War Art: Tank Girl, By Al Brady

This is some cool artwork by Al Brady. A big hat tip to Soldier Systems and the Atlantic Council’s The Art of Future Warfare blog for sharing this stuff. I dig the camouflage pattern for this super tank in the second graphic. Now that is some deception! lol –Matt

 

al-brady-big-old-new-2s

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 10.42.44 AM

 

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Building Snowmobiles: Manoeuvre Warfare, By Captain Daniel Grazier

This is a fantastic video that I have watched several times and highly recommend. It is a Building Snowmobiles post because it is pure John Boyd and William Lind. I also wish this was available when I was a young Marine back in the day.

Captain Daniel Grazier is a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just recently joined up with POGO’s military reform project. I will let the video speak for itself, and he does a fantastic job of explaining manoeuvre (not maneuver) warfare and drawing heavily upon the concepts of Boyd’s Pattern’s of Conflict. Enjoy and Semper Fidelis. –Matt

 

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Job Tips: Using RSS Readers For Job Hunting

When it comes to looking for security contracting jobs, you need all the help you can get for staying up to date with what jobs are out there. You also need to be able to react quickly to job announcements. So any tools and procedures that can help you do that, should definitely be used for your job search strategy.

Now of course there are the basic methods that most guys use, like perusing the forums/FB groups, signing up for job list subscriptions, asking around within their networks (personal and online), and checking out the various job boards/career pages and sites. But when it comes to doing a search efficiently and with speed, it can be kind of time consuming.

The other factor is that some job announcements operate on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. I can recount at least two of my contracts that I got, purely  because I answered the job ad so fast. Recruiters, if presented a large pool of candidates that are generally the same, will often just go down the list as they get those submissions. And if those recruiters are on a tight schedule where they have to deploy guys ‘yesterday’, then they have no time to waste. They just go right down the list and start calling and emailing folks. So it pays to be quick on the draw when it comes finding jobs and responding to them.

So how do I make this process faster and more efficient? Well one tool I use is called an RSS reader.(Specifically one made by Feedly) RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it is a tool that bloggers/journalists/researchers use to receive and process lots of information with. And the really cool thing about an RSS reader is that you can set them up to give you updates as they are sent out by the various blogs and sites. Meaning as soon as someone posts something, it is sent out immediately to the RSS feed, which if you have that RSS feed link in your RSS reader, then you will get that post.

How does this apply to job searches? Well, next time you are at a jobs website or a career page, look for a little graphic in the corner or somewhere on the page that says RSS. They will look like these icons.(see top graphic)

Put your cursor over it and copy it. Then paste that link into your RSS reader search engine, and when it comes up, put it in a category that is applicable. When I find a cool jobs RSS related feed or interesting website, I will put it into my Feedly RSS reader. I set my reader to update immediately.

What happens next is that every time that site posts a new job, that post is sent out to all of the RSS feeds. Meaning you will get that job posting as soon as it is posted, and you will see it in your RSS reader just waiting to be read. What is even cooler is that you can set up an RSS reader on your smart phone or tablet, and check your reader on the go.

I find myself checking my Feedly online and on my smart phone all the time. But if I do not check it and mark it as ‘read’, then it just stays in the hopper until I do read it. So if I am away for awhile or do not have access to the internet, I will still have a nice collection of materials to read at my leisure. You can keep all those posts in your reader as well and just mark them as read. I don’t delete that stuff because sometimes I will go back and re-read stuff.

You can also share those posts on social media, or do emails, thanks to the tabs included with most readers. I do this every day for blogging and social media sharing, and it is how I keep up to date with the news of the industry. It is also how I keep up to date with jobs.

Once you build an RSS reader, you will find yourself constantly looking for RSS feeds (post feeds, comments feeds, etc.) and URLs to put into the thing. Look everywhere for them, and also know that sometimes you can just put the URL for the site into the reader and it might recognize that site and it’s feeds. Play around with it and you will see what I mean. It is a fantastic tool and it will dramatically expand your ability to efficiently process the information that is out there. Here is a list of all the job boards/sites I have in my reader, complete with links to the feeds/URLs. Definitely put these guys in your reader.

Close Protection PSD Jobs

Conflict Area Management

International Security Jobs

Paladin Jobs

Secure Aspects

Security Officer Jobs-South Africa

USA Security Jobs

I personally use Feedly and it is a great reader. I also used Google’s RSS reader, but that closed down and after some research I ended up at Feedly. There are other RSS readers out there and they all do the same thing with various bells and whistles. Below I will leave a great tutorial on how to set up a Feedly account.

Enjoy and happy hunting! –Matt

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Industry Talk: Olive Group Merges With Constellis Group

This is the other big news I wanted to write about. I have written about Constellis Group in the past and they are definitely making some big moves. They merged with Triple Canopy, and while I was gone this happens. They merged with Olive Group!

And speaking of size, I wanted to get some information about exactly how big the family of companies are with Constellis Group? Here is what they said in a tweet.

Over 10,000 employees and contractors! That is a division in military terms. lol And if Olive Group’s numbers are correct, that means this merger doubled the size of this family of companies. Wow…

Some other side news with this merger is that Olive Group just purchased Newport Africa late last year. So Constellis is making a huge Africa play with this merger, and especially East Africa and in the oil and gas industry.

I was able to find a quote from the CEO of Olive Group as to their view of the merger and what it will mean for the company. Here it is.

The merger will provide us with a deeper funding base and allow the business to expand into new areas,” Mr St George told the Telegraph. “The world is not getting a safer place.”
Olive will continue to trade under its existing name and both the St George
brothers will take seats on the board of Constellis, which has traditionally specialised in Federal contracts in the US. Olive expects to hire more ex-forces staff according to Mr St George. The company will be looking to expand over the coming years and take on more ex-UK services personnel and operations staff to help it grow in key markets such as North Africa, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Olive already employs around 5,000 people working in 20 different countries.

The other news for this deal is Moody’s assigned a B3 rating to the $450 million, five year second lien notes of Constellis Holdings, LLC. The rating outlook is ‘stable’. What is cool about this story is that Moody’s identifies what gives this rating it’s stable outlook. Here is a quote with my emphasis in bold black.

Moody’s calculates pro-forma debt/EBITDA and EBITDA/interest at the low 6x and low 2x levels, respectively (after Moody’s standard adjustments) as of the fiscal year ending December 2014, based on audited financial statements and taking into account the additional debt and Constellis’ acquisitions over the year. Estimating metrics is made difficult by the wide number of cost actions undertaken/planned, and the only partial year contribution of acquisitions during 2014.
These metrics compare somewhat favorably to many defense services contractors also rated at the B3 CFR. Nonetheless, operating cash flow in 2014 was modest despite the large tax refunds. Funding the Olive acquisition will increase financial leverage somewhat, and there is still limited visibility into Constellis’ cashflow. Further, Moody’s estimates that the pending dividend equates to more than a year’s worth of prospective free cash flow and the Constellis growth strategy will continue to emphasize acquisitions.
The high concentration on the US Department of State’s (DoS) Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) contract, which expires in October 2015, represents a rating constraint since the contract will make up a third of revenues pro forma for the Olive acquisition. At present, the $17 million of near-term debt amortization scheduled seem high versus reported funds from operation. Liquidity should improve given the lack of scheduled debt amortizations going forward and expectation of free cash flow.
The stable rating outlook benefits from expectations of steady profits from rising demand as a result of ongoing conflicts throughout geographic regions where Constellis and Olive operate (i.e. Middle East, North Africa). Increased security needs for the US Department of State’s diplomatic activity as well as for energy sector customers favors the demand setting. Potential for cost actions to raise cash flow generation also factor into the outlook.
Upward rating movement would depend on better intermediate term revenue visibility, which is unlikely to develop until after the WPS successor contract outcome is determined. (WPS task orders can endure beyond that contract expiration date.) Adequate liquidity, expectation of FFO/debt greater than 10% with annual FCF greater than $25 million would likely accompany an upgrade.
Downward rating pressure would result from backlog declines, weaker liquidity or low free cash flow.
The principal methodology used in these ratings was Global Aerospace and Defense Industry published in April 2014. Other methodologies used include Loss Given Default for Speculative-Grade Non-Financial Companies in the U.S., Canada and EMEA published in June 2009. Please see the Credit Policy page on www.moodys.com for a copy of these methodologies.
Constellis is a global provider of training and security services focused on counter terrorism, force protection, law enforcement and security operations. From 2010 to October 2014 the company’s name was Academi Holdings, LLC. Before its 2010 ownership change, the company had been named Xe Services and Blackwater Worldwide. Pro forma for the pending acquisition of Olive, revenues in 2014 would have been approximately $1 billion. The company is majority-owned by Forte Capital and Manhattan Partners.

As you can see with the rating study, WPS is very important to Constellis Group. It also makes sense why they made their move with Triple Canopy–to secure more WPS business. The merger with Olive Group covers the oil and gas sector and entrance into Africa. I suspect we will see Constellis Group making more moves and getting bigger. The question is, who is next? –Matt

Constellis Group to Merge with Olive Group
MAY 7, 2015
Transaction creates the global leader in security, risk management, and complex programme management services Constellis Group’s capabilities in programme management and training combines with Olive Group’s strength in the provision of risk management solutions for blue chip corporate clients
A strong, well-financed platform for growth will help clients face increasingly complex challenges and risks. Olive Group will drive the combined Group’s enhanced offering for corporate clients operating in the energy, aviation and infrastructure sectors, particularly in the Middle East and Africa
Olive Group’s management team remains unchanged as the founders join the Board of Constellis.
Constellis Group and Olive Group jointly announced today that the two parties have agreed to merge Olive Group into the existing Constellis Group of Companies. Olive Group will drive the entity’s global focus on commercial sectors, and this merger establishes the combined resources and funding to deliver ambitious plans for commercial expansion, to which both parties are committed. The merged entity will leverage Olive Group’s market leading position and reputation for new growth.
Olive Group is a leading provider of innovative risk management solutions, which include security, programme management, life support and technology solutions, to blue chip commercial customers operating primarily in the energy, aviation, and infrastructure sectors. Headquartered in the Middle East with principal offices in the UAE, UK, and USA, Olive Group has more than 5,000 staff operating in 20 countries on 5 continents. Olive Group will continue to operate its distinct and highly respected brand, driven by its reputation of delivering operational excellence in conformity with the strictest compliance standards in the industry. Olive Group’s management team will remain unchanged and is committed to driving the growth of the combined Group with the scale and support afforded through this new partnership with Constellis Group’s global operations.
Chris and David St.George, co-founders of Olive Group, will join Constellis Group’s Board of Directors, adding immeasurable value, insight, and relationships in the commercial markets they and Olive Group’s leadership team helped establish over the past decade. Olive Group’s founding shareholders have chosen to maintain a significant ownership position in the combined entity.
“We are excited to welcome Olive Group into the Constellis family,” said Craig Nixon, CEO of Constellis Group. “The leadership, experience and capabilities of our combined operations establish us as a full-service risk management, integrated security, and managed services provider with a global presence.”
Olive Chairman Chris St.George said: “Olive Group’s clients face increasingly complex challenges in managing a myriad of risks including the safety of personnel, integrity of investments, regulatory compliance and the protection of corporate reputation. As a result, Olive Group needs to offer more services, and this merger establishes a unique position for the company to meet these global operational demands.”
Martin Rudd, Olive Group’s Managing Director, who will continue to lead Olive Group added: “Triple Canopy and Olive Group share deserved reputations for operational excellence and governance across government and commercial clients. Not only will this combination allow each company to benefit from the other’s considerable experience, but it will provide us both with a broad and resilient platform for growth. We are tremendously excited about the opportunities which lie ahead for the combined Group”.
The transaction brings together a global team of industry leaders serving a broad list of customers that include governments, NGOs, and a diverse mix of commercial entities. The transaction furthers Constellis Group’s participation in the commercial sector and provides global expansion into established and emerging markets across several continents. Operating under the oversight of a distinguished Board and an experienced management team, the combination of these companies will enable a significant expansion of services within the global stabilization market, delivering complex program management, mission support, integrated security solutions, training and advisory services throughout the world.

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Industry Talk: STTEP and Relentless Pursuit In Nigeria

Nigerian army 72 mobile strike force operatives pictured with their newley acquired beryl rifles. credit: nigerian_armed.forces

I have been away from the blog for awhile and now I am trying to play catch up. Over the last couple of months, probably the most significant story that stood out to me was the news from Eeben Barlow’s company called STTEP. Apparently they were on contract in Nigeria to help the Goodluck Jonathan government turn the tide agains Boko Haram. You heard that correctly–STTEP was called in to take on Boko Haram, a vicious jihadist group who is now allied with ISIS!

Now honestly, I had heard rumors of South Africans fighting in Nigeria last time I was home and hanging out on Facebook. What really grabbed my attention though was the deaths of Leon Lotz and Nangombe, both of which were former Koevoet, and both of which were working in Nigeria as contractors. The company they worked for was Pilgrims Africa Limited (or a subsidiary of Pilgrims Group Limited), which the managing director for PAL is Cobus Claassens.*

Cobus is quite the character and he was involved with Executive Outcomes back in the day. He was also on the History Channel with a show called Shadow Force and in the documentary called Shadow Company. If that isn’t enough, he was also the inspiration for Danny Archer, the main character in the movie Blood Diamond.

The thing with this news, is there wasn’t a lot to go with it. What were these guys doing there. Also, why was Boko Haram getting destroyed in Nigeria?

Well, it was only until SOFREP and Jack Murphy was able to score an interview with STTEP, another group operating there, where the bigger picture unfolded. Here is a quote of why STTEP was there and how their contract morphed from rescuing the Chibok Girls to fighting and stopping Boko Haram, based on the interview Jack did with Eeben Barlow (the chairman of STTEP).

The chairman of STTEP, Eeben Barlow, reports, “Our relationship with the Nigerian government and the Nigerian Armed Forces is very good, and as fellow Africans, they recognize the value we have added thus far at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.”

In mid-December of 2014, STTEP was contracted to deploy to Nigeria. Their mission was to train a mobile strike force to rescue the Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. When the terrorists abducted over 250 schoolgirls, it drew international media attention and put the ‘Nigerian Taliban’ on the map. Michelle Obama responded to the kidnapping with a perfectly ineffective social-media campaign driven by the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.

An advanced party of South African military veterans working for STTEP landed in Nigeria by early January of 2015. Instead of social-media activism, they held a selection program for the elite Nigerian military unit they were to train while the main body of STTEP began to arrive. “It is a mobile strike force with its own organic air support, intelligence, communications, logistics, and other relevant combat support elements,” said Barlow. He declined to name the unit they were training, but an open source investigation strongly suggests this unit is the 72 Strike Force.

By the time the main body of STTEP contractors arrived, the selection process for the Nigerian strike force was complete and training was able to commence immediately. “We built it from scratch,” Barlow explained, “and were able to, in a very short space of time, get it combat ready. The results this force achieved, along with the support of the Nigerian Army, are indeed remarkable.”

STTEP trained the Nigerian strike force in mounted and dismounted tactics with an emphasis on operational flexibility, which was tailored toward the unit’s specific mission. “I think we sometimes gave them [Nigerian military] gray hairs, as we were forever begging for equipment, ammunition, and so forth,” Barlow said as they conducted training in a remote area. “But, the credit in this instance goes to the chief instructor and his men, who implemented the training.”

The South Africans trained their Nigerian counterparts in the tactics, techniques, and procedures that they had practiced and refined on the battlefield since South Africa’s conflicts in the 1980s, including Barlow’s concept of relentless pursuit (which will be explored in a future article).

Meanwhile, Boko Haram was experiencing an increase in operational tempo and achieving successes in their area of operations. The militants captured Gwoza and established a base there in August, followed by the border town of Malam Fatori in November and Baga in January near Lake Chad. By early January of 2015, Boko Haram was estimated to have control over 20,000 square miles of territory.

With this in mind, STTEP’s mission quickly transitioned from training a rescue unit to training a rapidly deploying mobile strike force, and mentoring those they trained in the field. “By late February, the strike force conducted its first highly successful operational deployment,” Barlow said.

Outstanding and the interview is quite extensive. It is spread out over a six part series and each part discusses the various aspects of the contract and what they did. They also dispelled some myths and lies that was being reported on out there. Not only that, but Eeben dedicated several blog posts to the contract and dispelling myths. Here is a link to each post by SOFREP and Eeben.

SOFREP Interview

Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 1): PMC and Nigerian Strike Force Devastates Boko Haram

Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 2): Development of a Nigerian Strike Force

Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 3): Tactics Used to Destroy Boko Haram

Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 4): Rejecting the Racial Narrative

Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 5): The External Drivers of Nigeria’s War

Eeben Barlow Speaks Out (Pt. 6): South African Contractors Withdrawal from Nigeria

Eeben Barlow’s Military and Security Blog

Updating the Narrative

Feeding the Narrative

I have also found some interesting outside links that discuss either the contract or filmed the action of Mobile Strike Force 72.

Beegeagle’s Blog

South African Mercenaries and Nigeria; Chairman of STTEP, Colonel Eeben Barlow, Speaks to the Beeagle’s Blog Community On Pervasive False Narratives

Vice

The War Against Boko Haram (Full Length video)

MediaUno

COUNTER INSURGENCY OPERATION: The Gains and Prospects ( various shots of trainers working with Nigerians)

72ND MOBILE STRIKE FORCE

As you can see with most of the material, Eeben has been definitely working hard to correct the narrative and call out the myths and lies about this contract. There are plenty of sources of information for folks to tap into when it comes to this contract.

A couple of things that I was curious about, was the methodology or model for this contract. In Part 3 of the SOFREP interviews, the tactics were discussed. It sounded like the model of operations was a mix of what Executive Outcomes did in Sierra Leone (read Eeben’s book Executive Outcomes: Against All Odds or Roelf’s book to read more about that) and it also sounded a lot like what Koevoet did during the South African bush wars. STTEP applied the principal of ‘relentless pursuit‘ to this contract, and yet again, we see success. (Eeben blogged about the concept) Here is a quote from the interview.

 

When asked about the tactics that STTEP mentors their Nigerian counterparts to use, Eeben Barlow, the company’s chairman, replied, “The strike force was never intended to hold ground. Instead, it operated on the principle of relentless offensive action.” Barlow has previously indicated that this tactic is key to waging an effective counterinsurgency.

In the doctrine Barlow advocates and made use of in Nigeria, relentless offensive action means immediately exploiting successful combat operations to keep the heat on the enemy. This strategy relies of the synchronization of every asset brought to the battlefield, and applied on multiple fronts against Boko Haram. One of those tactics includes the relentless pursuit of enemy forces.

As to the strategy, I asked Eeben on his blog about how involved STTEP was in formulating the strategy to go after Boko Haram. Here is his answer.

In Nigeria, the Strike Force was an asset of a certain infantry division. As such, the division commander was responsible for the overall theatre strategy. He would brief us on a specific operation and ask for our input. He would also ask us how best we could support his operations.
Generally, our relationship with African armies is that they engage with us on planning and execution and we give our input. At times, we are asked to plan the overall operation and then oversee the execution.

It is also important to note, much like EO’s contracts in Angola and Sierra Leone, that STTEP also had involvement with the aviation side of this contract. Here is the quote from the interview.

STTEP also brought an air wing to the table with its package of trainers, advisors, and mentors. The air wing is an organic asset of the strike force and takes its orders from the strike force commander. The pilots fly a variety of missions to include CASVAC, MEDVAC, resupply runs, transporting troops, and even providing air support for the strike force. For instance, the air wing was “given ‘kill blocks’ to the front and flanks of the strike force and could conduct missions in those areas,” Barlow said. This means that the air wing dropped ordnance to create blocking positions, which would prevent the enemy from escaping the operational area that the strike force was patrolling in, essentially isolating the objective area.

Now what I am not clear about, and I don’t think it has been mentioned in the interviews, is if STTEP and Pilgrims Africa Limited were working together in a partnership? Also, with the new president of Nigeria coming onto the scene, I wonder if they will use the services of STTEP?

After discussing this with Eeben on his blog, more than likely Buhari will turn to western aid and money, which will undoubtedly edge out smaller companies like STTEP. That is too bad. Although I have a feeling that STTEP will be getting more business because of their actions in Nigeria, or what they did in the hunt for Kony. Africans helping Africans…

Very interesting stuff and congrats to STTEP for a job well done. Also, good job to the other contractors like Pilgrims Africa Limited working in Nigeria that are helping to defeat Boko Haram. Rest in peace to the fallen and I certainly hope that Nigeria will remember that sacrifice. –Matt

Edit: 6/19/2015- After posting this, I have already received some interesting feedback and I got a correction on some of the details here. The two big ones is that STTEP and Pilgrims Africa Limited were not working together on the training/mentoring contract, and PAL was only involved with the logistical tasks supporting the contract. Leon and Nangombe were also working for STTEP at the time of death and not Pilgrims Africa Limited.

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Leadership: The Proud Prussian Tradition of ‘Disobedience’

The German and Prussian officer corps are the officer corps with the greatest culture of disobedience–with maybe the exception of the French. The stories and events that kept alive the virtue requiring an officer–even in war–to disobey an order “when justified by honor and circumstances” were corporate cultural knowledge within the Prussian and German officer corps and it is therefore important to recount them here. -Jörg Muth, from the book Command Culture.

This is cool. Back in 2012 I wrote a Building Snowmobiles post called General Hermann Balck, The German That Inspired Boyd. In that post I explored the origins of Boyd’s thinking when it came to battlefield innovation and leadership. Or basically, I wanted to find out who inspired him in the history of warfare or gave him the idea like ‘building snowmobiles’. And what I found out had it’s origins at Chet Richard’s paper called John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the Meaning of Life. Here is the quote I zeroed in on, and it has been fun to expand upon what made Balck interesting to Boyd.

Boyd’s appreciation for novelty grew as he mulled over the ingredients for success in conflicts. Boyd’s close associate, Pierre Sprey, credits Boyd’s conversations with General Balck (1979a & 1979b) as planting the seeds that led to Boyd’s fascination with innovation, novelty, and the importance of rapid, intuitive decision-making (Personal communication, September 23, 2012). Thus the elements of maneuver conflict that appear in the September 1981 edition of Patterns, for example, do not include the concept of novelty, but by 1986 it was there (p. 115). Perhaps it was not until he began to compose Conceptual Spiral, though, that Boyd realized how the term “novelty” encapsulated so much of his strategy.

So in my post, I wanted to find that translated taped interview between Balck and Boyd’s research team and talk about anything of interest to the readership here. (which by the way, if anyone has that tape, it would be priceless to get it up on youtube or in a podcast)

At the time, I was really into the concept of dissent within teams or units. To speak up and not have the fear of being put down by your leadership. This is necessary for healthy organizations and leadership absolutely needs feedback in order to gain a finger tip feel for their organization. You also need honesty so that you are able to make decisions based on reality, and not based on data derived from a group think type scenario. Too many leaders and managers in today’s private industry are so adverse to getting honest feedback, or lashing out at those within their organizations that have the courage to come forward and question the status quo or some policy that makes no sense. This criticism is often interpreted as an affront to leaders whose ego is more important than building a better organization or coming up with better strategies.

It is sad to see companies fail or falter because of these types poor leaders, and they do immense damage. Within the PMSC industry, you see it all the time with Program Managers that lack management skill and leadership skills, yet are hired for the position because they knew someone or the company blindly hired them without proper vetting.

These PM’s would benefit greatly by just listening to their human resource and acting on that information, instead of trying to do everything on their own and not seeking input. To actually listen to those that have the courage to step forth and ask the all important ‘why’ question when confronted with idiotic policies. Policies that are often made without the input of others or the consideration of it’s second and third effects on operations or the morale of the contractors on that program.

So back to the main point. I ended that post about Balck with a question that has been bugging me since I wrote the thing in 2012. Here it is.

The other quote that perked me up is Balck’s mention of the Prussian military tradition of ‘expressing yourself bluntly’ to your superiors. lol I love it, and in the quote below, Model was his boss and Balck was telling him how much he sucked at commanding.
“Model listened to everything I said. We both expressed our opinions, shook hands and returned home. He never came to see me again. But every time I got a new assignment, he was one of the first to congratulate me.
That was one of the great Prussian military traditions: you expressed yourself bluntly but you were expected to never resent such blunt criticism.”
Boy, imagine if we had such a tradition in the US military? Or even in private industry? It also shows how smart the Prussians were about feedback and questioning authority. To actually have a tradition that forces folks to sit there and take criticism like a man…. I might have to explore this Prussian military tradition at a later point. Pretty cool and check this thing out. 

I thought at the time that this was crazy but awesome! For a military to have a proud tradition of ‘expressing yourself bluntly’ to your superiors is a pretty powerful concept? And most of all, where did this tradition come from and why is it important?

After making that post, it definitely got some traction and it sparked all types of conversations, and especially on Facebook. At FB, I even reached out to any of my German national readers that read the blog, and asked if they had heard of such a thing? Or even if there was a German phrase they were familiar with? I got nothing, and the question just lingered and the post just went into the archives un-answered.

Then late last year while reading an excellent book by Jörg Muth called Command Culture, I finally found the answer. For a quick reminder, Jorg came to my attention when I stumbled upon a post over at the blog called Best Defense, that described the command culture and the concept of Auftragstaktik (Mission Command) of the German Wehrmacht during WW 2, and compared that culture and command philosophy to the US military culture and command philosophy during WW 2.

After reading about the concepts, and how influential they really were to militaries around the world (to include the US), I was intrigued and had to find out more. I was amazed at how influential and sound the concepts were and I haven’t stopped researching the stuff since. Here is a segment about what Jörg’s book is about. (I also suggest the work by William LindDon Vandergriff, Eitan Shamir, Bruce Gudmundsson, Chet Richards, and Martin Van Crevald and their focus on Mission Command or Auftragstaktik and German military thinking during WW 1 and WW 2)

In Command Culture, Jörg Muth examines the different paths the United States Army and the German Armed Forces traveled to select, educate, and promote their officers in the crucial time before World War II. Muth demonstrates that the military education system in Germany represented an organized effort where each school and examination provided the stepping stone for the next. But in the United States, there existed no communication about teaching contents or didactical matters among the various schools and academies, and they existed in a self chosen insular environment. American officers who finally made their way through an erratic selection process and past West Point to the important Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, found themselves usually deeply disappointed, because they were faced again with a rather below average faculty who forced them after every exercise to accept the approved “school solution.”
Command Culture explores the paradox that in Germany officers came from a closed authoritarian society but received an extremely open minded military education, whereas their counterparts in the United States came from one of the most democratic societies but received an outdated military education that harnessed their minds and limited their initiative. On the other hand, German officer candidates learned that in war everything is possible and a war of extermination acceptable. For American officers, raised in a democracy, certain boundaries could never be crossed.
This work for the first time clearly explains the lack of audacity of many high ranking American officers during World War II, as well as the reason why so many German officers became perpetrators or accomplices of war crimes and atrocities or remained bystanders without speaking up. Those American officers who became outstanding leaders in World War II did so not so much because of their military education, but despite it.
The book connects successfully the pre-World
War II officer education of the U. S. Army and its traditions and culture with the conduct of the War against Terror today.

So what golden nugget of information did I find that relates to the topic of this post? Here is a quote from the book.

It was not by accident that the phrase fuhren unter der Hand (leadership behind the superior’s back) originated from the German and not any other army. All those examples were collective cultural knowledge within the Prussian officer corps, recounted and retold countless times in an abundance of variations during official lectures, in the officer’s mess, or in correspondence between comrades. The independence that was expected from a German officer and that was part of the tradition of the German officer corps could always attain the character of disobedience, a fact that was also recognized and acknowledged. 

The examples Jörg mentioned were of famous military leaders in the Prussian army, and later the German army. They include men like Ludwig Beck, who had the quote that ‘military obedience has a limit where knowledge, conscience, and a sense of responsibility forbid the execution of a command.’ Ludwig actually put action to words in regards to Hitler and was involved in a plot to assassinate him.

Other names mentioned include Generalleutnant Johann David Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg who signed a treaty with France in 1812 without the permission of the king of Prussia. The king originally wanted the guy executed for taking the initiative and not consulting the king about his actions, but then when that treaty actually resulted in great benefit to Prussia, then all was forgiven.

Another guy mentioned was Oberst Johann Friedrich Adolf von der Marwitz, who refused a direct order by his king to loot a castle of one of their enemies. That this kind of activity was not appropriate for his prestigious calvary regiments, and that lesser free lancer units raised during war time were usually given these tasks. Of course this pissed off the king, and Marwitz got a lot of flack for it. On his tombstone, it says ‘ He saw Frederick’s heroic times and fought with him in all his wars. He chose disgrace when obedience brought no honor.”

Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz is another famous guy in Prussian history that told his king to shove off during a battle. The king wanted him to attack with his calvary at a specific time during the Battle of Zorndorf, and Seydlitz replied that it wasn’t time yet. The king got pissed off, and demanded that he attack, and Seydlitz refused because he already had a plan. He replied famously ‘Tell the King that after the battle my head is at his disposal, but meanwhile I will make use of it’. lol

Back in those days, if you refused the king’s wishes, they would have you executed, so you can imagine the kind of courage it takes to say ‘nope’ or be disobedient.  And of course when Seydlitz attacked at the time of his choosing, he won the battle. Which shows how sure he was of himself and what needed to happen.

The final mention of disobedience was Friedrich the Second, who was the Prince of Hessen-Homburg. He decided he was going to start a battle against some Swedish mercenaries (Battle of Fehrbellin) at a time and choosing of his own, before waiting on The Great Elector to show up. The time period was 1675 during the Thirty Years War, and wars at that time required that rulers be present on the field of battle before they start. Friedrich decided to buck the system and kick off a surprise attack without the ruler being there. (on a side note, the army raised for this battle, became the core of the Prussian Army)

Now why is all of this disobedience relevant to Prussian history? Because back in 1812, a lack of initiative and a highly centralized command led to a bloody and extremely embarrassing defeat of the Prussians at the Battle of Jena. This battle is said to be the turning point in Prussian military thought on how to fight and win wars, and started them on the path to developing Auftragstaktik. A command culture and philosophy that emphasizes taking the initiative, and forming creative solutions to problems and operating off of commanders intent as opposed to hanging on their every word.

So there you have it. It was fun to finally close the loop on this question, and a big thanks to Jörg Muth for writing such a kick ass book. It is also a reminder to those leaders out there that are actually trying to build a better company or military unit, that feedback is essential to the health of your organization. The Prussians learned long ago the value of dissent or disobedience, and it was infused into their command culture through years of warfare and trial and error.

If in fact the US military or private companies are interested in implementing decentralized command principals like Mission Command, they will have to remember that your leaders will have to have some thick skin and put away their egos. They must study what works for war or business, and they must have an appreciation for those willing to speak up and criticize what is going on. After all, that individual might be responsible for taking the initiative and turning the corner of a battle, or finding a new market for your business, all because they dared to do something different or say something that needed to be said.

Or they make like Seydlitz and ‘fuhren unter der Hand’! –Matt

 

Frederick the Great compliments General von Seydlitz on his conduct during the Battle of Zorndorf. Picture by Carl Röhling

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