Book Review: Paul Howe’s Leadership and Training for the Fight

In this fourth and final post about MSG Paul R. Howe (U.S. Army, Retired), I want to briefly review his 2011 book, Leadership and Training for the Fight: Using Special Operations Principles to Succeed in Law Enforcement, Business, and War (New York: Skyhorse Publishing). [I have previously discussed his views of combat mindset, civilian gun training, and church security.]

Although the book is over 450 pages long, it has apparently sold well. The copy I bought last year was in its 8th printing. And for good reason. Howe’s perspective on leadership is shaped by his involvement as a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) in a leadership system that was validated “on October 3-4, 1993, in a one-sided battle in Mogadishu, Somalia” (p. xiii).

The book has two foci, as suggested by the title: leadership and training. My interest in the book was driven by the latter, though it is difficult not to learn something about both in the course of reading it.

Howe begins most chapters in what I can only surmise (never having served myself) is a military style: Describing an operational scenario and then making “after-action comments” that draw lessons about what to “sustain” and what to “improve.” Those wanting an action-packed abbreviated version of the book could read just these parts.

An interesting aspect of this book is that it is written both for those who are already leaders and those who aspire to be, and those who are already trainers and those who aspire to be. He suggests, both explicitly and implicitly, that those who are leaders and trainers must be learners and students at heart. Hence, his admonition to his readers to “leave your ego behind” (p. 13). Not surprisingly, this is also seen on a sign on the drive in to his Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT) range in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Sign on drive to Combat Shooting and Tactics range. Photo by David Yamane

As his main audiences are members of law enforcement and the military, this civilian reader marveled at some of the points highlighted by Howe:

“Do not dwell on dying. Focus on your training and what you are going to do to ensure your survival. So you get hit. Big deal. Look at the statistics of those dying from gunshot wounds. They are not that impressive” (p. 25).

“END GOAL: We must be able to apply the appropriate degree of force and discrimination, demonstrating a complete businesslike attention to detail; and if necessary, we must be able to kill with ruthless efficiency” (p. 30).

Although at first blush I thought, OK, not applicable to me as an armed citizen, upon further reflection I was able to translate this into my own circumstances. I need to have both the will and the skill to fight. In this area, as Big Daddy Kane put it, “Ain’t no half-steppin’.”

Echoing what he told me in my interview with him, Howe is a big proponent of standards and very critical of the lack thereof in society generally and LE/MIL training specifically. He writes,

“Most standards, whether it be for the military or the average police departments, are set low to accommodate the bottom-feeders of life who lack the personal pride, motivation, or determination to rise above the rest. . . . Many will run only two miles to get ready for a two-mile test. Minimums. We have become a society that strives for the minimum standard, and this is how we live our lives” (pp. 47, 49).

His personal approach, by contrast, is: “I am not just trying to meet the standard, I am trying to exceed it” (p. 48).

Although critical of the low standards that are acceptable to most, I am not sure Howe thinks that everyone could meet a high standard, certainly not the highest of standards. Indeed, a quote that appears in his book is also reproduced on a sign outside the “Howe Center Administration Building” (i.e., shoothouse) at his range:

Of Every 100 Men:

10 Shouldn’t Even be Here

80 are Nothing but Targets

9 Are Real Fighters. . .

We are Lucky to have them

They the Battle Make . . .

Ah but the one, one of them is a Warrior . . . and he will bring the others back.

-Heraclitus, 500 years BC

Shoothouse at Combat Shooting and Tactics range, Nacogdoches, TX. Photo by David Yamane

Howe is likewise critical of military leadership and suggested to me that he spent his last four years of active duty teaching ROTC at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches because of his lack of confidence in the direction leadership was taking at that time. He observes, for example, that troops lose confidence when their leaders let their “alligator mouths overload their hummingbird asses” (p. 104).

He is none too impressed by those who lead with their religious belief, noting in two different chapters:

“Spirituality in a person is best manifested in actions rather than spoken words. . . . Pray before the fight or after fight, but during the fight, you fight” (p. 108).

“I have commented in my combat mind-set class that the time to pray is before the battle or after the battle, but during the battle you must focus on killing—the mission is killing the bad guys” (p. 126).

Paul Howe teaching Tactical Rifle 1. Photo by David Yamane

I only observed Howe teaching his Tactical Rifle 1 class for a few hours, but during that time I did not hear him talking about gear except in response to student questions. Although I am sure his gear is exactly what he wants it to be (and surely it was even more so when he was active duty), he seems more of a Wrangler guy than Gucci when it comes to “kit.” As he writes:

“An old instructor said to me, ‘It take five minutes to dress like a commando, but years to become one.’ This attitude of ‘the gear make me’ is false. You always make the gear” (p. 148).

Interestingly, the first chapter in Part II of the book (on training) is titled “Developing Yourself Into a Good Student.” As I have learned from decades of teaching, not everyone in the role of student has a good learning mindset.

Of note here is his observation, “There is nothing like getting hit to help you understand what it feels like. You also need to learn to control your emotions, fear, apprehension, etc. Understanding your physical strength and endurance limits is also important” (p. 217). This was certainly a lesson I took from my failure in Craig Douglas’s Extreme Close Quarters Concepts course.

I previously observed that Howe doesn’t teach different systems for military, law enforcement, and private citizens. His shooting techniques and tactics are substantially the same. An implication of this is made clear in his book when he advises, “Streamline the techniques you use and practice into a simple and comprehensive package. If not, you will have a cluttered toolbox that will not work for you. You will not find the right tool when you need it” (p. 220).

And toward the conclusion of the book, Howe reminds readers that “when you need it” is not something you have total control over. But this does not mean we have no control. To the contrary, everything that he covered in the previous 400 pages are within our control:

“Most of the time you cannot choose the time and place of the fight, but you can choose the outcome with your technical, tactical, and physical training, as well as your combat mind-set” (p. 407).

Motivating someone to undertake the necessary training is something that good instructors can do. It requires the instructor “to reach and strike a chord that lies within even person. That chord is the belief in the right to life, freedom, and happiness and the duty to protect others they care about. An individual has to make a choice as to whether these values are worth fighting for. Instructors teach how to find peace of mind with this decision. The rest is easy” (p. 407-8).

If there is one sentence that encompasses the overarching ethos of this book it is this: “Training, like selection, is a never-ended process” (p. xiii). This is reflected in a sign posted in his Combat Shooting and Tactics (CSAT) clubhouse, in his time as a member of Delta Force, and his work since.

These comments only scratch the surface of everything in this book. I’m interested what others who have read it took from it.

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