How Does Cutting a Pie Into 9 Equal Pieces Help An Officer Lead Soldiers Into Battle

Discussion in 'Military Academy - USMA' started by buff81, Jul 17, 2010.

  1. buff81

    buff81 Moderator

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    I received this last year during Beast and it really put into perspective about the 'whys' of the 'siily' and 'annoying' things that the cadre make them do.

    This letter references the 4th Class System which was in place when this Officer was at West Point. That has been replaced with what is now the 4 Class System. There is a difference between the two but the goal remains the same - to produce top notch officers for our nation's Army.


    I'd like to chime in with my two cents on the 4th Class System, as I experienced it. My plebe year was during 79-80 and, although it was probably not as draconian as that of the more senior members of this forum, it appears to be considerably different from what exists today.

    As I went through it, I did not understand how cutting a pie into nine equal pieces would help an officer lead soldiers into battle. The myriad of disjointed memorizations, ludicrous tasks and perpetual panic mode seemed to have very little to do with the profession of arms. I maintained this attitude throughout my upper class years and I was definitely not a flame, although fairly stern and consistent. I kept this perspective as a junior officer ... right up to the moment I commanded a cavalry troop in the gulf war.

    One night, at around 0100, we conducted a passage of lines to assault an airfield. We had gone almost 60 hours without sleep and it was raining with a vengeance (yes, rain in the desert ... lots of it). Our own artillery was falling short and landing amongst us, one of my platoon leaders was heading off in a tangent to the direction he should have been following, the squadron main body was drifting too far north, my driver was heading straight for a ravine, a tank in my 4th platoon threw a track, we found ourselves in the middle of one of our own DPICM minefields, the objective was spotted on our right flank (instead of in front of us, where it should have been), almost no maps existed for our area of operations, my boss was perpetually screaming for me to change to his frequency (an impossibility with the wonderfully designed, single-transmitter command tanks), a half dozen spot reports were coming in from my troops (all critical), my intel NCO had a critical update, my XO had a critical update, my ops NCO had a critical update, my 1SG had a critical update, my gunner had spotted dismounts, the regimental commander was forward with us adding his own personal guidance, visibility was almost zero, there was a suspected use of chemical weapons, regimental S-2 reported 500 heavily armed Republican Guards on our objective (later determined to be a squad of American engineers), and I had a moderate to severe case of dysentery. (... a run-on sentence, I know, but then again it was a run-on night.)

    It was during this little slice of heaven (of all places) that the 4th Class System was illuminated to me in all its glory. Its goal was not harassment, ridicule or punishment. Its goal was to train the neural network to deal with an overwhelming amount of disjointed information, quickly process that information, categorize it, and make rapid, sound decisions. At that moment, I would have gladly given a month's pay to the genius who devised the 4th Class System. It provided me with a priceless gift to sort the significant from the insignificant and do my job in a much better fashion. From my perspective, THAT is the rationale behind the system. It trains your brain in a non-lethal environment to sort through the mess, bring some order to it and continue functioning.

    It is an extremely nasty world out there, and part of the academy's mission is to train graduates to survive and excel in that world. We are not doing the graduates any favors by sugar-coating things and putting a happy face on everything. There is still plenty of unadulterated evil, brute force and chaos to go around. Pretending it isn't there will not make it go away. I sincerely hope that there are enough qualified people to deal with the future chaos and brute force quickly and effectively enough to protect our interests and keep it off our shores. Don't dismiss the 4th Class System as an archaic anachronism. I have found it to be one of the most valuable training programs I have ever undergone.

    Just my 2 cents ...
    XXXXXXXXX
    USMA 83
     
  2. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    buff, thanks for posting this. I saw it several years ago and have been trying to find it again ever since. One of the few times "Google" has totally failed me. Great perspective. For all the Academies. I always believed that 'tables' was one of the most defining elements in my maturation as a Naval Officer and I hate to see that each year it seems to be emphasized less and less.

    This is one of the primary things that will help one stand out from their non-SA brethern. However, where it really becomes apparent is in the civilian world of management. Nothing, no where else comes close to teaching these concepts. I think this is the prime reason that the civilian world values SA grads so highly.

    Great article.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2010
  3. tucker92

    tucker92 Member

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    A plebe should never have to cut a pie into nine equal pieces. Another plebe at the table should give up his pie, making it eight equal pieces. That's teamwork and sacrifice.
     
  4. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    I kinda take it from your comment that you were never a Plebe who considered passing up his pie.

    Several factors at play here:

    As scoutpilot mentioned, he went a week without eating. This is not uncommon. It does not leave one with the alternative that passing up one's portion is optional.

    Many desserts are not divided. As a brand new plebe I loved coffee ice cream. However, since it was the only kind that had any left by the time it got to plebes, by midyear I had grown tired of it. So for three years, I passed at least part of my portion on to plebes. The cycle continued.

    Classes are excused from the chow hall by class. Shortly after desserts are served, usually everyone is excused except the plebes. It is the only time they can eat in peace. Leftovers, if any, and dessert.

    With the proper amount of prior planning, seven pieces are as easy as six. At USNA, there are twelve to a table so it is slightly easier. However, the same thing existed when there was an empty seat.

    It would take a more noble person than I to pass up my dessert. Actually, in my time, 2nd and 1st class would sometimes take their share of pie, and then give it to the plebes to divide as they saw fit. Thus pissing off the youngsters. Thus pleasing us greatly.

    Dividing the pie is not only for the food value. It is a ritual symbolic of the entire system. To give up ones piece in order to make it simple, wuld destroy the entire process. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a piece of pie is not just a piece of pie.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2010
  5. tucker92

    tucker92 Member

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    You take it wrong.
     
  6. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    I apologize. However, my comments still stand.
     
  7. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    I don't know anything about tucker92, so I don't know if he or she is a grad or not. I will say this, however. Cadre are smart. Firsties are smart. They are well aware that plebes will try to game the system. If one of us tried to drop his or her piece from the count to make it an even number, the table commandant would usually think of an odd number, like 7, and tell us to cut that way (7 is the hardest number, by the way). They know the tricks, and they also know it's not supposed to be easy on the plebes. Helpnig your buddy out often resulted in you not getting pie and your buddy having to cut it into a ridiculous number anyway.

    The message buff81 posted is plenty old but great. My father mailed it to me ten years ago when I was in Beast. Great stuff.

    Now, all this time later, I know how true it is. That gentleman was spot-on, and 16 years later I found out firsthand. That ability to remain at least semi-calm in the face of complete chaos and mayhem is worth every drop of sweat that West Point cost each of us.

    Mayhem abounds on the battlefield. It comes in many forms and goes by many names. When you have four nets piped into your helmet, sorting out conversations and parsing them for nuggets of critical information is the difference between being effective and being a hindrance.

    You need to hear the young LT screaming on the radio because two of his soldiers and working dog are missing after a massive booby trap obliterated the end of the farmhouse. You have to hear him describe the truck full of guys that he thinks kidnapped his men in the melee.

    But you also have to hear that the three zones around you are closed for counter-fire missions and that CAS-sortie is making a low-level show-of-force pass about a mile away from your troops, right at your altitude. (Since they're Air Force, they're not going to talk to a living soul while they do it, either.)

    You have to find that truck and stop it, which means that you had better be steady when you fire those warnings into the road in front of it. Killing an innocent person would only compound the situation.

    You have to think clearly and realize that those men, despite their PL's well-founded fears, are not captured. You have to talk him down from the edge of panic and tell him that you're going to get him a MEDEVAC bird on the ground in 5 minutes and that he needs to establish 360* security and tend to the wounded.

    When he keeps panicking, you find his platoon sergeant on the net and talk to him. You tell him that you're searching every last inch around his men, because they're hemmed-in by IEDs. You search every last canal, every rooftoop, every pond and field around them. You keep an eye on the ground, an eye on the wires and counterfire around you, an eye on the houses that you're hovering past, with your rifle trained on each window and door as you pass, because even one good burst from an AK or a PKC could ruin your day. You keep your ears on all four nets and make sure your lead ship drops a smoke grenade for the inbound MEDEVAC.

    You find enough parts to account for two soldiers and a german shepherd.

    Afternoons like that are why your sons and daughters are being trained in ways that seem to make life needlessly hard. Because there will be times when life itself is needlessly hard and unforgiving. They will see other people quite simply lose their heads in the midst of trouble. I called out a MEDEVAC grid to the inbound ships for the PL, and he came on the net screaming that I was wrong and barked out another grid. He was so amped up and lost that he didn't realize that our grids were only about 10 meters apart. I will never judge that man because he was facing some gut-wrenching horror and confusion. That being said, if he had been calm, it would have helped his platoon immensely.

    The Cadet Leader Development System (the 4-Class system) is tough. It's different than what the author of that truly inspirational missive experienced, but provides the same value to the cadets and graduates.

    When the moment comes, they'll be ready for all that our nation asks of them.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2010
  8. tucker92

    tucker92 Member

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    That's OK. At USMA we had ten to a table. I saw a plebe cut a pie in ten pieces, six on one half and four on the other. I saw another plebe cut a pie into seven pieces -- I myself think that's hard -- six of which were same sized and one was a sliver; a 2/c carried it around to show other tables, crowing to the plebe "guess which is your piece!" I fashioned a template on a piece of thin cardboard from tracing a shoe polish can and set it on the pie or cake atop a piece of bread. The cadre actually complimented me for that.

    In the interest of disclosure: I was class of '82 but medically discharged. I came into beast with a sprained ankle from triple jumping, and I kept jumping on it because I was a state class jumper in NY (and the track coach at West Point at the time was an Olympic triple jump silver medalist) and never rested it. It degenerated into severe tendonitis. I left, went to "regular school". So my experience is limited to beast. I was also admitted to USCGA but never even visited. Now my daughter goes to AIM tomorrow.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2010
  9. Gray Hog

    Gray Hog USMA Alumnus

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    Another aspect of Plebe tasks that people often fail to understand is that many are intentionally ridiculous and the connections between absurd tasks and combat leadership are intentionally overblown. That serves an important function, as well, during this early stage of training, when unquestioning obedience must be learned (within safe limits).

    As New Cadets and Plebes, the leader-follower relationship must be black and white. Later, as they progress and learn more about leadership and law, the far more complex concepts of when it may be right or necessary to disobey (e.g. an illegal order) can be introduced, but, as new Cadets (just like with basic trainees), those gray areas would be too confusing for someone still trying to learn to be a obedient follower.

    In order to teach someone (particularly a highly intellectual individual) to follow well, he has to be made to overcome his natural tendency to question the purpose behind an order/task. As everyone here should recognize, you can't have an Army in which each soldier and junior leader questions the necessity of every order or chore. It is impractical to have to convince each individual of the importance to some greater purpose in order to have him follow an instruction. However, high-functioning individuals often become frustrated when they have to do things for which they don't see the need. The key is to instill in these individuals an understanding that it is their duty to obey and comply, regardless of whether they see the greater purpose or whether they agree that the task given actually serves that purpose.

    A way to teach individuals to overcome this natural resistance to performing [what they see as] "unimportant" or "unnecessary" tasks is to give them the silliest and most absurd tasks and act as if they are of life-or-death importance. Initially the response to these is frustration, anger, and a desire at some level to disobey. However, over time, the individual learns that his world is simpler and happier if he is able to overcome that instinct and not question the purpose of these tasks and whether they are is important/significant as the leader claims, and simply comply. In this way, he learns to perform every task given to the same level of excellence and attention to detail, whether he agrees with the purpose or not. Once this important lesson is learned, the cadet has become a good follower, with a strong concept of duty. Thereafter, he can begin to learn to be a good leader who can start to be taught when it may be right and necessary to actually question certain orders.
     
  10. Maximus

    Maximus Member

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    You guys had pie?

    I know, to wash down the caviar.

    That's for scoutpilot :biggrin:

    BTW buff, thanks, that was great!
     

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