Today??™s Army faces an ever changing environment and evolving enemies. Webster??™s defines doctrine as ???a body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief established through past decisions???. When I think of AMEDD Army doctrine I think of the regulations and formal TRADOC classes that made up my education. These materials were based on military theory, historical facts, and experience. With the operational environment changing rapidly, leaders have to quickly adapt to be effective and later efficient. Too often leaders use the changing landscape a reason to not study and apply doctrine. I contrast this dismissal with doctrine to systematic movements or even departures from doctrine. Critical thinking and creativity are essential to solving problems and dealing with an evolving enemy. These skills will be the most useful for me as a Field Grade officer in the last 15 years of my career. Critical thinking and problem solving are essential to an officer. C120 stressed the importance of doctrine in ???Tools of the Trade???. Then gave me a systematic way to break down a problem into a statement and then apply the problem solving techniques to the situation. No matters what issue(s) are faced, knowing doctrine and departing from it in a logical fashion gives a person a process that can be retraced. This is the most reliable way to remain relevant and capture lessons learned and improve the solution set.
To apply critical thinking and problem solving you must first have a basic body of knowledge and beliefs to depart from. FM 3-0 states, ???Army doctrine is detailed enough to guide operations, yet flexible enough to allow commanders to exercise initiative when dealing with specific tactical and operational situations. To be useful, doctrine must be well known and commonly understood??? (1-5). A basic tenant of this field manual is a mastery of army doctrine to apply critical thinking strategies to a situation or problem. Knowing how Army capabilities are structured, designed, and employed, helps determine if you have the correct capability for the mission or if capabilities can be increased in some areas and decreased in others to best fit the situation and accomplish the mission. C120 and other military classes and lectures state that doctrine is not enough. I agree; but, it is a great place to start. C120??™s basic idea is not what to do in a given situation; but, to have a process by which to make decisions. It sounds basic and elementary but doctrine is a foundation from which to depart. It is the elements to which you will apply critical thinking and problem solving. It would not make sense to try and apply critical thinking and problem solving to a situation already addressed in doctrine. These skills should be applied based on ones understanding of doctrine. The first principle that doctrine applies is, to understand the operational environment. Using this lens will help me gather and analyze the challenges in the operational environment, and assist me as I place recommendations and solutions down to the tactical level. As a Field Grade officer, referring to doctrine and knowing when it changes is the starting point.
Once we accept the basic importance of doctrine and the mandate to follow it, only then can we realize it is may not address all situations. Honestly it was never meant to, and cannot fit all situations. Since the version of FM 3-0 I am using was published in 2001 the Army has changed the way we fight from Divisions to Brigades. But this FM never put doctrine on a pedestal, as a must do. It was always a guide. When I encounter a problem, doctrine should be the first place I look. Finding it incomplete or lacking, applying critical reasoning skills is the next step. The situations I encounter may require a new solution set. To adequately apply problem solving, the shortfall must be defined.
Once a shortfall is identified, it is necessary to apply a systematic critical thinking approach. FM 5-0 states, ???Critical thinking is a deliberate process of thought used to discern truth in situations where direct observation is insufficient, impossible, or impractical??? (1-9). Departures from doctrine are not haphazard or accidental. It is a deliberate action in response to a new problem. Using a deliberate process to examine the new problem gives me the ability to retrace my steps and intelligently articulate a shortfall in doctrine. C120 provided me with the skills, models, and a frame work for problem solving and critical thinking. C120 gave me the ability to see how critical thinking and problem solving are interrelated. Specifically the Army Problem Solving Model (APSM) is very valuable. It addresses how to proceed once a short fall is identified. Monitoring the problem and updating estimates is a doctrinal principle that fits into these processes. Constantly relooking at the facts and assumptions that lead to a solution can help me keep ahead the enemy. This is a dynamic process which is necessary, as today??™s problems are also dynamic in nature. Regardless of the situation I find myself in as a Field Grade officer these basic skills will help me analyze the problem and formulate a solution.
The most valuable part of these lessons was the cross walk between critical thinking, APSM, and The Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). In my experience, MDMP has been abandoned. It is time intensive and often leads to a decision that is obvious to the staff and commander. But it is essential to flush out of the unforeseen issues that could impact a course of action and to help coordinate staff efforts, as actions in one section affect another. APSM is faster than MDMP and can be used to address smaller problems found during MDMP. C120 then cross walked critical thinking with these two models. The end product was still the all encompassing MDMP system I grew up with but it had smaller more dynamic components that could be used to abbreviate MDMP and avoid overanalyzing.
Documentation of any departures from doctrine can aid in updating Field Manuals and adjusting doctrine. Problems and solution set that are clearly stated, can address shortfalls and be incorporated into lessons learned. The situations I deal with in the future may not be unique to my unit. Capturing these issues and getting them back to the Department of the Army will update doctrine.
The lesson on Critical thinking and problem solving was the most valuable to me because it did not abandon doctrine; but, gave me tools to go beyond it. To effectively use critical thinking and problem solving, you must have a firm mastery of doctrine. Where doctrine does not address an issue these skills will help. Clearly defining the issue and documenting how you arrived at the solution gives you a process that is traceable. These skills can be interwoven with MDMP to product a dynamic process for finding solutions to use against a dynamic enemy. Documenting these challenges and the solutions can aid in future doctrinal development.
United States Army. Field Manual 3-0. Washington, DC: 2001.
United States Army. Field Manual 3-0. Washington, DC: 2008.
United States Army. Field Manual 5-0. Washington, DC: 2002.
United States Army. Field Manual 5-0. Washington, DC: 2010.
Jack D. Kem. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Tools of the Trade.