Academic journal article Military Review

No Shortage of Campfires: Keeping the Army Adaptable, Agile, and Innovative in the Austere Times

Academic journal article Military Review

No Shortage of Campfires: Keeping the Army Adaptable, Agile, and Innovative in the Austere Times

Article excerpt

The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as wellfor cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness.

Henry David Thoreau

He never fired a shot in anger. (1) He never experienced combat on the actual frontline. (2) Yet Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower became one of the most effective, innovative, and prestigious officers to serve in the U.S. Army, and, eventually, as president. Eisenhower, the soldier, grew into the leader that took a somewhat untested Army, adapted it, and instilled it with a degree of agility to undertake very arduous missions. That an officer enjoyed such success without close combat experience may seem odd, yet certain circumstances and events made this possible. With his memoirs, Eisenhower shed light on perhaps the most important transitioning episode of his career.

It seems Eisenhower's eventual and great contributions to the Army began while sitting "around a small campfire." (3) More important, he did so in the company of another officer who would have great influence on him. (4) That confluence of events yielded a kernel of wisdom and has ramifications for today's Army as it faces a future of fiscal constraints and an associated reduction of training and equipment. (5) Accordingly, today's Army searches for ways to be flexible and adaptable in light of that constrained future. It is neither complicated nor elaborate, but perhaps Ike's "small campfire" is the model for, or the key to, a successful future Army. The campfire setting suggests a way to emphasize and enhance what is truly a soldier's best weapon for adapting and innovating: the cognitive process.

First, an understanding of the relaxed campfire Zeitgeist in Eisenhower's personal story is crucial so it can be replicated and applied to both mentoring and learning in today's Army. Next, introducing one all-important topic within that campfire setting allows focus on the one capability or skill the Army, as a whole, must grasp (and to a degree, the one it pursues now): the concept of the operational center of gravity (COG). Also, with its proper mood and topic, the campfire setting ultimately facilitates the Army's most valuable asset: the individual, or more specifically, the individual's mind, which is above all else the foundation of an effective thinker and leader. Finally, inviting other services to enlarge the campfire goes further to gain varied viewpoints on the operational COG concept as well as helping the Army continue its embrace of jointness. And it all starts with a very simple setting.

The Main Comfort of the Camp

Eisenhower as an individual, and later as an officer, was a product of his environment and experiences, some of which are generally known. He grew up in somewhat austere conditions in Abilene, Kansas. (6) Later, he attended West Point. (7) He, too, served in an Army that was constrained in terms of budget and manpower. (8) What is intriguing about his early career is how the allure of campaigns and operations, the history of which he loved as a youth, but then detested as a West Point cadet, drew him back to their study. (9) Eventually, history enthralled Eisenhower again. He became adept at delving into historical facts to explain why certain operations either succeeded or failed. This return to a fascination with history, which was so beneficial later in Eisenhower's career, was not an accident.

Eisenhower attributed his posting in Panama as the origin of his renewed curiosity in history. (10) As part of his duties in that territory, he explored the countryside and at times spent the night there, enjoying the "small campfire" experience. (11) He was not alone during these evening hours, however. Eisenhower's writings indicate the presence of other officers. When men, regardless of the walk of life, gather within the campfire's relaxing light, they talk, and they generally talk about everything. …

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