Officers of Fort Bragg’s 1st Military Information Support Battalion (Airborne) traveled to North Carolina’s largest Civil War battlefield at Bentonville, Nov. 30 to conduct officer professional development.
The purpose of the OPD was for the officers to gain an appreciation of military history and see an illustrated lesson from ADP 6-0, Mission Command.
Guided by Donny Taylor of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of State Historic Sites, the Soldiers were given an extensive tour of the battlefield. Taylor described the order of battle, offering keen insights and official correspondence between the generals in the Battle of Bentonville.
Led by Lt. Col Kevin J. Petro, the battalion commander, the focus of mission command was reinforced as the essential and most challenging component to command and control.
Petro illustrated the history of mission command versus detailed command and how large Civil War formations necessitated its use.
“With the advent of the telegraph and radio in the first half of the 20th century, there was a decreased use of mission command since commanders could now directly control formations.”
It was not feasible for Gen. Ulysses Grant, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, and Brig. Gen. Thomas Sherman to exert direct control. Instead, they were guided by principles like building cohesive teams through mutual trust, creating shared understanding, providing a clear commander’s intent and exercising disciplined initiative.
Though the Battle of Bentonville ended in a strategic draw, its lessons have not been lost and still illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of mission command.
“Aside from the professional development which occurred as we analyzed the decentralized command executed on the battlefield of Bentonville, we all had the chance to spend some time together in a non-threatening environment,” said Capt. Jacob Sweatland, operations officer for Company A. “Events like this help to build trust and mutual understanding between leaders … which are essential to a positive command climate.”
This event illustrated the importance of providing clear intent and letting your subordinate leaders exercise creativity and initiative. Lessons learned from OPDs like this will serve these officers well as they prepare for the upcoming special operations deployments around the world.