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Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center
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U.S. Marines attending the Ground Combat Element Commander’s Course 24-2, hosted by the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, participate in peer-to-peer discussion at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California, April 19, 2024. The MCTOG GCECC is a five day operationally focused command preparation course to better ready ground combat element commanders to lead, train, and tactically employ their battalions and regiments in the context of maneuver warfare in support of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. This product contains blurred components due to Operational security. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Enge You)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Enge You

Ground Combat Element Commander's Course: Thinking like a commander

15 Mar 2024 | Cpl. Hunter Wagner Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Marine Corps leaders are seeking to enhance commander performance through a 5-day immersive training schedule applying critical thinking and practical application through the lens of maneuver warfare, the Ground Combat Element Commanders’ Course (GCECC) developed by the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California.

GCECC highlights the evolving operational environment faced by Marine Corps commanders and the importance of purpose-built training to address the importance of leading Marines in combat against a peer adversary.

“Creation of the GCECC was endorsed and directed by the [2017] Ground Board to execute an operationally focused command preparation course to better ready G.C.E. commanders to lead, train, and tactically employ their battalions and regiments in the context of maneuver warfare in support of the MAGTF,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Zachary Colvin, current operations officer, MCTOG, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command.

During the course, Lt. Col. and Col. commanders are exposed to new mental models focusing on leadership and training through the lens of maneuver warfare to develop the tactical agility necessary to gain an advantage against a thinking enemy. The course achieves this by exposing the commanders to three “commander’s mission essential tasks” (CMETS) of command philosophy, training philosophy, and tactical decision making. These CMETs are inspired by doctrinal publications of MCDP-1 Warfighting, MCDP-2 Intel, MCDP 1-3 Tactics, MCDP-6 Command and Control, and MCDP-7 Learning.

The course is hands on and ‘learner-centric’ with 28% discussion and introduction into new mental models and concepts, followed by 44% sensemaking driven by the small group facilitators, and 28% problem solving via practical application. Each day ends with writing and reflection to consolidate the new mental models and the evolving thinking of the commanders.

According to Dr. Bryan McCoy, U.S. Marine Corps Col., retired, course developer and lead facilitator with Obsidian Solutions Group, “We have three commander’s mission central tasks; being able to develop a maneuver warfare culture and climate in their organization through an operationalized command philosophy, develop the tactical prowess necessary for maneuver warfare through their training philosophy, and developing agility in their tactical decision making.”

The course was built to provide deliberate practice and coaching from experienced and qualified small group facilitators. There are two post command facilitators, one active duty and one retired, for every four commanders attending the course to ensure commanders receive feedback during discussion and tactical decision games so every “rep and set” is maximized for learning value.

The GCECC course developer updates and refreshes the curriculum through data-informed assessments to track progression and identify specific gaps in commander performance at the GCECC and during the Service Level Training Exercises. By implementing this data into the curriculum, MCTOG seeks to constantly improve commander performance in planning and execution, as well as their ability to operate effectively in a multi-domain environment against a thinking enemy.

According to the data collected by MCTOG during various SLTEs, the GCECC is paying dividends for the Marine Corps. “There is a notable increase in performance averages identified in the group of commanders who have graduated from the course, compared to those who have not attended, when the commander is assessed using the Commander’s Response Assessment tool collected during SLTE,” said Andrew Mauk, Program of Instruction Manager and Assessments, MCTOG, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Training Command.

“The most impactful part of the course is the small group discussions where you get to discuss with your peers, as well as facilitators who have been commanders in the past,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Salter, a Marine attending the course and is slated to take command of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “You really get an opportunity to stretch your mind and talk through these mental models to help burn them in so you can take them back with you.”

Further analysis by MCTOG shows that the benefits of the course are not limited to the commanders themselves. “The staffs of graduates also score better when using the ‘Staff Support to Commander’s Understanding and Decision-making’ metric then staffs of non-graduates. Our analysis is that graduated commanders are skilled in visualizing, describing and directing their staffs throughout the planning and are better equipped to assess, decide and lead during execution. In other words, graduates are better prepared to fulfill their role in the Marine Corps Planning Process per MCDP-5, as the ‘single most important factor in effective planning’,” said Mauk.

Attending the course is voluntary, and an applicant must be selected to command or in command of a ground combat element battalion or regiment. Marines attending the course can expect to self-assess, develop, implement, and refine their command and training philosophies to help produce a cohesive, combat-ready unit capable of maneuver warfare. During the tactical decision making CMET, the commanders' will each get turns filling the role of the tactical commander issuing their planning guidance, intent and making real-time decisions in the tactical exercises and receiving structured feedback from both the facilitators and their peers.

“The whole thrust of the course is leveraging the vast amount of training, education and experience new commanders bring to the table, and provide the time, tools, deliberate practice and structured feedback to advance their thinking,” said McCoy. “Whether it’s leadership, training, or tactical decision making, we expand commanders’ ability to look through new mental models and to ‘think like a commander.’”

MCTOG runs two GCECC's a year and the course dates are posted through a Marine Corps Administrative Message at the end of each fiscal year.
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms