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Air Force Leaders Implement New Warfighting Planning Process

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Air Force leaders directed the implementation of a new approach to planning to better meet future threats. The team focused on this effort will be led by Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier.

“The Air Force needs to plan across stove pipes to prepare for warfare of the future,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said. “This will change the way we develop Air Force programs and budgets to face threats from high-end adversaries.”

In today’s technologically competitive, multi-polar world, the Air Force must be able to innovate and operate faster and more effectively than its potential adversaries. However, under the current force design model, planning and development are sub-divided into 12 core functions, such as rapid global mobility and air superiority, managed across seven major commands.

In October, Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein initiated an interim effort to move forward an Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability.

Wilson and Goldfein charged Crosier with leading a 70-person team to develop the AFWIC way forward. The team is made up of Airmen from across the Air Force.

“Warfighting in the 21st century is all about multi-domain integration, agility in decision-making, and speed of action. We must consistently innovate, integrate and field capabilities more effectively than our adversaries,” Goldfein said. “AFWIC will help us evolve and transform our processes and organizations to meet the challenges of future warfighting.”

AFWIC will explore and wargame innovative solutions, develop an integrated family of concepts, and direct capability development efforts across the Air Force.

This organization will also develop a single, multi-domain strategy that will identify, guide, and prioritize future force development. That will improve Air Force agility, readiness, and lethality in the joint fight, Goldfein said.

By Tech. Sgt. Robert Barnett, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Space Operators Provide TACPs Tactical Space Training

Sunday, February 10th, 2019


Deployed Tactical Air Control Party Airmen expect space effects to work; otherwise pilots get shot down, bombs miss targets, and soldiers die. TACPs may not know how space works, but if it doesn’t work well for America and its allies then its results devastating.

U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party Airmen with the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 227th Air Support Operations Squadron coordinate close air support with U.S. Marine Corps aircraft during joint training on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Dec. 6, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Space operators from the 16th and 4th Space Control Squadrons at Peterson Air Force Base are working to change the TACP community’s knowledge of space by developing the first Space Operations Course, Jan. 7-11. The course was an Airman initiative designed to give the TACPs a working knowledge of what space effects from three Air Force Space Command wings do to specifically impact their ground operations.   

The week-long course, organized by Airmen of the 21st Space Wing and the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, allowed TACP Airmen a look into tactical-level space operations with regard to mission planning.

“There are two big reasons why we came together to create this course,” said Capt. Ray Reeves, 13th ASOS flight commander and course planner. “The first reason is that the TACP community is focusing on integrating operations across multiple domains at the tactical level, based on the Air Force Chief of Staff’s priorities. The second was based off experiences from my last deployment. On the way out of theater I went by the Combined Air and Space Operations Center and received a brief from the space team in theater. I was surprised to learn there were a lot of capabilities and information that their assets were providing and major effects they could have on the battlefield. At the tactical level within my area of operations, neither myself nor the ground team I was with know those capabilities existed, which could have impacted our operations on the ground in a positive manner.”

Tactical air control Airmen assigned to the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the 818 Operational Support Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina perform exercise Talon Fury Dec. 12, 2019 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. During the exercise TACP Airmen’s job were in charge of calling in the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber to help provide air support to those who are on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Thomas Barley)

Upon return from that deployment, Reeves began working with the 21st SW to determine what space brings to the fight and how they can work together to improve battlefield operations.

TACP Space Integration Course 19-01 provided 18 Airmen from 11 units operational knowledge of the 21st SW, 50th SW, 460th SW and the National Reconnaissance Office.

“Space is really at the forefront of deployed operations,” said Capt. Chelsea Moss, 16th SPCS weapons and tactics flight commander and course planner. “TACPs are the subject matter experts for air power for the Army. There wasn’t any formal instruction on space, so we wanted to be able to provide this course to show the importance of space in mission planning and support.”

Topics covered during the course included GPS, communicating in jammed environments, space support in monitoring Remotely Piloted Aircraft, space threats, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance threats, and battlespace situational awareness.

“Particularly from the perspective of the 21st SW, we wanted to show how we monitor RPA links and how we can provide support,” said Moss. “We wanted to show what we do on a basic level and how TACPs can request space support from the Air Operations Center.”

“Working with our Airmen on the ground and showing them how space capabilities can improve their operations is crucial to maintaining our warfighting superiority,” said Col. Devin Pepper, 21st Operations Group commander. “The creation of this course is such an important step for both Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command.”

Equipped with a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between space and ground operations, TACPs can better integrate space into their training and operations.  

“I can’t put into words how important this is to the TACP community,” said Reeves. “When we start talking about the future fights and what we’re training toward – and we’re talking about major contested operations with a peer enemy – the ability to operate from multiple domains is going to be key to any success on the ground. By us learning what space can provide and being able to integrate it at the ground level, we are going to impact far more than just the TACP community. TACPs are aligned from the lowest tactical echelon in the Army to three-star headquarters, so if we can help integrate space across those echelons I believe we can have a Department of Defense wide impact.”

TACPs are embedded with Army units and are responsible for planning, integrating and executing Air Force operations worldwide. When properly trained and positioned they ensure the space-based effects are used and integrated to support ground maneuvers.

By Staff Sgt. Emily Kenney, 21st Space Wing Public Affairs

The Baldwin Files – Leadership and Moral Courage

Monday, January 28th, 2019

“The true test of courage is not found on the field of battle…but rather in mundane offices where difficult, ethical decisions of command are made each day, which challenge the very fiber of our principles.”–GEN Matthew B. Ridgway.

This quote accompanies a unit guidon that hangs today on a wall in my office here on the homestead. It is the single most prized memento of my service. It speaks, of course, to moral rather than physical courage. The Army, and the other Services, describe moral courage in a number of ways. For the purposes of this article, I am going to define it like this “Moral courage demands one accept some level of professional risk to stand up for what is right.” In other words, it does not necessarily involve the acceptance of potential risk to life or mission success but rather direct risk to one’s individual career. It is also true that situations requiring an overt display of that kind of courage can be morally complex, ambiguous, and perplexing. Therefore, I am going to try to provide some context and explore what moral courage looks like in real life. My expectation is the information will be of some small benefit to new leaders out there in the ranks.

I will start by repeating somethings I said in an earlier article. “…leaders must be willing to take risks. Most soldiers, myself included, like to think that we can always be as physically courageous as required in battle. Perhaps not ready, but willing and able to risk our lives if necessary. From my experiences and observations in various hostile places, I would say that is generally true enough. However, demonstrating moral courage is arguably much harder. In part, that is because the need for action does not present itself as unambiguously as it does in combat. It tends to sneak up on a leader over time. The Army constantly tells soldiers to do “the hard right over the easy wrong.” That is noble and righteous advice. However, it would be a mistake to think the institution actually cares. It does not.”

Furthermore, “The Army is a soulless, unfeeling and ungracious machine; a whore who has never loved you – and never will. You will not be rewarded for your [moral] courage or you honesty for accepting responsibility [and risk]. No exemplary service award is waiting for you; no building or street named in your honor; and you are not going to receive public recognition as the unit’s soldier, NCO, or officer, of the year. [In fact, you will probably be punished.] It should come as no surprise to any professional soldier that truly selfless service is always a bitch. None of that changes the fact that the right thing is always the right thing. In the end, all I can tell you is that principled leadership [to include moral courage] in training and war is never easy or painless – but I strongly recommend it anyway.”

Why begin with that truly discouraging admonishment? Simple, I want to fully dissuade any young leader out there that the Army will reward a display of moral courage in any positive way whatsoever. There have never been any medals presented for moral courage and the Army does not intend to start now. Do not delude yourself by thinking otherwise. Since that is true, it begs the question; if nothing good is likely to come of it, then why do it? Perhaps, for much the same reason a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies. It is not something that anyone is eager to do. It is a last resort to be considered in a range of bad courses of action only because it is the least bad. Consequently, in the absence of another better choice, an individual may have to sacrifice himself in order to shield his comrades from harm. Maybe, it is because a soldier has simply learned to value his teammates more than his own life. No greater love. Of course, in peacetime a soldier is not likely to face that stark a choice requiring physical courage, self-sacrifice, and clear risk to life as the grenade scenario. On the other hand, a dilemma requiring moral courage can occur in war or peace and with unpleasantly greater frequency. Therefore, just in the normal course of service, a good number of soldiers are likely to face an ethical dilemma of potentially damaging and even catastrophic risk to their careers.

Extrapolating from the grenade example above, I am suggesting that moral choices become clearer – albeit perhaps no less difficult – if an individual prioritizes teammates over career in a similar fashion. If you have not realized it already, the Army – as an institution – is incapable of human morality. Only soldiers themselves can make a moral judgement and live – or fail to live up to – a set of values. Leaders have an obligation to set the example in all things, perhaps especially moral courage, precisely because the consequences are invariably thankless. I have said this many times before; leadership is all the more vital when a situation is dire and the outcome uncertain. If a leader does not have at least the courage of his own convictions in all circumstances, he honestly has no convictions and is truly incapable of setting a good example or effectively leading anyone anywhere.

“Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.”–GEN George S. Patton

Consider the most basic duty of leadership – decision making. A neophyte might mistakenly believe that bad leaders always make bad decisions and good leaders invariably make good decisions. Not even close. The fact is, every leader a soldier has ever met, or will ever meet, or has ever read of, or heard about, is an imperfect human with feet of clay. In the aggregate, a “bad” leader probably makes about as many good decisions as a “good” leader and vice versa. It turns out that the troops’ perception of why and how the leader made a given decision matters much more than the decision itself. If soldiers trust that their leader habitually makes decisions selflessly in the best interest of the unit and the mission they will be inclined to give that leader the benefit of the doubt. If, however, they have come to believe that the leader tends to make decisions based on his own self-interests or ego, the soldiers will have a consistently negative impression of his leadership – regardless of how sound any single decision might objectively appear.

Anonymous– “No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men.”

Like it or not, a leader will only be judged to be the kind of good or bad role model – professional, moral, or otherwise – that the majority of soldiers in the unit are convinced he has been by his actions. Keep in mind, leadership is ALWAYS a collaborative exercise. Think of a marching band. Each musician may be highly skilled and more than capable of playing his or her instrument solo without a leader. Yet, the leader has a distinct and important role in the band as well. A band – like any team – must be organized, synchronized, and guided by a leader in order to make harmonious collective melodies while simultaneously moving forward as a coherent unit toward an objective. The leader sets the program, tempo, and literally, the direction for the band. Nevertheless, by himself, the bandleader cannot produce a single musical note.

To be clear, effective leadership is not a popularity contest. A leader’s highest duty is to evoke “willing obedience” from his soldiers in order to accomplish the unit’s mission – not ingratiate himself with his peers, subordinates, or those senior to him. Moreover, in my experience, one is ill advised to trust a leader who acts substantially different when his boss is around than he acts when the boss is not there. That kind of behavior likely indicates a moral courage deficit. The reality is that – even if one could only make “perfect” decisions – no leader ever makes tough calls that can possibly meet with everyone’s approval. Consequently, even the best leaders have at least some subordinates who are not fans. Conversely, even the worst leaders likely have a few subordinates who think highly of them. As a case in point, I know with certainty that at least a few of the people I have led, served with, or worked for, do not think much of me as a leader. They are entitled to their opinions. Ultimately, grading good and bad leadership is a very personal and subjective evaluation that each individual makes independently.

I had originally intended to talk more about Mission Command, but I will save most of that discussion for another time. However, I am including one portion to highlight some key concepts like “mutual trust,” “prudent risk,” and “disciplined initiative” propagated in Army doctrine. “Mission command requires an environment of mutual trust and shared understanding among commanders, staffs, and subordinates. It requires a command climate in which commanders encourage subordinates to accept prudent risk and exercise disciplined initiative to seize opportunities and counter threats within the commander’s intent.(emphasis added) Using mission orders, commanders focus their orders on the purpose of an operation rather than on the details of how to perform assigned tasks. Doing this minimizes detailed control and allows subordinates the greatest possible freedom of action. Finally, when delegating authority to subordinates, commanders set conditions for success by allocating adequate resources to subordinates based on assigned tasks.” FM 3.0, Operations.

Sadly, although the doctrine of Mission Command is sound enough in my opinion, in practice the Army has shown no inclination to live up to the standards and ideals espoused therein. For leaders who are so inclined, there are three windows available to micromanage a mission: before, during and after. Some particularly energetic and meticulous leaders like to take advantage of all three opportunities. All are wrong, but the last is probably the most insidious. A senior leader destroys any semblance of “mutual trust” by pretending to delegate authority to a subordinate and subsequently second-guessing and nit picking every decision in the aftermath. That is actually an old leadership dodge or cheat. When I was a lieutenant, we used to call it “bring on the dancing elephants.” The boss carefully positions himself to take credit for “professionally developing” a subordinate if all goes well; but can distance himself from responsibility if the outcome is perceived as unsatisfactory. Obviously, no moral courage is manifest in the senior leader’s actions in either eventuality.

Another leadership cheat involves demanding that subordinate leaders surrender their individual agency and always blindly comply with the minutia of rules, policies and SOPs. Every leader should always be empowered to adapt to the exigent circumstances his or her unit encounters. No centrally produced guidance can possibly account for every conceivable contingency. Moral courage requires leaders in direct contact with the issue at hand to accept responsibility and make the hard and morally ambiguous decisions – especially those that may run contrary to pre-established directives. In the end, soldier and junior leader “disciplined initiative” and “prudent risk” acceptance – as described in Mission Command – only happens consistently in units that make those behaviors an integral and indispensable part of a unit’s daily standard operating methodology and ethos. And that does not happen unless senior leaders are unfailing in setting the right example every single day. Soldiers do not adopt and emulate the values that are simply spoken or written, but rather those that are constantly and convincingly demonstrated by leaders.

“Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”–Aristotle 

To be fair, effective and timely delegation of authority is one of the trickiest of all leadership skills to learn and practice successfully. Sometimes, subordinate leaders do not want – and are not eager to accept – the additional responsibility. Sometimes they are not ready – or at least think they are not ready. The best leaders delegate decision making down until they – and their subordinates – are uncomfortable. However, for the process to work as it should, good senior leaders always need to be prepared to backstop a subordinate leader’s decisions. Senior leaders must be committed to providing appropriate top cover while simultaneously being careful not to smother the initiative of those junior leaders. In short, where mutual trust exists, all leaders willingly and routinely share and shoulder a portion of the risk and the consequences of any decision – good or bad.

From what I have written above, one might assume that I am pessimistic and discouraged about where we are and where we are going. That is not the case. Sure, I have seen many leaders who have failed to live up to the ideal of undaunted moral courage. All humans are imperfect, and even the best can fall short in moments of weakness. However, I have also witnessed countless examples of values based leadership over the years and, yes, moral courage. As GEN Ridgway concluded, small, morally courageous victories occur on a daily basis – most often without fanfare. I have also personally known a good number of leaders, including flag officers, who have made those kinds of moral choices and ultimately suffered the consequences of those decisions. By that, I mean that they were denied promotion and / or forced out of the Army. Like I said, selfless service is always a bitch and virtue must be its own – and only – reward.

“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all morality.”–John F. Kennedy

The strongest and the best people stay focused on the mission, not the obstacles in the way. Therefore, the last thing I want to talk about are BIRTs. A BIRT is a Bold, Innovative, Risk Taker. The Army has declared for decades that they want as many BIRTs in the ranks as possible. That claim is disingenuous at best. As with moral courage, the Army talks a good game, has solid supporting doctrine, but in practice falls well short of its own rhetoric. The BIRTs in service have always been there despite the Army’s best efforts to curtail BIRT initiative – not because of any affirmative Army policy. Therefore, it falls to individual leaders to do what the institution is failing to do well. Set the right rather than the easy professional example. Know that BIRTs are the best hope for the future. Do take up the responsibility to find, cultivate, nurture, teach, coach, and mentor the next generation of BIRTs. Be an unapologetic BIRT yourself. Indeed, for the good of the Service and the Nation, be all the BIRT you can be.

De Oppresso Liber!

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

Thousands Apply to Join New Army eSports Team

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

FORT MEADE, Md. — Over 6,500 Soldiers are already hoping to be part of a new Army esports team that will compete in video game tournaments nationwide in an effort to attract potential recruits.

“It’s essentially connecting America to its Army through the passion of the gaming community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Jones, NCO-in-charge of the budding team.

About 30 Soldiers are expected to be picked for the team and some of the first positions could be filled this summer. Only active-duty and Reserve Soldiers are currently allowed to apply.

Those chosen will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade for three years at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where the Army Recruiting Command is headquartered.

While they will not become recruiters, team members will receive a crash course on Army enlistment programs to answer questions from those interested in learning about the service.

Once built up, the team will fall under an outreach company that will also include an Army rock band and a functional fitness team.

Not everyone on the team will compete. Those who will may train up to six hours per day on video games, Jones said, adding that gameplay sessions would be live streamed or recorded for spectators to watch.

Esports has ballooned in popularity in recent years with millions of followers.

In August, the Washington Post reported that esports could generate about $345 million in revenue this year in North America. In 2017, a major esports tournament in China also drew a peak of more than 106 million viewers — roughly the same number of those who watched last year’s Super Bowl.

“It’s something really new and it’s been gaining a lot of steam,” Jones said.

While on the team, Soldiers will still conduct physical training, weapons qualifications and other responsibilities that come with being a Soldier. They will also have to maintain certifications in their military occupational specialty.

“Outside of that, there will be esports training,” Jones said. “So whatever game they’re playing in, they’ll not only be playing it, but be coached in it to get better.”

The team, he said, shares a similar concept to that of other Army competitive teams that continually train, such as the Golden Knights parachute team, World Class Athlete Program and Army Marksmanship Unit.

“Esports is like traditional sports,” he said. “Nobody can just walk in and expect to play at a competitive level.”

The Army, he said, already has talented gamers out there who can compete in events.

Last weekend, a few Soldiers competed at PAX South in San Antonio as a way to introduce Army esports to the greater gamer community.

In one of the events, a Street Fighter V tournament, two Soldiers placed first and second.

“This is the perfect opportunity to showcase not only to the Army, but to the civilian populace and the esports industry that we also have what it takes,” Jones said of the events.

Recruiters from the San Antonio Recruiting Battalion also joined them and were able to generate some leads with potential recruits, he added.

There are plans to do the same at the PAX East exposition in Boston in late March.

As a gamer and a recruiter himself, Jones said the team can help bridge the civilian-military gap by breaking down misconceptions some young people may have about the Army.

Being able to play their favorite video games with others who share the same passion is also a bonus.

“For a lot of Soldiers, to include myself, it’s like a dream come true,” Jones said. “This is just one of those ways we can start the conversation.”

Story by Sean Kimmons, Army News Service

Photos by SSG Ryan Meaux

Sky Soldier Leaders Conduct Joint Mountain Training

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

PASSO DEL TONALE, Italy — Leaders from across the 173rd Airborne Brigade assembled here from Dec. 10-12 to experience rigorous professional development and build interoperability with Italian allies while summiting the 2,700 meters of snow covered Monte Tonale.

For exercise “Alpini Climb,” the brigade’s company commanders and first sergeants, as well as the battalion commanders and sergeants major teamed with Italy’s mountain warfare experts, the Alpini, for instruction in cold weather operations and field craft. The instruction was put to the test with a platoon sized patrol up to summit the mountain.

“It was an opportunity to bring the entire team of leaders together. We got to experience shared hardships with our Italian Allies and learn about how to live and operate in the cold which is all part of combat readiness,” said Col. Jay Bartholomees, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. “It was a great opportunity to practice our craft and use our equipment in the elements.”

The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army’s Contingency Response Force in Europe, providing rapidly deployable forces to the United States, Europe, Africa, and Central Command’s areas of responsibilities. Forward deployed across Italy and Germany, the brigade routinely trains alongside NATO allies and partners to build partnerships and strengthen the alliance.

As part of the training, the participants surrendered their ranks along with their mobile phones and became members of a temporary platoon. The process allowed these dedicated leaders of the companies of the brigade to focus, however briefly, on the tasks ahead of them which would be rigorous.

“I found myself as a squad leader of 7th squad,” said Cpt. Jesse Carter, Commander of Bastion Co., 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion. “It gives me a whole new respect of the requirements of a squad leader and how to disseminate information in a challenging environment. I’ve learned a ton.”

At the Alpini base camp, the Paratroopers received instruction on proper use of their arctic equipment, and techniques for trekking up the mountain. Additionally, they received instruction on how to build the “trunne,” Italian for a fox-hole in the snow, and what these intrepid Paratroopers would sleep in the following night.

After departing the base camp on Tuesday, the Paratroopers marched up the snow covered mountain, with guides from the Alpini Julia Brigade, a ruck on their back, and snow shoes on their feet.

“We all feel ourselves to be very physically fit, but traversing this mountain was a smoker,” said Cpt. Andrew Williams, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion. “Along the way we’ve had invaluable training opportunities in survival, how to sleep in the snow, things like layering of clothing and the critical value of not sweating,” continued Williams.

After reaching the stopping point for the first night, the Paratroopers dug their buddy-team trunna and got a few hours of much needed rest to prepare for their final climb of the mountain on Wednesday morning.

At the summit, the platoon was able to witness first-hand the view that their Italian and Austrian predecessors saw over a century ago when those two Armies met in these mountains as each nation vied for the dominance of northern Italy during World War I.

“Our fighting forefathers did this same event but with much older equipment and in far harsher conditions than we did,” said Williams. “It really brings a lot of perspective while we’re up here.”

In all, the exercise was a valuable experience for the participants. These paratroopers were challenged to perform and excel in an extreme environment. But more than that, they were able to do it as a team and with allies, which besides the training, was the whole point of the exercise.

“One of the things we’ve stressed is teamwork. It’s absolutely critical that we all work together as a team and ensure that everyone makes it up as a team,” said Williams.

After summiting the mountain, and reveling in the view, the Paratrooper leaders reformed and gingerly moved back to the base of the mountain.

While many of these troops may never again be subject to mountain warfare or operating in full kit at below zero temperatures, the experience proves that Sky Soldiers will always achieve their mission weather jumping from 1,000 feet, or climbing their way past that same height.

Story By MAJ Chris Bradley, Photos by SPC Henry Villarama

The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

In the mid-1980s, there was a great deal of re-emphasis on dismounted load planning and load discipline in the U.S. Army. Much of this effort fell under the rubric of the “Light Division” concept. It was a worthy endeavor to lighten a soldier’s load and improve tactical dismounted mobility; but ultimately the resulting initiatives had little enduring impact. Since then we have incrementally added a great deal to a soldier’s burden – essentially without removing a single ounce of legacy weight. Tactically useful items like body armor, individual radios and night vision devices have become standard issue for almost everyone in our combat formations. GPSs have supplanted analog maps and compasses. Likewise, all individual and crew served weapons now have some form of day and night optical systems; and, of course, all the new electronic tools need batteries. Lots and lots of batteries.

The net result is a considerable increase rather than any aspirational reduction of a soldier’s mission load in combat. On the plus side, all of this high-speed “light weight gear” gives the American military tactical and operational capabilities that are the envy of the world. Nevertheless, it was indeed fortuitous that operations in Afghanistan and Iraq quickly became almost exclusively vehicle-centric. Dismounted operations of any duration away from immediate vehicle support became a rare exception. In that sense, the increased soldier load was at least partially masked by the fact that vehicles have been readily available to carry the extra weight in theater. As a result, small unit leaders became pretty good at putting together sound vehicle load plans but did not have to spend much time addressing rucksack load planning. Not surprisingly, the art of dismounted load management atrophied rapidly after the first year or so of GWOT.

There is no leadership alchemy that can make 100 pounds of gear weigh any less than 100 pounds. Ultimately, the unit mission load weighs what it weighs. Leaders have to deal with that reality; it is an enduring problem that cannot be wished away or avoided. However, here are some bullet points that can help organize leaders’ thoughts and efforts to successfully manage soldiers’ individual combat loads.

Dismounted Load Management Principles

  1. Pre-mission planning should determine what a unit MUST carry to accomplish the assigned tactical task.
  2. Load discipline requires individual soldiers and leaders to work collectively to ensure the unit effectively carries what is required – no more and no less.
  3. The eternal conundrum: A leader must accept risk to keep individual loads as light as possible. Conversely, a leader cannot gamble with the mission – or with lives – just to lighten the load. Remember the Gilligan’s Island Rule; it is never safe to assume that any mission will only be a “Three Hour Tour.”
  4. Sound load planning and enforcement must always be based on mission dictates, NOT on achieving equal burden sharing or relative individual comfort.
  5. In other words, ensuring maximum probability of mission success and his soldiers’ survival must be a leader’s overarching priority; military necessity – not “fairness” – must be the focus.
  6. Nothing a soldier carries into combat belongs to him. In terms of load carriage, he is a self-actualized mobility platform transporting resources vital to completing his team’s mission.
  7. Every piece of equipment is expendable – if necessary – to accomplish the mission. I say again, ALL equipment is expendable!
  8. While lighter equipment alternatives are generally more desirable, a unit may often need to carry whatever item is most effective to support the mission – regardless of weight penalty.
  9. Likewise, if a piece of equipment or ordinance – no matter how heavy or bulky – is deemed mission essential the question is not IF it will be carried but rather HOW it will be carried.
  10. A good load plan is comprehensive, utilitarian, and flexible; it must also anticipate and designate deliberate load transition points to support the upcoming mission.
  11. Use pre-mission inspections and rehearsals to confirm if the load plan is correct, complete, and works as intended. Make adjustments as necessary.
  • Another factor that negatively influences the training of leaders in effective load management practices has been that the official terminology tends to be imprecise and even misleading. When ALICE was fielded in the mid-70s, the Army referred to only two load configurations: Fighting Load and Existence Load. The fighting load consisted of two full ammo pouches on the harness, first aid pouch, one canteen, the bayonet, and the etool. Nothing else. In temperate or hot climates, the ALICE medium rucksack – without frame – was supposed to be more than adequate to carry all of the other items needed to “exist in the field.” Which is a bizarre and inexplicable conclusion given how habitually overloaded solders had been in Vietnam. The fielding of MOLLE introduced three load configurations: The Light Fighting Load (FLC Vest only), The Assault Pack Load, and The Full Pack Load. Beyond identifying the standard load carriage items issued to soldiers, neither framework provides a very informative or useful construct for mission load planning.
  • I re-read parts of the 1990, FM 21-18, Foot Marches, for this article and I recommend it (or whatever newer version may be out there) as a good resource. Chapter 5, in particular, goes into a good deal of detail on soldier load planning considerations. It also explains additional concepts like “Approach March Load,” “Sustainment Load,” and “Contingency Load.” Unfortunately, the manual continues to perpetuate the notion that there is a distinct line between vest or harness only “fighting loads” and everything else. I vehemently disagree. Therefore, in the attached picture, I am outlining a more simplified, precise and functional way to think about planning, arranging, and distributing a soldier’s and a unit’s combat load. I call it “The Fighting Load Continuum.” The concept is simple. If moving on foot into combat then anything the unit deems essential enough to carry on soldiers’ backs is – by definition – a component of the individuals’ “fighting load.” Whether we are comfortable with that fact or not. Note: Items displayed in the picture are pieces of gear I had on hand and are presented only as visual aids to illustrate the concept.


    Starting from the left is the Minimum Fighting Load. In World War II, frogmen went into harm’s way with little more than a pair of UDT shorts and a Kabar knife. Tunnel Rats in Vietnam faced danger with only a 45 and a flashlight. It is also true that even today a good number of people on the battlefield have a sidearm as their only issued weapon. Obviously, that gives soldiers so marginally equipped a defensive capability but not an offensive capability. That is why the Minimum Fighting Load is highlighted in cautionary amber as clearly sub-optimum. Soldiers who have the primary mission of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” need considerably more than the minimum. Starting with the “Standard” Fighting Load displayed second from the left. I have put “standard” in quotations because what constitutes a standard fighting load has changed countless times over the years for the American Military – not to mention other Armies. Generally, the baseline “fighting load” has been built around the “basic load” of ammunition for a rifleman in a given timeframe. Therefore, since the current standard is 210 rounds, we will start there – with the caveat that mission specific load planning may raise or lower that number considerably.

    Of course, a solder going into battle likely needs a few more tools in addition to his rifle and ammunition. Today, a couple of fragmentation grenades, a first aid kit, helmet, body armor, and water are usually considered part of a standard fighting load. Leaders, grenadiers, automatic riflemen, and those manning crew served weapons will have duty position specific items as well. A radio for a leader for example. Still, the “standard” fighting load is almost never sufficient without at least some augmentation. Enter the “Enhanced Fighting Load” that adds a small backpack to the Standard Fighting Load configuration. This pack may be a Modular Assault Pack (MAP) as shown or something slightly larger. MAPs have been issued in SOF units for at least the last 12 years or so. A MAP is not common issue with MOLLE or FILBE; however, since units often buy “off the shelf” some non-SOF units probably issue these as well.

    The earliest MAPs I encountered were smaller than the sample I have on display. They had no shoulder straps and were designed to be mounted directly onto body armor via PALs. Other than the “modularity” of the design, they were not much different from the small hydration packs Camelbak produced as far back as the 80s. The newer, larger versions still have the PALs direct mounting option. However, it is more common to see them used as “day packs” or “go bags” with the detachable shoulder straps attached. That arrangement works better riding or getting into and out of vehicles and makes the pack’s contents more quickly accessible. This MAP is ~1200 cubic inches. By comparison, the Army issue Assault Pack is ~2000 cubic inches and the Marine Assault Pack is slightly larger at ~2300 cubic inches (neither shown). Those packs are not designed to be directly attached to individual armor, but rather can be buckled onto the top of the full sized rucksacks.

    Next over would be the Supplementary Fighting Load. That means a larger pack to carry more stuff. These packs represent an intermediate load-carriage solution. They are often called “3 Day Packs” and also date back to commercial versions popular with soldiers in the 80s. These packs tend to range in size from ~2000 cubic inches to ~3500 cubic inches. Indeed, the issue Army and Marine Assault Packs actually straddle the low end of this category of medium rucksacks. Likewise, there are numerous mission specific versions of packs in this size range currently being issued to medics, JTACs, EOD, as well as machinegun, mortar, and Anti-Tank crews. The aforementioned smaller assault packs are simple not of adequate size to carry the volume and weight that these specialists habitually need for their tactical mission. The example shown is the Army’s Medium Rucksack that has ~3000 cubic inches of space. I have a couple of extra pouches mounted as well as a beavertail so this one is probably in the ~3500 cubic inch range.

    Anything bigger than that falls into the Full Sized Rucksack class, a.k.a. the Maximum Fighting Load in the Fighting Load Continuum. For reference, the large ALICE is approximately ~3800 cubic inches. Both the MOLLE and the FILBE rucksacks are ~4000 alone and up too ~5000 cubic inches with only a pair of Sustainment Pouches added. In terms of volume, both of those two standard rucksacks, with sustainment pouches and issue assault packs attached are ~7000 cubic inches or more. In other words, almost equivalent to two Large ALICE packs. That explains why carrying a Maximum Fighting Load automatically moves a soldier’s burden from the lower-risk green range into the tactically riskier cautionary amber zone. To be clear, soldiers have to be able to fight with the full rucksack on their backs. It is not always tactically sound to drop rucks when the shooting starts. For example, when the situation is untenable and the unit has to break contact under pressure.

    Then there is the perpetual issue of the Overburden Load. Soldier overloading actually extends beyond the Fighting Load Continuum but remains inexorably linked and must always be considered in realistic load planning. The Overburden Load can be just about anything deemed mission essential but excessive to the Maximum Fighting Load. Red indicates that it represents undesirable high-risk but is nevertheless often unavoidable. As I mentioned in a previous article on Packboards, for extended operations in particular it may be expedient to deliberately put as much on the backs of some soldiers as they can carry. However, doing that makes those soldiers combat ineffective until they can dump that excessive load. Other, less burdened, troops will have to provide security for them because they – sometimes quite literally – have their hands full. Intentional overloading is actually quite common in one specific situation. That is when evacuating the wounded. As a rule, soldiers carrying a casualty are effectively out of the fight until they can at least drop off their injured teammate in some relatively safer location.

    In the end, leaders have to face the fact that for the majority of dismounted combat operations – even relatively short ones – it is all but impossible to avoid at least some overloading entirely. However, as indicated by the color-coded arrows, the goal of effective load management should be to keep as many of a unit’s soldiers as possible in the more combat effective green range – for as much of the time as possible – rather than the cautionary amber or high-risk red zones.

    To be continued in Part II.

    LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

    The Baldwin Files – Forgotten SWCS History

    Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

    I sent the following email just before I retired in 2011 to an old friend who had just taken a senior position at the Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Fort Bragg. During the time in question, 2000-01, I was commanding F Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Camp Mackall.  My company was responsible for two phases of the Special Forces Qualification Course or Q Course for short.  What was then called Phase II, focused on Land Navigation and Small Unit Tactics; and Phase IV, focused on Unconventional Warfare (UW), including the culminating Robin Sage Exercise. I am one of the few that had firsthand knowledge of this historical episode – since it was never made public – for reasons that will become obvious.  I thought it was past time to share it with a larger audience and save it for posterity.  I have edited what follows only to spell out contractions and the numerous acronyms for clarity.

    Believe it or not, this is a true story.  In 2000 and 2001 (before 9/11) a small group of senior Special Forces Officers at SWCS and some retired leaders – including one former Group Commander – were developing plans to radically “reinvent” or “reboot”  Special Forces (SF) for the new millennia. I am not going to mention names, but you know these men. They were convinced that the classic core SF mission of Unconventional Warfare (UW), aka Guerrilla Warfare, was as obsolete as the horse cavalry.  Moreover, if our Regiment did not significantly change we would risk becoming irrelevant in the 21st Century.  Therefore, they were determined to save SF…even if it meant discarding everything that makes us who we are.

    This cabal looked at our history and reached some firm (but fatally flawed) conclusions: First, they determined that if any U.S. President ever considered doing small scale UW again, it would be a covert or clandestine effort conducted by the CIA. If any Department of Defense (DoD) forces were involved, those troops would come from the “black” SOF and not the “white” SF Groups (God, how I hate those terms). Because the Vietnam War had been less than successful at the strategic level, they also believed that our national leaders would never again have the political will to conduct Counterinsurgency or Nation Building.  Of course, they had to willfully disregard the myriad of tactical and operational successes and the breadth of Special Operation Activities that SF accomplished during the conflict in SE Asia.  

    They looked at Desert Shield/Storm and concluded that the only mission SF conducted that conventional commanders were comfortable with – and praised – was the Coalition Support Team (CST) mission. The Special Reconnaissance (SR) missions (referred to as Strategic Reconnaissance in older manuals) executed by SF were only marginally successful and not very helpful at the operational level. Although I would argue that was because we were constrained from operating mounted a la the LRDG as 5th Group had detachments well trained to execute.  Instead, we inserted teams on foot in a fashion similar to conventional LRS units. Oddly enough, those “black” units tasked with “Scud Hunting” went in mounted, were more successful, and therefore had a more appropriate SOF operational impact. 

    They looked at other operations and contingencies (Panama, Somalia) and decided that the SF contribution to combat operations was, to their way of thinking, marginal. Instead, they liked what had been done with SF ODAs in Haiti and in Northern Iraq after Desert Storm. SF had received much praise from conventional Army leaders for effectively working with indigenous people in largely permissive environments for humanitarian purposes. The cabal concluded that utilizing ODAs as “super” CAT-As instead of “cowboy” warriors was non-threatening to Conventional Force commanders and therefore a “safe” mission to retain. 

    Based in part on the restraints placed on our adviser effort in El Salvador as well as constrained partner operations in Bosnia and Kosovo there was also a strong perception that Force Protection priorities (Risk Aversion) would preclude future SF advisory efforts from ever accompanying our counterparts on actual combat operations during Foreign Internal Defense (FID) activities.  Therefore, there was no need to prepare ODAs to conduct direct combat as an integral component of FID. Small scale and short duration Direct Action (DA) “surgical operations” would be the purview of those aforementioned “black” SOF units. Likewise, rapidly maturing technologies like drones and advanced reconnaissance satellites meant that SR as we had known it was also no longer a necessary or relevant skill set for SF soldiers.

    No UW, no DA, no SR and no “combat” FID. So what would SF soldiers and ODAs be trained, equipped and organized to do in support of National Strategic objectives?  The cabal’s verdict…Peacetime FID.  In fact, they went so far as to declare that there should be “no such thing” as an SF unilateral mission. The “by, with and through” methodology was actually meant to purposely constrain and limit SF utility so that we could not be “mis-utilized” in some direct role.  We would in effect “opt out” of being a Full Spectrum Special Operations Force. Clandestine and covert would not be in our vocabulary, and there would be no need for classified or advanced skills and no compartmented SF operations…ever. Infiltration techniques like HALO and SCUBA would only be applicable to the training of others and never for ODA independent insertions and extractions.

    We would still call ourselves “SF,” but in my opinion, we would have only been “Short Bus” Special.  I mentioned to one of the “true believers” of this radical concept that by confining ourselves to such a narrow mission set we would effectively self-select SF to be a Combat Support Function rather than a Combat Function. He seemed to take my not-at-all-subtle criticism in stride and told me that the train had already left the station and I had better get on board.

    This far reaching but poorly conceived initiative scared the living daylights out of me.  I do not know how far it would have gotten. At the time, the schemers were keeping it “on the down low” because I am sure there would have been an extreme backlash from the force once this proposed transformation was out in the open. However, in the late Fall of 2000, there was a “Grey Beard” Conference held at Camp MacKall and most of the retired SF Generals were in attendance.  I was not privy to the conference sessions but was told afterwards by my Battalion Commander (you know who that was) that the proposal was discussed and at least some of the Gray Beards were “OK with it.” Whether that is true or not, after the conference the cabal continued their preparations to implement the training shift “on order.”

    This was not all just theoretical discussion on their part. By the early Summer of 2001, initial steps were actively taken to phase out and eventually eliminate Robin Sage as a UW exercise in Pineland.  Instead, SWCS was preparing to shift to “FID Lane” training to be conducted entirely on the Fort Bragg reservation. The student ODAs would link up with their Host Nation (HN) counterparts (formerly known as Gs) and teach conventional small unit tactics and individual skills in a “secure HN area.”  The culminating event would be the ODA advising and assisting their counterparts through an actual Fort Bragg live fire maneuver range. Imagine that. The most complicated task we would demand in the Q Course of our SF soldiers and teams is that they can safely conduct a live fire range under peacetime rules. And, to add insult to injury, in combat we would relegate them to act as glorified liaison teams (CSTs) or surrogate CAT-As at best.

    Of course, 9/11 occurred and their plan and their premise became moot. All have since retired and/or faded into well-earned obscurity. That is a very good thing as far as I am concerned. I do not fault these gentlemen for not having precognition and foreseeing GWOT. I do fault them for cherry picking historical examples that supported their thesis and ignoring the rest. I fault them for being so timid that they would retreat from SF heritage – not under pressure from the Army or DoD – but out of fear. I fault them for not understanding that our success in FID is directly related to the fact that we are – first, foremost, and always – combat soldiers and combat units with a long history of skill and valor to prove it. But most of all, I fault them for not understanding what makes us Special Forces. It is not a beret, a tab, or a title.  It is in fact the UW Mission.

    UW is not just one more thing on our “to do” list alongside other potential tasks/missions of equal importance and priority. UW is the foundational mission that shapes our individual troopers and our teams. Training for it in the Q Course and the Groups teaches our people to operate effectively in any complex, uncertain and ambiguous situation or any challenging environment. It teaches them to be able to act alone or as part of a team sometimes without much in the way of outside support. It reinforces the individual and collective traits of self-reliance, adaptability and determination. UW teaches our operators that when all else fails they can always rely on their wits, their training and their teammates. No other mission set does that. UW makes us good at FID and just about anything else we might be asked to do. The opposite is not true.

    So, what is my point?  This is ancient history. It did not happen. Crisis averted.  But wait, as we draw down from the larger scale conflicts in Iraq and eventually Afghanistan we will again rightly reassess ourselves and look at ways we need to change to meet emerging threats and missions. I have already seen or heard public and private comments by well-meaning but sadly uninformed individuals (some wearing long tabs) that we (SF) “lost our way” to a certain extent over the last decade plus.  The argument goes that we became too enamored with DA missions and we have to “get back to our roots” as an “Indirect” force rather than a “Direct” force. 

    First, you and I both know that their premise is false. SF conducted almost all of our combat activities “by, with, through and alongside” our indigenous counterparts. Either we partnered with existing forces like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan or the Peshmurga in Northern Iraq – or we created surrogate forces where none existed. Ultimately building successful high-end HN Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Yet, U.S. SF teams also rightly retained the option and capability to conduct unilateral operations when appropriate.  It would be just as wrong for us to back away from our DA skills now, as it would have been in 2000-2001. Clearly, our DA skills remain a vital enabler that directly supports the UW and FID missions as well as enhances our ability to provide our own measure of credible force protection or independent offensive action under any circumstances.

    Some people still worry that we are the only SOF unit that does not fit into a well-defined niche. The rest generally specialize in narrower mission sets and they are very good at what they do. The concern is that we (SF) are trying to be “jacks of all (SOF) trades”…and therefore appear to outsiders as perhaps “unfocused” and “masters of none.” I would argue that there is great goodness in having a highly skilled force that is not a one trick pony. I think the incredible range of activities that SF soldiers and teams are successfully conducting around the world every day proves that. Moreover, in my opinion, we do have a clear focus because we spend our careers mastering the UW Mission and the UW Environment. In short, with UW as our foundational and defining task I believe we are on very firm footing.  And I do not see us going the way of the horse cavalry anytime soon.

    I am not trying to set myself up as the arbitrator of what SF should and should not be in the future. However, I have been around long enough and seen enough to know a little about what we are and what we are not. We are not Combat Support and we are not second string to the “black” side. We are unapologetic men of action and can justly call ourselves the best of the best. I am very pleased with where the Regiment is now and I have even greater expectations for the future. The schoolhouse is where we define ourselves. It is where we shape not only our entry-level operators but our senior leaders as well. Based on what I have just told you, I would just caution that not everyone who has a Special Forces Tab necessarily “gets it.”  Of course, you already knew that. On a personal level, I can tell you that I am very thankful that you are where you are right now. Moreover, I envy you the opportunity to directly shape that bright future.

    De Oppresso Liber.


    LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

    The Baldwin Files – Old Soldiers vs Young Soldiers

    Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

    I have been thinking for some time about belatedly developing some kind of guiding philosophy or “mission statement” for these articles. Over time, I have ranged – more or less randomly – all over the place; from commentary on gear, pontificating on the Constitution, exploring a bit of what I deem relevant history, and preaching leadership above all. Leadership fascinates me precisely because it is universal and always central to all military actions whether in the past, the present, or in the foreseeable future. In large part I have been guided by my favorite Carl von Clausewitz quote, “War is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end.

    Clausewitz could just as readily have been talking about military leadership when he made that observation. Likewise, Clausewitz’s insightful conceptions of the impacts of probability and chance as well as fog and friction are challenges just as true of leadership as they are of combat. That is one reason why his thoughts – as well as Sun Tzu’s and others – on the subject of leadership, war, strategy, and operational art, are still deemed relevant for professional soldiers to study even now. However, the small unit tactics of ancient China and the Napoleonic era are of very little professional interest to modern warfighters – and rightly so.

    With that in mind, I have also been considering the risk of being guilty of providing only antiquated information that is of little practical value today. Antiquated as defined by Webster’s is something that is “outmoded or discredited by reason of age: old and no longer useful, popular, or accepted.” It is true that tactics change constantly and can indeed become outmoded over time. Sometimes, if an enemy fields an effective countermeasure for example, a tactic can become obsolescent very quickly. However, sound military principles like those that Clausewitz is talking about above age much better and rarely go completely out of style.

    For example, the version of Major Roger’s Rules for Ranging that I learned decades ago had one rule that went something like this; “Let the enemy come till he’s almost close enough to touch. Then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.” Even when I was a young soldier, that was certainly not a tactic, technique, or procedure (TTP) that was in use by any modern military. If it were, hatchets would still be standard issue. Therefore, if taken literally, that “rule” would indeed be antiquated tactical advice. However, if considered instead in terms of more enduring principles like speed, surprise, and violence of action than that rule – I would respectfully submit – is just as applicable today as it was in 1757.

    By the way, just because a TTP is antiquated does not mean it no longer works. Moreover, just because the U.S. Military considers something too low tech, hopelessly outdated and no longer popular does not mean that our enemies have the luxury or inclination of thinking the same way. Just because the person shooting at you from the ridge is using a 303 Enfield rather than a more modern AK47 does not mean he is any less of a threat. Antique tools can still kill you and your friends just as dead as the newest high-tech precision ordinance. The same resource limitation applies to many of our Allies. They may not have any choice but to use “old school” and unsophisticated TTPs. That means – by military necessity – we have to be prepared to work within the limits of what they have and how they are constrained to operate.

    As I alluded to above, the mechanics of warfare change all the time, it is human nature that is enduring. Therefore, insight into fundamental human nature during war remains relevant across time and cultural boundaries. As we know, while a soldier may train constantly, he actually practices his profession only intermittently. Most of the soldiers that landed at Normandy in 1944 had never seen combat until that day – even though the war had been ongoing for years. Today, some soldiers may have multiple tours but on each rotation most are still experiencing combat for their first time. Even for those who have seen combat more than once, it is a very individual and in some sense narrow experience. Like all veterans, I can only say that I have personally experienced combat: in the rank I held at the time, at the specific level and intensity of warfare I was involved in prosecuting, only for relatively short periods of time, in particular geographic locations, and against contemporaneous enemy threats.

    I have visited the Normandy beaches and walked the ground of Pickett’s charge several times. Yet, despite my experience and training, I can still only make an educated guess about what it was like to land on those beachheads under fire or what Pickett’s men experienced at Gettysburg. Therefore, I cannot honestly claim that I have “mastered” the broader aspects of the “art of war” without diligently studying the experience and wisdom of others – and perhaps not even then. Investigating how those in the past have addressed the training of troops, used intelligence or out maneuvered a determined opponent helps provide additional and critical context. Historical figures like Vegetius still provides useful insight in some aspects of war; Saxe a different perspective; Sun Tzu a more strategic point of view; and Clausewitz and Jomini additional different thoughts and theories to consider.

    It is important to note that even though some may have first experienced war as young men, all wrote their thoughts down as older men. A long time ago a Major General told me that he learned everything he knows about leadership as a Second Lieutenant – but it took him 30 more years to understand what he had learned. Warfare is like that. Clausewitz and Saxe initially experienced war as teenagers, but it took years and additional life experiences for them to contextualize that information and form it into coherent theories or principles. I read many of these authors years ago and learned – even memorized – some of their words. Nevertheless, I understand their ideas far better today than I ever did as a younger soldier.

    Experiencing war for the first time has been likened to “seeing the elephant” since Hannibal’s campaigns, I suppose. However, there is another – even more ancient – pachyderm analogy that also aptly applies. That is the blind men and the elephant. One declares the tail of the animal is “like a rope” because that best describes the piece he can “see.” Whether he is aware or unaware that the portion that he has access to is just a small part of a larger beast does not in any way invalidate his observation. That particular blind man is absolutely “right” in his assertions, as are the others in their descriptions of different elements of the whole creature in question.The study and practice of war and combat has always been like that. Each “blind man” in turn describes warfare as he experienced it – or as he thinks it should be conducted – but, shaped and confined by his own experiences and biases, only had opportunity to “see” just a limited portion of the whole “truth” of combat. Today we only know as much as we think we know because we have access to the writings of ALL the “blind men” who have gone before us, “laid hands” on war, and then bothered to leave us their sincere impressions.

    I will use one example to illustrate the point. Consider the inherent danger of combat; in On War, Clausewitz gives a good description of the emotional impact on a novice as he approaches a notional battle. The danger of painful death and dismemberment is at first abstract and far away. As the new soldier moves closer to the actual fighting the abstract becomes very real and frightening – to the uninitiated even petrifying. Danger, i.e. realistic FEAR of violent death is not something most of us have to deal with on a daily basis – not even soldiers in peacetime. It is not something that can be simulated in training. In fact, military training is rigorously designed in such a way as to minimize even the possibility of death or serious injury. In combat, a leader must control his own dread, display confidence and inspire soldiers to overcome their natural fear in order to accomplish a mission.

    True enough, but so what? The caricatures in the attached picture are deliberate exaggerations of what a great many soldiers – retired and active – actually feel. Each is like the “blind men” above. An individual convinced that he has mastered the entire art of war by virtue of experiencing combat at least once. Of course, they are both equally wrong; it simply is not that easy. However, of the two, I am much more concerned about the younger guy – since he is still in the fight. He and his teammates are really the target audience I hope to ultimately reach. That does not mean that my minor contribution so far provided any appreciable value added either. Candidly, no one really needs me to repeat what Clausewitz said. His work is readily available and better authors than I have written whole books explaining him. So, that leads to the larger overarching question to be asked and answered. Why keep writing these articles at all? Is there any real need?

    I decided to see what else was available on the internet. The good news is there is a lot of sound stuff out there produced by numerous good, professional people. Many of whom are featured on this site from time to time. On the other hand, there is a lot of goofy – and frankly scary – misinformation out there as well. I will mention two YouTube videos in particular because they seemed to be representative of a lot of questionable content and, as a result, the most problematic to me. First, both videos had good production values, the presenters were articulate, and each gave the impression that they were subject matter experts. One young fellow was demonstrating how to assembly a Molle II rucksack. He was wearing a multicam combat shirt with no insignia. He claimed he was showing the audience “pro tips” and how to set up the pack the way “guys going to selection” do it. Then he proceeded to attach each element of the pack to the frame wrong – pack body, load lifters, and shoulder straps.

    By the end, when he mounted the waist belt upside down, he had dissuaded me of the notion that he knew anything about the subject at hand – or the military in general. Here is a real pro tip, if you do not have extensive experience with an item of kit, put it together the way the official instructions say it should be done. The other video was on assembling ALICE gear. The fellow on this was closer to my age I assume. I have to guess because only his hands were visible on screen. He did seem to be very familiar with the ALICE harness. He rigged his pouches with zip ties and 550 cord as was common in the early 80s and onward. I saw one major problem with his presentation. He was not just passionate about the subject, but rather came off instead as inexplicably angry.

    In fact, he made sure the audience understood that there was one way – and one way only – to properly assemble ALICE gear in order to survive in combat. His way. No variations authorized. If anyone dared to do it differently, they must be damn fool cherries with a death wish. Here is another pro tip from me. Anyone that says there is only a singular way to do something in combat is probably wrong. Sure, some specific TTP are more desirable than others because they are tactically sounder and, consequently, more likely to produce the desired outcome. However, there is almost never just “one way” to get the job done. Both the presentations I have highlighted were slick and professionally produced. An experienced soldier would spot the same issues I saw quickly enough, but a neophyte might be easily led down the wrong path.

    That sampling convinced me that there was indeed still some need for higher quality material out there. That said, I am not going to make it my mission to deal with all the disinformation in the tactical or quasi-tactical corners of the internet. I admit that task is far too large and daunting for me to take on. However, I can attempt to put out information that might be useful for some. More accurate – hopefully – than the young guy, and certainly a lot less angry than the older guy. That is good enough for me. I assure anyone that is reading this or anything else I have written, I do not make these comments or observations while astride some high horse. I have benefited from the guidance of outstanding leaders and excellent teachers. Still, being the hard head I am, I have learned many of these lessons the hardest way. That is, I have screwed it up royally – sometimes multiple times – before I figured it out. Still, there is no reason that others cannot learn from my mistakes without having to repeat them. Besides, I have the time and I am not ready to do the old soldier fade away just yet.

    LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.