Archive for the 'Alexander Martin' Tag
As a general rule, no matter how bad I, or others around me may feel, I find the use of overly sensitive, politically correct feel-good-isms to band-aid the moment a totally insufferable social exercise. This is an essay about my hatred for those language band-aids and those that use them…it is also an essay that presents a positive leadership solution that, like all leadership solutions I have used or continue to use, I have blatantly stolen from someone much smarter than myself.
A based on real-life example of someone I hate using false-language to assuage a real problem.
Situation: John loses his job. Meets his buddy, “Guy”, at the local Starbucks. “Guy” is a save-the-world from his air conditioned apartment on his MacBook Pro type. John is an urban laborer. Not a lemming. Just a normal guy. John tells Guy that he just lost his job. Guy provides his Oprah Winfrey-widsoms.
“Well, John, man, that’s tough, but, ya know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
They both take a pull from their $4 concoctions and stare at the hot barista, thoughtfully. John leaves with a shrug having gained nothing from Guy’s kind words. Guy feels better about himself, opens his MacBook and blogs about places he’s never seen.
The problem with Guy’s feel-goody response (there are many) is not only that it was a corruption of a very important aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy, but also that it was just plain stupid.
Nietzsche’s point was, ultimately, arguing that suffering is an imperative, not something that could or should be avoided, but rather that it is a natural life’s event that must be endured, embraced and overcome. To the point of being really stupid, Guy’s feel-goody adage-du-jour is so fantastically obtuse that he actually believes that John, who has a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a mother with cancer that he is supporting, will actually find comfort being reminded that he is not, at this moment, actually dead. Thanks Guy, that helps me out a lot right now. You’re really stupid. I don’t need sympathy. I need a job. Also, your blog sucks.
I don’t say all of this because I’m cynical – I say all this because I’m a believer. I’m a believer in the good fight; I believe that humans can endure, and things can work out, if and only if we admit that it’s not going to be easy. And that’s why I hate Guy…
Such careful idioms and soft expressions are self-serving, indistinct and just plain boring. Feel-good words spoken to instantly connect with another in pain, sadness, or misery do much less to inspire confidence and much more, I think, to highlight a human being’s emotional ineptitude, in general, and our cowardice of character, specifically.
Better I think to shrug when we don’t have the answer and tell that person “I’ll be here for you” than to deliver a professorial speech on why “everything is going to be ok.” I say this because, well, everything is probably not going to be ok. Everything is probably going to be very, very bad. And no, it will not get better soon. Bad things usually get worse (much worse) before they get better. And isn’t it better to hear this from a friend? Or at least NOT hear that things are going to be just fine?
Such undemonstrative word fluff is predicated on the (incorrect) belief that everything in life (literally, every single minute) is supposed to be ‘great!’ (as if being ‘ok’ or, just plain ‘good’ means an unacceptable slip into some state of pre-depression) – this all firmly rooted in the (again, incorrect) belief that the state of nature is, in fact, one of disco, leisure suits, and Picardy breezers (or whatever your particular Utopia might be).
If I tell you that I’m having a bad day, your anemic moralizing does nothing to help me limp into the next minute of my life, collect myself, listen to my heart, gather my strength and continue the attack…that’s what dogs, stiff cocktails and old country music is for. I don’t expect you to have the answer, I just expect you to listen and pay for this round of drinks.
What’s even worse than the language fluff itself is when the person spewing the toxic blather actually believes that what they’re saying makes sense. I’d much rather be lied to for the sake of decorum than preached to for the sake of redemption – but I will listen to both forms of nonsense if you are buying the drinks.
All this leads me to the point of this article: if not PC-sensitivo, then what?
I found the answer to this question in the same place that I found the answer to most of life’s most important questions, in the Marine Corps.
In early 2006 a team of two traveling missionary-visionary-activist-adventurer-patriots came to our combat outpost along the Euphrates. We were all uniquely struck by these two men’s pluck and character. I attended their sermon, despite the fact that I hadn’t been to church since I was a child. They delivered a fantastic talk and what I took from that day I’ll never for the rest of my life forget…
Prior to their arrival that winter, I was a young lieutenant having trouble dealing with the grumblings of the junior Marines. I didn’t like to hear complaining, and it really angered me. Problem was, much of what the grumblings were about were legitimate complaints. I decided I didn’t want to hear it anymore, so I told my squad leaders to make sure no one complained around me. And the Marines, being the disciplined warriors they are stopped complaining within earshot of me. Ah. Much better. No more complaints from the men. (Personal leadership failure #254 that deployment = make decisions that make you “feel better” and leave your men feeling worse.) I’d walk around before a patrol, “hey there, Lance Corporal So-and-so, how are you today?” “Just fine, sir,” he’d reply. “Fantastic. Fantastic.” Then we’d push outside the wire into the strange world we were in, me feeling great about morale, country and Corps and that young Marine feeling terrible and sad because he’d just found out his fiancé was sleeping with the entire starting line up of the AA baseball team in his hometown.
And then I went to that talk by those two traveling missionaries. They told stories about their work in Africa and South America. They regaled us of adventures about some of the most poor and desperate people in the world and how, ultimately, it was a positive attitude and a certain honesty that led them to drive forward. Then they told us one of the most important leadership tools (and life lessons) I have ever heard: “and that’s just the way I like it!”
What does it mean?
Whenever a person has a complaint, they can tell you. Anything. Any complaint under the sun. The only catch is that they have to follow the complaint with the robust and positive affirmation: “and that’s just the way I like it!”
I loved this avowal! It was strong. It was exciting. It was revolutionary.
I rushed to my squad leaders and told them that anyone in the platoon could now say anything about anyone or anything, just so long as they finished it with, “and that’s just the way I like it!”
It changed our attitudes, lifted our spirits, and was, in my mind, a combat multiplier.
“Hey Lance Corporal So-and-So, how’s your day?” “Oh, sir, you know, I haven’t seen my friends or family in 200 days, my old man just lost his job, my boots melted to the asphalt yesterday and I’m about to go on a four hour patrol in 120 degree heat on the most heavily mined city in the world – and that’s just the way I like it!!”
“You don’t say! Well, have a good patrol.”
And then, not being able to do anything about the weather or his father’s job, my platoon sergeant and I could go and put in the paperwork for some new boots.
The Marines now had a vehicle that they could use to voice honest concerns, worries and complaints and get some of that darkness off of their chest, and I not only had the benefit of hearing those complaints as their platoon commander (and thus could be a better steward to them) but also had the advantage of not having to hear their complaints as complaints – they were now, somehow, an aggressively positive affirmation of what Marines believe anyway. That IS just they way we like it.
And so, in a world full of feel-goody false wisdoms and soft band-aid approaches to real problems, I recommend the actual “that’s just the way I like it”-wisdom of two pretty fascinating adventurers. It worked for us in combat. And it works for me today.
And in this way the philosophy of the Marine Corps, the traveling adventurers and Nietzsche are uniquely analogous…they did not promise us a rose a garden. We didn’t get one. And that’s just the way we like it.
Secretary Mabus, CNO Admiral Greenert, and Marine Commandant General Amos,
Suggest you read an effective, efficient explanation of the ramifications of a really bad idea over at Tom Ricks’ Foreign Policy blog.
I wonder if the enhancement in personal readiness occasioned by breathalyzers will be worth the trade-off in flagging morale, professional insult, and perceptions of detached, out of touch senior leadership…
This is among the most paternalistic, professionally insulting concepts I’ve seen in all my years of service, and I’m not sure I will submit. Yes, I know my options, and I just may exercise them and go right over the side the first time the duty blowmeister shoves a plastic tube in my face and treats me like a drunk driver for daring to report for duty. To the CNO, CMC, CMC of the Navy, and SgtMaj of the Marine Corps, here’s my question: At what point will one of you four exercise your duty to tell the Secretary of the Navy, “Hey, Boss, WTF, over?” and that he really ought to fire whichever clown came up with this idea (?)
And, an additional observation:
Leaders exercising their solemn duty to junior sailors and Marines, who have even a modicum of intuition about their charges, can figure out who is sucking the worm out of the bottle every night without resorting to the extraordinary insulting and distrustful measure of breathalyzing every shipmate who steps across the brow and every Marine who marches into a gun park.
Please read the rest. There are some additional and very cogent points about the damage this exceedingly unwise little contrivance will cause.
Trust, like loyalty, is very much a two-way street. Trust is also a funny thing. Like an ornate hand-painted vase, it takes great dedication and hard work, and not a little inspiration, to create; yet just one instance of careless handling can shatter it into a thousand pieces. Even if one was so inclined to spend the time required to glue all of those pieces back together, the result is never quite nearly the same.
These Sailors and Marines have stood watch and fought two wars in the last decade. They have sacrificed, fought, bled, and died doing their duty. They are magnificent. They have given you, all of you, far more reasons for you to trust them than you have for them to trust you. The stars on the collar, the wide stripes on the sleeve, the nameplate on the big desk, those things are purely ornamental if you don’t earn the trust and respect of those you lead each day anew. Just as every Second Lieutenant and Ensign, every Chief Petty Officer and Gunnery Sergeant must do. Every day.
You are marching quick-time toward shattering that trust and breaching the loyalty of those you lead. The reasons that make this entire course of action seem like a good idea are inconsequential compared to the negative consequences of implementing this professionally insulting and terribly misguided policy. Your junior leaders, commissioned and non-commissioned, are telling you so, and loudly, even if the Generals and Admirals haven’t the courage to do so.
Good leaders listen, instead of ignoring sage advice. Now is just such a time.
h/t to LtCol P and to “John Paul Lejeune”
As our ground wars in Asia come to an end (for now) we’ll need to come together as a nation and seriously address the long term needs of our warriors who have been to hell and back again.
Brave men and women, all.
Your Tuesday moment of Zen…
It’s gonna get you! (At least we hope it does.)
From the Associated Press (via N&O):
LAS VEGAS — Marine Cpl. Alexander Degenhardt is crediting karma for landing a $2.9 million progressive slot jackpot in Las Vegas.
Degenhardt was accepted as a bone marrow donor to an anonymous patient only a couple of days before hitting the jackpot Sunday at the Bellagio, the Las Vegas Sun reported (http://bit.ly/ABQ02J).
“They asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it because it’s kind of painful, but what’s a little pain if it will save someone’s life?” Degenhardt said. “I look at this jackpot as kind of good karma for that.”
He decided to buy some clothes after the jackpot – at a thrift store, where he buys all of his clothes. He said he won’t part with his car that has rolled up some 250,000 miles, either.
“I plan to keep driving it until I can’t anymore,” he told the Sun. “No sense in wasting money. I’m really pretty thrifty.”
Degenhardt, who will receive about $100,000 a year over 20 years, said he plans to first help his pregnant sister and his mother catch up on bills.
I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of Act of Valor at the beginning of the month. In all, I found it an exciting and entertaining piece of cinema.
If you’re looking for a good way to spend a couple of hours this winter weekend, go check out this action packed film.
My detailed review can be found at Proceedings Online:
Also, you should read a better written and more relevant review by friend, teacher and SEAL Bob Schoultz:
For more detail on the film, check out the following reviews:
Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.
-Admiral Chester Nimitz
America lost 6,821 of her sons on Iwo Jima. More than 19,000 were wounded. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor and more than 200 Navy Crosses were awarded for heroism on that island.
Where is USS Michael Strank? USS Franklin Sousley? USS Harlan Bloch?
Colonel William H. Dabney, Unites States Marine Corps (Ret.) passed away today. He was the son-in-law of legendary Marine Lewis “Chesty” Puller, and was a mustang officer who commanded a two-company detachment of 3rd Bn 26th Marines on Hill 881S near Khe Sanh for seventy-seven days in early 1968. Colonel Dabney’s Marines held onto that key terrain with clenched fingers against anything and everything the NVA could throw at them. Only two ways off the hill, they said. “Blown off, or flown off.” A 2005 Leatherneck Magazine article tells the story.
Colonel Dabney waited 37 years to receive a Navy Cross for his actions. It was awarded in 2005, at Virginia Military Institute, his alma mater. Here is his citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to:
William H. Dabney (0-80399), Colonel [then Captain], U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Commanding Officer of two heavily reinforced rifle companies of the Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, THIRD Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam from 21 January to 14 April 1968. During the entire period, Colonel Dabney’s force stubbornly defended Hill 881S, a regional outpost vital to the defense of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Following his bold spoiling attack on 20 January 1968, shattering a much larger North Vietnamese Army (NVA) force deploying to attack Hill 881S, Colonel Dabney’s force was surrounded and cut off from all outside ground supply for the entire 77 day Siege of Khe Sanh. Enemy snipers, machine guns, artillery, and 120-millimeter mortars responded to any daylight movement on his position. In spite of deep entrenchments, his total casualties during the siege were close to 100 percent. Helicopters were his only source of re-supply, and each such mission brought down a cauldron of fire on his landing zones. On numerous occasions Colonel Dabney raced into the landing zone under heavy hostile fire to direct debarkation of personnel and to carry wounded Marines to evacuation helicopters.
The extreme difficulty of re-supply resulted in conditions of hardship and deprivation seldom experienced by American forces. Nevertheless, Colonel Dabney’s indomitable spirit was truly an inspiration to his troops. He organized his defenses with masterful skill and his preplanned fires shattered every enemy probe on his positions. He also devised an early warning system whereby NVA artillery and rocket firings from the west were immediately reported by lookouts to the Khe Sanh Combat Base, giving exposed personnel a few life saving seconds to take cover, saving countless lives, and facilitating the targeting of enemy firing positions.
Colonel Dabney repeatedly set an incredible example of calm courage under fire, gallantly exposing himself at the center of every action without concern for his own safety. Colonel Dabney contributed decisively to ultimate victory in the Battle of Khe Sanh, and ranks among the most heroic stands of any American force in history. By his valiant combat leadership, exceptional bravery, and selfless devotion to duty, Colonel Dabney reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Great web site about the “Warriors of Hill 881S”, of which Colonel Dabney was the mightiest. “India Six Actual”. Colonel Dabney was 77.
“Another Marine reporting, Sir, I’ve served my time in hell.”
h/t Masta G
After a decade dominated by ground wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drill dubbed Bold Alligator is “the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the fleet in the last 10 years,” said Admiral John Harvey, head of US Fleet Forces Command.
The American military, mindful that Marines have spent most of their time in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan since 2001, said the goal was “to revitalize, refine, and strengthen fundamental amphibious capabilities and reinforce the Navy and Marine Corps role as ‘fighters from the sea.’”
The lack of practice at a craft that is immensely complex (amphibious assault) and requires extensive planning and rehearsal has been a concern of the Marine Corps for most of the past decade. Many junior Officers and SNCOs have never been afloat, let alone had anything to do with amphibious operations. Landing plans, serial assignment tables, scheduled, on-call, and unscheduled waves are terms unfamiliar to most. Fire support planning in amphibious operations, challenging in the best of circumstances, must now be done in an environment of austere Naval surface fires.
The BOLD ALLIGATOR exercises, and the war games that reinforce them (EXPEDITIONARY WARRIOR, etc.) will introduce those younger Marines to the art of projecting power ashore from the sea. Shortfalls in capabilities and capacity will be identified, new methods developed to leverage modern platforms, and assumptions either validated or proven incorrect. The bugaboo of every amphibious operation, the command relationship between CATF/CLF, will be examined anew.
The addition of our French allies in this exercise is crucial, as the interoperability of international forces in a coalition operation is always a challenge. Lessons on doctrine, equipment requirements and capabilities, as well as the personal command relationships between seniors, make for more lethal and efficient combat forces.
The landings in North Carolina and Virginia are not being conducted in a vacuum, either:
The threat of mines, anti-ship missiles and small boats in coastal waters conjure up Iran’s naval forces, but the commanders overseeing the drill, Admiral Harvey and Marine Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, say the scenario is not based on any particular country.
When asked by reporters last week, Harvey acknowledged that the exercise scenario was “certainly informed by recent history” and that it was “applicable” to the Strait of Hormuz, as well as other areas.
Harvey also said the exercise incorporated lessons from the 2006 Lebanon conflict, when Iran-backed Hezbollah forces hit an Israeli navy corvette with an anti-ship missile.
This event was important enough to have CNO Admiral Greenert in attendance, and highlights a significant shift in the Navy’s views regarding its role in the amphibious power projection mission. While always publicly supporting the Navy-Marine Corps team, the unofficial position of the Navy toward this mission seemed decidedly luke-warm and was at odds with the Marine Corps over requirements and resources. This is good news for Naval forces whose focus will be the western Pacific. One can bet a paycheck that the USN and USMC will be scribbling furiously, taking copious notes. Lessons will be learned, training will be invaluable.
And best of all, an entirely new generation of Marines will be introduced to the smell of paint, exhaust fumes, crude oil, salt water spray, and vomit that are indelibly etched on every Marine who has climbed down the cargo net, ridden the tuna boats off the well deck through the surf, or splashed ashore from the LCUs. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Thursday morning, Under Secretary of the Navy (and more importantly, former Marine artilleryman) Robert O. Work skilfully executed his own “pivot”. Secretary Work had intended to deliver remarks regarding the program choices associated with the recently-released Defense budget. Well, you go to the podium with the speech you have, not the one you wish you had. It seems SECNAV was not going to publicly comment until later in the day, so Secretary Work chose not to publicly do so ahead of that, and instead delivered an enthusiastic and decidedly upbeat address on the challenges and opportunities facing the Navy-Marine Corps Team in the coming century.
Secretary Work referenced former CJCS Admiral Mullen’s talk of the previous day, and lived up to his well-deserved reputation for his grasp of history and its relevance to future events. Diverging from Admiral Mullen’s views of the uniqueness of the path ahead, Secretary Work outlined the challenges faced by President Eisenhower in 1953, an ongoing war far larger than the current and recent conflicts combined, an existential threat from a peer enemy about to detonate a thermonuclear device of their own, faltering allies asking for assistance in remote regions of the globe, and an electorate very tired of war. Indeed his example speaks to the tendency to consider present challenges as groundbreaking and unprecedented, when in point of fact, they are usually not nearly quite so.
Secretary Work proceeded to provide a Huntington-esque perspective on the history of America’s military eras, as defined by salient policy events. That perspective is worth summarizing here.
The Continental Era
July 4th 1776 to December 1, 1890
America’s Army was dominant, with an intermittent and largely coastal (with notable exceptions) Navy and small Marine Corps, no overseas bases, and a focus on western expansion across the North American continent. The era ended with the tragic events at Wounded Knee, which was the last of the frontier fights. During the Continental Era, for every month the United States was at war, she spends approximately six months at peace.
The Trans-Oceanic Era
December 1, 1890 to March 12, 1947
America becomes a two-ocean Mahanian maritime nation once and for all, and after massive military commitment to winning two world wars, is a world power with overseas bases, with far-flung interests, and security commitments to allies and former adversaries (whom we have to build up from virtual ruin) on almost every continent. The era ends with the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, and the beginning of the Cold War. For every month of war during the Trans-Oceanic Era, there are 5.2 months of peace.
The Cold War
March 12, 1947 to May 12, 1989
Containment of the Soviet Union, a peer adversary, which dominates Eastern Europe and makes serious inroads in Asia, southern Europe, and Latin America. Large wars in Korea and Vietnam, the respective growth and contraction of the US Military in the aftermath of those wars, and lots of little wars by proxy, and an existential threat of Soviet first strike. The Cold War is declared over on May 12, 1989, by President George H W Bush. Indeed, in 1990-91, forces from Europe are sent to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War, more than a year before the final collapse of the Soviet Union. In this increasingly active era, aside from a Cold War for the entirety, for each month of hot war, the United States is only at peace for 2.67 months.
The Global Era
May 12, 1989 to December 31, 2011
Two wars in Iraq, 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, protracted and expensive efforts at nation-building are the events of the most active time for America’s military in her entire history. For every month at war during this Global Era, America will have just 1.08 months of peace. The Global Era ends, according to Secretary Work, with the end of the war in Iraq
The beginning of 2012 is the beginning of the “Naval Century”.
This era, says Secretary Work, will be one of global American sea power, focused on the western Pacific, always a maritime region, and the Middle East, which is becoming increasingly so.
Secretary Work asserts that this nation’s military, its people and equipment, are tired out. They need to be refreshed, revitalized, and allowed to recover from the strain of two protracted wars. And the military needs to shrink. Especially in manpower, the single highest cost category.
I reproduce Secretary Work’s perspective in near entirety because I believe it is cogent and well-thought, from someone whose grasp of history is superb, and because it is worthwhile. It also allows us to put current conditions in context. Some of his points are excellent, and provide an insight into how Mr. Work thinks of what he calls the Total Force Battle Network and its shape in the coming decades.
This Total Force Battle Network will be characterized by a Navy-Marine Corps team capable of forcible entry and power projection globally, and an ability to keep vital SLOCs open to freedom of navigation. This Naval force will be characterized by thoroughly networked platforms and weapons, unmanned systems in all three dimensions, with technology-enabled combat power second to none. An increased emphasis on SOF throughout the services, Navy and Marine Corps included, and a more capable maritime domain awareness using unmanned and manned platforms to cover vital areas nationally and globally. Forward presence in vital regions will be credibly maintained. This force will be maintained and sustained by personnel strengths equal to the task, a break from the “optimal manning” experiment that went “too far”.
This will also be a force that is used less frequently than were forces in the Global Era, allowing for time to train and maintain, and to test and experiment with new technologies and new methods of employment. And, passionately, Mr. Work reminded us that the people who make up our Naval forces, Sailors and Marines, will remain the single greatest asset the Total Force Battle Network can employ. They will remain the professional, motivated, educated young warriors that are exemplified by CDR Ernest Evans, who told his crew of Johnston (DD- 557) “This is a fighting ship, and I intend to take her into harm’s way!”. And at Samar, when eight Japanese capital ships appeared on the horizon, turned his destroyer toward the vastly superior force and interject his little ship in between the Japanese and the escort carriers of his task force. The decision cost him his ship and his life, but helped save the Task Force and possibly the Leyte landings further south. It also earned CDR Evans a posthumous Medal of Honor. Our people and our Navy and Marine Corps will do the things that are required to be the best in the world, because, as in the past, they will be “great by choice”.
Secretary Work’s words should be inspirational to any Sailor or Marine who takes pride in his service. The Navy Undersecretary is definitely on our side. He is a man who says what he means and means what he says. The coming cuts, the $480 billion in the next ten years, are challenging but workable. They represent a drawdown of some 24% of the US Military, which Mr. Work points out is rather less than that of other post-war draw-downs, including the years of the “Peace Dividend” following the Cold War and Desert Storm. His was definitely a tone of confidence in the future of our Naval forces.
I hope he is correct. I hope we have a strategy commensurate with our capabilities, and our reach doesn’t exceed our grasp. And that our focus on SOF and unmanned systems will not require the “Plan B” of conventional forces in great numbers, because they simply will not be there. Whatever the numbers of ships, systems, and personnel we settle on, that cannot be the starting point for the ill-conceived concept of further pinching of pennies by chasing temporary savings (“Optimal Manning”, deferring maintenance, retiring warships at half their service lives) that result in driving up long-term costs and reducing effectiveness.
And I hope he is right about sequestration. Because, as upbeat and slightly sanguine as Secretary Work’s words were, even he admits that the cuts that would come in that event will devastate our nation’s defenses and make any meaningful National Military Strategy impossible.
- Midrats this Sunday, May 17 2013 – Episode 167: Intellectual Integrity, PME, and NWC
- Remembering our Fallen Coast Guard Shipmates and their Families
- On Midrats 10 Mar 13, Episode 166: “Expeditionary Fleet Balance”
- Guest Post by LTJG Matthew Hipple: From Epipolae to Cyber War
- For Strength and Courage: Neptunus Lex