Misleading Future Marine Tacticians?

By Dr. Andrew H Hershey

It is my belief that certain features of the current series of tactical decision games (TDGs) are not in the best interests of creating the next Napoleon as Mastering Tactics was want to do.1 TDGs are being stretched beyond the parameters and utility they are best intended to cover. The problem with recent TDGs is that too many extraneous “Issues for Consideration” have begun to seep into or become bolted onto TDGs. In some respects TDGs are taking on the qualities of exams, advanced school papers, or after-action reports. It is reasonable to postulate that if these ancillary thought processes found in Issues for Consideration are allowed to continue and become inculcated into the minds of Marines, there will be a deleterious effect on their combat decisionmaking.

How so? It only stands to reason that adding any additional thought for consideration, which strictly speaking at that instant does not have an immediate rde in the decisionmaking process to solve the slice of the Êght at hand} is a recipe for disaster. It will enable the enemy commander to execute his decisions more quickly, maintain his initiative, and thus impose his will on Marines. The enemy has the advantage in that none of these extraneous issues enter his combat decisionmaking process. His is a pure, refined, and straightforward one – -how best to kill his enemy.

As a concrete example of what I see as the added impedimenta creeping into TDGs take, for example, TDG #10-8, “Rahadnak Valley Search,” and its Issues for Consideration points 5 through 9 and furthermore their series of 14 followup bullet points, making 19 excess points to address in all! (Although the first sentence of point nine seems to really be a restatement of point four, which is a crux issue to address.)

How exactly does it behoove the captain to address points five through nine while he already has units engaged and a mobility kill on his hands? Is this really the time and place for having these matters directly enter the captain’s observation, orientation, decision, and action, which is frankly what the Issues for Consideration is asking him to do? Does the tactical situation, right this instant, really require points five through nine of him? In fact, is it not the case that at this instant devoting time to work out whether “at the end of the day” six stone walls will have been breached by Marine assault amphibious vehicles and two buildings will have sustained heavy damage from 12.7mm machinegun fire from the enemy on Hill 2 is a total waste of the captain’s combat decisionmaking time?

TDGs are slices of battle; however, aspects of points five through nine can only be addressed when the action is no longer a battle; i.e., beyond the scope of the TDG in its present state and certainly not without the information about how that battle unfolded to its very end state. Only then is it possible to adequately, fairly, and righdy access whether the captains use of force was lawful and proportional or if he inflicted unwarranted collateral damage. The immediate tactical question at hand the coup d’oeil which is the heart of the TDG) is what does the captain do to extricate 1st Platoon and carry on with the mission as briefed?

Further muddying the TDG waters is that in bolting on points like five through nine there is a knock on effect of artificially inflating the time limit presented in the “Situation” so that these ancillary issues can be addressed. Our captain does not actually have 1 0 minutes to skin the cat. He has perhaps 2 minutes to deal with points one through four, with more emphasis on one and four; otherwise things are only going to get much worse for him.

This is not an unfair or unwarranted critique of TDG #10-8. Previous TDGs depicting company-sized actions, and dating as far back as #96-7, used more realistic time scales; e.g., 2 minutes. It is implicit in TDG design itself that time should be limited.2 The 1 0 minutes granted in #10-8 is frankly an eternity the captain just does not have. Allowing for artificial time limits is not going to help train Marines any more effectively in combat decisionmaking; it is only going to engender them with a false sense of the operational tempo of battle. In short, train like you fight. Think slowly, fight slowly, and suffer defeat in short order is one of the essential lessons of Mastering Tactics if nothing else.3

It is possible, however, for TDGs in a revised form to address points like five through nine. The best way to do so to modify the current layout of TDG. Step one would be to see in “Requirement” section a return to istic time limits as well as the gence of the “old school” standard just asking for “any orders or and the rationale behind them.” Do prompt Marines or lead them down programmed path of questions; do help them from the outset to arrive at solution through such questions or lead them with extraneous Doing so does not help them learn think for themselves.

Step two is to create a new subdivision to the TDG, which would come after revised requirement section with stricdy tactical focus. The new sion might appear thus: “For analysis, take a further 1 5 minutes to dress the following issues for tion.” Here then one could list points five through nine or others that salient to the particular TDG at hand.

The advantage of this revised TDG format is that Marines will begin to which types of thoughts and questions are best needed and employed for tactical combat decisionmaking and which types of thoughts and questions are best used to reflect upon a battle, won or lost, within the context of the laws of war, commander’s engagement guidance, and rules of engagement.


1. Schmidt, Maj John R, USMCR, Mastering Tactics: A Tactical Decision Game V(brkbook, Quantico, 1994, p. 2.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., pp. 7-8. See also MAJ John H. Burns, USA, “Vitalize the Map Problem,” Infantry Journal, September-October 1937, pp. 412-414.

Authors Nora I would like to thank Maj Bruce I. Gudmundsson, USMCR(Ret) and GySgt Jeffrey R Waldon, USMC(Ret) for reviewing drafts of this article.