Eleven Years of Carrying the Gun

young psycho mantis metal gear solid

Today is the eleventh anniversary of Carrying the Gun.

Top Posts:
1. Army Myths: Don’t Lock Your Knees
2. The Secret Brilliance of “You go to war with the Army you have…”
3. Ranger Hall of Fame: SGT Martin Watson, Abraham Lincoln & Tom Hanks

Wow! Eleven years, huh.

Interesting that the back catalog is starting to get more traffic than the newer stuff. That wasn’t the case last year. That’s just the magic of the Google algorithm at work.

I’ve definitely settled into a better writing groove. The pieces are shorter, and the content is more focused and moving in the direction I originally intended when I relaunched. And that’s good.

Although, it seems I’ve certainly strayed from the original spirit of not blogging “about other blogs.”

If you counted the posts and categorized them, most are reactions to podcasts, which are basically audio blogs.

But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a little evolution.

The longer, more editorial stuff that I originally aspired to is still around. Most of it is found in external pieces. The rest can be found monthly at the top of the newsletter. Have you subscribed?


What did the past year look like?

Well, first of all, no one will ever challenge you if you write that we need to “do better” at anything. It’s also an easy way to garner attention. It’s much more difficult to find where we’re doing well.

As such, there was a string of posts late last summer as the Afghanistan withdrawal was underway tussling with “all the reasons we’re bad at irregular warfare” and some others pushing back against the common charge that “we’re getting our asses kicked in the information environment.” Also, the fact that things hit different when you can watch it in real-time. All emotion and absence of mind.

Everyone had an Afghanistan withdrawal think-piece, and I didn’t have much to add, but I fired one tiny dart into the ether trying to reconcile the 9/11 anniversary with the withdrawal. Did it matter?

Lots of milestones, reactions, and reflections. The GWOT was marked by a lot of things, one of those things was repeat deployments and credit card debt.

I marked the passing of Colin Powell, who I had the fortune of meeting on a number of occasions. His 13 rules sit on my desk. I’m especially fond of #1, #4, and #13.

I recalled a time over twenty years ago when I picked up brass with a Green Beret at a MOUT site at Fort Bragg.

I’ve basically given up on the new Star Wars universe (and the Marvel Universe for that matter). But one of my favorite scenes from the series was when Darth Vader finally flipped at the last moment? There’s always a choice.

Some of the best advice you’ll ever get – don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. It’s advice I try to live by, but don’t always succeed.

And as such, not everything was positive. As much as I try to resist, I sometimes get cynical too. Do you find yourself skeptical when someone says they are “getting after it?” It’s similar to how I feel about “threads.” It’s mostly a performance and it’s for them, not for you.

And what happens when everyone tells you to “start with why” and read Marcus Aurelius? Is that really unique knowledge or are we simply fostering groupthink?

A perennial interest of mine, there were a few posts on productivity – which was also featured prominently in a number of newsletters. In getting things done, especially when it comes to dealing with other people, you start with in-person, on the phone, and then via emailin that order. And related, there are very few things I have strong opinions on. One of those things is that “doing” email is the illusion of work. Sure, responding to email is part of a job, but with few exceptions, “doing” email is simply shuffling papers around. Have no doubt; nothing was accomplished.

We like to discuss “future war” these days. It’s fascinating that when we use the term “future war,” we kind of mean war that might happen now. I made an argument that to be effective in future war, we need to go back to what we were doing in the past – extended field training. What about leadership? What attributes do future leaders need? Are they different? Yes, a little bit I think. And we’re sure asking a lot.

Did you ever ready General DePuy’s 11 Men One Mind? It’s an infantry classic, and as relevant today as it has ever been.

Finally, future war sure seems like old war.

A friend of the blog once pontificated on Twitter: “What is something that seems like unconventional warfare but isn’t?” There is a litany of terms that are used in places where we think they make sense, but it turns out they aren’t even “real” terms or they are just being misused. It is helpful from time to time to go back to the books to see if what you think you know is what you actually know. Irregular Warfare? Real term. Hybrid Warfare? Nope. Expect to see more of this in the future.

Lots of psychology and information warfare. It all starts with the fact that “psychological” isn’t a dirty word – or at least it shouldn’t be. The primacy of video (aka ‘pics or it didn’t happen’). Smear war. When briefing, should you read off of the slide or have your audience read it themselves? I know you have a strong opinion. But there’s an actual psychological answer. Why is a lie so hard to debunk? Oh yeah, whatever you do, don’t click this link. Propaganda has no effect on you, only those other guys get duped. You’ve heard of deep fakes, but what are “shallow fakes?” They’re kind of like low-effort memes.

And I know it seems counter-intuitive, but it is behaviors that shape attitudes, and not the other way around.

Oh yeah. Lots and lots and lots of social sciences as sorcery.

And as has become the theme of this site – podcasts. There are way too many to mention, but here are the ones that got a lot of attention:

  1. What if the PLA doesn’t need NCOs?
  2. “It’s psychological warfare, just done with modern tools”
  3. Solid Snake Oil

Lastly, I got brave and wrote a few articles outside of CTG. This, the first, at MWI with a partner on how there is value in supporting cooperation between service-specific IO fields. The second, part two of a journey to figure out how to become a paladin. Here, an observation on observation. There are a few others out there too. And there are more on the way.

The post that I wanted to do better than it did: It has to be Social Sciences as Sorcery (and all the related posts). People don’t want to hear it, because it makes us rethink everything we’re doing. A little humility will go a long way. We don’t know it all, and thinking that if we can just get the dials right does us more harm than good.


A long time ago I learned that the future is video. And more and more, it seems to be the only thing that matters. I’m finally planning on jumping in.

Thanks for being here!


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Gaming as #FICINT

a reaper shooting a laser

We are often accused of preparing for “the last war.” I think that’s a bit unfair. When you actually look at it, we’re mostly trying to figure out how to adequately train for the wars we’re fighting now while keeping an eye on what might be out there lurking.

We dominate in Gulf War I, and we turn towards the Revolution in Military Affairs. We get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we triple-down on training counter-insurgency, trying to eke out a win.

Now, in the era of ‘Great Power Competition,’ we’re thinking of Multi-Domain Operations and Large Scale Combat Operations. 

For the majority of the serving force, combat experience is limited to the counter-insurgency operations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thinking about what war might look like against a different foe in a different environment requires looking further back into the past, when the equipment, technology, and tactics employed were also very different.

Or, if we’re willing, we can look to the future.

And if we’re really brave, we can look to fiction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fictional intelligence, or ‘FICINT,’ lately. While it’s a new term to me, it’s one that I’ve learned I’m already very familiar with.

FICINT is the idea of looking at fiction for inspiration. And in a military context, as “intelligence” to prepare for future conflict. The term was coined by Peter Singer and August Cole – authors of Ghost Fleet. 

For the uninitiated, Ghost Fleet is a novel set in the near-future that depicts a future war between the United States and China. It includes anti-satellite warfare, total annihilation of troop formations, biologically enhanced super-soldiers, entrepreneurs at war, and more. 

It’s a terrifying look at what a true “peer-to-peer” war might look like. 

While terrifying, it is also inspiring. It’s a call to do the work now.

If we keep doing what we’ve done, we will eventually be out-innovated. It’s only a matter of time. Using FICINT to imagine some of these seemingly absurd challenges can prepare us for them. 

Which brings me to the rub. Military thought leaders and senior officials are getting comfortable with FICINT as a concept. Books like Ghost Fleet and 2034 are finding spots on military reading lists across the force. 

Now what would be truly disruptive? 

Gaming as FICINT.

Open the aperture a bit and look at what gaming has to offer in terms of FICINT. Gaming has exploded over the past thirty years – and the narrative, development, and seriousness of the genre has professionalized and matured. 

I’d argue (and I do) that games are better for FICINT than television, film, and literature. Why? Gaming allows for more, and with fewer restrictions. Films, at the most, last a few hours. Television shows can last multiple seasons, but there are studio limits to what gets packed in. Books, arguably, can go on forever and can pack it all in. But, while I know you read, as an art form, reading is in decline.

Games are also limited, but not to the same extent. AAA games regularly clock in at over 100 hours to fully explore the world. These games are dense. Cyberpunk 2077, for example, features a script that includes over 100,000 lines of dialogue.

While I have explored filmtelevision, and books for FICINT before, I’ve spent most of my efforts with games. 

Over the years I’ve written a number of pieces pulling directly from games as a way to think about mental healthstolen valorsuicide (and here), the military’s role in a zombie apocalypse, the RPG elements of military service, the importance of “staying alive,” military deception, the absurdity of war, soldiers vs. warriorsdecision makinggrand strategy, and toxic mentorship.

Still, I always get the sense that when I write about gaming or use it as an anchor for some other idea, I am met with a too-critical eye – that this is still the stuff of adolescence. Many individual leaders still don’t want to take it seriously – despite the fact that it is pervasive and dominating other markets, including the movie industry.

Institutionally, the services get it. The Army, Navy, and Air Force have stood up eSports teams as another way to aid in recruiting. Most people game, so it makes sense to go where the people are.

It should not be that challenging a jump to turn to the genre for inspiration.

Our future might depend on it.


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Road Trip

road trip regalia final fantasy 15

Another pause for the blog as I build bridges from the Eastern Region to the Western Region.

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The things that didn’t make it

the doc from metal gear

A deep-dive on all of the cut content that didn’t make it in the Metal Gear series.

To include – some serious revisions to Metal Gear Solid 2 which released just after 9/11.


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I Want Konami for Christmas

konami logo from the nes era

When I was a kid, I thought “Konami” was some kind of video game system, like the original NES. I didn’t realize it was a video game company. I told my parents that “I want Konami for Christmas,” which probably made things very difficult for them when they went to Toys ‘R’ Us and started asking around.

One of my friends in the neighborhood had a Konami game called Rush’N Attack – which I always thought was “Russian Attack.”

I remember seeing the Konami logo – were there commercials for video games back then? – and knowing that I wanted whatever it is that Konami was.

Episode 63 of the Kojima Frequency Podcast (Hideosyncrasies) discusses the preservation of old games, streaming, dying consoles, the stealth similarities between Metal Gear and The Last of Us 2, and more.

Right after I bought a PS4, I went out to the local pawn shops in Killeen, Texas looking for one of the original PS3s that had backwards compatibility. I wanted to make sure I’d be able to play some of my old games (which I never do, by the way). I managed to find one and I still have it – and it still works.

After listening to this episode, I’m starting to get worried I might lose that capability.

I’m still not even sure what the changes to the Playstation Network mean. I am getting the sense that even if I physically own a copy of a game, I might not be able to play it.

Huh?

As I mentioned in the last post on the Kojima Frequency, the Lunar series is one of my favorites – and I have the discs (original PS1) and a PS3 to play it.

Whenever I decide to go back to it, will it work?

I relaunched CTG when I was wrapping up my playthrough of The Last of Us 2, and there is so much more I could have written about it if I was in the groove. I think I just have this one post on Isaac and the burden of leadership.

I know that game took a lot of flack for a lot of dumb reasons – but I loved it. And I think they got it right (in the episode). The stealth mechanics made the game. There is real terror when navigating the terrain and avoiding both zombies and human enemies. And I remember getting into set battles where I had to set traps and think hard about how to win and move forward – often just avoiding battles altogether.

What a great game. Would love to go back to it.

But I probably won’t.


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The Return of Tactics Ogre?

square enix tactics ogre catiua and denam

I felt genuine joy when I saw this late last week.

Square Enix has applied for a trademark, in Japan, for Tactics Ogre: Reborn, ramping up speculation that the 20-year-old Ogre Battle strategy RPG series is due for some kind of re-release.

The trademark application was filed March 31 and published on Thursday. Square Enix has made no official announcement of a new game in the Ogre Battle series, whose last original release was Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis for Game Boy Advance in June 2001. 1995’s Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was re-released on PlayStation Portable in 2010.

New Tactics Ogre trademark signals a revival of Square Enix’s great tactical RPG, Polygon

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is one of my favorite games of all time. I played the original on Playstation when I was a teenager and was completely sucked into its complicated political intrigue.

For those who have no idea, think Game of Thrones. A huge cast of characters, complex narrative, and brutal permadeath.

One of the things I loved about the game is that your characters – even main characters – could die. And those deaths have repercussions.

The other thing that made this game great is choice. You make lots of choices that affect the direction of the story. These choices are real and consequential – and incredibly difficult to make.

Tactics Ogre has appeared on the blog a bunch over the years. Way back in 2013, I used Tactics Ogre as a way to discuss deception operations. There is a pivotal, early event in the game that dramatically affects its direction. You – the player – get to make that choice.

There were two posts in 2014 as I was grinding through a 3rd playthrough of the game. The first is a reflection on another critical game event, the importance of choice, and the pain in dealing with the repercussions.

The second was on mentorship and some of the best wartime advice I’ve ever heard:

“Above all else, stay alive.”

Tell me that’s not true.

I even made a reference in a more recent write-up of an Irregular Warfare Podcast episode on foreign fighters. One of the things you learn in Tactics Ogre is that much of the conflict is spurred on by foreign powers with their own designs for how the conflict should play out.

So, I hope this news is pointing at something real. A remake? A new chapter?

I’m there for it.


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Solid Snake Oil

stan talking to guybrush threepwood

I’ve tested out a few different podcasts to satisfy my gaming interest, and I’ve finally settled on the Kojima Frequency.

You may remember last year’s Tom Olsen saga – that was my introduction to Nitroid and the internet bubble that is the Metal Gear online universe.

I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes now and it’s become a very comfortable, easy listen for someone who has a deep appreciation for Metal Gear, all things Kojima, and then gaming in general.

Episode 61 sealed the deal.

Two things jumped out and ultimately led me to write this post (and declare the Kojima Frequency as the unofficial gaming companion podcast to Carrying the Gun).

  1. On internet provocateurs, clickbait, and the way audiences react: “…say dumb shit thing, get smart people angry, get dumb people excited, question marks(), profit.” The first 10 minutes or so features a great discussion on the way internet “clout” works, the gravitational pull towards using clickbait-y techniques to drive viewership, and the value (and challenge) in resisting that.
  2. Working Designs / Lunar: There’s a conversation deep in the podcast on localization (the process, mostly in translation, of preparing a game for a foreign market). Nitroid brought up the (now defunct) studio Working Designs and their work in localizing the Lunar series. The Lunar series is one of my favorites, and the fact that it got brought up is what got me more excited about the podcast. It’s not *just* Metal Gear/Kojima stuff all the time. The Metal Gear/Kojima stuff is the entryway, but there’s a whole lot there. This is a gaming podcast and the knowledge is deep, but accessible.

As an aside, I’d point out that the wacky, 4th wall-breaking localization done by Working Designs was widely considered part of the charm for most of the audience, myself included. Working Designs also did some incredible story-retelling when they remade Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Playstation. It’s a move that Square-Enix seems to be taking with the FFVII Remake, and I’m glad for it. Fan service is fun, but it’s better to tell a compelling story, even if it stings.

I like to believe there is a tiny segment of the CTG audience that enjoys my odd gaming references. If you’re a part of that audience, it’s worth checking out the podcast.


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The Truth Sandwich

you have to beLIEve me

Last week I wrote about the illusory truth effect – the psychological phenomenon wherein a lie that is repeated – even in refutation – is more likely to be remembered than the truth.

It turns out that there is a counter to this – the “truth sandwich.”

How to use it?

  1. Start with the truth. This is the frame.
  2. Introduce the lie – clearly stating that it is a lie.
  3. End with the truth.

It doesn’t always work. Especially if the recipient is no longer engaging in critical thought.

But for those who might be swayed, those who are still among the few willing to be wrong from time to time, it may nudge them towards the truth.

In the race to correct false information, the lie often gets too much air. You have to frame it in the right way.

And even then, most of the time the lie is not even worth refuting. Patience and trust will win the day.

Leaders – especially military leaders – need to suppress the urge to “do something” all the time.

“How are we countering this!?” screams the agitated military leader.

“We’re not, sir. It’s nonsense. And it will pass.”


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Time for a break

mads mikkelsen smoking a cigarette in death stranding

There won’t be any posts for the next couple of weeks.

I need a break, and so do you.

The next thing you’ll see is the newsletter which will come at the start of the year.

Sign up here to get it.

Enjoy the holidays.


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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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