The Plan in My Pocket


The Marines are taught to plan for a hard fight. I was taught to plan for the unexpected.

When I deployed as a CNA field representative with I Marine Expeditionary Force for Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the commanding general asked me to focus on logistics issues. At one logistics meeting, the officers were discussing plans for the movement of enemy prisoners of war, or EPWs, once the ground war started. You've got to make sure you have enough food, accommodation and medical care for them. You also have to make sure they don't escape, so it's not a trivial plan to put in place.

But all their plans were based on small numbers of hostile prisoners. One of the things CNA analysts are trained to do is to think about what’s not being planned for. What are the assumptions that really need to be questioned? So I “naively” raised my hand and asked, “What are we going to do if they start surrendering, and you have a lot of EPWs?”

There was dead silence. They looked at me like I had three heads. And then someone said, “We're not going to plan for that scenario because, Katherine, that's not going to happen.” These Marines were only going to plan for stiff opposition on battlefield.

But a colonel pulled me aside after that session and said, “You need to pull that plan together, fold it, and keep it in your pocket.” So I developed a plan for large numbers of prisoners, ran it by him just to make sure I had all the pieces in place, and put it in one of the many pockets on my Marine Corps-issue utility pants.

In fact, U.S. forces had to handle some 69,000 prisoners, more than in any war since World War II. When the ground war began, and Iraqis were surrendering en masse, the colonel was back: “Where’s that plan?” I pulled it from my pocket. He unfolded it on the table, and said, “OK, here’s what we’re gonna do.”


Dr. Katherine McGrady is the president and CEO of CNA.