by a former Special Forces Officer
“The move you own, the greater your chance of success in any given situation.”
-The First Earth Battalion
Today our world is increasingly characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and globalization. As events since 2020 have shown, we can no longer detach ourselves, or predict accurately, the impact of dynamic forces of rapidly advancing technology, globalization, and the impact of social media on politics, culture, and all other facets of society. Most recently, the rise of Large Language Models, enabled through Artificial Intelligence accelerators, is transforming our world in ways we cannot yet grasp. Indeed, in a recent Lex Fridman podcast, historian Yuval Noah Harai echoed this sentiment saying that for the first time in all human history, we have no clear understanding of what will occur to humanity in the next 10 years. We are entering uncharted territory on many frontiers.
Resurrecting Old Ideas on New Thinking
In this rapidly fluctuating world, perceptions of patriotism, government, and military service are also changing. Young people today perceive the world very differently than just a generation before. Their personal value system is intermeshed with social media, is more aligned globally, and is less compatible with past notions of national service. They are being brought up to “think globally and act locally.”
There is also an impression among some that serving one’s country is somehow contrary to the idea of also being a “global citizen.” Indeed, some believe that patriotism supersedes any thoughts about what might be good for the rest of the world; the mantra “America first” as the guiding principle on which our defense and foreign policy should be based. But is this a valid belief today? Is being globally minded incompatible with today’s military or is it an essential element in a rapidly evolving world?
A puzzling question with perhaps no definitive answer. However, what is becoming ever more apparent is that previous ways of thinking, militarily or otherwise, are rapidly becoming obsolete. Flexibility in thinking, creativity, and mental agility now, more than ever, are required cognitive skills, and the youth of today are already thinking “in the Cloud” rather than in more linear methods.
These more deliberate and methodical approaches to thinking are commonplace in the U.S. military and are deeply ingrained in military culture. Since the earliest days of organized warfare, time-honored and proven methods of approaching military problems are inculcated into the way we train the military mind to think. And they remain important today, however, these methods alone can constrain and constrict the very creativity and flexibility our changing world demands and confine the way our young service members think.
So, what is the best way to prepare our young military minds for the future?
Part of the solution to this difficult question may lie in the resurrection of an idea from an obscure set of principles once proposed by a profound military thinker from the 1970s, Lieutenant Colonel James Channon, and the First Earth Battalion.
Lieutenant Colonel Channon
Lieutenant Colonel Channon is perhaps best known for his futurist vision for the Army.
Channon served in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer from 1962 to 1982 and completed two tours in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. His work and philosophy during his last years on active duty were documented by journalist Jon Ronson in his 2004 book, and movie of the same name, The Men Who Stare at Goats. According to Ronson’s book, Channon spent time between 1977 and 1979 with many of the people in California credited with starting the Human Potential Movement, and those interactions heavily influenced his thinking on his proposal for a radical new direction for the U.S. Army.
In 1979, Channon wrote a 125-page “operations manual” for a proposed “First Earth Battalion”.
His ideas were steeped in New Age philosophy and his main concepts centered on the need to create a new generation of “warrior monks.” The “Natural Guard” as he called them, would cultivate advanced physical and psychic abilities, and apply unorthodox principles to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures to better prevail in future conflicts.
At a 1979 Fort Knox officer’s club briefing, Channon presented his concepts to the mainstream Army. Channon adamantly believed this new convergence of ideas could transform the Army, making it the principal moral and ethical instrument from which conflicts could be adverted and political goals achieved while maintaining harmony on Earth. He declared that the First Earth Battalion’s primary allegiance was to planet Earth and his super soldiers would embrace the interconnectivity of the world, in order to better serve all humankind.
Of course, in the late 1970s, during the Cold War, Channon’s ideas were laughed at, deemed too esoteric, and mostly disregarded by the Army’s senior leaders as too radical to be practical. Indeed, even today, much of his philosophy seems to fall within the realm of New Age practices and pseudoscience. But times are changing…rapidly. And like many prophets of unorthodox military thinking in the past, not all of Channon’s ideas should be so quickly dismissed. Some of his ideas have merit and were just ahead of their time and now deserve a closer look.
The Guerilla Guru
One of those ideas that is most relevant, and most useful, in today’s complex world is the concept of cultivating the “Guerilla Guru” and embracing Omnidirectional thought.
Generally speaking, the Guerilla Guru is more a mindset than an individual, one that embraces the idea that warriors of the future must cultivate a global, multicultural, omnidirectional approach to thinking. As the illustration from the First Earth Battalion manual portrays, it requires a “third eye” perspective, and an openness to innovative ideas and beliefs, while adhering to traditional, time-proven ways.
Embracing all manners of thinking and disregarding nothing, is the key to omnidirectional thought. As envisioned by Channon, it is the cultivation of a way of optimizing a comprehensive, global understanding, “plugging into” and thus becoming a part of, both the natural and artificial global networks that exist and that will continue to evolve, as we advance into the future.
As a Guerilla Guru, nothing is too radical, too exceptional, or too bizarre to consider serious contemplation. Thus, omnidirectional thinking is a conceptual mental model that can aid in more effectively understanding any operational environment.
“By collecting people and points of view,” the warrior becomes a more capable and effective instrument of defense, states the First Earth Battalion manual.
Channon’s idea on omnidirectional thinking is not so revolutionary in its precepts, for the U.S. military has, to some degree, always advocated for creative thinking, and even embraced some of Channon’s ideas. Indeed, the Special Operations community has long valued unconventional approaches to solving complex military problems and has taken steps to cultivate new ways of enhancing the mental and physical performance of its operators. Taking a page from professional sports teams for example, top-tier Special Operations units have human performance coaches and incorporate meditation, visualization, and other thought practices to hone their operators’ skills and help them better cope with the stressors they encounter.
What separates the Guerilla Guru’s omnidirectional thought from other military critical thinking approaches, is that it embraces a sense of global interaction and awareness. The Guerilla Guru’s thinking supersedes the constraints and limitations imposed by only “Nation-state” thinking. Exclusive Nation-state thinking is arguably a recipe for miscalculation and missteps. Perhaps no more evident example of this is the monumental failure of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 20th Century, Nation-state thinking is ill-equipped to meet the enormous challenges of today’s unpredictable, complex, and unsure world.
Recruiting the Guerilla Guru
Knowledge and understanding of global issues, coupled with the mental agility afforded through omnidirectional thinking, are vital for the members of today’s military. Skills-based, and globally focused citizenship education in schools is not at all incompatible with patriotism, rather they are helping to cultivate essential skills needed for creating the future Guerilla Gurus of our Armed Forces.
So how do we take the globally educated youth of America today and encourage them to become the Guerilla Gurus of tomorrow’s Armed Forces?
The foundations of understanding citizenship, and global citizenship, are established through upbringing and in secondary education. However, as Jean Jacques Rousseau believed, the institutions of the State also play a key role in fashioning the national character. That revelation has proven true, for it has been the military as an institution of the State, which has schooled many to be citizens and provided the bond that has linked the individual with the nation and the world.
For the youth today, the foundations of the Guerilla Guru have already been set through their formative education; the Armed Forces should capitalize on this by cultivating training that takes them from novice to apprentice, to expert levels.
Attracting the future Guerilla Guru requires a deeper level of commitment when training and educating our military. Shoot, move, and communicate remain essential, but equally important are language training in both human and artificial languages, cross-cultural communications, philosophy, and social awareness, just to name a few.
As Lieutenant Colonel Channon advocated, military members today must embrace omnidirectional thinking; it should be a guiding principle in the recruitment and training of all our future military members.
Even the simple foot soldier, who will always be trained to close with and destroy the enemy, is better served by being schooled in the ways of the Guerilla Guru and omnidirectional thought. Indeed, it is already, to so measure, integral to the way our young military personnel think.
Case in point, a recent Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) experiment pitted an Artificial Intelligence (AI) empowered robot against a squad of Marines at a remote training site. The task of the Marines was challenging, bypass an AI-enabled robot undetected. To the credit of the young Marines, they devised several ingenious and creative ways to try and exploit what they perceived to be the weakness in the robot’s programming, from somersaulting past it, to camouflaging themselves as a tree. The clever Marines finally succeeded by using a cardboard box to mask their signature as they advanced past the robot.
This is precisely the kind of omnidirectional thinking advocated by Colonel Channon and it is absolutely what is needed for the modern battlefield. These creative and unorthodox approaches used by these Marines are an inherent part of the “way” in which the youth today think and act. It was a potential-oriented, rather than mission-oriented solution to a daunting problem. They were thinking like Guerilla Guru’s, but instead of “outside the box” they literally were “inside the box” in this case.
Simply espousing the virtues of military service to young people falls with a resounding thud in today’s globally connected environment. Offering the youth an opportunity to cultivate their inner Guerilla Guru, along with their military skills training, offers a much more enticing option and better serves the future needs of the military. Omnidirectional thinking should be cultivated at every level of military professional education. Additionally, future training and education of new recruits should include basic computer and technological skills, foreign languages, social media, cross-cultural communication, and even the fundamentals of global macroeconomics. Understanding of complexities and interconnectivity of the world is as important to our young enlisted service members as they are to the officer corps, especially with a generation of youth already conditioned to think globally.
In 1900, a young Signal Corps soldier looking at his observation balloon could not fathom that in just 50 years, jet-powered aircraft would fly with atomic weapons at altitudes beyond imagination. 50 years from today, our world will be equally awe-inspiring with its advancements. We are on the precipice of a New Age, one that will vastly alter the world in ways still unimaginable. In preparation for these coming changes, now is the time to reexamine some of the New Age ideas of the First Earth Battalion and begin, in earnest, to cultivate future Guerilla Gurus.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.