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Hagee: Adaptable Tactics Helping to Defeat 'Thinking Enemy'

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2005 – America's armed forces face a "thinking enemy" on the battlefield, and defeating it demands adaptable tactics and a fast application of lessons learned, the commandant of the Marine Corps said here today.

"We're going against a smart enemy. That's really important to remember," Gen. Michael W. Hagee said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel.

"We are also going against a very dedicated enemy, and sometimes we forget that," Hagee continued. "They believe just as strongly - I think incorrectly, but just as strongly - in what they are trying to achieve as we believe in what we are trying to achieve."

Keeping ahead of such a committed enemy requires more than just smarts, the general said. It requires adjusting tactics based on the threat, putting lessons learned into practice quickly, and entrusting junior- and mid-grade troops to make decisions.

The threat posed by improvised explosive devices demonstrates exactly what U.S. and coalition forces are up against, Hagee said.

"If we make a change in our tactics or our technology to counter what the enemy is doing with improvised explosive devices, based on current data, the enemy can respond to a change in our tactics within seven to 10 days and change their tactic," he said. "So this is a constant fight.

"Whenever you are going against a thinking enemy, you cannot always use one tactic, because he will respond to that," Hagee explained. "So we have to be able to change our techniques ... our tactics ... our training" to respond to this changing battlefield.

Similarly, Hagee said, it's important to pass on lessons being learned on the battlefield quickly so other servicemembers can benefit from them.

During the past 18 months, the Marine Corps has made big strides in collecting lessons learned in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa and presenting them to Marines preparing for deployment, he said. "We are collecting those lessons in real time, and literally, in a matter of days, we are integrating those lessons into our program of instruction," Hagee said.

The result, he said, is more fluid curriculum that better prepares Marines for what they'll face on the ground.

"A company or battalion going through the training right now will receive slightly different training than the company or battalion that went through just a couple of weeks ago," he said. "So when that battalion arrives on the battlefield, it is going to be better trained and have a better understanding of what the situation is, wherever they happen to be at that particular time."

The next step, he said, is determining which lessons learned have enough long-term consequence to be incorporated into Marine Corps doctrine. When appropriate, the Marine Corps "will change our doctrine on the fly to ensure that we have the best current training that we can provide the Marine, and that we are modifying our doctrine based on what is happening on the battlefield," he said.

As it adapts to the changing situation on the ground and passes on lessons learned there, the Marine Corps is focusing on ensuring its members have the education and training they need to carry out their mission.

"In order to be successful on today's battlefield, you have got to be smart," Hagee said. "We are up against a thinking enemy, and in order to outthink him, our individual Marines have to be smart."

They also have to be properly educated and trained so they can think on their feet and have confidence in their abilities, he said.

The Marine Corps has done a good job of educating its officers, but "can significantly improve how we educate our young enlisted Marines," Hagee said. Doing so, he said, will better prepare them to make critical decisions on the battlefield, particularly when they're operating independently and unable to seek advice from their higher-ups.

"That sergeant has to have the technology and the education to make those critical decisions that he is going to have to make on the battlefield," Hagee said. "He is probably not going to have time to call back to his platoon commander or company commander and say, 'What should I do now?' He is going to have to make the decision."

And the commandant said he recognizes the importance of many of the decisions these Marines -- whom he refers to as "the strategic corporal" or "the strategic sergeant" - will make. "In many cases, the decision that he or she makes is going to have strategic significance," he said.

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Biographies:
Gen. Michael W. Hagee, USMC


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