Human Performance and The Brain: Investing In the Future Warfighter

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There is a lot of discussion about how to create the future warfighter, prepared for asymmetric environments and all sorts of irregular types of warfare these days. However, there is very little institutional self-reflection into the programs the Marine Corps is divesting of that already have an astronomical effect on how a Marine thinks, decides, and acts. I will attempt to break this down as simply as I can in this article using three things: “No Better Friend” skills, “No Worse Enemy” skills, and the lack of building the emotional intelligence to wield these skills simultaneously when making decisions.

No Better Friend Skills:

History has proven, as written in the Small Wars Manual, that Marines will always operate in and amongst a foreign people by design. New concepts call for a Marines to be capable of moving from place to place in small teams to utilize and hold a piece of ground to use a thing, for a period of time, and then move to the next place. However, the USMC is divesting of the training and education that creates the skills that will allow the Marine to get access to, and utilize, the place at the rapid rate. What kind of Marine do you need? You need a critical thinker with authority to make decisions at lower ranks, someone who is emotionally intelligent, and who can wield the people skills required to influence others while not abusing their power. So how, where, and when do we currently train these “No Better Friend” skills, and What are they?

First, we don’t train these skills effectively, or I should say we do for very “special” people. If I were king for a day, I would begin by training every recruit about the three parts of there brain, the purposes of those parts, how they interact, how they impact their bodies (e.g. stress), and how that stress (i.e. models like Cooper or Slidell/Grossman) affects their decision-making capability (i.e. Boyd’s model above) and the full gamut of his considerations, as well as it’s purpose (i.e Implicit Command and Control). This front loads the Marine with the knowledge required to understand the brain, body, decision, and action connections. It also begins to introduce them to what their emotional intelligence is and how it is created through their experiences, learning, and life circumstances, and how to cultivate it (i.e. learning one’s self, their motivations, and how self-reflection is conducted properly). This must be done before one can fully understand the other “No Better Friend” skills. The principles behind the skills must be inculcated into training, exercises, and classrooms. How this is done should be through the socratic method and real mentorship, discussion, and evaluation of understanding, not compatible with a Task/Condition/Standard model of training.

The other “No Better Friend” skills necessary such as cultural learning, a plethora of influence skills (i.e. negotiations, conflict resolution, etc.), behavioral profiling domains (i.e. Combat Hunter) as a tool and a lexicon from which to frame the discussions of both sets skills must permeate all training in terms of how Marines view their world, work, and articulate it back to true mentors and superiors. By definition a mentor is chosen by the mentee, a mentor is one who provides sound advice and counsel. By practice, as we all know, a mentor is a life long friend, a guide across all of life’s situations. Thus we need to take those mentorship principles and embed them into how we train a skill, and educate while mentoring through explanations of training design, desired outcomes, and discussions on the effectiveness of he design on reaching outcomes; again this does not fit the Task/Condition/Standard model of our current school houses. The Marine of yesterday had to wield these skills while learning them through experience. Today’s Marine has learned them through mandatory training provided by what was CAOCL, any Advisor course, Civil Affairs, etc. courses; but much of that has been divested. Tomorrow’s Marine will be constrained to learning these skills, principles, values, etc. via some online overview. This will not be enough to achieve the end state desired in terms of creating a critical thinker, who is emotionally intelligent enough to make the right decision, and articulate back how and why that decision was made.

No Worse Enemy Skills:

Training these skills, the warfighter skills is a Marine forte! I will not belabor the toolbox of those skills here, but rather provide an additional approach to how we could train them better. We can build an infantryman with the required Task/Condition/Standard model we currently have, but when we do, what assurances do we have that the human can wield the skills and make the right decisions? ‘Shoot-Don’t Shoot” scenarios do not provide us a critical thinker. They provide a shooter who can quickly ID “Target” and squeeze a trigger, and neutralize a target, we are the world’s best at that production line. But let’s step “Left of Bang” for a second and consider how and when the Marine will most likely use those skills according to published concepts, doctrine and operational plans.

Marines will utilize those skills in austere, foreign, population dense, environments. Concepts currently call for small groups of these Marines to move from place to place, in these small groups, placing more responsibility on, and thus power, to junior Marines and providing them the authority to exercise said power to meet their assigned responsibilities. Since we want this type of Marine, we must train him/her to think beyond “Target.” We will not just seize the access required to utilize our stuff, and we certainly won’t hold it for long if we think bullying our way into access is the answer. Marines will be required, when deciding to pull a trigger, the second/third/fourth impacts on access, on the relationships the leveraged to get and keep access, and on the mission at a strategic level. So why not build the critical thinking required to understand, and draw the logic chains to, second/third/fourth order impacts into the scenarios? Add time, that precious commodity, to each individual scenario to discuss a strategic picture and the consequences of killing a target. We do not need to do this everywhere in training, as this is advanced shooter learning beyond hitting the black. But we do need to address it constantly in junior leaders from critical thinking beyond the immediate, problem solving, and emotional intelligence perspectives. This requires a baseline of learning, based on a framework of how and why one thinks, from which we consistently reference.

How We Get There:

This is not a heavy lift, but it will have it’s most severe impacts on time and instructor learning in the school houses. The instructor, their understanding of mental models and how to train and educate, as well as our curriculum development models (i.e. Marine Corps Training Information Management System, MCTIMS) must all be involved. I will not belabor each of these, as on-going work in the Corps should be accounting for this. But I will go into “A Way” of improving training from my perspective.

I will use the example of a team and pick out a member. Our team is from the Marine Littoral Regiment and consists of 4x MLRS operators, a Corpsman, 6x infantrymen, an air defense guru, a cyber guru, and a Team Lead Sergeant (Sgt) or Staff Sergeant (SSgt). Their mission is to go to a small island, utilize the MLRS system to fire shore-to-ship missiles to protect a Line of Communication, for a specified period of time, in order to allow a logistics ship to pass safely through. We are placing responsibility and authority in the hands of that SSgt, far beyond what we currently equip him/her to possess cognitively. Their understanding of the systems under their command, the capabilities they have, how they integrate, all sorts of issues have already arisen. Now add that they arrived, had to offload, or be dropped off, on foreign soil where they will be exposed to the people of that nation and must make friends while exercising force protection.

A few questions arise about how we are conducting our Force Development Process (FDS) to feed the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) and translating that into our Force Generation Order (FGO) which we use to train the force in the cognitive realm. Where in wargaming concepts, did we conduct the job skills analysis beyond the individual skills, to include the collective? Where did we consider how the Marines garnered access to that ground? And, where did we consider the cognitive capabilities and capacities (i.e. emotional intelligence and it’s development) required of the individual Marines executing the concept? If we have, I am wrong! If we have not, we need to get busy on this work if we are to facilitate the implementation of our concepts.

We can begin by taking a hard look at the Team, their schools, the desired outcomes of that production line and determining what cognitive skills are being taught, and what more needs to be done. I think much of this is simple and can easily be a low-cost win. Doing things like having a discussion and properly mentoring the SSgt in what authority it, where it derives from, the differences between power and authority. Teaching him/her about American culture and how the world views of his/her team members may vary drastically and have an affect on the orders he/she gives during execution. Understanding oneself is the key to understanding others, yet we teach no where in our spectrum of learning, how to understand, evaluate, or grow your perspectives while considering others perspectives. Furthermore, we take very little time to explain at each rank the simple principle of two-up, one-down. We will require Marines on this team that have a solid understanding of their role in the strategic picture of things. At least the SSgt should understand that the NDAA is a law, that leads to a National Defense Strategy, to the National Military Strategy (NMS), all the way down into a Campaign Plan or Operations Order of which they are playing a strategic part. Again, critically thinking about how the smallest role can have the largest impact. At each rank and responsibility level we should think about and trace the actions taken and the consequences of decisions made. We should progressively, across the training and education spectrum, increase the required knowledge and articulation of Marines in the understanding of said knowledge. When that team is placed in such a strategic location, with such authority and responsibility, in both the “No Better Friend” / “No Worse Enemy” environment, they must be as cognitively equipped as they are materially.

In the end, this will require a hard look at what we teach in the cognitive realm, combining consistently the “No Better Friend” / “No Worse Enemy” mantra into our training and education. It will take changing or adjusting our Task/Condition/Standard training and education model to account to account of exercising the cognitive realm through the socratic method vs the current rigid method (i.e. this means they blend). We must also prepare our instructors better, and consider that it may take more developed people (i.e. contractors) to assist us. Instructors must be more professorial, and less “GOLMEST.” This is a significant cultural shift in the Corp’s way of thinking. It will take some serious change management to break old habits, but if we want a better, faster, stronger, more critically thinking Marine, we must do this now. We must adapt from concept development, through force development, force generation, recruiting and manpower management, into recruiting. The more one knows themselves, the better they understand others. Since we know the Marine will utilize “No Better Friend” and “No Worse Enemy” skills simultaneously, while adding authority and responsibility, we must train and educate them at every chance on how to think, design and measure ways to ensure their emotional intelligence is growing, and provide them the time to make it happen. Many of the programs, courses, I have listed in parenthesis can be combined into a single course, divided into rank-level understanding, and provide a framework for emotional intelligence learning. I hope that the Corps considers an Operational Planning Team (OPT) to consider these points, because wars of the future will require a better, more emotionally intelligent Marines, wielding more distributed authority and power than we have ever witnessed.