Academic journal article Military Review

Leadership and Combat Motivation: The Critical Task

Academic journal article Military Review

Leadership and Combat Motivation: The Critical Task

Article excerpt

They were probably as contented a group of American soldiery as had ever existed. They were like American youth everywhere. They believed the things their society had taught them to believe. They were cool, and confident and figured that no one had told them that the real function of an army is to fight and that a soldier's destiny--which few escape --is to suffer, and if need be, to die.1

--T.R. Fehrenbach

THE STUDY OF military history and theory can yield many useful tools for the military professional. Important among these "tools" is an opportunity to gain insights on where to place limited and valuable emphasis, time and resources in the development of personal, professional and unit-- leader development programs. An in-depth knowledge of military history and theory is indispensable to provide focus and utility to this task.2

In this vein, permit me to adapt a statement by noted military writer Michael Howard: It is the mission of the military professional in an age of peace to ensure that he and his subordinates are prepared for war.3 The trick is to figure out which tasks are the most important in today's fast-paced, high-OPTEMPO (operations tempo) force and hope to avoid a historian's characterization similar to this article's opening quote.

Through studying military theory and history, I believe that the critical leader task is understanding how to motivate soldiers in combat. This encompasses both battlefield leadership and setting the proper conditions for combat during times of peace or lulls in fighting. All other tasks are of subordinate importance, and leaders should treat them so, ensuring that scarce resources, especially time and energy, are devoted to preparing soldiers to perform in combat. Battlefield Leadership

Current leader emphasis appears headed in a somewhat different direction. The Army's Force process its focus on computers, digitization, precision-guided munitions, and the like-takes emphasis away from soldiers, leaders and the combat and places it on machines. Emerging thought emphasizes attempting to dislocate, disintegrate and paralyze an enemy through simultaneous, distributed operations that produce asymmetric effects throughout an extended battlespace.

While for many years the argument was between annihilation or exhaustion through attrition or maneuver, a third pattern has emerged-paralysis through cybershock. These patterns are all "complementary and mutually reinforcing" and lead to the disintegration of the enemy by acting simultaneously on his physical, logistic and cybernetic domains.4

However, what seems to be lost is the recognition that at the cutting edge of conducting attrition, maneuver or cybershock is some soldier who is either firing or is in a position to fire a destructive round or missile at other living people-the enemy. No matter what technology brings to the battlefield, we must not lose sight of an enduring truth: "Essentially war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive influence on the elements involved in war."5

In short, while leaders must know, understand and be able to employ the weapons and tools of war in the physical and cybernetic domains, the moral or psychological domain is more important, for it controls the actions of men in combat. It is important to remember that "the Army's fundamental purpose is to fight and win the Nation's wars by establishing conditions for lasting peace through land force dominance."6 Thus, fighting, and getting soldiers to fight well, is our primary job and must be treated as such.

Combat Motivation

Military leaders must spend a large part of their time studying and discovering what motivates men in combat, what they must accomplish and what they have to do to make that happen. …

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