An article posted in ‘The Warrant Officer’ caused me to wonder if the manoeuvrist approach (an approach many military veterans will be familiar with) can be applied to problems encountered in transitioning to civilian life.
Given its origins in the concept and application of manoeuvre warfare, it may not seem appropriate to use the term and apply it to the management of transition from military to civilian life. But it is a concept that a good many veterans are likely to understand, and in turn, may therefore find helpful in explaining conclusions I have come to in my doctoral thesis on this subject.
Quoting the British Army’s Doctrine Publication (AC 71940), the manoeuvrist approach requires ‘an attitude of mind and understanding of […] vulnerabilities’ (p. 5.1). It is only now that I realise that this might have been the approach I used in my thesis to understand both my own vulnerabilities and strengths, and thus how I might pitch that strength against now (at least partially) recognised vulnerabilities (again paraphrasing AC 71940).
In my thesis I talk of exposing my vulnerabilities with purpose. The way I chose to do this was by conducting a ‘narrative review’ of events leading up to a medical discharge from the British Army in an attempt to determine why I might have found leaving, as well as the transition from the Army such a difficult experience. This review was not easy, as it required a great deal of introspection and the analysis of some pretty painful experiences. But it was worth it.
I equate this review and analysis to ‘an understanding of the enemy’s vulnerabilities’ (AC 71940, p. 5.1). While I would never advocate a veteran treat transition challenges as ‘the enemy’, these challenges can seem like an adversary preventing forward momentum—in this case in a veteran’s life. In some contexts, the challenges can lead to tragic outcomes if not overcome.
The first step is therefore to recognise the challenge, and analyse why it is a challenge. As Army doctrine tells us, overcoming ‘the enemy […] depends on practical knowledge’ (p. 5.1). In the case of transition, an individual encountering difficultly might benefit from a period of acquiring ‘self’ as well as ‘contextual’ (p. 5.2) knowledge and understanding.
Knowledge is power, and based on this foundational understanding, ‘initiative’ can be seized, perhaps in ‘original [and] unexpected’ ways (p. 5.1). Just as the manoeuvrist approach seeks to disorientate the enemy by inflicting ‘shock’, ‘numbness’ and ‘irrational behaviour’, transition shock can have the same effect on those leaving the armed forces, which can prevent a veteran ‘from responding effectively to a developing situation’ (p. 5.2). That veteran must therefore regain the initiative and momentum they formerly deployed in the armed forces (they would not have been in the armed forces if they were incapable of doing so). They must also reacquaint themselves with an ability to pre-empt future problems, which again depends upon the understanding of self and situation (contextual).
Notwithstanding that many veterans (but by no means all) face significant health issues, there are plenty of examples of an ability to overcome even the most serious injuries and illness.
Therefore, there is always room for manoeuvre it seems.
And self-knowledge and situational awareness, allied to planning, can lead to exploitation of future opportunities and possibilities outside the armed forces (an environment that nurtured that ability so well).
Not every veteran needs to be able to do this; but my research indicates that even those that think they have it sussed might benefit from even the briefest form of self-reflection.
In my thesis I use the ‘4S’ model to describe a military to civilian transition approach (after Schlossberg). The 4S (in Schlossberg’s order) are: situation, self, support, and strategies. The above ‘manoeuvrist’ approach to transition covers the first two of those ‘S’ (situation and self).
My study also recommends how we might better approach the remaining two ‘S’ in the UK military to civilian transition and veteran support context. That is, the ‘support’ we offer those about to leave the armed forces, as well as those that have already left. Included in these recommendations is a strategic approach, using narrative review and repair—a technique I deployed to my own enduring advantage (although, as I emphasise, it is by no means the only approach).
The UK military likes acronyms and whatnot, so let’s call this the ‘S4 Manoeuvrist Approach to Military to Civilian Transition’, or S4MAT for short (the military uses C4ISR, so why not?). It works for me, and it may well do for others too.
My next hurdle is exposure of these ideas at viva next month (24 September). I’ll update more as that date approaches, or once the viva’s over. It may not survive contact…
Until then, all the best with your own endeavours.
p.s Why not watch my video for more info on this subject?