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The Mind of the Squad Leader
In 1997, the French historian Michel Goya of the First World War, then a captain of Marines, conducted an interesting field exercise. He asked each of his nine rifle squads of his company to cross 500 meters worth of broken terrain in order to “close with and destroy” a three-man team defending a prepared position. (To make this exercise more realistic, Goya equipped the Marines on each side of each iteration with laser tag devices.)
During the first running of this exercise, two of the nine squads managed to “kill” all three of the defenders. (One did this without suffering any simulated casualties.) During the second running, the number of successful attacks doubled. Still, the majority of squads (five out of nine) failed to fulfill the mission assigned to them.
Prior to the third running of the exercise, Goya moved Marines among squads, so that each was led by a sergeant other than his customary squad leader and the men on his left and right were unfamiliar to him. While this reduced the overall effectiveness of the squads, it seemed to have little effect on the ability of squad leaders to make sense of the situations they faced and provide necessary direction.
As a result of this exercise, Goya devoted a lot of attention to the mental work performed by squad leaders, and, in particular, to ways of reducing the cognitive load they bore in the course of leading seven brother Marines. These included giving greater authority to the two fire team leaders in the squad, replacing battle drills with “mission command,” and eliminating the division of labor between the two teams. (At that time, one team in each rifle squad, called the équipe de 600 metres specialized in long-rang fire while the other, the équipe de 300 metres, focused short-range fires and close combat.)
Source: Michel Goya, Le cerveau du chef de groupe de combat comme priorité stratégique [“The Brain of the Squad Leader as Strategic Priority”]