Monday, May 16, 2011

Command, Communicate - Implied vs Stated Tasks

I think we've all been there. We receive a job, think we have it accomplished, but miss something that wasn't specifically stated. I have a whopper of a story on this one!

In Iraq, with a 3 tank team (number 4 stayed behind for repairs) at a radio tower guard point. During the night, one of the other tanks broke an axle while moving to a traffic control point, and the second tank sheared a road wheel when we tried to tow the one with the broken axle back to the guard point. Thankfully our replacements were on their way out, and escorting a mechanics truck to help us with our issues. Wear and tear happens on vehicles, especially with the amount of miles we put on them.

While waiting for the replacements, a "Public Relations" team showed up and needed a tank and some guys. I put "Public Relations" in quotes because the men wore a hodge-podge of clothes, bearded, and carried an "interesting" array of weapons; but, the HMMWV did have a speaker system on it...

Back to the story, the LT for the PR team needed a tank and a team of 6 because 300 meters away a vehicle belonging to a person on the area's most wanted list was parked outside a house. They wanted the tank as backup and the guys to help clear the house. Since the house in question was well within the lethal range of the tanks we had on-site, and since our replacements were only about 10-15 minutes out (at a leisurely pace, less than 5 if they gunned it), I decided it was worth the risk.

One of the broken tanks maned the gate, and it served as our primary radio location. A SSG maned the post. I told him I was taking our single moving tank 300 meters down the road, along with a detachment of 6 guys to assist the PR team with the apprehension of this known suspect. No Problem, right?

Well we loaded up, moved the PR teams HMMWV to the backside of the building and the tank to the front. We knocked on the door and "politely" asked everyone to leave the house there were more than 40 people in the house. Thankfully they all left quietly. We then proceeded to search the house, but didn't find anything other than a couple of weapons that we expected to find in a regular house.

While my team with a couple of the PR team cleared the house, the LT of the PR team identified 3 from our most wanted list in the lineup from the house. While the tank covered, the HUMVEE went and got a bus, where all the men (28 in total) were loaded and driven back to the base for processing. The women and young children were left behind.

Of the 28 people taken to the base, 6 proved to be on our wanted list, and 20 of the remaining 22 incriminated themselves while in the holding pens. A great catch! The Brigade commander wanted to personally congratulate me on my initiative... but the congratulations never happened. Here's why:

My SSG at the radio missed an implied task. I told him what were were doing. I informed him that our replacements were en route and should arrive shortly. I then went and did my job. However, the SSG didn't call in the report, which was the IMPLIED TASK and reason I told him all these details in the first place.

Instead of receiving a medal and a pat on the back, I instead got chewed for taking the initiative and going into a potentially dangerous situation without telling my command I was doing it. The relief convoy could have been driving into a dangerous situation and they didn't know anything about it. Overall, there were plenty of people pissed at me, so I was always out on patrol when the Brigade Commander came to the Battalion for a visit. I never shook his hand, and never got a pat on the back for the capture of 26 people who didn't really like us and acted on that dislike.

Now, as the leader of that team, it was MY MISTAKE. Apparently, my directions were not clear enough and my SSG missed the implied task he was supposed to accomplish. The whole team paid for my lack of clarity, because we all should have been rewarded. Definitely a life lesson.

I would encourage you to think about your directions the next time you give out assignments. Are the directions clear enough? Are there any implied tasks that should be stated? Don't let initiative and success turn into a missed opportunity and failure. Judge your team carefully and make sure the directions are clear for the level of competency of your team.

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