Know Your Operational Environment

By | March 13, 2020

[March 13, 2020]  One thing the U.S. Army Infantry School taught me back in 1983 was that you had better be aware of your operational environment.  This requirement meant that each of us Second Lieutenants had to understand and deliberately plan for the conditions, circumstances, and influences that will affect our military unit’s mission.

In this article, I will be giving an example of understanding your operational environment.   Being deployed to another country is a good start.  Operating in a hostile location helps keep the focus on the priorities and guidance of our senior commander.  A hostile environment is not, however, the only place a leader must be aware of their environment.

As a new Engineer Company commander and a U.S. Army Captain at the time, I volunteered my unit for an intense administrative review.  My company had many missions.  All of these were outside in rough terrain, operating in challenging weather, living in the bush, and having our daily tasks overseen carefully to ensure quality construction projects were on time and budget.

We would also spend about four hours per day on detailed administrative overviews that pushed our workday to over 18 hours for three weeks.  There was a lot of stress for my junior leaders.  When my soldiers arrived in the cantonment area for administrative tasks, they were dirty, sweaty, and tired, but their spirits were high because they knew that the cleanly, rested admin soldiers were there to help.

On the first day, the administrative help did not start well.  The senior admin colonel in charge gave my men an unfriendly dressing down for not having clean, starched uniforms.  He told them that their boots were too dirty to wear in his admin shop and that we had to stand in line for an unbearably long time.  We had coordinated the timing and coordinated arrivals to prevent this very issue.

As a new company commander, I did not understand the operational environment that my soldiers were now involved.  Sure, we had a good excuse for our appearance, but I wanted this event to benefit my unit.  Getting into a toe-to-toe match with an Army colonel (three ranks above me) was not a good career move.  That night I decided we would change our approach and ensure our soldiers’ admin time would mean a clean uniform and boots.

Instantly upon seeing our soldiers on day two, the admin colonel was happy to work his people harder to help.  I now understood the operational environment and got what I wanted.  This example shows how it is sometimes easier to realize the priorities and needs of those in a different environment and how for us to adopt it to our benefit better.

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NOTE: Want to read more on understanding the operational environment?  Here are a few websites:

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

23 thoughts on “Know Your Operational Environment

  1. Martin Shiell

    Combat soldiers versus admin soldiers. No comparison. The combat soldier is the one who truly deserves our admiration for the hard, dirty work that needs doing. The admin soldier serves an important role but has not the guts to be face to face with the enemy, to fight and win, and to be there when the going gets really tough.

    1. Drew Dill

      Really? No comparison betw/ the two. Another spot-on blog post by Gen. Satterfield. I do admire the combat soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Thanks, great topic and one often overlooked. Keep those leadership articles coming to us daily.

  3. Kenny Foster

    Yes, wonderful stories I am always finding in your articles. Thank you for making my day.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Just another reason to keep coming back to Gen. Satterfield and his blog. I’ve been a fan for several years now and it is worth it every time. I also like to read the comments in

  4. Xerxes I

    Cute article on a very uncute subject. Good points about knowing your environment. If not, you fail and you fail spectacularly. Just look at the many examples of failed military and civilian expeditions in history. Great stuff here today, Gen. Satterfield, please keep up the great articles.

  5. Big Al

    Knowing your operational environs is crucial for survival among the best leaders. Nothing else much matters in a complex time. Modern worlds demand a high level of focus. Anyone claiming to be a ‘victim’ – like Liz Warren in the US presidential race – is an utter failure and will never compete.

    1. Eva Easterbrook

      Elizabeth Warren is a sore loser. Now she is claiming she lost because of sexism. Typical socialist who blames their faults on others while taking in all the free gifts because she is a woman. Privilege at its best and at its worst.

    2. Scotty Bush

      I’d never vote for her. She is the Nurse Rachett in One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest from 1975. Remember the movie? One of the classics. But back to Lizzie. She is like chalk on a chalkboard, screechy, incomprehensible, morally lecturing us on how stupid and ignorant we all are. Never ever get my vote and the same for that Looney Bernie Sanders.

      1. Joe Omerrod

        You are just too funny with that comment. Nurse Rachett is one of my personal favorite stereotypes to use in a number of scenarios. But right, you much know your operational environment and she didn’t know hers.

    3. Janna Faulkner

      The whole Democratic Party field of candidates were seriously lacking any redeeming qualities.

  6. Gil Johnson

    “Dirty, sweaty, tired” engineer soldiers. What a great description of our military servicemembers. Go USA.

    1. Jerome Smith

      Yeah, better than the REMFs – rear echelon MF’ers.

  7. Dale Paul Fox

    When I was in the US Navy, a SEAL came to our HQ to see our commander, a USN Captain and strict dresser. The SEAL was sent packing because he didn’t meet navy grooming standards. A shame this had to happen but when word got out that a highly decorated SEAL was sent away because of his looks, our unit got a huge blackeye. Just remember like Gen. Satterfield says, know your operational environment.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Loved your story Dale and the one from Gen. Satterfield too. I can think of many examples where senior leaders failed their followers simply because they thought too much of themselves to be bothered with the effort to understand their operational environment.

    2. Mikka Solarno

      Wow, nicely written and thx to you General Satterfield for giving us another one of your war, un-war stories.

      1. Randy Goodman

        Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. 😊

  8. Nancy B

    “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – sun tsu

  9. Eric Coda

    The YouTube link you have here from “Life is a Special Operation” is great and highly recommended. In it, the author gives us several examples from his SOF time in the military. Please go and see it and it’s only about 6 minutes.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Yes, many good additional examples.

    2. Greg Heyman

      Good video. Yet another great video by LTC Littlestone, brought to US You Tube viewers, choc full of Information and Intelligence

  10. Army Captain

    Super article. Thanks for sharing one of your non-war stories. 😊

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