Anticipating the Command

By | April 18, 2020

[April 18, 2020]  Drill and Ceremony is a method of moving troops from one location to another.  Since its introduction by Friedrich von Steuben to Revolutionary soldiers at Valley Forge in 1778, highly motivated sergeants have used commands to instill discipline in new troops.  Following those commands is not easy, but after some experience, troops will often begin anticipating the command.  Doing so is not necessarily a good thing.1

Being in the military is not easy.  Having someone yelling at you a lot can be upsetting to some folks.  If there is one thing that Army Drill Sergeants like to do, it’s telling you what to do and when to do it.  They really don’t want soldiers anticipating the command.

However, as we gain experience and responsibility being able to anticipate upcoming events and missions is a good thing.  In any employment, if a person can anticipate what the boss wants, one can expect a pat on the back for that effort.  Anticipating the command (e.g., task, mission, or problem) is difficult but comes with some risk but with great reward.

General George S. Patton anticipated a German Army breakout in the winter of 1944.  He was able to arrange his forces to help blunt the attack when it came.  Enter “old blood and guts,” employing a sophisticated and clever strategy where he wheeled his 3rd Army a sharp 90 degrees in a counterthrust.  Patton’s army broke through the German lines and ultimately pushed the Germans back east across the Rhine River.2

Today, another military unit prides itself on anticipating the command.  The 18th Psychological Operations Battalion’s motto is “Anticipate the Command.”  The idea is that they should know what their mission will be before it is issued to them.  They understand their roles in combat, have studied the enemy, and understand what they can contribute to combat units as a force multiplier.

Anticipating the command is an idea that has been studied since the beginning of warfare.  Figuring out what the enemy will do and what orders you will receive is the epitome of good soldiering.  Like the artist who knows what a new client will request, he can arrange a sample display of art that supports it.  And, a young teenage football player who knows the other team will get support from his coach.

Let’s also not forget that a good leader has a vision and a method of achieving it.  This method is a form of anticipating the command.  We would all do better if we learned how to anticipate the future.


  1. Commands are spoken in two parts. First, the preparatory command and then the command of execution.  Troops quickly learn what the latter will be and often will be anticipating the command.  But, don’t get caught doing so, or you will earn the ire of one of those motivated sergeants.  Here is a link to the U.S. Army’s Drill and Ceremonies publication in PDF format:
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Anticipating the Command

  1. Xerxes I

    Great article that reminded me of those old days in the Army. Thanks!

  2. Greg Heyman

    Your article makes me want to read more about Patton. He was a great man.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Me too. Just order a book on Patton. THere are lots of them out there, you just need to search on any of the book websites. The good thing is that it’s easy to have them delivered to your home and we can read them at our leisure. With so many of us being home, now is the time to get some extra reading in. That is one of the main points about me reading this leadership blog by Gen. Satterfield. Thanks all.

  3. Eric Coda

    I never thought of it that way, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks. I forwarded your article to my brother in the US Army. I’m interested in his reply.

  4. Max Foster

    Using the example of Gen. G. S. Patton with his 3rd Army was spot on. He was able to anticipate the new mission without being given guidance. This is the mark of a great leader and a really smart person. There is a saying in management (and leadership positions) that the best employees work without guidance. This separates the daily grind from the future development.

    1. Nancy B

      Yes, great example. Real leaders have a vision that can be translated into clear and simple words. They also have the ability to show ‘how’ that vision can be implemented to the benefit of all people involved. This means anticipating the command.

  5. Valkerie

    Great article, General Satterfield. I forwarded this article to my cousin in the US Navy. Have a wonderful weekend.

  6. Gil Johnson

    “Anticipating the command.” Loved the subject and enjoyed the article. I always like it when you use your personal experiences in your blog posts. Thank you, Gen. Satterfield.

  7. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    “Being in the military is not easy.” Now that is a quote you can print and hang on the wall. Now, of course, it is rather obvious but it also has some detailed philosophical truths. It is also what makes societies that push the military as better, more efficient, and successful. Just look around history and see them. Of course, there are those that use their militaries improperly and they have paid a price for it.

    1. Harry Donner

      This is why the USA has civilian control of the military. The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that commercial enterprises overcome any desire for military expansion.

      1. Kenny Foster

        As it should be and will be. There is a downside to civilian control in modern times. Most of the civilian leaders have never served in the armed forces and therefore don’t know the capacity or the costs of their use.

  8. Dennis Mathes

    Ah, Gen. Satterfield, you have learned the turn of a phrase. I thought always this meant don’t lean into the assignment, starting too early and screwing up the boss’s timetable or using his resources up too soon. While there are risks, as you pointed our, there are also great rewards. Those DIs, Drill Sgts, etc. are on top of it so that we obey the ‘go’ command when it’s given and not before.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      I do believe you have put your finger on the reason for ‘don’t anticipate the command.’ We don’t want to “jump the gun” as we also say. Discipline is the reason we do this. I spent enough time in the military to know.

  9. Lynn Pitts

    Yes, I got yelled a bunch too. We recruits learned pretty fast not to anticipate the command from the DIs.

    1. JT Patterson

      Marine Drill Instructors? They are infamous for their sadistic (just kidding) way of treating recruits. Too many hilarious stories come from our basic training days.

    2. Georgie B.

      Everyone, male and female, should be required to spend at least a couple of years in military service to their country. I believe this regardless of physical or mental abilities. Accommodations can be made. But, alas, this will not happen. First it costs too much but that is fixable. Second, our political elites are simply too weak to require it.

    3. Yusaf from Texas

      As it should be, Lynn. Thanks for your comment this morning. I look forward to your comments when the military is involved as a subject.

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