Ten Years of Carrying the Gun

Today is the tenth anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top Posts:
1. Company-Grade to Field-Grade: Introducing “Making the Switch”
2. TOC Operations: The nasty underbelly of the Infantry
3. Stanley McChrystal on FTGN Podcast

Ok, so it’s almost a little unfair to celebrate a ten year anniversary when the blog was silent for four of them. Still, I did start this thing ten years ago.

A big part of the reason I went silent was a significant job change coupled with a media environment that was growing dangerously toxic. It just wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of at the time. It was a good, and well-needed break. I don’t regret it.

It’s good to be back, but boy rebuilding an audience is a slog!

I’ve enjoyed bringing CTG back to life over the past nine months. I went into the process deliberately. I reached out to peers and mentors who all encouraged me to get back into it. I took the time to redesign the blog (logo, site theme, some rules for myself/self-publishing guidance). I launched a Twitter and Facebook account for the blog, and I created an IG where I could more readily indulge my hobbies, which I know is a major distraction for the primary audience of the blog who are usually more interested in military matters.

And I started a monthly email newsletter.

The newsletter is where I write what old fans of the blog might have come to expect from me – a bit more editorial, a bit more personal.

You should sign up.

As I’ve done on other anniveraries (one, two, three, – looks like I didn’t do a fourth – five), this is where I write a little recap of the year.

I started things slowly by reconstituing old posts, which was a bit labor intensive – there are hundreds of them. Shortly after the relaunch, I published a primer on Unit Training Mangement – a boring topic, to be sure, but probably one of the most important skill-sets in the Army these days. With a new focus on information warfare, I started writing on that and looking around for inspiration. The launch of the Irregular Warfare Initiative (and podcast) provided plenty of material to work with. I especially enjoyed writing about their “Masters of Irregular Warfare” episode. And I learned one of the most important phrases out there: “Irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.”

I also enjoyed listening to and responding to From the Green Notebook podcasts. As you can see from the top, my review of the Stanley McChrystal episode was one of the top reads. Joe asks good questions, the types of questions I want to know the answers to. I’m less interested in career recaps and highlights and more interested in “how did you feel” and “what did you do – physically – in response to that.” When FTGN launched a podcast review contest, it was a no-brainer to enter, and I enjoyed the challenge of writing a response to three podcast episodes with a tight word count.

Lastly, I’ve enjoyed connecting with scholars of information warfare and FICINT futurists. I wrote an information warfare piece for Proceedings that captures how adversaries might weaponize information and our own chain of command to gain advantage. The opening uses a bit of FICINT to paint a picture of what this might actually look like and make it real. Future war is going to be different from anything we’ve experienced before – we have to be thinking forward – and laterally – if we are going to have any chance at victory.

The post that I wanted to do better than it did: “Toxic Mentorship through Boss and Snake.” The game reference probably scared too many people off. Toxic mentorship is such a real problem and it deserves more attention as we slam our fists on the table extoling the importance of mentorship.


There are two things that I’ve enjoyed most since brining CTG back online: 1) reconnecting with old fans, and 2) reaching new audiences. It is always a thrill to get a message from someone – especially folks I never even knew – who express joy that the site is back.

Most of these blog posts are written and torpedoed into the ether, and it’s never clear who is reading them or if they land. Getting those notes and feedback makes it worthwhile.

Likewise, it’s been fun to watch as the blog attracts new fans – especially as the site shifts towards more content on information warfare, political warfare, and psychological operations. To see folks from those communities find their way here is an indication that I’m shooting in the right direction.

During my hiatus, I continued to collect things that I want to write about, adding them to the already daunting list I’ve kept over the years. I’m in a great position right now to continue writing and exploring, and I intend on doing so.

Thanks for being a part of it. Here’s to to another ten years.

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What is it like to quit social media?

I completely dropped social media four years ago. Deleted Facebook. Deleted Twitter. Shut down the blog.

I was a power user. I cultivated an online presence. (It felt like) people wanted to hear what I had to say.

And then I decided to pull the plug. 100%, full stop.

I was ready for the fallout. I was ready for the text messages and phone calls. “What happened?” “Are you ok?”

Instead, what I got was silence.

It kind of reminded me of the scene in Bettlejuice, after the Maitlands try to frighten the Deetzes at the dinner party by having them sing and dance to “The Banana Boat Song.” Afterwards, they’re just looking out the window, waiting for the Deetzes to come rushing out.

“Any second now.”

With the exception of a handful of emails over the course of the first year, most folks didn’t seem to notice.

For the most part, pulling the plug meant more time, less distraction, and less frustration. Sure, there were opportunities I may have missed, people I failed to meet, and certainly interesting things I didn’t read as a result. But honestly, I enjoyed the break. Most people will admit that they feel locked into it at this point and they can’t escape.

Pulling the plug and taking some time allows us to reset the relationship.

The truth is, when it comes to social media and whether you’re on it or not, nobody really cares. The thing people notice most about social media is their own presence in it – not the lack of someone else’s.

It’s not going away, but you can choose how you participate.

By the way, if you’re curious about why I pulled the plug in the first place, sign up for my newsletter. I lay it out.

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Five Years of Carrying the Gun

Today is the fifth anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top posts:
1. Enough with the ‚Äėinfidel‚Äô 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.

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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.

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In getting things done, time and attention are the only two things that matter

If I just grabbed you on the street and said:

“WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE?”

You would probably say something like your family, or your church group, or maybe your career, or maybe your kid or your pet, or whatever. And the thing is, in some part of your heart, that’s absolutely true. But do you have a sense in which your time and attention tracks to actually doing good stuff for that thing that you claimed is really important? Do you have an internal barometer that tells you how well that’s going?

In fact is the thing that you claim is important really important?

Because, if a lot of people actually looked at where their time and attention went, the parts that they do have control over, it would look like the most important thing in their life is Facebook.

It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything.

I’ve been in a recalibration period, and as part of that, I revisited a great talk by Merlin Mann that he delivered at Rutgers University in 2010. It’s titled “Who moved my brain?” and it’s about time and attention.

When I was enlisted, I spent a lot of time after work researching productivity and ways to be more effective. That brought me to Merlin’s old website, 43 Folders. I started reading Merlin’s articles and listening to his talks. I was simply looking for tips on how to be more productive, the specific things I was supposed to do – like make a “Hipster PDA,” which I used until the iPhone came out. Merlin has a way of speaking philosophically about the topic of productivity, time, and attention, often to the annoyance of a listener who just wants to know how exactly to be more effective.

What are the specific things I’m supposed to do?

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate his more indirect approach. In this talk, he opens up with “The more time I spend thinking about this stuff, the less interested I am in the relatively superficial problems of things like e-mail.” He describes the anxiety and frustration that we have with email, social media, time, and attention as the “top layer” of our problems.

If you pay attention, what he’s usually getting at is that the things we’re seeking to fix are often really easy, but they suggest much deeper problems underneath that we haven’t addressed.

Thanks to the gentle nudge from friend of the blog Andrew Steadman at The Military Leader, I’ve been listening to podcasts again and I get the sense that the field of cognitive optimal performance is surging in a way I’m not sure that it was ten or even five years ago. It’s for that reason that I’m sharing this talk, because it’s still relevant and potentially pretty illuminating for someone trying to grapple with managing their own time and attention better.

The talk is worth listening to in its entirety and will be especially useful for anyone interested in understanding how they use and manage all things digital (email and social media especially) and optimizing workplace performance.

If you’re wondering what my biggest take away from the talk was, it’s this: I turned off notifications on my iPhone. In the talk, Merlin discusses how we allow our time and attention to be captured by literally anyone in the world with an internet connection. If someone in Zaire emails me and it pops up on my screen, for that second that my eyes diverted from whatever they were looking at to see that I got an email from some guy in Zaire. I’ve lost control of my time and attention. No matter what I was doing, by allowing myself to be interrupted, I am tacitly saying that nothing that I am currently doing is more important than what anyone on the internet wants me to pay attention to.

When you think about it in those terms, when you keep your notifications on, or the email “bubble” that pops up when you get a new email, or whatever other form this takes, you’re relinquishing an incredible power -really the only power you have.

Doing something as simple as turning off notifications might not seem like a big deal for some people, but I’m a compulsive checker. If they’re on, and I see them on the screen, I’m compelled to investigate further.

“What did he say in that comment?”

“What’s in that email?

Turning off notifications is in the “tips and tricks” category of productivity. It’s a small thing that you can do right now to reclaim some time and attention, but it is indicative of a bigger problem in how habits are formed and managed, hence the recalibration period I mentioned in the beginning.

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Carrying the Gun Update: Police Call

policecall-1200x520.jpg

You may have noticed I changed the look and feel of the blog recently. I’ve been meaning to do it for sometime, as the old theme was starting to get clunky and I wanted to simplify things to focus on the content. Some old posts might come up looking odd or have errors in them. If you see anything glaring, please let me know in the comments. I’ll be going through the blog fixing things up over time.

Thanks!

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Thank you!

The end of the year is a good time to stop and reflect on things, and I want to express my thanks to you who continue to read, share, and comment on this blog. It’s a very small (but dedicated) community of folks who try to think and write critically about the military, the Middle East, and whatever else finds its way here, and it isn’t always very good. It’s much easier (and shareable) to post listicles and hooah pictures of military gear for clicks and ‘likes’ than to unpack whether it is right or wrong for members of the military to openly display “infidel” gear, or if maybe the civil-military divide isn’t really that big of a deal, or to challenge the popular notion that America’s youth are not shouldering their share of the military burden.

So, to those who have been following the blog since its beginning or just recently started reading, thank you very much for being a part of a thoughtful community.

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