Not much to say on this, other than there are often moments during a deployment where there is an event, there is a report, and there is a lot of time spent waiting for the other foot to drop. What is going to be the result of this? Who is going to get fired?
What may have seemed like a big deal in the moment may be ridiculously insignificant by the time it makes its way up the flagpole. Other times the lamest things become huge deals.
The recent infusion of the immediacy of communication in a deployed zone heightens this phenomenon.
Early one morning, sleep was interrupted by a mortar attack.
Generally speaking, the scariest part of an indirect fire attack is the adrenaline spike that occurs as a result of alarm – something I experienced during the Scud attacks of early 2003 as well. The speed in which someone needs to launch a mortar attack while also avoiding being killed in a counter-attack – usually – prevents any reliable accuracy.
So the alarm goes off and you kind of wait for the boom, and imagine for a half-second what it would be like for a fist sized piece of shrapnel to come flying at your neck.
I was already awake, getting ready to go to the gym. The mortar exploded with a dull thud far from our area, and the platoon went back to sleep. I started walking to the guard towers to check on the guys. As I was walking, I heard the the low melodic sound of the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, drifting through the still night from a nearby mosque.
I remember physically laughing at how cliché that was.
I co-authored an article that is published in the May-June issue of Military Review. It’s called Operational Resilience in the Infantry Rifle Platoon and details efforts our platoon took over the past year to implement resilience techniques at the platoon level.
I submitted the article last year, and the process for getting published in Military Review is long, but the timing couldn’t be better. A couple of weeks ago, USA Today published an article criticizing the Army’s resilience program and it was widely shared on social media among veteran friends with the damning headline Army morale low despite 6 year, $287 million optimism program. The insinuation is that the implementation of the resilience program was chiefly an effort to raise morale, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the case. Anyone who has served in the military knows that maintaining high morale is tough nowadays – it’s not just chow, mail, and free time anymore.
I’m a fan of resilience training. It makes sense to me and as someone who spends a lot of time reading about productivity (Gretchen Rubin is my spirit animal), integrating resilience training and letting it set seems like a good idea in today’s Army.
The major problem with resilience training, as I point out in the Military Review article, is that it has been implemented mostly at the individual level. That is, NCOs go to the Master Resilience Course and learn the material, and then (mostly) return to their unit and periodically give a class on resilience. The only person who really benefits from that is the NCO, who has had the in-depth experience in the class to actually use some of the techniques. Implementing reslience at the unit level has not really been accomplished. My argument is that if units actually worked at implementing the techniques beyond the individual level, we might actually see better results.
The point of this post is not to simply counter the USA Today article, but to get you to go check out the article in Military Review, where you have at least one example of a small unit utilizing resilience techniques – not to raise morale – but to do better work.
There was a small post that we visited from time to time, to move in or out personnel and equipment. It was hours away by vehicle and we really didn’t like going there. It was far from the big American bases and the terrain was mountainous and nasty.
We called it Mordor.
The first time we went to Mordor, we arrived in the middle of the night. For security reasons, no lights were kept on at night, so the base was completely dark. Just outside of the main gate, we were met by a small group of Americans in the darkness, wearing helmets and night vision goggles. We were dropping off a few people and would only be on the ground for less than an hour. Our helmeted American hosts said they had a small dining facility on the compound and we were welcome to grab some snacks and drinks before the long drive back to our base. He pointed somewhere deeper into the darkness before dissapearing.
With the bulk of the platoon waiting at the trucks, a few of us made our way into the darkness. We walked through a small gate and along a small road. Eerily quiet trucks zoomed past us, literally brushing up against us as we tried to make out the dark figures in the back, lounging as the faint sound of their trucks faded into the darkness.
We kept walking, up a hill now, eventually seeing a single source of dull red light over a indistinct door. We were told that the red light would mark the entrace to the dining facility.
We opened the door and entered, finding ouselves suddenly bathed in bright, fluorescent white light. I squinted and rubbed my eyes as my pupils adjusted. Sinks lined the wall, with small soap dispensers above them and clean mirrors to look at yourself. A corkboard across from the sinks listed MWR events taking place on the small post, as well as information on the Army’s SHARP and EO programs. The small group I was with must have looked a bit perplexed, as the attendant – a junior soldier sitting at a small register – interrupted our bewilderment by informing us that the dining facility was about to close, and he needed to scan our ID cards.
We scanned our ID cards at the register and then walked into the dining facility, loading up our cargo pockets with Rip-Its and cookies before dissapearing back into the darkness, looking for our trucks.
I’m fully aware that I’ve neglected updates for the past three weeks. I fully intended to keep things going, but post-deployment leave has a way of keeping you looking at the bottom of the glass. It’s important to get that space and distance though, and as “normal” life resumes, so will the blog.
I have managed to keep the Facebook page updated, though. And if you’ve missed the ISOF GOLD posts, I’ve mostly been commenting on my favorite special operations forces over there.
I managed to keep somewhat productive, though. Last week I was invited by the Center for the Advancement of Leadership and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) to participate in West Point’s Mission Command Conference. Essentially, myself and a few other junior lieutenants stood up in front of hundreds of cadets and told real-life stories from our recent deployments. The cadets then used the story as a tool to discuss leadership with officers and NCO mentors who were also attending the conference. It was great to visit West Point and explore the campus, and seeing first-hand that West Point life only added fuel to my argument on why we need West Point.
It was also great just to see the CALDOL team at work. They are the folks behind the Company Command and Platoon Leader forums, which I’ve written about before. Seeing it in person confirmed to me that like many great Army programs, they are hidden away and under-utilized. I’m working on a future post highlighting some of the things they do, as I think the more exposure they have the better, but for now you’ll have to take my word for it.
Additionally, I also had the opportunity to speak at the CUNY ROTC’s Second Annual Military Ball at City College. It was amazing to see CUNY ROTC Cadets running the show, when it was only a few years ago when the idea of brining ROTC back to CUNY was a pipe dream.
By the way, when I hear the acronym “CALDOL” I can’t help but think of the dancing Calcobrena from Final Fantasy IV. Sorry.