03 October 2014

Remember Keating: A Five-Year Retrospective, Part 3

This is the third part in a six-part series. Read Part 1. Read Part 2. Read Part 4. Read Part 5. Read Part 6.

The mission-first primacy of organizational action helps soldiers prioritize, focus, and execute. It was at the heart of adoption of the Ethos, and was "based on an understanding of what is most important to least important in the context that all specified and implied tasks must be performed."

All organizing occurs in contexts that are chaotic and open to multiple interpretations, and combat is only an exemplar of such a context. Thus, organizing involves the systematic reduction of equivocality .
SGT Joshua Kirk

Making sense of events requires a fair amount of post-decision validation. Equivocality can rear its head before or after a soldier commits to an action. After an action, like the decision by SGT Francis to keep fighting with broken ribs, must be validated in order to make sense of it, especially because it was a social act.

Inherent in enactment is the assumption that there is no single, objective reality to which actors can compare their activity. Reality is contingent and contextual, making decisions about the most important and most social things difficult. For example, less than 30 minutes into the battle at Keating, SGT Josh Kirk was struck in the head by a bullet, and was losing blood quickly. CPT Cordova, the ranking medical officer at the outpost, treated Kirk for several minutes while his condition deteriorated. Then,
After many minutes of trying to keep the sergeant alive by breathing for him with the squeeze bag, Cordova looked down at the floor. They would have to perform CPR on him all day to keep him alive, taking two of the four medical staff out of commission. Any other day, they would have done it without question, but not today. The wounded were already stacked up, and more would be coming in.... At 6:45 a.m., Cordova pronounced Kirk dead.
The Ethos helps actors validate actions that are otherwise difficult to justify. Commitment "marshals forces that destroy the plausibility of alternatives." In organizing, and especially in combat, there is little advantage to considering alternatives once an action has been taken. Intense actions, we find, enforces this tendency, and when actors validate intense actions, they often find unexpected and attractive meaning therein.

The language of the Warrior Ethos is highly flexible, rendering itself meaningful to a vast universe of action. It also promotes the social aspect of finding meaning, and encourages soldiers to commit. It is a linguistic tool that helps soldiers make sense of the nonsensical in battle.

The above was adapted from a paper I submitted in a doctoral seminar in organizational communication. The paper was titled, "More than Mere Words: Enacting the Warrior Ethos in Combat."

Quotes from the Soldiers are taken from The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by the eminent Jake Tapper. References to enactment, sensemaking, and other social psychology ideas are mainly from the various works of Karl E. Weick. 

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