Company-Grade to Field-Grade: Introducing “Making the Switch”

Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jordan, 382nd Public Affairs Detachment

Tell me this isn’t true.

“I’ve heard it said that if you do the things that made you successful as a Captain when you’re a Major, you’ll distinguish yourself as the best Captain in your unit.”

Company-Grade to Field-Grade: Introducing “Making the Switch” | by CoCMD & PLT LDR | Leadership Counts! | Apr, 2021 | Medium

What are the things that junior officers should be doing as they get ready to make the switch to field grade officer?

I’m looking for answers to the following questions.

For current (or retired) field grade officers:

  1. What do you wish you knew before becoming a field-grade officer?
  2. What skills do you wish you developed before becoming a field-grade-officer?

For current junior officers:

  1. What do you want to know about becoming a field-grade officer?
  2. What perplexes you about making the switch?
  3. What rumors do you want confirmed/squashed?

For NCOs:

  1. What do you expect from field-grade officers that is different from company-grade officers?

I love this topic and I think there is a lot we can learn here. I’m looking for help. Please contact me if you have insight or would like to contribute.

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Nimitz wouldn’t make it today

Zero-defect culture.

Zero-defect culture.

…Chester Nimitz, before he became the famous Admiral in the Second World War, early in his career he actually ran his ship aground when he was commanding a smaller vessel… He said that… Chester Nimitz would never have made it past the next promotion board if he did that today.

THE GRIT AND GROWTH MINDSET – War Room – U.S. Army War College

I have to imagine running a ship aground is one of the cardinal sins for a Navy commander.

We’re spending a lot of time lately talking about underwriting mistakes as a way to spur innovation.

Are we doing it?

I recently reflected on the fact that I don’t actually see many people destroyed for small mistakes.

Despite that, this sense that one small error can completely derail a career is pervasive. What’s going on here?

Related – this short thread where a couple of us joke about tough obstacles. How many people out there lost their shot at some special unit or career field because they failed a single obstacle on an obstacle course?

What if that was the obstacle that double no-go’d you and sent you home?

I’m sure it’s happened before. How odd.

It’s a weird thing to think about.

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Market intelligence and trends in the “Future 100”

Another gem from The Cognitive Crucible on market intelligence.

Emma spearheaded the launch of the Wunderman Thompson Intelligence “Future 100” Report, which helps people prepare for emerging consumer behavior with 100 original trend predictions from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #34 Chiu on Market Intelligence and the Competition for Attention

The report is worth downloading and looking through. While each of the individual trends are interesting (some more than others), reading this in the aggregate gives you a good sense of our overall trend, the sweeping narrative, or the general direction that we’re heading in.

The concept of the “Ethical scorecard” is one that I think resonates with most organizations these days. It’s not enough to just do the work, but customers (and employees) want to know where the organization stands on all sorts of issues.

This may be a second/third-order effect of organizations ‘becoming’ people.

Some of the trends that I found most interesting below.

Mobilizing fandom.

Around the world, social media has connected the fans of hit TV series, movies, books and musicians to the objects of their adoration, and crucially, to each other. In the United States, Taylor Switf has her Swifties, Beyonce has the Beyhive and Lady Gaga the Little Monsters. With a single social media post, these fans can rise as a group to boost music sales, defend their heroes against detractors, and increasingly, throw their weight behind social and political causes.

This is related to what happened earlier this year with GameStop. While not necessarily connected to an an individual key influencer, the collective culture around a specific community mobilized around a single cause, which resulted in rapid real-time effects.

This reminds me of a good NYT piece on “stan” culture. Worth the read.

Upending deepfakes.

Whether they’re disseminated by pranksters and trolls or political operatives and propagandists, deepfakes can be confusing to the public and corrosive to the social fabric. These tools of disinformation are a downside of today’s highly sophisticated applications of artificial intelligence (AI), but AI itself is the main weapon being used to disable them.

Deepfakes are important, and the technology exists now. There is a cognitive bias towards elevating what we see as truth. In the race for attention, video wins.

Still, I’m not sure yet whether the deepfake threat is hype or not. Are there any instances where this has been employed successfully with a desired result? Either way, having means to determine whether videos are real or not is going to be important.

Flexperiences.

Innovative companies are finding new ways to repurpose empty venues and assets, creating hybrid and adaptable experiences.

Empty lots become drive-in movie theaters, dine-in restaurants become drive-through take-out, a parking space becomes a micro-garden.

Most of these trends are just that – trends. Trends are flashy. Trends are fun. And they can get you a lot of attention quickly. But at the end of the day, we’re all still human, and the best stuff comes from deep work over time.

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The thrill of the infil

A love-letter to the magic of the helicopter infiltration.

The infil, though, was something different. To me, this was a sacred time. I was 100% invested and prepared, leaving the confines of mission planning for the unknowns of the combat experience shared by warriors of all breeds for millennia. Infil was a critical transition point between two-dimensional PowerPoint concepts and visceral lethality. Once we touched down, it’s back to work again.

Army Special Forces officer talks about helicopter infiltration

An NCO once grinned from ear-to-ear talking about the magic and power he felt when riding in a Blackhawk en route to a landing zone, and looking out the open door, wind blowing, to see a half dozen other Blackhawks, all carrying members of your unit.

“Shit’s about to go down,” he said.

I always loved riding in a UH-60 late at night during training, flying low over Fort Bragg and looking out at the houses out in the distance and seeing the soft glow of amber lights, warm and comfy inside.

And I felt a similar feeling when looking out the rear of a C-17 as the heavy drop deployed, sucked out, and seeing the other C-17s in the trail as the sun dips below the horizon. Hundreds of paratroopers about to land at the same place.

It’s unique, and addicting.

Credit: Twitter

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Nothing frightens me more than crossing Range Operations

Soldiers pick up brass 7.62 mm shell casings after a qualification range event on Camp Atterbury, Ind., Nov. 6, 2015. U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret (link)

You’re a company commander. You spent the entire year training your company on their mission essential tasks. You developed, wrote, and published a solid unit training plan that methodically trained the inidividual and collective tasks of everyone in the unit.

You’re nearing the end of your command and it’s time for the big event – the culminating exercise that you’ve been working towards. The one you’ve been telling everyone about. The one who naysayers laughed off as too complex. You have enablers and units participating from outside of your organization. You invited your leadership (and their leadership) to observe and provide guidance.

It’s all perfect.

You get out there, you’re on the ground, and things seem to be happening. You occupy the land, tents and antenna are going up, soldiers are laughing and working – spirits are up and everything is coming together.

You suddenly get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Did we tell range control about this? Did we reserve this land?

You shake it off. The enthusiasm of the soldiers is evident. They’re excited for the training. Some of the external enablers start showing up and shake your hand with a big grin, excited to be part of this training.

You check the map. Are we even in a training area?

Is this… a golf course?

You realize that none of this has been done the right way. Somehow, you forgot to reserve the training area (typically done at least three months out) or coordinate with range operations to occupy and conduct training.

You wonder, should I tell anyone? The soldiers look so enthusiastic. How embarressing would it be to tell everyone that you messed up and we have to pack it up and go home. Should you even call range control? You’re supposed to be out here for a week.

Maybe no one will notice?

This isn’t real. This was a stupid nightmare I had the other night. 

Training anywhere is mired in administrative minutiae – mostly for good reason – safety and scheduling. It is very easy to miss a key requirement which could tank a training plan.

There’s something about being exposed to administrative heat and light over time that can make you intrinsically fearful of that wrath. More so than anything “real.”

Advice I’ve always lived by is “the fastest way through a dense bureaucracy is directly through it.” That is, don’t try to find the short cut or go around it. Just do the work right and do it early. It’s (usually) faster.

The stress of administrative mistakes is a real thing. Maybe it’s related to high allostatic load.

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“Toxic mentorship” through Boss and Snake

“The Boss” is Snake’s mentor, for those who know their Metal Gear lore. She is a legenedary soldier and the “Mother of Special Forces.

In a few of the early scenes in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, this mentorship relationship takes center stage. It becomes the proximate drama that drives the story: a mentor who betrays her country versus her disciple sent to stop her.

What became clear to me, though, during these scenes, is just how “toxic” this mentorship has become.

Toxic leadership is a well-known phenomenon, especially in the military. Army doctrine (AR 600-100) defines toxic leadership as “a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.

Usually, we’re talking about toxic leadership in regards to a leader who has direct influence over subordinates in an organization. His or her toxic behaviors can be destructive to the organization. Effects can include lowered morale, decreased productivity, lower retention and more.

If you have served with a toxic leader, which I am willing to bet most people would attest, you know how difficult these periods can be.

But what if it is your mentor who is toxic? And worse, what if your mentor “wasn’t always that way” but has changed over time?

Our mentors are supposed to be the ones we go to for advice. Usually, our mentor is not our direct supervisor or even in the chain of command. It’s someone we can return to over time to check-in with, making sure we’re on the right path. The ones who can be honest with us and give us unvarnished feedback.

What does toxic mentorship look like? It’s hard to say. Conversations with mentors can seem different than conversations with your boss.

Many of us have experienced this. The advice given might seem a little more raw or cut-throat. Sometimes, this feels like you are being let in on a secret, or maybe as a mentee, you’ve reached a point where you can “handle” this level of advice.

Have you ever left a mentorship session or hung up the phone thinking, “Hm, that was not what I expected.”

And in truth, maybe the advice just is a little more raw. Maybe you are being let in on a secret.

Sometimes, though, people just change.

A toxic mentor – especially in a military context – might be someone who implores you to demonstrate loyalty to an individual as opposed to a unit or a specific mission. Or to engage in potentially destructive behaviors or practices that would otherwise be off-limits.

In the below three scenes, we witness Boss’ mentorship to Snake degrade from one of sage advisor, discussing the intricacies, contradictions, and challenges that professional soldiers face, to demanding individual loyalty from one of her “disciples.”

The Boss’ mentorship begins at 4:30.

Scene 1: In this CODEC call, the Boss is reintroduced to Snake. It is clear that they have a long-standing mentorship/mentee relationship and then offers some sage advice on patriotism, loyalty, and what it means to be a career soldier. To this point, it seems standard fare.

Toxic mentorship begins at 1:14

Scene 2: In this scene, the Boss states that she is defecting to the Soviet Union. She is also bringing two “Davy Crockett” nuclear warheads as a gift. Snake feels betrayed by his mentor, and to add injury to insult, she breaks his arm and tosses him over the bridge.

“What is it going to be? Loyalty to your country, or loyalty to me?”

Scene 3: Soon after arriving on the mission to eliminate Boss, Snake gets ambushed – by the Boss. For some context to the below, Snake is wearing the Boss’ bandana, which fell with him when she tossed him off the bridge. They exchange some words, and as Boss is leaving, Snake demands answers:

Snake: Why’d you defect?

Boss: I didn’t. I’m loyal… to the “end.” To my purpose. What about you, Jack? What’s it going to be? Loyalty to your country, or loyalty to me? Your country, or your mentor? Your mission, or your beliefs? Your duty to your unit, or your personal feelings?

You don’t know the truth yet. But sooner or later, you’ll have to choose. I don’t expect you to forgive me. But you can’t defeat me either. You know me too well. Just look at that bandana. If you can’t put the past behind you, you won’t survive long. If we meet again, I’ll kill you.

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The counter influence operations safety brief

I was listening to a recent podcast of The Cognitive Crucible featuring Dr. Jan Kallberg and COL Stephen Hamilton of the Army Cyber Institute where they were discussing the challenge of foreign influence operations in the smartphone era. Specifically, they were discussing the fact that our service members are active target audiences of foreign adversaries, and this manifests mostly online.

To date, there have not been a lot of great suggestions on how to combat this. The most common recommendation is some version of digital literacy traning with modules that would discuss things like foreign influence operations, source checking, and bias. This sounds good – and honestly, it might be one of the only things we can do – but if the only thing we do is add another annual yearly training, my gut tells me this will fail.

Off the cuff, one of the participants in the podcast brought up the standard formation speech, and how odd it must be for a commander to have to address his or her formation and warn about foreign influence operations that are targeting them through their smartphones. Put that way, it sounds kind of conspiratorial, but we know it’s real.

Which got me wondering: are commanders out there discussing this with their formations?

Certaintly these things are known and discussed in the special operations community, but what about the rest of the military?

I’ve never been a big fan of the weekend safety brief – as both the guy in the back standing ‘at ease’ and the guy up front doing the best he can. They can sometimes seem disingenuous, often just a list of the things that need to be discussed to ensure everyone was warned.

On the other hand, the formation speech is a powerful platform for a commander to make a claim and empahsize what is important. If done well, this can have a tremendous impact. I can think back on formation speeches from twenty years ago that have stuck with me. One of my Battalion Commander’s ended every speech with “Take care of your three feet of space,” a maxim that kind of wraps up everything in eight words. Frequency, by the way, is an important tool in getting your point across. Say it, say it again, and keep saying it – the more mediums, the better.

Discussing a list of all the ways a soldier can hurt themselves or get in trouble will likely be ignored.

But what if instead of that list, a commander just spoke about foreign influence operations for a few minutes? Would that have an effect?

I don’t think it would change much, but I’ve also been repeatedly surprised by the things that I assume everyone in a formation knows, only to later learn they only just learned it after myself or someone else informed them in some innocuous way.

And at the very least, it would be informative. The military faces a litany of challenges every day, both internal and external. Foreign influence operations are one of them. We don’t have all of the solutions (and likely won’t ever have all the solutions), but just like everything in the militay, commanders play a key role. The way that a commander communicates about this specific challenge could have an impact.

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…and PSYOP in one more place

Before I pressed “publish” on yesterday’s roundup of PSYOP across recent podcasts, I paused, thinking I had heard PSYOP discussed on at least one more podcast, but I couldn’t remember.

Then, today, I remembered it was this one – straight from the Mother Ship. Really great episode that discusses narrative.

I had even made a note to write about that one. There’s a discussion on the type of skills needed to conduct influence operations (cultural competence, language proficiency, media fluency, etc.).

With slight tweaks, it’s the same argument that flag officers and senior defense civilians pounded their fists about in the mid-2000’s when we were fighting COIN.

“We need people who speak the language, soldier-scholars, a modern day Lawrence of Arabia..”.

I forget who said it (Andrew Exum?) but there is a quote somewhere out there about how if we need PhDs to fight our wars we have already lost. Maybe.

Anyway, during the discussion, there’s a question as to whether we have those folks or could get them, train them.

The reality is, building those skill sets takes a long time. Years. And specialized study. These are skills that cannot be fully trained during a standard military course.

However, they can be achieved over time. Those people exist. There are lots of folks who have put in the work. Part of the problem is by the time these skill sets are actualized, the folks who can use them are usually billeted in positions where they are no longer that useful.

Still, I think there is a way for individuals to “worm” their way to the job where they might be most effective, but it really should be the other way around. Identify talent, and put that person where he or she is needed and where their talents can be fully exploited.

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Operations in the Information Environment: Irregular Warfare Podcast

Wow, that was really good.

The Irregular Warfare podcast (quickly becoming a bump everything, “listen now” podcast) recenlty hosted Dr. Thomas Rid (recent book: Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare) and Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds (USMC Deputy Commandant for Information). The topic was “competing for influence” and information operations broadly speaking.

Great back and forth and they get into topics in information operations that are often neglected. It’s particularly refreshing to hear a discussion on IO that goes beyond “we’re getting our ass kicked in the information environment.”

We need more conversations like this.

Some choice quotes below.

“There are types of tactics in information operations that democracies should not use…You cannot excel at disinformation and democracy at the same time, because, you have to fight with one hand behind your back.”

Dr. Thomas Rid (emphasis his)

Agree. Democracies have to fight with one hand tied behind their back – and that’s a good thing.

On questions about the need for a new or different cooridinating agency for information operations.

The more that we can infuse this thinking of Multi-Domain Warfare inside our tradional way of command – that would be my preference. I think another stove-piped commander is not necessarily helpful in this area. I think it doesn’t make things faster.

Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds

Yes! Every year, I see another think-piece calling for a new super-organziation that would serve as the coordinating element for information operations or information warfare or some flavor thereof. It seems like an ‘easy-button’ solution – build a new organization. The organizations we have now work. Lt. Gen. Reynold’s puts it this way: “We have to infuse this thinking and figure how we do this at echelon inside the commands that we have today.

We should focus on building IO thinking into organizations that are effective now. I think this is happening. Sure, it’s slow. But building a new headquarters and then getting the ‘whole of government’ to work with it is 1) expensive, 2) hard to accomplish, and 3) probably ineffective.

On why our adversaries ‘seem’ to be better at this than us.

Our adversaries [China and Russia], from a gray zone perspective, they are a lot more willing to put themselves out there than the United States has been. Call it “willingness to impose friction”

Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds

This is another area where I think things are changing. Sometimes the face of operations needs to be the American military officer on the ground or the diplomat in country. This is an area where we need to improve, for sure, and I think it starts with setting left and right limits and letting folks go for it. There will be mistakes, but if we do this right, those will be factored in and written off as part of the cost of operating at this level in the IE.

One more from Lt. Gen. Reynolds:

“I think the challenge is in the competition space. How do you action the information environent in great power competition? And to me, I think it starts with definining the measurable objectives you want to get after, [and then] define what success looks like in the information environment.”

Lt. Gen. Lori Reynolds (emphasis mine)

This is so important. Too often, success in the IE is amorphous. “I know it when I’ll see it.” IO professionals need to have conversations with their commanders and build a shared understanding of “what success looks like in the IE.” Is it the adversary getting smeared by the public? Is it a partner force highlighting their own success? Is it praise for government institutions? Having an understanding of what success looks like is paramount – otherwise it is likely you will miss the good stuff if it happens, or find yourself chasing tweets and counting ‘likes.’

Finally, on advice for practicioners, researchers, and policy makers who are approaching this problem set (IW, IO, political warfare, etc.):

“Understanding information operations in the 21st century is impossible without first understanding information operations in the 20th century. Although they happen in a different technological environment, the logic, and sometimes the dynamics have not changed. So for example, the temptation to overstate effects, is a large one.”

Dr. Thomas Rid

He goes on to discuss that the sum of ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ often leads people to believe (falsely) that IO today may have a greater effect than IO of the past. There is so much to learn from the past.

This episode, coupled with the recent PSYOP deep dive from the PSYWAR podcast is a good indication that this community is coalescing and growing more professional every day.

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