Group Development Under Combat Conditions

Ultimate Lead Gen

On August 27th, 1991 I was sent to the Middle East for what many witnessed as a developing crisis over those past few weeks. This looming confrontation known to many as Operation Desert Shield / Storm brought dramatic life changes; not just for world history, or nations, but for those individuals who were sent into the chaos of such circumstances. A group of men came together; living, loving, dying and remembering the process by which they were changed.

Group Consistency

During this period I was a member of a mechanized desert unit with the 24th Infantry Division, now currently named the Third I.D. of Ft. Stewart, Georgia. Although part of a large company of men, approx. 150 members; for the purpose of this paper my interaction specifies upon the personal interaction and experiences of my squad of ten men. This group is a closed military group with semi-heterogeneous structure, giving way to the possibility for moderate cohesion if only properly guided by leadership (Corey & Corey, 2002). This group was a problem / task orientated group. According to Reid (1997), this type of group seeks to solve problems, achieve task and make decisions. Although we ourselves within the squad had initially only known each other for a few weeks, and we were all voluntary participants; our government had indicated our need to participate in the forced deployment, and solve what our government had declared as a serious problem. Within the group; four members had been transferred from 1st Ranger Battalion to assist with the number of men needed. The other six men had transferred from multiple regular army units to combine a functional squad of ten members. Our squad consisted of eight Caucasian and two African Americans. All members were of male gender. Our squad met consistently and interacted regularly for a period of nine months. Much of our interaction took place within an isolated environment away from civilized society and subject to multiple stressors including combat. Our group transpired through what I believe to be four strategic phases of environmental influence; Deployment, Complacency, Action, and Resolution. During these strategic phases our group proceeded from one degree to another through the stages of group development.

Deployment Phase

According to Tuckman (1963), the forming process within the early stages, emphasizes a vast array of emotions, thoughts and plans regarding this period. During this period, I would agree that we as squad members regardless of our origins contained personal and pre-conditioned perceptions of what our task and group would envision and involve. We as members were forced to examine our own mortality, our family’s futures and the extreme readjustments of all systems involved. According to Klein (1972), “The underlying theme of the orientation phase is anxiety and the actions are a means of coping with it. Some people respond to anxiety by remaining passive, watching and waiting. Some become hyperactive and flail around in random acting; some become aggressive and fight” (p 82). During this deployment phase, initial requirements for squad members to orientate themselves according to purpose, and begin inventory of all needed equipment, the arrangement of wills and life insurance policies, economic resource planning for families and spouses, and the other preparations regarding their family’s transition became the group’s main focus. Group members would act hyper vigilant at times regarding activities and preparations; over reacting at times over small squad focused issues did become a consistent behavior (Klein, 1972). Some were suspicious, anxious, and represented an inquisiting curiosity of who these new group members were and the expectations of how they may react once deployed (Corey & Corey, 2002). Some group or squad members even represented resistance and requested to be attached to another squad due to negative perceptions of other group members (Corey & Corey, 2002). There was a clear evaluation of individuals and expectations regarding their past experience and their capabilities in combat (Corey & Corey, 2002). Our squad leader was a past recruiter within the civilian sector at one time; so after called for deployment many squad members, especially the four attached Rangers, immediately were concerned if “this was the right man for the job”; to lead an infantry squad into combat. Another personal concern regarding myself and others, was hearing my squad leader and another member initially making racial slurs in private regarding two of our squad members; thus immediately affecting my trust in him as our leader; and as a hidden agenda, I was unsure how it would manifest itself in later interactions (Corey & Corey, 2002). Within this initial stage of group development, I believe that to one heightened extent or another, all squad members’ emotions and pressures regarding three primary areas were present and impacted our group, thus manifesting group behavior in exaggerated ways. Tosland & Rivas (1995) express, within the planning, organizing and convening stage; there is the emergence of many feelings. Unfortunately, I believe that our squad leader did little to reduce or assist in relinquishing some of our concerns; and this at times led to small heated confrontations regarding possible future roles and positions (who would be heavy machine gunner, who would be grenadier, who would be the team leaders, etc.).

I believe that these feelings were directly related to poor leadership in regards to initially declaring expectations, the limited time in which our group had before perceived action, and the purpose of our task at hand. First, members were feeling fearful of going to war and the possibility of death. Secondly, all squad group members individually struggled with feelings of inter-role conflicts, as a soldier and the expectations society had for them regarding “doing their duty” (Longress, 2000). Finally, all squad members experienced to some degree the feelings of “grieving and loss” of interaction with family and friends and the uncertainty and possibility of permanent separation if killed in combat.

Complacency Phase

Upon arrival in Saudi Arabia our squad immediately began moving to their location with the others within the infantry battalion. Our leadership claimed that we were to move to an isolated area 100 miles to the west of Dhahran. Once mobilized and stationed the long waiting, moving and training began. Little did we know as a squad that politics and the world would squabble for 7 months before we would actually act upon our governments clear intentions. Throughout our multiple movements within the isolation of the Saudi Desert our group experienced many emotions, interactions and processes in which revealed both the storming and norming stages (Tuckman, 1963). Three primary processes affected squad members within this complacency phase; thus affecting group development. First, accessibility to mail and communication with family members was of the greatest importance assisting in the relieving of systemic entropy (Anderson, Carter & Lowe, 1999). Secondly, individual conflicts with leadership, roles and positions. Third, complacency regarding reasoning of deployment and continuous waiting regarding future combat action.

Mail call and communication with our families either made a members day or brought them to depression. It usually took three weeks to a month for someone to receive a letter one way. It was always clear if someone had received disappointing news from home or if they had received positive news, based upon their mood and attitudes. These exchanges of relational energies affected member’s motivation and perceived ability to continue on with the mission. In regards to conflict with leadership, roles and positions, as Tosland & Rivas (1995), clearly indicate; “within the first processes of the middle stage, individuals are challenging others within the group for positions and roles thus setting the group up for patterns of interaction” (p 88). During training exercises individual members would note others performances in the field; members would at times make suggestions to our leadership regarding the ‘way systems or processes during this phase should operate”, and this would cause conflicts. Due to our isolated circumstance and access to mostly localized leadership (squad leader, platoon leader, company commander); most decisions were made and members would simply have to accept them without equitable resolution. Unfortunately, our squad leader, regarding power and control in Toseland, Jones & Gellis (2004), was hardly a transformational leader. Our group realized that our own squad leader did not really understand the true reason for the deployment, or how long our squad would actually partake in the mission. Our squad leader lacked making meaning of our circumstance, inspiration, vision and, a clear strategy to empower due to the squad’s knowledge of his lack of experience as an infantry leader (Toseland, et. al., 2004).

Although our squad leader had legitimate power, his informative power was limited, his expert power was considerably lacking, and his connection power was considerably reduced due to isolated environmental circumstances (Tosland, et. al., 2004). According to Tuckman (1963), conflict, aggressiveness, frustration and anger can develop in the storming process while in the process of norming. A related incident that took place was between two squad members. One night with stressful news that claimed, we may invade Iraq any day; racial slurs were exchanged between two squad members, and they began fighting. As Marbley (2004) expresses; at times within our groups they become some what of a microcosm of the outside world in regards to the values, beliefs and prejudices members contain; this squad being no different. I can clearly see a reflection of my squad leader’s ideological perceptions regarding racism and its later affects upon members. Furthermore, a circumstance later developed out of the lack of attributed power and insecurities within the group regarding leadership (Toseland, et. al., 2004). Approximately 4 weeks later within our complacency phase another related confrontation developed between our squad leader and another squad member. This squad member was African American and our leader was Caucasian. Our company commander had decided to position the African American member as team leader. During a trench clearing live fire exercise our squad leader found it necessary to take actions in which our team leader would have taken within his role. Because our squad leader felt the need to micro manage these circumstances and display his insecurities and prejudicial attitudes of race, it disallowed the new team leader to activate his role; the team leader felt un-trusted, invalidated and disempowered (Toseland, et. al., 2004).

I believe this was a perfect example of Davis, Galinsky & Schopler (1995), when they express that racial issues can occur at different levels. Our group circumstance represented, “leader to member” and, “member to member” problems (Davis, et. al., 1995). Our leader clearly doubted the ability of the team leader due to his race; thus, inhibiting positive group progress and promoting alienation of the African American members (Davis, et. al., 1995).

As months went on and the negotiations of the international community wore thin, so did the patience of our group. Our higher leadership in turn took strategies to reduce complacency and to inhibit reductions of morale. Our higher leadership took initiatives to plan events such as flag football leagues, Christmas activities, and three day rest and relaxation rotations in order to minimize building stress and to increase normality (Tosland & Rivas, 1995). These events distracted the growing concerns of having to invade Iraq and realistically assisted all members in keeping their sanity. These processes also to a degree enhanced group cohesion and built some trust (Toseland, et. al., 2004). Over a period of months our group’s cohesion did become stronger. It was through many training opportunities, clarification and attempts in understanding and establishing of formalized and informalized norms, procedures and expectations that perpetuated this groups behavior into what Hartford (1972) would characterize as a mild or preliminary group functioning phase. However, I feel this process and trust was hindered, minimized or created member resistance to greater cohesion due to expressions of racism and inconsistent resolution or deficiencies of basic group needs such as acceptance, belonging, and leadership (Klein, 1972).

Action Phase

A silence came over us. Our orders arrived; our squad and battalion was to cross the Iraqi border on February 22, 1991 at 1300 hrs as a pre-reconnaissance force to lead the 24th Division into combat. One of our first orders was to fill out our body bag tags and check our gas mask for leaks; sobering to say the least. Two processes in which I can recollect regarding this stage and phase. A two sided card of fear and relief had come over the group. Fear, in which we as members although had worked together over a period of months continued to suffer from poor leadership and divisions within the group regarding race and personal conflicts. This mis-trust and our future mission caused members to experience the feelings of an unsafe environment within the group and of course outside the group within a combat zone (Corey & Corey, 2002). The flip side was a sense of “lets get this over with”, recollecting that our families, our homes and our normal lives exist beyond the conclusion of these series of battles in which we ensued. If there hid one commonality among members; “it was that we all just wanted to be home.” Unfortunately, I believe it was in these processes that declared our vulnerability. Our motivation to perform did not rest within the mission and purpose declared by our government and or propelled by effective leadership; but it was connected to the emotional need of members to leave their mission ,their squad, their group and thus affecting cohesion. Corey (2000), identifies a clear indication that although our squad was entering the action phase declared by orders; our group or squad had not developed efficiently through prior stages thus, lacking needed cohesion. Corey (2000) indicates that members should be talking to members of a group, not about each other. However; members continued to bad talk others behind their back. Members should feel included during this working stage, and if members do not; they should feel as if to express these concerns and work towards inclusion (Corey, 2000).

However, our group was divided; acceptance and expression was not safe for some members; expectations were inconsistent. I did however observe some members reflecting therapeutic factors in varying degrees to other members (Corey, 2000). These factors however were imbalanced and were isolated to some individuals and minus others; perpetuating further mistrust, and incohesivness. It was not however, until our first intense battle did our group seem to really begin to therapeutically express feelings randomly. The intensity of the environment and the threat to individual exisistance seemed to psychologically propel others into expressing themselves. The groups survival equated to individual survival; thus, the need to express, may have been represented as a way of coping and surviving; not the product of effective leadership. There were very intense feelings within all members to “kill or be killed”, “survive at all cost.” One incident took place in which our squad was ordered to capture two Iraqi Republican Guard Commandos of the 26th Commando Brigade. Our squad low crawled to their positions under friendly fire. Our squad was only to find a man missing his legs that had been cauterized by the heat of the explosive rounds. The other man had been blown in half by another high explosive round. After this initial battle and nightmarish scenery our squad reconvened to plan the next phase of the invasion. It was during that meeting; that interaction after the forced intense action of our group, did I begin to see what Corey (2000) characterized as cohesiveness. Hand shaking, crying, the sound of affirmation and the confirmation to “watch others backs” in future battles. Individuals seemed to value one another; of course with good reason (Corey, 2000). A sense of solidarity and greater commitment enveloped due to the environment and circumstances in which we found ourselves (Corey, 2000). I witnessed the fearful and stern faces of young men, now old. Within those few hours; they had grown decades. There seemed to have developed a cohesiveness in which they could never lose; and would always obtain a difficulty to ever explain.

Resolution Phase

After a number of battles and one hundred hours later our unit was informed of the cease fire between Iraq and Coalition forces. A wave of emotion swept through our unit. Hope, relief and enthusiasm rejuvenated members; they wait wondering when they would go home. There was a transitional stage in which proceeded through out this resolution phase. We prepared to go home and re-transition back into civilized society. Hartford (1972) characterizes this stage as the pre-termination period in which “members acknowledge that the mission or group and purpose is preparing to end; members evaluate performance and failures; recognize those who made significant contributions and assist those with difficulties in ending the group.”(p.87). Our higher leadership did prepared members of my squad for civilian transition, by offering counseling for those who felt they needed it as well as education regarding transitional issues. Our higher and immediate leadership did review battle actions and re-evaluated the positives and negatives of our performances; this gave members a greater perspective on how to improve performance. Some individuals were promoted; and our entire squad earned the Combat Infantry Badge. When our squad did return to the States, our group did not remain together for more than a month. Members were sent to other units of origin or to other units of need; a large scale restructuring began. We were young men together for a transitional period in our lives in which we were lucky to be alive. We lived, we loved, we cried among our growth within the confines of group development.

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References

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Source by Laverne John Riley Jr.

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