'Your warrior mindset will replace the shock and fear and you will go on; you will continue to fight'. 

LTCOL Dave Grossman with Loren Christensen, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace (copies also available from the Defence Library Service).

The Combat Mindset is a state of mind that prepares soldiers to kill the enemy and survive, then continue the fight. This state of mind offers the optimal paradigm for training Australian soldiers, and promotes the development of resilience and intuitive behaviours to perform in battle. Army training institutions are beginning to harness this Special Forces training philosophy to develop soldiers. However, all training institutions must adopt it to create soldiers best able to fight and win in a complex world. It should be universal in all Army training—from ab initio recruit training to the collective environment.

What is the Combat Mindset?

The Combat Mindset’s foundation identifies the combatant, not his tools, as the weapon—a system that operates cohesively to kill the enemy. The Combat Mindset is the defining philosophy of the professional soldier; it is the difference between a true soldier and someone who simply has weapons qualifications and equipment.

The Combat Mindset attempts to exert maximum control over the micro-manoeuvres that soldiers develop for combat through the establishment of defined neural pathways, in order to maximise lethality and survivability on the battlefield. These micro-manoeuvres are called ‘Combat Behaviours’ and sit within the Combat Mindset paradigm. Combat Behaviours are instinctive behaviours that mitigate the physiological and psychological effects faced by soldiers that will compromise their ability to fight. SLA Marshall captured the effects felt on the battlefield: “the failure of the average soldier to fire… is a result of the paralysis which comes of varying fears. The man afraid wants to do nothing; indeed, he does not even think of taking action.”[i] These effects are mitigated by the Combat Mindset which teaches that the soldier is the weapon and that achieving proficiency is about instinctive behaviours that increase the potential for the soldier to kill the enemy and thus survive the fight.

A key outcome of Combat Mindset training is the ‘pre-combat veteran’—a soldier who has the skills, deep understanding of warfare, and maturity of a combat veteran, but is yet to fire a shot in battle. Acknowledging friction, uncertainty, chance and danger as features of war from ab initio training, the Combat Mindset will teach combatants to be comfortable in chaos from their first steps in Army; to learn effective skills and mechanisms to survive—and even capitalise on—the complexity and risk inherent to life-and-death situations. This approach teaches the resiliency required of combatants—to not just survive traumatic or stressful events, but to grow and benefit from them and potentially mitigate, to some extent, associated long term psychological effects.

Combat Mindset establishes Combat Behaviours

We believe good Combat Behaviours will save a soldier in these life-and-death situations by providing the micro-manoeuvres, through well established neural pathways, as instinctive responses. The responses are routines, either deliberate or unintended, that can be developed during the most basic training to have profound consequences on the battlefield. Famously, police officers in the United States found themselves taking time out during a gunfight to put their spent casings in their pockets—good etiquette on the firing range but dangerous in a fire fight.[ii] Teaching Combat Behaviours under the umbrella of the Combat Mindset can ensure that instinctive responses are the right ones for combat.

The ‘post engagement sequence’ is one example of a Combat Behaviour that should be known to every Army soldier, not just infantry soldiers. The sequence minimises the impacts of auditory exclusion (psychologically induced temporary hearing loss) and tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision). While useful for focusing on a specific threat, auditory exclusion and tunnel vision degrades a soldier’s situational awareness. The post engagement sequence trains soldiers to adopt three specific movements after combat: (i) scan for subsequent threats, to break the soldier’s focus on the target and to minimise tunnel vision; (ii) check the weapon system for functionality, as the soldier may not be aware of a stoppage; and (iii) perform a full ‘head-check’—look left and right—to ensure the soldier’s teammates are okay. This simple Combat Behaviour helps to minimise debilitating battlefield effects.

Increasing lethality and survivability

Not all the Combat Behaviours are instilled to mitigate the psychological and physiological effects of war; many are taught to increase lethality and survivability—to give our soldiers the best chance of killing the enemy and avoiding harm. These essentials must be placed into ab initio to advanced combat courses and the collective training environment. For example, soldiers conduct the ‘top-up drill’ every time a weapon is taken to the ‘action’ condition. Once a round is chambered, the first magazine is replaced with a fresh magazine and the original magazine is placed away. When the combatant engages a threat or clears an enemy position, they conduct the ‘top up’ drill again—even if only a few rounds are fired. It is conducted in a specific sequence, to minimise the amount of time that the weapon doesn’t have a fresh magazine fitted.

The Combat Mindset prepares soldiers for war; the establishment of this mindset is essential during all Army training. There must be a coherent theme from ab initio training to the collective training environment. The Combat Mindset supports the preparation of the pre-combat veteran to cross the threshold of battle and exit ready to continue the fight. Good Combat Behaviours underpin effective professional soldiers—soldiers who must be forged in all forms of Army training. By instilling the Combat Mindset, Australia’s combatants are more lethal and resilient.

Note: This paper serves as the conceptual cornerstone document to build a Combat Mindset training framework within Forces Command. Future papers in this series will focus on associated enhanced instructional techniques and the pre-combat veteran.

About the Authors: David Caligari and James Lewis are infantry officers. They are currently posted to the School of Infantry.