Adaptability key to leadership in changing times

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Today, the Mountain Post has more than 4,000 soldiers deployed in Iraq in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Since 9-11, our country has been at war longer than when we were in World War II.
This state of conflict that we are in will not fade away; it will persist at some level, maybe not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but somewhere in the world for the foreseeable future.
This persistent state of conflict will require that we continue to train and grow leaders to meet the demands of this new paradigm of irregular warfare.
During the Cold War, where our primary foe was the former Soviet Union, we knew how they were organized, trained and equipped. We knew their routes of advance and what areas of interest they desired to attack and capture.
I remember as a young officer in the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., laying out an entire Soviet Motorized Division’s capabilities on an old gymnasium floor to better understand how the Soviets would array their forces for combat. That was 1987.
Sept. 11 changed all that. We are fighting an enemy that is less interested in fighting us militarily than he is in defeating us through the news media and opinion polls, economically and politically. Today, ambiguity is the rule. Uncertainty is the norm.
Terms like insurgents, counterinsurgency and nation rebuilding have replaced many of the traditional vernaculars that many of us grew up with.
The environment in Iraq and Afghanistan requires our leaders to not only be able to recognize, but to understand, the character of irregular warfare and adapt accordingly.
In waging this new global war against determined adversaries, we must have adaptive and intuitive leaders. We must have leaders that fit the mold of a “pentathlete,” whose versatility enables them to adapt in ambiguous situations in a complex and changing environment. It requires leaders to be able to negotiate with tribal sheiks and religious leaders one day, and to pursue the enemy the next.
The battlefield environment demands that leaders be multi-skilled, innovative, agile and versatile. They must be able to transition between complex tasks with relative ease.
And because the environment is filled with ambiguity and change, leaders must adapt their way of thinking to remain relevant and ready. Tomorrow’s conflict will not be all kinetic in nature.
The tools leaders must have aren’t necessarily weapons.
Tomorrow’s leaders must be equipped with information and the ability to process information; in some cases massive amounts of information. They must be able to separate or filter out what information is needed from what is not needed in a very short span of time.
For example, in the streets of Baghdad or Kabul, leaders conducting operations within the populace must be able to separate civilian bystanders from those that desire to inflict violence.
So how do we grow and sustain leaders for this new paradigm of irregular warfare?
First, we must educate and train leaders to operate as part of a joint team – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. We call this “joint interdependence.” It’s the reliance on another service, i.e., the Air Force and its capabilities and the ability to integrate them with our own, to produce results on the battlefield. The current operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan have affirmed this reality; joint interdependence is the key to our success now and in the future.
Second, as we increase our joint interdependence we must also grow and sustain our ability to be more expeditionary. By expeditionary, I am referring to leaders prepared to respond and move quickly and commence operations immediately in some of the most austere locations in the world. The enemy we are fighting is both elusive and adaptive and they seek refuge in some of the most remote locations in the world. Leaders must be versatile, both militarily and educationally, to be able to respond to any area of the world and achieve results.
Third, we have to change the way we educate leaders. Both officers and noncommissioned officers must not only be technically and tactically proficient in their military skill or occupation, they must also have an understanding of the language, culture, religion and political climate. The “Cold War” way of thinking is no longer applicable today — “how to think” versus “what to think” is now the norm.
Finally, we must incorporate the lessons learned from combat and apply them to the way we conduct training. Next month, Fort Carson will conduct one of the largest training exercises at the post and Pinon Canyon in more than three years. The exercise is called “Bayonet Strike,” and it is designed to replicate combat conditions similar to those our soldiers and leaders will face in Iraq. The exercise has incorporated many of the lessons learned passed on from our leaders currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as from those that have recently returned from combat.
Once again, history is being written by valiant men and women, and it will continue to be written for years to come. But in order to defeat this enemy, we must have leaders who are highly skilled, resilient, and able to thrive in rapidly changing environments and be ready to operate with our interagency, intergovernmental and multinational partners.
We are in a long war, and it requires better leaders than we have ever had in the history of our nation. The war we are fighting will not be decided by who possesses the most sophisticated weaponry or the most advanced technology; it will be decided on who possesses the steadfastness and perseverance to win this test of wills. This test will be decided by, not only our leaders and soldiers on the battlefield, but by Americans in cities and towns across this great nation of ours.