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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