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Thread: The Strategic Corporal

  1. #1
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    Oct 2005

    Default The Strategic Corporal

    I'm a Brit officer at our staff college and have recently started my research paper. So far I've got a working title of "Strategic Corporal: Man or Myth, does the Krulak thesis stand the test of time?" My intent is to discuss:

    1. What is actually meant by the term? Can a relatively junior soldier actually implement strategy? Is it instead just a recognition that every time someone makes a mistake it appears on the news 10 mins later.

    2. Have we actually seen an explosion of these people in our new 3 block war era or is it just business as usual?

    I'd be grateful for any thoughts the learned body might have or suggestions for research resources.


  2. #2

    Default Strategic Corporal

    In the 90’s I supported the Marine Corps’ Urban Warrior and Project Metropolis programs. The former set the focus on what we needed to accomplish in successfully fighting the 3BW. That focus centered on the tactical – solid TTP augmented by “select” technologies – “equipping the Marine” not “manning the equipment”. Pro Met did just that and produced the Basic Urban Skills Training (BUST) program.

    My takeaway from all that was the theme of the Strategic Corporal was ever-present in everything the Corps did – from experimenting with new TTP and technologies as well as looking at training and education in a different light.

    I never looked at the term General Krulak coined in his 1997 speech as meaning we expected our NCO’s to directly implement national strategy – as we well know that strategy may not be “well defined” at even the strategic and operational levels, much less the tactical. That said, in the perfect world the Strategic Corporal would have a full understanding of that strategy and be capable of conducting tactical actions that supported reaching the desired end-state. My interpretation of the Strategic Corporal metaphor was that the junior leader would be required to make decisions that could well affect operational and strategic outcomes and be empowered with authority that previously resided at much higher levels of command. I also believed we all fully understood the implications of modern news media and the “CNN effect” was often discussed.

    I think the Commandant summed up what we tried to achieve in Urban Warrior and Pro Met in a 1999 article he wrote for the Marine Corps Gazette - The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War:

    … The inescapable lesson of Somalia and of other recent operations, whether humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping, or traditional warfighting, is that their outcome may hinge on decisions made by small unit leaders, and by actions taken at the lowest level. The Corps is, by design, a relatively young force. Success or failure will rest, increasingly, with the rifleman and with his ability to make the right decision at the right time at the point of contact. As with Corporal Hernandez at CP Charlie, today's Marines will often operate far "from the flagpole" without the direct supervision of senior leadership. And, like Corporal Hernandez, they will be asked to deal with a bewildering array of challenges and threats. In order to succeed under such demanding conditions they will require unwavering maturity, judgment, and strength of character. Most importantly, these missions will require them to confidently make well-reasoned and independent decisions under extreme stress -- decisions that will likely be subject to the harsh scrutiny of both the media and the court of public opinion. In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests -- the Strategic Corporal…

    On edit: An afterthought - a couple of variables that might or might not make a difference in your project - pre-OEF/OIF (Telic) the Strateigc Corporal was the the combat arms Marine and Soldier - the "CNN effect" was media "in the immediate area", not prison guards' actions influencing national strategy and news media embeds (just two examples).
    Last edited by DDilegge; 10-21-2005 at 11:34 PM.

  3. #3

    Default Several References....

    I would suspect you might already have these, but a start for anyone else interested in the "Strategic Corporal". These were near at hand - will post some others here and in the SWJ Reference Library soonest.

    "The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War"
    (The Krulak article I mentioned)

    The Strategic Corporal and the Emerging Battlefield
    (James Szepesy. Tufts University Masters' Thesis, March 2005)

    The Strategic Corporal: Requirements in Training & Education
    (Major Lynda Liddy - Australia - 2005)

    Strategic Scouts for Strategic Corporals
    (Major Major Ron Sargent, U.S. Army - 2005)

    Small Unit Leadership in Future Security and Stability Operations
    (Col. Michael Bohn, USMC - 2004)

  4. #4
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    Oct 2005


    Thanks a lot for those links although I've got most of them already. If you have any others I'd be very grateful. I'm particularly after anything that raises criticisms as I haven't managed to find any yet!

    Some of my (relatively undeveloped) thoughts:

    1. One of the General's main points is that operational/strategic success will be determined by the quality of decisions made at a much lower level. It strikes me that this is hardly unique to the modern period! You could raise any number of examples where a battle or campaign has turned on the actions of a single individual at a relatively low level.

    2. The strategic corporal concept (as described by Gen Krulak) is based upon the fact that individuals will be operating without immediate supervision. We are told of the impact that Network Centric warfare, Network Enabled Capability (UK), etc is going to have on our forces. Surely therefore we are just in a brief transition period before all soldiers have helmet mounted cams, microphones, etc linking them directly back to their commanders? Already all soldiers have a personal radio, vehicles have blue force tracker, etc .....

    3. I fully take your point about the impact tha non front line troops can have and many of the biggest stories of the last few years have centred on these people. Abu Ghraib and the capture of Jessica Lynch are two good examples. This might even be expanded to Private Military Companies, contractors or indeed any national who is taken hostage.

    4. The other question I would raise is the possible difference between strategic effect and strategic impact. The first I see as being about positive choices in support of higher policy and the campaign plan. Strategic impact I believe is more about non-intended consequences, unfortunately usually negative and normally driven by media agendas. Inevitabily the number of people who can do the former is very limited (SOF?) so the key task is to ensure that our people avoid the latter.

    Anyway, grateful for any further thought you might have.

    As an aside can anyone think of any other military forums where I can post this and have a sensible discussion?

  5. #5
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Oct 2005


    The thing to remember with all the "whiz-bang" communications gear is that it won't always work. And linking directly back to higher commander isn't always a good thing, as decisions that need to be made immediately can become delayed due to higher level discussion (Vietnam provides many examples of this, and there are more recent examples to be sure). My take on Krulak's strategic corporal concept is that it's intended partly to foster the ability to make informed decisions with people who might not normally be expected to make them, and for those same people to be mindful of the impact higher up the food chain their decisions might have. Unique to the modern era? Not really. But the command awareness and support regarding these sorts of decisions may well be new.


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