|Jerry Smith’s War: 2025
The day after graduating from high school Jerry Smith visited a recruiter. He was not quite eighteen and like so many young men before him, he wanted to serve his country in this protracted conflict, and learn some skills for a profession later. His parents could not afford to send him to college but he probably would not have gone anyway. He wanted to see the world in a profession that valued his athletic as well as his intellectual talents. Plus Jerry had just broken up with his college bound girlfriend and wanted nothing more than to get out of Cedar Falls.
He made a good initial impression on the recruiter. Jerry was too small to play college football but he had turned out to be a fairly decent defense end in high school, making up for a lack of bulk with aggressiveness and smart play. The recruiter could tell Jerry was smart by his pointed questions and clear thinking. He surmised that Jerry’s average grades in High School were more indicative of his not being challenged by his teachers and curriculum rather than a lack of native intelligence. The recruiter was sure that if he were given the proper challenge Jerry would perform. And he knew of just the challenge for someone like Jerry.
“There are a lot of interesting options available for you,” he began. “But I want you to consider something really special. Do you know anything about the modern Infantry and have you thought about taking what we call the Infantry option?”
“No, not really,” Jerry replied somewhat surprised. “I heard about the Infantry from my uncles and they said they were just dumb grunts. I had sort of thought about learning electronics and stuff like that – isn’t there some kind of communications specialist field?”
“These aren’t your uncles’ grunts”, the recruiter said with a smile. “Today they are something really special. And you can still learn the electronics skills with the Infantry Option. Here’s the deal: first we’ll train you in communications. That takes about six months. Then you do a year with a signal unit serving in combat so you’ll be fully qualified in electronics if you still want to go that way later on. But if you still are qualified for the Infantry we’ll take you on for another year’s training. If you complete that you’ll be a full fledged Infantryman – with the best individual training possible and more importantly part of a world class team. It’s a real challenge but I think you’re up for it. You were a good player on the football team, and now you’ll be able to play on the best team of all. You would learn to become a leader in combat, the most demanding job in the world. I assure you that if you go that route, you will know how special all this is. But beyond that, it’s a good deal for a guy like you. The Infantry Option comes with a $100,000 bonus and an additional thousand dollars a month. Promotions are much faster in the Infantry and if you spend time in the combat zone you can retire in less than fifteen years total service. Think about it: Money in the bank. Leadership at the squad level before you’re old enough to drink. And an incredible set of skills to allow you to move on to a second career at the age of thirty three.”
“Yeah” Jerry replied cautiously, “but this is dangerous stuff. We’ve been at war a long time…and I hear a lot about PTSD….”
“Right”, the recruiter replied, “PTSD is a concern and that’s why we devote so much effort to it and are willing to pay you well for the Infantry Option. We’ve developed a series of tests to determine someone’s propensity for PTSD and if you’re really at danger, if you have the PTSD ‘marker’, we won’t send you into those situations. But if you don’t have that marker, we know how to train and organize you to avoid it. We’ve learned a great deal from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know now that one of the major factors contributing to PTSD is the sense of isolation on the battlefield, the feeling of being alone and vulnerable. To combat this feeling, and to put you in the best environment possible, we’ve developed the “Band of Brothers” program. We’ve learned that Infantrymen perform far better when tightly bonded in their unit. The best way to survive a tough situation is to be surrounded by the best people possible, ones you know intimately and who will take care of you, just as you will take care of them. Under this program you’ll go through Infantry training with the same squad, learning together and learning to trust each other. Then you’ll be guaranteed to serve with that squad in the same platoon for at least four years after you finish your training.
The recruiter went on with his pitch: “But we have also learned that infantrymen, properly selected, trained and acculturated, can actually prosper from combat experience. You know the old saying ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’? Well, it turns out that’s true! Scientists call this ‘positive traumatic growth,’ a measurable increase in leadership ability, confidence, and mental agility that comes from shared experience in war.”
When Jerry was asked later what was it that convinced him to take the option, he admitted it was the challenge, the need to prove himself to be worthy of serving with this elite force the recruiter had described. He did well in his signal/communications training, picking up the electronics knowledge that had originally enticed him to approach the recruiter. Upon completion he deployed to join an Infantry Battalion in combat as a radio repairman and signal specialist. He enjoyed his tour with them and was proud of his service; he was good and he knew it. But what particularly impressed his were the Infantrymen he served. They were truly a breed apart, always working together as a team, bonded together as quiet professionals who absolutely knew what to do and how to do it. After his time observing their chemistry Jerry knew that he wanted to be like them, part of something bigger than himself and truly elite. He was more than ready to honor his commitment for the “option”, and with two others from his unit he left for advanced Infantry training. He was no longer worried about the dangers, or even thinking of the money. He just hoped he would measure up.
Back in the states Jerry joined a small group of candidates who all shared the same concerns as they tried to get into the course. The first hurdle was a week of “pre-selection” exercises and evaluations conducted by a strange assortment of white-coated scientists. Doctors poked, prodded and examined him completely. Instructors pushed him and his fellow candidates to the limit on the track and in the gym. Jerry thrived on this part. A natural athlete and in excellent health, he knew that physical exams and endurance tests were no barrier to his making the grade. He also automatically helped his fellow candidates when he could on the physical tests - a trait not lost on his evaluators.
But he was worried about the shrinks. Their methods were impenetrable and their judgments absolute. No amount of athleticism or determination could get him through this gate. He just had to be himself and hope it was good enough. An eclectic assortment of psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists and behavioralists held his future in their hands. For hours he toiled through what these guys called “instruments” - an endless series of written and verbal assessments that supposedly measured every aspect of his intellect, psychological makeup and character. At the end he was more exhausted than he had been by the grueling physical exercises, but this time had no idea if he had passed.
Somehow he did. At the end of the week his group, lessened by about a third, found themselves assembled into fifteen-man battle teams. Although they hadn’t realized it, the teams had been chosen with group dynamics in mind. The staff had reviewed the individual’s psychological assessments and followed up with personal interviews. The behavioral coaches formed them in teams and put them through a series of perplexing interpersonal exercises that evaluated the level of interaction and prospective cohesion. Every phase of the experience was taped for later retrieval and analysis. And on the basis of this evaluation they eliminated those not fit and sorted the remainders into teams.
Thus the team Jerry joined at the end of the grouping phase seemed random to him but actually was based on a great deal of analysis. As the team met together for the first time Jerry couldn’t help but be impressed by the caliber of his teammates. After overcoming some initial reticence they started coming together and by the end of the evening he thought they all seemed like good guys, guys he could work with. As he went to bed he had a flashback to an old expression from Cedar Falls: “I could steal horses with them.” That thought left a smile on his face as he fell asleep
In the morning Jerry’s team was introduced to the man that they would get to know intimately over the next four years. This man had already reviewed the team composition with his assistants and was initially pleased with it, while still ready to change it if necessary. He carried himself with a great deal of assurance and was obviously fit. He wore no rank, but as he spoke there was no question that he was in command. He was clearly a highly skilled combat veteran but he also seemed very wise – both a warrior and a philosopher. He spoke slowly and clearly, as if he was weighing his words carefully: “Welcome, gentlemen, to Battle School. I’m your Coach and you’ll call me that until graduation. My task is to make all fifteen of you into the finest fighting team in the world. This is more than just a task for me. Understand that I have ‘skin in this game’ because in all likelihood I’ll become your squad leader in six months. Thus my own survival may well depend on how well I prepare you for combat. Eventually you fifteen will be only eleven. Don’t be alarmed by the math. Chances are that all of you will make the grade. But we have learned over the years that your numbers will decrease due to what Lincoln called ‘the arithmetic’; that is, the natural attrition, sickness, wounds and the personal friction that comes from just surviving in war. If eleven is the right number, we will start larger and draw down to it, rather than inserting new members into the team. The team is the most important concept. We simply cannot afford to allow you to fight as strangers to each other. We will forge this team here and over time I guarantee you will go back into combat together. You will be a band of brothers, superbly prepared individually but more importantly as a team, to survive and win.”
The Coach cocked a leg over the edge of his desk but the intensity of his words belied the casualness of his posture. He gestured sparingly to emphasize his points and his eyes bore into each of theirs in turn. “You are entering a new world, a world crafted by a generation of visionary soldiers and Marines over the last two decades. While you were growing up these servicemen were changing our military culture. Experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere convinced our military leaders that the essence of victory in the irregular wars we’ve been fighting for so long rested in our small units, squads and platoons. They were then able to convince the politicians and national leaders that significant reforms were essential to enable these small units to perform at the optimal level.”
The Coach’s eyes grew even more intense and his words more passionate, his hand now chopping the air to emphasize each point: “This led to revolutionary changes in how we now select, train, acculturate and bond small units. Simply put, this group of reformers broke the ground services away from the Cold War traditions of mass armies and replaced it with the Army, Marine Corps and SOF you see today, comprised of small units all certified as having the “right stuff.” Today every small unit is like a professional sports team, properly selected and coached to be as effective on the battlefield as money, time and the human sciences can make it. But like any professional sports organization the front office here expects a return on their investment. They expect you to perform and you will be graded and held accountable for that performance. You will compete in everything you do at the team level and we will measure and test you accordingly. This is not about you the individual so much as how well you can perform as a team. The other teams here are going through the same thing so we will post your team ranking every day for all to see. You are competing against these other teams for now but soon your real competitors will be much more deadly.”
After pausing to let these words sink in he continued: “You may have heard that there is no course of instruction here. That’s true. We follow what’s called the Bayesian system of learning in which you set the conditions for every day’s activities. None of you are followers anymore but leaders in waiting. I am your coach. You are here to learn but more importantly, to learn to teach and coach others. I determine your team’s level of performance. But you determine what you will learn and how fast you learn it. There is no pass or fail here. It’s up to you how far your team progresses. You will finish at one of three levels depending on how well you demonstrate mastery of each competitive task. You will train yourselves and you will learn from each other. Each of you will in turn plan and execute every day’s event. When you leave you will be both a world class infantryman and Olympic class coach.”
“There is one last point I want to leave with you: You are not alone.” He paused to let the words sink in and then repeated them: “You are not alone. You will learn, you will teach yourselves that you are part of this team and you can and must count on each other. But it goes beyond that: you are also part of a much larger team that is always there to help you with an astonishing array of skills and information. You will learn, you will teach yourselves, to tap into that larger team and take advantage of it, while always retaining the essential ability to make split-second decisions on your own.”
Jerry and his fourteen colleagues spent the next six months living in the field and learning again to be soldiers - but soldiers of a different sort. Jerry quickly learned to appreciate his team members and marveled at the skill that went into their selection. Clearly there was a hidden genius at work in selecting those in his team – this must have been part of the scientific method the coach emphasized. Jerry’s commo skills were complemented by an intelligence specialist, a medic and a logistics sergeant who had recently done a stint as a supply specialist in combat. Another had just returned from combat as a sapper where he had doubled as a demolitions expert and a self proclaimed IED sleuth. The native speaker on the team was older, a university graduate who had been recruited from the same sad country Jerry had just left behind. The whole team wore the same non-descript uniform the Coach did, without rank or insignia. Personalities varied to be sure but all possessed a level of maturity beyond their age and years of service. And all were committed to the task at hand: getting through Battle School.
In all their six month training the primary classroom instruction consisted of a course titled “Coaching to Win.” In these sessions they learned the importance not just of doing the job but how to teach others to do so: in the sports vernacular so popular throughout the program, how to coach a team to its maximum capability. Coach and his assistants taught by example, making every session essentially an athletic practice session. There were carefully timed competitive exercises in which every student demonstrated the value of preparation, time management, and the inculcation of enthusiasm in all aspects of the coaching process. “Make sure you tell them very clearly what you want them to learn, and then decentralize the learning process as much as possible. Make it competitive, and hold them accountable for every aspect of the learning. And infect them with your enthusiasm! Make them excited to learn the subject and happy when they have!”
Beyond these classroom lessons the initial weeks consisted of very sophisticated field training in the tactical arts. Jerry’s team learned advanced medical treatment skills, including field surgery and the immediate actions necessary to keep severely wounded team members alive in combat. They became masters of tactical intelligence gathering, to include combat interrogation and battlefield forensics. They became experts in various means of communication from remote areas, using systems from the most primitive to the most advanced, connecting to distant stations with line of sight and non-line of sight techniques.
Jerry’s initial coaching/leadership challenge was the first day of explosives training. All that Coach told him was the objective and location of the day’s exercise. Jerry was held responsible for ensuring that the Team arrived ready to learn how to identify IEDs, clear mines, breach obstacles, and prepare and detonate virtually any form of explosive device. Jerry prepared carefully and made sure everyone knew what was expected of them. By the end of the day he knew that if nothing else, he had infected the whole team with his enthusiasm and they were all training themselves. It was a good feeling for him, even though his only reward from the Coach was a nod at the end of the day. The thorough After Action Review or AAR that followed this and all exercises showed ways he could have improved, and Jerry learned a great deal about how he and the team could improve. But he still treasured that slight nod.
At every turn, no matter what the object of the training, the team confronted unexpected situations that demanded immediate collective actions: an IED event, an ambush, an angry tribesman with a complex problem to be solved. The team had to deal with these incidents without losing sight of the main objective. And every episode was followed by an AAR led by one of the assistant coaches.
Jerry was not surprised by this type of training, although he was certainly impressed by the thorough professionalism with which it was conducted. And by now he and the rest of the team had bought into the coaching portion: they all had to learn, and they all had to coach. But the next aspect was unexpected. He had assumed that modern technology was the principal means of finding the enemy or divining his intent. Instead the Team devoted two months to learning the art and science of tracking and human hunting. Their cadre was an eclectic mix, all of whom had been selected and trained by Greg Williams. This was the first Coach whose name they were told, and a little research revealed that he was not only a cultural icon but a world-renowned guru of the tactical arts. Rumor had it that he could track a fly that had flown through a room, and he was determined to make them almost as good. They were all stretched to the limits meeting his standards, but he inspired them all to do so.
The tracker and hunter course was not only the most demanding but to Jerry it was also the most intriguing experience in Battle School. For the first time he fully realized the importance of the human dimension in war. The team learned how to amplify the technical capabilities of their sensory optics with their own greatly heightened perceptions. Williams taught this phase of the course personally: “Don’t fall in love with all your gee-whiz sensors,” he told them on the first day. “Sensors are of little use unless you can use them to see…I mean really see. Our purpose is to amplify your human senses to greatly extend the sensitivity and range of your equipment. We’ll show you how to use night vision to “burn through” vegetation and look deep into the dark recesses to see where the bad guys are hiding. He’s learned to hide just as fast as we’ve learned to find him. So you’ll have to use fissures, knot holes and even bullet holes to sense rather than see him. You must learn to feel his presence with all your senses. You yourself will become the ultimate sensor.”
The team perfected their skills in the art of tracking and observation in urban as well as open terrain. The coaches taught them how to find the enemy in the clutter – to recognize the presence of a bad element in a crowded scene instinctively, no matter how well the enemy was trying to blend in. Beyond that critical capability, they learned to amass an amazing amount of detail about the size of an enemy formation, how fast they were moving, what weapons they carried, even to estimate such intangibles as motivation, level of fatigue and hydration.
The next stage, the graduate level, was a month of combat profiling, again supervised directly by Coach Williams and his senior staff. Their years of experience had been amplified by rigorous cultural and cognitive research from a legion of behavioral and human scientists. This expertise had given the coaches an unprecedented ability to read the “human terrain” of an alien society. The team was immersed in this study. Like their NFL counterparts studying game films, the team spent days going over a rich archive of over 10,000 digital images collected from years of close observation in foreign lands. The team learned how to spot insurgent leaders hiding amongst civilians. Using algorithms proven in the field the team became remarkably proficient in making high speed decisions concerning the intent of any prospective enemy.
Williams watched the team carefully and drove them hard. Decades of experience had taught him that the tactical arts in the human dimension was so complex that no one could master it in the classroom and training ground. His criticism was always objective and praise was rare. But as he watched the team he recognized that Jerry Smith was a special case. For whatever reason Jerry seemed to have the cognitive “right stuff”. He could see and sense what those around him missed. He had a remarkable sense for detecting the bad guys and no amount of layering, no camouflage, no psychological misdirection prevented Jerry from spotting the enemy with speed and precision.
The Center’s purpose was to teach tactical skills, but always in an atmosphere that also taught how to think, decide and act independently in ambiguous circumstances. Jerry’s and the other teams were so deeply immersed in this environment that it became their reality. Following the Bayesian principles each team moved at its own pace. No team moved on to a higher level unless every team member made the grade. Team members planned every event. One member was selected daily as team leader. And at the end of every event the coaches updated the competitive board with the latest team rankings for everyone to see. Jerry’s team was near the top. Although the ranking was for the team, and the team accepted it as thus, it was obvious to the coaches that Jerry was the driver on the team, the first among equals. Things just seemed to work better when he was most involved. What impressed them most was that he led naturally and instinctively, without demanding the leadership role. He believed by now passionately in the team concept, and saw himself just as another member, which made him even more effective.
The indigenous engagement course taxed the intellectual and intuitive skills of the teams. The coaches assigned each team the task of interacting intimately with a group of native tribesmen headed by a very difficult and enigmatic sheik. His relationship to them and his ultimate loyalties were very fluid and often conflicting. The team spent several days living with the tribe in an effort to learn their culture, gain their trust and to coach them on how to defend themselves against the insurgents. The results of this exercise were very ambiguous; they left wondering whether they had made an impact and the sheik was leaning towards them or if they would be ambushed on the way out. Even Jerry, with his astute inner eye, had mixed feelings. “This is so real”, he thought. By now he was having difficulty reminding himself that he was in training, not an actual situation. He had the sudden revelation that the more he believed in the reality of the training, the more effective it was. He thought about that all the way back to the camp and finally mentioned it to the Coach. “You’re getting it” the Coach said, with a grim nod.
The Teams stayed together constantly throughout the six months. They trained, slept and dined together. They knew they were a team and could only learn and grow as a team. But they were becoming more than just a team. One night Jerry looked around and realized with a shock that he hadn’t thought about home, about the “girl he left behind”, in quite a long while. “This is my family, or will be shortly”, he thought to himself, and found to his surprise that he liked the idea.
And like any family his was made up of different characters. The coaches had carefully formed the teams so that each one contained members with diverse talents, attitudes and behavioral attributes. Competition ceased at night. After a casual dinner the team spent time with a wide ranging group of experts who spoke about virtually every team competency: culture, skill at arms, coaching and mentoring, critical thinking, and the tactical arts. Jerry particularly enjoyed the evening his team spent with several NFL players and coaches. They talked about taking inherited ability and making the most of it by hard work, training and especially mental toughness. They talked about setting team goals and working to achieve them. It was exhilarating to see the parallels between their activities, but Jerry knew that he wasn’t involved in a game. It was these sessions that convinced him that soldiers were the ultimate athletes.
The most challenging and eventful experience was the Team’s twice weekly turn through the Tactical Simulator. Soldiers called this enormous expanse of buildings “Movie Town” because over the years the facility had grown to resemble a huge lot at Universal Studios. Each set was actually an enormous shooting house customized for a special type of tactical situation. The urban house consisted of a four enclosed acres. Inside this area vehicles, buildings, walls, back alleys and even streets could be repositioned along movable tracks to present limitless variety of complex tactical situations. The rural house was an equally expansive building configured as a movable holograph that created the illusion of distances from close in to far away. Within this holographic arrangement scenarios could range from engagements in mountainous terrain to a convoy moving through towns and villages. The team could be either on the convoy or outside it responding to IED, ambushes and even full attacks. Other, smaller houses were equally imaginative and challenging. Every house was sealed and reinforced to permit 360 degree live fire against virtual enemies.
The Movie Town enemy was played by virtual actors distributed across the globe but connected to the simulation via the Internet. Most actors worked from home. Each morning they would don a suit studded with embedded electronic nodes. Their movements and voices were transmitted over the Internet and their images were displayed as holographs in front of the unit. This virtual OPFOR would act out a particular scenario prompted by an observer controller at simulator control. As they played their roles the actors could see their images displayed on home computers as part of the larger scenario. An actor in Morocco or Libya might represent an innocent civilian, tribal elder or insurgent depending on the script. If shot they would collapse. If spoken to they would respond in their native language. The controllers could change the script based on the response of the team, creating a free play environment that grew progressively more difficult.
Movie Town forced the players to react instinctively and shoot accurately when required. Each team member fired at least ten thousand rounds per month. Every shot was electronically scored and recorded for playback during the exhaustive AAR to follow. The Team learned the art of instinctive, reflexive shooting against a holographic enemy that popped up in front of them in rapid succession. Some targets were legitimate bad guys and some were innocents huddling in fear. If one member accidentally engaged a civilian rather than an insurgent target it was back to another run through Movie Town for the entire team. And of course the scenario would be different.
The shooting houses were also a means for evaluating tactical leadership and in extremis decision making. During each run the coaches evaluated the day’s designated team leader on his ability to react and command in the heat of a chaotic situation. Success depended on the leader taking immediate reflexive actions while still maintaining coolness under extreme pressure. No two sessions were alike, and they grew progressively more difficult. But with each turn the teams got better, and the competition among the teams for good performances increased.
A less favorite place for Jerry, at least initially, was the “Sensory and Cognitive Gym,” staffed by assistant coaches who were behavioral specialists. Here he and every teammate underwent a series of mental exercises to improve the efficiency of brain functioning and sensory perception. The total gym regime lasted four months with immersions three times per week, two hours per session. The early days of the experience were intimidating for him. First Jerry donned a sensory vest and helmet. Then he reclined in front of a flat screen. A hollow digitized voice led him through each hour long exercise. One exercise focused on improving his ability to perform multiple tasks under the pressure of annoying background distractions; another improved his speed of recognition; another sharpened his brain and skills necessary for acting quickly and precisely in high stress situations likely to be experienced in close combat.
Most challenging was the “whole brain” thinking exercise that improved his ability to think creatively and respond to unforeseen circumstances. After every session his virtual “coach” read back the quality and pace of his actions and related each decision to his biological condition as measured by heart rate, galvanic skin response, breathing and brain wave tracking. The coach compared his performance to both the norm and to the performance of his teammates. Jerry’s initial problem was the sense of isolation he felt as he went through these exercises. He was used to having his team around and being part of everything he did. It was only when he was able to convince himself that his team was still actually with him mentally that he broke free.
Once the coaches were comfortable that the team was absorbing the complexities of modern small unit combat they introduced the team to the art and science of soldier social networking. The network evolved from experiences in Afghanistan. It was there that the American command concluded that traditional Cold War hierarchical communications systems no longer met the needs of small units in combat, particularly in remote, inhospitable places like Afghanistan. At first the network grew spontaneously as units developed their own individual systems using commercial IT technology to connect to their buddies and even search the Internet for answers. When the leadership recognized the value in such systems the network expanded dramatically. Now it was expansive and sophisticated enough to connect individual soldiers, small units and small unit leaders to sources of information, translators, counselors, regional authorities, and behavioral, geospatial and cultural experts resident within the United States. The soldier end of the system consisted of a small helmet mounted satellite phone connected to a distant “concierge” which was dedicated to the small unit whenever it went outside the wire. The concierge could be located anywhere outside the battle area, usually in the United States. The concierge led a help desk with instant access to needed experts and information. It was designed to guide the assigned small unit through the complexities of their assigned tactical “micro environment.” Jerry and his team absorbed this concept and developed their own twists to it that they felt would serve them better. The Coach smiled approvingly as he saw them adapt it to their needs, knowing that it would continue to grow and change as they used it.
Three nights before graduation the teams sensed that the end was near and took advantage of a free evening to unwind. Just as they were prepared to call it a night the coaches appeared with an invitation to mount up in trucks for a nice evening ride to the insurgent stronghold of Playas, New Mexico, a town that died when its copper mine played out. Now it had been converted into a very realistic urban environment ideally suited for the ultimate graduation exercise. On arrival the coaches dropped the truck ramp and held a hasty ops briefing before sending their charges out into the night. The only information they provided was the mission to take down an insurgent hideout, with each team given a different location. For Jerry’s team the insurgents were in the town’s fire station. Each team member was fully instrumented and the enemy was live. Video cameras captured every movement and every round fired. Voice commands and dialogue were recorded for playback. For some teams the objective was thick with insurgents, for others it was occupied by an innocent family hiding from the violence. For Jerry’s team it was both, with heavily armed insurgents holding hostages. As they moved forward they were provided with false instructions and conflicting guidance from ill-informed leaders. It was up to the team to figure out the situation and act with imagination and intellectual agility, and somehow they succeeded.
Exhausted yet euphoric, Jerry’s team assembled to receive their end of course AAR. The assistant coaches presented the Team’s ranking in all aspects of the course to include decision making, shooting, tracking, indigenous engagement, communications, intelligence, medical treatment, demolitions and weapons. White-coated behavior scientists drawn from many disciplines caucused with each individual team member to go over tapes, tests, and observed behaviors. The Coach delivered the group session and shared his thoughts about the intangibles: courage, resilience, team interactions and bonding. He ended with a sobering warning that while his charges had moved to the graduate level in the tactical arts they still had much to learn:
“Remember how impressed you were with the session you had with the winning coach from last year’s Super Bowl? He went sixteen and one. But you guys must go seventeen and 0 every time you leave the wire. A single loss means dead teammates and a failed mission. We cannot accept failure of any kind. That’s why your government has spent so much time and money on you in the Battle School. We have given you all you need to have an undefeated season. Now let’s go to war…and don’t let us down.”
On the final day the Coach appeared in uniform for the first time to congratulate the Team and symbolically “pin” sergeant stripes on each new member. A quick glance above the Coach’s left breast pocket gave proof positive to what the team knew intuitively: they had been coached by a long-serving professional with years of combat experience and the battle scars earned through many tactical fights. Now the coach would be their leader in combat. Sergeant Smith and his team came to Battle School as fine young soldiers. They left as world class warriors… and leaders in waiting.
Every team departed on pre-deployment leave with a stack of materials and the privilege of continuing engagement using the Battle School web site and archive. Jerry’s return to Cedar Falls was uneventful – he enjoyed being with his folks but quickly became bored with his old friends and their interests that now seemed so distant to him. They politely asked him about what he had been doing but he saw they didn’t get it and the subject changed quickly. He found himself missing his squad, and stayed more in touch with them during his leave than with the High School buddies in town. The team, now designated officially as an infantry squad, was linked together through their web site to a “soldier’s social network” similar to the ones they habitually used in high school. The squad link would become the soldier’s social and emotional lifeline and the vital catalyst that would bind the unit together once they arrived in the isolated and inhospitable theater of war that was their next destination. Jerry for one was ready to go when his leave was up.