A guide to life on the edge
The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander
Christopher W. Coffm @ 2009-08-25
This excellent book is really about how to thrive out on the edge of a high-risk, high-profile career. It's not a book for armchair experts or backseat drivers of whatever stripe, because one of Blaber's key teachings is how to circumvent the kibbutzers and second-guessers in positions of authority, ignore their distractions and overcome their interference, and accomplish the mission.
In fact, while it's a great title, the equation of the "mission", his "men" and himself "me" gives the misleading impression that Blaber may be a bit of a prima donna. In fact, the "Mission, Men and Me" framework is applied whenever Blaber is being pressured by a senior commander to take an action that Blaber is convinced will result in damage to the mission or needless harm to his men. When forced into these dilemmas, if the only consideration is his personal or career interests, than Blaber always puts "Me" at risk to assure the best outcome for the Mission and his Men.
The realism of the book can be conveyed by observing that Blaber needs to apply the Mission, Men and Me framework fairly frequently!
The book, which is officially divided into Parts One - Four, is thematically structured into three sections:
(1) The first section is a series of very helpful lessons and mental frameworks for handling intense, stressful and complex situations. Blaber has benefited from the kind of resources the US Government can afford to pour into its best and brightest, and an unbelievable amount of cutting edge cognitive, psychological, sociological, and other areas of research have been reduced to practical learnings and made available to the operators of Delta Force, and Blaber makes them available to readers of this book. Just the insight into chronic insomnia provided by a Delta psychologist (page 70) from which I and many people I know who work in high stress professions suffer, is worth many times the price of the book. This section comprises Parts One and Two of the book;
(2) The second section is a realistic, clear-eyed critique of the organisational pathologies that are running rampant in the US Government, and which clog the arteries of any large institution. This is a very alarming section. This is where Blaber's Mission-Men-Me framework, while nominally one of the key tools he explains in Section 1, is used again and again. Blaber has very insightful comments to make about risk aversion, the tactical foolishness of the helicopter assault concept, and the counter-productive stupidities that have been institutionalised through high bandwidth modern telecommunications technology. Two examples of this are (a) the way deeply rear echelon senior commanders, at one end of a data feed 10,000 kilometers away, over-ride combat participants because of the communications capabilities that give the Generals access to two-dimensional video imagery and real time voice contact--and therefore the illusion that they are across all the information required to make tactical decisions during combat, and (b) the second example is the pervasive abuse of the VTC (Video Teleconference), a subject all its own, and how the VTC has allowed the Staff Planning function to engulf and just about devour actual war-fighting, at least in Blaber's account--which is persuasive. This second section is Part Three of the book.
(3) The third section is a live example of Blaber's experiences in combat in the conquest of Afghanistan and the sudden collapse of the Taliban. This is exciting material on its own, but Blaber includes it with a view to illustrating the frameworks he explains in the first section and the kinds of organisational irrationalities he critiques in the second section. This third section is compelling at all levels, but I must say my blood boiled from time to time at the account of the self-serving careerist officers and senior authorities driven by their own egos who repeatedly interfered with the mission and the best interests of the brave men in harm's way.
While this book could be considered an unusually useful management resource there is a broader vista that opens up in its pages, and that is a vision of horizon-to-horizon mismanagement and incompetence in the US Government. I really hope plenty of people in a position to push through much needed reforms are reading this book . . . we need to embark on root to branch institutional reform across the US Government before it's too late . . . 9/11 and the operations described by Blaber were one symptom, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was another, and the Global Financial Crisis (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the SEC, etc.) was yet another . . .
How many of these shocks can we sustain? I hope many people read Blaber's book--and then do something!
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