Tactical Decision Making (Part I)

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

-– Inigo Montoya

My main presentation at Paul-E-Palooza 2 was entitled Tactical Decision Exercises. I wanted to do it because I have come to feel we in the training community concentrate on teaching marksmanship and manipulation skills at the expense of tactics and decision-making skills. As strange as it sounds, coming from someone of my background, I think that’s a problem. When I look at incidents that have had negative outcomes for the Citizen, it’s rarely because of a failure of mechanical skills. Most of the time, the failure is due to a bad decision, poor tactics, or a combination of both.

Trainers often refer to the Holy Grail of achieving ‘unconscious competence.’ However, good decision-making is usually a thoughtful conscious process. Consequently, I’m not sure that focusing our training methodologies on an unconscious process helps our students develop the thinking skills they need to make good decisions under stress. We need to have our mechanical skills adequately developed so we don’t have to focus on them but we also have to realize that they are an end to a means.

In our Grand Campaign, our ultimate object is to wage successful war on land in the heart of EUROPE against the main body of the GERMAN strategic reserve. It is true that we have to cross the enemy’s beaches, but that to us must be merely an episode. True, it is a vital episode and, if it is not successful, the whole expedition will fail. We must plan for the crossing of the beaches, but let us make sure that we get that part of the plan in its right perspective as a passing phase.

General Morgan, Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander, 1943

It’s not hard to find examples of ‘what if’ questions about personal protection situations on Internet forums and some respondents refer to ‘wargaming’ these hypothetical situations. The problem is that the term ‘wargaming’ is frequently used, but what it means is often misunderstood. What most people do when presented with a hypothetical ‘what if’ scenario is ‘brainstorming,’ not wargaming. Wargaming takes brainstorming at least two steps further by including the elements of consequences and an adversary, who also makes decisions about what to do.

The management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton consults regularly for the Department of Defense and other large clients about the wargaming process. Their website contains much useful information about the fundamentals of the process.

In order to wargame effectively, it’s important for us to understand the difference between strategy and tactics.

  • Tactics – doing things right, which is what most training classes focus on.
  • Strategy – doing the right things. This results from a thinking process, hopefully done ahead of time.
  • The dividing line is physical contact. Once you make contact, you’re going to execute tactics, hopefully that support a strategy you have already developed.
  • In my observation and experience, the conscious mind rapidly disappears upon contact, for most people. So, there’s not going to be much strategy development going on once contact is made. If you haven’t thought about the right things to do ahead of time, you’re unlikely to do so once you encounter a threat.

There are various military, police, and firefighting models for wargaming. However, the weakness of applying those models to our circumstances is that they are based on receiving a defined mission statement from a higher level of command. For example:

You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other Allied Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her Armed Forces.

–Combined Chiefs of Staff directive to General Eisenhower for Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Nazi occupied Europe

However, we, as Private Citizens develop our own mission statements, based on our values and goals. That’s a major difference from the institutional models.
Without a mission statement, even effective brainstorming is difficult and wargaming is impossible because it’s unclear what you’re trying to accomplish. The object of wargaming is learning to make decisions with a positive strategic end goal in mind. And we definitely want to avoid negative outcomes.

Some positive end goals you might consider are:

  • Enjoying life with your family and children
  • Seeing your children grow up healthy and prosperous
  • Participate in enjoyable hobbies
  • Build a successful business
  • Retire comfortably

Negative outcomes you most likely want to avoid are:

  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Serious Bodily Injury
  • Death
  • Misdemeanor or Felony conviction
  • Going to jail or prison
  • Loss of community and family associations (ostracization or separation)
  • Shooting or otherwise hurting an innocent person

When I asked the class to write down their individual mission statements regarding personal protection, I noticed many did not. Please reflect on your goals and possible negative outcomes and then write down your mission statement for personal protection. I’ll discuss how it fits into the concept of wargaming and tactical decision exercises in the next few installments.

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6 responses

  1. A concrete example for an individual would help me understand your article more fully.
    In one case, I travel with a couple and we fish together. In the event that we are confronted by an armed attacker(thief?), we came up with this strategy: I am the only one with CCW. The strategy we developed was for George to fake a heart attack; Judy gets semi-hysterical about that, making a diversion, giving me time to draw my gun. Then it’s up to me to shoot/don’t shoot, etc.
    Am I correct that this simple plan is our strategy and that the tactics would entail if/or where George collapses; Judy cries out or not; I move toward them or away, etc ….. these are the tactics??? Please critique this scenario in light of your article.

    1. Oops, last line doesn’t make sense – should read: “Please comment on this scenario”.

    2. Jo Ann, the actions you have described are tactics. Your strategy is based on what you perceive as a desirable end outcome. For instance, is keeping your stuff more important than avoiding an unpleasant interaction (as a result of shooting the dude) with law enforcement? There’s no right or wrong answer to that question and it may be a variable depending on your perception of his intent.

      We will be discussing goals and outcomes in future installments. You may get more food for thought then.

      1. I’d say my stuff isn’t worth an “unpleasant interaction”, but my life is…and I’m not willing to take a chance that an armed attacker/thief only poses a threat to my stuff.

  2. […] in developing a home invasion plan for the babysitter is developing one for yourself. As my mentor Claude Werner points out, brainstorming about how to achieve the desired outcome isn’t enough. You need to […]

  3. […] in developing a home invasion plan for the babysitter is developing one for yourself. As my mentor Claude Werner points out, brainstorming about how to achieve the desired outcome isn’t enough. You need to […]

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