Tom Brady and Self-Discipline

This post is a little difficult for me. I’m a life-long Giants fan.

And as such, I experienced everything I needed to experience as a football fan when the Giants beat the Patriots the first time.

Even watching this today, it still hits.

But I have to give credit where credit is due.

Tom Brady is good.

Damn good.

Maybe the best.

It’s not raw talent. It’s not luck.

It’s hard work and consistency over time.

I admire that. And we can all learn a lot from it.

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On Veterans and Veterans Day

It’s kind of nice having a day off towards the end of the week. It’s a way to get “two Fridays.”

I used to write a lot about veterans and Veterans Day. People seemed to enjoy it.

But then I joined up a second time and it gets kind of weird.

One of the things that have always perplexed me is the confusion as to what constitutes a veteran. I’ve met lots of people who think that because they have not deployed they don’t count.

If you’ve served, then you are a veteran.

Anyway, I’ve compiled some of the more interesting pieces I’ve written on veterans and Veterans Day below. These are mostly evergreen, despite often referencing something going on in the world at the time.

There’s a lot more than the below, and clicking through any one of them can take you down a veteran rabbit hole.

Hope you enjoy.


Cloud Strife: A Veteran Lost in the Twilight of Sentimentality and Nostalgia – At some point during the end of my re-enlistment I replayed Final Fantasy VII. It’s then that I realized that at the heart of the story is a veteran dealing with some serious trauma with a sprinkle of stolen valor. It’s always something I’ve wanted to write on more deeply because Cloud Strife is such a well-known figure. Maybe when the next chapter of the remake comes out…

The Special Responsibility of Veterans in the Social Media Era – More than anyone else, veterans are able to tell the story. It’s like a superpower. And with great power comes great responsibility.

The Post-9/11 Veteran and Middle East Studies – When people ask me what my major in college was and I tell them Middle East studies, they almost always follow up with “was it because you went to Iraq?”

The answer is yes. That is exactly why.

Veterans: When I ask you about things, can you not be a condescending dick about it? – Don’t get me started on coconut bundt cake.

Veterans Drifting to the Dark World of Conspiracies – The veteran community has a problem with losing our own down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories that gets them in trouble.

Damn it feels good to be a veteran – Why? Because it often feels like you’re at the center of the world.

T.E. Lawrence on Veterans Day – My favorite quote when it comes to Veterans Day.

Jacob’s Ladder and the need for “serious talk” for veterans – Oof. This hurts.

On getting out – I’ve met few people who don’t have some twinge of regret for getting out of the service. Not universal, I know.

The Best Years of Our Lives – This is one of the more recent things I’ve written. I have no idea how I’ve missed this movie for all of these years, but it captures the feeling of coming home – the real feeling of coming home – better than anything else I’ve seen.

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Picking up brass with a Green Beret

The first time I met someone from special forces was on a MOUT site at Fort Bragg back when I was a Private. We were the OPFOR for some green berets.

They had simunitions, we had paintballs.

There are three things I remember about that training:

  1. They were good – all of their movements were crisp and professional (I kept getting shot before I event saw anyone)
  2. They were older – like, way older. I was probably 19 at the time. They all looked to be in their mid-30s or early 40s.
  3. They were humble – story below.

At the end of one of the training days, we were under the stars with white lights picking up brass from the exercise. We had a platoon of infantrymen from the 82nd there, but every member of the SF team was out there picking up brass with us.

I remember plucking brass off of the concrete and dropping it into my helmet while a Segreant First Class next to me told me about Special Forces, the training, and the mission. He told me about the different schools he hasd gone to. He told me how he speaks a foreign language as a job requirement. He told me about trips to South America and working with partners.

All of that was cool, but it’s not what struck me.

The thing that struck me was the fact that he was out there picking up brass. He wasn’t above it. It displayed a professional maturity I wasn’t accustomed to yet – my experiences to date had been infantry training and being a new soldier in the 82nd.

Picking up brass was something privates did while the platoon leadership waited.

This was something different.

Something to admire.

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Infinite Competition

Friend of the blog Cole Livieratos got there first.

As stated, another great episode from the Irregular Warfare Initiative – this one on the role of special operations forces in great power competition – with SOCOM Commander GEN Richard Clarke and Linda Robinson (RAND) as guests.

As an aside, I read and wrote a quick review of Robinson’s book 100 Victories back in 2014 in preparation for an Afghanistan deployment.

Will the role and capabilities required of special operations forces change in a geopolitical context characterized by great power competition? How will SOF balance enduring counterterrorism missions with new requirements to deter great power rivals? Episode 39 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast brings together the commander of US Special Operations Command and a leading researcher of special operations to dig into these questions.

SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES AND GREAT POWER COMPETITION

If you’ve been paying close attention to the IWI podcasts, especially when it comes to SOF and competition, there is a steady drum beat extolling the importance of influence and information.

And if you listen even closer, you’ll hear that in this next phase, we need to be leading with influence.

I enjoyed Cole’s thread on this episode. It’s a succint history of where PSYOP has been in the past two decades. With a lot of the internal drama out there on display.

But I heard the episode a little differently. I might just be more optimistic, but I think our senior leaders – especially, but not exclusively in the SOF ranks – get it.

PSYOP is great, but they don’t have a monopoly on understanding the impact of information. And scoring “wins” might be desireable to influence professionals, but it’s the senior leader who has to accept the risk.

And as GEN Clarke states succinctly in the episode, in leading with influence, “…this is an area where senior leaders, I believe, have to be able to accept more risk in the future.”

But don’t take his word for it (or mine), listen for yourself.

Things that captured my attention:

We expect every mission to go well.” Isn’t that true? Leaders don’t like signing off on anything too risky because a loss “looks” so much worse than a win. In fact, in GPC, we’re not going to even see the wins all that often. The problem is, if we actually want to move the needle in a meaningful way, we’re going to have to accept more risk. That inevitably means operations (especially non-kinetic) are going to be marginally successful, ineffective, and sometimes counter-productive. Until we’re ready to start signing off on those types of operations, we’ll be stuck in a reactive, “how do we counter this,” posture.

“Where do you think special operations forces are best equipped to integrate into this competition space?”

“I think that one area that is quite critical, for which SOF and particularly Army SOF, is suited is the information and influence realm. And I think that can draw on this competence that they have, generally speaking in this field. And it is the Army psychological operations forces, but it’s also more broadly this cultural knowledge that they gain and the understanding what messaging is and how it is being employed by the competitor, the adversary, as well as the ability to work among the population with both PSYOP and Civil Affairs.”

Linda Robinson, ~11:00

Where do we compete?

“It is quite clear that the Middle East is a critical arena for China.”

Linda Robinson, ~13:00

Competition is not a “phase” that happens before we shift into conflict.

“We’re in perpetual competition. We always have been and we always will be. And it’s infinite.”

GEN Richard Clarke, ~14:00

The return of political warfare.

“We are always struggling to find the right words to describe what we are talking about. Competition I think is an excellent, easily understood term. I understand the department may be working towards integrated deterrence as a term of art and to further enrich the word soup here I’ll just bring up the George Kennan term political warfare, which I think is an important term which shows our history with that.”

Linda Robinson, ~18:00

We don’t need no stinkin’ USIA.

“We no longer have a US Information Agency. Public diplomacy used to be a very strong discipline within our foreign service cadre.”

Linda Robinson, ~23:00

It’s not just Green Berets who can work with a partner force, you know.

“Most people when they think about this, they automatically go to ‘what’s the ODA Green Beret team that is going to be there or the SEAL team that is going to work in the maritime domain,’ but I think we have to think across all SOF functions. What is the best civil affairs team, and what does this country need and how can we train with their civil affairs, or potentially as Linda talked about, they also have information support teams.”

GEN Richard Clarke, ~36:00

Do we/should we promote for political warfare acumen? (what a great question!)

“Do you think the system is promoting the right types of leaders and talent to engage in political warfare or great power competition?”

Kyle Atwell, ~42:00

I really liked the above question, and I’m not sure we got a good answer on it. For all of the good things that are happening in talent management (and I’m speaking mostly about the Army here), promotions are still tied to an archaic system of hitting wickets in key positions in order to move up. The types of attributes that would make a SOF soldier “good” at political warfare may have absolutely no bearing on their ability to get promoted within the system.

This is part of a much bigger discussion on how we could retool promotions. What if, for example, we didn’t have centralized promotion boards, and instead let each branch promote internally based on their own needs and understanding of skills required?

The future of SOF is not landing on the roof from a little bird.

“What I think the coin of the realm is in the future, are really those who want to work with populations, and those who truly understand the strategic impact of developing partners in other countries. Also, I think we have to have SOF leaders who are comfortable operating in the policy environment and in the diplomatic environemnt.”

Linda Robinson, ~46:00

I agree. The thing that brings a lot of folks to SOF is the idea of doing the “cool” job. Well, in this environment, winning requires a SOF operator who can do those jobs, but also has the cultural, linguistic, diplomatic, and policy chops to move things along. That’s a lot to ask. But it is completely doable.

And it is a “cool” job.

It’s about assessing, selecting, and training the right folks – and incentivizing the behaviors we want.

Fantastic episode.

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The most badass Rabbi in the world

Something a little different over at From the Green Notebook.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley sits down to talk with Joe about the power of self-reflection and how it can lead to inner well-being and help reduce conflict in our lives. He also shares lessons from decades counseling couples, earning his black belt in jujitsu, and serving in the Marine Corps following the Vietnam War.

S3,Ep7: Rabbi Mordecai Finley- Finding Inner Well-Being

Marine Corps veteran, black belt in jiu-jitsu, thoughtful sage.

I love the military-themed episodes that FTGN puts out, but I’m especially drawn to the stuff that pushes the circle outward.

Diamond Dallas Page was a prime example.

There are great things to learn from our own, and the recent podcast on “the battalion commander effect” is a good example.

But there is so much more out there.

I found myself drawn to Rabbi Mordecai’s thinking and methods. This episode is especially interesting to anyone interested in self-improvement, productivity, well-being, and self-discipline.

There were two things that stuck out to me.

The first was Rabbi Mordecai’s insistence that “you’re never too old.” He didn’t start jiu-jitsu until much later in his life when many of us are starting to pack away our physical hobbies and begin complaining about our knees. There are so many things in our lives that we cast aside as no longer possible due to our age.

Says who?

Says you, apparently.

How often do you hear lamentations from friends, family, or colleagues over not beginning some skill or hobby earlier in their lives? “

If only I had started when I was younger…” It’s never, “maybe I should start now.”

I’m just as guilty of this as others. It often takes more work and discipline to reach some of those goals (especially physical ones) as we age, but on the flip side, we have a lifetime of experience to apply to the goal. That’s something we often don’t account for. It’s not all about youth.

Take language for example. It’s “common knowledge” that children “soak up” language more effectively than adult learners. Everyone knows that, right?

Well it’s not exactly accurate. There is research that says adult learners may not be as handicapped at language learning as we think. This is because adult learners tend to understand how to better use their time in study and have learned different techniques that they can apply.

Children are just curious and willing to make mistakes. Adults are more self-concious.

The second thing that struck me was the Rabbi’s intonation to not “criticize, condemn, or complain.” This is sage wisdom that you may have seen before.

“Any fool can criticizecomplain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

It is tried and true and it works.

The episode is worth the listen. You will find yourself inspired.

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You had me at psychographics

A conversation on Army marketing – and how it factors into recruiting.

The United States Army, like any Army, should represent the people that it defends. Yet when that Army is made up soley of volunteers, that creates challenges for those responsible for attracting and retaining those individuals who want to be all they can be. The Army is not just a job after all, it’s an adventure. And even if every person who finds their warrior is an Army of one, questions remain about how to find those people most likely to stay Army strong long enough to make a difference.

Enter Army Enterprise Marketing.

APPEAL TO THE MASSES, DISPEL THE MYTHS: ARMY MARKETING

Kudos to Ron Granieri for getting all of the Army slogans into that intro.

This was a good discussion with some of the leadership of Army Enterprise Marketing on the intricacies and challenges of marketing the Army to the American public.

If you’ve been paying attention – which I know you have – you know that recruiting ads have gotten a lot of attention lately.

This is a good episode to listen to if you find yourself holding strong emotions on the way that the Army markets itself. There is a reason Army marketing heads in a certain direction.

Things that struck me in this episode:

It’s always about MOE, isn’t it? I’ll keep beating my drum on this – MOE (Measures of Effectiveness) doesn’t always matter. Effectiveness matters – even if you can’t measure it. If we make ads and recruiting is up, but can’t tie the recruiting to the ad, that doesn’t mean the ads weren’t effective. There is a place for hunches, gut instincts, and intuition.

Why Army Marketing? Why are we paying for this? Because if we can’t attract volunteers to sign-up, then we have to hold a draft. I appreciated the guests pushing back on this concept that is floated every couple of years that in order to save our democracy we need some form of mandatory public service – not necessarily in the military (although that obviously would be a big part of it) but “somewhere.” As I’ve written about before, bringing back the draft makes no sense – it just creates an American Hunger Games.

What does Gen Z want? They want purpose. And the Army’s mission is to find ways to show how serving in the Army can deliver that purpose. And that message has to appeal to as large a cross-section of 18-24-year-old men and women as possible. It’s not that easy.

What plays well with the force doesn’t play well with the target audience. Do you know who pays a lot of attention to military recruiting advertisements?

People in the military and veterans.

In other words, not the target audience. So if you are in the military or you got out, those ads aren’t for you. You are not the audience. If it makes you feel a certain way, that means it is likely an effective ad – because it probably is having an effect on the actual target audience (it worked on you, didn’t it?).

The guests talked about how the “what’s your warrior” campaign played really well inside of the Army (where it doesn’t matter) but fell flat with the target audience. Back to the drawing board.

Will I die if I join the Army? The guests discuss that one of the most difficult aspects of marketing is getting the point across that military service isn’t all bullets and bombs. It’s difficult to remember, but to the greater American public, military service is often considered frightening and something that “other people do.” It’s the reason it is common for veterans to come home and be asked (over and over again) if they ever killed anyone. Communicating to young Americans that the Army provides purpose but is not a constant walk across a tight-rope is the challenge.

An incredibly fascinating episode that has relevance for anyone interested in information operations, public affairs, marketing, and human psychology.

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On Foreign Fighters

Good episode from the Irregular Warfare Initiative.

In this fascinating discussion, our guests discuss what political, social, and economic circumstances create the conditions that enable the mass recruitment and radicalization of foreign fighters. Their research on this topic represents a startling departure from conventional wisdom and, as such, offers opportunities to preempt this destructive process before it begins. There doesn’t have to be another wave of diaspora-fueled jihad, they argue, but prevention will require Western governments to take comprehensive and determined action now.

ON THE ROAD TO JIHAD: THE ROLE OF FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN IRREGULAR WARFARE

A few things struck me as I listened to this one.

Foreign Fighters and Information Warfare. Early in the episode, the guests brought up the concept of foreign fighters supporting a cause remotely through information warfare. While the focus of the episode was primarily on foreign fighters who actually pick up and travel to a foreign land, there is so much more to know about what actively supporting the same movements looks like when done digitally. Propaganda support (creating/sharing memes), harassment, actual hacking – there’s a lot to be explored there. We saw a lot of this in the mid-2010s during the rise of ISIS. I’d love to learn more.

It’s our fault. Jasmine El-Gamal plants the flag on the things we’re not allowed to talk about – chiefly, that there are policy decisions that the US has made which may be the proximate causes for motivating foreign fighters in the first place. As she rightly indicates, having those conversations were (and are) rare – and it leads to us coming up with new strategies and magic to try to solve the problem. It’s what led to the GWOT effect.

Stanford Prison Experiment. There was a brief mention of the infamous Stanford Prison experiment, which despite all of its flaws and the continuing information that comes out on it which calls into question the validity of the results, it is still popularly understood to hold water. It is true, of course, for an experiment to be flawed but the results still valid.

Human Rights as Counter-Terror. I like this concept. We don’t really talk about human rights anymore. It used to be a driving force of policy. It has the benefit of allowing you to stand on the moral high ground, as well. It seems we’ve moved very deeply into the realm of states’ interests above all else.

Measures of effectiveness. There’s a conversation at the end discussing possible solutions to the problem of foreign fighters – dissuasion and de-radicalization. This led to the fact that many of these solutions appear to be ineffective because of how difficult they are to measure. If you’ve been reading my newsletters lately, you’ll know that I have an against the grain take on “MoEs” – that is, we don’t always need them. Just because something is difficult to measure doesn’t mean it isn’t working.

We have an obsession with “showing” results – that’s how you get more money, get promoted, get more resources. Thus, we tend to enact policies and programs that are easy to measure instead of actually effective. If we truly want to win, we have to extend some trust. I don’t need to know how you did the magic trick – I just want to be amazed.

The episode ends with a short story of a stunning encounter between one of the guests and a soldier deployed to Iraq. It’s sad, and it captures the absurdity of war and violence neatly. You can do all the planning and training you want, but when war requires men and women to enact violence on behalf of some cause, it will always be nasty and brutish. There will always be trauma. There will always be psychological scarring.

There is no clinical war.

Lastly, as an exercise in self-awareness it’s helpful to ask yourself (or others) in a given country, where do the majority of foreign fighters come from?

The answer will indicate how close they are paying attention.

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The Battalion Commander Effect

Catching up on podcasts.

Great interview over at From the Green Notebook with COL Everett Spain on his research and paper concerning the “Battalion Commander Effect.”

Recently, U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain coauthored an article in Parameters titled, The Battalion Commander Effect. Spain and his coauthors found that evidence suggests Army battalion commanders are a major factor in whether or not high-potential lieutenants stay in the Army.  In this episode, Joe and Everett discuss the research and dive into why self-awareness and humility are important traits for military leaders.

S3, Ep8: Everett Spain- The Battalion Commander Effect

The research and interview is focused on the effect battalion commanders have on junior officers specifically when it comes to retention. The research shows – not surprisingly, I think – that battalion commanders have a tremendous effect on junior officer retention, for a variety of reasons.

It was only recently that I actually began to fully understand how important the battalion commander is in an organization.

Yes, of course I know their role is important – but I didn’t quite realize how critical it is. I used to think that if the subordinate leaders (company commanders, first sergeants, and beyond) were good, a battalion could make up for the shortcomings of a weak BC.

Kind of, but not really.

That battalion commander represents the battalion – inside and outside the organization. It’s hard to get past that.

It wasn’t until I’ve had both good and bad battalion commanders and numerous different positions within different battalions over the course of many years to see just how critical the battalion commander is. It affects professionalism. It affects morale. It affects retention.

Have you ever been in an organization where people like to ask “Where’s the BC?”

The chief thing that I’ve learned, and what is discussed in the interview, is that the battalion commander set the culture.

There really is something special about that role – battalion commander – that I don’t think many people truly appreciate. The expectations are so high. We want that person to be the epitome of professionalism.

To inspire us and lead by example.

To put in the work but also go home at a reasonable hour.

To be an expert in their field – technically and tactically proficient.

To be in just as good shape as the much younger leaders.

To be firm and fair but also display empathy.

All that, at a time when the said leader is often in a mature family with older children.

I think about the leaders taking command now who grew up in the GWOT.

What ghosts have they accrued?

It’s a huge responsibility. I’m glad that the Army is doing more to find the right people for this position with the introduction of the Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP).

One of the things that stood out to me in this episode was a short conversation on giving feedback – something Joe has discussed in the past as something he is working on (me too!). It’s hard to tell someone they are failing in an area or they are not hitting the mark in a certain domain. How can we do it more effectively?

COL Spain recommends leading off with a statement like “I care deeply about you, so I want to tell you…”

I like that. I think that works. For whatever reason, whenever I am ready to give a critique, I feel my body tense up and steel itself for a rebuttal – I get pre-defensive.

This other way – leading with care – disarms that.

There was a short aside towards the end discussing what the equivalent might be for the enlisted side – which leader in an organization has a significant effect on junior soldier retention?

I love that they hypothesize that it is the Sergeant First Class.

If we’re talking about retention – especially for first-term soldiers – it is that Sergeant First Class who will shape the impression of a junior soldier. I was fortunate to have a cadre of amazing platoon sergeants when I first joined the Army. Professional, firm, but with the right amount of empathy.

In Kuwait, just before the invasion of Iraq, my platoon sergeant scooped me up one afternoon to bring me to a tent that had a television because he knew that I was a news junkie. He knew who I was and he had an interest.

Those things stick with you.

And here I am.

Lots to think about from this episode – check it out.

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An awkward anniversary

I relaunched CTG one year ago today.

Just a random day in late October, I know.

If you’re curious about the history behind the steps I took to bring it back or why I pulled the plug in the first place, you can go down the rabbit hole on the tenth-anniversary post.

Having this space to write and reflect is important, personally. For me, writing is my best reflection. Sometimes it occurs in long-form and gets washed through an editor, other times it’s barely formed, simplified, and goes out in a tweet.

The stuff here at CTG is somewhere in-between. There isn’t really much of an editor. But at least I have the opportunity to expand on things here more than however-many-characters that other platform allows.

My favorite part of coming back has been connecting with old fans of the blog and welcoming new ones.

In terms of daily readership, the blog is nowhere near where it was at its peak (2015/2016) – but that’s okay. It’s definitely a little more niche and a little more tempered. Rebuilding is a slog, but it’s one that I enjoy.

Usually, this would be the spot where some announcement is made about an upcoming project or a big surprise.

Nope.

You can expect more of the same. Thanks for being here for it!

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PRC Info-Ops – in their own words

Wow.

Written by the PRC’s National Defense University (NDU) faculty, with assistance from the General Staff Operations Department and the Academy of Military Sciences, this text contains instructional material for NDU Commander’s Course, Staff Officer, and PLA-wide Information Operations Advanced Studies Courses. Forward looking, and deliberately very comprehensive on concepts of information operations at the campaign level in the joint form, the 2009 edition contains extensive review/revisions from its previous publications.

In Their Own Words: Lectures on Joint Campaign Information Operations

What a great project. This stuff is out there and available. This is professional development. It’s not necessarily going to be a “fun” read or one that you need to do.

But if you’re a professional, it’s one that you absolutely should do.

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