Academic journal article Military Review

Transition Teams: Adapt and Win

Academic journal article Military Review

Transition Teams: Adapt and Win

Article excerpt


It is perhaps only a slight exaggeration to suggest that, on their own, foreign forces cannot defeat an insurgency; the best they can hope for is to create the conditions that will enable local forces to win it for them.

--John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (1)

Having served as executive officer and operations officer of a battalion military transition team (MiTT) in Iraq from May 2007 to April 2008, I found that operations varied greatly from team to team. At first this surprised me, since the mission we'd been given before deploying seemed fairly clear-cut: "provide advisory support and direct access to coalition effects to enhance the ability of Iraqi forces to operate independently ... advise the Iraqi Army (IA) on tactics, military decision-making process, counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare, leadership, teamwork, communications, and urban combat ... provide knowledge on combat arms management and organizational experience." (2) Some teams had taken this mission statement at its word and adhered strictly to their advisory tasks, disdaining any interaction with the local coalition unit. Other teams focused heavily on liaising between their IA and parent coalition unit, and did minimal advising. Even among the MiTTs that focused on training, there were differences. Few teams, for example, dared to wade into leadership, teamwork, and ethics with their IA unit's leaders. Internal MiTT leadership varied too: some team leaders were democratic, others more traditionally hierarchical. How, I began to wonder, given all these different examples and some obvious differences among Iraqi units, should we operate on our own team?

Based on observations made during my year on a MiTT in Iraq, this article offers 6 principles and 12 lessons learned that a team might consider as it prepares to deploy. Readers should keep in mind that the advice herein resulted from one Soldier's experience at a particular time (2007-2008) and in a particular place (with a certain IA unit). As always, good leaders will adapt to address the peculiarities of their own situations.

Principle #1: Be More Than Mere Advisors

Early in your MiTT deployment, you and your team members will debate what the parameters of your role should be. From our relief-in-place experience with an entire division's worth of MiTTs, I would submit that the most successful teams find a balance between advising their Iraqi counterparts and acting as a conduit between the Iraqis and coalition units. Both missions are essential to winning the COIN fight. A MiTT can truly have a synergistic effect on the battlespace by not relegating itself solely to one role or the other. This is especially valid when their IA counterparts are fairly competent and not amenable to their suggestions. Successful MiTTs build strong relationships with their parent coalition unit and attached enablers. We coined our periodic trips around our forward operating base (FO B) to visit coalition forces "The FOB Run." (3) Personal contact is crucial to establish close relationships with the enablers that may be at your disposal (e.g., civil affairs, provincial reconstruction team, special forces, forward support battalion, military police transition teams, coalition force counterparts [staff officers & commanders], air assets, dog handlers, tactical handler team, tactical psychological team, and Kellogg, Brown and Root). Every time our team returned to the FO B, we conducted a quick linkup, depending on our operational needs, with several of these enablers. On numerous occasions they were able to provide valuable information on our battlespace. We would all share intelligence, summarize the results of our previous operations, and provide analyses of current trends in the area. Our coalition partners would also offer assistance during our periodic logistic imbroglios. In short, communicating with our enablers created a synergistic effect that increased everyone's situational awareness and maximized operational assets. …

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