The urge to “do something” and the need to be patient

the end from metal gear solid 3 aiming his sniper rifle

I’m forever catching up with my podcast queue.

I recently finished two IWI podcasts – one on the role of Air Force Special Operations Command (ep 44) and the other on counter-insurgency (ep 43).

A couple of things stood out.

The Air Force episode featured a discussion on the importance of measures of effectiveness. The crux of the argument was that it’s important to ensure we are measuring things to be certain that we are making progress, especially in messy little wars.

Nothing wrong with that. It makes sense.

But.

The conversation eventually meandered towards just how difficult that is to do. Often, there are no clean measures to determine if the needle is moving in the right direction. And this is often the case in small wars.

As such, smart young men and women contort themselves to put numbers on things where numbers don’t belong.

The military has become obsessed with measures of effectiveness, often shortened to “M-O-E.” Much of this is borrowed from business practices with a shady past and questionable conclusions.

But it is pervasive. A senior leader putting up his hand mid-brief and stating “Ok but how are we going to measure this?” while all of the other officers in the room turn to the briefer with a scowl is one of the reasons we have such a hard time doing anything anymore.

Asking “how are we going to measure it” sounds like a smart thing to ask. And it’s a great way to kill a good initiative.

Quantifying all of the great things that were achieved is also a great way to get a good evaluation.

As a result, we tend to do the things that are easily measured as opposed to the things that are actually effective.

Sometimes, we just know what will be effective. It’s a gut feeling that comes from education and experience.

The schoolyard bully doesn’t need to measure what to say to make the other kid cry; he just knows it. He knows the other kid’s psychic weak point.

He doesn’t need to measure it.

This is a subject I feel strongly about because this hyper-focus on MOE isn’t helping.

The second podcast, on counter-insurgency, featured a pointed short discussion on the limits of military power. What I loved most was Jacqueline Hazelton planting the flag on the source of many of our problems – leaders’ insistence that we “do something” in response to every emergency.

The immediacy of modern communications and the perceived political and social pressure that swells whenever something happens – especially if that something includes dramatic images – compels political and military leaders to “do something” in response.

“How are countering this?”

No one wants to “appear weak,” thus, we escalate, often doing the proximate thing we shouldn’t.


There’s a great short-expression in Arabic – فَٱصْبِرْ صَبْرًا جَمِيلً – which translates to “be patient with beautiful patience.”

We need much more of that.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Sniper-baiting: “The oldest trick in the book”

sniper bait metal gear solid
MGS1-Snake-Sin

This is essentially one of the nightmare scenarios that opponents of women in the infantry use to deflate the argument. In a mixed infantry, the argument goes, (some) men will be unable to control themselves when their female comrades are in harm’s way. Their masculine protective instincts will kick into gear, and they’ll be unable to perform their soldierly duties properly.

Somehow, Solid Snake manages.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for my monthly newsletter.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Army Myths: Confirmed kills

sniper a ghille suit
Confirmed Kill

I’ve checked and double-checked my ERB and ORB. There is no category to record my “confirmed kills.” The term “confirmed kill” gets thrown around a lot, especially in sniper circles. The whole idea of a “confirmed” kill suggests there is some process or that there is a forensics team that descends on a body after a shot was fired to confirm unequivocally who gets the credit.

That doesn’t happen.

Most Confirmed Kills
People really want to know.

As far as I understand, there is no way of keeping track of individual kills. Individual soldiers may ‘confirm’ to themselves that they are responsible for a kill – but there is no official way of tracking that, no process. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some award citations out there where you might find the term ‘confirmed kill,’ but that is a reflection on how pervasive the term has become, not an indication of an official policy or process.

Hollywood and the media have latched onto the idea of the “confirmed kill” and use it as a way of displaying the individual skill and prowess of a soldier – usually a sniper. Journalists have no problem throwing the term around without checking to see what the term means or how a confirmed kill is actually confirmed, often taking military folk at their word.

So if someone tells you they racked up X amount of “confirmed kills” you can blow them off. Or better, ask them how those kills were confirmed and who confirmed them. If he (or she) says that they did it themselves, you can nod and smile at them. Then walk away.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.