Best Defense

Mission command is nice but I suspect we are indeed only paying it lip service

By Richard Buchanan Best Defense office of mission command In 1993, when I left the Army as a CWO (HUMINT/CI) myself and another CWO (Order of Battle) were training 7th Infantry Light non-MI personnel on MI skill sets using a hand-jammed two-week NEO scenario exercising against Abu Sayfeh. Down right counter guerrilla if you ask ...


By Richard Buchanan
Best Defense office of mission command

In 1993, when I left the Army as a CWO (HUMINT/CI) myself and another CWO (Order of Battle) were training 7th Infantry Light non-MI personnel on MI skill sets using a hand-jammed two-week NEO scenario exercising against Abu Sayfeh. Down right counter guerrilla if you ask me as we were using my Special Forces Vietnam experience to frame the scenario. Bottom line up front — if a light fighter is trained well in his infantry skill sets counter-guerrilla operations are not a problem — it was true in 1993 and it is just true in 2012 so why did we have to create COIN?

We were actually breaking ground in 1993 by creating the CoIST and DATE concepts years before they became standard terms. The MI Center in Ft. Huachuca was interested in the scenario and concepts of our version of CoIST/DATE, but came to the decision that guerrilla warfare was where the Force was not heading so they basically canned what had been provided to them.

I then left the Force and moved into the IT world of ATT and Cisco where for years we spoke using the IT slogan "people, processes, tools" long before the Army broke into the G/S6 world.

Now 29 years later the Army has "people, processes and tools" — People is a PME system generating Cmdrs and Staffs, Processes is Science of Control, and Tools is multiple mission command systems.

I recently meet (after 29 years) that same retired CWO who has as a retiree done his rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan and just as I am he is still trying to educate the Force. When we met we simply smiled and almost at the same time said "boy did we get it right 29 years ago" and then compared notes on what has been working and what is failing since 1993. There are not many of us greybeards still out there working with the Force — and still the Force does not "listen."

So Tom’s recent question ("Mission command is nice but what will commanders actually practice it?") caused me to go back and give it some serious thought as mission command is really something some of us have been where possible practicing since 1993.

The question of how do we facilitate mission command training in a Force that is centrically singularly focused on mission command systems is a valid concern and yes one might in fact think the Force is only paying lip service. Processes and tools are simple to understand/control — but the Art of Command is all about Leadership and right now "Leadership" in the Force is a "black art."

The fuzzy "black art" thing we call Art of Command with the equally warm and fuzzy terms of team building, open dialogue in a fear free environment, and TRUST is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore. It is ignored in the AARs coming out of the DATE exercises, it is ignored by MCTP AARs, it is ignored in Staff training exercises and the list goes on.

WHY? The answer is easy — not many are comfortable and confident with themselves in the areas of Trust and open dialogue or they have had negative experiences with these terms. Trust and dialogue are hard to mentor day to day in the current Force.

Has anyone recently seen in any CTC AAR or in any MCTP AAR a section on Trust? Meaning, was Trust being demonstrated within the Staff or between the Cmdr and his Staff, a section on how was dialogue being handled within the Staff or what the Cmdr’s leadership style was? That is, did it contribute to team building or did it push dialogue and or contribute to trust being developed in his unit? Or was there ease in the way the NCOs and Officers worked with each other. Or was failure tolerated and learned from with the Cmdr leading the way in the lessons learned by a failure?

Has anyone recently seen a CTC AAR or a MCTP AAR speak out about the quality of the Cmdrs Mission Orders to his subordinates (was it clear/concise) or did they speak about the quality of the Commanders Intent — two critical core elements in the "Art of Command"? Or did the OCs speak about his and his Staff’s micromanagement?

What is inherently missing is a clear strong Army senior leadership emphasis on Leadership in the current group of O5/6s and one/two Stars. Leadership that develops the team, develops/fosters open dialogue and fosters Trust. If junior officers see that emphasis in their daily routines then it becomes second nature to them — right now not many O5/6s are leading by example. We have way too few "truth seekers" in the current O5/6 and one/two Star ranks.

In some aspects the necessity for mission command (Art of Command and Science of Control-the processes not the systems) has been articulated in ADP/ADRP 6.0, in the concept of "hybrid threat" TC 7-100, in the doctrinal thinking behind Capstone 2012, and anchored in the new DATE scenarios that are now standardized at the CTCs.

With the future of the Army training being refocused on hybrid threats tied to DATE training exercises the "Art of Command" is the key in moving forward. If the Cmdr has built his team using the elements of Trust and open dialogue there is no "hybrid threat" scenario that cannot be mastered by an agile and adaptive Cmdr/Staff.

In addition the concept of "Design" then starts to make sense and just maybe we can move into a open debate about whether the current decision making process MDMP makes sense in a "hybrid threat environment" or should it be replaced by a different problem solving process which actually "Design" and "mission command" demands.

Or as a recent article in Tom’s blog put it, "I am leaving the Corps because it doesn’t much value ideas." It is not only the Army that is having Trust issues. We are losing the "best and the brightest" simply because senior leaders are not serious about a "Leadership" that builds teams, fosters dialogue, and Trust.

Richard Buchanan is mission command training facilitator with the JMTC/JMSC Grafenwoehr, Germany training staffs in the areas of mission command, MDMP/NATO Planning Processes, MDMP/Design, and Command Post Operations. From 2006 to 2008, he rebuilt as HUMINT SME together with the Commander Operations Group (COG) National Training Center (NTC) the CTC training scenario to reflect Diyala Province. From 2008 to 2009, he introduced as a Forensics SME into the NTC training scenario the first ever battlefield forensics initially for multifunctional teams and then BCTs. From 2010 to 2012, he trained staffs in the targeting process as tied to the ISR planning process as they are integrated in the MDMP process. The opinions here are his own and not those of U.S. Army Europe, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. government, nor even the shattered remains of the once-proud New York Jets.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

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