OPORDs and Leadership: Complicating Simplicity
Boothe, L. Lance, Military Review
The only new thing in the world is the history you don't know.
-Harry S. Truman1
Something remarkable occurred (by today's military standards) just before Operation Market Garden during World War II. British Army Lieutenant General B.C. Horrocks stood before his commanders and, using a map, briefed them on the operations order (OPORD). The XXX Corps commander articulated the mission, denned its primary and intermediate objectives, assigned tasks to subordinates and, using an analogy to American Westerns, explained the concept of the operation. In just under 10 minutes, Horrocks had issued orders for the ground phase of the largest airborne operation in the history of warfare.
When preparing to retake Cyrenaica in North Africa during World War II, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel published a 2!-paragraph OPORD with "each paragraph, on average, containing only seven lines of typescript."2 In 8 days Rommel pushed the British back to Gazala and regained the initiative in North Africa. Five months later he took Tobruk.3 No hint exists that Rommel's commanders lacked crucial information or failed to understand the mission, the concept of operation, or essential tasks.
Orders: Publish or Perish
Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz describes war as supremely simple.4 Today's masters of operational and strategic arts believe information proliferation, technological advances, and the urban battlefield have created an asymmetrical threat that changes the nature of warfare. Such a threat, they claim, is much too complex to defeat without PowerPoint(TM) briefings; information operations (IO) themes and messages; effects-based operations; endless meetings; lengthy, overly detailed OPORDs; and command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR). Historian Victor Davis Hanson compares this notion to a water pump, warning that no matter how advanced a water pump becomes, it does not bring forth a novel liquid.5
The U.S. Army's principles of war (objective, offense, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise, and simplicity) are essential to success in combat but apparently lack the nuance and political sensitivity deemed essential to the police actions of nationbuilding.
Military force is a blunt instrument. Policymakers should embrace this reality rather than radically alter traditional, battle-proven military structures. Clausewitz reminds us: "[T]he soldier is levied, clothed, armed, and trained-he sleeps, eats, drinks, marches-merely to fight at the right place and the right time."6 Soldiers are not policemen. Armies are not police forces.
For its part, the U.S. Army needs to simplify its methods, reduce its staffs, shift leadership paradigms, and transform in the right rather than the wrong places. The nature of warfare has not changed, even in this era of nationbuilding. Success in battle, whether in high- or low-intensity conflict, still hinges on the principles of war. Instead of a facelift through a force-restructuring scheme akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul, the Army needs to lose weight by changing how it does business and by returning to battle-proven methods and organizational and leadership principles.
Before redeploying for Operation Iraqi Freedom, V Corps suffered a 50 percent turnover in staff. Key positions from the corps commander, chief of staff, deputy chief of operations, and deputy chief of plans and exercises as well as the G-staff primaries and secondaries were filled by new officers only weeks before V Corps' mission rehearsal exercise (MRX) and mere months before deployment. These officers did not participate in the train-up for the MRX and received only a few weeks training during the MRX to become familiar with the corps' standing operating procedures (SOPs) and their functions, which is not the best way to create a cohesive team able to react efficiently to the commander's will. …