Intuitive Decision Making and Military History

One of the recent popular books that delves into the subject of critical and creative thinking is Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This book y is a fairly in depth discussion of intuitive decision making. What is interesting is that I was not expecting Gladwell to talk about the military, but he does. The following is an excerpt from the book:

“Of all the interviews I conducted while researching Blink, the one that made the most lasting impression on me was my interview with General Paul Van Riper –the hero (or villain) of the Pentagon’s Millennium Challenge war game…. I remember being surprised when he took me on a tour of his house by the number of books in his study. In retrospect, of course, that’s a silly thing to find surprising. Why shouldn’t a Marine Corps general have as many books as an English professor? I suppose that I had blithely assumed that generals were people who charged around and “did” things; that they were men of action, men of the moment. But one of the things that Van Riper taught me was that being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous course of education and experience. Van Riper beat Blue Team because of what he had learned about waging war in the jungles of Vietnam. And he also beat Blue Team because of what he had learned in that library of his. Van Riper was a student of military history.”

What Galdwell is implying is that a foundation of intuitive decision making –thinking without thinking –is study and preparation, and for the military professional a major component of that study is military history.  Now to just get the senior military leadership to buy the concept.

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Book Review: Moroland

Moroland, 1899-1906.  America’s First Attempt to Transform an Islamic Society, by Robert A. Fulton (Bend, OR:  Tumalo Creek Press, 2007), 417.

Moroland by Robert A. Fulton is a comprehensive examination of American policy toward and military operations against the Moros of the southern Philippine Islands from 1899 to 1906.  Fulton very effectively covers policies, politics, and military operations.  What emerges from his work is a fascinating tale of brilliance and opportunities lost.  It is a must read volume for anyone interested in a host of contemporary issues including counterinsurgency, clash of cultures, Islamic warrior societies, and nation-building.

Read Complete Review Here.

Visit the Author’s Website Here.

Ender’s Game: Insights into Training Tactics, Strategy, and Critical and Creative Thinking

Just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel, Ender’s Game.   It is a recognized sci-fi  classic and my intent here is not to review it.  There are over 2,000 positive reviews of it on Amazon (as well as over 60 negative reviews) and I encourage that all who are interested in the book graze over what the Amazon readers have opined.  Despite the few very critical reviews, I found the book a quick, easy, and interesting read.  I recommend it strongly to those interested in sci-fi in general, military sci-fi in particular, and training military leaders.

My interest in Ender’s Game is that it is a sci-fi novel that is mostly about training for battle.  The actual war is wrapped up in the last 30 pages of the book.    I think the important points that the book makes are about training; and the most important points about training that it makes are the importance of immersion in the training environment and the focus on creative solutions.  It also makes the point that it is absolutely critical to focus on the development of individual leading and thinking skills.  Acquiring knowledge, technical skills, and collective training are important but secondary educational requirements.  The leader is the single point of failure in military endeavors.  Knowledge, skill, and collective training mean little unless uniquely trained and exceptionally competent leaders employ soldiers and units correctly and most effectively.  Ender’s Game makes the point that leaders make two vital contributions to military success:  first, effective decision-making and second, maximizing the abilities and potential of subordinates.    

The most intriguing aspect of the book is the use of simulation and technology to train critical and creative thinking and decision-making.  Written in 1985, this book advocates many of the training characteristics I did in my article “Training Tactics in Virtual Reality” ten years later. 

What I think is still frustrating to me is that, though I believe the technology is there to support it, the military in general still has not made the leap to using technology to train individual thinking and decision making skills.  Much like my earlier comments regarding Star Trek, Ender’s Game demonstrates that military sci-fi can be a creative inspiration for how we should be thinking about and using technology to make our military more effective.

Click here to go to Orson Scott Card’s Website.

Get rid of West Point? I think not.

A small tempest has been stirred up by Tom Ricks in the Washington Post and on his blog when he wrote about the service academies.  The title of the Post article was “Why We Should Get Rid of West Point,” where he opined regarding the necessity of the service academies.

As my previous blog on West Point Founder’s Day indicates, I’m a grad and I obviously disagree with Tom on this issue.  I think the service academies, for all their faults (and over the years I have articulated many) are value added to the services, particularly West Point and the Army, with which I am familiar.  The great challenge at the service academies is to remember they are not just academic institutions, but rather, they are academic institutions whose purpose is to provide top quality leaders to our military.  Recent reforms at WP indicate to me that the WP leadership understands what the army needs for leaders, and WP is doing just that.

Others have taken on Ricks on the particulars of his arguement so I won’t do that.  I would like to point out, however, that WP is a tier one undergraduate college.  That’s not the Army’s ratings but how both Newsweek (#1 public liberal arts and #5 undergraduate engineering program) and the Forbes magazine (#6 overall) rate it.  It is a great quality education and produces talented individuals.  The difference between WP and other top tier colleges, is that WP’s mission requires its  alumni to use their talent as army officers in  service to the nation and taking care of soldiers.  I think WP, though not a perfect institution, does that well, and the Army, soldiers, and tax payers benefit because of that.

Thinking through Technology: Tactics Training in Virtual Reality

 

I’m not a trained education specialist, nor do I have any particular knowledge about creating virtual worlds or simulations or gaming.  I am a retired professional soldier who has been wrestling with how to train and educate soldiers to think better than their adversary for thirty years.  With that perspective, I think there is a huge role to be played in  professional military education (PME) by technology that remains untapped.

I wrote the below article more than 15 years ago for Armor magazine. I have never been asked about it or ever heard anyone comment on it.  I think that means that it was completely ignored.  Either that or I totally failed at explaining the idea.  To my knowledge nothing approaching an individual focused virtual trainer designed to both train and educate officers has  been considered by the U.S. military.What amazes me is that after all this time, and all the technology that has evolved since, I still think the concept stands up and should be pursued.  The below trailer for the Call of Duty 4 game system is indication of where virtual technology has gone.

What inspired this article, all so many years ago, was two things.  One, mentioned in the article, is the army’s UCOFT (Unit  Condcut of Fire Trainer) training system for tank gunnery.  It is essentially a training matrix that a tank crew works through on a simulator that begins with simple and moves to more complex tasks.  Each level requires mastery of the tasks at the previous level.  The other is the Kobayashi Maru test mentioned in the Star Trek TV series.  The test was a tactical thinking test which was only ever passed by Cadet James T. Kirk –an accomplishment which identified him as a gifted officer early in his career.  It seemed to me that a combination of the UCOFT concept and the Kobayashi Maru test would be an incredable training device.

I just don’t think our leadership has the imagination to understand how to truly leverage the technology that is out there and available.   I believe that the right use of technology, such that it becomes imbedded in the lives of people, much like the relationship some people have with their blackberry, can change the way a person thinks, reacts, and responds to situations at an instinctual level.  I don’t think the  military recognizes or has bought into that.  Once they do, the possibilities of using technology, not just to train skills, but to train and teach thinking, can truly be realized. 

Tactics Training in Virtual Reality (The Future of the Officer Advanced Course)

The company commander looked ahead and saw the Bravo section of his 1st platoon break the wood line as they began bounding forward. Turning to the right, he could see the small group of houses where the Alpha section was waiting. A glance at his commander’s display told him that 2d and 3d platoons were moving along their designated axis. At that moment, there was a sudden roar, and then the concussion of incoming artillery. He looked up in time to see the streak of antitank missiles; he watched both of the bounding Bravo vehicles take hits and explode. Missiles were also coming at him, but his vehicle defense system was faster than the enemy gunners: it launched smoke, chaff, and electronic countermeasures. As his helmet-mounted thermal goggles automatically came on, his driver was already moving back into the deep cover of the forest and out of the line of fire.

Read the rest of the article here.

Founder’s Day

 

On March , 1802 –two hundred and seven years ago, on 16 March 1802, Congress authorized the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.  Last night about a hundred and fifty of us “old grads” celebrated the founding of our alma mater here at Fort Leavenworth Kansas.  Our oldest grad was class of ’48 and the youngest “old grad” was class of ’07.  It was sometimes fun, sometimes interesting, sometimes boring, and often a humbling evening.  We had the Dean of Academics, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, as our guest speaker and he was effective, if a bit long,  in nudging our memories and stirring our hearts. 

The Dean was particularly effective at high-lighting the sacrifices made in the Global War on Terror by the junior officers who are the graduates of the last decade.  Unlike us Cold War warriors, they have directly borne the burden of combat and long deployments.  Some 68 graduates, mostly captains and lieutenants,  have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Their service has reaffirmed that West Point continues to do exactly what its mission has called for:

To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.

The corps motto, “Duty, Honor, Country,” is well met by the current generation of cadets and graduates.

Another part of the evening was a contest to see who could remember some of the cadet trivia that all plebes are required to remember.  Two pieces that several officers were able to recite very clearly struck me as particularly important aspects of officership.  I reflected as I heard them again, more than thirty years after I first encountered them in my Bugle Notes back in the summer of 1977, that at the time I  first memorized them I didn”t realize how important, and prophetic they were.  When I was a cadet, I assumed that they were really just restatements of common sense.  I didn’t realize how difficult the standards that they represented would be to meet on a daily basis in a complex and challenging environment. 

Worth’s Battalion Orders

But an officer on duty knows no one — to be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offences in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated, the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.

Brevet Major William Jenkins Worth

Schofield’s Definition of Discipline

The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

Major General John M. Schofield
Address to the Corps of Cadets
August 11, 1879

Its funny how ethics and leading American soldiers hasn’t changed too much in over 200 years.

So it was a night to reminisce and renew old friendships.  It also was an evening which reminded us of the mission of the military academy, affirmed for us that that mission is being well met today, and allowed us to appreciate how fortunate we are to have been part of something special.

The U.S. Army General Staff:Where Is It in the Twenty-first Century?

A couple of years ago LTC Paul Yingling wrote an article entitled “A Failure in Generalship,” very critical of the U.S. Army general officer corps and also blaming the generals for what at the time was looking like a debacle in Iraq. 

Thinking about it, I wrote an article that, while not discounting the failures of many general officers in Iraq, took a different view:

A Myriad of problems plagued the U.S. army in the first few years of operations in Iraq.  At the eleventh hour General Petraeus is leading a new counterinsurgency doctrine inspired “surge” campaign that may save the entire war effort.  However, the question must be asked –why has the war effort of the most sophisticated army in the world come down to a final moment “Hail Mary” pass that is reliant on the genius of an individual commander for victory?  The answer is that the U.S. army has experienced a crisis of command.   Pundits have gradually come to the conclusion that the performance of U.S. generalship and senior leadership has been mediocre at best and at worst largely responsible for the problems associated with prosecuting the war in its initial years.  Recently army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling wrote: “These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America’s general officer corps.” Yingling’s analysis is echoed by military affairs analysts such as Ralph Peters and Douglas McGregor.  Even Chief of Staff of the Army, General George Casey allowed that “we don’t do as good a job as we need to training our senior leaders to operate at the national level.”  However, mediocre generalship alone does not account for the initial uninspired reactive prosecution of the war.  Also contributing to the inconsistent, and ineffectual prosecution of the war is the absence of a professional corps of general staff officers operating in support of the senior leadership.

Thanks to the Small Wars Journal for publishing this article!
See comments by best selling author and journalist Tom Ricks on the article here.

The General, Horses, and Leadership

enhs1019majoreisenhower1935General and President Dwight David Eisenhower is one of the famous leaders in American military history.  He is known for his compassion and calm in the face of adversity.  Eisenhower was an infantry officer but made his reputation as an exceptional staff officer and planner.  Few people know that “Ike” was also an more than average horseman.  Eisenhower, like all officers of his generation, had to learn to ride as part of his professional requirements, but he had a more than average affinity for animals.  Eisenhower’s abilities as a horseman and his ability to relate to the animal is described in his memoir At Ease:  Stories I tell Friends.  In this very readable autobiography of his personal and professional life Ike describes his military mount “Blackie” who he rode during his two year assignment in Panama.  Eisenhower trained the horse in what today would be called basic dressage movements as well as “tricks” such as following him on command whenever he dismounted.  Eisenhower believed that working with animals could teach leadership skills important to army officers.  He stated in his memoir that “in teaching skills, in developing self-confidence, the same sort of patience and kindness is needed with horses as with people.”  Some biographers believe that the horse “Blackie” taught Eisenhower as much as the officer taught the horse.  One author goes so far to assert that the horse was instrumental to helping Eisenhower to get over the death of his son the previous year and may have saved his marriage.  It is certain the horse “Blackie” was an exceptional part of Eisenhower’s life.  In his memoirs he writes about “Blackie” over six pages –more pages than he devotes to any single human, including all the heads of states and famous generals, he met in his long career.

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 4:03 am  Comments (2)  
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Valkyrie Review

valkyrieSaw the movie today and I’ll start by saying I am NOT a Tom Cruise fan. But….It was well made, authentic, and enjoyable. Well worth your movie $. A word of caution however, this movie is history, so I was inclined to love it.

Having said that, I also brought along  my teenage daughter.  She agreed its a quality production, well acted, and good story well told. Also had a German officer student with me. He found the movie very true to the history as taught in Germany and as honored in the German army. He enjoyed the movie immensley.

Four personal observations from me:

1. Overall very little action of the Saving Private Ryan variety. Not really expected so not a big deal.

2. Given that we all know how it ends, the director, acting, and screenplay manage to keep the tension high, the suspense active, and movie moving at a crisp pace.

3. No major short-coming in terms of accuracy of the story or the on-screen details. Uniforms, equipment, and locations are particularly well done. The opening scene in N. Africa was the only “battle” scene and was well done. The uniform details  were particularly impressive.

4. Alot of information is crammed into a short movie with no loss of the essentials. However, it would have been nice if they could have developed the Stauffenberg character more thoroughly. They made the attempt by introducing his family and the potential effects of his actions on them. However, they didn’t develop fully the moral dilemma of German officers choosing between loyalty to country, conscience, and the oath they took to Hitler.  They also underplayed (ignored?) the religious/moral aspect of Stauffenberg’s motiviation.

I would give it 4 stars out of 5.

Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 2:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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