Read a mix of genres, from autobiography to fiction to history. Read every day, if only for a few moments. Leading and reading truly go hand in hand.
Having focused a great deal on innovation throughout my career—particularly as the leader of “Deep Blue,” the Navy’s innovation think tank immediately after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and as commander of U.S. Southern Command—I would offer some important advice to the innovators as they get started.
People often ask me about what keeps me awake at night after a long career in the military. What is the country that worries me the most? Russia? China? Iran? Pakistan? All are good candidates; but the most dangerous and unpredictable is North Korea.
In this Letter to the Editor, Michael Schmitt responds to the latest Incoming column regarding the definition of cyber attack. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.
For more than half the history of our country, one of the surest ways to be elected president was to gain public fame as a general in the U.S. Army. Since the tumultuous 19th century, we have fallen out of the habit of electing generals. But the one exception to the rule turned out to be Dwight D. Eisenhower, former five-star general, former commander of Allied forces in Europe in World War II, first supreme commander of NATO and a two-term president who defined an era.
"Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” So went the taunt in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, a comic adventure brimming with clever one-liners. Far from avoiding land war in Asia, we have jumped in repeatedly with both feet, both hands and all the gusto we could muster. In information technology-speak, when it comes to U.S. strategy, fighting on Asian terrain appears to be a feature, not a bug.
The late Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by his nom de guerre, V.I. Lenin, used to be famous, or at least infamous. As the founding dictator of revolutionary Russia, Lenin built a grim, cruel and mighty police state whose oppressive successor to this day menaces all too many unhappy people in eastern Europe. The man the Communists once idolized as “our dear Ilyich” is long gone and, in decent circles, not missed very much.
It really is the perfect weapon for a country of couch potatoes. Grab the remote, point, click and “boom,” there goes some hapless al-Qaida bigwig, blown to smithereens in living color. It is like playing “Call of Duty,” but with real ammo.
Recent reverses in Iraq and Afghanistan have led some experts, both appointed and self-designated, to complain that the facts on the ground may be bad enough—and they are—but far worse is the ignorance of the U.S. citizenry on what supposedly is really at stake in sand-blasted Mesopotamia or on the stony heights of the Hindu Kush.
You don’t hear much old-school military radio traffic anymore. Except for a few front-line radio nets, most radio chatter has been replaced by the endless, silent interplay of text messages, emails and Web postings. With that shift, we have lost an entire dialect of martial radio-speak.
Seventy years ago, Gen. Patton learned the hard way what we are relearning today. Don't forget about the Russians. The bear is still out there. And he's hungry.
As a group, generals tend to be relentlessly positive. The pre-eminent U.S. soldier of recent years, Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.), likes to remind us that, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” War and military operations are hard enough, but gloom and defeatism only make things harder. In combat, a morale edge sure helps. It is not by accident that Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy’s outfit, the U.S. Army’s famous 15th Infantry Regiment, has as its motto, “Can Do.”
Nuclear weapons are back in the news. Those concerned about the Middle East watched warily as the United States and others labored to rein in Iran’s budding nuclear ambitions. Interested citizens heard of low morale and troubling disciplinary issues afflicting our nuclear missile launch teams. On a somewhat lighter note, film fans marked 50 years since the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s satiric gem, Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We sure do not love the bomb—we never did, really—but we also do not worry much about it these days. Perhaps we should.
In the second act of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, musing aloud, the heroine speaks that justly famous line: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” True enough—but The Tragedy of Fred and Juliet lacks a certain zing. Juliet’s lament aside, Shakespeare knew reality. We best remember those items rightly named.
That is as true in the military as any other line of work. And, it has more relevance today in an information age in which credibility often is suspect.
Military people like to look at themselves, and it has nothing to do with vanity. Rather, it is about improving, but the attention is not always welcome at the business end. Senior personnel offer the usual advice: Cooperate and learn. Do not be defensive. Looking at ourselves can only make us better, so we go along with it. And often—not always, but enough to matter—we find out important facts we did not know.
Every year SIGNAL Magazine introduces a new columnist in the January issue for its Incoming opinion column. Next year’s columnist, Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, USA (Ret.), picked a timely topic for his first column. He worries that with social media posts, warfighters and civilian military employees “merrily are doing the work of a million foreign spies.” Gen. Bolger warns of a broad trend toward posting too much information in social media.
Two pictures have taken up residence in my mind over the past few weeks. They highlight the growing disconnect between the U.S. Defense Department and the broader strategic environment—not just in terms of geopolitics but also in the way the rest of the world lives, works and interacts.
Over the past year, I’ve had the honor of forming, organizing and implementing two teams of emerging military leaders. Both have provided valuable insights, mostly through learning from doing and adapting after failure. The adage “ask for forgiveness rather than permission” runs deep throughout both, and individual members are given high degrees of autonomy. Working with these two groups, I have learned several lessons along the way, and I hope to carry them forward into the critical second year.
Listen to many senior leaders in both the civilian and military sectors today, and it becomes apparent that there is no shortage of good ideas. Indeed, with austerity and sequestration the new reality, the lack of funds requires creativity. However, far too many fail to take personal responsibility by citing a vague “we should” mantra instead of the more powerful—and personally accountable—“I will.”
Bureaucracies are slow to change, and few may be more anemic than the military services. With a foundational and personnel structure optimized for the Cold War and the industrial age, this unfortunate reality is acutely evident as the information age accelerates into ever more complex manifestations.
While some leadership principles remain constant regardless of the era, quite a few must be adapted to the realities of their time. Some of the characteristics already have defined, and will continue to define, effective 21st century military leadership.