Commandant’s Reading List – One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander

At the start of the year, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft shared his reading list on All Hands. As part of a continued discussion on leadership, the Commandant has invited members from across the fleet to review the selections and share insights on how they are applying what they’ve read to mission execution. This is the first blog in the series and was authored by Lt. Joseph Haynsworth, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser.

Admiral Woodward commanded flagship HMS Hermes leaving for the war April 5, 1982.

Admiral Woodward commanded flagship HMS Hermes leaving for the war April 5, 1982.

One Hundred Days covers the British response to Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands on April 2,1982. Many in the Coast Guard today have only a vague recollection of these events as they occurred before their time, in another hemisphere and primarily involved other countries. Despite this, the book provides an absorbing look at a major world event that unfolded with U.S. support. And while the book provides an overview of Sandy Woodward’s rise through the Royal Navy from a young cadet to Admiral, the focus is very much on his role as the Commander Task Group for Operation Corporate in the south Atlantic. Adm. Woodward brings you along with him, demonstrating leadership throughout those one hundred days with excerpts and sketches from his diary.

Three areas stand out to me as particularly relevant to our modern Coast Guard: (1) the difficulty he had of maintaining a fleet of highly technical ships and aircraft far from home, (2) strained relations between various command and control components and (3) the military planning cycle.

100 daysStaging out of the island of Ascension mid-way between Africa and Brazil, the British put in place an exclusion zone and began to assemble the needed equipment and supplies for the upcoming clash. Fighting the world’s first “computer war,” Adm. Woodward recognized that time was not on his side. As soon as they departed home, their ships and aircraft began slowly deteriorating – after all, some equipment can’t be fixed while underway. With his forward base more than 8,000 miles away, the upkeep of his fleet was very much at the front of his mind, and equipment and personnel began to wear out.

There are clear parallels to many of the Coast Guard’s modern acquisitions on the aircraft and cutter front. The engines powering our new fleet seem to be more electrical than mechanical, which requires a shift in the way we operate and maintain them. With these assets operating further from home, often still under warranty, the crews operating them have done an outstanding job of balancing the need to be aggressive operationally with taking care of an asset that will need to last our service the next several decades. Adm. Woodward puts it best, saying, “… despite the massive investment in modern, partially automated systems (indeed because of them), in the end it is people that still count. Skill and experience remain at as great a premium as ever, as does good leadership and its natural reward, goodwill.”

Oftentimes the working relationship between the unit executing the mission – aircraft, small boat, cutter, boarding team – and the coordinating command center can take deliberate attention and care to remain effective and productive. Adm. Woodward chronicled a similar struggle dealing with his fellow commanders of the Amphibious and Landing groups during the Falkland campaign, noting that for such relationships:

“A result is that command centers become very like islands occupied by close associates. Within each centre, the combination of isolation, intensity of work, abundant adrenaline and stress and the comradeship such pressures often generate can create insular states of corporate mind.”

In these situations where the justification behind your tasking, or the chain of command is unclear, the simple solution seems to be to communicate open and candidly. Just like proper cockpit resource management in an aircraft or bridge resource management on a cutter is key to creating a shared mental model, Adm. Woodward advises, “when clarification is needed, it should be asked for.”

The distances were daunting in the Falkland campaign. As his battle group moved in on its destination, the attacks unfolded in a well considered fashion. Initially a bomber from Ascension cratered the main runway on the Falkland Islands, requiring 11 fuel tanker aircraft to get the single British bomber to the Falkland Islands for five minutes of time overhead. Next, the carrier-launched Sea Harriers, which worked to establish air superiority while special forces were landed to begin reconnaissance, and finally the ships began to bombard the entrenched Argentinean positions in preparation for the main amphibious force. While the military planning process for hasn’t changed significantly since Adm. Woodward’s time, though the technology has, this was possibly the most interesting part of the book. Most of us will never command a battle group, or plan and execute an amphibious landing on a remote island, and this book provided a glimpse into the planning required to pull it off. On a less dramatic stage, this military planning cycle take place every day in our service and others, and it’s good to have an appreciation for what our senior leaders are up against.

Overall, the book is relevant, thought provoking and even funny at times with a typical dry British humor. While I believe it’s relevant across our service, anyone who has received an early-morning mayday call, set general quarters or responded to a high priority request for logistics support from the fleet will find it hard to put down.

Editor’s note: All members of the Coast Guard are encouraged to continue the leadership dialogue. If you’d like to review a selection, or have a suggestion for next year’s reading list, email the Office of Leadership via Brianne.E.Alvis@uscg.mil.

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