By John Bolton

Among the islands of Micronesia, a strange phenomenon occurred after the first Westerners arrived. Not understanding how industrialization had created ships, guns, and cannons, the islanders assumed a strikingly similar response: presuming magic had given the whites "Cargo." Soon, emergent "Cargo Cults" preached a forthcoming doctrine of abundance, believing that if they built the artifices of "Cargo" such as wooden docks, bamboo roads, and dirt airfields, the goods would return.

If at first inclined to scoff at stone-age ignorance, we should consider that the Army's implementation of Mission Command follows a similar pattern. The natives mistook the artifacts of "Cargo" from supporting its factors, processes, and systems just as the U.S. Army is mistaking mission orders and disciplined initiative as the tools of Mission Command rather than a changed Culture.

Consequently, Cargo Cultists provide an example of how not to implement change — one the Army should consider as it struggles to make Mission Command a reality.

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Members of the 442nd Troop Carrier Group plan missions into Europe during World War II (U.S. Air Force photo)

1. The Wehrmacht was the best at it and their military excellence relied on it.

The idea of Mission Command was explicit in German doctrine in the Second World War. However, it is not true that the Wehrmacht always implemented it at every level.

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U.S. National Archives

To create an environment where this was feasible—where officers could use individual judgment and yet cooperatively further the overall objective — the Navy sought to strengthen the ability and effectiveness of officers but to do so within a standardized framework.

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Wikimedia Commons

Modern militaries often claim that their command system is built around the principles of 'mission command', whereby a commander sets his subordinate a mission, explains his intent, and leaves the subordinate freedom to decide how to accomplish the task he has been set.

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U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

Everyone talks about how admirable mission command is. Seldom is heard a discouraging word about it. So I was surprised to see this thought, expressed by a former Air Force officer who now works at Amazon:

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