Tom Clancy

Lessons for managers from how the Army re-made itself between Vietnam and Desert Storm.

I was moderating a conference of business owners in the late 1990s as they lamented the poor work habits and other failings of “Gen-Xers.” Finally, I’d had enough so I said, “Say what you will about body piercing and Starbucks, I don’t think that’s the key issue. It looks to me that our generation’s contributions were the drug culture and Vietnam while the present generation has given us the Internet and Desert Storm.” The question becomes, how did this happen? Into the Storm provides part of the answer.

I am a baby-boomer who came of age in the Vietnam era, so my interest in things military was slight and my general opinion of military organization, I’m ashamed to say, came more from Catch-22 and MASH than reality. Yet, the U.S. Army has done some huge and useful things, so I was willing to take a fresh look with this book.

In the aftermath of Vietnam, “the Army began a revolution in training and leader development that touched every aspect of the way the Army prepared for war.” This revolution, covered mostly in Chapter 5 of the book, is an object lesson for corporations seeking to develop the most effective workforce. The two keys to the Army’s new training methods were:

  • Train as you fight
  • Performance-oriented training

Train as you fight means realistic combat practice with the same people, equipment, and terrain you expect to have in battle. When “asked how his troop had been able to do so well in their first time in combat, he [Captain Sartiano] answered that this hadn’t been their first time; he and others in his troop had been in combat before — at the National Training Center.”{p. 559} Sounds like an obvious approach to training, but how much corporate customer service training is just reading from a manual? Management training done with lectures and slides? Skills training done with diagrams and prose descriptions? Why hasn’t industry begun to “train as it works?”

The second pincer of the revolution is performance-oriented training. That simply means you train until a standard of competence is met, not just until the training time is exhausted. If you don’t meet the standard, you don’t go on the line. “This was as simple as it was profound: You stayed at it until you got it right.” Sadly, most business training is concluded with no measure of actual learning: no tests, no trials, no demonstrations? Few corporations have any idea of what they are getting for their training dollar. (Their unhappy customers do!)

One senior officer provides a perfect description of the experience of being well coached, “Before [General] CavazosGeneral Cavazos led us through this discussion to these conclusions, I had not been able to articulate it, either to myself or to my staff, with anything like this clarity. Now, as a senior tactical commander, he had really let me see myself in a mirror. … And now he was explaining me to myself, as it were, He saw me as I had not been able to see myself, and he reinforced for me what had been up to then inexplicable intuitive behavior.

In [General] Fred Frank’s words, “How you think about the future determines what you think about the future and what you ultimately do about the future.”

Another shift in the Army’s leadership style with relevance to industry is the recognition of the central importance of human nature. My favorite example is General Franks’s first criteria of leadership: “mental courage (the courage to be who you really are.)” Music to my ears, of course, as the founder of a company dedicated to making people successful by helping them be genuine; I even put the term in my name  MayoGenuine.


Into the storm

Into the Storm:
A Study in Command

by Tom Clancy & General Fred Franks



My second example is the wonderfully descriptive term “friction.” Friction is the tendency of orders and instructions to be altered, misdirected, and diffused as they are passed along and implemented by various layers of management and staff. The way to deal with friction, once you have done all you can with communication and monitoring, is to adapt. The key is to make your orders simpler, clearer and less ambiguous. Nimble as his forces were, General FranksGeneral Fred Franks knew that at a certain point he had to shut-up and let them go with the instructions they had. Better to go now with an inferior plan well communicated and understood that a perfect plan poorly communicated too late. A lesson for “micro-managers” in every organization.

Another capsule lesson for managers is the example of “‘terrain walks’: Once every three months [the General] required all commanders and leaders to go out on the actual ground where they anticipated they would fight. There they would explain in detail to their next-higher commander just how they intended to conduct the fight.” How many senior business managers would be willing to walk a mile with their frontline people, then defend their strategies to a panel of more experienced managers? What kinds of changes to their strategies would ensue from such an exercise?

Unfortunately, Into the Storm is too long; it needed a ruthless editor. Long sections seem dedicated to refuting criticisms of Franks with which I am unfamiliar and uninterested.  I admit to skipping pages of poorly presented, unnecessary detail on minute-by-minute battle operations. I must still recommend it to anyone willing to look at their own management through the lens of a potent organization that plays only for the highest stakes.


Into the storm

Into the Storm:
A Study in Command

by Tom Clancy & General Fred Franks



p. 86 To begin with, in order to rebuild the Army, it was not enough to publish directives and policies. The entire Army has to internalize the need to remake itself, and do it so pervasively that all its members felt the same urgency.

p. 91 the Army began a revolution in training and leader development that touched every aspect of the way the Army prepared for war. … Army leaders were determined to create conditions of training that replicated actual battle conditions as closely as possible. If you “lost” there, you learned better how to win in combat.

p. 95 TES (Tactical Engagement Simulation) was simply “train as you fight.” It was a system of shoot-back simulations that replicated the battlefield with great fidelity, and its concept was both eye-opening and (after the fact) blindingly obvious: If you survived your first combat engagements, you would go on to perform at a much higher levels. This was shown to be true of both individuals and units. The navy created their Top Gun School in the late 1960s, after they had realized they needed to train their pilots through their “first fights” before they had their real first fights in the skies over North Vietnam, and the Army decided to build a similar school for land warfare.

This came to be known as “performance-oriented training,” which meant that training was no longer conducted according to some arbitrary time criterion. Rather, you kept at it until standards were met. This was as simple as it was profound: You stayed at it until you got it right.

p. 96 “terrain walks”: Once every three months he required all commanders and leaders to go out on the actual ground where they anticipated they would fight. There they would explain in detail to their next-higher commander just how they intended to conduct the fight.

P. 97 Train the way you fight.

It required a significant cultural adjustment for commanders to … overcome the feeling that the NTC (National Training Center) experience was training, not an official report card.[SIC-Clancy means overcoming the feeling that is was a report card and to start taking it like training. –APM]

P. 101 “Next, ” he [General Cavazos] went on, “most savvy tactical commanders wait until the last minute to decide something, ‘Why is that?'” [He wants to maintain as many open options as possible for as long as possible to broaden his ability to respond to a changing situation. The commander also wants to be sure as much information and insight as possible has been brought to bear. –APM] Then he executes forcefully without looking back.

p. 101 [Coaching: ] Before Dick Cavazos led us through this discussion to these conclusions, I had not been able to articulate it, either to myself or to my staff, with anything like this clarity. Now, as a senior tactical commander, he had really let me see myself in a mirror. … And now he was explaining me to myself, as it were, He saw me as I had not been able to see myself, and he reinforced for me what had been up to then inexplicable intuitive behavior.

p. 151 The principles of war — so called — were derived in the nineteenth century, but they are still applicable today. They usually characterize any successful operation. They are:

  • Mass — physical and firepower concentration on the decisive point;
  • Maneuver — ability to gain position advantage over the enemy;
  • Surprise — gaining advantage by achieving the unexpected in time, location, numbers, technology, or tactics;
  • Security — protection of your own force from the enemy and from other factors, such as accidents and sickness;
  • Simplicity — making operations as concise and precise as possible;
  • Objective — focus on what’s important while avoiding distractions;
  • Offensive — gaining and maintaining the initiative over the enemy, usually by attacking;
  • Economy of force — using smaller forces where possible in order to leave larger forces for the main effort;
  • Unity of command — one commander in charge of every major operation.

p. 152 [General] Fred Franks constantly checked his own thinking against these rules to see if he was violating any of them (Violating them is OK and even called for at times, but you must consciously know you are doing it and why.)

Rommel made a distinction: With a risk, if it doesn’t work, you have the means to recover from it. With a gamble, if it doesn’t work, you do not. You hazard the entire force. Normally, to succeed you must take risks. On occasion you have to make a gamble.

P. 188 Teambuilding … You have to know (1) how well the new leaders communicate with you and with one another; and ( 2) how well they execute whatever it is they are supposed to be doing.
Communication involves, first of all, knowing who you are dealing with.

p. 229 [To prepare for combat operations in Desert Storm, the Army constructed] “…an exact breach replica so that the 1st INF and the Brits could rehearse.”

p. 559 For the Army, it [the Battle of 73 Easting in Desert Storm] was a vindication in microcosm of all our emphasis on tough performance-oriented training; of our investments in combat maneuver centers at NTC and Hohenfels; our quality soldiers, NCOs, and leaders; our leader development; and our great leading edge equipment. It had taken the US Army almost twenty years to get the results of 73 Easting. When Troop G Commander, Captain Joe Sartiano, was later asked how his troop had been able to do so well in their first time in combat, he answered that this hadn’t been their first time; he and others in his troop had been in combat before — at the National Training Center.

p. 491 ff. Since 1973, five foreign armies have formed TRADOC-like organizations of their own. The US Marine Corps has established at Quantico a counterpart organization they call MCCDC; in 1996, the USAF established its own doctrine organization within its existing training command; and, in 1992, the U. S. Navy located a Navy doctrine center in Norfolk, VA (so that it would be near TRADOC).

p. 494 “The only thing harder than getting a new idea into a military mind,” Liddell-Hart wrote, “is getting the old one out.”

In no other profession is the penalty for being completely wrong so severe and lasting.

P. 495 In Fred Frank’s words, “How you think about the future determines what you think about the future and what you ultimately do about the future.”

p. 506 TRADOC had a major advantage over earlier experimenters — computer-assisted simulations.

p. 514 [General Franks: ]
Battle command is not complicated. To me it has three parts.
The first is character: values, such as physical courage, mental courage (the courage to be who you really are), integrity, loyalty, and selfless commitment to your mission and your troops. These all make a difference.
The second is the competence to know what to do. Soldiers have every right to expect their commanders to know the nuts and bolts of the profession, to know how to make decisions, to outthink the enemy, and to put their units in a position to outfight him.
The third is leadership — the skills to motivate and otherwise lead an organization of people to accomplish its mission at least cost to them, and sometimes in directions and in situations where they would rather not go.
[Compare with TRADOC’s FM 22-100 MILITARY LEADERSHIP “Be, Know, Do”]


Into the Storm:
A Study in Command

by Tom Clancy & General Fred Franks


%d bloggers like this: