[January 31, 2019] After watching a video of an army armored Task Force get “destroyed” during wargames at Fort Irwin National Training Center (NTC), I promised my soldiers that would not happen to them. It became evident during the briefing that a previous unit’s Commander had failed to connect the dots from the bits of Intelligence on the OPFOR enemy’s location.1
We call this Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) and whoa to any commander who ignores critical information. I was nervous. The OPFOR, the 177th U.S. Armored Brigade, wore Soviet-style uniforms (with black berets) and used the M551 Sheridan tanks modified to resemble Soviet armored vehicles. They were prepared, had the advantage of knowing the ground and our tactics, and were well lead by a seasoned commander.
One of the more hard-earned traits of a leader is their capacity to pull everything together to create a well-oiled organizational machine. This requires quick thinking, guts, and experience to make it work. A good friend of mine, a senior Intelligence Officer, told me that a good commander is one who can look at a half-finished jigsaw puzzle and correctly describe the picture.
A good leader is able to mesh resources, people, culture, systems, and mission. They work hard to bolster effectiveness and enhance overall performance by quickly filling gaps in the organization’s capability. This is very easy to write about but it can be extremely difficult to do. That is why relevant experience is imperative; without it, a leader will fail.
What appears to the untrained eye to be a fragmented mess or purposeless happenings, can become something clear to the right leader. This is why I often write that leadership is difficult. It is the responsibility of the leader to connect the dots. Others can help but the leader must be able to visualize the battlefield.
Our turn at defeating the OPFOR came on a bright sunny morning in the Spring of 1999. The weather was perfect. My soldiers were prepared and ready. Reconnaissance units were out ahead of us as our “attack” began.
Three long hours later I was in the debriefing trailer watching how my unit had been knocked off the preplanned attack route. We failed our mission. The only consolidation was that other units like ours lasted less than 30 minutes. It took the OPFOR longer and with unexpected “heavy casualties” to defeat us. Big deal, I thought we lost. But I was able to picture what was happening and our defeat proved that we could at least connect the dots.
- OPFOR: an acronym for Opposing Forces in military usage.