11 Men 1 Mind

rangers kneeling on a street in iraq

I recently revisited this paper (11 Men 1 Mind, p. 17) by General William DePuy. I read it back in OCS, but was recently discussing tactics at the squad level with a colleague and it popped back into my head.

Written in 1958, the paper starts as a defense of the infantry. This was written at a time when some believed the concept of infantry combat was soon to become obsolete. We now had nuclear weapons and long-range missiles – what role would be left for the infantry?

The past sixty years have proven DePuy right.

And we’re living through another period where similar arguments are being made.

“Future war” is going to be something different, right?

DePuy didn’t think so, and neither do I.

It’s a terrific article that captures what makes the infantry relevant and what makes the infantry squad so good.

One of the opening lines:

No, Mr. Infantryman, you are not obsolete – you have never been more relevant to your country’s need, nor more important to its future. For no one yet has discovered how to acquire or defend land areas without you.

It’s a short read and worth revisiting, but I’ve pulled out a few of my favorite pieces below.

To the infantry small-unit leader the larger strategic situation is a matter of complete indifference.

You know when you hear the argument about why we fight? We do it for the guy standing to the left and right? Yeah, that’s true down at the soldier level. It’s a terrible casus belli, but it is true on the ground.

The leader has a scheme which he must transmit by word of mouth, to create a facsimile of his scheme in the minds of his subordinates.

For the small unit leader – and often to the strategic leader – the plan only exists in the head. That plan needs to be communicated to those charged with executing it in the simplest manner possible. Complex plans fail.

A squad is an organizational idea jointly held by its members. It does not exist physically – you can’t see a squad – you can only see the individuals who man it. To illustrate this point, it is impossible to distinguish a trained squad from a random collection of individuals if both groups are equal in number, similarly equipped and standing idle alongside a road. The difference is lying quietly hidden in their minds.

It is absolutely terrifying what a well-trained small group of people can do when they share the same objective.

A squad is here this moment, gone the next. It congeals around a common purpose, fully understood, and it melts away in the presence of uncertainty, confusion, or the absence of direction. 

Here and gone. Here and gone. Over and over again. The best units can hang in there for just a little bit longer – despite the pressure and confusion.

For all of these reasons, both theoretical and practical, most squads are poorly commanded, if at all. Only too often in training, inept squad leaders exhort their men during an attack with such pseudo-commands as “fire and movement”or “keep it moving, men.” No soldier has ever heard the command “fire and movement”on the field ofbattle and no man alive gets a very useful picture in his mind from such a command.

I love this, and it’s true. I remember my First Sergeant coming over the ICOM radio and telling us about a paragraph in FM 7-8 which suggests we fire at “know or suspected” enemy positions to get us going. It worked.

Battle drill reduces by a large factor the necessity for battlefield explanation.

The more we train the less we need to talk.

Notwithstanding some American mythology to the contrary, there is very little initiative demonstrated on a battlefield. When the bullets start to fly the average man lies low. He stays that way until he is ordered to do otherwise. For example, the main difference between green and veteran units is that in green units it is customary for everyone to lie low waiting for the others to get up and do spontaneously what they have been trained to do for so long, and what our folklore tells us they will surely do-and this is often a long wait. In the veteran unit some man, who has learned the hard way that nothing happens unless someone takes measures of some sort, looks a few soldiers straight in the eye and orders them personally and individually to do some very specific task like “Move up to that hedgerow”-“Throw a grenade in that window”-“Cross that field”-“Fire at that house.” Lacking such orders the soldier does what comes naturally-nothing.

Someone needs to be brave. All it takes is one. Deep breath and start making decisions. Slow and deliberate. Then things really start moving.

The single characteristic which differentiates veteran infantry units from green ones is the predominance throughout the ranks of dominant leaders. 

Here we’re talking about aggressiveness and initiative.

The bulk of the fighting is always done by a handful of men who view fighting as a practical matter. They use no signals or magic words. They talk it over – decide who will do what and get on with it.

This is true beyond the infantry. I’d argue that in most units, in garrison, the field, or in war, it’s always a small minority that does the heavy lifting. That’s not a knock, that’s just the way it is.

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Two (More) Academic Articles on Women in the Infantry

femshep pointing a gun
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A reader of the blog sent me on a hunt for two (more) academic articles on women in the infantry, or, women in combat arms more generally. The two articles are “Breaking the Kevlar Ceiling” by Major Jacqueline Escobar and “Why Can’t Anything Be Done?” by Dr. W.J. Gregor.

The articles are worth reading in their entirety – but they are not really shedding anything new on the discourse. This is a topic that has been beaten beyond death. And anything we really ever needed to know was laid out twenty years ago by COL(R) John Ripley.

However, I’ll attempt to boil these articles down to their thesis’ below.

Major Escobar makes the case that getting more women into the top positions of the Army and military is critical to ensuring that we make the best strategic decisions possible. Her evidence comes from studies on corporate America where it was determined that achieving a “critical mass” of women in the boardroom creates a “fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance[s] corporate governance.” She demonstrates that although the top positions in the military aren’t necessarily coded to combat arms, the historical norm has been that those top positions are traditionally filled by combat arms officers. Thus, allowing women to serve in combat arms would by extension lead to more female combat arms officers and eventually more women generals in the top positions, finally leading to a “fundamental change in the boardroom” and an “enhanced corporate governance.”

Escobar also makes an argument that another reason female officers are not making it to the top ranks is because many of them choose to get out at or before the field-grade level. Part of the reason, she says, is because they know that in the current system, the chances of them achieving the highest positions in the military are slim given the current restraints (top positions being traditionally reserved for combat arms guys, for example).

It needs to be stated that Dr. Gregor is linked to the Center for Military Readiness, which is a non-profit that has opposed the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and often publishes articles against integration of combat arms. That is to say, they have an agenda. Dr. Gregor’s article is lightly colored with the bias of someone out to prove his hypothesis out of political spite rather than allowing the data to speak for itself (he writes about the “Democrat Congress” and targets “those who are committed to making the Army look right”). That said, where the paper is coming from shouldn’t discourage you from reading it. Data is data, and there is value in reaping from multiple perspectives.

It’s tough to plow through because he builds the case slowly and over arguments you’ve no doubt read about time and time again. For the patient reader, there is value in sloughing through, though. Dr. Gregor argues through the presentation of physical fitness data that women simply are not cut out for the tough work of combat arms. The graphs he presents are convincing, showing that even the top performing females just barely reach nod-worthy standards in the male category.

Interestingly, Dr. Gregor does not make the argument that because so few women would be able to meet the male standards (in this case, on the APFT) that we should not integrate combat arms. Instead of making that argument, he argues instead that if we were to maintain current standards (which it is likely we will) than given the data, very few women will ascend into combat arms, and that of those who do, they will be at a severe handicap because of the built-in limitations of their gender which will further hinder them as they are rated against their peers – mostly males. Thus, fewer women will ascend the ranks to get into the “boardroom” as Escobar argues because there will be so few that make it through the brutal combat arms gauntlet.

It’s an interesting argument, a kind of “be careful what you wish for” argument. Of course, the great fear is that “standards” may change to allow more women in, at the risk of military readiness and performance. Then, you would have more women making it to the “boardroom” of a force that looks different than it does now. Better? I don’t know.

The two articles interplay well with one another, and I thank the reader who sent me to them.

Aside from the ominous forecasting, I’m of the belief that writers on this topic truly do want to see a military that is better than before, and their passion pours onto the page when they write about it. For various reasons, that passion often comes out as either vehemently opposed to integration or fanatically in support of it.

Again, I think the key question that we aren’t asking is ‘what is the infantry?’ Or rather, what do we want the infantry to be? Has it changed? Should it change?

I think there is a disconnect out there in what people think the infantry is (or want it to be) versus what it actually is. Most people (meaning, outsiders) think the infantry is something between what it actually is (close with and destroy the enemy) and special forces (hearts and minds). That force – which doesn’t exist – is filled with older, exceptionally fit, super-smart men and women.

So, go read the articles and be informed.

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