Chapter One: Leadership
I love this section of the Handbook and I believe that it does a better job describing universal leadership in a few bullets than many books accomplish in whole chapters. That said I really think the later version fails the reader by complicating the lessons and the inclusion of a table. Table 1-1 in the April 2017 takes some shorthand by listing but not well describing the Be, Know, Do style of leadership, and the introductory paragraph kinda sucks. It might because the April 2000 is more familiar to me, but I'm more impressed by its description of the Principles of Leadership. We are already going to break the rules we set for this club and default to the older handbook for this part. I'll try to include some screenshots so we can follow along together.
The statement that leadership is the most essential element of combat power is entirely accurate. This point is well developed when discussing how the other elements of combat power are maximized. This word use manifests a critical distinction and develops a very precise point. Any element of combat power can be effective at a certain volume or with a lucky execution, but in order for it to be successful without squander or reliance on random chance, a leader is required.
After the Handbook describes what leadership does generally, they go into the details with what a leader should BE, starting with technical and tactical proficiency. I have always loved this distinction and have found that some leaders, and maybe most leaders, lean heavily into one side or the other. Meaning, that some are much more well versed in either the technical or the tactical realms of warfighter knowledge. Technical knowledge tends to be about the equipment and tools used by a Soldier, usually the crucial data about them. Tactical knowledge would tend to be more about the employment of the equipment and the tradecraft around it. Both are vital to be an effective leader, and everyone should strive for a deep competency in each domain. I tend to think that tactical knowledge is more crucial than technical, but this is likely just a preference.
Moving to KNOW (1-1, a, 2b), I want to remark on how impressive it is to have a discussion of character within a textbook on tactical operations, especially the mention of weaknesses. The notion that before we can begin discussion of proper employment of a platoon or squad we must self-reflect and self-assess is just an early indicator that this work is the real deal. To take this work seriously, we must first acknowledge that a leader that is unaware of their own character weaknesses and isn't proactively working on mitigating them will fail the patrol just as easily as if they deployed a unit or weapon errantly or inappropriately.
DO (1-1, a, 3a-3h) is my favorite section and the longest in the Principles section. I won't belabor all the points but would like to say that there is some exceptional fodder for thought in every bullet listed here. Seeking and taking responsibility is incredibly crucial in leading people. There is nothing worse than a leader who wants to blame others or circumstances for failure. When we talk about the first sentence in the duties and responsibilities of the Platoon Leader, Squad Leaders, and Weapon Squad Leader (from here forward abbreviated to PL, SL, and WSL respectively) this is succinctly well put, and makes for a memorable job description.
Making sound and timely decisions to me is an incredibly hard, and possibly impossible skill to simply attain. In my limited experience I have found that this is generally a natural aptitude rather than something that can be easily acquired. This natural aptitude can be increased in effectiveness through experience but the knack seems genetic, or gained prior to service, usually in a leader's upbringing. The best word used to describe this that I have found is Fingerspitzengefühl. The best combat leaders seem have this ability, and respond the fastest when maximizing their combat power ensuring to understand the second and third order consequences quickly.
Setting the example is a difficult task that most understand even if unable to accomplish it, but the most challenging part of this section in my opinion is the sharing of dangers and hardships. I think when most leaders fail in setting a good example it is often here. It becomes easy as a leader to avoid danger and hardship as you generally are responsible for distributing the work and able to affect the tasking of efforts. Natural inclinations for most people, especially toward danger and toil, are to avoid them. But to lead people in combat you must show them that you are a stakeholder in each. Sharing the danger is going to be especially important as we go forward into the tactical employment of a unit later. A leader should be close to the main effort wherever possible, and this absolutely puts them in danger.
Keeping your subordinates informed has to be the easiest thing to accomplish as a leader, and is so incredibly crucial. A key word of note here is intent. This will come up during the sections about Operations Orders (from here forward abbreviated to OPORDs) and is the true "nut" of any effort. Soldiers who are uninformed generally don't perform with much vigor, and will absolutely suffer in morale. Tell them everything you can, when you know it certainly. Understanding the intent of the mission helps everyone accomplish it when faced with decisions, large and small.
The remainder of the DO section is important but doesn't require much further explanation. There are only two words I believe should be noted: delegate and supervise. Delegation is key as it helps you better manage your time as a leader, which save only your Soldiers is your most precious resource. Delegation also helps you develop junior leaders and Soldiers. Supervision is also crucial as it inspires others to achieve the standards stated, and gives you the confidence in that achievement before embarking on dangerous duties.
So far we have had an easy time of it talking about Ranger history and such in the prefaces, and the Principles of Leadership. But now we are about to dive into to some important parts of the Handbook. The cast of characters in our stage of arms. We start with the protagonist of this play, the PL (Platoon Leader, remember? Keep your abbreviations handy). We will also now switch to the most current version of the Handbook, so that what we study is up to date.
If I had to say what my favorite line or passage of the Ranger Handbook was, it is how this duty position's job description begins. "Responsible for what the patrol does or fails to do." It's laconic and perfect. I have been a civilian twice as long as I was a Soldier and have maintained this thought in every leadership position I have ever held since reading this thinking to myself, sometimes quietly and out loud "I am responsible for what we do or fail to do."
Much of the rest of the initial description is filled with items you would expect, save for one thing I think that should be highlighted. The PL is responsible for directly placing and "employing" crew served and "supporting" weapons. There is a bit to unpack here. First that placing a weapon and employing it are two distinct, but often blended acts. When you put a weapon team at a certain location, let's say a machine gun crew on a hilltop you haven't really employed it. You have only placed it. Employing it would be to put them on a hilltop and give them a sector to observe, and a set of conditions in which to fire. The second vital concept to begin to study is that crew served weapons, certain special weapons, and even duty positions fulfill a "support" role. This means that they are often not the main effort, but support the main effort. We will be talking about this a lot going forward so it is helpful to start now.
An extremely critical concept is introduced in the next bullet. The notion of backwards planning. The concept is critical for a combat leader. In order to maximize the time for the mission, planning from the desired end state rather than the present moment is the best way to maximize time and effort. If you mission is to setup an ambush at a certain time in a certain location, you look at the location and consider the proper places for your assault, support, and security elements (relax, this will be explained later in great detail). You then look at where your objective rally point will need to be located, and from that where your patrol will need to travel to get there from where you are now. You do this type of planning for everything else too, not just the travel. Equipment, transportation (if available), supplies, ammunition, places to conduct link up, etc... Every part of your plan starts at the end, and is followed like a thread to your present moment, and available men/material.
The next part to outline is the third bullet, which describes how the PL will use his Platoon Sergeant (PSG from here forward), SLs, and other supporting elements to plan the mission. The idea here is not just because many of these Soldiers will have more experience than the PL might, although that is common. It is to ensure that everyone has buy-in, and that the best possible mission is created through the interrogation of the plan by all members of the element.
The fifth bullet is significant as well. Notice that the PL is responsible for requesting additional resources, if needed. It's on this Soldier to ensure his patrol has the material or support needed to accomplish assigned missions. It's something most don't realize when thinking about the military, but often things are accomplished from the ground level going up the chain of command. Not every item in a mission has been provided for or considered by higher command levels.
The PSG, which is an incredibly vital role but will be discussed in another post, is in charge of coordinating sustainment (a term for the material support needed to continue operations) and the evacuation of casualties. But this is not his responsibility to bear alone, the PSG is only responsible for conducting it. The PL directs this effort overall, and assists in helping the PSG accomplish it.
Hidden within a bullet following the previous, is one of the most important concepts for any combat element. Security is a term used to describe the constant monitoring of the surrounding terrain or environment that the element is currently residing within, meaning that at all times the Soldiers assigned to a unit on patrol or in a combat zone should be scanning in every direction. This is a very complex action, and is hard to describe without experiencing the concert of an element performing it firsthand. When we talk about setting up patrol bases and organizing a unit on patrol we will continue to work on this basic concept, but it has to be introduced now. The PL is ultimately the person tasked with ensuring that everyone is scanning, in ever direction, at all times. This requires a lot of situational awareness, checks, and trust.
Earlier we discussed how a leader should be close to the danger and the main effort, this is further bolstered in the bullet that discusses how the PL should be at the point of execution of the most critical tasks for mission accomplishment. This is more than just sharing the danger, this is primarily to ensure that he can supervise, direct, and ensure the accomplishment of the vital tasks required for successful exercise of the mission.
Commanding through his SLs is an important distinction. The PL should not be out ordering teams around. SLs are leaders and commanders in their own right according to that duty position. The PL can quickly get bogged down in directing efforts if that Soldier is working at too low a level. The PL does this best by always considering the intent of his mission at two levels up, which for a platoon would be a battalion level effort.
The final concept to introduce before we break, is rehearsal. All actions performed by the unit require rehearsal. If you are conducting an ambush you should rehearse those expected actions on the objective. If a raid the task critical to that mission. This is tougher than it sounds, and often leaders are not encouraged to perform this important act due to a feeling that time is short, but rehearsals are key to ensuring mission success.
I wanted badly to get through all this chapter, but there is just too much material to cover if we intend to do it well. But this is a lot that should be taken in and soaked. Leadership is key to accomplishing military objectives, and the PL is going to be the person most responsible for the efforts we will discuss on our long patrol through this handbook. Continue to study this chapter and be prepared to discuss the other duty positions within the platoon that support and assist the PL in accomplishing missions. Next post coming soon.