating risk is a skill all in its own, and there is a balance between failing to say anything, and blowing some risk out of proportion. Do either of the two too often, and concerns tend to be ignored.

The deployment taught me the value of trust. Trust between leaders is paramount to success. When leaders within an organization lose trust with each other, soldiers see it at every level. I recently returned from a short deployment in Afghanistan. While there, I witnessed a division commander and his division CSM make it a point to sit together in the dining facility at least once a day. This action sent a message to the entire command that leaders were on the same page, they communicated with each other, that they had mutual trust. Before I flew home, I made it a point to stop the CSM in the hall and tell him how much I appreciated what they did.

At the broader organizational, or Army level, the Blackheart deployment taught me three things. First, as an organization, the Army should do its best to avoid ad hocery. The fewer pick-up teams we employ in combat the better. Second, the Army must keep COIN doctrine alive even during times when said doctrine is not employed. We simply cannot have tactical and operational units operating on a battlefield without a common understanding of how to attack a problem. Third, just I mentioned the value of trust in personal relationships, building trust between organizations or units is paramount in winning wars.

Finally, as an Army Strategist, the Blackheart deployment taught me firsthand how tactical actions can have strategic consequences. Prior to the deployment I had read about Abu Ghraib but those events seemed distant and more conceptual. The events in South Baghdad brought the reality of human fallibility to the doorstep. The military needs strategic leaders who can focus on the large geostrategic picture and translate policy into military strategy. At the same time, those leaders must ensure to place the right leaders at the tactical level. Sun Tzu was right, good strategy with bad tactics is the slowest route to victory.

 

[Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Sukman is a strategist in the U.S. Army, a former Military Fellow at the Project for International Peace & Security (PIPS), and a member of the Military Writers Guild. Over the course of his career, LTC Sukman served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), United States European Command, and the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC). He currently works for the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command in Norfolk VA. His combat experience includes multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow him on twitter @dansukman.

This article represents the author’s views, and not necessarily the views of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense. Further, this article represents the author’s views, and his alone, not those of other members of the Blackheart Brigade

 

 

Book Review: Preparing for War

By A. Bazin

In Preparing for War, The Emergence of the Modern U.S. Army, 1815–1917, J.P. Clark tells the story of a critical chapter in the maturation of America’s Army, one that is often underappreciated. Punctuated by the leadership of Winfield Scott and George C. Marshall on either end, he describes the difficult journey from a force characterized by “citizen-soldiers” to one consisting of true “professionals.”  In many ways, his description of this period highlights the rise of American power on the global stage, where it moved from a frontier backwater to an actor of significance on the world stage. The U.S. Army was, of course, a key player in this period of great growth and change.   

Clark describes the Army that Scott entered into in 1808, and it was not a pretty picture.  Characterized by poor leadership at the highest levels, Scott himself described the Army using words such as “ignoramuses,” “sloth,” “intemperate drinking,” and “positively bad.”  Using thoroughly documented research punctuated with vivid storytelling, Clark aptly describes how the Army we know today emerged out of this raw and primordial state, stumbling not-so-gracefully toward the professionalism and high standards that we often take for granted today.

Although some scholars argue that politicians, generals, and events typically drive military change, Clark has identified a factor in this period that arguably made a bigger difference; ideas.  He goes on to describe how institutions, experience, and culture can change large complex organizations, helping to manifest ideas in reality. He also directly challenges the ideas of Huntington, arguing that it was precisely the connection to American society that helped the U.S. Army transition into the 20th Century.

In the pages of this book, there are some very valuable lessons that contemporary strategic thinkers can glean.  First and foremost, changing a large military organization in a democracy is very, very hard and probably always will be.  Second, as a microcosm of the society it defends, the Army changes as society changes around it.  Putting this in a different way, the American Army grew up and became professional period because the aspirations of the American people and their chosen political representatives demanded it.  Finally, perhaps the most important lesson is that it is precisely in the creating, sharing, debating, and adopting/discarding of ideas that organizations change.  If you think about it, this is the still the intellectual engine that powers America’s Army forward today. Overall, Preparing for War, is a brilliant account of the often rocky road that the Army has travelled as an organization, and, like all well-written history, is a harbinger of challenges yet to come.

The 90s: Seinfeld, The Yankees, and an Army in Peacetime

By Dan Sukman and Aaron Bazin

It has been said that there is nothing worse than being in a peacetime Army.  We suggest that there is one thing worse, being in an Army that cannot fight.  The United States Army faces an uncertain future. As it comes out of a decade plus of persistent conflict, it is clear that the Army faces stark choices in force structure and culture.  Already we are witnessing the drastic reduction in the number of personnel, to include removing civil affairs units from active duty and reinstituting selection boards for schooling to discriminate early to separate the “haves” from the “have nots.” Today, at a point where the U.S. Army is arguably the best it has ever been, there is a concern that it has begun its peacetime backslide. If you spent time in the Army of the 90s, it should scare the hell out of you too. If you came into the service following 9/11, here is a small glimpse.

A Zero Defects Mentality:  The Army of the 1990s had a zero defect mentality where the relief of a commander for missing a screwdriver in a motor pool inventory was the norm.  A culture where commanders and senior NCOs are judged on random arms room inspections and performance in field training exercises serve as an ultimate a mark of success or failure is runs counter to the adaptations we pushed since 2001. Sadly, with the reduction in the size of the force accompanied by a reduction in promotion rates it is the small minute, often irrelevant differences that will separate individuals appearing before a board. An Army that adapts a zero defects culture is one filled with leaders who are unable to accept and take risk.

Polished boots and starched uniforms:  There is a systematic belief that polishing boots instills much needed discipline into the ranks. Naturally, polished boots and starched uniforms will lead to better allocation of personal finances, as family budgets will take into account higher dry-cleaning bills and the $10 per week to have the guy at the PX spit shine their boots. However, starched and polished uniforms do not translate to battlefield success.  There is a danger that the Army will revert to a culture where it will not matter how smart you are, how high your PT score may be, or your proficiency with small arms, that fact that you have sleeve tattoos will get you thrown out of the Army. When appearance is valued above competence, the best and brightest quickly leave the service to find work in other places.

Early Performance as Measure of Success:  The Army should never rely on how leaders perform as a Platoon Leader or as a Battalion S1/S4 to determine who will command and lead at the higher levels. In this type of Army, scripted gunnery tables are the preeminent measure of tactical acumen. Often the success of a platoon leader or company commander can be a matter of the right platoon sergeant or operations and first sergeant, while leaders at the operational and strategic levels are often late bloomers in terms of success and maturity.

No Sunglasses but Camo Face Paint:  The Army must continually adapt and embrace common sense additions to the uniform. The Sergeant Major of the Army’s recent decision to allow earbuds with the PT uniform is a step in the right direction. It took a 15-year war in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan to change the culture on sunglasses and camelbacks. However, the Army must guard against a culture where face paint made of hard wax from the Korea-era will be re-issued to each soldier to apply every day in the field, and that this standard will hold for rear-echelon troops the same as it would for LRRS detachments and other Special Forces units operating deep in the enemy rear. 

Badge Chasing: The Army is in a bad place when officers and NCOs are judged according to the number of and type of schools they have attended, even if they are irrelevant to their current duty position. With a decline in the number of soldiers serving in combat, the badges or tabs on a uniform may be more coveted than time in a leadership position.   

Branch Insignia: Similar to a culture of badge chasing, the Army must avoid a return to a culture where one immediately assess the amount of respect to pay an officer based on what is attached to their uniform. We should fear a culture where judgments of leaders will not be based on their physical, mental, and problem solving skills, but rather their branch assigned to them as a West Point or ROTC cadet.

War Stories: As the number of troops engaged in combat operations has dwindled, a culture develops where combat experience is secondary to training events. There will be a day when war stories of Afghanistan and Iraq are replaced with stories from CTC Rotations, Ranger School, or other professional development courses. Moreover, rotations at the training centers such as NTC and JRTC will not be considered training, but rather the ultimate test in the worthiness of a unit, where the T in NTC and JRTC stands for testing in lieu of training.  This leads to an era where failure to defeat the OPFOR at NTC may result in a relief of command in the same way that a flat head screwdriver found missing during an inventory will. 

Limited Resources: An army that can barely afford to train its men and women for combat will lose the first battle of the next war. In an era of limited funding, soldiers will train with limited resources leading range time once a year where a soldier is issued 12 rounds to zero and 40 rounds to qualify.  This type of culture moves away from advanced rifle marksmanship and forces leaders to develop unrealistic training objectives with minimal resources. Limited resources tend to reduce the philosophy of mission command, leading to a return to the era where no soldier is allowed to load a magazine in their M4 without the strict supervision of a range safety. 

Yellow PT Belt: The reflective belt culture is not a creation of the Army of the 90s. Some may credit the reflective belt for solving the age-old military problem of not being able to immediately identify soldiers in the hours of limited visibility. Even today, as the Army created a PT Jacket with a reflective belt sewn into it, an additional belt is often worn on top. We should fear an Army that can’t get past this absurdity.  


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government


Daniel Sukman is a strategist in the U.S. Army, a former Military Fellow at the Project for International Peace & Security (PIPS), and a member of the Military Writers Guild. Over the course of his career, Dan Sukman served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), United States European Command, and the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC). His combat experience includes multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan

Aaron Bazin is career Army officer with over 20 years of leadership and management experience operating at the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DoD), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. Central Command, and within the institutional Army. Operational experience includes deployments to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Qatar, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, and Kuwait. He is the author of the book, Think: Tools to Build Your Mind. 

The Enduring Interest Test

By Aaron Bazin

            In the military, we are taught that when we start to plan by conducting a mission analysis of our order from “higher.” From this mission analysis, we are taught to derive our mission, intent, and concept. At the tactical level, this works pretty well and serves to ensure that plans are nested within a larger approach.  However, as one works their way up from the tactical to the strategic level, guidance from higher gets increasingly broad and conceptual. 

At this level, it is common for military planners to become frustrated that political guidance is fuzzy, dynamic, or plain absent.  They also may find it very challenging to develop a campaign plan that synchronizes military activities in time, space, and purpose.  In these cases, the military planner may search tirelessly for the higher guidance they need in various strategic documents, only to realize they are dealing with a situation that is unique or moving so fast that there is no real guidance to be had.  In these circumstances, enduring interests can provide strategic thinkers a valid way to come up with political-military objectives when even the policymakers themselves may be uncertain as to what to do.

Why Enduring Interests?

            When trying to ascertain what should be done in any novel policy situation there are a variety of valid approaches.  One could look at past decisions and apply them to new circumstances, but at the risk of choosing the wrong lesson of history.  One could look deeply into the ideology of those in power, but risk a reversal when the political winds of change direction.  There is one conceptual anchor that one can rely on in novel situations and weather the storm of policy change; enduring interests.

            Thucydides himself identified that fear, honor, and interest where three of the primary driving factors in the decisions nations make.  Also, the idea of enduring interests plays a prominent role in contemporary U.S. national security documents. If we assume that enduring interests are of fundamental importance, then we can use them to help lay the conceptual foundation of our strategic thinking.  Enduring interests have almost an immutable power because they can persist throughout changes of administration, changes in policy, and changes in threats.

The Constitution and America’s Enduring Interests

Enduring interests are one of the most powerful forms of communicating a long-term vision because of their source, the founding documents of a nation.  In the case of the United States, the U.S. Constitution provides critical insights to the enduring interests of the nation:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

 The preamble contains some powerful language that arguably describes the enduring interests of the nation.  First, it discusses values, including the continued striving for perfection in unity, establishing justice, and securing liberty.  Second, it outlines the importance of security in the form of common defense and internal tranquility.  It also alludes to prosperity as an enduring interest when it discusses the general welfare and the blessings of liberty.  Arguably, the U.S. Constitution is the contract between the government and the people and, as such, a source of legitimacy.  If we combine these major areas together, values, security, and prosperity as a source of legitimacy, arguably we can generalize the following simplistic model:

One Model of Enduring U.S. Interests

One Model of Enduring U.S. Interests

An Enduring Interest Test

            To test for the suitability of a military activity, one should be able to tie it to one or more of these interests, let us call this the enduring interest test.  To conduct a brief thought experiment to illustrate how this could work, let us say that we are charged with developing political-military objectives for the 1990-1991 Gulf War.  To craft hypothetical objectives that pass the test, all we have to do is to connect clear connect operational objectives to one of the three categories of security, prosperity, and values, perhaps like this:

·         Defeat Iraqi forces in order to improve security in the region.

·         Maintain the free flow of economic commerce in the region to set the conditions for continued global prosperity.

·         Secure the internationally recognized territory of Kuwait to restore its freedom as sovereign nation.

            By tying operational actions to statements to items of enduring interest we can gain numerous benefits.  First, this sets forth clear logic between our military activities and political outcomes.  Second, the statements provide a clear and obtainable desired state that the military can use to see if it has accomplished what it has set out to.  Finally, it ensures these desired outcomes are congruent with the timeless ideas the nation was founded upon, thereby fostering legitimacy with both internal and external audiences. As complex adaptive systems, strategic problems continually change.  As such, military planners will always have to continually assess and adjust political-military objectives accordingly as circumstances change.

Conclusion

            Of course, this is not really that new of an idea.  As discussed, Thucydides was one of the first strategic thinkers to identify the importance of interests and many have adapted and applied this ideas since then.  In no way does this diminish the fundamental importance of the concept.  The bottom line is that when a nation uses the military instrument of national power it should clearly delineate just how it will further the enduring interests of the nation.

            In describing Stoic Roman philosophy, Marcus Aurelius advised to “Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”  If you think about it, perhaps we should view enduring interests in this same way.  Ultimately, basing strategic thinking and military planning on the fundamental ideas expressed in the Constitution gives our strategic thinking more gravitas and provides military forces a clearer picture of the target they are aiming for.