We Can Do Better at Teaching Army Doctrine

Chris Budihas

As historian Hew Strachan states in The Direction of War, “Operational thinking finds its intellectual focus in doctrine.” Doctrine drives how leaders think and fight. But when the Army publishes new doctrine, as an institution we owe it to ourselves to do a better job informing, then educating, the Total Army force.


Soldiers maneuver in an M1A1 Abrams tank as an AH-64 Apache helicopter provides aerial security during exercise Decisive Action Rotation at Fort Irwin, Calif., Sept. 6, 2016. The soldiers are assigned to the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Army photo by Pfc. Michael Crews.

Doctrine is our institutional center-point. It gives us a common point-of-departure when the scenario at hand demands a non-doctrinal solution. Deviating from doctrine, however, without first collectively understanding what it says, will result in increased confusion, unintended friction, and increased risk to friendly forces.

Heard About the New 3-0?

doctrineIn November, the Army published its latest versions of Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) and Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-0, titled Operations. This is one of the two capstone doctrinal publications for our service, the other being ADP 1, The Army. These manuals serve as a common operational concept to drive how the Army, as part of a joint military effort, conducts military operations.

And how did I find out that the Army recently updated these foundational manuals? A friend posted them on Facebook a week after their publication. This is not the best way to notify the force. Therefore, here are a few methods that the institution and its leaders can use to inform and teach the force when the Army releases key doctrinal manuals.

Informing the Force

First, the Army needs to implement an aggressive communications strategy to alert the force of new doctrine. Call it a doctrinal launch party. Senior leaders can announce the change across a wide variety of media and methods, including:  official All Army Activity Messages (ALARACTs), postings on official Army websites, mass email messages from the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff, and many other forms of social media.

Next, senior general officers can record video messages and interviews that announce doctrine publication, stating what the new manual generally consists of, how it deviates from previous versions, and the implementation strategy. Such video messaging is very influential in relaying the new doctrine’s “so what’s” on how the Army is to operate. A great example is when General Perkins, TRADOC Commanding General, gave televised and recorded interviews with the World Affairs Council and other influential organizations shortly after the release the Army’s Operating Concept, dated 31 October 2014.

Secondly, when I served in a sister service earlier in my career, the Marines published Marine Corps Doctrine Publication (MCDP)-1, Warfighting. This manual crystallized the spirit and application of how the Corps was to prepare and execute military operations to win. As the Marines’ capstone concept, all other MCDPs aligned against it and the Commandant conducted what I would call a “teach-down.” General Chuck Krulak introduced the manual to his general officers and from there, each successive level of command educated the next.

In our battalion, the commander conducted a two-hour officer’s call where he gave us each a copy of the new field manual and reviewed it in detail. He explained to the collective group not only why the manual’s major sub-components were important to us, but how we were to apply them. This teach-down was powerful in getting the message out. It allowed leaders at echelon to nest their understanding of this new doctrine and created a forum for leaders to discuss warfighting.

Teaching-Down Army Doctrine

Recently, my command followed this example and conducted our own teach-down of the newest ADP and ADRP 3-0 manuals. And I did not use PowerPoint. Instead, I made everyone pre-read the manuals and bring their own copies with notes. This forced preparations at the individual-level, which enabled greater dialogue during the session. The leaders walked away with a thorough understanding of the new manuals and a framework for how to use them in practice as staff officers and commanders.

Where the manuals failed to cover how the Army got to this point in its doctrinal lineage, I augmented from my own personal studies. I explained the creation of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) post-Vietnam and the eventual development of FM 100-5, Active Defense (published 1976), which later was overhauled by then-Colonels Don Holder and Huba Wass de Czege under General DePuy and Starry’s direction into FM 100-5, AirLand Battle (1986). Most of the officers had heard of AirLand Battle but did not understand where it came from, its purpose, or its impact on the Army and the so-labeled “Big 5.”

Post-Gulf War, this operations manual significantly underwent a series of evolutions to address a post-Cold War contemporary operating environment. A series of rewrites and evolutions occurred:  Full Spectrum Operations came and went; Battle Operating Systems (BOS) were replaced by Warfighting Functions; and the old Field Manuals (FMs) of yester-year (though FMs still do exist) were replaced by ADPs, ADRPs, and ATTPs. This evolution saw a 166-page FM 3-0 from 2008, reduced to an abbreviated 14-page version of ADP 3-0 in 2011.

This walk through history educated these officers and senior non-commissioned officers on how our Army evolved from the much-lauded AirLand Battle to the present doctrine.

Embrace – Internalize – Teach

I know our Army can do a better job of informing and educating the force when it publishes new doctrine. I’ve used the teach-down technique throughout my career to ensure my subordinates and I were not only reading doctrine, but talking about it and applying it. In the absence of an enterprise-wide doctrine integration plan, junior leaders have the responsibility to implement their own form of the teach-down.

What methods do you use to guide your unit’s operational thinking? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Chris Budihas is a career Army Infantry officer with multiple combat and stability operations deployments. His 29 years of military service include 12 years in the Marine Corps.

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  • Robert Olinger

    Studying the doctrine of our profession has lost its spotlight. It used to be a key part of the self-development domain of leader development. Having just experienced the new Master Leader Course, I can say that we need to get leaders, senior NCOs and above, to at least read the ADPs so they have a general idea of how the Army is supposed to operate.


    Chris Budihas Nice post and it really captures the complete attention. Embrace -Internalize – Teach. The existence of Army is to protect ie Defense. This protection can even against natural disasters apart from external attacks. Hence, the preparedness and doctrine are vital. Thanks for the post.

  • Claudio Alpaca

    Make ever better is the secret of our life, our mission, is our mission and life himself, is our motto we trust and make our essence. We should never live thinking we have reached the top as on such a moment we should begin our decline and shall loss our dignity, responsability, ability, our awaraness we must ever try by experiences an empowering of our leadership, an improvement we need like the air we breathe. On the moment we should differently thinks we should be died as leaders, we should be inexistent men. It is what we must refuse. What we must do, on the contrary, is ever perfectioning on our ability, ever try by any situations a teaching and a learning for ever better operate, ever better lead, establishing a rapport of interplay and relationship with the men we form, forge and lead. How should we exist, if we was like christallized on a position, if we should consider us perfect and not on need to ever pose us on discussion? How if we should not feel indispensable reflect and meditate on how play our role of formation, on how form the character warrior of our men, if we should not feel to necessity to ever empower on an excalation of knowledge, awaraness, ability, dexterity, on an excalation on how better communicate with the men we lead? Impossible and unacceptable such a line. It is for we need to consider ourself ever like at our first day of service, at our first day of leadership. That is our secret, that our nature and essence, that the way we must walk on. claudio alpaca