Five characteristics of a great combat leader

In a firefight everything is chaos. Noise and dust fills the air, the enemies’ actions are unpredictable, your own life as well as that of your troops is at stake. The best combat leaders are able to navigate in chaos, face the danger, and make rational decisions under extreme pressure.

Danish officer directing mortar fire during operation operation "Panthers Claws" Helmand, Summer 2009

Danish officer directing mortar fire during operation operation “Panthers Claws” Helmand, Summer 2009

But I am not only talking about formal leadership. In combat everybody has some responsibility of leading: The soldier who sees the enemy must be able to react. The soldiers around him must be able to return fire and take up positions without waiting for orders. The point man’s actions sets the stage for the unit’s handling of the situation. The five characteristics are thus useful not only for the formal leader but also for the soldier on the ground. Let us have a look at them: Continue reading

Find courage to make tough decisions

The ability to make tough decisions when needed is crucial in leadership. It is not always easy to make unpopular decisions and leadership can feel like a lonely job. However, it is a leader’s responsibility to make decisions, especially the tough ones.

Moral courageI use these steps to find the courage to take action: Continue reading

Ethical Decisions in Combat Leadership

The marksman aims at the insurgent sitting on a motorcycle. There are 400 yards between the muzzle of the soldier’s rifle and the target. As he is about to fire, the insurgent suddenly picks up a small kid and places it in front of him.

Military leaders often face ethical dilemmas on the battlefield. They are required to make tough decisions under time constraints in hostile situations. Ordering soldiers to kill other humans is a tough decision. The leader must be sure beyond any doubt that he is doing the right thing. Continue reading

Have you got the courage not to make decisions? How coping with uncertainty makes you a better combat leader.

Classic leadership attributes are generally described and manifested through work and achievement. The good leader thus makes good decisions. However, the ability to accept not knowing what the right decision is and to not make decisions is just as important for the good leader. The concept is called negative capability. Continue reading

Lead from the front: you are defined by your actions not your words.

The best combat leaders all have one thing in common: they lead from the front. They share the same burdens as their soldiers. They never spare themselves. They never ask a subordinate to carry out a task they are not willing to do themselves and in combat they physically place themselves in the line of fire shoulder to shoulder with the troops under their command.

But why does leading from the front work so well? Continue reading

Is a Danish court able to grasp actions taken on the front?

A Danish army officer faces trial over the alleged killing of civilians in Afghanistan. The trial will be the first of its kind in Denmark.

The officer was stationed in Afghanistan’s Helmand province as a company commander in 2011. On October 23 he authorized an attack on four Afghans who were presumed to be placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near a Danish base. This decision is now being questioned, and the officer is accused of “gross dereliction of duties during armed conflict” violating Danish military penal code.

This trial raises several questions: will a Danish district court in peaceful Copenhagen be able to grasp the war-like environment in which the Danish soldiers in Afghanistan operate? And is it even right to question our soldiers’ actions in war? Continue reading

Overcoming fear in combat: How your pulse affects your ability to think rationally and make sound decisions.

Crack-crack-crack

The air is filled with dust and sharp cracks from bullets passing by mere inches away.

I dive for cover and begin returning fire. After 10 rounds I look around. My sections are in position. Without stopping to think I make a dash across an open field to get to the front section for a better overview.

I find the section commander in a ditch returning fire. He immediately starts to brief me on the situation. The words make no sense to me. I take two deep breaths to calm myself down. Suddenly I am able to grasp what he is saying:

“Four enemy fighters are in position in the hedgerow in front of us. If you can get 1 and 2 section to provide suppressing fire we can close in on them head on.” Continue reading

It feels as if everything is moving in slow motion while the body is running on autopilot: How soldiers react to combat

”Soren, how does the body react in combat?”

I am often asked this during the Q & A when I speak about Afghanistan.

Reactions in combat are the body’s reactions to stress. Talking about them is often taboo. I had no idea how comprehensive such reactions were before I started studying them prior to my first deployment to Iraq in 2007

In their extreme forms a psychologist would label it ”acute stress reactions”. Such experiences are not limited to soldiers only. Any humans that are exposed to extreme stressors or traumatic events can suffer from acute stress reaction. Continue reading