Flying the F-35 and making YouTube videos

a aircraft from a computer game

This was a different kind of Cognitive Crucible episode. Not really focused on information warfare, but information processing.

During this episode, after a couple war stories, US Air Force pilot MAJ Hasard Lee discusses how the F-35 is embedded with technology which tends to reduce operator cognitive load and maximize human sense making. Our conversation also touches upon “chair flying”–a mindfulness practice, human-machine interface, g-force effect on the human body, dehydration, along with other physical and mental training initiatives which may optimize for better peak performance. The conversation concludes with a brief discussion about Air Force COL John Boyd and the OODA loop.

#71 LEE ON THE F35 AND COGNITIVE LOAD

It’s an interesting episode – especially the vignettes about what it’s like to sit in the cockpit and do the work.

But I found myself more interested in the fact that MAJ Hassard Lee helms an incredibly impressive social media empire. Check out this video below from his YouTube page (175k subscribers).

I find this interesting because he’s not alone. If you start poking around, there are lots of these military-themed influencer pages across the services.

I’m in my own little Army bubble but there is so much more of this going on out there.

It’s refreshing to see, and whether we like it or not, it’s the future.

The ease and comfort that younger generations have with “putting it out there” isn’t a fluke.

You can rage against the machine and fail, or embrace it and win.

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So Kill Them Back!

brown tree in desert

One of my not-so-guilty pleasures is the Bulaq podcast.

We look at new writing from Syria and about the experiences of Syrian refugees, including Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die, a book he categorizes not as poetry or prose but as “pieces of my body, haphazardly brought together in a paper bag.”

So Kill Them Back!

The below excerpt from the book Ever Since I Did Not Die struck me, and I’ve added it to my list.

Going back kills you.

A child running from his innocent features kills you, to become a hero.

But heroism ends up killing him.

It kills whatever can grow in a child who is planning to grow up.

There is no hero on that land sown with injustice and war.

There is no hero there except for death, standing victorious as it awaits your flesh.

The spreadout dirt of worms and intermittent wailing fades to silence.

Eventually, you fade too.

No one says your name anymore.

A child sinking in the drowning sea of death kills you.

A child born to be killed kills you.

A child born to kill kills you.

Yearning, love, family, light, age, god, homeland, and sea, kill you.

Earth, paradise, memories of old photos, mourning’s enterouage, happiness as waste, and exile, kill you.

Revolution, women of death, and grandmother’s stories, kill you.

Return kills you.

Going back kills you.

So kill them back.

It’s really worth listening to. The passage starts at about the ~15:00 mark.

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We Want a Nation

iraqi women protesting

A great talk with former Ambassador to Iraq Doug Silliman.

The complicated relationship between Iraq and the United States is once again approaching a crossroads. Parliamentary elections held in Iraq last month promise a new government featuring a new cast of political forces with their own difficult histories with the United States. The United States, meanwhile, is approaching the self-imposed deadline by which it has promised to withdraw U.S. combat troops from the country, even as its diplomatic and military presences in the country have continued to come under attack by Iran-backed militias. To discuss these developments, Scott R. Anderson sat down on Lawfare Live with Ambassador Doug Silliman, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2016 to 2019 and was previously the deputy chief of mission and political counselor there. They talked about the Sadrist block that appears to have won the recent elections, what other challenges are facing the Iraqi state and what they all mean for the future of our bilateral relationship.

The Lawfare Podcast: Ambassador Doug Silliman on What’s Next in U.S.-Iraq Relations

I enjoy listening to Doug Silliman. He understands the region and he certainly understands Iraq.

And he also understands US interests in the region and in Iraq.

Better yet, he can communicate it.

A few things that stood out to me in this episode:

  • Slogans – نريد الوطن – We want a nation! Simple, but so important.
  • ISIS Propaganda – Ambassador Silliman talks about how the desertions in the Iraqi Army were partly due to ISIS propaganda. Iraqi soldiers believed that if they were captured by ISIS they would be beheaded and displayed, potentially to an international audience. Propaganda works.
  • The Counter Terrorism Service – A good chunk of this interview is Ambassador Silliman extolling the benefit of having a robust mil-to-mil arrangement in Iraq. The State Department, and foreign service officers specifially often get a bad wrap as being ‘anti-military’ in some regard. That is (mostly) unfounded. And in this interview we hear it, where Ambassador Silliman is talking about how important the mil-to-mil partnerships were in Iraq. Fostering military cooperation is a diplomatic win.

Interviews like this give me hope.

Want to quickly build clout? Shout out into the void about how if we want to compete more effectively we need to invest further into our diplomatic corps.

But what is often missing is our diplomatic corps saying how much of a useful tool our military partnerships can be to further diplomatic aims.

That is interagency cooperation right there.

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The most badass Rabbi in the world

a artsy picture of the cosmos

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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The Culture Episode

A screengrab from one of the military’s many cultural training programs.

“I’m so sick of this squishy culture shit.”

From MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: REBUILDING CULTURAL CAPABILITIES – AGAIN

I enjoyed this episode from the War Room podcast on the rise and decline (and rise and decline) of military cultural education programs.

The guests discuss their book The Rise and Decline of U.S. Military Culture Programs, 2004-20 (available as a free PDF download) from Marine Corps University Press.

The importance of culture ebbs and flows in the US military, right alongside our foreign military operations, not surprisingly. We go into a place, we lack a nuanced understanding of it, and senior military leaders bang their fists on the table demanding we produce a cadre of our own “Lawrences of Arabia.”

From there, the services begin finding ways to train the force on culture – a squishy topic, to be sure.

I can’t lie – my own academic interests were spurred by my personal inability to communicate or fully understand the people and culture of Iraq.

“If only I could communicate,” I thought…

The authors make a distinction between language training and culture. Language training has been a part of military training (for specific jobs) for decades. But it is more of a technical skill than a holistic something else that cultural training is or should be,

And that is where much of the struggle with cultural training comes into play. How do we measure or assess the effectiveness of such programs?

“That kind of a financial investment [assessment on par with language training] has never been made in cultural skills, of even a fraction of the investment has never been made in cultural skills. So, we still don’t have really good, validated tools to assess the cultural skills of military personnel, even after the number of years of these cultural training programs, assessing the learning outcomes, was never really received the kind of investment that it needed to be able to demonstrate those quantitative outcomes to the same degree that you have with language.”

Allison Abbe

Measuring this stuff is hard, and even if done to some degree, is going to be imprecise.

Many military leaders have an almost monastic devotion to “measures of effectiveness” – perhaps a result of decades of being told to read business books for good ideas on fighting wars.

Followers of the blog will know that I have an against the grain take on measures of effectiveness – especially if you read the last newsletter. Often, they get in the way of achieving actual results in lieu of just doing something we can measure.

My take – good cultural training will result in taking fewer “L’s” on the battlefield and avoiding silly own-goals. But we are highly unlikely to see a “big win” as a result of cultural training. The best you can hope for – I think – is praise from partners or enhanced relations over time. Not very exciting, really.

But preventing those losses can actually lead to victory.

This has to do with the “strategic corporal.” As a senior leader lamented to me back in 2011 – “The problem with the strategic corporal is that it doesn’t work in the positive, it only works in the negative.” What he meant, was that the strategic corporal is usually only strategic when he or she makes a mistake. And this is almost always tied to a cultural faux-pas.

And yes, it can also be a strategic lieutenant, captain, command sergeant major, or general.

As someone who is deeply invested in language learning and culture – I honestly do think this is important. We should spend time and energy understanding one another. Especially if we’re showing up with guns.

However, I think that the most important cross-cultural skill is simple respect. It translates everywhere and is tried and true. It’s easily understood and we can practice it daily.

Lastly, this episode focuses mostly on “big picture” cultural programs designed to train conventional forces. The special operations community has maintained (and continues to grow) its language and cultural programs, although focused on a much smaller population.

The authors’ key takeaway is that when we inevitably return to re-establishing cultural education programs, we ought to take a hard look at our recent (and not so recent) past before we start building the CONOP.

One-hundred percent agree.

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Language ability is what sets Army SOF apart

the halo jump wasn't the hard part knowing which arabic dialect to use when i landed was

This episode is for the SOF nerds who understand the importance of foreign language capability in special operations.

It is also for those who want to know a little more about the language and culture programs that make, train, and sustain Army SOF.

Language, regional expertise, and cross-cultural competency (LREC) don’t get the same attention as sniper teams in ghillie suits or a bunch of operators touching down on the roof of a house off of a little bird.

But have no doubt, as Special Forces officer Tim Ball says in the episode, it is language ability (and the cultural-competency that comes with it) that sets Army special operations forces (ARSOF) apart from its peers in the other services (Navy SEALS, Marine Raiders, etc).

The episode is a deep-dive on ARSOF language training, to include:

  • Language standards have increased over time (From 0+ -to 1+ on the Oral Proficiency Interview as a graduation requirement)
  • The numerous language programs inside of SOF beyond initial acquisition, including advanced unit training, foreign immersion, operational unit exchanges, and on-demand computer-based online training (with live instructors)
  • The use of virtual reality to enhance language ability and cross-cultural competency

I really appreciated some of the comments that Tim made. He highlights the fact that ARSOF traditionally works with a partner force, and that parternship inherently involves lots of face-to-face communication.

The ultimate aim of language training is to prepare the SOF soldier to instruct and communicate in the target language – to stand up in front of a tough, dedicated fighting force, and communicate to them what it is they need to do.

Tim admits this is hard – not everyone achieves that level of language fluency.

But some do. And in just about every SOF unit, there is “that one” who really gets the language and becomes the de facto communicator on the team.

At the very least, the fact that every SF/CA/PO soldier goes through significant language training provides them with the tools they need to exchange basic expressions and pleasantries. Like it or not, there is an “ugly American” stereotype that precedes us everywhere we go. If you can blast through that by demonstrating basic understanding of the language, it goes a long way.

Related, Tim also wrote a great article on War on the Rocks discussing the role of language in special operations – and the fact that we’ve gotten better.

If you’re not already a subscriber of the Indigenous Approach, you should be. It’s a must-listen for me and bumps my queue every single time.

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All the reasons we’re bad at irregular warfare

soldiers talking to civilians
Image Source: army.mil

The Irregular Warfare Initiative is back on its game and recently released episode 33 (AN UN-AMERICAN WAY OF WAR: WHY THE UNITED STATES FAILS AT IRREGULAR WARFARE).

Incidentally, they just released episode 34 as well (CHINA’S STRATEGICALLY IRREGULAR APPROACH: THE ART OF THE GRAY ZONE).

I haven’t listened to the latter yet, but I’m willing to bet it will feature a discussion about how sly and cunning the Chinese are at IW (as opposed to the US).

I’ll say up front that the reason our adversaries rely on irregular warfare is because they have to — they really don’t have many other options.

And the reason they’re “good” at it is because they are not constrained by the same moral/ethical/legal boundaries that we are.

They’ll weaponize anything.

They also don’t have to contend with the political ramifications – as we do – of foreign exploits because of the authoritarian nature of their governments.

This doesn’t mean that we’re “not good” at IW, it just means we have to work a whole lot harder.

On to the podcast.

There were some great points made in the epsidoe and areas worth exploring further. These indlcude:

  • We never fight the war we want (tanks/troops in the open, fire for effect)
  • The difficulty training for irregular warfare (a day in the field represents a month 🤦‍♂️)
  • An argument to send military “observers” to other nations/conflicts to build knowledge
  • How personnel systems lose wars (this one is so true – and needs to more attention)
  • The importance of language skills for SOF personnel
  • The fact that SOF is and should be the primary actor in GPC – competing in the gray zone prior to conflict

Finally, towards the end there is a question posed as to what SOF should look like in IW. I’d offer it looks like a lot of things, but one of those is highly trained SF/CA/PSYOP forces out there doing there jobs. It’s the investment in human capital, not impressive tech, that will move the needle.

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If you control the countryside, you control the towns

taliban fight holding an m16
We got it wrong. We always get it wrong.
Image source: The Times

Good episode from Angry Planet on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.

Conquerors and nations have been trying to rebuild Afghanistan in their own image for thousands of years. The U.S. is just the latest to fail. The Soviet Union also failed, with a little push from the United States. But they learned their lesson in only 10 years, from 1979-1989.

Angry Planet – When the Soviets Fled Afghanistan

I loved the quote that titles this post from Mark Galeotti:

“If you control the countryside, you will control the towns.”

Basically, we did things backwards. Control the towns, control the provincial capital, and then the province turns blue, right?

Wrong. The province is red with a blue dot where the city limits end. We got that wrong. We always get this wrong.

There really needs to be a post-mortem on this whole endeavour. There was a way to do it better.

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Two recent podcasts on Fallujah

a marine with an m16 smoking iraq war

I haven’t listened to an Urban Warfare Project podcast for awhile – this one was good.

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer is joined by retired Colonel Leonard DeFrancisci. He served thirty-two years in the Marine Corps and in 2004 he was a civil affairs detachment commander for Regimental Combat Team 1 during the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iraq.

Civil Affairs and the Second Battle of Fallujah – Modern War Institute

I don’t usually get too excited about Civil Affairs, especially USMC Civil Affairs. In the episode, we learn about civil affairs contracts as military deception, the effective use of PSYOP and loudspeakers to clear an area of civilians, and whisper campaigns.

Incidentally, I recently listened to another podcast on Fallujah, titled “Toxic Legacy of War in Iraq,” which discusses the lingering effects of warfare on the health of the people of Fallujah.

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We’re going to need a slower plane

soldiers watching an explosion in korea

I’m not an airpower guy, but I enjoyed this episode on airpower in irregular warfare.

“…the effort is going to go towards training and developing partners in order to compete with Chinese influence in places like Africa and South America. That’s going to be role for SOF – the biggest role – in Great Power Competition for special operations.

Armed Overwatch: Airpower in Irregular Warfare—Past, Present and Future – Modern War Institute

During the episode, the guests talk about the fact that sometimes you don’t need the most technically-able aircraft. In fact, depending on the conflict, you might need something old and slow.

This reminds me of a conference I attended years ago discussing outfitting the Afghan air force. Really, what they needed was legacy aircraft from last century. Slow flying so you can actually see what’s on the ground. This makes sense to anyone who has played an air combat video game and tried to do a strafing run going mach 1.

As the guests indicate, there is a bias – especially in air communities – towards fast, more advanced, and newer.

I like the idea of pilots flying an F-35 one day, an F-16 the next, and then an F-4 the last, based on the need.

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