Leadership Challenges Peculiar To Mountain Operations

Although most leadership challenges in a temperate environment are the same in cold weather, some problems will arise which must be quickly corrected.

a. Cocoon-like Existence. Many men, when bundled up in successive layers of clothing and with their head covered by a hood, tend to withdraw within themselves and to assume a "cocoon-like existence". When so clothed, the individual's hearing and field of vision are greatly restricted and he tends to become oblivious to his surroundings. His mental faculties become sluggish and although he looks, he does not see. Leaders must recognize and overcome these symptoms. Additionally, the leader needs to watch for the growth of lethargy within himself and must be alert to prevent it. He must always appear alert to his men and prevent them from sinking into a state of cocoon-like existence.

(1) If your Marines withdraw into a shell or become moody and depressed, get them involved in conversations with each other.

(2) Don't accept an excuse for not carrying out an order. Cold weather training all too often becomes a camping trip. Leadership must challenge their Marines to train as they would fight.

(3) If Marines still display a "Cocoon-like" existence, have them engage in physical activity.

b. Individual and Group Hibernation. This problem is similar in manifestation of withdrawal from the environment. It is generally recognized by a tendency of individuals to seek the comfort of sleeping bags, and by the group remaining in tents or other shelter at the neglect of their duties. In extreme cases, guard and security measures may be jeopardized. Many times, it is the leadership that violates this, thus destroying the unit's trust and confidence.

(1) The leader must ensure that all personnel remain alert and active. Ridged insistence upon proper execution of all military duties and the prompt and proper performance of the many group "chores" is essential.

(2) Be alert for individuals who will place their own physical comfort ahead of their assigned duties. Remind them that their mission as Marines is to fight, and to do so successfully requires that weapons and equipment be maintained in working order.

c. Personal Contact and Communications. It is essential that each individual and group be kept informed of what is happening. Due to the deadening of the senses typically encountered in cold weather, a man left alone may quickly become oblivious to his surroundings, lose his sense of direction, his concern for his unit, and in extreme cases, for himself. He may become like a sheep and merely follows along, not knowing or caring whether his unit is advancing or withdrawing. Each commander must take strong measures to ensure that small unit leaders keep their subordinates informed. This is particularly true of the company commanders keeping their platoon commanders informed, of platoon commanders informing their squad leaders, and the squad leaders informing their men. General information is of value, but the greatest importance must be placed on matters of immediate concern and interest to the individual. The chain of command must be rigidly followed and leaders must see that no man is left uninformed as to his immediate surrounding and situation.

(1) If your Marines find it hard to remember things they have been taught, show patience and review orders, drills and SOP's. Keep their minds busy.

(2) Tempers normally flare up during this type of training, so expect and be prepared to deal with it when it comes. Maintain your sense of humor, lead by example, and don't let unanticipated problems get the best of you.

d. Time/Distance Factors. Mountain operations doctrine recommends that tactical commanders be given every opportunity to exploit local situations and take the initiative when the opportunity is presented. Because of the increased amount of time involved in a movement and the additional time required to accomplish even simple tasks, deviation from tactical plans is difficult. Tactical plans are developed after a thorough reconnaissance and detailed estimate of the situation. Sufficient flexibility is allowed each subordinate leader to use his initiative and ingenuity in accomplishing his mission. Time lags are compensated for by timely issuance of warning orders, by anticipating charges in the tactical situation, and the early issuance of frag orders. Recognition of time/distance factors is the key to successful tactical operations in cold weather mountainous regions.

(1) Time-Distance Formula (TDF). This formula is designed to be a guideline and should not be considered as the exact amount of time required for your movement. Furthermore, this formula is for use in ideal conditions. The TDF is made for troop on foot in the summertime or troop on skis in the wintertime. If on foot in deep snow, multiply the total time by 2.

(a) 3 km/ph + 1 hour for every 300 meters ascent; and/or +1 hour for every 800 meters descent.

e. Conservation of Energy. Two environments must be overcome in mountainous regions; one created by the enemy and the second created by the climate and terrain. The climatic environment must not be permitted to sap the energy of the unit to a point where it can no longer cope with the enemy. The leader must be in superior physical condition. He cannot expend the additional energy required by his concern for his men and still have the necessary energy to lead and direct his unit in combat. He must remember that there are seldom any tired units, just TIRED COMMANDERS!

(1) IF the unit can effectively fight upon reaching the objective, then it has properly conserved energy.

"It has been repeatedly demonstrated that at temperatures lower than -10F, all other problems lose significance in the personal battle for SURVIVAL"

3. Survival ASPECTS OF LEADERSHIP. When dealing with leadership challenges in a survival situation, the foremost weapon a leader must employ is his vigilance: a leader's attention should be focused on ensuring all Marines of the unit are contributing to the overall success of the situation.

a. Cohesion. As a leader, you must ensure that all members of the team are working towards the survivability of the unit. You can not allow individuals or small groups to formulate their own goals or plan of action.

b. Self-Worth. A Marine without self-worth is a Marine who does not value living. Leadership is a critical; factor in building self-worth. Tasks must be found for each Marine in which best suits their situation while attempting to receive positive results. (i.e., A man with a broken leg can monitor the fire, A man with a broken arm can still procure water for the unit). This will make each and every Marine feel useful and not a burden to the other members, regardless of their individual situation.

c. Natural Reactions to Stress. Leadership must quickly identify natural reactions to signs of stress his Marines may be displaying (i.e., Fear, Anxiety, Guilt, Depression). Failure to recognize these signs early will result in injuries, illness, or death which will reduce the unit's combat effectiveness. Corrective action must be taken immediately4

d. Will to Survive. The will to survive is a "mind-set" that must be instilled and reinforced within all Marines. Without the "will to survive", Marines will not succeed. The following tools can aid to develop this "mind-set".

(1) The Code of Conduct.

(2) Pledge of Allegiance.

(3) Faith in America.

(4) Patriotic Songs

(5) Spiritual Faith.

4. CONCLUSION. Paramount to survival is preparation and training that will foster trust and confidence in a unit's capability to beat the elements and the enemy. Poorly trained units will not possess the "Will to Survive" as they lack the fundamental skills to overcome the survival situation. Individual confidence is built through challenging and realistic training that teaches a Marine how to survive and how to effectively employ cold weather equipment.

"Spirit of confidence comes form training and tradition... each individual Marine, because of the fighting tradition of the Corps and the toughness of training, is confident of his own ability and that of his buddies... This confidence in themselves and one anther very often spells the difference between victory and SURVIVAL and defeat and annihilation."

FMFM 1-0 "Leading Marines"


1. ALMAR 439196, Core Values

2. MCDP 1-0, Leading Marines

3. FMFM 7-21, Tactical Fundamentals for Cold Weather Warfighting

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