The Cost of Thinking outside the Box

By Elliott, Charles | Army, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Cost of Thinking outside the Box


Elliott, Charles, Army


What follows is one more voice to be added to a growing chorus of professional soldiers concerned about the post-9/11 Army. MSG Charles Elliott, U.S. Army retired, makes a convincing argument that we liave lost some of our traditional soldier skills that are a vital component of who we are and what we do as an Army, aka the basics.

When this nation sent its Army to war in the aftermath of 9/11, it also provided the resources to ensure that we had the tools (technology) needed to get the job done - the tools we have always wanted but lacked the funds to acquire. MSG Elliott suggests that the post-9/11 Army is becoming too dependent on this new technology and, as a result, is losing sight of the fundamentals.

- CSM Jimmie W. Spencer, USA Ret., Director, NCO and Soldier Programs, AUSA

Years ago our forces needed to be more flexible and adaptable. After decades of training during a cold war that never went hot, most leaders had no inclination to train or fight differently. They were satisfied with keeping things the same, shying away from technology and unconventional ways of doing things. Most of these leaders refused to entertain creative ideas, and many rejected ideas and recommendations from subordinates.

This was the case during the first couple of years after 9/11. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our military was inundated with new equipment and technologies, vehicles, weapons, signals intelligence (SIGPNT) technologies and so on. All this technology forced our leaders to finally start thinking differently (outside the box) to create ways to use this new equipment and technology to assist them in accomplishing their mission, and they did. Our military has become more adaptive and technologically proficient, but at what cost?

Technology has helped us tremendously, and our leaders have become out-of-the-box - more adaptive - thinkers. There is a cost, however, to thinking outside of the box without fully understanding that the "things in the box" should not become irrelevant just because we have additional tools available to assist us. We have been thinking outside the box so long that we have forgotten what is in the box: the basics. We have become reliant on technology to the point that our basic soldiering skills have now degraded. We love to chase the next shiny gadget. Predeployment training proficiency with technology has made us train so much on this technology and equipment that we neglect training on the basics to achieve true mastery of our warfighting skills.

I am not saying that we don't want our leaders to continue to be adaptive and that we shouldn't embrace and apply technology. The enemy is always changing and adapting to our tactics, techniques and procedures. Of course we need to continue to move ahead with technology; if we didn't, we would still be using muskets. Our soldiers and leaders need to continue to be adaptive and creative, and look for unconventional ways of doing things to defeat the enemy; however, we just cannot do this if the cost is forgetting the basics and fundamentals of patrolling. Remember that mastering the basics must be the foundation to applying technology into our operations more effectively. We need to regain a balance.

I was once told that "we can't live in the past and expect to remain ahead of the curve." The fundamentals of patrolling (planning, reconnaissance, security, control and common sense) and basic soldier skills (shoot, move, communicate, self-medicate, battle drills, physical training and so on) haven't changed in years for a reason. They are the basics, the foundation of everything we do. They assist us in understanding technology and how to better use it.

Let's look at special operation units and the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment. What makes these units the best units in the world? They train on the basics every day so that they become instinct. True, they have all the best weapons, equipment and support in the world, but they still train the basics. …

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