Author Archives: Don

About Don

Soldier-fantasist, junior orientalist, practicing sybarite, aspiring Spartan.

The importance of having an “organizing principle”


I’ve noticed that I perform best when I have an organizing principle. That is, the thing in my life from which all other things branch off. Having an organizing principle – a guiding north star – helps steer my thinking and decision making. It doesn’t remove the need for critical thought, but rather serves as a reminder of what I’m ultimately trying to accomplish.

I’ve found it best to use something specific, some specific short to medium term goal or process. Saying that your “job” or “family” is the organizing principle isn’t specific enough and hurts more than it helps.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed the same to be true for good military units, from the platoon to battalion level. Those that had an organizing principle and whose subordinate formations nested that principle tended to perform better. It could be something simple like “physical fitness” or more targeted like “success at NTC.” As long as it makes sense and people believe in it, it is helpful.

Of course, simply having an organizing principle doesn’t achieve the result. It’s a reminder that you have to actually organize things towards accomplishing that goal. It seems so simple, but most of us – people and organizations alike – go through our days and weeks without a real end goal. We’re just grinding along. There’s nothing wrong with hard work, but what is it headed towards?

Analyzing the Virtual Terrain: Pokemon Go and Military Planning


There’s not much to say here other than what I think many in the military are already thinking: what are the implications for military operations in dropping a virtual layer of terrain over the world?

If you’re unaware, Pokemon Go is a mobile game that uses GPS and terrain data to generate virtual locations through a smartphone. Basically, a historic monument, mural, or local bar might have an additional existence in a virtual dimension. A space in the “real” world of limited significance (a painted fire hydrant, for example) might be very important when viewed through he augmented reality of a smartphone app.

It feels like we’re on the cusp of a complete reimagining of how we look at at terrain, from a military viewpoint.

Five Years of Carrying the Gun

Today is the fifth anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top posts:
1. Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff. Seriously, stop.
2. Army Myths: The .50 cal will kill/harm/maim even if you miss
3. Army Myths: You don’t need 100 hours to get a Volunteer Medal

Top search terms:
1. army map board (see this post)
2. carrying the gun
3. infidel (see this post)

Another year of the blog, and I thought I hadn’t really written much. Looking back, there’s actually a lot that I’m proud of. My post on being prepared to be “the man” on day one was pretty popular. Spurred by an intense obsession with Life Is Strange, I wrote a few popular posts on suicide, veterans in popular culture, and empathy. The once popular subject of women in the infantry became a non-topic. I learned that uttering the word “millenial” garners lots of clicks and attention. Friend of the blog Drew Steadman wrote a short and popular piece on getting your hands dirty and leadership.

Perhaps one of the most popular posts of the past year was this one, about the importance of the platoon leader and platoon sergeant being on the same sheet of music.

Still, I admit that this past year has been pretty slow for the blog. Army life has a way of swinging like a pendulum; sometimes I have more time than I could ever want, and then I have no time at all.

There is still so much I want to write, but I find the depth of the topics to be overly constrictive at times. That is why I’ve begun writing shorter pieces to just get it out there.

I’m proud of the blog and prouder still that I’ve kept it going for five years. Here’s to another five.

Meditation in the Military


Dr. Amisha Jha and Major General Walter Piatt were recently on Dan Harris’ podcast 10% Happier discussing the US military’s experiments with meditation practices. I’ve written about meditation and the military from a more personal experience previously.

I don’t think I was aware of the meditation study conducted on returning soldiers from MG Piatt’s (then COL) Brigade. As he put it, they were looking for something to help soldiers upon returning from repeat deployments. He is now the Director of Operations for the Army.

Dr. Jha and MG Piatt seem to be taking a measured approach to both the practical utility of meditation as it relates to the military and a realistic expectation to its likelihood (or unlikelihood) of being adopted. Dan Harris, for his part, hits the nail on the head on the challenges: a culture that might be too “macho” for something as touch-feely as meditation and the backlash from a segment of the population against “militarizing” mindfulness.

Listening to them talk, and seeing the trajectory of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness thus far, this all feels very similar to the introduction of the Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP). Initiatives in the Army take an immense amount of momentum to get going, and even more to make sustainable. We’re nearing two decades since MACP was introduced, and it still feels like a niche program in the Army. Integrating mindfulness training at scale in an Army of immense and growing demands will be exceptionally challenging, but not an unworthy cause.

The Special Responsibility of Veterans in the Social Media Era


Over the past year or so, I’ve had lots of conversations with others about how strange it is to be in the military these days. Social media didn’t exist a decade ago in the way it does now, and we’re still seeing new effects.

I’ve been neglecting a post for months about this topic, and especially about the role that veterans play in it all. It’s an idea similar to this one, about student-veterans serving as de facto ambassadors to the civilian population.

What’s different with this, though, is the whole thing is a closed loop. What military/veteran community put out there gets digested internally. The exhaust gets fed back into the combustion chamber, and the results are often nasty.

I’ve got an essay on this, but it needs work. For now, the thesis will have to do:

There are the two pitfalls of this new world (social media) as they relate to the military:
•There are actual effects on the day-to-day operations of the military
•Many civilians do not make the distinction between active-duty and veteran, especially online

Maybe this is obvious to most. As someone who was in the Army before the social media era, got out, and then came back in to a changed landscape, it seems new and important.

Strange military terms: Snowbird and Blackbird

As I’ve written about before, it’s not uncommon to go through an Army life hearing terms over and over again without knowing the meaning. For me, Snowbird and Blackbird are two of those terms. I first started seeing them when I was getting ready to go to OCS and looking  up information in online forums. I’d see people use the term in sentences like “you’ll have time to do that school while you’re Snowbirding,” or “generally, you’ll have a lot of Blackbird time.”

I’ve come to understand that the terms refer to the time that soldiers get in-between mandatory training events. That is, if you have a course that ends in August and your next course doesn’t begin until October, you would be Snowbirding (or Blackbirding) in September.

I have no idea where these terms came from or who started them, and they’re a bit obscure. Not everyone uses them, but those who do tend to use it with the confidence that everyone knows that they exist. They’re certainly not doctrinal terms, although in a cursory search for some information on this I did the term “Snowbird” used in an official-looking ALARACT message.www_benning_army_mil_infantry_199th_ocs_content_pdf_GenericAssignmentInstructions_pdf.png

My guess is these terms were more popular a long time ago and are being used less and less, in the same way much of the lingo popular in the Vietnam era is now completely out of fashion. If anyone has any information on the terms, I’d be curious to hear it.

A note on recent posts

Somewhere, I saw a recommendation for a book called Never Eat Alone. I haven’t read the book, and perhaps this is unfair, but I felt like I got the gist of it from the title. The book is about relationships, and I think I take the point that it is best to take advantage of opportunities to build and foster human relationships. Meal time is one of those opportunities.

I’m sure it’s a good book. It’s doing well on Amazon.

I just don’t think I needed to read it. Just hearing the title and the book’s purpose imparted the advice. Reading the book and dedicating the time to that endeavor might solidify that advice, but I just wasn’t that interested.

I’ve been taking that approach to some of the posts on this blog. I’ve had things I’ve wanted to write about for years that have been sitting on a list. These ideas sit there until I’m able to will myself to do the work and bang out a 1,000 word missive on it that makes sense.

Instead of having these ideas waste away on a  list, I’ve decided to get them out there as ideas, half-baked and raw. Often that’s all there is to it, anyway. It’s a technique I’ve seen done well at The Best Defense by Tom Ricks.

It’s a departure from what I normally do, so I thought it would be helpful for those who come here expecting longer pieces all the time. I’ll still write longer pieces, but only ones that I really want to.