As I approach my second year as commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command, I have observed a couple of things: Borrowing from Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, people are the centerpiece of the Army, not interchangeable parts, and the Army’s readiness relies on our people. Our people—our combat-ready soldiers—enable us to win at the point of contact against any adversary.
However, it is the division, the Army’s highest-level tactical echelon, that sets the conditions for and enables our crews, squads and platoons to build ever-increasing proficiency by training tasks in repetitions (reps) and sets toward mastery of warfighting fundamentals.
I have previously written about how winning at the small-unit level generates organizational momentum, which results in a winning attitude permeating the unit. It is the division that ultimately sets the conditions for the crew, squad or platoon to achieve warfighting mastery through reps and sets. Simply put, the division works for the crews, squads and platoons by planning and, most importantly, allocating resources to enable our smallest tactical units to train to win at the point of contact.
Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills are the reps and sets for our crews, squads and platoons. For the division, reps and sets are executing the steps of the operations process. From my point of view, commander’s intent is the most important product of the operations process. A clear, comprehensive commander’s intent provides decision space for subordinate commanders and, ultimately, maneuver space for crews, squads and platoons to master warfighting fundamentals.
The Army’s No. 1 priority is people, and our attitude is “winning matters.” I see the complexity of these ideas. Our soldiers find themselves sacrificing self-care for the greater good of their crew. Our junior leaders have a difficult time balancing decisions between taking care of soldiers and completing the mission. The lowest-level tactical units cannot resource themselves, coordinate their own training, and/or decide what task or tasking to ignore. The division is the first echelon that can fully address—and mitigate—the complexity inherent in the Army’s philosophy and attitude. Through commander’s intent, the division prioritizes resources, especially time, to help its subordinate commanders navigate the complexity of people first and winning matters down to the smallest units.
Forces Command’s Foundational Training Day is one such concept that helps the division manage the inherent friction between caring for people and mission accomplishment. It is protected time for leaders to know their soldiers and build trust with the soldier and family. Trust is the foundation of winning, and leaders who know their soldiers build trust.
Art of Command
By applying the art of command, the division commander provides decision space for subordinate commanders and leaders through three specific actions:
- Providing clear guidance.
- Assuming risk from subordinate commanders and leaders.
- Underwriting the initiative(s) of subordinate commanders and leaders.
When I think of providing clear guidance, I don’t think of lots of words coming from higher headquarters late on a Friday afternoon. Rather, I think of continuous dialogue between commanders. In Forces Command, we execute a deliberate commander-to-commander dialogue program as a waypoint on the road to a combat training center or warfighter rotation. These dialogues are my way to shape the training experience.
When I think of assuming risk in terms of enabling our smallest tactical units, I don’t think of the commander’s signature on the Composite Risk Management form. Rather, I think of clearly understanding—then articulating—what the unit will do and will not do given the mission, the environment and resulting risk. Despite the Army’s “Prioritizing Efforts-Readiness and Lethality” updates, leaders still have too many tasks and not enough time. The division has the authority—and experience—to filter through task prioritization for its brigades, which in turn enables the tactical units below the brigade to develop focused, tailored training plans with full understanding of readiness outcomes and residual risk.
When I think of underwriting the initiative of subordinate commanders and leaders, I don’t think of a free-for-all or unstructured execution. Rather, much like assuming risk, I think of trusting the creativity of subordinate commanders balanced with their understanding of my intent. For example, in September, the 1st Infantry Division’s rotation at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, demonstrated creativity. It balanced the resources and intent of a brigade combat team-focused combat training center with the training audience echelon above brigade. Typically, a division headquarters executes a warfighter exercise with a focus on staff processes, planning and campaign design. The “Big Red One” division commander demonstrated creativity to use the resources resident at the National Training Center to train the 1st Infantry Division’s headquarters. I underwrote this creative initiative to make the idea a reality.
I cannot overstate the importance of dialogue, trust and understanding between commanders and leaders at echelon. The division commander creates decision space and enables freedom of maneuver through the art of command. The division staff bounds the environment through the science of command, which provides the mission variables required for training and execution in a resource-constrained environment.
Science of Command
The division is the echelon that has the capability and capacity to practice routinely to master the operations process. The key product of the operations process, commander’s intent, facilitates allocation and prioritization of tasks and resources across all three planning horizons. When executed in accordance with the Military Decision Making Process, and using the one-third, two-thirds rule, the division staff empowers subordinate commanders and leaders to determine the best path to mission accomplishment. Therefore, our smallest-level tactical units get maximum time to develop those training scenarios and events to prepare crews, squads and platoons to win at the point of contact.
I have asserted that winning at the point of contact requires crews, squads and platoons to gain positional advantage by mastering the transitions between movement and maneuver. In an operational environment, the division enables this transition by the allocation of finite resources such as time and enablers. It is at home station where the division sets conditions for the smallest units to master warfighting fundamentals.
I define tailored readiness as not paying $1 more for readiness than what is required. If a specified mission does not exist, the unit should develop a training plan, resource-informed, comprised of key collective task training consistent with the Army’s readiness model.
Tailored readiness is one way the division enables and sets the conditions for the crew, squad and platoon to focus on fundamentals. Regardless of the high-profile initiative of the day, the corresponding graphic control measure, basis of issue plan or narrative, it is our crews, squads and platoons on the ground that will encounter the enemy first. The division, through the art and science of command, defines specified readiness requirements for its brigades and, at echelon, the left and right limits for the smallest tactical units.
The division enables and sets conditions for our lowest-level tactical units to win at the point of contact. Producing clear commander’s intent creates the decision space for subordinate commanders and maneuver space for crew, squads and platoons to master the fundamentals through reps, sets and retraining under varying conditions. I’ll say it again: When our commanders and staffs commit to executing reps and sets, synchronization occurs, our lowest echelons master the fundamentals, and we are ready to win at the point of contact.