The Dynamics of Military Skills: The Role of Experience-Based Knowledge in Challenging Situations. Based on narratives from Swedish officers’ experiences from challenging situations, the article investigates the role of experience-based knowledge in military practice. Officers must be prepared to act in situations in which they do not have full control, make decisions under uncertain circumstances, and master tasks with conflicting rules, objectives, and means.
Based on narratives from Swedish officers’ experiences from challenging situations, the article investigates the role of experience-based knowledge in military practice. Officers must be prepared to act in situations in which they do not have full control, make decisions under uncertain circumstances, and master tasks with conflicting rules, objectives, and means. These conditions apply in an overseas warfare environment, and also back home. The officers’ ability to adequately interpret phenomena in a given situation includes a variety of inarticulable knowledge. The aim of this article is to examine two aspects of military practice: (I) what role experience plays when handling challenging situations, and (II) how different kinds of knowledge are active in forming a professional skill. Using a set of epistemological concepts (phronesis, knowledge of familiarity, skill acquisition model), the article presents an analytical framework that focuses on experience-based forms of knowledge. The results show that experience-based aspects of knowledge which are crucial in military practice run the risk of not being discussed, because established methods and research traditions are focusing on measurable forms of knowledge. Finally, the article discusses the risk of de-professionalization due to unilateral use of monitoring and evaluation methods that primarily focus on forms of knowledge that can be calculated and expressed explicitly.
What happens in military practice when rules and regulations clash with reality? What do you do in challenging situations when it is not sufficient to follow the rules in order to solve the problem?Lotta Victor Tillberg
Excerpt from the introduction:
What happens in military practice when rules and regulations clash with reality? What do you do in challenging situations when it is not sufficient to follow the rules in order to solve the problem? This article uses officers’ own narratives and statements as a starting point to describe the consequences of overlooking or devaluing the importance of experience-based forms of knowledge in education, training, and organization.
A commander of a mechanized platoon during the Swedish FS 19’s mission in Afghanistan in 2010 was asked the following question: “Can you describe a situation in which you feel that your professional skills have been tested?” He responded by writing a text about a situation where his platoon came under threat.
It’s getting dark. Black-clad men are watching the platoon from the roofs. It’s just half an hour until it gets dark; women and children are leaving the village in a steady flow. Simultaneously, one of the tank commanders reports that they have been observing armed men advancing on the far side of the village towards the defences and our previous position. Now it’s me and my platoon, here and now. Should I engage? Do I know what I’m doing? Can I predict the consequences? Do I just want to take revenge for my fellow platoon member? They may not be insurgents? What would the consequence be in that case? Nine days left in Afghanistan; is it worth it? Memories of Family Day; “get our men home in one piece”. I already have injured soldiers. But all have survived thus far. I can just drive out of here; there are nine days left. If we don’t engage, maybe the next Swedish unit will be attacked. Then it’s my men or someone else. Is it worth it? Maybe there won’t be any fighting. I can’t think like that!
No. This is my task (Tillberg et al., 2017, p. 266).
Which action do officers take when the situation they must handle and master does not fully correspond to the task, the given instructions, or the existing rules and regulations? Which knowledge do they rely on when encountering unknown, ambiguous, or morally challenging situations? Such skills are tested not only overseas, in the conflict environment, but also within their domestic bureaucratic system.
This article can be downloaded from SJMS homepage: https://sjms.nu/articles/10.31374/sjms.40/
Victor Tillberg, L. (2020). The Dynamics of Military Skills: The Role of Experience-Based Knowledge in Challenging Situations. Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies, 3(1), pp. 55–67. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31374/sjms.40