Friday, March 20, 2009

Pentathletes vs Boxers vs Judoka

Quick scan through the news leaves me with nothing I feel strongly enough to post about. Waiting to hear whether our latest rounds of incoming generated any casualties (sounded like it hit over at the airfield; unfortunately, there are some pretty populated areas in that direction). Not seeing anything at my usual news haunts, I figured I'd pound once again on CPT Burke, just cause he sounds like the type of guy who needs it now and again to keep him calibrated. I noticed Starbuck over at Wings Over Iraq bringing up Burke's article on the requirement to create officers who are Pentathletes. I understand the analogy; we are no longer offered the luxury of growing one-dimensional officers. But I think there is a more apt analogy out there (those who know me and read this post's title are already rolling their eyes).
First I need to define terms: I used Judoka in the title because JiuJitsuka is a little unwieldy and sounds like a German dive bomber. I'm going to commit a heresy here that really, really deserves its own post, if not its own treatise: Judo and Jiu-Jitsu are the same martial art, but they are two different sports. Many of the parochial arguments about which "system" is better lose their relevance once the venue moves from the mats to the street; for the purposes of this post, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu are interchangeable.
The legacy training regimen for our officers resembles training a boxer. I am not denigrating boxing; it is a fundamental skill for anyone who wants to fight effectively. But boxing is one-dimensional. Whether a pugilist pursues Cassius Clay's "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee", Sonny Liston's ponderous pounding, Mike Tyson's sledgehammer strikes, or Sugar Ray Leonard's fancy footwork, the objective is to hit your opponent until he falls unconscious to the floor. Barring that, the point system is pretty simple: hit the other guy more times than he hits you and you win. If boxing were barbaric brutality, it would never have been deemed "the sweet science." But the strictures of boxing are immutable. The defeat of your opponent will only ever be achieved through the delivery system of your fists.
JiuJitsu opens a myriad of options. The ultimate goal is, unlike boxing, not to render your opponent insensate (although that will happen, if he's inexperienced or stubborn or some combination thereof) but to convince him to submit to your will. The analogy between the grappling arts and warfare is comprehensive and enduring enough that Clausewitz (military readers, pause to genuflect) opens up On War with it.

But the greatest advantage of the officer/judoka analogy is the employment of means and ends in both endeavors. Jiu-Jitsu is playing chess with your body. The jiujitsuka has to evaluate his opponent's strengths and weaknesses, formulate a plan to neutralize his strengths and exploit his weaknesses, and then lure him into following your plan, fighting your fight (hello, OODA loop, anyone?), until he submits--all while under physical and mental duress. The opponent's submission can be contrived by a choke, a joint-lock, a strike (Atemi-waza, for you "it's all about grappling and throws" fanatics), or by simply just exhausting him.
The similarity with an officer invested in the COIN fight is that the judoka has to choose the appropriate tactics and techniques, the appropriate amounts of force (blunt trauma), and the condition of the opponent at the endstate (dead, maimed, injured, or merely chastened).
The "Ju" in Jiu Jitsu and Judo means gentle, and this definition is often misinterpreted because a fundamental aspect of the art is "mutual respect and benefit," which leads outsiders to mistakenly believe that the term means "to be gentle with one's opponent." Right. One gets a better sense of the term if one equates "gentle" with "efficient." The judoka employs the precise amount of force required to matriculate the exact technique that will generate the desired effect on the opponent. It takes a lifetime to achieve a true ability to do this, and each hard won gain in proficiency seems to always move mastery that much further away.
So, how do we train our judoka officers? First one realizes that it will take an entire career to get a black belt. But the development of a judoka comes in three stages. The first is fundamentals; teach the principles and basics. Often the "right thing to do" is counterintuitive. It takes time to internalize the fundamentals, and to develop enough of an understanding about the principles to be able to analyze one's own courses of action to achieve a sound and reliable capability. Next is the technique phase, where one learns myriad applications of each principle to dominate the opponent. Finally, there's the freestyle phase, where knowledge, physiology, and kinesthetics fuse, and the fighter is free to employ his fight without thinking about it.
While our Army institutions are comfortable training officers who are boxers, they seem to be flummoxed at how to develop a more versatile jiujitsuka. The many shortcomings of our system are addressed by Burke in his article, and I agree with most of them. The first problem to solve is that of the "cookie cutter" career. Pretty much everyone knows the path to professional success. Based on performance, officers have a pretty linear progression through the "right" jobs and schools. Every now and again, Human Resources Command will proclaim that the mold has been broken and that now, finally, less orthodox career paths can be successful. That proclamation is always met with extreme skepticism from the officers in the field, and their doubts are usually justified. So, using CPT Burke's article as both a foil and a springboard, here are some recommendations on how to break out of the cookie cutter, and to try to develop Judoka officers:

-MDMP: I think the CPT confuses the product with the production line; MDMP is a great template for intellectually engaging a problem set (with a 17-step Mission Analysis process, how can one go wrong?). But I think many young officers are disillusioned with the MDMP. First, they don't like it because it's applied across the board, even when it is not the optimum template. Young company commanders are told to "apply the MDMP" in situations where the Troop Leading Procedure would be far more appropriate. The MDMP offers a template that is meant to maximize the capabilities, managed by a huge cohort of staff officers, of elements that are Brigade-sized or larger, or maybe a better descriptor is "Brigade-complex or worse." Stepping it down to a lower level, "simpler" unit without consciously abrogating those portions of the process that become N/A leads to confusion and generates more staff friction. Also, many officers are less than impressed with the MDMP because the staffs they encounter are, quite frankly, so bad at it. When the process becomes a drill in generating products and "checking the block," instead of determining the best method of arraying capabilities against a problem set in order to generate a desired endstate, then the results are usually less than spectacular.
Having spent a great deal of time working with both the inter-agency community and the private sector, I think that the MDMP is a fundamental asset to military officers. First, it allows them to organize, prioritize, and delegate almost immediately upon identifying a requirement. Second, it does provide a template, an organizing principle if you will, for analyzing and developing solutions for any problem. The value of this cannot be overemphasized. Most of the other bureaucracies in the interagency environment have no such template. Functionaries learn their craft either through OJT or through training that address problem-specific solutions but does not provide an umbrella architecture for problem solving. I've seen numerous times, in USG and NGO working groups, the incalculable advantage that an officer, bringing his knowledge of the MDMP with him, adds to a group assembled to determine or execute policy. If the officer is a Judoka, then his facility with the MDMP is his ability to execute tsukuri (fitting or entering) against a problem set.

-Expanding career options is another recommendation to better enable our officers to operate in ambiguous situations; I agree with this. But expanding career options won't work until the development of officers with a wide degree of experiences and capabilities (i.e., officers developed outside of the cookie cutter operations career path) becomes an organizationally managed system. Not only does the Army need to encourage its officers gaining unique experience and expertise, but then it needs to be able to track and exploit individuals with those unique skill sets.
Here's an example of how insidious the cookie cutter is: during the 90's I had a Battalion Commander who was, at the time, the only serving BC in the Army with a Phd. He'd gotten his PhD on some aspect of Balkan country X. He'd served in Balkan country X for a number of years as a Foriegn Area Officer, and spoke the language there fluently. His wife, a medical professional, had established a clinic in Balkan country X that was the most modern and most capable in the country, winning an enduring gratitude and appreciation from Country X's national leadership. Soon after this officer changed command, and was basically between jobs, Balkan country X's cooperation with the United States became critical to both our efforts in the region and to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. The now-former Battalion Commander offered his services to both DoD and the State Department to try to help influence Balkan country X to make some critical decisions in our favor. He was told, basically, to "shut up and color" and that it "wasn't his turn." Unfortunately, this vignette is emblematic of the incredible misuse of talent that is common in the Army. The system of giving a guy a "utilization tour" after is a facile and flawed answer to exploiting the niche brilliance often found in the ranks of the Army. I always loved those old "Our Man Flint" movies where they'd feed all the data of a problem set (punched into cards, heh) into the computer and it'd huff and puff for a couple seconds before "bing!" a card pops out at the other end of the room declaring that Flint is the only guy qualified to save the free world. Would that we had such a system in the Army.

One solution that Burke offers is to allow and encourage officers to pursue advanced degrees. As I've stated before, I'm less than enamored of the utility, either for the Army or the individual, of using advanced academic studies as venue for building a broad range of experience and expertise within the Army. A data point for my doubts: I'm sure that all the business knuckleheads who landed our country in it's current economic crisis had MBAs or JDs from "all the best schools." How's that working out? Also, Burke (rightfully) disparages Robert McNamara and his "whiz kids" basically for thinking that they were smarter than Mother Warfare, but what were their percieved qualifications to be in the positions they were in? Their degrees from "all the best schools" were a definite component of their selection, if not a source of their hubris.

Instead, I'd posit that the Army needs to send out officers to work for two or three years at a time with various members of the interagency and even NGOs. [I realize that there would often be an incredible amount of resistance to this from said entities, but I think it could be done--especially once these entitiies see how much value-added an officer, well versed in MDMP and other organzational skills, would be. I think salting the USG with journeymen officers would benefit both the military and the IA, but first we'd have to overcome the knee-jerk accusations that the DoD was trying to take over the world] The IA community is beginning to realize some of the value of military education and experience brings to the table. At a recent (within the last year or so) meeting with an Ambassador on a certain IA project, the Ambassador (a graduate of one of our Senier Staff Colleges) announced "We need a TPFDD (pronounced "Tipfid") to manage this." He then turned to me and said,"I just blew your mind, didn't I, Mongo?"

One other contributing factor making me chary of advanced civil schooling: when I went to the Staff College for a year, I got the distinct impression that those pursuing civilian master's degrees on their own time (a vast percentage of the student population) were doing so in order to increase their own marketability when they got out of the Army; any benefit the Army would get out of these studies was purely incidental. My own chauvinistic reaction to my fellow students' pursuit? Fuck you. The purpose of an advanced degree should be to make one a better officer who is better able to serve his country and the Army, anything else is waste, fraud, and abuse.

My answer would be to allow officers to take three, four, or even five year "sabbaticals" to serve as Enabling Officers within the IA (and, if possible, NGOs). Afterward, they would be tagged as SMEs within their realm of expertise and experience. This presents a whole range of problems for the bureaucracy to handle as far as personnel management, but I think it would be worth it for the Army. Let's say that Captain Lowbrow wants to take a two year assignment as an Enabling Officer working with USAID in Mauritania. He gets his tour, at his current pay plus a modest stipend. Assume that CPT Lowbrow is Year Group '03. He does his two years EO time, and then comes back to the fold--as a YG '05 officer. He has lost no opportunities in the Army and his years gaining unique and valuable experience as an EO aren't a loss for the Army. Major bureaucratic hurdles would be determining: pay, retirement, personnel QC, and force management. You can't expect a guy to take a two, three, or up to five year pay freeze in his anticipated promotion gates. The Army could get past this by initiating a "step" program like it has for civilian GS employees. While an EO's time should count toward retirement, it shouldn't be on a one-for-one basis, as this would wind up being "lost time" to the Army at the far end, but having EO time count at a fraction of operational time would be equitable, as well as discourage those merely looking to pad their resumes so that they could more profitably jump ship at 20. There would also have to be some sort of evaluative element to the assignment to keep substandard or mediocre performers from hiding out in the EO program (these quality control measures could then be exported to those areas where malingerers hang out now). Force management considerations necessitate some stratification to prevent unforecasted surges or shortages in YG numbers. Also, on reflection, some of our law dogs would have to put in some extra hours ensuring we got posse comitatus right, as I think EO time with various Law Enforcement agencies would be absolutely critical. As an Iraqi National Police advisor, I can state unequivocally that having a larger population of officers with an in-depth understanding of LE best practices is absolutely critical in a COIN environment. Most of my "enforcement" experience is of the "blow the door and shoot 'em in the face" caliber (no pun intended). At that fuzzy Venn diagram military/LE overlap found in COIN--or FID, or any other irregular or less than full-fledged warfare, this would prove invaluable.

-Creative Violence: One danger of exposing military officers to the rest of the IA is that it would feminize them, but of course we run that risk now with those that we send to the Ivy League. Send a guy to Yale (or the State Department) for two years and they come back spouting pap like "the commander who resorts to violence has already lost." Hey, moron, try actually reading all of your Sun Tzu. The purpose of the EO program would be to provide an officer that had a wide enough range of experience and expertise to choose an appropriate course of action to protect the nation and fulfill the Commander's intent. If that can be done peacefully, outstanding. If not, then we want a guy that can choose the right type and amount of violence and apply it at the appropriate place and time, kind of like...a jiujitsuka.

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