Summary: Like all power tools, new technology can hurt or help and organization — depending on how the leaders use it. Most especially, their goals. Ever since the dawn of third generation warfare, when the German army developed infiltration tactics to break through the trenches, the power of an army results from its speed as well its armed force. Fast recognition, fast decision-making, fast execution, fast learning and adaption. This means decentralization. But often senior officers prefer tight control to trusting their subordinates, and military institutions tend to reflect and encourage that preference.
To protect the authors’ careers, the Editor of the Marine Corps Gazette published these anonymously (for more about this, see section 6a of this website’s authors page). These letters are posted here with permission from the Marine Corps Association. See the introduction to this series if you’re not familar with the subject; see the links at the end for more information about these issues.
I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence, which I now offer to the public, fell into my hands. The general who authored them is almost certainly retired, for he writes with such careless disregard — and one might suggest some contempt — for our beloved Corps. The young captain to whom he writes is a more puzzling case; there are far too many Captain Wormwoods in the global access list to determine which is being addressed. Nevertheless, it is the essence of these papers that I find disconcerting — and thus the urgency with which I submit them to you,the reader.
“Attritionist Letter #4: Do as you’re told“, Marine Corps Gazette, August 2010
So much time has passed since my last letter to you. I am sure that you have been waiting, no doubt with bated breath, for my next communiqué. You will understand that as a man of significance, I cannot leave matters unattended even to respond to your veiled pleas for correspondence. Although the trend is inarguably in our favor, there is much left undone in our “attritionist” crusade to centralize the Marine Corps.
Fortune smiles upon us! The latest news out of Training and Education Command (TECom) is of great significance to our cause. For years, units have been forced to conduct training without observation and monitoring from higher headquarters. This was only due to a lack of capability on the part of TECom. Great news! The development of the individual training management (ITM) module will soon resolve this shortfall. Finally, Marine Corps Combat Development Command and TECom will be able to access the information they need to properly oversee training across the Marine Corps.
Upon implementation of the ITM module, the training accomplishments of each Marine will be tracked and recorded from initial enlistment through retirement. Capt Wormwood, I am not only referring to professional schools or even just Marine Corps Institute courses. The ITM will record every collective training task, annual training event, and ancillary training requirement required of a Marine. Let me use an example to break it down for you. Take a motor transport operator who drives 7-tons, for instance. He has a number of required tasks in which he must demonstrate proficiency. In addition, he must accomplish all of his required annual training (such as rifle range and Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) and ancillary requirements (such as suicide prevention and Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance briefs). This new ITM module will display all of the training tasks required for our 7-ton driver on a centralized database. Even better, it will identify which of those requirements have been accomplished and which remain incomplete. This information will be accessible to all—battalion staff, regiment/group commands, division/wing/group, and even (most importantly) TECom.
Until now, unit commanders would subjectively assess their own training readiness percentages. Unit commanders have proved time and again they cannot be trusted to objectively assess their own unit capabilities. We have all heard of those lazy battalion commanders who can’t seem to qualify enough drivers or those incompetent company commanders who are derelict in suicide prevention briefs. Why should we leave it to them to assess the readiness of their units? The ITM allows higher (TECom) to assign numerical value to each training requirement and thus assess a readiness percentage for each Marine. With the ITM, higher headquarters can instantaneously ascertain a unit’s readiness by aggregating the individual Marine’s readiness percentages. After all, unit readiness is the sum of individual readiness. The honorable Mr. McNamara—and even Colonel-General Druzhinin—would be so proud of our effective use of quantification to measure results.1
Even more impressive is the ITM module’s ability to take skill perishability into account. For instance, a suicide awareness brief is required once every calendar year. Three hundred sixty-five days after it was entered into the ITM module, the designator will automatically change from “qualified” to “unqualified.” The same is true for those collective training skills requiring refreshment every 30 or 90 days. Wormwood, think about how much time you will save by using this ITM module to monitor those tens of thousands of training requirements for all of your Marines. All you must do is ensure that your staff keeps the ITM module up to date. Think of the freedom you will enjoy from higher headquarters; no longer will you have to submit rosters to them or answer the general’s queries. Now he only has to click a mouse a few times and he can evaluate your unit’s overall effectiveness and readiness for combat. Not to mention, it is increasingly convenient now that the general can check up on how well your unit is doing maintaining those motorcycle clubs, conducting the vehicle inspections, and ensuring that everyone has printed off the appropriate information assurance certificates. Those company or battalion commanders who have routinely skimped on these critical matters under the guise of prioritization in “training for combat” will no longer have a crutch to lean upon; the numbers will speak for themselves!
More importantly, perhaps, the ITM will allow higher (regiment, division, MEF, or even TECom) to go back and investigate what training Marines were deprived of by unit commanders, especially after a mishap or casualty. For instance, if a Marine commits suicide, TECom can go back and open up the ITM to track all of the suicide briefs that the Marine missed in order to find the leader who failed his Marine. Similarly, if a Marine is seriously injured while on patrol in theater, TECom can speedily identify whether or not the Marine was properly trained; was the Marine qualified to cross a linear danger area, and was he proficient in maintaining dispersion? Were the other Marines of the unit properly trained in first aid? Unit commanders must be held accountable for their lack of attention to detail. Time and again, company and battalion commanders have failed to ensure that the required “boxes are checked” in an appropriate manner; this attitude—bordering on insubordination—must cease!
Skeptics will argue that this oversight will have unforeseen negative ramifications. Some claim that the ITM module will undermine a unit commander’s ability to prioritize training requirements. Others claim that unit commanders will succumb to the moral hazard of designating Marines as “proficient” when they are not. Even more claim that increased centralization will only contribute to an “automaton mentality” among junior officers and make them more hesitant to take initiative and assume risk. Some of these assumptions are indeed accurate. However, we must remember that we really no longer need junior officers to take initiative as they did in years past. Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) has now determined those training skills required of each Marine. They have also designed and directed adherence to those methods through which the Marines become proficient (such as the predeployment training program). Now HQMC—more specifically, TECom—will be able to hold the individual Marines accountable for being proficient in each requirement. We are gradually eliminating the need for decentralization and dependence upon unit leaders. And my dear Wormwood, you know my thoughts on initiative in young officers. It is best if they do not try too hard too fast.
Capt Wormwood, I know you are but a junior officer, but I hope you can appreciate what this ITM program will do for us. Never again will higher commands have to depend on—nay, to trust—those subordinate unit commanders who prove themselves incompetent to train Marines. Marines are only properly trained when they have the appropriate skills “checked off” of those rosters designed by the retired Marine contractors in Quantico. I do hope you have the opportunity to lunch with me again before you execute orders. However, you will forgive me if I am too busy; we are gaining traction on so many fronts.
Until then, I remain,
1. Here I believe that the author is referring to the former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Colonel-General V.V. Mikhail Ivanovich Druzhinin of the General Staff, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, both of whom were instrumental in the quantification ideology being applied to military practice in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Letters, posted on the FM website
- An introduction to the Attritionist Letters, volleys in the long war for control of US military doctrine
- Attritionist Letter #1 – the tides turn, turning the USMC back from the future?
- Attritionist Letter #2 — our military seeks to retreat from the future into the past
- Attritionist Letter #3: Do as you are told (moving the USMC into the past)
For more information
(a) Important background material:
- Text of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.
- Links to all of The Attritionist Letters, posted at The Marine Corps Gazette
- Explanation of the attritionist and maneuverist doctrines: ”The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989 (image here, text here).
(b) Other relevant articles:
- “Culture Wars“, Donald E. Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired), Originally published as a chapter in Digital War: A View from the Frontline (editor R. Bateman, 1999)
- “The Next War? Four Generations of Future Warriors“, Eric M. Walters (Prof History at American Military University) — Powerpoint
(c) Posts about the training of officers in the US
- Recommended reading: transforming the Army, the hard way, 15 January 2008 — Don Vandergriff, at the cutting edge of this struggle
- About military leaders in the 21st century: “Theirs Is to Reason Why”, 1 July 2010
- Preface to Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions, 16 July 2010
- Training of officers, a key step for the forging of an effective military force, 17 July 2010
- Dragging American Military Culture into the 21st Century, 13 August 2010
- Building a new generation of visionary leaders for the US military, 30 September 2010