Not shooting can be more exhilarating than shooting

Sighing, I picked my head off the ground and looked around and then over to my team leader on the right, who was watching the objective. I was a little further back, behind a tree and lying on my stomach. I couldn’t see it. He looked at his watch and then to me and whispered “They don’t have any weapons.”

I looked back at him blankly.

He said, “What should I do?”

“What did the squad leader tell you to do?” I asked.

“He said to open up at this twelve o’clock and it’s twelve o’clock. But they don’t have any weapons.”

I took a deep breath trying to think of the right answer. They’re not showing weapons, yes, but is that because they don’t have them or because we don’t see them? With no weapons, the right answer is not to shoot, but we really didn’t brief a mission that had a contingency built in for an objective without enemy personnel or people without weapons. We’re in a training environment and on a training lane. The mission is a squad attack. Our team’s mission is to support the assault by fire. To do anything else might result in failing the lane, but the right thing to do might be to not shoot.

I certainly didn’t want to give the wrong advice, so I passed the buck. “Well, it’s your lane and you’re the one getting graded. Go with what you think is right.”

He nodded and jumped onto his feet shouting “Freeze! Don’t move!” Instinctively, but cautiously, I followed. It felt completely wrong.

No gunfire, no shifting fire, no assault.

We moved forward at a quickstep, weapons up and scanning. I felt like we were doing the right thing, but worried whether we were thinking this one through too much rather than just going with what was normally expected – shoot, fight, win.

Watching the objective, a figure dashed from a tent and over a log, curling up against the log in hiding. Another figure took off running away from the objective into the woods. As I reached the log I yelled over to the team leader that we had one person on the objective who didn’t speak English. She lay on the ground speaking gibberish.

The lack of gunfire coupled with the strange shouts eventually compelled the assaulting element to come out of their positions in the nearby woods and stumble into the objective, wondering what the hell had just happened. An eerie feeling descended on us as we whispered to each other, trying to figure out what was going on. We were all thinking the same thing – we probably just messed this up big time and someone was getting a no-go.

Still, when you’re in this deep you go with what you’ve got. We criss-crossed the objective looking to see if there was anything worth noting or anyone left hiding. I searched the one civilian(?) gingerly and fake zip-tied her hands. We then picked up and moved out with our one captive until the cadre called ENDEX.

I felt exhilarated. More so than any of the lanes where we conducted a flawless, textbook, squad attack with lots of gunfire and loud bangs. I was beaming. I was completely impressed and inspired by the decisive and bold leadership displayed by the officer candidate who decided that it was more important to do the right thing as he saw it and risk failing the lane than to take the easy option and follow through on the briefed plan.

Fortunately, our cadre had actually instructed the OPFOR to not show any weapons to see how we would react. The plan was to attack and destroy the personnel on the objective. But a junior leader made a tactical decision that, had he not, could have had strategic implications (if this was a real scenario).

Not shooting was the right thing to do in this case. The leaders passed the lane and we all left feeling good about the decisions made.

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