A new instruction block has officers tackle philosophy and war-fighting function. (Lawrence Torres III / Army)
In an effort to reinforce one of the Army’s newest — and likely most difficult to grasp — war-fighting functions, the Command and General Staff College has added a 10-day block of instruction to its curriculum.
Mission command week is the brain child of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, and it is designed to help the Army’s newest field-grade officers understand and apply the philosophy and war-fighting function of the same name.
The latest iteration of mission command week wrapped up April 19, and this was just the second time CGSC, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., has included the course in its curriculum.
"Every time … we put out new doctrine, Leavenworth is the engine of change because not only do we develop the doctrine, but this is how we inculcate it in the Army," said Lt. Gen. David Perkins, commanding general of the Combined Arms Center. "These young field grade officers … are the critical drivers of change, and historically have been the drivers of change in our Army. If you want to go to one point and drive major change in the Army, this is the place to do it."
There are two parts to mission command — the philosophy and the war-fighting function, Perkins said. As a philosophy, mission command guides leaders on how to command, including building cohesive teams, creating mutual trust, and creating a shared understanding of the mission and goals.
Mission command also is one of the Army's six war-fighting functions. The other five are: intelligence; movement and maneuver; fires; sustainment; and protection.
As a war-fighting function, mission command lays out tasks commanders and their staffs must do to make decisions, execute the mission, and integrate the other war-fighting functions.
Many of the tenets of mission command have been used by good commanders throughout history, Perkins said. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which saw leaders at the squad, platoon and company levels taking on more responsibility and operating more autonomously, led the Army to codify and include mission command in its doctrine.
Mission command is similar to command and control, but it’s not the same thing, Perkins said.
"The future is unknown and it’s unknowable," he said. "If you have a very precise mission and there are very few variables, you can centralize control. But the more unknown things are, the more volatility there is, the more variables there are, the only way you can deal with that is with a system that is empowering as many different people and as many different echelons simultaneously as possible."
Within mission command, a commander is tasked with doing six things when it comes to driving operations: understand, visualize and describe, then direct, lead and assess, Perkins said.
"Before telling people what to do, you have to understand the problem, visualize how the operation will unfold, then describe that to your subordinates, peers and superiors, and describe it in a way that results in a common visualization of the solution and common understanding of the problem," Perkins said.
Once subordinates understand the mission, desired outcome and a commander’s intent, they can then be empowered to act and make decisions on the battlefield, he said.
"That’s a lot of responsibility on a lot of people," Perkins said. "This means you have to be a highly trained unit because I’m going to empower you, and I’m not going to empower you unless I know you know what you’re doing."
Mission command week gives students an understanding of the principles of mission command so they can apply it throughout the rest of CGSC, said Maj. Gen. Gordon Davis, deputy commanding general of the Combined Arms Center leader development and education, and deputy commandant of CGSC.
Tell them why, not how
Davis said he anticipates this dedicated week will continue to be a part of CGSC for at least the next three to four years, until mission command becomes routine.
Many students understand mission command as a philosophy — which essentially boils down to trusting your soldiers and earning their trust in return — but they have trouble grasping the war-fighting function, Davis said.
"In my words, [mission command] is really the use of intent and mission orders to guide the conduct of operations in such a way that maximizes subordinate leaders’ ability to exercise initiative," he said. "You tell them why you’re doing something and what you want to achieve, but you don’t dictate the how."
The idea is not to make your subordinates do all the work, Davis said. Instead, it’s giving them latitude and freedom to make decisions in a complex and fast-changing environment.
Soldiers — enlisted and officer alike — are sometimes skeptical when they hear about mission command, said Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Parson, the senior enlisted soldier for CAC leader development and education.
"It’s a balance between the art of command and the science of control," he said. "We’re asking young soldiers to do much, much more than before."