Pete’s Wish List for Combat Soldiers Pt 2

Pete A Turner
Jan 30, 2018 · 10 min read

— Pete’s Zeroth Law of Stability Operations: Instability is the norm. The US’ presence contributes to the instability of the region.

Commanders, strategist, politicians must accept this reality if we are to properly frame the challenges in creating stability from conflict. Part-two of my list continues to provide thee tools, orientation, lenses and lessons required to operate with greater success more reliably in modern conflict.

In part one of this post, I began my Wish List for Modern Warriors. What follows is part-two…

Again, from Part-one I submit:

1. War has been disrupted and democratized.

2. The civil population is the Center of Gravity (COG) in modern conflict.

3. Affects dominate Effects.

As a means establishing the credibility of this list, I am either interviewing or have interviewed the people noted in this list on the Break It Down Show. Further, I’ve written on many of these topics in other posts on LinkedIn, Zen Pundit, my own page or here on Medium.

My list is borne through the experience of training for deployments, actual deployments, 1000s of hours in the field “Outside the Wire” and watching “trained” units arrive and repeat the same missteps as the previous ones.

In this post, I’m featuring item 4. Mark Schaefer. His work is highlighted in this episode of the Break It Down Show.

Author’s note — I too made mistakes. Let’s not forget for one moment, I had the interesting benefit of staying as unit after unit rotated into my region. I watched, gave bad advice, said the wrong things, experimented and absolutely played a role in people dying as I figured out what worked.

I got to learn by watching others and committing my own errors repeatedly for years. I witnessed units rotate in with the same flawed mindset. Watching units spend weeks carefully handing off a mission to the next unit, only to have that new unit begin the same pattern.

I began to predict the future. I witnessed how units communicated/operated, I saw what their training kept them from seeing. I learned through mistakes how to speak commander, how to piss off Colonels and not get fired — but sometimes I did get fired —

One of the issues with progress in stability operations is our own myopic view of our inevitable success. Our bias, our institutional ethos denies us the ability to see the wins that are present or available. This myopia undermines our ability to understand the challenges, successes and failures that we create throughout own lack of acuity, and institutional standards.

From witnessing a lot of units, I saw the rehashed new ideas. These cyclical ideas exasperate HN residents — something US units are completely unable to accept (Ask me about the General at the gate). This exasperation hobbles progress and creates our own self-inflicted failure years before our own arrival. This gift of failure is then consistently passed on to future units.

Meanwhile, HN partners withdraw, cover their bases and act in passive aggressive ways that the US elements perceive as weakness, corruption, incompetence, fear, etc. Instead of realizing these perceptions lead to failure, US forces double down and lean even harder on dominance. This approach leads to satisficing partners.

By talking to 1000’s of locals, I’ve learned that instability in conflict zones is the norm. Further, instability’s elasticity is stronger than a commander’s resolve. Every effort or operation that a unit undertakes must buttress their delivered stability by connecting the populace to the government. Since this is not an organizational tool, it never happens and causes US operations to contribute to instability.

I’ve witnessed the “wins” (ask me about Route Chicken). I witnessed the legacies of great commanders disappear in an instant despite superhuman efforts to provide a great handoff to the next unit (Ask me about baseball cards and Smart Books).

The silence of DoD (Department of Defense)/DoS (Department of State) doctrine creates a lack of institutional tools, training and the detailed tasks required to improve stability. This means things like Rule of Law, Agricultural Development Teams, Provincial Reconstruction Team efforts are net de-stabilizers.

Pete’s First Law of Stability Operations: To create true stability one/a unit must make constant mistakes and learn from them.

Pete’s Second Law of Stability Operations: If you, your unit, your organization aren’t making mistakes, you’re breaking the First Law.

My wish list for modern combatants involves less equipment and more tools to understand creating influence. My list of things continues:

4. A mastery of Mark W Schaefer’s work. If a battlespace owning Commander, Department of State/USAID employee or augmentee team leader doesn’t have a command of Mark’s work, they remain unqualified to deploy. The ability to move people is elemental in modern war.

I had Mark on my show episode 219. Mark’s work doesn’t initially seem to apply in Modern Combat, however, when we accept that the civil population is the COG, we know we must create influence and develop as many repeated connections to the HN government as possible. We must help the local government become “Know.”

Mark’s book Known and the Tao of Twitter reveal a pattern to develop influence. This is the answer key that will make the partnering work mean something.

Nothing for a fledgling government is more powerful than gathering elders. Nothing gathers elders faster than a government that communicates, is present and helps. Nothing is more underwhelming than an HN police officer who doesn’t believe he can help residents and they agree.

5. A mastery of Ambassador PhD Michael Oren’s work. His book Power, Faith and Fantasy clearly describes our pattern of involvement in the Mideast throughout the history of the US. His book details our good intention, poor assessment of our success and our repeated pattern of arrogance and irrelevance. The main lesson to extract from Michael’s work is asking ourselves…Is this idea, operation, endeavor, original? What’s been done before? Why did that endeavor fail?

These questions allow an assessment our plans which provide us with a chance to slow down, consider the lack of past “victories” and assess how the current unit will learn from the mistakes of the past resident force.

One of the tools I used to educate commanders was to retain the slides from past unit commanders who had the same idea. This slide deck presented a graveyard of ideas that properly alerted the current commander to proceed differently. Initiatives like Agricultural Collection Centers, Check Dams run amok, Radio In A Box (RIAB) — I still need to tell this story in print — initiatives, water filtration projects all result in net destabilization.

6. A RIAB is supposed to be a system that allows the US to talk to the locals. The idea is to have our psychological operation folks educate, influence the locals while undermining the “enemy.”

This radio broadcasting system is among the most powerful tools on the battlefield. LTG Romeo Dallaire agrees and coincidentally has his own list. Romeo states in his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda that among the things he needed, but lacked was a radio to communicate with the locals.

We never use the RIAB correctly to accomplish stability. The RIAB used in the traditional way is — and I’ve studied this — a net destabilizer. Apologies to my PSYOP/MISO friends, I respect your work and efforts to accomplish the impossible.

The RIAB used improperly is a top-down US dominated messaging system that is assessed in terms of the machines published specs. The level of skill and performance required to run a radio station is absent from the US playbook.

The RIAB used properly enables the local HN leaders to communicate with locals. It enables them to compete with spectres, innuendo and rival campaigns. It allows that leader to talk in terms his constituents talk. This ability to message, gain trust and deliver services is unparalleled in places like Afghanistan.

The main objection I encounter when discussing letting the local governor broadcast to residents is fear of enemy message — TOO LATE. We lose this fight every day. If we are truly partnered, if we’ve allowed our partner to lead…if we’ve built trust, then we must afford that leader access to the people.

A RIAB properly used is mentored, not dominated, by US partners. The governor distributes small hand-held radios NOT US FORCES ON PATROL. Human interaction measures the station’s performance, NOT RIAB manufactured broadcast capability specs.

7. The mentorship of Fred Leyland when teaching/training HN Police. His expertise in gaining the trust and confidence of the people is compulsory for any unit tasked with improving the capacity of police in a region. It doesn’t matter how proficient HN police become if nobody calls them.

Our focus cannot remain 100% on the creation of capacity without creating influence. Again, affects be effects. Fred has been a frequent contributor to the Break It Down show with episodes Ep 38 Ep 47 Ep 134 and Ep 196

A unit commander may accomplish a positive demonstrated training effect yet loses the fight each day by not creating a positive affect towards the HN police. So long as the population remains distant, disdainful and lacks trust in “its” own police, the war is being lost.

— Author’s aside — Training effects are best measured externally; the ground truth denies our myopic view of our success. Tactics are best measured against the Ground Truth, not strategy. The standard is significantly higher than units are prepared for.

Trained police must get past the US evaluation. They must also employ the tactics/techniques and doctrine without US baiting/coaching. Further, police performance is measured in criminals arrested, and prosecuted…no police force exists if the population derives no benefit. — At some point, I’ll write about the fingerprinting story —

8. A professional understanding of how DeVone Boggan from Advance Peace along with his change agents managed to find the most dangerous/violent people in a city/region, meet with them! and then engage each cohort in creating stable, contributing citizens. The program is explained in greater detail in this post. The efforts of DeVone and Advance peace have cratered violence numbers in the cities and regions where they work.

DeVone’s work has featured 4 times on the Break It Down Show in episodes Ep 69 Ep 70 Ep 102 & Ep 104.

If US forces can replicate DeVone’s success, stability is achieved at a much lower cost. However, piloting his program requires acuity that is not institutionally achievable in the DoD or DoS.

9. Obtain the HN local leaders plan. This may seem obvious…but the norm is, units are trained to dominate and to accomplish the US agenda/commander’s “battle plan” rather than create space and authority in the local HN leader.

The most powerful quote I heard in my years overseas was, “There’s only room for one sword in the scabbard.” It’s not about what the commander does, it’s about what the HN Governors is enabled to do, wants to/can do and is provisioned — through the HN govt — to accomplish.

Before I extracted this governor’s plan, no US unit ever bothered to determine what his vision for the district was. When I talked to the people in the region, after a decade of Afghan conflict, US forces had accomplished zero connection between the people and the governor. Simultaneously, Taliban influence was universal.

Once we had a plan, we worked to reduce the which equate to US dominance. The District Governor (DGOV) was allowed to assert his authority, set his own priorities, provision his own initiatives and task the US partnered unit. We saw new faces show up at the governance center. The governor did NOT want to pursue massive projects or request millions of dollars.

Without the local governor’s plan, stability is denied through domination, satisficing, survival and apathy.

Acquiring this plan was delicate and deliberate work. This level of performance is NOT reliably achievable via current training measures or doctrine.

10. Electricity. Lots and lots of electricity. When we leave, when we transition from US presence to HN control, there is essentially no doctrine guiding us through transition operations. I’ve worked in regions where the next move for the Army was to close bases and turn over control over to the HN.

I’ve had the luxury of asking the HN men about to lead without any US involvement what they needed to survive on their own. After their shock wears off, they begin to accept the reality, we intend to leave. None of the leaders I’ve worked with were prepared. I am ashamed to say each found the transition a surprise. Each of them feared for their safety…and rightfully so, one of those governors was murdered within months.

What we call a withdrawal was for these “Partners” abandonment. I’m tough on my military peers in these instances. Why are partners shocked? Why are incoming US units provided with hours and hours of prep and training to ease transition while we expect our HN partners to be prepared without the same level of care in transferring authority?

What do they need? In all cases when I’ve talked to leaders from: Ministries of Defense, Education, Chiefs of Police, HN military commanders, HN governors and legislators…the common denominator? Electricity.

The fair, but hard question I’ve been asked, “How long would your governor stay if there was no power in his office…”

They don’t want industrial shipping container sized generators. Simply, a V-8 generator, the kind that’s easily maintained, repaired and operated. Enough to keep the lights on, charge laptops and run a small HVAC system. This, of course, requires a budget to maintain and fuel (which a government should provide, yet never does) the generator. However, our partnering skills and training are such that creating this capacity is beyond our capability.

I saved electricity for last because it’s elemental to creating stability and a competent government worthy of the public’s consumption yet, it’s problematic to achieve. Disagree? It’s 15 years later in Afghanistan, show me an operational generator attached to a governance center in Argahandab or Musakhel districts that aren’t provisioned by the US.


My list isn’t centered on combat, of course, that makes it hard to swallow — and, that is sort of the point (See Rule 2). The list contains no drones or bullets, but it does focus attention where the fight is won or lost, the population.

We don’t train like we fight. When an artillery unit conducts pre-deployment training at NTC they fire their guns and assess their combat readiness — and that is appropriate. This is their core discipline and they train hard to remain proficient, yet, as a norm, they won’t use this skill when they deploy.

They’ll engage in conversations with HN officials/residents more often than conduct fire missions by a factor of 1000. Yet, no DoD institutional doctrine/training requirement exists for advanced interpreter operations. The unit will spend mere minutes focused on engagement with locals. It is harder to earn a license to drive a 5-Ton (that’s 23 pages on why driving a truck needs better training) truck than it is to conduct partnering.

Fred Leland Jr. James Mattis DeVone Boggan #BIDS #Podcast #COIN #ModernCombat

Pete A Turner

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I’m a combat veteran, a former spy who’s not a podcaster. I host, produce and consult companies/people who create podcasts. I’d love to help.