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.


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On that day…

As usual, not much to add.

But I do have this.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff that attracts you. The stuff that gets you in the door.

All that stuff is real. It’s there. You have to work for it, but it’s there.

It’s why you showed up in the first place.

But then there’s this other thing. It’s not written anywhere, it’s just something that you have to discover. And not everyone does.

And it turns out, that’s the real thing.

But, you only discover it in flashes, slowly.

A quizzical moment on the tarmac before an invasion.

A midnight exfil from the outskirts of a town in southern Iraq.

On the top bunk, staring at the ceiling, for the second time, wondering.

In front of a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan, writing it out on a whiteborad, with blank expressions coming back at you.

In a classroom in front of future officers, hanging on your every word, without it registering.

In a tired seminar with peers, yawning.

In a video game.

In a book.

It comes slowly over time.

And then you have it.

And once it’s known, it can’t be un-known.

What do you do with that knoweldge?

I think the answer to that question says more about the person than the truth.


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The Revolution Will Be Televised

Short article with the Irregular Warfare Initiative on the primacy of information in future (now) war.

Of all the lessons of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, one stands out: the importance of achieving dominance in the information domain. From the first days of the war, Ukraine has used information to shape the course of the conflict to its advantage. But American policymakers should not be too quick to mock Russia’s failures in the information environment: the US military itself is underprepared for war in the information age, where the actions of military units and individual soldiers may go viral in an instant. As the US Army continues to reconceptualize the role of information as both a weapon and a battlespace, it should learn some lessons from Ukraine’s success.

GOING VIRAL: PREPARING GROUND FORCES FOR COMBAT IN THE INFORMATION AGE

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MCDP 8 Information

I love the USMC MCDPs (Marine Corps Doctrinal Publications). They’re short, readable, and get to the point.

Last year, I wanted to deep dive MCDP 1-4 Competing because it’s that good, and as far as I’m aware, there is not a better publication on just what “competition” is.

Just look at this graphic.

Unfortunately, I just never got to it.

MCDP 8 Information was released earlier this summer and I wanted to do the same.

It’s worth reading through. It captures the information field nicely.

Some highlights below.

On the “compressed levels of warfare and battlespace”:

Information’s instant, global, and persistent nature compresses the levels of warfare and increases the chances a local action will have a global impact. The ease with which information flows worldwide allows people to continuously monitor local events on
a global scale. This phenomenon is unique to the information age. It is powerful because political actors (state or non-state), interest groups, and individual people can scan the globe for local events and use them to reinforce their cause or narrative of choice.

This access, combined with the relative ease with which our adversaries can distort and manipulate information about events through various media, makes every tactical action-even if beneficial or benign to the local population- a potentially disruptive regional or global incident.

We’ve discussed this before.

Is the below graphic too simplistic?

No, I don’t think so.

Of course, there is a section on “narrative,” which is actually pretty good, but “narrative” is still such a squishy term. Even in this publication, it’s not quite clear what is supposed to be done with it.

I love the below:

PRIORITIZING INFORMATION

The global information environment creates countless opportunities to generate and leverage ambiguity, uncertainty, and friction. It also offers many pathways for world and military leaders to communicate with one another and with relevant populations. Regardless of the situation, commanders, by the very nature of their roles, must prioritize activities that place information considerations at the forefront.

Emphasis mine.

I’ve seen this sentiment in a number of places. What I haven’t seen is the commander turn to the information specialist and say “tell me how to craft this operation to have the most powerful information effect.”

And that’s where we need to be.


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The New Rules of War

Fascinating interview with Sean McFate on one of the latest Cognitive Crucible podcast episodes.

During this episode, Dr. Sean McFate discusses his influential book, The New Rules of War. Sean describes how the Westphalian state system is changing, consequences for conventional war, the rise of mercenaries and international mega-corporations, and information operations. Plus, the Cognitive Crucible gets not only one–but two–Monty Python references.

#110 SEAN MCFATE ON THE NEW RULES OF WAR

Worth a full listen, and I’ve just started the book.

Three things piqued my attention:

What matters in “future” war?

Information.

How should states that wish to compete, compete?

“Below the threshold of international media.”

How do we deter in the era of Great Power Competition?

“Sneaky” deterrence.


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Hyper Active Chaos

joe haldeman the forever war cover

I don’t have much to say here, other than this is a term I’m starting to see slowly seep into discussions, usually relating to large-scale combat operations (LSCO).

Maybe it will show up in doctrine at some point.

The only place I’ve found it in the wild is here (page 27).

I’m still not sure what hyper-active chaos is, though.

If you’ve got an inkling of where this comes from, please let me know.

It sounds nauseating.


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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.


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Plan Your Own War

In the mid-2000s I became obsessed with productivity blogs and systems. I followed 43 folders (dead since 2011), Lifehacker (turned into listicles and clickbait), and read article after article on the “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system. Over the ensuing decade (+), I’ve built a monster of a system for organzing my life and things I’m trying to do – both personally and professionally.

This system consists of:

  • A daily review (about 5 minutes total, split up between morning/evening)
  • A weekly review (normally done on Sunday mornings – takes 30-45 minutes of focused work)
  • A monthly review (normally done on the closest weekend to the 1st of the month, takes 30-45 minutes of focused work)
  • A yearly review (I start thinking about it on 1 December and capturing notes, and I usually complete the review during the week between Christmas and New Years – multiple sessions of reflection and work)

I’m not going to go into the details of what is in each review (if you’re actually interested, let me know). It is a system that I continually improve and massage (thanks John). However, when I look back at the reviews I did a decade ago versus today, it’s really incredible how much I’ve tacked on over the years. The process has grown and become much more focused and professional. Just about every year though, I have to prune it so it doesn’t get out of control.

At its core, the whole thing is a goal setting / reflection exercise that answers the following questions:

1) What is it that I’m trying to accomplish?
2) How am I doing?
3) What do I need to do to get better?

I know others go through a similar process, but my sense is that this is something most people don’t really do at all. It’s way beyond just making a to-do list and scheduling things on a calendar. And I’m aware that this process takes a lot of work and time – sometimes I’ll wonder if I’m spending more time planning when I should be executing.

But aren’t you worth it?

We spend so much time planning other people’s wars or projects – isn’t it worth putting some time into your own life?

As an aside, after more than a decade, I’ve stopped using Evernote. Until now, I’ve used Evernote exclusively to do this planning, capture articles, and even build my digital “I love me book.” Recently, and without warning, Evernote stopped providing the ability to maintain “local” notebooks, meaning everything would have to live “in the cloud.” It was an abrupt change and other note apps have come a long way, so I made the migration to Apple’s native Notes app – which works just fine.

Anyway, if you’re interested in going deeper on reviews, check these out:

The Art of Non (Yearly Review).  Another site I follow that talks about the annual review. I lifted the concept of assigning a “theme” to your year. An overarching organizing principle. Remember, good artists copy, great artists steal.

Who moved my brain? I revisit this video from Merlin Mann every couple of years to remind me that the two things that really matter are time and attention. The video is long and meandering, but if you stick with it you ingest a really important message. And this is one of those videos where I think you have to soak in the whole thing to really get it. You can’t just stick to the punchline.

The scary – but true quote – that sticks with me:

“If I just grabbed you on the street, and I said ‘what’s the most important thing in your life?’ you would say something like your family, or your church group, or you know, maybe your career, maybe your kid or your pet or whatever. And the thing is, in some part of your heart, that’s absolutely true. 

But do you have a sense of the extent to which your time and attention tracks to actually doing good stuff for that thing that you claim is really important? Do you have an internal barometer that tells you how well that’s going? In fact, is the thing that you claim is important really important? 

Because if a lot of people actually looked at where there time and attention went – the parts that they do have control over – it would look like the most important thing in their life was Facebook.” 

Oof.


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Informational Entropy

lord of the flies ending

Another good episode from the Cognitive Crucible, who I recently learned have their own YouTube channel.

This one discusses informational entropy, information “power” (something that I think we’re better at than we give ourselves credit for), and more.

There’s also a Lord of the Flies reference. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve used Lord of the Flies to make a point in the past myself.

Very interested to hear that Glen Edwards is a gamer, too.


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