About John and The Basement War Room



John Clarke Lemay


I recently retired after serving 25 years and 7 months in the United States Army.  My career began at West Point and upon graduation I became an infantry officer.  I did two tours in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq.  I deeply regret not winning those wars.  During my career I earned a masters of Peace Operations from George Mason University and a masters of Military Arts and Science from the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies.  Now I am writing in my basement war room.  Specifically I’m working on encoding the lessons of Afghanistan into a creative and fun game that will serve as a catalyst for effective learning.  My current project is a video series that applies the teachings of the classic military philosophers to Afghanistan.  I just finished Sun Tzu Ponders Afghanistan (click the link to check it out) and am working on Thucydides Ponders Afghanistan.  If you are interested in reading an overview of 25 years in the Army and seeing some interesting Army photos, check out my LinkedIn profile.  I’m married to my beautiful wife Tara and we have three young children ages newborn, 2 and 4.





The Basement War Room

The Basement War Room Logo features two key symbols:  The Tactical Mission Graphic for Control and the Belt of Truth.


The Tactical Mission Graphic for Control.  Control was one of the most common tasks assigned to companies and platoons during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  A tactical mission task is a specific task performed by a unit and the Army has detailed definitions for all tactical mission tasks.  The definition of control is “A tactical mission task that requires the commander to maintain physical influence over a specified area to prevent its use by an enemy or to create conditions necessary for successful friendly operations.” (Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 1-02 Terms and Military Symbols).  Having a graphic is important because Soldiers, platoons and companies do things on the ground, and a graphic is placed on a map, which helps communicate the what and where.  It also aids planners in carefully considering what they want those companies and platoons to do.  Drawing operational approaches with lines of effort is easy – translating those lines of effort to tactical tasks conducted on the ground is hard.  This is one of the reasons that I’m disappointed that the Army, as it shifts its focus to preparing for a war with Russia, has dropped the Control Tactical Mission Graphic from doctrine.  It retains the term, but the graphic is no longer included in Chapter 9 of ADP 1-02 (see the 2018 edition linked to above).  It was in the 2013 edition and I believe that the Army should not reduce the number of tactical mission graphics useful for stability operations, but instead increase them, so that it has a rich set of tools to enable planners to get beyond lines of effort and onto a map.


The Belt of Truth.  This is a reference from Ephesians 6:14.  The Bible is discussing spiritual warfare, but the foundation for victory in all warfare is truth.  The Art of War by Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of truth by devoting its first chapter to estimates (the process of understanding truth) and later states “know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril”.  Understanding your own forces, the enemy, the terrain and the situation seems like simple common sense.  Despite this, it has not been present in our modern wars. 

Supposedly an aide to President Bush said that “guys like [the reporter] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” [the reporter] nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut [the reporter] off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”  A positive interpretation of this is that the aide was simply talking about initiative, which is crucial in war.  The tension between initiative and truth (reality) is reflected in the term “Military Art and Science.” 

Soldiers have to study both to succeed in war.  However, We Were Soldiers Once and Young by Moore and Galloway, and Attacks by Rommel both illustrate the danger of initiative ungrounded in truth.  General Moore and Galloway tell the story of LT Herrick who led a charge against a vastly superior enemy force and was killed, along with most of his platoon.  Rommel tells a story about when he charged three enemy soldiers with his bayonet … and they shot him.  Rommel and Herrick’s initiative could not overcome the truth of their enemy’s bullets.  Moving up from tactical level, our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate that all the art in the world can’t compensate for the science of geography, culture, population density, safe havens, etc.  I believe President Eisenhower captures the dual nature of military art and science well when he states “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”  Yes, when battle is joined, a commander must exercise the art of war to win, including initiative, but before battle is joined, his victory should already be secured by quality planning based on truth.       

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Army Photos


Soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan
Clearing Operation in Afghanistan
Soldier entering a qalat in Afghanistan
Guard Tower
Afghanistan, COIN, stability operations, war
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