Military Thinking and Decisionmaking Exercises

By LtCol Steven M. Jones & Maj Edwin T. Kang

Success is directly related to the ability to make and execute effective military decisions rapidly under physical and emotional duress. The ability of Marines to outthink the adversary is just as important as the physical endurance and ability to outshoot and outmaneuver him on the battlefield. This guidance was repeated and reemphasized earlier this year in All Marines message (ALMAR) 025/97. The Commandant has expressed the critical need for all Marines to prepare themselves mentally as well as physically for the rigors of combat in his planning guidance by stating:

It is my intent that we reach the stage where Marines come to work and spend part of each day talking about warfighting: learning to think, making decisions, and being exposed to tactical and operational issues.

Military insight and decisionmaking skills can be developed through discussion, decision games, battlefield studies, wargames, and other techniques. A Military Thinking and Decisionmaking Exercises Program has been established to coordinate a wide range of activities that contribute to the mental preparation for warfighting, and the Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, has been tasked with identifying and providing resources to support these intellectual development initiatives. A forthcoming Marine Corps order will provide guidance on Military Thinking and Decisionmaking Exercises and describe some of the resources available to support it, to include:

* Professional Reading. The Marine Corps professional reading program, centered around the Commandant’s Reading List, will be an important contributor. Knowledge gained through individual reading and study will provide the intellectual framework for warfighting study and the raw material necessary to develop critical thinking skills. However, reading alone is not enough. The raw material must be honed through repeated exercise and reinforcement.

* Professional Publications. Professional periodicals and journals, such as the Marine Corps Gazette (which publishes a monthly tactical decision game (TDG)), provide a rich selection of articles and vignettes to stimulate daily warfighting discussions. Commercial books from the professional reading list and board-based wargames provide excellent scenarios for the program. Many of these commercial products are available through the Marine Corps Association and base libraries. Units should also consider developing their own libraries of these resources to support the program.

* Marine Corps University. The Marine Corps University has prepared a Staff Ride Handbook for use by Marines in organizing battlefield study tours to military historic sites. They have also published Designing TDGs: A Tactical Decision Making Games Workbook. This workbook teaches Marines how to write useful and thoughtprovoking TDG exercises. Further information on these resources is available from the university.

* Marine Corps Modeling and Simulation Office (MCMSMO). MCMSMO has developed a website to provide information on available resources that support the program. The link to this site can be reached through the Internet at It contains electronic versions of the TDG Workbook, the Staff Ride Guide, the Personal Computer (PC)-Based Wargaming Catalog and other useful resources. The PC-based Wargaming Catalog provides a list of commercially available computer wargames that have been evaluated and found to have training merit for Marines. New games are constantly reviewed by Marine Corps volunteers and game reviews are electronically posted to the Wargaming Catalog as they are evaluated. A small team of MCMSMO programmers has also customized several commercial games to enhance their training value for the Marine Corps.

* Formal Schools. Formal Marine Corps schools have a number of products that can serve as a stimulus to daily warfighting discussions. A few examples include:

1) Expeditionary Warfare Training Group has developed situational training exercise scenarios and TDGs for use in their staff professinal military education program that could be adapted for local warfighting programs.

2) Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One publishes quarterly newsletters for each aviation community and the Talon journal, a compendium of articles on tactical aviation issues.

3) Mountain Warfare Training Center publishes the Field Grade Officer’s Handbook.

4) Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico, produces lessons on scout-snipers, high-risk personnel, and breaching. In short, resources to support the program are abundant and their use is limited only by our imagination.

The key impediment to fully implementing the Commandant’s guidance appears to be finding time in our already busy daily schedules to execute his plan. We must all realize that this program enhances our fundamental warfighting capabilities– particularly in an era when our livetraining opportunities seem to be decreasing. Once this concept is accepted as fact, we will find the time to do the right thing, making warfighting discussions a daily activity and inculcating the benefits in our Marines. It is but another way for us, as in institution, to stay highly tuned and ready to answer the Nation’s call.