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Asymmetric Thinking in the Military

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Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher, said that “real” thinking only happens when a subject is worthy of thought. He argued that most of what passes for thinking is not actually thinking, but merely the repetition of what is already known and remembered. The challenge in teaching Asymmetric Thinking is to reliably access this area of the unknown — what you don’t know you don’t know.  This is the area of true discovery, invention, and asymmetric thought. Creating new possibility has more to do with attitude, commitments, values and ways of being than with concrete reality and logistics — the stuff of which most people’s lives are made.

Before examining approaches to teaching Asymmetric Thinking it’s important to focus on the attitudes and ways of being that allow it. Without these attitudes in place Asymmetric Thinking can not happen. When successful, the ideas generated will actually ‘feel’ possible, in contrast to brainstormed lists of options that carry no palpable sense of asymmetric or excitement.

Asymmetric Thinking in the Military

During Desert Storm, LTG Pagonis was faced with the almost insurmountable task of positioning the combat force’s equipment and keeping those forces well-supplied in all classes of supply. He knew the doctrine well, but this situation demanded solutions that were quite different from the normal doctrinal process of “onward movement and re-supply.” The mission called for the complete integration of combat support and combat service support capabilities. In order to be successful, this support had to be capable of operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end.

The capability was generated by the integration of units into convoy support sites, where soldiers could be fed and bathed while their equipment was being serviced, repaired and refueled. Petroleum units were sited along the roads to refuel equipment as needed. Military police were integrated into the sites and along highways to provide both force protection and security. The unit LTG Pagonis formed was the 22nd to Support Command. That command became the model for the Theater Support Command concept.  Today the 377th Theater Support Command, modeled after the 22nd SUPCOM. serves as the senior logistical headquarters in Iraq and Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This type of innovative thinking opened a whole new set of possibilities for the logistics forces. Innovation (“the introduction of new ideas,” according to Webster’s Dictionary), was paramount to the coalition successes in both Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

Several other fine examples of Asymmetric Thinking resulted from the challenge issued to the Army by General Reimer, then FORSCOM Commander, to better utilize the capabilities of Army Reserve units in day-to-day operations.

An example: The 143rd Transportation Command, an Army Reserve unit located in Orlando, Florida, was tasked to help relocate the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Ft.  Bliss, Texas to Fort Carson, Colorado. Many thought this to be a task far beyond what Reserves were capable of performing. Yet while most had had envisioned one mass move, LTC. Gary Engel, the Transportation Movements Officer of the 143rd, envisioned something quite different — the move would take place in increments, closely coordinated with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s relocation of families to Fort Carson. This operation was highly successful and, met the requirements of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Commander. The exercise included both Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers, and eventually Active Components soldiers.

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