August 2018

Letters

Volume 102, Issue 8

Helpful Hints for Decision-Forcing Staff Rides

In a recent article, “The Staff Ride: A model for the 21st century,”(MCG, Jul18), three professors from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College described their experience with role-play exercises conducted on historical battlefields. Throughout the course of the article, they listed a number of problems that they had experienced in leading these exercises. I would like to present a series of tips that, if followed, will allow the facilitators of decision-forcing staff rides to solve those problems.

Embrace obscurity. If facilitators ask Marines to play the role of unfamiliar people dealing with unfamiliar problems, they greatly increase the chances that the Marines will engage those problems with an open mind, one characterized by curiosity and imagination. Thus, rather than asking students to fill the shoes of Gen Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, we invite them to take on the persona of Maj Robert Beckham at Brandy Station or James Moore at Moore’s Creek Bridge.

Set the stage. The information that facilitators provide to Marines about the people, places, and problems in question should be limited to things that the protagonist knew (or reasonably could have known) prior to the decision in question. These include many details about such things as friendly order of battle, the intent of superiors, and recent events but exclude knowledge about the thoughts of the enemy commander or the outcome of events. (If they can be found, the best materials for this purpose are documents that were created shortly before the decision in question was made.)

Avoid spoilers. A well-run decision-forcing staff ride excites the curiosity of Marines, helping them to engage the problems in question with greater enthusiasm. Once this curiosity is satisfied, however, there is a natural tendency for interest to decline. Thus, when briefing Marines prior to a staff ride, or providing them with readings, videos, or podcasts designed to prepare them for the exercise, facilitators must make sure that the materials in question are free of information that will “give away the ending.”

Ask open-ended questions. The task of a Marine taking part in a decision-forcing staff ride is to devise, describe, and defend decisions. Thus, the most common question that a facilitator will ask a Marine in the course of such an exercise will be something like, “What is your plan?,” “What are your orders?,” or “What are you going to do?” The second most common, which may either precede or follow a request for a plan of action, is, “What do you think is going on here?”

Be unprincipled, unprocessed, and unprecedented. Asking a Marine to make explicit references to principles, planning processes, or precedents places a needless burden on a mind that should be fully engaged with the creative and critical engagement of a demanding dilemma. Instead, facilitators should be guided by the wisdom of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who famously wrote, “to the Devil with principles and precedents. The important question is ‘what is going on here.’”1

Maintain a poker face. The purpose of a decision-forcing staff ride is to cultivate the professional judgment of the Marines taking part. To this end, facilitators should place the burden of the evaluation of plans on the Marines making them. This, in turn, requires that the facilitators refrain from any sign, verbal or physical, of approval or disapproval.

Exploit experience. Between 2007 and 2017, the teaching fellows of the Case Method Project of Marine Corps University led dozens of decision-forcing staff rides. In the same period, they taught hundreds of decision-forcing cases, classroom exercises that might well be described as “decision-forcing staff rides conducted indoors.” Much of what was learned in the course of this experience has been reduced to a series of blog posts. These can be found in the “Decision Games” section of the Military Instructor Website (see https://teachusmc.blogspot.com/).

Practice. People interested in taking part in decision-forcing cases and similar exercises can do so during the weekly meetings of the Decision Game Club. These take place on Thursday afternoons from 1630 to 1730 in Room 125 of the Gray Research Center in Quantico, VA. For more information, please see the webpage of the Decision Game Club at http://casemethodusmc.blogspot.com.

Note

Maj Bruce I. Gudmundsson, USMCR (Ret)

1. “Au diable l’histoire et les principes! Après tout, de quoi s’agit-il.” Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Des Principes de la Guerre, (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1903). For alternate renderings of this quotation, see the English translations, both published under the title, The Principles of War, by J. de Morinni (New York: Fly, 1918) or Hillaire Belloc, (New York: Henry Holt, 1920).

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The Rifle Squad Leader

In respect to “Rifle Squad Leader Staffing: Time for change,” by LtCol Jim Lively, (MCG, May18), an unnoticed task is rifle qualification consciousness. Translate the ratings into how far away a person-sized target can be reached. Increase reach to improve safety.

Next, be constantly sensitive to any possibility of target practice for the low-scoring shooter. The two skills can even be worked on with a lever-cocked .177 air rifle at 10 meters. “Unbuttoned buttons, for shame, 20 rounds prone with the air rifle!”

The assumption is that basic training reveals rifle capacity, which might not be true. It is based on presuming the length of practice is enough and that slow learners are not present. British machine gunners were massacred in the Boer War, conspicuous because of noise, and Boers harvested them at long range. There was no shortage of long-reach Boer shooters, as they had all done a lot of hunting, enough that slow-learning Boers also shot as well as the fast learners. Was their hunting more shooting than we do in basic training?

Gen George Washington formed a company in 1775, constantly asking hunting rustics from the frontier to join and bring their rifles. Those men, and all such rifle-using rustics, including Washington, were proficient and would not willingly fire a miss. The alarmed British high command issued a warning to their officer corps: the colonial rifleman will hit you with his first shot at 200 yards, and some can reach past 300 yards; stay back and dress humble. Rustic hunters then did more shooting than we do in basic training.

If you notice improvement in those who need it most, next is getting everyone enough practice in known distance, the quickest way to learn the two skills. Maybe have a car wash and a bake sale and buy another lever-cocked .177 rifle and more targets.

Darryl Davis

1. “Au diable l’histoire et les principes! Après tout, de quoi s’agit-il.” Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Des Principes de la Guerre, (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1903). For alternate renderings of this quotation, see the English translations, both published under the title, The Principles of War, by J. de Morinni (New York: Fly, 1918) or Hillaire Belloc, (New York: Henry Holt, 1920).

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Tactical-Level Leaders

In his recent article, “The Tactical Ground Advisory Board: The birth of bottom-up refinement,” (MCG, May18) Capt Tyler B. Folan argues for “tactical-level leaders” to be “given the opportunity to evaluate experiences and provide recommendations to the Commandant that will improve lethality and success at the tactical level.” He went on to argue that the current processes for advocacy and innovation are too slow and ineffective to meet the needs of the force. I agree wholeheartedly and am glad that this sentiment is welcomed in the pages of the Gazette. Folan’s article comes on the heels of the much more acerbic article, “Innovation: And other things that brief well,” by then-Capt Joshua Waddell. (See MCG, Feb17.) Both articles provide concrete solutions for increasing “innovation” and the pace at which it affects the Corps.

However, both articles fail to acknowledge the work already being done on this front. Since 2016, the Commandant has held annual “Innovation Challenges,” originating with a focus on logistics but increasing in scope and participation each year. A relatively recent program, it is possible that the authors’ feelings predate the Innovation Challenges.

This year, the challenge was held quarterly, with four different topics from information operations to protecting the force. These challenges are designed to enable feedback from the Operating Forces down to the tactical level and then to send that feedback directly to the top of the Marine Corps hierarchy in a very transparent way. This is intended to help solve the very problem that Capt Folan identified in his article—a lack of bottom-up refinement. Ideally, once someone is selected as a winner or finalist in the challenge, proposals are quickly implemented and developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), which is part of MCWL. This is an office identical in name and purpose to one that Maj Waddell argues for: “Establish a Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory rapid prototyping lab.” The RCO is intended to function much as a public-sector incubator would, or like Google’s Project X Office in Moutainview, CA, to which both authors allude. A wearable logistics-reporting device, proposed by a staff sergeant, and an android application for realtime translation, proposed by a captain, are under development now as a result of this process. These are the success stories.

I maintain, however, that there are too few success stories, even for a young program, and that institutional support for winners and finalists (read money) is lacking. But despite this, the Commandant’s Innovation Challenges are growing every year and represent progress toward the mechanisms of bottom-up refinement that we desperately need.

1stLt Walker D. Mills

1. “Au diable l’histoire et les principes! Après tout, de quoi s’agit-il.” Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Des Principes de la Guerre, (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1903). For alternate renderings of this quotation, see the English translations, both published under the title, The Principles of War, by J. de Morinni (New York: Fly, 1918) or Hillaire Belloc, (New York: Henry Holt, 1920).

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21st Century Logistics

The lead article in the Logistics Section of the October 2017 Marine Corps Gazette gives us LtGen Michael G. Dana’s vision on the many opportunities to improve MAGTF logistic support with “selective” technology and well-trained Marines.

All Marines should read this article. If you don’t, then you cannot contribute either as logistician or as Marine who really needs logistic support, like ammo (in bandoleers, not cardboard boxes!), water, or batteries.

The very last sentence of LtGen Dana’s article offers a communications link for readers to provide their comments and ideas to the I&L NexLog Team at [email protected]

Remember, “Without supply your unit cannot function,” and “without Logistics the USMC cannot fight and win.”

LtCol Mike Janay, USMC(Ret)

1. “Au diable l’histoire et les principes! Après tout, de quoi s’agit-il.” Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Des Principes de la Guerre, (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1903). For alternate renderings of this quotation, see the English translations, both published under the title, The Principles of War, by J. de Morinni (New York: Fly, 1918) or Hillaire Belloc, (New York: Henry Holt, 1920).

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Mark Matzke’s bio in the June Gazette, page 66, should have read: Mr. Matzke manages the Department of Homeland Security practice for ServiceNow, an enterprise cloud company. He served more than six years in the United States Marine Corps. As an Infantry Officer, he deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, engaging in direct combat operations.

1. “Au diable l’histoire et les principes! Après tout, de quoi s’agit-il.” Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Des Principes de la Guerre, (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1903). For alternate renderings of this quotation, see the English translations, both published under the title, The Principles of War, by J. de Morinni (New York: Fly, 1918) or Hillaire Belloc, (New York: Henry Holt, 1920).

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