Trad. Thibaud Génin
As a young sergeant, I was called one day with my comrade’s infantry combat group leaders by my chief. The speech was brief:
- What’s all the lazing about?
We are waiting for your orders, my adjutant!
- I do not give orders but missions to complete, and when I do not give a mission, there is one that applies automatically: maintain and if possible, strengthen your skills and your men’s skills. So if I do not say anything, I have to see you running, crawling, maneuvering, shooting, cleaning your weapons, learning stuff. As soon as I have a mission to give to you, usually because I received one myself, everything stops, and we switch to a more specific goal to reach.
The light was finally going on me ….
De la Mission
In his Introduction to Complex Thinking, Edgar Morin distinguishes programming from strategy. Programming consists of organizing the use of resources to achieve a goal (build a bridge for example), the strategy is the same thing but facing a human intelligence that will try to displease you. There is always uncertainty in action, unexpected torrential rains can delay the construction of the bridge, but it is even worse as there is a human factor and competition. As such, combat is undoubtedly the most uncertain environment because the enemy’s action is direct and destructive. In a world of pure programming, the shortest path is the straight line. In a conflictual situation, the straight line is perhaps the path where the enemy will ambush you and so it is not necessarily the shortest. It may be better to go through a less likely path, or one that is easier to defend, but the enemy may follow the same reasoning and not expect you on the straight line. Things therefore necessarily become a little more complicated, even complex. We will come back to these nuances.
A leader reduces this uncertainty by reducing his ignorance of things (the "fog of war") by seeking secret intelligence, but also by sharing it with his subordinates. This is where the missions come into play instead of the orders. The mission means "I do not know everything, here is your share of responsibility and your resources". It is the military Holy Trinity: "a chief-a mission- some means".
The mission itself is defined as an “effect” to be reached within a specific space-time frame and with defined resources (generally your combat unit but sometimes with supports). Most missions don’t involve fighting. Via voice (most often), in writing, through a table, a notebook, via an email, etc. I received thousands of missions in my career, and as explained in introduction, when I did not receive any, the regular mission applied. The soldier is always on mission, even when he sleeps (this is the mission "to rebuild strength"). At least 99% of missions do not lead to combat, but we will focus on them, because they are obviously the most important, and the most interesting.
But in the end the principles are essentially the same.
Let's go back to the definition of a mission and let's keep in mind the main thing: the effect. One does not say, "Do this! For example, "Position 30 men in this place!" This is a task but not a mission, it is a weird thing that gives the impression that one need to show that we are doing something without getting too involved. "Hold this position against the enemy until noon," that's a mission.
De la Confiance (Trust)
In particular, the mission (at a high level, we will speak of "operation", but this is the same thing) includes the whole process up to "mission accomplished! (or not) " and maybe sometimes up to a “post-mortem” analysis.
This process is followed, we speak of control, by the higher rank, but remember at this stage that one of its main requirements is trust, trust in the "quality" of the mission I received from my superior, trust in the capacity of those who receive my order in their capacity of achieving and their willing to achieve it at best. Whatever your place in the hierarchy, you are always between the two.
Why do I trust the order my leader sends me? First because I know that the leader who gives me a mission knows what he asks me since he has been in my shoes. Except when I was a group leader, this has always been the case in my career. There is no "fast track" in the army even for officers from the highest schools. So, at an equivalent level of authority with a lot of organization, there may be a ten years age gap between a superior officer and a general, but this gap comes from the knowledge of the organization from the bottom, and that, it makes a huge difference. The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMA), who is the number 1 in an organization of about 250,000 men and women, has spent his entire career there and has necessarily known all levels of command to which he gives missions. All this seems obvious for a soldier but as I met other people from other environment, I found that this came as a surprise for many of them.
I also know that the leader who gives me an order, whatever his qualities and weaknesses, has been trained for a long time. I spent almost a third of my thirty years in uniform in military schools. It should be noticed that this investment is done in two stages. First, there is the training for the first commandments. Besides my specific training at Coëtquidan (the equivalent of West Point in the US, ed.), I spent almost five years out of a total of sixteen until the end of my company command period between Coëtquidan and the Infantry School in Montpellier. There are many things to say about this "initial training" about the technical preparation to the various commands, but generally speaking, it is still very solid in France. Interestingly enough, where the initial school is sufficient for a complete civil career, in the army we add a layer after the first fifteen years. Indeed, the view in the army is that senior command requires skills and knowledge other than those required for small-scale units. It is not that small-scale means simplicity; it is only different things. So here we are again for a new cycle competition-schools (three new years in schools in total for me) and new responsibilities.
All this to say that you can presume that what you receive from a higher rank has been done by competent people. This does not avoid mistakes, sometimes huge ones. I would have liked to be a little mouse to know how we managed to say that getting into the basin of Dien Bien Phu could be a good idea. Dien Bien Phus are still rare. In any case, you are in uncertainty yourself and it is uncommon for you to have the means to judge the intrinsic value of what you have in your hands. If that's the case and you disagree, it has to be said. But this is another point that will be discussed later in the section: "What to do when I receive a clearly absurd order? ".
Of course, it is not enough to have confidence in your superiors, you must in the same way have confidence in carrying out the missions that you give to others. The principles are pretty much the same: I know them, I have been in their place, I know they are solid (by totaling the external operations of all my 150 French commandos, we obtained a total of 4 centuries of operations on all continents), well trained and consistent, in the sense that they know each other very well. I also know that there are many invisible forces, first and foremost all the facets of honor, that will push them to do everything to succeed in the mission. We will come back to that too. Just note that the degree of confidence will not be same at all if all these requirements are not met.
Our friend the SMEP (Situation – Mission – Execution – Roles)
Depending on your rank, there are several names for the document you will receive which explains your mission and its context. Let us remember that of "order of operation" or ORDOPE.
An ORDOPE is still born of a higher ORDOPE. The way it looks, when you have time, is in the form of a written document. It is always formatted the same way, regardless of the rank. From the CEMA to the sergeant, group leader or tank commander, we all do SMEP (Situation-Mission-Execution-Roles). For a general with his staff it can take weeks and give a document of several dozen pages and for a sergeant it can be done in 15 minutes and orally, but the principles are always the same.
We all speak the same language. All mission terms are precisely defined in a document. These definitions must be known to all or accessible, in order to avoid misinterpretation and misunderstandings. When we just say "search" (the missions are always verbs in the infinitive), like my fellows I mean "Mission that consists of a group or a section, to get tactical or technical intelligence on the ground or enemy, on a given point or area, possibly engaging in combat".
When we receive an Ordop, we immediately notify the subordinates and we try to assist them to the maximum so that they prepare themselves. This saves precious time. Then before thinking and if time is running out, we look at how much time we have left before the hour H, considering that the enemy, who persists in not satisfying you, does not attack you before. From there, the principle is to give yourself a third of that time to write your own document in order to leave it to your subordinates so that they will have time to do the same thing. If there are 72 hours left before the start of the action, we keep 24 hours for ourselves before giving the Ordop to the level below which will leave him with 48 hours, and in turn will take 15 or 16 hours to write its own document and so on.
The thinking process is then carried out in two stages: the analysis (the S and the M of the SMEP) and the elaboration of the maneuver (the E and the P).
In the document that we received, the Situation part explains everything that happens in our environment (the topography, the population, the enemy, the friends), this corresponds to our area of interest. Our zone of action is inside all this but everything that happens around us is also of interest. The Mission part is then in two parts with first the intention of the leader, which is what he wants to do to accomplish his own mission, then finally our mission to each of us, his subordinates. Sententiously enough, it is written as follows: "In order to (my mission), I want to do that (my intention) and for that purpose (list of subordinates' missions, including ours). As for the situation, the information provided goes well beyond the simple mission given. it explains how things around us are supposed to evolve. Following the Ordope, the E and the P, these are essentially coordination measures.
Once we read that, what do we do? Well, the same thing but at a lower level. The operations office ("the blue team") thinks about the environment, what to do, with the possible exclusions or on the contrary its mandatory moves. The intelligence office ("the red team") does much the same thing but on the side of the enemy, looking in particular how he can react and oppose our action.
All this leads to a description of our environment (our Situation), a reduction of the environment of the higher echelon. This results above all during the meeting with the leader, to define his "intention" (or "major effect") which is the description of what we want to do to accomplish the mission. It is basically, being lazy, to ensure that the minimum will be done to be sure to accomplish the mission. If I hold this hill until 11 am, I am 100% sure that the enemy will never reach this river at 12 pm (my mission). This allows you to focus your efforts on a specific space-time point.
After collective deliberations, the chief decides. At the end of the day, he will sign the Ordop and will assume the responsibility, which is always individual. If the responsibility is not clearly on a single head but divided into an artistic vagueness between several people, it is because it does not really exist. In an operation, there must be only one leader. We could talk about the orders that are given and the actions that are carried out without any liability at all, but that is another subject.
Then the question arises as to know how we will do to achieve this major effect (and therefore accomplish the mission). The teams are going back to their own corner. The "blues" define the modes of action (MA) possible to hold this famous hill until 11 am, the "red" define the enemy action modes of action (ME) during the same period. We meet again, we compare the MA and ME in a table and we see what it gives. At the end of these new collective reflections, the leader decides and chooses the MA that we will apply, and which then will become "the idea of maneuver". The control office divides this idea of maneuver into missions for the subordinates and then we think about all the coordination measures.
Once this is done, we put all this together in a new Operation Order that is sent down one floor, and so on until D-Day, H-Hour. And there, when the operation begins each one of us knows what's going on, what its role and its means are. The order of operation is then replaced by orders of conduct, which are adaptations, or complete rewrites when things will not really happen as expected.
Overall, this general methodology, presented here in broad terms and which may include variants, has withstood quite well the test of time. Now, over a certain ceiling, it becomes very probable that what has resisted a great deal of time, will withstand a long time.