In Part 3 we left off with the willingness to close with the enemy as the most important characteristic of a warrior and with the fact that unit cohesion is a product of positive peer pressure. The question now is how do we instill the willingness to close with the enemy into our Soldiers and our unit cultures.
In the early part of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Sergeant Major of the Army visited our training facility, what would eventually become the Army Combatives School. Imagine the size or the two combined entourages. There must have been fifty people.
I asked the assembled group who was the best runner among them. They immediately pointed to one of the members of the group and said something to the effect of “That is easy, major Longlegs just won the Marine Corps Marathon.” I congratulated him because I believe in being a good runner and competing in endurance sports and then asked if they could tell who the best marksman in the group was. No one had an answer. I then asked who was the best fighter, also no answer.
I then pointed out to them that as a group they valued running over shooting and fighting. This is of course a good thing if we plan to run from the enemy but if we intend to run toward them shooting and fighting will become more and more important with every step. It isn’t really debatable that the Army as a whole values running over shooting and fighting and the evidence is that what was true of the Chief of Staff and Sergeant Major of the Arm’s entourage is true of every unit.
Every Soldier can tell you who the best runner in their section or squad is and very few can tell you who the best shot or the best fighter is. The big question is why this is true. No one made an intellectual decision that running was more important. No task force at the Maneuver Center created power point slides to get the Commanding General to buy off on the priority list. It just happened, unconsciously, within the culture.
How this happened is simple once you think about it. Five days a week almost every unit in the Army falls out for Physical Training. They stretch a little bit and the right face, forward march, double time and they take off on a run. About a mile or so into the run the first person starts to fall back and we all think the same thing about that person. Even that turd wishes some other turd would fall out first so he wouldn’t be the one. No one has respect for that person. Soon after, the leader may release everyone to run at their own pace. The rabbits of the group will take off and leave everyone else in their wake. We all wish we were one of those people.
In other words, we all value running because we do it collectively. Everyone can clearly see who is good at it and who is not. The direct connection of physical fitness to battlefield performance is hard to deny and so we all know that the rabbit is better prepared for combat. Jockeying for position in the social hierarchy within the unit makes everyone try to do better the same way they do on any team. Most leaders do not even consider that the daily activities of their unit actually form the units value system.
With that in mind, why do unit cultures not value marksmanship? We can give lip service all we want but if you do not know who is a good marksman and who is a bad marksman in your unit you do not really value it. When most units actually go to the range who even finds out how any individual shot? Maybe their leader, if they fail to qualify, but normally it will only be the Soldier who was grading them, if they aren’t on a digital range, and the company training NCO, who doesn’t really care how well any individual Soldier shoots.
What if, instead, when the unit returned to their area the leaders posted the scores from best to worst. We all know what would happen. The smack talking would start the moment they went up. People would be asking the lowest score holder why they even gave them a rifle to carry and saying they should probably just arm them with a sharp stick and carry heavy things for the people who can shoot. If you add in rewards for the high shooters the next time the unit went to the range there would be a definite increase in the seriousness with which unit members conducted the training.
Now, how do we do the same thing with fighting? The simple answer is that you have to get people fighting. The hard corps answer, which we used in the early days of the Combatives program in the second Ranger battalion, was to just make people fight. In those days on payday at the battalion formation the Command Sergeant Major would call people out. It might be “Give me the squad leader from second squad, first platoon Alpha Company and the squad leader from first squad second platoon” and the two men called out would get in front of the battalion and grapple until one submitted.
In that environment, it was impossible to avoid learning to fight and still be respected. When the proverbial “I would just shoot you” guy is called out and twisted up like someone is closing the bread with him, everyone knows he is simply a smack talking pansy. Of course this method will not work for every unit.
In a unit a little less robust than a Ranger battalion the method doesn’t have to be that up front but the concept is still the same. It takes about two minutes to teach a group of people to pummel for underhooks. You can then have them do rounds of competitive pummeling as a part of the physical training. Neck wrestling from Muay Thai is only slightly more involved to get started doing competitively, soon you are adding knee strikes and defense. It is only a short step from there to have enough ground grappling technique to go live. Soon you are adding open hand strikes to the head and closed fist punches to the body, hard enough to have training value but soft enough to remain friends, and now it is impossible to avoid actually learning to fight effectively and be a member of the unit.
Next, what happens in a unit that can assume every member is a competent fighter?
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Kratophobe – A person who claims to be a warrior and yet has an irrational fear of realistic hand-to-hand combat training.
Etymology, from the Greek...