TRADOC CG: Army leaders must embrace mission command, 'disciplined initiative'
General Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, speaks to Aviation Captains Career Course Students at Fort Rucker about the importance of mission command, exercising disciplined initiative and the Army ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

General Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, highlighted the importance of mission command and 'disciplined initiative' during a session with Aviation Captains Career Course students during his visit to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence here Aug. 14.

The Army's philosophy and system for command and control, known as mission command, includes building a cohesive team, which requires mutual trust, according to Townsend.

"I'm an infantryman by background. I don't know how to fix or fly a helicopter. I trust that you do. When I get in the back of a helicopter I don't wonder if the crew chief knew what he was doing, where he was trained, or how many times he's done it, and I don't really wonder about the qualifications of the aircrew up front. I trust you. We have to have that same kind of trust throughout our Army, and it starts with you, future company commanders," he said.

Trust must be built with subordinates as well as superiors.

Although mission command is "a fantastic command philosophy," there's a problem, according to Townsend.

"The problem is some of you don't believe in it. That's because for the last ten years, if you've been deployed, and I see a number of you have, we've been doing mission command by CONOP --a multiple (PowerPoint) slide concept of the operation," Townsend said. "That's not really mission command, and I don't want you to think that's how we're going to fight in the future."

"It won't work in a future war against a near-peer adversary," he said.

At the start of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, mission command was how the Army fought--including establishing the big-picture of the commander's intent, and setting left and right limits, and then providing platoon leaders, company commanders and brigade commanders more decision making authority. But over time, as the Army began extracting itself and partner nations were asked to do more, the Army imposed greater controls on itself, according to Townsend.

Townsend encouraged becoming 'disciples' of mission command, which includes gently pushing back when it comes to too much oversight from their higher headquarters.

"I want you to preach it, practice it," Townsend said. "I want you to go to your unit and help get this back on track. It's my estimation this is the right system but it's off track in our Army and we all need to row together to get it back on track. That's what I want you to do here."

A clear, concise commander's intent is important, and should be written in a way that every Soldier down to the lowest level can easily remember it, according to Townsend.

"It's the bottom line. It's what is really important in the whole Operations Order. It gives shared understanding. It also empowers disciplined initiative," Townsend said.

"Have the discipline to follow your orders until you realize they're not going to work or they don't pertain anymore. Be smart enough…to come up with a plan that will work, and have the guts enough to do it," he said.

Townsend also spoke about the standing up of a new major Army command for first time since the 1970s. Impacts to TRADOC include the 'design' function for the future Army, which shifts from TRADOC over to Army Futures Command. TRADOC will remain focused on recruiting, training and educating Soldiers and leaders so they contribute to Army readiness; building and improving the Army; and leader development to strengthen the Army profession.

Changes on the horizon in the arena of fitness, according to Townsend, include the new Army Combat Fitness Test, a more holistic approach that has been years in the making and intends to change the fitness culture of the Army. The ACFT looks to better prepare Soldiers for tasks, strengthen the entire body and also reduce injuries.

"This was not a quick decision. There's been six years of concentrated effort to put this test together. For the last two years we've been piloting it around the Army, and we're about to undergo a large scale field test this fiscal year with 60 battalions across the Army--Guard, Reserve and active, all over the world," he said.

Townsend also emphasized the importance of ensuring balance between unit and personal time.

"As an officer and a future company commander, you're going to be one of the people who instill and exemplify balance, role model balance in your life and also help your Soldiers and leaders make balanced decisions," he said.

Townsend urged the group to remember leadership comes first.

"You're an officer and a leader first, and a pilot second. Remember that. I want you to be good pilots. It'll make you a better leader if you're a good pilot because it will instill confidence among your troops if you can do their technical skill like they can. If you can PT as well as your troops that makes them confident, it'll buy you some respect. If you shoot as well as they do at the range, that will buy you some respect," Townsend said. "You're always a leader of Soldiers."

The visit to Fort Rucker also included an aerial tour, observation of the Basic Officer Leaders Course M9 pistol range, and Air Traffic Control Enhanced Tower Simulation Training.