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Alexander Kabusk

Army 401
21OCT14

Thunder Run: A Case Study in Disciplined Initiative

The battle of Thunder Run is a very fascinating clash filled with drama, excitement,
death, glory, and some fantastic examples of the concept of Mission Command. The
six principals of Mission Command: building cohesive teams through mutual trust,
creating a shared understanding, providing a clear commanders intent, exercising
disciplined initiative, using mission orders, and accepting prudent risk were clearly
displayed throughout the events of Thunder Run.
The first principal of Mission Command, building cohesive teams through mutual
trust, requires training and execution. Working side-by-side with your fellow soldiers is
how you gain their trust and give every man and woman confidence in his or her
individual mission and tasks. The first Thunder Run created trust among the men and
women of 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment because they knew they could attack deep
into a hostile urban environment with confidence in their training and each other.
The second principal of mission command, creating a shared understanding, was
demonstrated by Colonel Perkins knowing his plan inside out. He briefed his intent in a
dirty tent without any notes, slides, or fancy presentation materials. This proved he had
taken the time to visualize and crystalize his intent so it was easy to understand for his
subordinates. Time after time, it has been proven that when there is misunderstanding

between leaders and subordinates, there is inefficiency, discord, and waste. In a


military operation, without a clear understanding, lives are at risk.
The third principal of mission command, providing a clear commanders intent, is
critical because when Murphys Law kicks into effect, everyone in the element needs to
know what the commander wants and what their role is in the mission. During the first
Thunder Run, a RPG hit and immobilized Staff Sergeant Jason Diazs tank. Lieutenant
Colonel Schwartz waited about thirty minutes for his soldiers to fix the damaged tank
repaired; however, it was damaged beyond the limited resources they had for repair.
Since COL Perkins had clearly emphasized momentum when briefing his intent, LTC
Schwartz decided to retrieve sensitive computer components from the tank and move
deeper into the city.
The fourth principal of mission command, exercising disciplined initiative,
requires soldiers to take what they believe is the appropriate action and be problem
solvers especially the absence of direct orders. A fantastic example of exercising
disciplined initiative is when a rocket attack disrupted the brigade tactical operation
center, killing three Soldiers and temporarily cutting off communications. LTC Eric
Wesley, the 2nd Brigade executive officer, orchestrated the triage of the wounded
Soldiers and evacuating the disabled vehicles. In a little less than an hour, Wesley had
set up a makeshift TOC and reconnected with the HQ enabling the commanders to
understand the situation so they could make an informed decision.
The fifth principal of mission command, using mission orders, was demonstrated
by COL Perkins planning ahead and radioing Brigadier General Lloyd J. Austin III
asking if he could head downtown. COL Perkins knew he was bound by the last orders
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he received, but he explained his reasoning for his course of action and then waited for
a reply, meanwhile preparing both for a yes and a no. In addition, when briefing his
intent, COL Perkins planned ahead and emphasized seizing and maintaining control of
the three overpass intersections on highway eight, codenamed objective Curly, Larry,
and Moe. COL Perkins knew that if they did not hold those three checkpoints, returning
would be riskier than necessary and would also completely eliminate his hope of staying
downtown during the night.
The sixth principal of mission command, accept prudent risk, is evident
throughout the entirety of Thunder Run. Specifically, when COL Perkins radioed BG
Austin asking to stay the night downtown. COL Perkins knew he would encounter
resistance, possibly very considerable resistance; however, he believed the shock value
of staying one night in downtown Baghdad outweighed the risks of being isolated in a
major hostile city. COL Perkins did not take a foolish risk; he trusted in his men to
maintain security while monitoring and re-evaluating the situation throughout the day
and night.
Thunder Run was the first urban armor conflict since World War Two. Mission
Command helped LTG William S. Wallace to balance the art of command and the
science of control by placing people, rather than technology. He deferred the command
decision to COL Perkins, the commander on the ground, because he knew COL Perkins
was in a much better position to make that call. Col Perkins could judge the
atmosphere in the city in real-time something that LTG Wallace, back in the HQ, could
not possibly do.