Military Review: Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon

Fort%20Hood%20PT

I co-authored an article that is published in the May-June issue of Military Review. It’s called Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon and details efforts our platoon took over the past year to implement resilience techniques at the platoon level.

I submitted the article last year, and the process for getting published in Military Review is long, but the timing couldn’t be better. A couple of weeks ago, USA Today published an article criticizing the Army’s resilience program and it was widely shared on social media among veteran friends with the damning headline Army morale low despite 6 year, $287 million optimism program. The insinuation is that the implementation of the resilience program was chiefly an effort to raise morale, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the case. Anyone who has served in the military knows that maintaining high morale is tough nowadays – it’s not just chow, mail, and free time anymore.

I’m a fan of resilience training. It makes sense to me and as someone who spends a lot of time reading about productivity (Gretchen Rubin is my spirit animal), integrating resilience training and letting it set seems like a good idea in today’s Army.

The major problem with resilience training, as I point out in the Military Review article, is that it has been implemented mostly at the individual level. That is, NCOs go to the Master Resilience Course and learn the material, and then (mostly) return to their unit and periodically give a class on resilience. The only person who really benefits from that is the NCO, who has had the in-depth experience in the class to actually use some of the techniques. Implementing reslience at the unit level has not really been accomplished. My argument is that if units actually worked at implementing the techniques beyond the individual level, we might actually see better results.

The point of this post is not to simply counter the USA Today article, but to get you to go check out the article in Military Review, where you have at least one example of a small unit utilizing resilience techniques – not to raise morale – but to do better work.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Afghanistan Post Mortem: The DFAC at the Edge of the World

There was a small post that we visited from time to time, to move in or out personnel and equipment. It was hours away by vehicle and we really didn’t like going there. It was far from the big American bases and the terrain was mountainous and nasty.

We called it Mordor.

The first time we went to Mordor, we arrived in the middle of the night. For security reasons, no lights were kept on at night, so the base was completely dark. Just outside of the main gate, we were met by a small group of Americans in the darkness, wearing helmets and night vision goggles. We were dropping off a few people and would only be on the ground for less than an hour. Our helmeted American hosts said they had a small dining facility on the compound and we were welcome to grab some snacks and drinks before the long drive back to our base. He pointed somewhere deeper into the darkness before dissapearing.

With the bulk of the platoon waiting at the trucks, a few of us made our way into the darkness. We walked through a small gate and along a small road. Eerily quiet trucks zoomed past us, literally brushing up against us as we tried to make out the dark figures in the back, lounging as the faint sound of their trucks faded into the darkness.

We kept walking, up a hill now, eventually seeing a single source of dull red light over a indistinct door. We were told that the red light would mark the entrace to the dining facility.

We opened the door and entered, finding ouselves suddenly bathed in bright, fluorescent white light. I squinted and rubbed my eyes as my pupils adjusted. Sinks lined the wall, with small soap dispensers above them and clean mirrors to look at yourself. A corkboard across from the sinks listed MWR events taking place on the small post, as well as information on the Army’s SHARP and EO programs. The small group I was with must have looked a bit perplexed, as the attendant – a junior soldier sitting at a small register – interrupted our bewilderment by informing us that the dining facility was about to close, and he needed to scan our ID cards.

We scanned our ID cards at the register and then walked into the dining facility, loading up our cargo pockets with Rip-Its and cookies before dissapearing back into the darkness, looking for our trucks.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Afghanistan Post Mortem: Fallen Soldier Ceremony

One late evening, my phone rang in the middle of the night. I answered it, expecting some emergency or another. It was the Operations Sergeant Major. A soldier in the command had been killed and he was being flown from our airfield to another, en route home. I needed to get the platoon together, he said, for a fallen soldier ceremony.

My commander had just flown in a few hours earlier, and when the platoon sergeant started rounding everyone up for a very strange midnight formation, they all figured it was the CO, pissed about something he had observed.

Once everyone was together, we briefed them on what we knew (very little) and moved to the flight line.

In other years, it wouldn’t have been much of a problem to rally the hundred or so soldiers it takes to form an unbroken chain of troops to create a corridor between the aircraft and the hospital. But in 2014, it took a lot of phone calls and maybe even some personal favors.

We all stood there in the dark on the asphalt, not really knowing what was going on. Nearby crew chiefs conducted final preparations for the flight. It was dark, quiet, humid, and groggy.

Eventually, we all started forming the corridor in an orderly, military fashion, without ever having anyone tell us what to do. It all kind of just happened.

Time passed, and the door of the non-descript building that served as the mortuary affairs office opened up. Large men carried the flag-draped casket inbetween the two ranks of soldiers forming the hundred meter or so corridor to the waiting Blackhawk.

Someone called us to present arms, and we did.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.