25 June 2014

Leading through Communication, Marine Style

It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Yesterday, on a routine training exercise (as routine as anything can be in a combat zone) I watched a young Marine captain direct a handful of aricraft as they delivered dozens of rounds of ordnance on a helpless rock in southern Afghanistan.

It wasn't the explosions that made the greatest impact on me, but the captain's calm and crystal clear style of communication.

Everyone followed his orders-- it was obvious to me that he had complete control of his team, the Georgian troops who were with him to ensure security of the training site, the Army aviation observers, and our small public affairs attachment.

As we marched a few hundred meters from the infill site to our designated training area, Apaches flying protectively overhead, I couldn't help but marvel that I was actually here. Over the past 12 months I have read extensively on the Afghan War, about how men have fought and died doing pretty much what I was doing at that moment. I  wasn't under any delusion that an attack was imminent-- Kandahar is now as secure as any place in Afghanistan. And, well, the Apaches. But it was a moment of mindfulness about how acutely real my situation was.

At any rate, my assignment was to document the mission of this Marine captain. His precise task is less important to the story than how he led.

It is cliche to note the importance of communication in military operations. The tragedy of cliche is that it represents a truism that has lost all meaning. Communication couldn't be more important when you are dropping ordnance from aircraft. Yet to most Soldiers, to communicate well means talking louder and longer.

The Marine captain proved otherwise, doing basic things that resulted in smoother operating.

He repeated things that weren't clear.

He asked those he worked with to restate what he said.

He asked his subordinates to explain to him what they understood their tasks to be.

He asked seniors if they understood the terminology he was using.

All this he did while choreographing some complex airstrikes with pilots he couldn't see and probably never met. Perhaps he did this precisely because of the complexity of his tasks, because he neither saw nor knew the those men who were blasting away at the mountainside.

He was also very calm, and I never saw him so much as sneer at one of his men for saying the wrong thing, for asking a question, or for taking too long to think about how to formulate an aswer.

If he wasn't so busy at fighting the counterinsurgency, I'd ask him to write for "My Public Affairs."

(Photo by Marine Cpl. Joseph Scanlan)


  1. Nice...haiku in concept. short meaningful, direct.

  2. Thanks for reading. Funny you mention haiku, as they have been on my mind. Keep the peace.

    And stay strong.

    Army Strong.