Should soldiers think?

Should Soldiers Think? was the title of a lecture I was invited to give some years ago to the Veterans Corps of Artillery at the splendid Armory on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Apart from its prestige, as the oldest military unit in New York State (1790) and the Governor’s Own Guard, the VCA has a long history of training selected members in military thought leadership.

I was then invited to join the VCA as an Honorary Bombadier which was an honour better understood in New York than elsewhere. For example, the VCA was also on the Social Register in New York and so it was a handy social networking medium which was useful for SOT.

The title, Should soldiers think?, was deliberately provocative and amusing and the auditorium was filled with VCA officers and their teams of other ranks who work hard, make critical decisions under relentless pressure and use the same brain that we use. It is just as difficult for a soldier to think outside the box as it is for a doctor, for a salesman or for a CEO. The American audience also enjoyed hearing about non-American soldiers like Brudenell, the great Aussie thought leader.

Fortunately, the military understands the value of strategy and devotes many, many hours of training soldiers to practise algorithms on thought leadership and how to think.

When I was 20, I very much valued the foundational training I received in military thought leadership. It made me a much better scientist in my professional career and a more effective businessman. Especially in discerning the difference between theory and reality, knowledge and skill, talk and action and the willingness to have skin in the game.

Examples that worked well for me in Vietnam and later in Australia and America were SMEAC and also design-wired trigger commands like Ambush Left! and in the Royal Australian Air Force I well remember Eject! Eject! Eject!

In my own experience the 12 months of leadership, training and preparation for the Vietnam war service in the army was much more positive than the 12 months that followed on return to Australia in civilian life.

Both the Scheyville experience and the Canungra experience were life-changing military training investments for me about the theory. After that, the Vung Tau experience and Nui Dat experience taught me about the reality; the quantum difference of having skin in the game.

Years later, in this ABC clip, I discussed again, Should Soldiers Think?

One thought on “Should soldiers think?

  1. Thinking in the military setting is not comparable to sitting in the armchair and spinning new hypotheses about whether the Theory of Everything is right or wrong. The soldier is more like an apprentice learning how to use various tools and how and when to use them. For a soldier, his tool-case contains some fight scenarios and some techniques how to act in a specific scenario. After the introductory training, particularly if he finds himself on the battlefield, his “thinking” manifests in making the right assessment of a situation and choosing the right course of action, appropriate for that situation. Seen in this light, yes, the soldier has to think in the way relevant to his mission.

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