Company Command Building: Combat-Ready Teams: Making Sense of Killing

Army, November 2005 | Go to article overview
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Company Command Building: Combat-Ready Teams: Making Sense of Killing

To: Company Commanders

From: Company Commanders

Making Sense of Killing

We train our Soldiers to kill, equip them to kill, develop plans for them to kill, and sometimes even give them the lire commands to kill, yet too often we don't help them make sense of the killing they do ... "Prep for combat" and "recovery" should include actions to equip our Soldiers to deal with the moral and psychological aspects of killing in combat.

An Army at peace does everything an Army at war does except for one-kill other human beings. Every day in the Global War on Terror, American Soldiers are killing our enemies, and we are very effective at it. Yet, as we wage our first long-duration war in over a generation, we are learning that we as company-level leaders could do a better job at helping our Soldiers deal with the psychological aspects of killing. You won't find this topic addressed in an AR or FM. but we have found that it's being talked about by leaders as they gather in motor pools, TOCs. mess halls and in the CompanyCommand forum.

In order to give this issue more visibility and generate effective ideas, we asked past, present and future commanders the following question in a recent CC poll:

Do you have responsibility to equip your Soldiers for making sense of killing in combat?

Yes: 180 No: 11

According to the poll responses, company-level commanders overwhelmingly agree that we have the responsibility to equip our Soldiers to make sense of killing. How, then, do we do it? Here are some of the comments from CC members on how they are equipping their Soldiers to deal with this tough and relevant issue.

Before Killing

Make Killing an Acceptable Conversation Topic

Pete Kilner


Soldiers are going to think about the morality of killing either BEFORE, DURING or AFTER combat It's in their, and the Army's, best interests to have them think about it beforehand.

What's important is that we as leaders make the topic of killing and guilt an acceptable topic to talk about. By talking about it with their buddies and leaders, our Soldiers will be much more likely to make sense of killing in their own moral terms We don't need to provide THE ANSWER (there may not be one that works for everyone), but we can do a lot to help our Soldiers find their own answers. As leaders, we can create conditions where our Soldiers can talk about and make sense of killing. Soldiers with clear consciences are better Soldiers and better people, so this is a leadership issue.

Equip Soldiers BEFORE Killing

Bill Rodebaugh


As a commander, you have to ask Soldiers to consciously make the choice to pull the trigger BEFORE they are even put in the position to kill. If not, they either won't pull the trigger, or they will do it out of instinct, or because they hear an order to do it. Then they won't ever reconcile the act later in life without counseling. I try to communicate to my guys the truth on why we kill and how it is a necessary thing. It is commander business: Combat Stress Teams are good after the fact when commanders fail to do their part on the front end.

Leverage the Whole Team

Nick Ayers


Preparing Soldiers for the realities of war is difficult, but it is what we get paid to do I don't think that leaders have to do it alone, though The squad leader, platoon sergeant, or even CO shouldn't feel all of the responsibility is on their shoulders alone. A commander can enlist the help of a variety of resources, including chaplains and Combat Stress Teams A commander can work to get a guest (subordinate, peer, or superior) to come talk with Soldiers to perhaps share experiences There are a limitless number ol ways and techniques, all of which are derived from the personality and character of the commander and of the unit.

Show Faith in the Cause

Rob Griggs


As far as how I tried to prepare my Soldiers to make sense of it all-I was always honest about what I thought they should expect and I relayed to them what I believe-that we are part of the world's greatest fighting force and that our job is an important job that will make a difference in the history of the world.

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