Mission Command at the Company Level
To: Company Commanders
From: Company Commanders
In his Mission Command white paper published in April 2012, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN Martin E. Dempsey envisions future combat and states, "Decentralization will occur beyond current comfort levels and habits of practice." He is telling us that we will operate decentralized in future combat and that if we don't prepare now to operate that way, we are not going to be ready. He places the responsibility squarely on our shoulders and states, "Resident in the central figure of the commander, the ethos of Mission Command is a critical enabler of success."
We asked company commanders in the CC forum if they agree with GEN Dempsey and, if so, what they are doing about it in their respective units. Members of the CC forum have engaged in an energetic conversation on this topic. Listen in as these leaders discuss what Mission Command means and how they train its principles at the company level.
Mission Command in Our Past
"I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply to lay down the work it is desirable to have done, and leave you free to execute it in your own way. Submit to me, however, as early as you can, your plan of operations."
-General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant, April 4, 1864, in a letter to MG William Tecumseh Sherman before the 1864 campaign
73rd Engineer Company, 1/25 SBCT
I agree with GEN Dempsey that to succeed against a decentralized threat we have to operate decentralized. It boils down to giving lower-echelon units authority and responsibility that has until now been held by higher levels of command. It's a cultural change, but one that has already started. As a Stryker engineer company commander, I was forced out of necessity to give my PLs "commander's intent" along with left and right limits and let them accomplish the mission. The brigade battlespace was too large to do otherwise. So how do you do that in training? Battalion commanders and company commanders are going to have to become comfortable with giving their lower echelons a mission set (mission, intent, battlespace and resources) and then letting them go forth and do great things. The mission can be something as simple as running a range to something as complex as a construction project. As commanders, we develop subordinate leaders to manage the time allowed to complete a mission, personnel and equipment availability to accomplish a mission, and the battlespace they operate in. We should trust our subordinates to execute, but should also have a reserve ready in case something goes wrong.
What GEN Dempsey suggests as a future challenge I view as a beautiful dream that can never be realized. There will never be "decentralization" because brigade commanders and up simply do not execute intent-based leadership. Moreover, they won't allow their subordinates to do so, either. So long as PowerPoint and the Internet exist, I will be required to submit a CONOP 48 hours out for every operation from cordon and search, to salsa night at the MWR tent, to road guard for PT hours. We are spending a lot of R&D dollars to ensure there is no such thing as an "immature" environment, ensuring connectivity from the moment we get off the plane or boat. I'm sorry, but didn't we just have a gigantic discussion thread on the crush of admin requirements? [See the August 2012 CompanyCommand article, "The Crush of Requirements from Higher Headquarters."] Now we are going to pretend that when we go to war our leadership is less likely to come down and manage our daily operations?
CCo., 1-12 CAV
Anyone remember that video clip a few years back highlighting a brigade commander in a TOC maneuvering a squad via UAV in an assault on a house? When I saw that video as a PL back in 2004-2005, 1 knew that the idea of the junior leader making independent decisions was at risk. Now we are almost avatars for senior leaders to get in the fight. …