Counterinsurgency experiences put to use in new Army doctrine
Stars and Stripes March 1, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army’s new operations manual makes the mission of stabilizing war-torn nations just as important as the business of invading them, a change that may not find immediate acceptance within the ranks, one of its authors said.
The manual, which was formally introduced Thursday, is the first significant update to Army operations doctrine since 2001, according to Lt. Col. Steven Leonard, chief of Operational Level Doctrine in the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
The doctrine is based on lessons learned the hard way by the Army — many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan — Leonard, one of three principal authors of the doctrine, told Stars and Stripes.
Change is difficult for an institution as large as the Army, and as changes go, “this is huge,” Leonard said.
Maybe too huge, he worried, for the soldiers most responsible for carrying it out: officers.
“Our senior leaders get it,” Leonard said. “I’m not sure the midgrade leaders get it.”
One major sticking point, Leonard said, is the doctrine’s approach to risk.
“The whole approach to risk is that you might screw up, but so what? Take the risk,” Leonard said. “Sometimes you just have to have the guts to take a chance.”
The doctrine also tells leaders to trust their subordinates, and allow them to make mistakes, he said.
Those ideas are going to sound radical to an officer corps that was developed during the 1990s, a period of Army downsizing and “zero-defect” mentality.
With their careers in constant jeopardy, many officers learned to “stay below the radar and not be the nail that sticks up so you get hammered down,” Leonard said.
With the Army in a growth spurt and fighting on two fronts, Leonard said he hopes that officers realize they can afford to be more bold, and will embrace the change the doctrine brings.
If that happens, “the average soldier on the ground” will see the doctrine’s effects in the way they are led, Leonard said.
The Army has had plenty of experience with stability operations — from postwar Germany after World War II to the more recent operations in Kosovo and Haiti, he said.
But it took the bloody counterinsurgency in Iraq to bring Army leaders face-to-face with the reality that the way it did its business wasn’t working, Leonard said.
Little by little, with many painful errors along the way, the Army began to adjust its tactics. But the changes were being made on the fly, and inconsistently applied, Leonard said.
“We tried to build the roof to the house, before we laid the foundation,” he said.
For military services, doctrines act as those foundations, he explained.
“It all has to start somewhere,” Leonard said. “You really need a foundation you can grow from.”