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What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?

chinese flag that says ai on it

I’ve been a long-time reader of the Army’s “Mad Scientist Blog,” but I’m fairly certain I’ve never shared anything of theirs before – at least not on this blog.

From the ‘about’ page:

The Mad Scientist Laboratory blog is a marketplace of ideas about the future of our society, work, and conflict.

There’s something about the old-school ‘Web 1.0’ style of the posts that gets me all kinds of nostalgic.

Anyway, they also have a podcast that I only recently discovered. I started with this episode on How China Fights.

The format of the podcast is a bit different from many other national security podcasts I’ve listened to. There really isn’t a host that is driving the conversation – although they have a pretty intense announcer. Each episode has a main topic and then subtopics which are addressed by “subject matter experts.” It flows nicely.

There were a few things that struck me in this episode. The first is what gives this article its title:

What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?

This was said in response to a common retort one may hear about what makes a good Army. They may have the tech, and they may have the numbers, but they might be missing something. In the US, we hold our NCO corps in high regard and assume that is one of the things that gives us a qualitative advantage.

What if our adversaries can find a way to function without that? Is that possible?

Probably – but it’s an assumption that doesn’t often get challenged.

Two other things: China’s establishment of the “Strategic Support Force” and the concept of “information superiority” (think “air superiority”) during a crisis. I’ve never really thought about information that way – but I think there can be some relevancy – as the guest stated, in a crisis.

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Against ‘threads’

colored threads

I don’t like threads on Twitter.

Even the good ones.

Don’t get me wrong – they’re often entertaining, interesting, and educational.

And I do enjoy them.

But I don’t like them because they’re so ephemeral.

A lot of works goes into them, they’re fun to poke through, but then they’re gone. And there’s not really a good way to save them.

You can bookmark them, but then you’re stuck with a list of bookmarks. I tend to use bookmarks for things to check out later, and then I clear them out.

There is definitely a place for them, and I get their utility. And I understand how they are engaging.

But some of them are so engaging I want them to live somewhere that I can easily return to for reference.

You know, like a blog.

A few weeks ago I started building a thread on what ‘winning’ looks like in Great Power Competition. I had a good vision for it and I know it would be engaging. It was full of video clips, gifs, pictures, and smart copy.

I stopped building it because I knew that it would be a great thread that would quickly be pushed aside and forgotten.

Instead, I’ll turn it into an article where it can survive.

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Reflection Partners

a mountain reflecting in a lake

Another good one from FTGN.

Joe and Cassie talk about the power of reflection and what got in the way of realizing its benefits earlier in their careers. They also share the story behind their recently released book, My Green Notebook: ‚ÄúKnow Thyself‚ÄĚ Before Changing Jobs. 

S3,Ep12: Cassie Crosby- Reflection for Busy Leaders

What I found most interesting about this one was the story and the history between Joe and Cassie.

This is such a small profession, and the pool of folks that dare to write (or podcast, or make videos) to ‘extend their influence beyond the chain of command’ is even smaller.

I’ve written about reflection before – and this whole blog (and newsletter) is an exercise in reflection.

But it feels like “small r” reflection. What they’re going after is “big R” Reflection.

They’re attempting to crystalize the process into something you can do as you change jobs to truly capture lessons learned and use them to grow – not just pontificate and move on.

As they discuss in the episode, there were so many opportunities missed because they lacked the process. And it is only when they were sitting there at their bunks at BCAP that they started to realize it.

What if you started earlier? What if you went through the process at the end of every assignment?

That’s what they’re going for.

And while I’m not sure this was part of their intent for the episode, it’s clear to me that both Joe and Cassie are reflection partners. I’m not even sure what that is yet, but it feels like it’s something that’s not quite mentorship and not quite just friendship. Through their work and effort, they enjoy a heightened reflective experience that I don’t think many of us experience.

It’s kind of like that peer at work who ‘gets it’ the same way you do. The one who goes out with you for a long lunch where you figure it all out.

Only this is a bit more professional. It’s good to have that peer.

Anyway, I’ve still got about six months before my next job change, but I plan on running their process when I get there.

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An awkward anniversary

big boss blowing out birthday candles

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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Ten Years of Carrying the Gun

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 anniversaries (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 reconstituting old posts, which was a bit labor intensive – there are hundreds of them. Shortly after the relaunch, I published a primer on Unit Training Management – 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 extolling the importance of mentorship.


There are two things that I’ve enjoyed most since bringing 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 another ten years.

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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. Mealtime 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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Carrying the Gun Update: Police Call

soldiers in line picking up trash
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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