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Doctrine: Bringing Order to Chaos

By Christopher Liggett

People are complicated, and every team is a bundle of chaos. It doesn’t matter if you’re going out to dinner with your family or coming together for a validation exercise. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter how many people are involved in the task at hand. Working with one or more human beings is extremely complex, though we don’t like to admit it.

Sometimes, the sheer number of human factors can feel overwhelming. Did everyone sleep last night? Do we have faith and confidence in each other? Are our families taken care of? Every drop in the bucket adds intricacy to the inherent difficulties of the job.

How in the world do we manage to pull ourselves together into functioning teams despite the seemingly insurmountable odds that we face? If we aren’t creating slides for the next meeting or retyping shortage annexes, then we might just have a few minutes to plan, train, and execute our mission.

In fact, we might feel so defeated at times that it’s tempting to "check the boxes," stay out of trouble, and finish our time on the team without any drama. Instead of bringing order to chaos, we’ll sweep some chaos under the rug until we can move on to something else.

Don’t give in to mediocrity and the status quo. There are other ways to do business. There are tools designed just for us. The Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs), the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP), and the Operations Order—all found in the Battle Staff Smart Book—are keys to success. We just have to use them.

Forged in the fires of world wars and asymmetric overthrows, the tools found in doctrine are lessons learned from our past. They’re the After Action Reviews our predecessors pushed forth with their last dying breath, feverishly typing page after page of size 12 Arial font in memorandum format. Do you think they created planning processes for fun? No way! They wanted to make our lives easier by sharing hard-fought lessons learned. General Mattis aptly reminds us of how costly it can be when we choose to relearn past lessons the hard way.

“By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation. . . It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.

When is the last time you really applied the TLPs to an operation? Did you issue a Warning Order, or did you keep information to yourself? Did you conduct a reconnaissance, or did you plan on figuring it out when you got there? When is the last time you followed through with MDMP? It’s a planning tool that can and should be exercised by a four-person team. Skipping steps in the process makes it easier to overlook things, and it leaves room for confusion. Don’t shoot from the hip when you can aim with a finely tuned optic. Cut chaos into pieces, organize it, assign tasks, and make it fit your desired end state. Conquer the day and bring your Battle Staff Smart Book with you.

CPT Chris Liggett is the Assistant Operations Officer in the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion. Prior to this assignment, he was the Team Commander for CAT 111 and CMSE Burkina Faso. He entered SOF Civil Affairs after serving as an Infantry Officer in 1-502, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division where he deployed to Afghanistan as a Platoon Leader.

The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.

This article should not be construed as a Civil Affairs Association endorsement of "Lightning Press" publications.



Thank you very much for that. I will continue to influence and plan accordingly.


Topher Liggett
Topher Liggett
May 13, 2020

Adam. I know the article isn’t rocket science, but I hope it is reassuring to hear that there are basic fundamentals we can always fall back on. I hear people say it all the time, “being an expert is doing the routine things exceptionally well all the time.” It is not different for us. When in doubt, whip out some doctrinal references and use them as a guide to help you structure the way ahead. It sounds like you have your work cut out as a one man team, but I’m willing to bet you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last. Keep fighting the fight, and if you speak doctrinal language and structure your plans accordingly I…


That’s a standard to always stay with. I’m in a N Guard division and i am the only 38B in my state. NCO as well. One man team if you will. Obviously serving a different purpose at that level. Very tough without a team. I make do, but in a big way must open the eyes of higher that N Guard serves a great purpose in Civil Ops CONUS and OCONUS. Good read. Thank you.

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