Reconnaissance by Fire

[May 22, 2020]  There are times in our lives when we are trying something new and innovative that the old methods simply don’t work.  In the military, when we are on the attack, one method of flushing out the enemy to force him into unexpected actions is reconnaissance by fire.  Such a risky technique is what we’ve all done at one time or another to reach an objective we desire.

During late World War II, the Allies were on the offensive in the European theater when they discovered their attacks were too slow or ineffective.  At the rate of advance, the war would drag on too long.  A new tactic was developed.  U.S. armored columns would advance at speed, shooting their cannon and machine guns alternatively to fire into any suspected enemy positions.  This suppressed German defensive positions, which were identified when they returned fire.  This attack method allowed fast movements while keeping the German forces off balance.

During the Battle of Ia Drang of the Vietnam War (see my article on it here), the Battalion Commander Hal Moore noticed his men had a large amount of ammunition.  He ordered his men to fire at anything suspicious at an agreed synchronized time.  A large amount of fire at that time led a group of undetected infiltrating enemy soldiers to believe they were discovered and to charge the Americans, leading to the enemy’s destruction.1

Leaders can use this method of solving problems.  When leaders are presented with new tasks or missions to complete, and there are no established rules or tactics to get it done, reconnaissance by fire might work.  I don’t mean for you to shoot your business competitor, of course.  But a metaphorical reconnaissance by fire may be the right solution.

In business, family life, travel, or solving a big problem, we could use what resources we have to move to solve the problem quickly.  Not unlike state and federal government responses to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, money was used to purchase vast quantities of ventilators, personal protective equipment, and sanitation chemicals.  There was little proof all these worked, but it was something that could be done that had some application in the past.  Waiting until everything was understood about the virus would be too late, and people would have died unnecessarily.

Using a reconnaissance by fire overcomes obstacles by the sheer weight of the effort.  Leaders who have little experience or who are out of approved tactics can use this until more effective measures are found.


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.

20 thoughts on “Reconnaissance by Fire

  1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Another enjoyable, entertaining, and educational article. Thanks Gen. Satterfield on showing us applied military tactics and how they apply to our every-day circumstances.

  2. Kenny Foster

    Core of Gen. Satterfield’s argument, “Leaders can use this method of solving problems. When leaders are presented with new tasks or missions to complete, and there are no established rules or tactics to get it done, reconnaissance by fire might work.” Instead of saying it ‘might’ work, maybe just say it ‘will’ work.

    1. Doc Blackshear

      Hmmm, good point. Hey everyone, have a great weekend. It is about time we get out of our homes, start our jobs back again, and defy the dictator-wannabee governor orders. Looking forward to seeing some sun on the beach tomorrow.

  3. Scotty Bush

    Another excellent article. Thank you. Now that we are headed into another weekend and still hunkering down due to the Coronavirus, we are all looking forward to hitting the beaches and the great outdoors. I think I’ll call what the beachgoers are doing ‘reconnaissance by fire.’ 😊

  4. Nick Lighthouse

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for an article to wake me up mentally and to think about alternative ways to solve problems.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Yeah, powerful but written simple enough for even me to understand. I like this idea. Even the name is great …. “reconnaissance by fire.” I had to look it up under US Army manuals to read about it more in order to get a better understanding.

      1. Tomas C. Clooney

        Thanks for the note and the link that I could read more about in in military pubs. I think this idea should be applied to more civilian uses. Maybe the name, however, is not so good but the idea is there.

  5. Yusaf from Texas

    There is a lot to be said about this, Gen. Satterfield so thanks for the presentation of an ‘aggressive’ stance. I think there are many who, IMO, would reject such a method as too risk prone and knowing that things could go very bad. Leaders get fired over taking undue risks. Maybe an experienced leader might be able to get away with using your reconnaissance by fire.

  6. José Luis Rodriguez

    I’m one of those people who likes to have everything lined up properly and fully prepared for what lies ahead. I realize that there are times when the unexpected occurs or what we do doesn’t work right. I guess that is what Gen. Satterfield is trying to tell us. When this is the case, recon by fire is what he recommends. I do believe that doing something toward your goal is better than sitting with you head in the sand.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Leaders should be cautious, yes! But they should not be overly cautious because that leads to a stalmate.

      1. The Kid 1945

        Good point Roger. I’ve seen too many overly cautious leaders who simply rolled up in a ball and couldn’t make a decision. Not that hard.

  7. Eric Coda

    Excellent presentation of a valuable tool of leadership. When you don’t know what to do and doing nothing is a bad path, then reconnaissance by fire must be the way to get something of value done. Bravo for introducing this to us, Gen. Satterfield. Have a great upcoming weekend.

    1. Danny Burkholder

      Yes, Eric, well said. Sometimes a leader has to improvise. When nothing in our toolbox works or our approved methods don’t get the job done, it’s time to try something else. I see that this recon by fire is another name for being aggressive. Reminds me of Gen. Patton when he told his troops to keep attacking no matter what.

    2. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Aggressiveness needs to be tempered with insight and insuring your folks are taken care of properly.

  8. Army Captain

    Nicely presented as a method of solving unusual problems in the workplace or at home. We should, I might note, be very careful as even in the military this technique is risky.

    1. JT Patterson

      Thanks for reinforcing Gen. Satterfield’s ideas, Army Captain.

    2. Tony B. Custer

      Yes, good point. Glad to hear from you Army Capt and Gen. Satterfield that this is a military idea that worked well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.