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In a new collection of essays on the topic of Mission Command, 12 authors from three countries offer their perspective on leadership and decentralized decision-making relative to military, law enforcement, government and private-sector service. Titled Mission Command: The Who, What, Where, When and Why: An Anthology, the collection was compiled and edited by author, teacher and retired Army Maj. Donald E. Vandergriff and self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book is a response to the Army’s 2016 publication, Mission Command in the 21st Century: Empowering to Win in a Complex World, published by Army Press at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Essays by American, British and Norwegian leaders include writing about military campaign analysis, organizational culture, Mission Command in garrison, fitness and Mission Command, improving Army doctrine, training and leadership for Mission Command and the historical evolution of Mission Command.
In his introduction to the 254-page book, Vandergriff writes that Mission Command is an especially relevant topic while U.S. forces are in combat. “Many of us have lost friends in places most of our countrymen have never heard of, ”he writes, adding that he and his fellow authors “care, very deeply, about our respective countries and our armies and other services, as well as our law enforcement agencies,” and that he believes each, including the U.S., can improve.
In addition to Vandergriff, contributing Army officers are Maj. Darrell Fawley, Lt. Col. Chad Foster, Lt. Col. Daniel Markert, Lt. Col. Grant Martin, 2nd Lt. Regina Parker, Maj. Thomas Rebuck and retired Maj. Joe Labarbera.
Some authors were asked to describe what Mission Command means to them, starting with Labarbera’s chapter on tying the Army’s current personnel system to the failure to conduct Mission Command.
“We in the Army seek to institutionalize Mission Command, but by institutionalizing the concept we may defeat its very purpose: to free commanders from institutional constraints, enabling decisive action in battle. Mission Command must become part of the Army’s culture, but the Army’s own culture stands in the way,” Labarbera writes at the top of his chapter. He concludes that “professionalism is the key to sup-porting cohesion and that cohesion is a key requirement of Mission Command,” Vandergriff summarizes.
West Point Class of 2016 graduate Parker writes in her chapter that Mission Command is too long and detailed, asserting that it is self-contradicting and civilians who don’t “speak Army” would find it unintelligible. Parker proposes replacing Mission Command with a simplified framework called “winning teams,” a two-pronged approach based on trust and understanding, and applicable in military and civilian settings.
“Perhaps the worst consequence of the length and complexity of Mission Command publications is that few soldiers read let alone absorb them, making it impossible for the Army to generate shared understanding of the doctrine. Moreover, the hours spent by the few soldiers who choose to read the stacks of doctrine is a waste of manpower that most likely kills morale. Army publications on Mission Command (actually on most things) should be streamlined,” Parker writes.
In subsequent chapters, Foster, who recently commanded the 4th Squad-ron, 10th Cavalry Regiment in the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Fort Carson, Colo., and Fawley discuss Mission Command in garrison and training for Mission Command.
“The level of trust necessary for Mission Command to take hold can only result from habit—from repeated demonstrations by commanders that they expect their subordinate leaders to exercise initiative and, most importantly, that honest mistakes made in pursuit of meeting the higher intent will be underwritten as learning opportunities. Micromanagement and a zero defects mentality are poisons that, even if present in small amounts, will kill Mission Command at the root,”
Foster writes in a passage that Vandergriff describes as a partial testament to the recent successes of soldiers and leaders of a cavalry squadron.
Fawley posits that the Army’s definition of Mission Command suggests application only in combat, when the philosophy should permeate every environment. “When leaders use Mission Command at home station they instill in themselves an ability to apply it in combat. They learn to provide a clear commander’s intent, use mission orders and accept prudent risk. Further, they set the conditions within their units to enable full exercise of the philosophy in war,” Fawley writes.
The notion of a “Type II” Mission Command is introduced by Martin, who has spent over 20 years in special operations; Markert, an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, writes about operational fitness. The book concludes with Foster’s chapter on the liability of emotional leadership. “While emotional leaders are capable of extraordinary highs in the best of times, to extreme lows when things go wrong,” he writes, suggesting that setbacks are hard to overcome when leaders fail to think through their actions and reactions to myriad situations.
In his introduction, Vandergriff says the collection of essays is intended to improve “the lot of the soldier, that grunt on the ground who has to live with the consequences of our mistakes.”
For more information on the book,