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Jocko Willink and his take on COMMUNICATION

Updated: Apr 5

 It will be the first time when I will be sharing a chapter from a book as is. The book is called “Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual” by Jocko Willink. As we all know a lot of maneuvers in the business world are inherited from sports and the military. So, who is Jocko?

 He is an American author, podcaster, and retired naval officer who served in the Navy SEALs. His military service included combat actions in the war in Iraq, where he eventually commanded the SEAL Team 3 that fought in the battle against the Iraqi insurgents in Ramadi and was honored with the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

 The following chapter captures the essence & significance of communication in any team, especially when there is a chain of command. It is so perfect that, it does not require further interpretation. What I am going to do is just leave it here, for you to judge.


  The primary mode of transportation for SEALs is the foot patrol. Sure, airplanes, helicopters, and boats are how we travel long distances, but, nine times out of ten, the way we make our final approach to a target is the same way soldiers have moved into battle for thousands of years: on our feet.

  The distance traveled varies depending on the operation. It can be simply the last hundred yards after being dropped off by a helicopter right next to a target, or a patrol can cover scores of kilometers over many days and nights of movement.

  When the military is portrayed in movies or on television, foot patrolling usually appears to be a simple, relatively benign action much like a walk through the park.

But foot patrolling is no walk through the park. It is a physically hard, mentally challenging, sometimes painful evolution that can be the most difficult part of an operation. Every member of the patrol is weighed down with weapons, ammunition, helmet and body armor, radios, batteries, grenades, medical gear, food and water, and other special equipment for specific operations. At a minimum, every member of the patrol is carrying 50-70 pounds of gear, and at a maximum, the weight carried can approach 120 pounds. Combine that weight with steep and unforgiving terrain, the necessity often to move at night with low visibility over long distances, and the stress of needing to stay alert for enemy movement, and patrols can quickly go from simple walks to excruciatingly painful endeavors that sap operators of their energy and morale.

As a young SEAL, I went through a block of training called SEAL Tactical Training, or STT, with the rest of the new guys who reported to SEAL Team One with me. It was the first thing we did when we got to a SEAL Team. The training was supposed to build on the absolute basics we’d learned during BUD/S and prepare us to be assigned to a SEAL platoon. In addition to expanding on the basics, the instructor cadre had us learn the fundamentals and then perform the roles of the various jobs in a SEAL platoon to give us an understanding of the positions we might fill.

That meant I did patrols as a heavy machine gunner, medic, point man, rear security, or even as the patrol leader. Each one of those jobs placed me in a different position in the order of march of a squad when going on patrol. I was lucky enough to have walked in all the various positions on many patrols before I was assigned a permanent role in my first SEAL platoon as a radioman.

In a SEAL squad on a foot patrol, the point man is up front, leading the way, followed by the patrol leader. After the patrol leader is the radioman, then the first machine gunner, then the medic, another machine gunner, followed by the assistant patrol leader, and, finally, rear security. When a SEAL platoon, which consists of two SEAL squads, is patrolling together, the squads patrol in sequence, with squad one leading the way and squad two bringing up the rear.

  So each SEAL’s position in a patrol is dictated by their job inside the platoon or squad. Having the opportunity to walk in all those positions taught me a very valuable lesson about leadership.

  As point man, patrols were physically harder because you were breaking trail, but there was a benefit: you knew what was happening. As point man, you steered the patrol; you were up front, constantly looking at your map, checking off terrain features that you had studied, counting your paces so you knew how much distance you had traveled, and regularly assessing exactly where you were and how much farther you had to go.

  The next man in the line of march was the patrol leader. As a patrol leader, you also had a good understanding of where you were. In that position, you worked closely with the point man, who had done a map study with you and who would point out prominent landmarks that indicated where you were and how much farther you had to go. Whenever the patrol took a break to rest, which was supposed to happen for ten minutes out of every hour, the point man and patrol leader would study their maps together, shoot bearings with their compasses, and triangulate the exact position of the patrol.

  The radioman was the next in line, located in proximity to the patrol leader so he could provide communication to and from the patrol leader to external supporting assets like aircraft and artillery. Accordingly, the radioman was also well informed; he watched the point man and patrol leader’s map study, and he listened as they discussed how much farther it was to the target, what terrain the patrol was approaching, and when the patrol would be stopping again. Furthermore, when the patrol leader needed to pass information up the chain of command—like the position of the patrol or the distance to the target — it always went through the radioman, so he was always aware of what was happening.

  After the radioman was the first machine gunner, and he was often the first level of disconnect in the patrol. Out of earshot of the patrol leader, the machine gunner wouldn’t be able to hear any discussions between the point man and the patrol leader. The medic was next in line, now five people back from the front of the patrol. He was barely able to keep a grip on what was happening and where.

  The medic was followed by the second machine gunner. Often, the second machine gunner was so disconnected he would just blindly follow the man ahead of him. He was followed by another man, and then another, and then another, each separated farther and farther from the point man and the patrol leader, each with less and less information.

   Eventually, you got to the men at the tail end of the patrol, who had hardly any information. The less information you had in a patrol, the more miserable it was. You wouldn’t understand where you were, how much more distance had to be traveled to get to the target when the next break for rest would come, or what terrain features were around. You had no idea if there was a giant hill to climb up or a river to cross. All you could do was put one foot in front of the other and suffer. Morale would diminish, and you could feel the patrol ready to fall apart completely.

   But the suffering and the lack of morale wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was your tactical situation. You had no idea where you were. If the enemy attacked, you wouldn’t know where to go. If you got split up from the rest of the platoon, you would be lost. Knowing where you are is the most important piece of information on the battlefield, but you didn’t have that.

  Because I had walked all the different positions, I realized that the farther back in the patrol you were, the less you knew. Every time I served as the point man, patrol leader, or radioman, I understood everything so much more clearly because I was aware of what was happening. When I was on the tail end of a patrol, it was like being in the field with a bag over my head. I hated that feeling.

   So whenever I served as the patrol leader, both during training operations as a young enlisted SEAL and then when I eventually became an officer where I served as squad leader, platoon commander, and task unit commander, I made it my mission to ensure that every- one in the patrol knew exactly what was happening. In the mission briefing, I reinforced the importance of passing signals as we patrolled. I ensured that everyone knew and understood the route we would be taking, with a serious focus on significant terrain features that I knew everyone would be able to easily identify. Then, once on patrol, at each rest stop, I would bring my map around to each man or each team leader and explain where we were, how much farther it was to the target, and what terrain features to expect. I would check on their condition too: how much water they had left, how their feet were doing, how tired they were.

   But it was not only the comfort and welfare of the men I was looking out for. Lack of knowledge on the battlefield is tactically unsound for a squad, platoon, or unit of any size. Troops that know what is happening remain engaged, prepared, and operationally capable of doing their jobs with efficiency and high morale. Uninformed troops are a disaster waiting to happen.

   This does not only apply to tactical patrols. In any leadership situation, the leader must keep everyone on the team as informed as possible. When the team members don’t know where they are, where they are going, or how much longer they have to go to reach an objective, they are lost. When people are lost, they don’t know in which direction to move. They don’t understand how their efforts impact the strategic mission. They can no longer effectively do their jobs. Morale plummets.

    The hardest part of this from a leader’s perspective is understanding that the team doesn’t always see what you see. Team members aren’t given the information that you have, and assuming they do have that information is careless. You have to be proactive in updating your troops. You have to continually keep them abreast of what is happening. And you can’t count on them to ask questions either; they might not know what they don’t know. Don’t assume they know anything; in fact, assume the opposite —that they know nothing —and then take responsibility as the leader to keep the troops informed at all times.


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