Long Lake Lore

Pre-combat Checks ­Aren’t Just For Combat

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Pre-combat Checks ­Aren’t Just For Combat

I learned the importance of pre-combat checks many years ago. Once we received our warning order, we would brief our team, assemble the necessary equipment, and then meet with our leadership for the formal operations order.

We had a similar procedure to follow once the operation order was received. As we moved forward in the planning and rehearsal of the operation, we would conduct a back brief to ensure we understood the mission. So, if you were the third platoon leader and fifth in the order of march and had responsibility to
seize Objective Bean from 270 degrees to 360 degrees to thwart a counterattack, your leadership would be expecting you to recite the major items back to your immediate leader.

The key here was to ensure you understood what you were supposed to do and for your leaders to have
confidence that you understood what you were supposed to do. This event was normally non-confrontational, and initial mistakes or misunderstandings were treated with professional courtesy. leaders who were supervising would simply tell those who did not back brief the plan correctly, “No, that’s not quite right; what I want you to do is this or that.” The military held the belief that communication was not complete until those you communicated with completely understood what you said; it was never enough for the supervisor to just say it to your subordinates. The other purpose, somewhat subliminal, was to ensure that you, the subordinate, typically the execution arm, really understood the main points of the directive, so if all else failed and you lost communication, you and everyone who heard you knew
the main points of what you were trying to achieve, and the mission would be successful.

If we were conducting a tactical operation by foot, once we had everything packed, we would jump up and down to verify there were no extraneous sounds. What tended to rattle was repacked. You would be surprised at what makes noise when you are trying to be quiet! It was no different than a hunter moving through the woods, trying to get that eight-point buck.

The next thing we did occurred after we left our secure perimeter but before really getting into enemy territory. We would take a knee, take our helmets off, look all around us, and just listen. The purpose of this ten- to twenty-minute pause was to get the feel of the battlefield, sense the smell, hear the environment, and just pause. This also allowed us to get a sense of what the environment should sound like as we proceeded forward.

I learned the back brief, the jump, and the stop for silence thirty-eight years ago, and they have served me flawlessly.

Where I screwed up was when I got out of the military some fifteen years ago and put the military techniques I learned in the closet along with my uniforms. I thought the pre-combat checks were only for the military, but boy, was I wrong.

It took me another twelve years after retiring to realize the back brief was not to hear me say what my mission was; it was for me to understand and show my leadership and peers that I was listening. The jumping up and down wasn’t about hearing or not hearing your spoon rattle against your gun; it was focused on one’s personal quest to keep distractions away. The stop for silence was more than a time to adjust; it was also a time to enter another person’s world.

I remember my relationship failures, and yes, they were failures. I realize that if I had just listened to my partner more, if I had respectfully said when they were done talking, “Here is what I heard you say.” I know just the act of me acknowledging I heard them would have moved us leaps and bounds down the road to recovery. I was already trained to do just that, but to my demise, I never used it in my personal life.

This is a similar noise to the jumping up and down that we had to physically perform as part of our precombat check to see what made noise; it is a similar noise you hear on those long trips with your loved one—what a distraction, right? Well, the sound of that distraction is no different than us letting other people play roles in our personal lives.

Stopping in the woods after leaving your line of departure (your safety zone) is really focused on taking
the necessary step outside of our comfort or security zone to really understand your partner’s environment.

In all of my relationships, I initially ventured from what I believed was comfortable ground—my territory—into the wilderness of a new relationship. But what I did not do well, hence the failed relationships, was
really stay on my knees long enough to see, understand, and sense my partner’s view.

The stop to sense the environment in uniform is the same in a relationship. Both are entering new domains, and both must be given time to take the helmet off, per se, smell the environment, listen, and hopefully look at each other. Both need to just take a knee!

For those who might argue after taking a knee that some partners will split and run back to their homes, I’d say that it is also a relationship saved because those two individuals will go their separate ways and not be tied up trying to make something work that won’t.

So, the next time you have an argument with a loved one or a close friend and you think the grass is greener on the other side, ask yourself if you did your precombat checks. Did you listen to understand, or were you just quiet? Did you shake the distractions away? Did you step into the other person’s world just to say you did it, or did you really understand it? If the answer is that you could have done a better job, then there is no better time than now to reach out and tell that person what you think, and both of you can try to do a better job.

The analogy that I have used during this section was pre-combat checks, and the implied situation was how each side was preparing for a so-called enemy. What is clear and should be clear to everyone is that the precombat checks are checks both you and your partner need to work on to be stronger together as you face the world and should not be used against each other.

As I write this, I do so with a bit of sadness. The precombat checks I learned in the military were taught to
me by our Vietnam veterans. I came into the Army during a time when the veterans of Vietnam ran our
military and were still very active and involved in our training. The Vietnam veterans were leaders who
perfected this practice in war, and it was these same leaders who never got the credit they deserved.

So, when our nation marvels at the Army I had the honor to serve in—an Army that beat Saddam during
Desert Storm in 1991 in four days, an Army that took Grenada in three days, an Army that won every tactical engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, an Army that achieved all those accolades and is still feared by every single adversary—know that it was trained by the Vietnam veterans of yesterday. Those are the same Vietnam veterans who came home from Vietnam to an America that spit on them, and to this day, they are in a nation that has not properly made up for the poor treatment we once gave them. How ironic! What if our nation had done its pre-combat checks to take care of the Vietnam veterans? What if our nation could have set the same example our Army did? How we as a nation could have prospered!

  • When was the last time you jumped up and down to hear what was not secure in your relationship?
    When was the last time you took your helmet off to really listen to a loved one?
  • What other tools have you been taught to use, whether in business or the military, that could be
    applied to improve your relationships?
  • Last point, please find a Vietnam veteran in your neighborhood and personally with your heart, thank them, not for their service but for their sacrifice. Because while others of that era were finding ways to avoid the draft, our Vietnam veterans were finding ways to serve our country!