Jul 11

Social Aspects of Joint Operations: Social interaction facilitates battlefield success

Sunday, July 11, 2010 9:32 AM


At 0600 on 11 July 1863, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren learned that the U.S. Army commander in his area of operations, Major General Quincy Gillmore, had launched an attack on Fort Wagner, one of the Confederates’ main forts in the outer ring of their defenses around Charleston.

Three hours later Dahlgren received a request for naval gunfire support, but by then it was too late; the attack had failed. Gillmore had been in command a month; Dahlgren for five days. During that period, the two commanders had met only twice to discuss forthcoming joint operations against Charleston. Gillmore never informed his naval counterpart of his grand master plan to capture the “cradle of the rebellion.” In fact, each commander viewed the other as a rival, a view fostered by their respective service secretaries.

Their relationship eventually disintegrated to the point that Dahlgren would not shake Gillmore’s hand in public. As a result, the two rarely met, never developed an understanding of each other’s ideas and plans, and never worked out even the most basic operational procedures. This failure to socialize constituted one of the main reasons why the Union failed to capture Charleston before Sherman entered South Carolina a year and a half later.

On 24 February 1991, the U.S.-led coalition kicked off its ground attack against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. When his men reached a key road junction, the commander of the Royal Saudi Marine Battalion expressed apprehension that the Iraqis would fight hard to hold the area. U.S. Marine Captain Douglas Kleinsmith, of the 1st ANGLICO, offered to “prep” the area by calling in rounds from the battleship Wisconsin, steaming in the Arabian Gulf. The Saudi battalion commander seemed astonished that this could be done. But Kleinsmith had trained extensively in air-naval gunfire liaison operations before the war. During Desert Shield, he had gone on board the battleships, visited the air units, and became personally acquainted with many of the people with whom he would work when the firing began. Kleinsmith’s extensive socialization process, part of ANGLICO doctrine, facilitated his ability to provide accurate and timely gunfire support to the all-Arab Joint Forces Command-East, enabling the Islamic formation to accelerate its attack timetable and take its primary objectives that same day.

  • Jim Valle

    A nice story. Normally the American Armed Forces culture teaches the personnel in each branch to view the others as rivals and inferiors. In fact even with each service the different “communities” look askance at each other and tag each other with uncomplimentary nicknames. Perhaps the underlying reason for this is the need for everybody in the military to compete against each other for funds doled out by a highly political Congress. This makes interservice and intraservice rivalry into a zero sum game that fosters a state of mind that’s hard to let go of. I’ve always thought that it was disgraceful for the Navy to name two of its largest carriers after less than heroic congressmen just because they secured the funding to build them. My hat’s off to a lowly Marine officer who can see past this indoctrination in the name of getting the job done.

  • Thanks Jim for reading and commenting!