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(Tactical Assembly Area)
(H-22 Hours)

Before going into the CP, Bolten gave the overlay to Kelly and LT O'Neil, his new Team Fire Support Officer. Bolten wanted to give them a jump on getting the overlay copied for everyone and to get the guys started on the sand table they would need later during their rehearsal.

To Bolten, it always seemed to take him longer to plan and issue orders and instructions than the other team commanders. They had sometimes teased him about being too methodical, because "Everyone knew all plans would change once the battle started."

He had been taught a long time ago it was more important to give all of the information he had to his subordinates than to hold bits and pieces. Some of his contemporaries believed giving up information was the same as giving up power.

Bolten knew information was critical to decision making. If he required his subordinates to keep coming back for instructions or information, it could lead to misunderstanding at a critical time and, worse yet, they would not learn to make critical decisions on their own.

"Yeah," he thought, "he'd taken a few lumps from MAJ Daniels and LTC Bryant along the way for some of the decisions his young leaders had made, but if they never learned how to make decisions in training they would not be able to do it when they had to, when someone's life was at stake. Now was the time for him to find out if his subordinate leaders had learned from their mistakes."

Because of the time needed to plan and prepare for the mission, Bolten realized he alone could not do everything himself. "Besides," he thought to himself, "we have practiced for a long time to get people ready to lead their soldiers. Now was not the time to lose confidence in their abilities."

POINT: Junior leaders will exercise initiative only if they have developed experience and confidence by "doing." Initiative and confidence can't be developed overnight. Commanders must underwrite subordinates' mistakes as the price of learning.

As the TM SABRE Orders Group began to gather around their commander, Bolten could feel both their confidence and their fear as they joked and teased with each other. "Too bad," he thought to himself, "it doesn't seem fair these guys would not be the first ones to test their skills against the enemy force."

As the group settled in, Bolten began by giving everyone a complete rundown of some information and orders he had received from LTC Bryant. Before he could issue orders, he knew they had to build a plan, and the best plan is one that is developed by the people who must execute it. The first step was to lay out a timeline. This reduced the chance for misunderstanding.

POINT: Establish a timeline that includes all critical events. Stick to it religiously. Time management is essential to effective planning and preparation.

Bolten had learned a valuable lesson as a company Executive Officer. He saw months of hard work dissolve in a matter of weeks after he moved on to a new job in the battalion. The guy who replaced him as XO had tried to do everything himself. When they failed, he was the first to blame someone else. Within a few months his company went from being one of the top companies in the division to one of the worst.

POINT: Doing all oneself simply will not work. There may be short-term success, but in the long run only disaster will result. Give subordinates responsibilities, train them to standard, give them authority, and hold them accountable.

As Bolten issued his planning guidance to those eager young faces, it struck him that they really wanted to do well, not necessarily for themselves, but for the people around them. As Bolten and the others worked through each phase of the battle, the plan began to take shape. By focusing on what each part of the team was responsible for accomplishing during the battle and the planning and preparation for the battle, they made a point of identifying what everyone could expect of each part of the team and what each part could expect from the other during each phase of the battle. Different courses of action were tested, analyzed, and tried. Throughout the entire process, the group remained focused on one single thing: the mission of defending BP DAUNTLESS.

As he wrapped up the planning meeting and completed issuing his orders, Bolten asked if anybody had any questions. Satisfied they had been answered, Bolten stood up straight and told his platoon leaders he wanted each of them to take a few minutes with their platoon sergeants and discuss the orders and the mission, and then he wanted both of them to backbrief him on the mission as they understood it and how they would execute it.

Knowing time was short, Bolten had given each platoon an attack route they were responsible for coordinating, reconning, preparing, and checking. He would also do his own reconnaissance of each route as a precaution and to help the platoon leaders who might have missed something. Two sets of eyes are better than one.

Each platoon also was assigned two attack routes in support of another platoon they were to prepare. Bolten made it clear they were to make a special point of coordinating with the forward teams and conducting a route reconnaissance from the Battle Position as far forward as OPSEC would allow.

Bolten wanted each platoon leader to know and be able to tell him how far it was; how long it took to get out of each position and move to another at night and in MOPE IV; how and where they would engage the enemy force; how, where, and when they would use mortars, artillery, and close air support if they got it. He wanted to know what they would do if they didn't get it. Bolten wanted to know how they would use smoke to obscure and screen their movement and positions, what effect the task force obstacles had on their movement and mobility, and even how they would treat and evacuate their casualties during and after the battle.

Bolten knew there were a lot of questions he wanted them to be able to answer. Better they find out before the battle something doesn't work than during the battle.

The backbriefs were finished when Bolten was satisfied each of the platoon leaders and their platoon sergeants understood their missions. He sent them out to complete preparing their platoons for battle. Bolten grabbed his thermos out of the HMMWV and drew out a steaming cup of coffee.

Finding Kelly and O'Neil crouched over a map, Bolten walked over and sat down with them. After taking a sip of coffee, Bolten looked at Kelly and said, "We have our work cut out for us. I need you and First Sergeant Johnson to make sure everybody has all their ammo, and maintenance, chow, and the other admin stuff taken care of as soon as possible. Check compliance with the Pre-Combat Checks in our TACSOP; especially make sure everyone has boresighted their weapons. Every round must count!

"Make sure the medics get around and check everybody out. I know some of the guys may have some minor problems they need taken care of. Make sure they also recon the routes for evacuating our casualties.

Also, have the 1SG call the S-1 and see if we can get the mail early. Also, if we can get the chaplain to come by for a bit. Some of the guys might like to see and talk with him before everything gets hot. We need everybody focusing on getting ready, not worrying about other problems."

Taking another sip of coffee, Bolten continued, "XO, when you're done, I need you to set up a rehearsal. We need a couple hours for the platoons to get ready. They need to finish their reconnaissance, preparations, rehearsals, and coordination with each other as well as the other teams before we do ours.

"As I told everyone, we can expect the battle to start around 0400 tomorrow morning. That gives us about 21 hours to get ready. Let's plan on the rehearsal at 1430. That will give us some time to fix or let the S-3 know of any problems that we find. MAJ Daniels and LTC Bryant have a task force rehearsal at 1600 and we need to be ready.

"If we have time this evening, when it is just about as dark as it will be at 0400, I want to have another rehearsal. This time I want to have everyone actually drive the routes they might have to use. You will need to coordinate with MAJ Daniels and with the other three team Commanders. Also make sure the fuel truck gets everyone topped off after the rehearsal. Better get the mechanics around at the same time to check everything one last time.

"If they can do it while its dark, they should be able to do it as it gets light."

Bolten looked up at Kelly and O'Neil saying, "FSO, I want you and the XO to run the rehearsal. I will be the enemy force during the rehearsal. I need you guys ready to be prepared to take over if I can't run the battle for any reason. Both of you must be able to fight the battle the same way I would. We can't afford confusion. I am going to make the rehearsal as hard as I can on all of us. We must leave nothing to chance.

"You two need to be asking questions like: How long? How far? How many? Who will do it, fire it, or see it if you can't? Who will do it if they can't?

"We have to make this tougher than the actual battle. If we get to do the full-up rehearsal tonight, I want the same thing again. If we find any problems with the Task Force order, we need to make sure we notify LTC Bryant and the S-3. Understand?"

Both Kelly and O'Neil nodded their heads and replied, "Yes, Sir."

Finishing up his coffee, Bolten got up and moved over to where 1SG Johnson was standing. "Top, let's go do our pre-combat inspection of the platoons. I need you to make sure everyone knows what is going on. Make sure the NCOs are doing their pre-combat checks. We also need to make sure everyone gets chow and sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day, and everyone needs to be ready."

As they walked out of the CP, Bolten's driver ran up saying, "Sir, LTC Bryant called. He and MAJ Daniels need to see you right away. Something about the S-2's stuff on the routes. Apparently the Scouts have some new information for everyone."

Bolten looked at 1SG Johnson, and said, "It never fails, Top. You make a plan, then you have to change it. Top, I need you to look after things for awhile. When I get finished at the TOC, I am going to do my recon. I will call you if there are any significant changes that affect us. Please look after Second Platoon a little bit more than the others. LT Thorne is pretty new and I'm not sure he has learned his way around with the Platoon Sergeant. Talk to SFC Rose and let him know we want him to make sure he doesn't let Thorne do anything that might get the platoon in trouble. Please tell the XO I'll be back in a bit."

Confident that things were on track, Bolten climbed into the HMMWV and headed off to the TOC to see LTC Bryant. Arriving a few minutes later, Bolten noticed some of the commanders and staff were gathering around the S-2's map. He decided he needed to get over there and see what was up.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias