Friday, August 17, 2012

Tactical Leader's Trait 1: Vision (Part 2 of 2)

I've just eliminated a serious threat to my Marine's advance, and I just understood my role as a fire team leader a bit more.

Earlier in the week, among other distractions of real life, I had to attend a corporate training session on leadership. It was one of those things that I didn't care too much about for reasons beyond the scope of this blog. But I have to admit the instructor was good because I took home lessons without even knowing it. It is a bit disturbing that I had to sit at the computer and shoot virtual insurgents to comprehend the corporate diatribe, but I am digressing.

"The most important trait of a leader is his vision", was one of the lessons. I understand "vision" as a unique and personal way to see both the objectives (or whatever is a measure of success) and how to overcome whatever obstacle is in between your current situation and them. In search of examples of great leaders with vision, if you check any business-oriented publication you will get pummeled with the glorious achievements of Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Henry Ford and other heavyweights who grace the earth with their sheer genius one or twice per generation. The military establishment will cite examples like Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Patton, Rommel and others. For the beginners like me, It's like teaching a baby to walk by showing him or her a video of a hurdler's performance (the hurdling part of the video, gents ... Focus please). I claim that, although the examples like the above are inspiring, a tactical leader's vision can be seemingly minute, simple and yet be very effective.

And there I am back at Camp Phaeden, with the enemy MG gone, with my Marines still in the line of departure and  struck by "my vision". Believe me, I am not in a pompous ass pose claiming tactical genius. Indeed, one can argue that I've just chose (by imitation) a course of action:

  • eliminate the MG by relatively long range fire and then advance towards the objective with a focus in protecting ourselves from the enemy patrols and other annoyances along the way. 
But here is where "vision" differs from a course of action or a plan: the leader's vision has no stated sequence of events (predicted or un-predicted) and thus tends to last all the way through the mission. A course of action, which at later stages will become a plan, is sequential. And you know that plans do not survive contact with the enemy. My vision was:

  •  eliminate fixed MG positions by relatively long range fire and then advance towards the objective with a focus in protecting ourselves from enemy patrols and other annoyances along the way. (Note the strike through of the word "then", it's there on purpose)
Yes, in the scenario I already eliminated the enemy MG position. We just happened to bump into it first. But what about if we were engaged with the enemy patrols before locating that MG position? The plan would have to be revised (not a complicated revision, just a reverse in the sequence of tasks). But the vision still would stand no matter what.

My automatic rifleman (third man from the foreground) is engaging the enemy patrols. I failed to support his fires in a crucial moment of battle.  The tactical leader's vision, needs a good tactical plan that is executed effectively. Otherwise is just wishful thinking.
The "guy in the ditch" (in the Iron Front multiplayer coop scenario) actually conveyed us a plan. It was sequential: "pull back, find cover from the tank, destroy enemy infantry by fire and then infiltrate". He didn't have a choice as we were already in contact. But, maybe unknown to him, he had developed a vision of the tactical mission (avoid tank fire like the plague, infiltrate built up areas with the aid of long distance fires).

If you are commanding other humans in multiplayer matches, your vision will provide a long lasting guiding principle above any following plan towards the achievement of the objective. The plan may change, but the vision will last. You know how chaotic is the firefight below the hill of your command post: things will go wrong and you won't always be there. So give your subordinates a war fighting theme, a context-independent template of how to proceed if the plan goes wrong. Give them your vision. Give them victory.

Drills (like the one shown above, pardon my lack of rear security) provide a harmonized execution of many tactical tasks. But beware that even the most perfectly executed drills never achieve anything more than what they are meant in the tactical tasks menu.
If you are commanding virtual troops, you will benefit from the lack of misunderstandings or the individual soldiers' perception of the battlefield. Your subordinates will do exactly as you tell them to do. Still, you need your vision. You will find a hard time pulling yourself out from the quagmire of a bad tactical plan if there is nothing else waiting for you in the dry land.

For the record, I advanced my fire team successfully all the way towards the objective. I have to admit I was a bit distracted while doing this.
"Another difference between good and bad leaders lies in what they see when they look, what they hear when they are told, and what they communicate when they speak."
From Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, by Wayne Hughes


P/S: It's 0200 now and I am a bit tired. I will be correcting grammar and style some time in the future. But my main worry is if I didn't mess up too much the message.


James said...

"Commander's Intent - A clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired military end state that supports mission command, provides focus to the staff, and helps subordinate and supporting commanders act to achieve the commander’s desired results without further orders, even when the operation does not unfold as planned.

Anonymous said...

How are you liking the island?

RangerX3X said...

Nice write-up as usual.

As long as I have played OFP/ArmA I don't think I used this method to control a small fire team.

This is very interesting and I will have to check it out on some sweep and clear type missions.

JC said...

Thanks for you comments.

James: spot on! Thanks for that. Leader's vision ---> Commander's intent ---> Tactical Plan. Is that something you agree on?

Anonymous: Loving the "island". Now re-trying armor-infantry cooperation in the flat areas. Long range engagements. Map is pure awesomeness.