Mission Command: George S. Patton & the Battle of the Bulge
History will forever remember people and events due to positive and negative actions that contributed to either a successful outcome or total failure. General George S. Patton Jr. is one such individual that will be recognized throughout time in military and civilian forums due to his leadership during his military tenure. General Patton displayed tremendous leadership abilities during World War II, specifically the Battle of the Bulge and the push to Bastogne. This success is primarily due to Patton and his subordinate leader’s ability to process and execute mission command at every level. To understand how mission command made this success possible, you must understand what mission command is, General Patton and the history of the battle, and how mission command was displayed throughout the battle.
Mission command has been the Army’s method of exercising command throughout the past four decades. Numerous leaders, such as General Patton, have used this style prior to mission command’s permanent establishment because it works. Mission command is executed at all levels by respective commanders and staffs. Staffs are responsible to plan, prepare and execute the mission. Commanders understand, visualize, describe, direct and lead while assessing throughout the entire operations. Mission command philosophy is guided by the principles of building cohesive teams through mutual trust, create a shared understanding, provide a clear commander’s intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk. The principles of mission command assist commanders and staff in blending the art of command with the science of command.1
The mission command philosophy helps commanders counter the uncertainty of operations by reducing the amount of certainty needed to act. Commanders understand that some decisions must be made quickly and are better made at the point of action. Mission command is based on mutual trust and a shared understanding and purpose between commanders, subordinates, staffs, and unified action partners. It requires every Soldier to be prepared to assume responsibility, maintain unity of effort, take prudent action, and act resourcefully within the commander’s intent. Through leadership, commanders build teams. They develop and maintain mutual trust and a shared understanding throughout the force and with unified action partners. Commanders understand that subordinates and staffs require resources and a clear intent to guide their actions. They allow them the freedom of action to exercise disciplined initiative to adapt to changing situations. Because mission command decentralizes decision making authority and grants subordinates’ significant freedom of action, it demands more of commanders at all levels and requires rigorous training and education.2 Understanding the expectation of each principle will better describe the mission command philosophy