I’m a pretty big football fan. On most Saturdays and Sundays, you usually don’t have to look to far to find me. I’m either in front of the TV watching a game or checking scores on my phone. This past weekend was no different, and it was great to see the NFL bringing so much attention, support and money to some worthy veteran charities.  But as this time of year brings so much attention to the military and to veterans, what does it actually mean to support the military?

As a Marine, I was taught that in every mission, there are two elements: you are either part of the main effort or part of the supporting effort.  As the Marine Corps’ doctrine, “Warfighting,” explains, the main effort represents the entire unit’s focus of effort – the bid for victory. The main effort gets assigned those tasks that need to be done to accomplish the mission. The supporting effort’s mission, on the other hand, is to do whatever is necessary to facilitate the main effort’s success.  This structure of main effort and support effort is established to provide unity of overall effort, prioritize supporting fires, and facilitate decision-making in changing circumstances by letting commanders ask themselves, “How can I best support the focus of effort?”

In both military and business settings, my experience has shown me how empowering the distinction between these two efforts can be and how it can align everyone to the focus of effort, but I’ve also seen the impact that the distinction can have on the relationship between the two groups. I have been in units where the relationship between the infantry and those in support roles is pretty contemptuous, where the support folks are treated like second-class citizens unworthy of even being associated with the mission. This is obviously not conducive to the overall effort. I’ve also seen units where the support personnel have earned the respect of those they are supporting and are considered an essential piece of what will be needed to succeed.   Since the units that “got it” and had a good relationship between the main effort and the support were constantly succeeding, the units who had abrasive relationships seemed to be constantly swimming against the current.

While there should never be a reason for someone to look at those supporting them with contempt, the difference between the units that had good and bad relationships was always the mentality of those in the supporting role. How the support forces approach their job can have a direct effect on how well the unit works together. While I have tried to quantify this for myself in the past, it really comes down to four elements that Scott Faith writes about in brilliant simplicity in his article for The Havok Journal, “4 Rules For Supporting Special Operations.

While I recommend that you read the article in its entirety, below are the four rules that Faith establishes:

Rule #1: Understand your role in the organization.

The takeaway: Embrace the role.  If you want to be an “operator” or part of the main effort, go become one.  But if your job is admin, intelligence, logistics, or any other type of support, then do that job better than anyone else.  If the people you are supposed to be supporting think that they can do their job AND your job, you aren’t bringing any value to the organization.

Rule #2: Be good at your job, not theirs.

The takeaway: While you should know what the people you are supporting are doing on a day-to-day basis, you will never be as good at their job as they are.   Don’t try to become a master at their job. Practice and become world class in your job.

Rule #3: Manage perceptions: theirs and yours.

The takeaway: The reality is that appearances matter.  You should act like you are competing for your job every day, because the people you are supporting are competing for theirs. There is always someone who has the same skill set and the same hunger for the job that you have, so don’t let the people you are supporting start thinking that they would rather have that person instead of you.  Be present, be professional, and be proactive.

Rule #4: Have some professional pride.

The takeaway: No mission gets accomplished without support.  You are not of a lower importance because your job is one that is supportive. You play an essential part in mission success.  If people don’t understand what you are contributing, educate them in how you can enable them to do their job better.

I bring these four rules up not just because it is Veteran’s Day, but also because I just got back from spending a week at Fort Bragg training some deploying Special Operations Command soldiers alongside Scott Mann and Howard Clark from The Stability Institute.  The Stability Institute provides resources, access to a network of stability professionals and training to deploying military units to remove the sources of instability and when it comes to how to support, I have never seen two more dedicated enablers.  While both Mann and Clark each have a resume that shows just how much they have “been there and done that,” the conversation and the focus is never about them (which unfortunately is rare in the instructor world.) It is always about providing the best resources to the men and women who are going to be the ones on the ground, and they dedicate every ounce of effort they have into that.   While any instructor goes into a class with a pre-planned agenda and a prepared class and presentation, throughout the academic week they constantly take strategic pauses, talk with the students to find what is keeping them up at night, and adjust to make sure that the people heading downrange have their questions answered. Being in a support role requires humility, and when Mann and Clark get asked a question that they don’t have the answer to, they don’t try to come up with an answer on the spot for a question that they are unsure of, but instead leverage their networks and put the student in touch with an true expert in that field, often within 24 hours. I am constantly humbled by Mann and Clark’s unceasing drive to train military advisors in how to best work in clan societies and counter violent extremism. If we are going to protect the homeland, it isn’t always just about killing the enemy, but defeating them all around. They compete with themselves to be the best enabler each and every day, and the mentality that The Stability Institute has to support the military and the organizations working alongside them is the model that is needed to benefit the troops heading overseas.

A Final Thought

Around Veteran’s Day, a lot of money and attention gets brought to the military, the sacrifices that are made overseas, and the military families here at home.  While much of that attention gets directed towards the larger organizations, The Stability Institute is a group that you should take a look at.  As a reader on this site, you probably have a focus similar to ours, that the goal should be to get left of bang and to prevent attacks instead of only training in how to respond. The Stability Institute takes that mindset to much larger scale. Whereas the training we provide is pretty close to “bang” on the attack timeline and is designed to identify a person who has made the commitment to violence, The Stability Institute is focused much further left on that timeline and on removing many of the conditions that lead people down the path of violence.  If your desire is to see the world become a safer place, their approach is one you should consider supporting.

On a personal note, I’d also recommend that you read some of Scott Mann’s ideas on what is needed to defeat our enemies.  As much of the conversation about the way forward in Iraq and Syria is being debated in the shadow of Afghanistan, the focus seems to be centered around drone strikes and whether or not to deploy forces to the area.  As a former Green Beret Lt. Col, Scott has the credibility to talk about the advantage that small units of advisors bring to areas ruled by clan methods. This is simply a narrative that is not being discussed, but needs to be. I recommend that you take a look at a short video interview he did on MSNBC to learn more.

While veterans and members of the military are getting thanked this week for their service, as a veteran, I do want to thank those still serving for their commitment to do whatever is needed to keep American safe.

Thanks and Semper Fidelis.