04 March 2011

Jack of all Trades

Just came across the GEN Dempsey article from last week's Army Times. This article really hasn't sat well with me over the last couple days. Some thoughts...

Many leaders have significant issues spanning multiple spectrum's of conflict, sometimes on multiple blocks, or in short amounts of time. The reality is that many formations and their leaders simply are not capable of spanning the full spectrum of conflict. This is my biggest issue with this article; the notion that we as leaders must narrow our focus to master only a few key constructs; the “military pentathlete” (or as I call it, Renaissance Ranger) is on his way out the door. In the early days of Iraq, we had formations trained for linear combat against uniformed enemy formations. Major Combat Ops were what they (we) did. As the situation worsened and gained complexity by the day, it quickly became apparent that our SOPs were not working. But many (most) units continued to hammer away. If we only work on and master a couple concepts, people will have a tendency to see through the prism of knowledge and experience; in essence, everything becomes a nail if all we’re carrying is a hammer. We learned the hard way that not everything is a nail, and that we needed to carry more than a hammer. I have already seen this regression to only carrying a hammer again firsthand over my most recent Reset phase of the training cycle.

2. Combined arms warfare is not lost, as many advocate. I would argue at the Battalion-and-below level it is (and has been) alive and well. At the tactical level, most Platoon Leaders and NCOs can effectively maneuver ground elements, provide task/purpose/EEI to FW and RW CAS as well as ISR platforms, while also coordinating with higher and adjacent units. These situations have been (and are) happening on a daily basis. Things get fuzzy at the Brigade level, and downright messy at echelons above Brigade. There’s nothing like being in the heat of a situation and receiving a flurry of mIRC messages or phone calls from someone at Division because the old man is watching and wants to know exactly what we’re up to 200+ miles from his current location. Apparently the myriad storyboards produced after an event just don’t provide quite the same level of satisfaction as watching a Squad Leader maneuver his fire teams near-real time (while also often providing near-real time feedback). So, perhaps the capacity to conduct combined arms warfare at the Division or Corps –level is a more accurate statement.

If we’re going to refocus our future doctrine and training plans to only a couple tasks, it seems imperative that we find a way to broaden leader’s skill sets so we don’t pigeon hole ourselves as an organization. Further, if a jack-of-all-trades doesn’t make a leader, why do we as Officers switch jobs as often as we do? I was always told it was because as a future Commander it would help me understand everything I would need to in order to effectively command. Parallels?


  1. I couldn't agree more. The rise of the COINdinista's has come at the expense of our ability to fight the conventional battle. While I think our combat formations are more likely to face an insurgency in the coming years, the probability of a major adversary is nit out of the picture.

    At least the many time I rotated through JRTC pre-9/11, we conducted the fight in phases, heavy/conventional - LIC, though we weren't fully prepared by our LIC training for what was to come.

    I never really understood the methodology behind Branch Detailing, much less the insufficient PL time given to junior Officers. I also have issues with the way the NCOES is teaching junior NCO's what they already know, given the fact that most have already deployed and conducted the duties of the next higher leader under fire.

    Possibly a major transformation of the major Training Center's POI's + a revamp of the NCOES is needed. Being a retired Senior NCO, I'm likely not qualified to speak cogently enough on the Commissioned education track.

    When Gen. Dempsey states: "But if you’re not a master of anything, you have no confidence in anything. I’m a passionate believer in that.”, I think that has been debunked by the ability of Junior Officers and Senior NCO's to conduct Civil-Military Operations and countering Asymmetric warfare that has been far outside of their schooling or exposure....and in many cases they've done it damn well.

  2. I mostly agree with you. However, I think that we have let the pendulum swing too far in the direction of LIC/IW/COIN/SFA/SASO (whatever acronym of the day you choose) on another important front besides at the BCT/DIV and above level.

    The TRADOC/Education System: At the individual training level (particularly for officers in some of the combat support branches - especially MI), we are now no longer learning how to provide support and do planning for anything other than COIN. This worries me. Ask a new MI LT what the range of a SA-7 or Russian/Chinese tank main gun is and you will likely be disappointed. We need to train our officers on a framework that allows them to conceptualize and plan for a wide range of possibilities - from force-on-force to COIN to CT to Humanitarian Assistance.

    Ask them to explain what's happening in Libya/Egypt/Tunisia in the context of military history and military grand strategy and they would be even more befuddled. Why aren't we as a military studying the Arab Revolt (of TE Lawrence) or the Algerian War (of the French in the 1950s-1960s) or the N. African campaigns of WWII? We must broaden our historical understanding to be able to put current events into context and more adeptly frame an appropriate response.

  3. As the primary planner for our Battalion's upcoming NTC rotation, I am seeing first hand TRADOC's confusion regarding this crazy thing called Full Spectrum Operations. The phase is used interchangeably with "high-intensity conflict" by the fine folks at the National Training Center. Funny, because the term is self-defining. Tragic, because if TRADOC's "premier" training center can't define a training plan for units rotating through, what does being "certified" to conduct those operations really mean? Is it just words or marking a bubble green on a powerpoint slide somewhere, or does the training assess the commander’s ability to take his formation and accomplish the Army’s mission?

    Like Josh and the Constitutional Insurgent say, at the tactical-level (junior NCO/company grade officer) our force is the best its ever been. Partly because of 10 years of war, but also because at the company level, HIC and COIN look a lot alike, i.e. shoot everything vs. don’t shoot everything. At the Brigade/Division/Corps/Echelons Above God-level, I have less confidence is our Army’s ability to enter a permissive/non-permissive environment and accomplish a very specific mission while integrating other governmental and non-governmental agencies. Has anyone seen a Division or Corps training exercise (not virtual) in the last 15 years? I would go out on a limb and say its unnecessary, but caveat that by saying that our national policy should be tempered to accept the limitation that our Army is not ready for Full Spectrum Operations and will not be for a long, long time.

    To sum up this meandering post, let’s train for a few things, get really good at those few things, and only do those few things.