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03 September 2015


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The Twisted Genius

I see two systems at work in preparing military leaders, the formal schooling and the informal mentorship that occurs at all levels of a young combat leaders development. I believe this informal mentorship is the soul of a fighting force that allows the force to function consistently over time. It is the imparting of a culture to a younger generation. This mentorship puts the muscle and sinew on the bones provided by the formal schooling system. As an ROTC cadet, I was fortunate to have a Special Forces Master Sergeant come to the ROTC detachment cadre fresh from three consecutive tours with MACV-SOG. What he passed on to me and others cannot be bottled. In a way this was a formalization of the informal process. The assignment of a Special Forces NCO to ROTC detachments in the early 70s was a deliberate move by our Army's Training Command as our war in Viet Nam was ending and one of the smartest moves it ever made. I have no idea if this program persisted.

I'll have more to say later, but I just wanted to start off with this one aspect.

Patrick Bahzad


Looking forward to hearing more from your own perspective. Think PL a bit busy with handling the Syria - Russianthing at moment, but think he'll have some interesting points to make too at some point ... ;-)

I've been asked to work on this issue and getting a couple of representative and well informed opinions seemed a good idea. Think there's has been a pendulum swing with the "revolution in military affairs" that has shown its limitations in recent years and, on the other hand, we've seen a more "corporate" mentality take over the forces, with both PMCs and civilian business attracting more and more resource and changing the mentality among some leaders, whatever their rank.

More things to come but waiting to see what comes out if this thread ...


PB et al

I did the trained monkey rah-rah schools stuff when a kid, but the greatest influences on me in learning to lead men and hopefully earn their respect and loyalty was my service in the infantry in the National Guard (Co. B, 103rd Inf. RCT) when I was a high school kid in Maine and later as a Regular Army platoon leader in 2nd Bn/2nd Infantry Regiment as a lieutenant. In the Guard experience I was very young (illegally young at first) and I learned to deal with older men in the context of a unit that was ten years away from its SW Pacific theater experience in WW2. I somehow did well enough to be a three stripe sergeant at 18 before I left to go to college. We spent a lot time doing things like fighting forest fires in the deep woods, flood relief and the like. As time passed it was evident that our shared experience in the field gradually caused me to be thought of as a real person. I took that experience into the regular infantry. My battalion lived mostly in the field, in the north woods, in Alaska, in the SW deserts. We lived together like bears in the forest. The same thing happened there as had occurred in the Guard. The shared experience of each other and demonstrated ability won them over. It was a great thing for a 23 year old lieutenant to hear his 38 year old Korean War veteran platoon sergeant roar one day, "Silence in the ranks. You heard what the old man said." This was on a very long route march. It was my custom to carry the heavy loads for some miles on any such march and one kid had said that this mortar base plate was his to carry, Clausewitz observed that any training is a poor substitute for actual experience. Get people out n the field in real units and make them prove they are "worth their rations." Don't expect too much from training courses. pl

Johnny Reims

I’ll give this a whirl.

1. I would prefer a platoon leader who works with a great NCO. That’s paramount. Nothing more important.

If memory serves me, you wrote earlier that St. Cyr includes tracks for NCO’s and regular cadets. That concept really jumped out. If the US does not do so already, imo, it needs to institute the same concept at its military academies, and do so quickly, again, imo. Far better that the cadets hang out with NCO’s (and vice versa) than listening to political apparatchiks posing as political science professors.

2. I’d prefer a platoon leader who, to use an analogy, preferred the role of the parish priest over that of the Bishop.

3. A good platoon leader must create a brotherhood within the platoon. The stronger the brotherhood, then the less likely the platoon will fragment when under sustained combat pressure.

Creating a brotherhood means culling out those who cannot place the spirit of the platoon over their own identity. I would think that is when one finds out if the military is his vocational calling or not. LOL. LOL.

4. I’d prefer a platoon leader who knows when to encourage and when to discourage, based on the individual character of the soldier. Know when to put your arm around a soldier or when to come down like Damocles Sword. I would speculate that sometimes the scrawny, quiet kid will answer the call as much as, if not more, than the braggadocio, if he is given a chance to grow.

5. I would think that a good platoon leader must have an innate ability to execute the objective of the mission while caring for the welfare of those in the platoon. Once again, I would think that is when one finds out if the military is a vocational calling or not.

6. Train, train, train. I would think that, in today’s world, it would take a much longer time for the recruits to “leave home”, psychologically. It’s ok but it must be addressed. Isn’t there some saying, to effect, More sweat on the training field, less blood on battlefield? Something like that.

7. While training, mistakes should be made. I am not altogether sure mistakes are allowed these days. At the beginning, the more mistakes the better, imo.

8. I would prefer a platoon leader who knows how to go low tech.

9. I would much prefer a platoon leader who would wean the soldiers off an action adventure view of war, as told through Hollywood and video games. Therein lies a tremendous and overwhelming danger, imo.


Patrick, my service was not in a combat role. I had one brilliant NCO leader and found myself comparing all the others to him. Since my officers were doctors, I can say I admired the ones that were decisive and clear in their orders to us and in doing their work, keeping a cool head when the hurt sailors were pouring in.

Regarding the low tech/high tech, my thoughts immediately went to "Starship Troopers" where Heinlein has a trooper kvetching about having to learn to throw a knife when all he had to do was to push a button and nuke the enemy and the NCO training leader immediately suggests to him that he may be in the wrong branch of service, if he doesn't understand the value of understanding the basics. In the very unfortunate movie of the same name, the same leader has the recruit put his hand on a board and puts a thrown dagger through it. He then asks the recruit to try to push the button with the same hand. Trite but somewhat effective.


Item 1: Getting back to basics, particularly for people used to PlayStation, is essential. This is important in an era where it is reported that some jihadi's forego technology in order to avoid surveillance (see PB's recent post).

Item 2: David Petraeus is no Gen George Marshall. Marshall seems to have understood the importance of diplomacy, and had a broad worldview that seemed to grasp the ways in which wars shape society (and vice versa). My sense is that Marshall had a first-rate bullshit detector; that seems an essential qualification for any type of leadership, but particularly military (where an error is so costly). I don't know whether BS Detection can be taught, but it certainly needs to be identified and promoted.


Liking or even tolerance for John Dolan-aka-Gary Brecher-aka-"The War Nerd" may vary among readers, but, in case anyone interested, he discusses the topic here,


apropos this piece,


on Ranger School.

The Twisted Genius

Schools, in my experience, are geared to making a young officer technically and tactically proficient. They do not produce qualified leaders. My infantry officer basic course qualified us in every weapon available to a rifle company and instructed us how to attack and defend with a rifle platoon. There were plenty of other classesMy class was half ROTC and half OCS. That was very fortunate for us lieutenants who came through ROTC. We benefited from those who served as junior NCOs before becoming lieutenants through OCS - the informal system. In the next to last week of IOBC, we had the opportunity to go to Ranger School right after graduation. Close to a hundred of us went. Again, half ROTC and half OCS. We were paired with a hundred young enlisted soldiers from the 2d Ranger Battalion. The School Cadre purposely paired a young lieutenant with a young enlisted Ranger. These pairings, first ROTC and OCS, then lieutenants with enlisted, benefited my development greatly. However, this was a fluke of scheduling. The class after mine, both IOBC and Ranger, was almost pure West Pointers. Their loss. If anybody needs the diversity, it's a pack of West Pointers.

PL is right. Shared unit experience in the field is the key to training combat leaders. In our Army, it's sink or swim in your first platoon. If your lucky, you get one year in a rifle platoon and one year in a weapons platoon. The luckiest will get a scout platoon for a year. I think we're moved through this platoon experience too soon. I see nothing wrong with young captains leading platoons. I also think at least six months as an assistant platoon leader before getting your first platoon is a good idea. Four to six years of successful platoon experience should be the focus of junior officer development rather than one year of successful company command.

Patrick Bahzad

PL, TTG and all,

I believe experience in the field (whether on or off the battlefield) is the best training there is. However, developments since the early 2000s have distorted our perception about how good we actually are at fighting a conventional war that is not a counter-insurgency or asymetric campaign.

Several aspects played a major role in this:
- our technological edge and the technological gap with opponents,
- the pervasive feeling that war will forever remain what's it has been like since the early 2000s
- the lifestyle changes among the younger generation that is also affecting potential candidates for military careers, and that includes their perception as the military being more and more an corporate employer like any other
- the competition from PMCs and PMFs, which may absorb some valuable resources that would be lost indefinitely,
- the curriculum of most modern CO academies and the profiles of successful candidates.
- traditions and established thinking as obstacles to opening up new recruitment channels for potentially skilled 'leaders'.

Also, an almost philosophical question, how much of a 'leader' should a CO or a senior NCO be ? Does the military and political establishment want genuine 'leaders' as the backbone of the armed forces ?

A true 'leader' should be able to withstand pressure from above when the strategy or tactics being advocated for go against his perception of the battlefield reality. Is it a genuine display of leadership to implement measures and orders that are doomed to fail and seen as failing, without actually having at least part of the leadership in the combat units reporting back about the actual results of the strategy on the ground ? Has the fear of delayed promotion or insubordination taken over so much, that the ethos and ethics of war have totally gone under ? Is it an expression of good leadership to accept any given premises and assumptions, when they're in contradiction with the daily experience on the ground ?

Regarding the curriculum of Officer academies, it is notable that the philosophy, the ethics and even metaphysics of war are mostly a non-issue, yet 'thinking war' rather than 'thinking about war' should be a primary element in the moral education of any military leader. In the past, cadets and prospective officers would have read Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Clausewitz, or even Hegel and Saint-Thomas. How many cadets at West Point, Sandhurst or Saint-Cyr of today have genuinely and extensively read them ?

On a different level, it has become apparent in recent years that units (platoon to company size) displaying the best combat and maneuvering skills, or getting best scores at "operational training centres" (like the JMTC), were headed by tactical commanders with either previous and extensive experience of war or warlike situations (not surprising), and more specifically by ex-senior NCOs who had received a commission. This might call into question, up to a certain degree, the current CO/NCO gap. Several options could be examined (junior COs starting not as platoon leaders, but team leaders only, junior COs starting as second in command at platoon level before being actually given a genuine commission, more NCOs being fast-tracked to positions as tactical commanders at platoon and company level).

With regard to possible developments to the 'art and nature of war', we are being dangerously close to getting sucked into another version of 'fighting tomorrow's wars based on yesterday's experience'. Would we be able to adapt to a fighting and maneuvering war, if we had to face an adversary who is able to nullify our technological edge ? Do we have military leaders that have the technical skills and mental qualities to fight in such an environment ? Or would we have to go through a learning curve, with all the 'natural selection' (i.e. casualties) such a learning curve implies in times of war ?

William R. Cumming

The plate for a Four Deuce?

William R. Cumming

Were you a Navy Corpsman?

William R. Cumming

IMO no ROTC and no Service Academies but all officer recruits MUSTANGS up from the ranks. All selected based on leadership ability and performance.

And ROTC and Service Academies post Graduation from college or post commissioning.

Patrick Bahzad

no, the plate for a "Goon gun" ... as the more non-PC slang :-)



4.2 inch mortar? Good god no. You need a weapons carrier to move that beast around. This was an 81mm. pl


PB et al

1- I agree that at least in the US Army the ability to competently fight conventional war has been largely lost in the COIN era. Things that we routinely did are not even a memory. I have been repeatedly told by combat men from Afghanistan and Iraq that rather elementary techniques of field fortification, patrolling, fire coordination and fire support, positioning of forces for perimeter defense have gone missing. Some of the disastrous engagements at platoon and company level in eastern Afghanistan are illustrative. What I am talking about is the absence of sound leadership and technique displayed in "FB Restrepo." The officers on display in that mess would have been quickly relieved for cause in VN. 2- The artificial barriers to NCO advancement to CO ranks should be eliminated. In the US Army an NCO who wishes to be an officer can; a- go to OCS (not a lot of spaces available any longer), b- leave the service, go to college where there is ROTC and come back in as an officer, c- participate in some sort of assisted tuition program (bootstrap) and then become an officer, d -Try to get into West Pont if not too old. This is a foolish process that continues while kids still wet behind the ears are spawned at WP and ROTC to be the leaders of the veterans. The officer/enlisted social and advancement barrier is based on societies that no longer exist in the West. We Americans acquired this military social structure from the British and the Prussians. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries there was some justification for the notion that in the Regular Army gentlemen should lead, provide an example, provide moral and ethical guidance and the like while enlisted men, "the scum of the earth enlisted for drink" (my dad's phrase)should follow. That kind of society is gone now. There is not a dime's worth of social distance between the entering plebe class at WP and the men and women who go to the recruiting station and enlist. Nevertheless, the notion of this distinction strongly persists with the exception SF a------s like me, TTG and the rest of the SF crew. Oddly it persists in the USAF where I am assured that anyone who had significant enlisted time has a very hard surfaced glass ceiling over him. I know there have always been those who overcame these barriers but their struggle only proves my point. pl


Johnny Reims

PB can correct my impression but I thought he meant that at St. Cyr (Coetquidon?) the classes for NCOs were for those who wished to become officers. pl



"The artificial barriers for NCO advancement to CO ranks ... "The officer/enlisted social and advancement barrier..."

This was precisely my experience in the Navy (submarine force) in the '80s. The submarine service had less of the social barrier yet it was definitely trending in the wrong direction even then.

The Twisted Genius


In light of some of your questions/musings, I decided to see what's happening at the "Benning School for Boys" as we called it. A lot has changed since my time there. I did find one theme which lifted my spirits in a cursory review of the Infantry Magazine. The Army is adopting a new combat leadership approach known as mission command. Maybe it's all smoke and mirrors, maybe it's not. It seems to be the latest attempt at reducing micromanagement or, as we often lamented, "everybody wants to be a f#$king squad leader." Here's a description from one Infantry Magazine article. A lot of buzzwords, but I hope there's something to it.

The U.S. Army has been working since the end of the Civil War to develop a system that enabled decentralized execution in our maneuver units. This has resulted in numerous failed attempts, most recently the network-centric Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) of the 1990s. After more than a decade of war, the Army’s leadership has realized that it is not a system that was needed but to institutionalize a culture and philosophy of command based on trust, understanding, and intent. The Army’s Doctrine 2015 has codified this as mission command. Army Doctrine Publication 6-0, Mission Command, defines mission command as “the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.”

The Twisted Genius


From my experience, the barriers between Naval officers and enlisted personnel were immense. My company spent nearly a month aboard the USS Cleveland in the Philippines. I had linen napkins in a silver napkin ring while my men moved into a half flooded compartment next to the well deck. I was seen as that belligerent Army wild man for insisting that my men's compartment be pumped dry.

The Twisted Genius


One of the smartest things SF did was replace the 1LT XO position with the SF warrant officer. The teams gained a lot of experience with that one move. Maybe there should be an expansion of the warrant officer system into the combat arms.

Patrick Bahzad


Thx for the detailed reply. I very much appreciate it ... and actually agree with all your points.

In France, the glass ceiling is highest in Navy, then Air Force (and Cavalry/Armour. There's even an old saying at Saint-Cyr: "If you're a commoner go into the Cavalry, you'll be the only one there; If you're a nobleman, go into the Infantry, you'l be the only one there" .. and so on :-)

Patrick Bahzad

That is correct. Saint-Cyr has now two curricula, one the "Ecole Speciale Militaire" (same as West Point and Sandhurst) and the "Ecole Militaire Inter-Armes", which translates as "Combined Arms Military Academy" if you like, which is a two year CO course open to NCOs with at least four years experience (three as squad leader in a combat unit), a proven service record, appropriate fitness, high school diploma and aged 23 to 29.

Patrick Bahzad

I agree. there is also the possibility to have an NCO as platoon leader in infantry/armour/combat engineers.
We've been practising this for a number of years, for senior NCOs in charge of whole tank or infantry platoon for example. Usually the level of collective performance of the platoon is quite higher than on average.

Patrick Bahzad

Same over here ! lots of ancient nobility as well in the Navy ... silveware and embroided napkins at the dinner table. I hated it.
Submariners though are a different breed I have to say.



I was on board De Grasse (French - there may be an American one as well)and was astounded by the 18th Century flavor of affairs. pl

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