Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Objective: Project

Old habits and other learned behaviors die hard with a traditionalist like the Colonel. Take, for example, the methodology by which projects are identified and attacked here aboard Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State, secretively situated at the northern end of southern nowhere.

At the beginning of my career in the Corps I was taught the military method for identifying mission objectives and their subordinate supporting intermediate goals. Way up the food chain from my position at the pointy end of the spear, some ancient Marine with stars on his collar would wave his wrinkled hand across a map and squads of colonels and majors would translate his grand gesture into circles on the map identified as Landing Force (LF) or Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) objectives; e.g. LF A or MEF B. By the time orders for the capture of these valuable pieces of real estate reached my level as a rifle platoon commander, I was normally tasked with securing a left or right portion of a small hill or road junction on the long way to accomplishment of the star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine’s ultimate objective. Early on in my career, the Marine Corps philosophy for mission assignment was, in a word, autocratic, and seemed, in another word, arbitrary. You got your mission with no explanation for why. During the 1980’s the Corps’ warfighting philosophy underwent a revolution of sorts guided by the nebulous and amorphous tenets of what became known as Maneuver Warfare. Among the many not-so valuable concepts foisted upon Marines by the “Maneuverists” in and out of the Corps, was what, in the Colonel’s not-so humble opinion, was the most valuable component of this new philosophy—the explanation (Commander’s Intent) of what the star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine wanted to accomplish by securing the objective a squad of majors had deciphered from the wave of his hand across a map. Every subordinate commander down the chain added their intent for the objectives they assigned to their subordinates. In theory, a lance corporal in the last rank of the last squad in my rifle platoon would understand why the star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine wanted a particular objective taken or enemy unit attacked, as well as the reason for the accomplishment of all of the subordinate objectives of the commanders between the lance corporal and the star-studded ancient and wrinkled one. Just as Napoleon asserted that every private carried a field marshal’s baton in his back pack, we Marines began to bandy about concepts like General Krulak’s “Strategic Corporal,” positing that even the smallest unit leader could take action that might be decisive to accomplishment of the largest military, or even political, objective. Finally, I was taught to look to the “desired end-state” whenever deciding on how to prosecute targets of opportunity.

Later I learned the military method for identifying and attacking known or suspected enemy targets. During the planning for an operation, we would develop a List of Targets. The List of Targets identified and enumerated every conceivable fixed location at which an enemy force might be located or from which an enemy force might need to be denied access. From this list was drawn the targets to be attacked to accomplish the results desired in the particular mission at hand. This mission-specific Target List (confuse the two at peril of a butt-chewing) became the reference document in a fire support plan that prioritized, integrated, and scheduled the fires of all of the weapon systems (those with effective ranges and power beyond the organic small arms of the maneuver unit) available to deliver lethal doses of lead poisoning in support of the maneuver unit tasked with accomplishing the mission. Each significant element of the maneuver element, tasked with a distinct objective in the overall mission, was assigned a block of alpha-numeric target identifiers; e.g. AW001 to AW010 by which to identify and request fires on particular targets. The maneuver unit’s Fire Support Coordinator would, in consonance with the commander’s intent for the operation, schedule, prioritize, and allocate specific fire support means (artillery, aviation, naval gunfire, etc.) for attacking each target.

A couple of stints as an instructor, first at the Marine Officers’ basic pre-assignment training (known as TBS, for, I kid you not, The Basic School) and later as the Marine representative on the staff at the Air Force’s Command and Staff College, necessitated attendance at each Service’s Instructional Management Course where I learned to break down each task or lesson to be taught into subordinate tasks or learning objectives.

The Colonel’s apologies for the frantically boring droll above, but it helps explain my methodology (and the pathetically warped mental processes) by which even the most mundane tasks and projects are identified and accomplished. A little over two years ago, the Colonel and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda established our latest, and last, in a long line of operational bases here in the kudzu-clad hills of north Mississippi. Before the dust from the truck that had delivered our well-traveled worldly belongings had fairly settled on the gravel drive, we began to survey the piney-woods and clay bank blank canvass surrounding the big house on the hill, and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, not to be confused in any way with the afore-mentioned star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine, waved her hand grandly over the grounds and issued her commander’s intent to her assembled staff—me (and I can out-staff a whole squad of majors!)

This place will be our place. It will be covered in flowers in beds, shaded by broad-leafed trees and augmented by ornamental shrubbery. It will have dressed paths and walkways. That pond you insist on calling a lake will have a dock and an adjacent tree-shaded sitting area. You may have that area adjacent to the house for your Man Toy Storage and Saw Dust Production facility—however, it must match the house and not be an eye-sore. The drive from the road to the house will begin with a pleasing entry and will be lined with trees and ornamental shrubbery from beginning to end. There will a vegetable garden protected from unauthorized deer and rabbit browsing. While you many not intentionally bait deer and turkey into the back yard, you may have the fields below and behind the house for your wildlife foodplots and attendant apex predatory pursuits. There will be a place for everything and everything in its place—and I want everything under a roof and behind a door. There is no desired end-state beyond the realization, which I hope makes an impression somewhere in your thick skull, that there shall be no end to the improvements and beautification projects aboard Eegeebeegee. Are there any questions? I didn’t think so—move out!

With that commander’s intent and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda’s desired end state firmly ensconced in the few remaining cognitive cells lying nearly fallow in the deep recesses of my bald-pated brain-housing group, I began the tedious staff work of converting said intent into primary and intermediate objectives by which the broad (No, I didn’t say, the broad’s) commander’s intent and desired end state might be accomplished. A thorough mission analysis (accomplished in much the same manner in which the Colonel conducts his strategic planning sessions—eyes closed meditatively while remaining in a well-disciplined stationary semi-reclined position) revealed the stated Comely and Kind-hearted Miss Brenda (MB), and implied Eegeebeegee Work Force (EWF), objectives; a very small and random exemplary sampling of which is provided below:

MB Objective A: Beautification of the immediate Big House grounds.

EWF Objective 1: Move all twelve mature crepe myrtles from their incorrect positions immediately adjacent to the house to more aesthetically pleasing positions anchoring flower beds.
EWF Objective 2: Build flower beds.
EWF Objective 3. Move all ornamental shrubbery from incorrect positions immediately adjacent to the house to more aesthetically pleasing positions in flower beds.
EWF Objective 4. Protect crepe myrtles, ornamental shrubbery, and flowers from cold and dry conditions by surrounding with mulch.
EWF Objective 5. Stimulate the economy via purchase of a chipper with which to make own mulch out of Eegeebeegee’s prodigious brush and tree prunedge.

MB Objective F: Beautification of the Colonel’s Man Toy Storage and Saw Dust Production Facility.
EWF Objective 55: Build porch on front of the CMTSSDPF (CoManToyStoSawDuProFac for you Navy types).
EWF Objective 56: Harvest cedar for conversion to lumber for the CMTSSDOF porch. EWF Objective 57: Stimulate the economy via purchase of saw mill for conversion of cedar logs into lumber.
EWF Objective 58: Stimulate the economy via purchase radial arm saw and thickness planer for conversion of rough cedar lumber into finished boards for stringers and deck planks.
EWF Objective 59: Stimulate the economy via purchase of compressor and pneumatic nail gun for securing deck planks to stringers.

It goes on for volumes to which I will not subject the meager readership of this wanton waste of rod and cone time. Suffice to say, the Colonel is bogged in an operational quagmire, extraction from which cannot be imagined accomplished in what remains of this ancient and wrinkled Marine's lifetime. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
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