Trending Topics

Knowing you’ve arrived: Declaring an ‘end state’

Declaring a clearly articulated end state is critical for the success of a tactical operation

Declaring a clearly articulated end state is critical for the success of a tactical operation. But just what is an end state? Simply put, an end state is a description of a desired outcome. It’s a “condition” or “state” that is used to identify the status necessary to conclude operations. In short, we need to know our destination so we know when we have arrived.

An end state also provides the essential focus necessary for collaboration and to encourage individual initiative while ensuring that all efforts are contributory. The supporting statement explaining an end state is called the commander’s intent.

One of the most powerful declarations of end state was made by John F. Kennedy. On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy made a special address before Congress regarding the importance of space. At the heart of that speech was the following statement which propelled the nation for over eight years until it was accomplished:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

The nation was galvanized behind Kennedy’s goal for the next eight years and NASA made this declaration its end state. Consider all that had to happen between the day Kennedy made his speech in May 1961 and when the crew of Apollo 11 splashed down safely in the Pacific after their successful mission to the Sea of Tranquility in July 1969. But it all comes back to that speech by Kennedy and that simple yet powerful statement.

Early in 2009, statisticians at Google were given the assignment of coming up with an algorithm to build a better boss. The task was called Project Oxygen. In 2011, New York Times reporter Adam Bryant wrote an article on Google’s quest. “So, as only a data-mining giant like Google can do, it began analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints. Later that year, the ‘people analytics’ teams at the company produced what might be called the Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.” Take a guess what habit number one was.

“Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.” If a clearly articulated vision or end state is crucial to the success and effectiveness of a business leader, how much more critical is it in a tactical operation? Yet all too often this is not done and even sometimes when it is done it can be sabotaged by a higher authority. Consider the following example:

On April 29th, 1992, someone very near and dear to me was a supervising line deputy at the Hall of Justice Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The jail occupied the top floors of the building. The lower eight floors contained the offices and headquarters of the Sheriff’s Department. Later that afternoon, following an unpopular verdict in a very public criminal trial, my friend was given an assignment by the watch commander: put on your gun belt and take four armed deputies down to the lobby. Once there, he was told to prevent unlawful entry into the building. This was a clearly defined end state. Keep anyone not authorized to enter the building from doing so.

Around six p.m., my friend stepped out onto Broadway Street and looked south. A mob of several hundred people were walking northbound, approaching Temple Street just a couple hundred yards away. He called main control for instructions and was told to find the key and lock the door. This was certainly consistent with the end state he was given and he stepped back inside and endeavored to do so. Seconds later, he heard a shout from the center of the lobby: “They are coming in the Temple Street side!”

Apparently, the mob that was northbound on Broadway decided to go eastbound on Temple Street en route to their ultimate destination, which was the headquarters building of the LAPD. Along their way, they were smashing windows and committing other acts of vandalism. Some of the mob broke the locked, glass doors into the Hall of Justice on Temple Street. I doubt whether most of them knew that this was the Sheriff’s Headquarters building. One of the deputies assigned as a public information officer (PIO), wearing a coat and tie, pointed his 92F Beretta at the crowd around the door and they quickly backed away. He then stepped just outside and the crowd beat a hasty retreat. He then reentered and the crowd made no further efforts to approach the building, no doubt in fear of the crazy man with the gun.

Seconds after this one deputy single-handedly routed the riot, my friend and his uniformed deputies arrived. Both the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and his Undersheriff were standing on the broken door glass watching as the mob continued its mayhem unmolested by any law enforcement presence. The Sheriff was not happy. In fact, his face was beat red with anger. It was at that moment that the Undersheriff, also wearing a coat and tie but with no Beretta in his hand, issued his fateful order by stating, “Let’s go!”

The Sheriff and undersheriff no doubt had a very different end state in mind regarding the riot that they saw going on. The watch commander’s concern was the security of the building. The department executives were concerned about the entire county. This included the Criminal Courts building immediately across the street. Unlike the Hall of Justice, there were no deputies on duty there to provide security after the courthouse closed. The rioters were smashing windows and were successful in breaking into the lobby and setting on fire the x-ray machines used to screen packages. This no doubt contributed to the Undersheriff’s ill-fated order.

Wearing a coat and tie like the PIOs, the Undersheriff walked outside. Three or four PIOSs, a couple armed with shotguns, along with my friend and his small squad of uniformed deputies (none of whom wore a helmet or vest) followed the Undersheriff out onto the sidewalk. Seeing the appearance of this irregular squad of law enforcement personnel suddenly before them, the mob, which had dutifully been progressing eastbound since being chased away from the building by the lone PIO, stopped, turned and began hurling whatever they could get their hands on at the these sudden targets.

We endured this pummeling for a short time until my friend went to the undersheriff and whispered, “Boss, I think we ought to go back inside now.” The Undersheriff said nothing. He just turned as some object exploded across his back and then, without flinching, he stepped back inside. My friend then barked orders at everyone else to get back inside. Everyone complied except one of the PIOs who my friend helped redirect into the building by pulling him by his tie. Once all personnel were safely back inside, the mob once again resumed their destructive trek toward LAPD headquarters.

My question is this: did my friend successfully achieve the end state communicated to him by his watch commander? With the assistance of the first PIO who initially disbursed the mob, I would say the answer is yes. What was the end state that the undersheriff was attempting to achieve? Given the level of chaos going on in front of him, I could speculate, but I don’t know. “Let’s go!” is not a statement declaring an end state. It was, however, one courting disaster, which almost happened.

Every deputy in the lobby that evening dutifully followed the undersheriff’s order without hesitation. And all of them stayed with him even though they were ill-equipped to sustain the pummeling they were receiving and had no idea what they being asked to achieve.

Articulating an end state seems like a self-evident concept, but as the example from the first day of the Rodney King riots illustrates, failing to do so can result in an ineffectual or fail mission.

The watch commander who issued the initial order to the security team declared a specific end state to the team leader. He even ensured that clear orders were given to reinforce that declaration when a possible threat to the end state occurred as the mob approached the building. But before this order could be followed the mob attacked another entrance which was successfully defended by the lone PIO. The undersheriff’s order was contrary to the previously declared end state. It is certainly his prerogative to change an end state and issue any order he desires, but absent a clear declaration of the end state what followed was confusion. If President Kennedy had simply stated in 1961, “Let’s go to the moon!” Would we have ever made it there?

Your end state is your mission objective. As we shall see, objective is one the nine principles of war described by General J.F.C. Fuller. Its declaration is fundamental and essential to operational success. Google’s researchers reaffirmed that the primary role of leaders is to provide a clear vision and the path to attain it. To be an effective leader you must be able to clearly communicate your end state.

Lieutenant John J. Stanley, M.A., is a twenty-seven year veteran of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He has worked a variety of assignments including, custody, patrol, training and administrative support. He is considered an expert on less lethal weapons and tactics. He provided corrections scenarios for the Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University and contributed to its on-line Less Lethal Weapons class. John spent over a decade at LASD’s Custody Training Unit teaching classes such as Tactical Communications, Jail Intelligence Gathering, Tactical Weapons, Squad Tactics and Cell Extractions. John also was the lead instructor for LASD’s Custody Incident Command School (CICS) a class designed for sergeants and lieutenants and the Executive Incident Command School (EICS) for captains and above. He is a member of the California Tactical Officers Association and has published almost forty articles on law enforcement tactics and legal history.