Academic journal article Military Review

Seeing the Elephant: Improving Leader Visualization Skills through Simple War Games

Academic journal article Military Review

Seeing the Elephant: Improving Leader Visualization Skills through Simple War Games

Article excerpt

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

"God bless me!-but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried: "Ho!-what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me 't is mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!"

-John Godfrey Saxe

The parable of the six blind men attempting to identify something unfamiliar is well known. As each touched part of the strange animal, each came away with a partial picture; and as the poem continues, another man sees the tail as a rope, or the leg as a tree, etc. The poem finally ends with, "Though each was partly in the right, / And all were in the wrong!"1 Military planners have a similar problem-each has only an incomplete knowledge of the entire problem, and only by comparing notes across the staff can they attain sufficiently thorough understanding to accurately complete the staff analysis for the commander. The challenge for the U.S. Army is how to train the required visualization skills to process collected information and how to habituate service members to share their results to build a complete operational picture.

While Command and General Staff College (CGSC) faculty members have wrestled with the challenge of how to best educate students to improve their visualization and description skills, they have hit upon a return to simple role-playing board games as a low-cost and highly effective means to repetitively improve students' abilities. Examining the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) publications from the past twenty years has revealed that implementing war-gaming as a training technique has been a systemic challenge during combat training center (CTC) rotations.2 This challenge manifested itself in three ways: players skipped the war-game step altogether; if planners skipped the war game, then the combined arms rehearsal turned into a war game; or staffs conducted war games that resembled a rehearsal in that they did not contain an action, reaction, counteraction methodology. As the faculty scanned the CALL publications for insights, an unrelated event in a single staff group caught their attention. In the fall of 2013, CGSC students who played a simple role-playing board game for a history class, in this case Kriegsspiel (War Game), did a much better job at the war-gaming step of the military decision-making process (MDMP) in the tactics class, in particular in their ability to see (describe) the friendly situation.

To support the history class on German Field Marshal Helmet von Moltke the Elder and the German General Staff, the simulations department ran Kriegsspiel. Within one staff group, five students volunteered to play. Within the next few weeks, their tactics instructor noticed that this group was especially effective in the war-gaming step of MDMP-above the normal year-to-year performance that he was accustomed to seeing in similarly constituted classes. After reflecting on this anomaly, the faculty began to pose some questions: Was there a correlation between playing a simple war game such as Kriegsspiel and an improvement to the war-gaming step in MDMP; and if there was a correlation between the two with only five of sixteen students playing, what might be the effect if all sixteen students played the game? These questions prompted the faculty to design an experiment to examine the types of thinking that supported planning and how that thinking might mesh most effectively with the planning process. Origin of Kriegsspiel

The original Prussian Kriegsspiel dates back to the early nineteenth century. Two Prussian officers, Lt. Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and later his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz, developed and improved the game that used a grid system and scale unit markers. …

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