Warfighter Wednesday: My Four Responses

Lt. Col. Joshua J. Potter, chief, Iraqi Army Division Stability-Transition Team

Lt. Col. Joshua J. Potter, chief, Iraqi Army Division Stability-Transition Team

Lt. Col. Joshua J. Potter is an Iraqi Army Division Stability-Transition Team (S-TT) chief with the 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, currently serving in Baghdad, Iraq. This is his fourth tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is his sixth overall deployment and he previously was the Civil Affairs officer for the 1st Infantry Division G9 (Civil-Military officer) and course developer / chief instructor with the Directorate of Cultural Influence and Counterinsurgency training over 8,000 Transition Team members who are inbound in support of the Global War on Terrorism, in Cultural Influence, Counterinsurgency, and the role of the advisor.

Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York are trained to universally answer any question with one of four responses:

  • Yes, sir.
  • No, sir.
  • No excuse, sir.
  • Sir, I do not understand.

Four responses, that’s all. The purpose of drilling into your brain the simplicity of only four responses is to eliminate the desire to make an excuse or in-depth explanation when the bottom line is sufficient.

The beauty of knowing exactly what to say and when to say it helped guide our understanding of the challenges we faced and meet the challenges appropriately. Accordingly, these four responses have served us well over the past several decades and have been a hallmark of clarity in uncertain times.
We have served with distinction alongside our Iraqi brothers for several years and the people are weary of the violence and internal power struggles. As Operation New Dawn has begun, it occurred to us that our young leaders today need guidance on how to respond to the daily challenges they face while we remain in Iraq.

After serving multiple tours in Iraq, we have developed four more responses which are nearly universally applicable for the Advise and Assist Brigades (AABs).

  • The Iraqi Security Forces are in charge; our job is to enhance their capabilities.
  • We must look beyond tactical solutions to strategic challenges.
  • In order to have enduring capabilities, we need enduring resources.
  • Advising harder will not eliminate the labyrinth of operational decision-making.

Other simple responses spring to mind, but are rarely used, of course. By memorizing the above universal responses, any US Soldier should be able to appropriately address the questions he is faced with.

The themes and messages of how we are involved in setting the strategic relationships for the future of Iraq are important.

However, our youngest leader should be able to grasp that simple clarity for what he or she is doing in support of our current mission set.

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  • Cecilio

    As a Senior Non-commisioned officer in the Air Force and a Public Affairs representative. I agree that it is important not to mince words and use the ABCs of communication-Accuracy, Brevitt and Clarity. I think these four responses cut to the heart of smooth communication.

    Yes, sir.

    No, sir.

    No excuse, sir.

    Sir, I do not understand.

    Thanks for sharing this story with us.

    • BlueStarWife

      Did you read the whole article? Those responses are NOT the responses that the LTC is suggesting will be universally acceptable in STT's missions.

  • Cecilior

    As a SNCO and public affairs representative, I feel it is key to speak plainly and clearly in getting your point across. These four responses help cut to the heart of clear communication. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

  • Tony Crumbey

    I am a 3-combat tour Army captain with enriched experience in combat arms, logistics and now I am working in my functional area of Public Affairs. I served time as a forward observer and admin clerk in the Michigan National Guard as an enlisted soldier. As an officer and enlisted soldier, I agree with Lt. Col. Joshua T. Potter…with the responses of

    - Yes, sir.

    - No, sir.

    - No excuse, sir.

    - Sir, I do not understand.

    I would add one more simple and effective response: Hooah, sir! Hooah is the best word and is universally used for no, yes, understand, and I will execute!! The beauty of the word hooah is it means regardless of a person understanding or having no clue of completing a task, the soldier or leader will only have one thought…and that is of mission execution. In leadership and military positions there are many tasks you will have to complete that you have no clue on how to complete, but there are experts around the organizations and an abundance of regulations and field manuals to help guide you on how to complete any tasks in the military. Hooah established an opportunity to keep it simple in the Army and eliminates the days of service members acting like 3 year olds and asking the question of Why?

    CPT Tony B. Crumbey

  • MG Tony Cucolo

    Josh: Great article and comments…you captured Operation New Dawn conditions and challenges perfectly — and in easy-to-repeat form…keep up the great work with the Raiders! all the best, MG Tony Cucolo, Marne 6