By lex, on March 20th, 2007
Rules of engagement (ROE), highly criticized as being too restrictive and sometimes endangering our troops, have been “clarified.” “There were unintended consequences with ROE for too long,” Petraeus acknowledged. Because of what junior leaders perceived as too harsh punishment meted out to troops acting in the heat of battle, the ROE issued from the top commanders were second-guessed and made more restrictive by some on the ground. The end result was unnecessary – even harmful – restrictions placed on the troops in contact with the enemy.
“I’ve made two things clear,” Petraeus emphasized: “My ROE may not be modified with supplemental guidance lower down. And I’ve written a letter to all Coalition forces saying ‘your chain-of-command will stay with you.’ I think that solved the issue.”
My command leadership when I was a junior officer were all Vietnam veterans. By 1987 the war already seemed unimaginably distant to me, but to them it was just a couple of sea duty tours ago. I asked my first CO what it was like, fighting in A-4′s and A-7′s. He was a laconic sort to begin with, had lost a number of dear friends during the fight – the West Coast light attack squadrons were hard hit – and he dispensed with the good old days in short order: “When we first got there back in the 60′s, we were all gung-ho to get the mission done. We pushed hard, we took chances, we went on ‘government time.’” When we realized that the leadership wasn’t interested in winning the war – and wasn’t interested, frankly, in our survival- the focus changed from getting the job done to getting everyone home in one piece. It was bullsh!t, but that’s the way it is.”
That’s what happens when people on the pointy end lose faith in their leadership. They lose the mission focus and instead become risk-averse. Instead of trying to win, they play not to lose. It’s like playing “prevent” defense in the fourth quarter when you’re up by a touchdown. It doesn’t work, never has.
This is why it’s great to hear Petraeus put himself on the line for those at the whip-end. That’s leadership.