Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.”—Sun Tzu

Especially over the past 10 years, we have shown a singular disregard for this truth. The SOF-CF dichotomy is emblematic of the problem.

‘Special’ warfare is a relatively new concept. The tactics employed are not. Raids and reconnaissance are as old as warfare itself. During WWII, regular infantry often had to step up and accomplish missions that would today have entire AORs locked down so that TF Whatever can swoop in and clear the target. The assumption is that ‘mere’ grunts can’t handle that level of mission.

But they have had to. Repeatedly. The CAP platoons in Vietnam were regular Marine 0311s, for the most part. And warfare doesn’t look like it’s going back to massed formations in the Fulda Gap anytime soon. It hasn’t for a very long time.

Whether it is called “hybrid warfare,” “irregular warfare,” or any other buzzword, our potential or actual adversaries don’t care about the division between what is “conventional” or “unconventional” warfare. They care about winning. “The only thing more terrible than a battle won is a battle lost.” So we see non-uniformed irregulars mixed with uniformed units and tanks. If our ground forces are going to be able to complete their missions in that kind of environment, they have to be able to function at a higher level than they have necessarily been trained for recently.

In order to build this kind of broad-ranging higher level of capability, two things will have to happen: Training will have to increase, and small unit leaders will have to have greater autonomy.

More training shouldn’t be too hard. I say “shouldn’t” with the full knowledge that it will be made that hard. On average, your regular Marine infantryman will estimate that out of four years on active duty, he spent at least a year “standing by to stand by.” The wasted time spent sitting around the barracks or doing pointless busy-work “working parties” in the infantry is mind-boggling. While that time might not be able to be packed with live-fire stuff, small unit tactics don’t necessarily need a great deal of space or resources to practice.

I blame the wasted time in lieu of training (as well as the ridiculous fighting loads) for some of the horrible infantry tactics on display in many of the combat videos coming out of Afghanistan in recent years (crossing open fields upright in daylight, sitting on rucks in the open without any cover while ‘holding security,’ the list goes on). Too often this is a matter of both higher leadership squashing initiative while they have meetings, and small-unit leaders lacking the initiative to say, “Company hasn’t got anything for us until 1600, so we’re going out into the backyard to practice movement to contact.”