The 7th Cavalry Regiment's destruction at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876 is the subject of over a century of debate. LTC George A. Custer failed to exercise four key responsibilities that were expected of him as the regiment’s commander. He failed to understand the problem and environment, visualize a feasible solution, clearly describe it to his subordinates, and effectively direct his forces. These four aspects of mission command are integral to the operations process and help Soldiers understand and execute their commander's intent. Custer's failure to properly fulfill his role in the operations process resulted in his death and a strategic defeat for the nation.
Mission command is the commander's use of authority and direction to empower adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations. It helps subordinates exercise disciplined initiative when operating within their commander’s intent. To facilitate effective mission command, commanders must accomplish four consecutive stages of the operations process. They must thoroughly understand the problem, visualize a solution that achieves a desired end state, and then accurately describe this visualization in order to direct the organization. Commanders continually lead and assess their organizations and provide input and influence to their subordinates and staff.
Effective planning is impossible without first understanding the problem. Commanders rely on personal observations, experiences, and input from others to develop understanding. They also prioritize information requests and incorporate additional information as those requests are answered. A complete understanding of the problem and environment builds the foundation for the operational process and effective mission command.
As understanding builds, commanders next visualize how to solve the problem. They determine a favorable outcome and detail specific conditions to create a desired end state. Bridging their current understanding with this desired end state creates an operational approach – a broad framework of actions that enables the organization to achieve success. This process depends heavily on a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
Once a commander visualizes the operation, he must share it with his subordinates and staff. As extensions of the commander, they turn his visualization into action and realize his end state. The commander describes his visualization well enough to ensure his audience will act and innovate within his operational approach. A well-described visualization also gives the commander flexibility to refine his guidance as the operation unfolds.
Finally, the commander directs his forces throughout the operation. He thoroughly describes his intent, sets achievable objectives, and assigns clearly defined tasks to his subordinates. He establishes relationships between commanders and supporting elements, and responds decisively to opportunities and threats as they arise. Poor...