FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (April 1, 2015) -- "The enemy can adapt more readily than we can," and a reason they can do so is "they're native to ambiguous environments," said Lt. Gen. Bob Brown, commander of the Combined Arms Center.

Brown addressed 300 ROTC and U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, cadets at the George C. Marshall Award and Leadership seminar here, March 31.

The takeaway for the cadets, Brown said, is they all need to display a lot of agility, initiative and creativity if they are to stay a step or two ahead of their adversaries who play by their own rulebook. He then provided some examples of Soldiers doing just that.

When he was a Stryker brigade commander in northern Iraq, Brown said the city of Mosul was experiencing an inordinate number of suicide car bombings, targeting primarily the civilian populace.

They were frequently placing explosives in the trunks of taxicabs and driving them into crowds where they would detonate them, he said. Sometimes al Qaeda terrorists would chain the driver to the steering wheel and force him to drive.

The car bombings were creating a crisis for the city residents, he said, and Soldiers were there to provide a stabilizing presence, so something had to be done, but with some 4,000 taxis in the city, stopping and searching all of them was out of the question, he said.

One of Brown's company commanders responsible for the sector of Mosul that has 300,000 residents used his own initiative to try and put a stop to the carnage, Brown said.

He met with the Mosul Taxi Union members to come up with a solution, Brown said. They determined that the best thing to do would be to remove all the lids from the trunks so explosives could not be hidden from view.

The next morning, all 4,000 taxis had their lids removed, he said. The clever idea worked for a while, until al Qaeda began beheading the drivers. The intimidation worked and the lids went back on again.

So the captain met again with the Mosul Taxi Union, telling them "we're can do this together," Brown said, meaning the Soldiers would put skin in the game.

The next morning, the captain's Stryker vehicles were patrolling the city and the lids were back off, he said, adding that kids were enjoying rides in the now open trunks.

That is a good example of outthinking the enemy and adaptive leadership, Brown said. "The best ideas often come from the bottom up."

In another example in northern Iraq, Brown said the Shadow unmanned aerial system was providing excellent reconnaissance coverage of the area. The problem was that there were only two green boxes in which to download video feeds and oftentimes, one of the boxes would be broken. That meant there was a chokepoint getting the feeds out to Soldiers in near-real time or even any time at all.

A specialist figured out how to get the feeds out to all the computers in the tactical operation centers using a "feedbrick" technology, Brown said.

Another case involves a specialist figuring out a way to better sight in on enemy forces firing from rooftops. Brown said these and other examples illustrate what cadets will be called upon to do in the coming years.

These are dangerous times to be in, he said, providing examples of his own time in Iraq, when Iraqi troops deserted after al Qaeda started beheading family members of the soldiers.

The enemy would come up with creative plans for fomenting terror, he continued. In one instance, terrorists covered themselves with fake blood and drove up to a hospital. When doctors and nurses came out to help, they detonated explosives, killing everyone. They would also blow up schools filled with children.

"We need leaders who will thrive in chaos and ambiguity," in situations like those just described, he said.

"Technology alone won't defeat the enemy," the Soldier will, he said.

"Societal expectations changed significantly," he said. Knowing how to shoot and fight are no longer enough. Soldiers need to establish relationships. They also need to be able to act independently, he said, citing instances in Iraq where young Soldiers had to make split-second decisions on whether or not to shoot at a speeding car approaching a checkpoint.

The enemy will do barbaric acts that entice Soldiers to do likewise against them. But Soldiers must remain trusted professionals who live by the Army code of ethics, he said.


Brown then opened the floor to questions. A cadet asked if robots could eventually replace Soldiers.

War is a human endeavor. Machines will never take over, Brown replied. But the Army is enlisting machines and artificial intelligence as tools in the arsenal. Unmanned aerial systems and autonomous convoys, for instance.

This discussion is not new. Before 9/11, Brown said he was at the Pentagon planning the way ahead with top defense and Army leaders. The thinking at the time was that land forces would not be required in any significant way in the future and that targets could be bombed from 35,000 feet.

Then the attacks came, and over the next 14 years, 67 percent of all forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were Soldiers. Humans as well as machines will always be needed in the loop, he said.


A cadet asked how to succeed in the Army.

Besides character, competence and commitment, Brown said he thinks successful people have a consuming passion for what they do.

Harking back to his youth, Brown said when other basketball coaches and teams were out partying, Coach K would be watching films of plays to look for ways to improve. Coach K would also set tough, demanding, but realistic goals for his players and expect them to attain them.

In 1977, Coach Mike Krzyzewski asked Brown, who was playing for Michigan, to visit his West Point team. Brown accepted and the rest is history.

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