Creating a Hunter of Cases

by 1stLt Kenneth P. Sullivan

It was just like any other Thursday night on duty at an enlisted barracks: Marines scrambling to get back for evening formation, one forgetting about his fire-watch shift, and one Marine had even broken into another’s room to ensure it was clean for Friday morning’s field day inspection. All were simple hiccups in a normal shift of duty. Then PFC Hood (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) came into the duty hut asking to speak to me. Visibly trembling, he said he thought he was having an anxiety attack. I instructed Hood to take my seat and relax as I pulled up a loose chair.

I learned that Hood had been medically dropped from his MOS school two weeks prior and placed in a Marines Awaiting Training (MAT) platoon. Being a salty 11-month veteran of MAT platoon at TBS, I thought I might be able to relate to his situation. Hood had a plethora of administrative and medical issues preventing him from continuing to train. A back condition known as ankylosing spondylitis, in which different parts of the spine can fuse together, caused his medical drop from the course two weeks earlier.

To add to this, Hood is a Reservist who was sent to his unit and placed in “Reserve” status upon completion of Marine Combat Training but continued to receive active duty pay until reporting to MOS school three months later. In order to balance his overpayment, the Marine Corps had not given Hood a paycheck in two months. With this mounting stress, he had not slept in the past 48 hours.

What bothered Hood most that night, however, was the lack of discipline of his fellow MAT platoon members. “It’s like they forgot everything we learned at phase III of boot camp. One kid even wore headphones to formation tonight,” Hood choked out, his hands shaking uncontrollably, while his right foot tapped a fortissimo rhythm. “I just want to stand in front of the platoon and put them all on blast for forgetting what it means to be a Marine.”

Hood opened up more as I inquired about his home life and why he joined the Marine Corps. Like many Marines, he came from a troubled past. His mother had left him at a young age, and his father sold drugs when an accident prevented him from working. Hood craved the discipline and direction the Marine Corps provided him. When he dropped from his MOS school, however, he was no longer challenged intellectually, his days consisting of repeatedly cleaning equipment and rooms at the schoolhouse where he used to train.

I had been faced with a similar circumstance after fracturing my left fibula awaiting the start of my MOS school. Without much structured class to challenge me, I was fortunate to find resolution with a few other lieutenants who were motivated to continue their education despite physical setback. One such Marine had the will of a lion and the resultant leg bone structure of Mar- vel’s Wolverine. My partner in crutches had suffered a spiral fracture on his right tibia during a fast-roping exercise out of an MV-22 Osprey a year prior to my accident. During his 20-month recovery before finally conquering his MOS school, he worked at Marine Corps University (MCU) developing decisionforcing cases (DFCs) and teaching them at TBS. Following in his case method footsteps at MCU, I used the experience of developing and teaching cases under the tutelage of a passionate and welleducated MCU staff to focus myself intellectually at a time when I could not train physically.

I thought that teaching Flood a decision-forcing case might trigger academic interest in a Marine craving structure. Since Flood had never heard of DFCs, let alone tactical decision games (TDGs), I decided to start Hood with a simple TDG. After delivering a well-thought-out plan of how to attack an enemy platoon on a hilltop, Hood inquired, “So what’s the right answer?” I explained the difference between TDGs and DFCs, wherein he replied despondently that he would like to know what actually happened. I then opened a case, Di Notte, developed from an Army after-action report written at The Infantry School, Fort Benning, G A. Di Notte is about 1LT Augustine MacDonald leading Company I, 350th Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division in a night attack against a fortified ridgeline in the Apennine Mountains in 1944 Nazi-occupied Italy.

Two of the firewatch Marines joined Hood as audience members for Di Notte. There was much contention of how the three participants, as “lieutenants,” wanted to attack Hill 538. Each had a different plan and sound tactical thought to justify. After lively debate, I finally revealed how 1LT MacDonald had conducted his attack 70 years prior. All three Marines who participated had tremendous buy in to the case (the firewatch Marines stayed in the duty hut to discuss the case well after their shifts ended), but PFC Hood was especially interested in the entire process. I then showed Hood the method of how we found and developed Di Notte from an after-action report.

Most cases do not just manifest themselves for a reader. They require an active hunt through stories, books, and after-action reports. While not every hunt leads to a case, the process is, in and of itself, beneficial. Understanding how to develop DFCs imbues the reader with an active mind, allowing him to absorb the experiences of the character to whom he is exposed. The hunter just needs a spark to ignite his curiosity and an understanding of the process to fuel his case development. We provided that spark on a Thursday night in a Marine barracks duty hut. It peaked Hood’s interest, allowing him to detach from his own shaking boots, embody himself in those of a company commander who undoubtedly felt anxiety 70 years ago, losing communication with one platoon at the culminating moments of his near-dawn attack.

The conduct of the decision-forcing case both relaxed and excited Hood, his anxiety transforming to anticipation with each movement of Company I’s graphic on the map. His hands no longer trembled; his foot no longer shook. Hood was able to sleep that night (we selected his room for the 0200 random room search). We can only hope the spark provided by Di Notte, and the direction of the MCU staff that one duty officer was able to impart to a PFC provided enough fuel to create another hunter of cases.