Centralized or Decentralized?

The incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GEN Martin Dempsey, recently did an interview with the NY Times in which he revealed that he was currently reading The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.
Upon learning that, I picked it up from the library and read its 208 pages fairly quickly. The book jacket describes:

“If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.”

This is light, summer or bathroom reading, not disturbed with thick references to detailed study. Each written page goes by quickly and casual readers should not be deterred out of fear of technical language. If I had to use one word to describe the book, it would either be “clear” or “simple.”

Which is principally why the book fails for a military audience, aptly described by HL Mencken, as “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Although I can’t recall a point at which the authors specifically mention applicability to a military audience, they do use several military examples (Apaches, Cortes, al Qaeda) which indicate at least a tacit connection. Essentially, I think The Starfish and the Spider is an over-broad application of trends related to business/economic models that have adapted to the rise of the internet ~ which has limited utility to a military audience. I also think that the book sets up a false dichotomy between centralized and decentralized features of organizations. Here are my reasons for believing so:

Continue reading “Centralized or Decentralized?”

Free Media Learning Opportunity: The National Security and Foreign Policy Toolbox and Kiwi Rugby Sanctions

This is going to have to be a brief post ~ I’m under a time crunch to get it written in 17 minutes to pick up my wife’s dry cleaning. I’m actually curious to see if I can be succinct enough to complete the task in my allotted time. Here goes:

My academic advisor, Dr. Rob Ayson, a strategic studies professor at Victoria University, has written an opinion piece in the Dominion Post (28 June) entitled “Kiwis can help keep peace in Shangri-La.” His summation:

“And unlike in the Cold War, when the Americans and Russians co-operated to restrain their competition, there is little evidence of arms control in Asia. There is, for example, no regional agreement on incidents at sea. The Asia-Pacific countries lack the mechanisms to prevent accidents and misunderstandings turning into unwarranted wars. And they are building up weapons systems which can easily be misread as carrying aggressive intentions.

The region needs some real restraint in these areas. Without it the nice words being said in the region this year may prove to be froth on top of an increasingly dangerous strategic competition.

This is where New Zealand can play a role. As well as the Shangri-La Dialogue, we are part of the expanding regional security architecture in Asia, including the East Asia Summit and a new three-yearly defence ministers meeting. As a trusted and principled small power in the region with no axe to grind, New Zealand should be making the pitch for conventional arms control in Asia.”

Continue reading “Free Media Learning Opportunity: The National Security and Foreign Policy Toolbox and Kiwi Rugby Sanctions”

"100 Miles for 200 Thousand" Campaign

Going into this Independence Day weekend, I’m ready to unveil my full plans for the coming Team Minnesota WWP season. Of course, I’m only a part of our group (Tom Cocchiarella is undoubtedly the heart and the Saint Paul Vulcans are the soul, both of which are located in Minnesota). But, while being stationed in New Zealand is challenging, it does afford some opportunity to reflect on best fundraising practices and efforts going forward. I’ve thought about this next step for awhile, and now feel like I have a good plan to energize potential donors for the Wounded Warrior Project (click on the image below to go to their site). Continue reading “"100 Miles for 200 Thousand" Campaign”

Realignment "Evolution" towards the Asia-Pacific, Starting with Afghanistan

President Obama has announced that troop drawdown in Afghanistan will be faster than previously envisioned. The New York Times reports,

Asserting that the country that served as a base for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States, Mr. Obama declared that the “tide of war is receding.” And in a blunt recognition of domestic economic strains, he said, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.”
Mr. Obama announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 “surge” of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the drawdown would continue “at a steady pace” until the United States handed over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014.

Essentially, as shown above, US forces will come down from the Afghanistan Surge first over the coming year, then gradually drawdown from 50,000 or so until the expected 2014 pullout date. As one can see above, however, the 2012 position (after this drawdown) will still be twice as large as the in-country military effort prior to the Obama administration. There is still a lot to work with, military resource-wise, in Afghanistan.

Continue reading “Realignment "Evolution" towards the Asia-Pacific, Starting with Afghanistan”

Wellington Marathon Results and First Reflections

Yesterday was the Wellington Marathon, which I finished in 2:57 (seen at left), about a 6:46/mile pace. I took the photo because the course was almost 1/4 mile too long (as the official results show me finishing in 2:59). That happens from time to time with races…you just sort of shrug it off knowing what you actually did.

That said, I got out of the marathon what I wanted: I ran consistently, better than the pace I’d hoped for, through adverse conditions (lots of rain and some high winds), and I’m healthy. It was exactly what I’d hoped for.

Continue reading “Wellington Marathon Results and First Reflections”

The American Dream, Foundations and Interpretations Abroad

I came across a neat paragraph in Time magazine while waiting for my allergy shot the other day, and just had to address it in this column. The “American Dream” is, in many ways, what the people of the US value and as an extension of that thought, what we fight for. At left are the classic Norman Rockwell images dedicated to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. The “American Dream” is wrapped up with the “Freedom from Want,” and the concept’s origins were discussed in Fareed Zakaria’s article, “Restoring the American Dream,” from November 1, 2010:

Continue reading “The American Dream, Foundations and Interpretations Abroad”

Wellington Marathon; Being a New Father Changes My Perspective on the WWP

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be standing at or near the start line of my first real race since…last September 18th, I think. Nine months. That’s an eternity to a runner that’s accustomed to racing 8-10 times per year for the past 5 years. Of course, this is a race that I won’t completely burn out for. I’ll keep myself from pushing to the point of over extension, and, as I laid out last week, I’ll just seek “healthy consistency” (which I gauge to be about a 7 minute pace).

One not so great sign is that after a beautiful spell of weather that would be perfect for a marathon, we’re getting some rain and wind today and it won’t be gone by tomorrow. That might slow me down a bit (wind in Wellington can be notoriously forceful, and I’ll be very exposed along the course), but the chance to exert some physical energy and cross a finish line will be well worth the effort. I’ll post as soon as I can how the day went.

My second topic, related to serving the Wounded Warrior Project, is how my new role as a father has changed my perspective on my role with the WWP. My wife and I went in to the hospital yesterday for our daughter’s first hearing screening. Of course, I pointed out to the screener that this was my daughter’s first “test,” and that I was hoping for an “A” or an “A-” (the latter because she hadn’t had much time to study recently due to her pressing schedule of eating, sleeping, and you know whatting).

The tiny probe went into her first ear, and the screener pressed a little button…a minute later, presto, “she’s hearing very well.” She repositioned the probe into the second ear…and, after a minute…took it back out and fiddled with the probe. I actually started to pay attention like a hawk at this point, to every millimeter of this woman’s movement. I was worried. She put the probe back in, and this is no exaggeration: I held my breath for the minute or so until the test came back that Grace’s hearing was good.

The screener went on to tell us that sometimes it takes 15 minutes to get a good result (because the ear and machine take a bit to establish the proper connection, I think). But because there was a small blip, a hiccup, of imperfection with the test (the screener cleaning the probe), I started to worry. For a hearing test. I held my breath. For a hearing test.

So what does this mean? How does this impact or change my perspective, with regards to the WWP? Frankly, it breathes life into what parents go through when they see their children hurt in such significant ways. This hearing test does not, of course, rise to that level, but it does come from the same relationship and sense of compassion for one’s own child. It calls to mind the eloquent letter President Lincoln wrote to console a woman who had lost five children for the Union cause in the Civil War, reintroduced into the American consciousness in the film Saving Private Ryan. [There is disagreement over whether Lincoln’s private secretary John Hay wrote the letter; and after the war it was found that the woman had only lost two of her sons ]. The letter read ~

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln

I think that letter is perfectly worded. There is nothing that can be done for those that have been taken…except to remember the manner in which they lived their lives and to honor the cause that they ultimately sacrificed themselves for.

Which is why I’ve dedicated so much time and effort to supporting severely wounded soldiers. I can do more for them than I can for those that have been killed in action on the battlefield.
To the left is a chart from The Atlantic Monthly, from 2005. It doesn’t fully account for Iraq and Afghanistan’s casualties, but it offers enough of a sampling to support a point. That point is, simply, that our battlefield medicine and soldier protection measures (and various other factors) are sustaining life at a greater rate than in earlier American conflicts. Bottom line, we’re saving a lot more people. That means, correspondingly, that there will be a great many more that will survive with much more severe injuries.

This next chart is from the Chicago Tribune and its subsidiaries. It displays the rising costs of these claims upon the Veterans Administration. And this is a point I try to illustrate whenever I speak on this topic. The VA does an excellent job with the resources it has been given. However, the rising costs associated with comprehensive veteran care imposes demands on the VA that it cannot be expected to provide ~ providing opportunities for effective non-profit organizations to fill gaps that would otherwise go uncovered (i.e. family care and adaptive athletic support).

When I run tomorrow and train the next day, and the next day, and the next day…until I complete my effort at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in one year…my motivation will continue to be fed by a sense of empathy for both our severely wounded veterans and their caregivers. Being a parent makes it easier to comprehend that pain, while knowing that I can never truly understand it.