Breaking in Combat

John Spencer is having a moment.

I’ve always enjoyed his takes, mostly because the senior NCO always shines through. It’s a rare thing these days and I appreciate it.

He was recently on Mike Burke’s Always in Pursuit where they discusses John’s book, his experiences in combat, and Ukraine.

One thing that struck me was an extended discussion on the concept of “breaking” in combat. John recounts an episode in his experience where a senior NCO in his unit basically checks out. Still deployed, but didn’t do much.

Many of us who have served saw this, or a version of this.

We talk a lot about mental health now, and trying to get people the help that they need when they come home (or even when deployed). But we don’t really discuss the psychological aspects of combat and what happens to soldiers when they are overcome by fear – which is something you would expect to happen on the battlefield. It’s combat, after all.

There are still lots of folks in our ranks who have experienced combat and have seen this in action. But those ranks are thinning every day.

Something to think about.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Command Post is Dead

soldiers in a tank from the animatrix

Great podcast episode (and article full of references) over at Mad Scientist Laboratory. This one on the command post of the future.

Today’s centralized command posts are incredibly vulnerable to enemy fire, while “Command Posts-in-Sanctuary” — those out of reach of adversary strikes — are limited by communications capabilities. To find an appropriate middle ground, we should adopt decentralized, mobile command posts that can support command and control and mask their locations and communications.

410. Sooner Than We Think: Command Post Survivability and Future Threats

Tell me – why do we need to have a command post these days?

I’m not sure that we do. We need to get much more comfortable operating decentralized. Leaders (commanders) need to give clear guidance and intent. They also need to be out there, on the ground.

They don’t need a big screen to look at.

But if they do want to look at the big screen, it will be in augmented reality, via headset, while on the move in their vehicle.

And these skills need to be trained. By going to the field. For more than three days at a time.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Well, it has “information” in the name

alice frustrated from alice in wonderland

There are titans and oracles among us in the fields we study.

From one, I’ve come to understand that “irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.

From another, I’ve also come to understand that we don’t need to bring back the United States Information Agency (USIA) or any variation of it in order to be successful.

In case you missed it, Matt Armstrong and Dr. Christopher Paul wrote an article last week debunking some of the myths around the USIA. This has become a bit of a pet project for Matt, as there are new think-pieces on this topic sprouting up all the time.

How exhausting.

Part of this comes from the constant cries from some leaders that we’re “getting our asses kicked in the information environment.”

We’re not, by the way.

To address that concern, smart people look at the problem, do a little research, and come to the conclusion that the reason we’re “getting our asses kicked” is because we don’t have a mega-organization that manages all of this.

Well, we used to have a United States Information Agency – maybe we should bring that back?

After all, it has ‘information’ in the name.

The whole thing reminds me of something Colin Powell once said regarding seemingly simple solutions that have no basis in fact or history. He was on Face the Nation discussing the issue of how to try terror suspects in court. There were a lot of calls at the time to hand over terrorist suspects to the military to be tried in “military commissions,” instead of the federal court system.

Here’s how Powell responded (12:25):

“So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn’t born out by the history of the military commissions….a lot of people think just give them to the military and the military will hammer them.”

Colin Powell, Face the Nation, 2/21/2010

It’s similar to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ statement that some people have a “cartoonish” view of military capabilities.

“It’s sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces,” he said. “The one thing that our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm’s way, and there just wasn’t time to do that.”

Robert Gates, Face the Nation, 5/12/2013

There are no simple solutions to what we are trying to accomplish. I’ve become a true believer in Matt’s thesis that to “do” information right (warfare, operations, whatever) it starts with setting a very clear vision for where we are trying to go. What is the vision? What is the story we are trying to tell? From there, we have robust capabilities to make that happen.

You have to be able to picture what “right” looks like first.

Sure, there are things we can do to tweak the system, and we should. But those things are mostly procedural, not organizational.

The challenge here is there is no shiny object being carted out. New organizations are exciting. So are new capabilities or tech. Think-pieces without a big reveal don’t get a lot of attention.

As frustrating as it must be to continuously have to champion the same argument, I’m glad that Matt (and others) are out there doing so. If you’re not following his newsletter (infrequent, but always great), you can subscribe here.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Eleven Years of Carrying the Gun

young psycho mantis metal gear solid

Today is the eleventh anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top Posts:
1. Army Myths: Don’t Lock Your Knees
2. The Secret Brilliance of “You go to war with the Army you have…”
3. Ranger Hall of Fame: SGT Martin Watson, Abraham Lincoln & Tom Hanks

Wow! Eleven years, huh.

Interesting that the back catalog is starting to get more traffic than the newer stuff. That wasn’t the case last year. That’s just the magic of the Google algorithm at work.

I’ve definitely settled into a better writing groove. The pieces are shorter, and the content is more focused and moving in the direction I originally intended when I relaunched. And that’s good.

Although, it seems I’ve certainly strayed from the original spirit of not blogging “about other blogs.”

If you counted the posts and categorized them, most are reactions to podcasts, which are basically audio blogs.

But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a little evolution.

The longer, more editorial stuff that I originally aspired to is still around. Most of it is found in external pieces. The rest can be found monthly at the top of the newsletter. Have you subscribed?


What did the past year look like?

Well, first of all, no one will ever challenge you if you write that we need to “do better” at anything. It’s also an easy way to garner attention. It’s much more difficult to find where we’re doing well.

As such, there was a string of posts late last summer as the Afghanistan withdrawal was underway tussling with “all the reasons we’re bad at irregular warfare” and some others pushing back against the common charge that “we’re getting our asses kicked in the information environment.” Also, the fact that things hit different when you can watch it in real-time. All emotion and absence of mind.

Everyone had an Afghanistan withdrawal think-piece, and I didn’t have much to add, but I fired one tiny dart into the ether trying to reconcile the 9/11 anniversary with the withdrawal. Did it matter?

Lots of milestones, reactions, and reflections. The GWOT was marked by a lot of things, one of those things was repeat deployments and credit card debt.

I marked the passing of Colin Powell, who I had the fortune of meeting on a number of occasions. His 13 rules sit on my desk. I’m especially fond of #1, #4, and #13.

I recalled a time over twenty years ago when I picked up brass with a Green Beret at a MOUT site at Fort Bragg.

I’ve basically given up on the new Star Wars universe (and the Marvel Universe for that matter). But one of my favorite scenes from the series was when Darth Vader finally flipped at the last moment? There’s always a choice.

Some of the best advice you’ll ever get – don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. It’s advice I try to live by, but don’t always succeed.

And as such, not everything was positive. As much as I try to resist, I sometimes get cynical too. Do you find yourself skeptical when someone says they are “getting after it?” It’s similar to how I feel about “threads.” It’s mostly a performance and it’s for them, not for you.

And what happens when everyone tells you to “start with why” and read Marcus Aurelius? Is that really unique knowledge or are we simply fostering groupthink?

A perennial interest of mine, there were a few posts on productivity – which was also featured prominently in a number of newsletters. In getting things done, especially when it comes to dealing with other people, you start with in-person, on the phone, and then via emailin that order. And related, there are very few things I have strong opinions on. One of those things is that “doing” email is the illusion of work. Sure, responding to email is part of a job, but with few exceptions, “doing” email is simply shuffling papers around. Have no doubt; nothing was accomplished.

We like to discuss “future war” these days. It’s fascinating that when we use the term “future war,” we kind of mean war that might happen now. I made an argument that to be effective in future war, we need to go back to what we were doing in the past – extended field training. What about leadership? What attributes do future leaders need? Are they different? Yes, a little bit I think. And we’re sure asking a lot.

Did you ever ready General DePuy’s 11 Men One Mind? It’s an infantry classic, and as relevant today as it has ever been.

Finally, future war sure seems like old war.

A friend of the blog once pontificated on Twitter: “What is something that seems like unconventional warfare but isn’t?” There is a litany of terms that are used in places where we think they make sense, but it turns out they aren’t even “real” terms or they are just being misused. It is helpful from time to time to go back to the books to see if what you think you know is what you actually know. Irregular Warfare? Real term. Hybrid Warfare? Nope. Expect to see more of this in the future.

Lots of psychology and information warfare. It all starts with the fact that “psychological” isn’t a dirty word – or at least it shouldn’t be. The primacy of video (aka ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). Smear war. When briefing, should you read off of the slide or have your audience read it themselves? I know you have a strong opinion. But there’s an actual psychological answer. Why is a lie so hard to debunk? Oh yeah, whatever you do, don’t click this link. Propaganda has no effect on you, only those other guys get duped. You’ve heard of deep fakes, but what are “shallow fakes?” They’re kind of like low-effort memes.

And I know it seems counter-intuitive, but it is behaviors that shape attitudes, and not the other way around.

Oh yeah. Lots and lots and lots of social sciences as sorcery.

And as has become the theme of this site – podcasts. There are way too many to mention, but here are the ones that got a lot of attention:

  1. What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?
  2. “It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools”
  3. Solid Snake Oil

Lastly, I got brave and wrote a few articles outside of CTG. This, the first, at MWI with a partner on how there is value in supporting cooperation between service-specific IO fields. The second, part two of a journey to figure out how to become a paladin. Here, an observation on observation. There are a few others out there too. And there are more on the way.

The post that I wanted to do better than it did: It has to be Social Sciences as Sorcery (and all the related posts). People don’t want to hear it, because it makes us rethink everything we’re doing. A little humility will go a long way. We don’t know it all, and thinking that if we can just get the dials right does us more harm than good.


A long time ago I learned that the future is video. And more and more, it seems to be the only thing that matters. I’m finally planning on jumping in.

Thanks for being here!


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Professional Soldier

female soldier wearing a pilot's helmet army recruiting ad

A long-standing interest of mine is the concept of the “warrior” and the way it started to permeate military culture at the beginning of the GWOT. Recently, there was a small kerfuffle over the rebranding of some Army dining facilities as “warrior cafes.”

The “warriorization” of the Army is a subject with deep roots. We can trace it back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and specifically, the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Nasiriyah and the capture of Private First Class Jessica Lynch.

Part of the problem, as the popular thinking went, was that soldiers outside of combat jobs (like infantry) didn’t see themselves as potential combatants. The Army was a job and each soldier had their role – but theirs wasn’t to fight. The early realization that the Iraq war was not going to end quickly and that the “front line was everywhere” led to a re-thinking of the culture that preceded the ambush.

As a result, we became warriors. 

We learned the warrior ethos. Modern Army Combatives, which, until then, was more of a niche hobby inside elite Army units, became ubiquitous with the publication of the Modern Army Combatives Field Manual and later TC 3-25.150. Commanders spoke to their “warriors” at formations and spoke of their “warriors” in official communications. 

It stuck. Until it didn’t.

It’s difficult to put hard dates on it, but this seemed to last from 2003 to about the early 2010s. The warrior craze seemed to just fade away as a priority. It’s still out there, but it’s not getting the attention that it once did.

That’s part of what was strange about the emergence of ‘warrior cafes.’ It seems like a throwback to those COIN years where we were just trying anything. Remember the Defense of Jisr al-Dorrea (better known as ‘those weird COIN dreams’)?

Personally, I never liked the warrior moniker and the campaign around it. It seems disingenuous. If we just call ourselves warriors, the thinking goes, maybe we would foster a more aggressive mindset.  

I always thought ‘soldier’ was a term that captured everything that was needed. And if anything, I’d say professional soldier, to distinguish it from conscription. 

I’m not alone in this thinking. Military ethicists have dug deep on this issue and can better explain why calling ourselves warriors is a bad idea. 

I’ll add something though. I think there is a connection between the warrior campaign of the early 2000s and the growth of “warrior” brands and the “warrior” aesthetic both inside and outside of the military. All of this self-reinforcing narrative has become such a strange identity marker. 

Remember those discussions, articles, and hot-takes on the “warrior-caste?” This is the idea that the US has this cadre of warriors who are doing the heavy lifting when it comes to our military activity. It is true that only a tiny percentage of the population serves and this community grows increasingly insular over time. 

But most of the articles I remember reading about the “warrior-caste” were written in a barely-veiled self-congratulatory style, by reluctant warriors.

As a counter, I really liked the “profession of arms” campaign that we saw under General Dempsey. That too seems to be dying from lack of attention.

Warriors, soldiers, conscripts, victims. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with simply being all that you can be.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Beat them to the punch

jonah jameson throwing something in spidermand

Fascinating episode of the Pineland Underground featuring former Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) John Wayne Troxell.

Lots of interesting takes from the former SEAC on messaging, the role of social media in the modern military (both good and bad), and choosing whether to be an enabler or an agitator in retirement.

What I found particularly interesting was his vignette early in the episode about the E-Tool incident.

Somehow, I missed all that at the time.

While that story is interesting as it stands, I found the behind-the-scenes discussion about it especially compelling.

While visiting troops and making comments suggesting the E-Tool could be used as a non-standard weapon in the fight against ISIS (it absolutely can), a reporter who heard the remarks and took offense told him that he was going to make them public.

So I called up my trusty Public Affairs guy… and I said this reporter is going to go public with this and he said “Well let’s beat him to the punch.”

SEAC(R) John Wayne Troxell, Pineland Underground Podcast ~6:45

So, a picture of the CSM holding an E-Tool with a defeat ISIS message was put together and shared on social media. And of course, like all effective messaging, it garnered strong opinions, some in support, some against.

It’s another example of the importance of getting to the story first. Framing matters. And being shy in the information space can easily put you on the defensive.

What makes these types of efforts successful? A supportive chain of command that is willing to accept failure. And if there are failures, learn from them and move on. Leaders get timid in the information space when they believe that one errant move can implode a mission, a team, or a career.

We’re willing to send them up that hill or around that corner or into that breach, fully knowing the potential outcomes. We can’t continuously lament that we’re “getting our asses kicked” in the information environment while simultaneously eating ourselves alive whenever something we put out there actually does well.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

…there’s a pulse

metal gear solid v big boss smoking cigar

There’s something about a long cross-country road trip that induces reflection. The passage of time, the dusty truck stops, miles and miles of road, lots of time with your own thoughts. It’s like you didn’t even have a choice, you’re going to do some reflecting.

I’ll have a lot more to say about that in the next newsletter which goes out next week. If you haven’t signed up, you should.

Teaser: “Oh, you thought this was going to be easy?”

For now, I’m settling into a routine, so posting should resume as normal.

Over the past month, a few things stuck out (ideas, articles, podcasts).

In no particular order:

  1. Writing Cabins. The importance of having a space away from what’s familiar (and familiar people) when you want to do any writing. I’d add time to this. I prefer early mornings.
  2. Educating Leaders for Future War. Interesting (and complete – one, two, three, four, five) series on educating leaders for future war over at MWI. This is a topic I find fascinating. Do we need future leaders to have different attributes for future war? I haven’t read through all of them yet, but from what I could garner these got some people worked up on social media. It seems PME is one of those subjects in which people hold very strong opinions.
  3. #OneThing – Lots of people changing jobs this summer(!). Most have at least “one thing” that they wish they had known before they started. A nice initiative from FTGN to scoop those up (I’ve submitted something simple, we’ll see if it hits).
  4. L2 Speak – I’ve always thought that a great way to learn a new language would be a simple role-playing game where you are forced to learn the language. That’s how you progress. Well someone is finally making it. Very excited to see where this goes.
  5. Gladiator School – II MEF Information Group started a podcast. I haven’t listened yet, but I listen to its cousin and enjoy it.
  6. What’s the point? – Maybe a bit of a darker thought while on the road, but in the moments inbetween when I’d pop on social media to see what was going on, most of it was nonsense. This thought extended to the whole ecosystem of military writing – there is so much out there right now, but very little of consequence. Nothing is landing. Or at least, nothing seems to be landing like it used to. I’m not sure if this is because there is so much out there, poor quality, or maybe so many have abandoned the hard work for performance. More on that in the newsletter.

And as always, sometimes things just ‘pop in there.’ Here are some future posts you can look forward to.

  1. Hyper Active Chaos. Is this a thing? Because people are saying it.
  2. The Father of Psychological Warfare. It’s Robert McClure. Who would the fictional ‘Mother‘ of Pyschological Warfare be?
  3. Context vs Character. What’s the difference here?
  4. Power Word Series. There are some words that just tend to get you excited. Like what? Like this newly-discovered trove.
  5. Information as a Warfighting Function. Are we there yet?

And more.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“There is no universal algorithm for human behavior”

black screen red images depicting the konami code

Two things clicked in this short episode from the Indigenous Approach.

First, there is no “universal algorithm.”

There is a desire [for] a physical formula that can explain everything. We will never know all the variables…

…all of the algorithms and all of our data analytics, what they give us is how we got to where we were in the past.

Brig. Gen. Derek Lipson, Deputy Commanding General – Support

He’s talking about the recent shift to all things data, all things analytics, and how that may be a trap. Fans of the blog will know that I’ve become increasingly skeptical of anyone claiming to have the answers, especially the answers to complex social phenomena.

Specifically, he references the book “The Eye Test,” which I haven’t read, but is now on the list.

Second, this leadership maxim that ends the episode: 4+1 – the four things leaders do and the one thing to keep in mind.

  1. Allocate resources – “There’s never enough radios for the number of people that need a radio.”
  2. Provide commander’s guidance – “Guidance gives us left and right limits.”
  3. Report to higher – “Reporting to higher creates freedom of maneuver for subordinates.”
  4. Keep higher out of your business – “If we’re on line with the first three, higher will stay out of your business.”

And the plus 1?

Maintain relationships outside of the military.

Staying inside the bubble can get real toxic real quick.

The episode concludes with a powerful anecdote that illustrates this. And if you have been in the military for any period of time, it will resonate.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

GWOT War Stories

night vision afghan commando raid with special forces

This is an addendum to this morning’s post.

Sometimes it is easy to get excited about some new term or piece of information. I had never heard the term “grammando” before but it instantly clicked.

That’s how you get a new post.

But the rest of that episode is terrific. It’s a long war story.

The GWOT is over, right?

Maybe.

I’m continuously struck by the numbers of folks who are still around with incredible stories of heroism, triumph, and tragedy.

We are fortunate to have such people.

Click through and listen to this setup:

“We got into a big firefight, our dog handler got shot in the head, he lived, some of our commandos got killed, our Echo (Communications Sergeant) took a machine gun round to the chest plate and it exploded his magazines, destroyed his M4, so he took an AK from a guy he shot earlier that day and used it for the rest of the mission, and at one point… their snipers were shooting at those explosives…”

Brackforce #1, ~18:50

We are very fortunate indeed.

Image Source: New York Times


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.