Leadership: September 15, 2003


Conventional infantry units have recently demonstrated Special Operations skills and achieved an elite status that is transforming combat doctrine worldwide.  A clear model for leadership, modern warfare and conventional unit transformation that is applicable today and for the Military of the 21st Century can be illustrated in the current methods used in Afghanistan and from the German Stosstruppen of World War I.

Modern and Stosstruppen decentralization concepts are the key to future success. Clearly the role of the Non-Commissioned officer is as crucial today as at any time in past history. Now that the lessons of war are being analyzed and shared, the knowledge is transforming doctrine and parallels a revolution in military affairs. 

Some of the recent lessons learned include the need for an improved ability in joint operations, a reallocation or distribution of selected assets, changed and non doctrinal tactics, techniques and procedures, the need for every unit to be proficient in there own rear area security and lastly, the need to quickly transition to security and stability operations, even while still fighting the enemy . This last requirement will be especially tough as soldiers of all grades and positions attempt to make the mental shift from warfighting to diplomat, policeman, economist, civil affairs specialist, humanitarian aid officer, country expert and a host of other complicating socio-cultural factors that will impact both short and long term success while waiting for the official group of nation builders to arrive . At this point it is apropos to take a lesson from business; namely, everyone in the organization is a salesman. What this means is everyone has the potential to either sell or kill a lucrative and beneficial long-term relationship by his or her words, actions and deeds. 

Some would argue that the military today is now on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, the notion of conventional forces trained and organized to fight a conventional war may or may not have been demonstrated in Iraq and in Afghanistan . On the other hand, counter insurgency and anti-terror operations; operations that conventional units rarely plan and train for have quickly become part of the conventional force array of required skills and vocabulary. Similarly, the US Army will now find itself having to adapt and change to the dichotomy of the new security requirements, yet simultaneously prepare for both the present and future. 

Recent publications debate the lessons that have been learned as a result of war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Some have argued that these recent conflicts resemble low and mid intensity conflict, others have indicated that the success of operations might be attributed to a new jointness in operations. The implications appear clear, for instance, now more than ever, decentralization may be a significant factor in success. Assuming that the key to success in Iraq and Afghanistan was Special Operations and Joint Operations; then the skill sets of leadership, initiative, acting within commanders guidance and a high degree of Joint or inter service proficiency are the same elements that Scharnhorst and Von Moltke inculcated in there organizations that brought a stunning degree of success that is still sought and modeled after today. 

What this means is that the modern soldier and Non Commissioned Officers, as a minimum, need to be as mature and sophisticated as, say, a senior Lieutenant or young Captain. Assuming that Iraq and Afghanistan is the new template of warfare that Donald Rumsfeld and some others are suggesting; then all the skills, knowledge and attributes that have been proscribed for Special Operations Forces will need to be trained to the conventional force. For instance, success in "Joint" operations, without being overly simplistic and or long winded can be attributed to the fact that Special Operations Forces Non Commissioned Officers practice a lot of inter service operations, it is inherent in there missions; only a few so called conventional units have this opportunity.

Taking lessons from the history of the Stosstruppen, Stosstruppen units were originally conventional units before they were earmarked for special training and experimentation in the developing doctrine. Although quality men and units were selected to test the developing tactics, essentially, conventional units were transformed to elite units through training and leadership. The premise of the success of the Stosstruppen doctrine was based on the concept s of decentralization and Auftragstactic (mission type orders); of which a large number of specified, essential and implied skills are required. In many, if not most cases, the officer casualty rates were extreme to say the least, Non Commissioned Officer Casualty rates were no better; Non Commissioned Officers need to be, if you will, a peer of the officers that they serve, this is to be sure that tactical and operational success insures strategic success. It seems that Von Moltke may have been more prophetic than he realized when he indicated, "Strategy suffers for the want of a Tactical Success. It appears clear that the high bar has been raised (again). Non Commissioned Officers are, and will continue to be the backbone, but increasingly, they need a level of maturity, education, experience and skill that some feel should remain the exclusive domain of Special Operations Forces. 

Future inter service operations and success will depend on the so called conventional units ability to develop Special Operations Forces skills, attributes and to understand the key components of policy, politics and strategy; elements that commonly fall somewhere between the Soldier and the State. Although the Stosstruppen did not have the challenges of post conflict security and stability operations, they do provide clear examples of how conventional units can turn elite. Lastly the successful transformation of the Non Commissioned Officers for future warfighting might even consider the level of decentralization that was characteristic of the German Army in 1914. Terry Tucker




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