Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Less Effective" Job Applications

Job site recently asked pollsters Harris Interactive to survey hiring managers and find out the wackiest resume items they've seen lately. Out of 2,627 responses, here are the top ten:

A job candidate...
1. ... attached a letter from her mother.
2. ... used pale blue paper with teddy bears printed around the border.
3. ... explained a three-month gap in employment by saying that he was getting over the death of his cat.
4. ... specified that his availability to work Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays is limited because the weekends are "drinking time."
5. ... included a picture of herself in a cheerleading uniform.
6. ... drew a picture of a car on the outside of the envelope and said the car would be a gift to the hiring manager.
7. ... listed hobbies that included sitting on a levee at night watching alligators.
8. ... mentioned the fact that her sister had once won a strawberry-eating contest.
9. ... stated that he works well in the nude.
10. ... explained an arrest record by stating, "We stole a pig, but it was a really small pig."

Monday, April 23, 2007

The team, our barracks, and the unavoidable waiting

Here are some more Riley photos. First, my team. Good group, we play nice and don't run with scissors. But I wouldn't mess with them. We have a Federal Marshall, NYPD and Seattle PD on the team. And a banker, a psychologist, an industrial safety officer, an Idaho high school teacher, a carpenter, and a military intelligence analyst for a defense contractor. I think the carpenter is the one most likely to use lethal force, by the way.

Second, a couple of photos of our barracks. Once I vacuumed up the collection of toenails that had accumulated in my room, it was actually much better accomodations than many get in our circumstances. No open bays for us, which meant I was spared the many indignities of communal living- the loud folks staying up late, seeing too many unattractive nude male figures, the joyous odors of men in training....

Third, my hands down worst Sunday here- doing a mounted combat patrol live fire exercise. Here is what we did most of the time- wait. The training was equally exciting, but apparently met the first objective of not getting anyone injured with live rounds going downrange. My personal belief is that the second objective was simply to have us train on Sunday so we could show how hard we were training and being trained. Nice.

The big guns (well, big for what we do)

Here are a few photos of our training with the Ma Deuce- the venerable .50 cal machine gun- large and in charge. Some of the guys really like this weapon. I'm not an expert on it. It is very loud, and you don't want to get hit by the projectiles it spews.

Happy Birthday, Dana!

Last month, one of my buddies (MSG Merrel, Aloha company) made a point of getting his team to sing me the old "happy birthday to you" song. An indescribable joy came over me as I contemplated the glorious circumstances in which I found myself at the moment. I celebrated by wearing my "old school" woodlands camouflage battle dress uniform and topped it off with the classic "BCG" army issue glasses. I thought it added "flair."

Why yes, that is a banana in my grenade pouch!

I was not happy about the cold, but I'd brought provisions on this snowy February morning. Apologies to hard core military types who find this offensive. I wanted to put the pouch to use even though I won't see a grenade until we get to the sandbox in a few days.

Morning at the qualification range, Ft. Riley 2007

As our time here nears an end, I wanted to post a few photos. This one is my favorite. A teammate took it early one morning as we prepared to zero and qualify with our rifles. Ammunition shed in the right foreground, the control tower and the target frames in the background through the morning fog, the sun is rising.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Intel the company, not intelligence the job!

Funny story shared by a buddy from my unit a bit ago: He was having to repeatedly try to get a reserve soldier reassigned because the powers that be persisted in assigning him to intelligence (“intel”) positions even though he was not trained in intelligence. He was an information technology (IT) guy by training- working with computers and software, not reports about strengths and weaknesses of friendly and enemy forces. Turns out they kept assigning him to intel positions because, hey, he has a job at “Intel”, right? Uh, guys, that would be the microchip manufacturer. Why am I not surprised?

Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness is a buzzword in the military referring to the need to be aware of what is going on around you in the environment- other peoples' actions, words, nonverbals, and other factors such as suspicious objects, circumstances, behaviors and so on.

Some people lack situational awareness in a specific situation- presentations.


Speakers and presenters sometimes fail to recognize the interests and desires of their audience. For example, one should know if he is the last speaker before lunch or the end of the day when their audience is both captive and has been subjected to presentations that have gone on for hours. That would be a great piece of information to let one know to:

1) say what they have to say and

2) not a word more.

And once one has declared that he has nothing more to say, he should not go on for another fifteen minutes. He already told us to stop listening. I'm done now.

“This page intentionally left blank”

This is a lovely piece of text I often find on pages in military texts. The irony seems a bit subtle, no? The page is no longer blank due to someone’s desire to clarify something that doesn’t seem that critical. Maybe it should read: “This page intentionally left blank other than this statement about this page being blank.” Honestly.

Of course, a quick search on the internet confirms it- this is a real issue.

some quotes from that site about their sample blank page:

“cool. like the idea. was just staring at a couple of blank pages on a report yesterday with those same words.”—Jamus Jerome Lim

“Thank you for the peace and tranquility.”—Elizabeth G. Brown

“Anyway it occurred to me to check with Google how many other intentionally blank pages there are around. I was delighted to find your site among the results.”—Michael Rychlik

“page in white with a ‘this page intentionally left blank’ is just a superfluousness.”—msdos [at]

“Ommmmmmmmmmmm. The best idea since!”—Roberto Gonzalez Fontenla

“This is a time-wasting irritation—just like its antecedents in the world of corporate manuals.”—Larry H. Phipps

“We love it! It is beautiful! Kudos to your art director!”—Daniel Benoit

“This is a perfect dichotomy between a complete waste of time and effort, and a noble balancing philosophical force on the web. It appeals to me for exactly these reasons. It is a primal thought, and the page which contains the words, ‘This page intentionally left blank’ is in fact lying, a page with words on it is not blank, as you must have considered by now. It is a perfectly self denying mathematical entity. Kudos for doing something thought provoking.”—Friday Jones

Apply pressure, observe physics at work.

When the “surge strategy” was first announced, I took a look at it in order to determine if/how it might affect what I was doing out in Iraq. The selfish part of me determined no real effect in terms of my deployment time. But I may be affected by what the military likes to call 2d and 3d order effects. The strategy calls for large numbers of military personnel to go to Baghdad en masse. They should then be able to not only clear areas of the city, but also hold and then improve those areas.

As I thought about how this would play out, I tried to think about what the insurgents might do in response to the Al Qanoon efforts. If I were them, I’d just go somewhere else. Perhaps south- to where I may be in the Wasit province. And sure enough, that is where some reports suggest some of them are headed- the experienced insurgents and terrorists are headed our way! Woo-hoo! Some cynics call this strategy “whack-a-mole”, which I find an amusing and interesting way of describing what I would find a natural response were I an insurgent. Block me here, I go somewhere else. You can’t cover everywhere, the American people would never allow enough U.S. soldiers to deploy to cover the entire country.


I don’t do this for fun.

Once while training I was asked if I was having fun. Once I was asked the same question rhetorically in a large group where it was suggested to me that if I weren’t having fun while working in Iraq it was my fault. My personal feeling on this is that I don’t think this is fun, and that is not the reason I’m here.

I’m here primarily out of a sense of duty and allegiance to my country and to the guys to my left and right. Especially after my company command time a few years back I came to believe the saying I’d heard about the need for good leaders, and if I wasn’t there, someone else would need to do it. I know I’ve felt strongly since that time and September 11, 2001 that now is not the time to get out even though I have long since gone past my period of obligation. I now have 15 years.

Am I looking forward to achieving 20 years and qualifying for retirement? Certainly. Is that why I’m here? I don’t think so.

Returning to the fun concept, there is little in the work of the military that I find truly fun. Exercise is usually work- the type of exercise that I find fun, basketball, is rarely a viable option. Formations- well, as you can imagine from a recent post, I don’t enjoy them. The social traditions of the military such as Hail and Farewells, Dining-ins and dining-outs to me are sheer torture. The hard physical work of the infantryman? Not my style. My body type is built for a desk, but the majority of paperwork I’ve been associated with in the military is mind-numbing. I could care less if I space once or twice after the number. Also not a big fan of getting shot at, weapons play, killing, and cleaning the weapon. And typically the administrative work that I deal with in the military, either personnel or logistics, is not rocket science and becomes numbing with large exposures.

Pretty much, I strongly dislike all work related to the military, and most of the culture associated with it. I do enjoy the friendships I have made as I work however. True, I am well compensated, and yes, many have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. I am willing to contribute to the effort despite my concerns about the work we are engaged in. Others have sacrificed so much and I wish to honor them and my commitments.

Not fun, no. But for me, necessary. My wife probably pays a greater price in all of this than I do when I think about it. So not fun for her either.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Standing in Formation

Formations are times when all the soldiers in an organization are called together and stand in lines arranged by their organization- squads into platoons, companies, battalions, etc.

Sometimes we call formations for reasons more or less important to the various participants- either leaders or individual soldiers. One subordinate unit I have experience with calls formations 10 minutes prior to their higher level’s organization for no reason other than to have us stand there in formation for the 10 minutes so that we are “ready” for the next formation.
In one of these recent formations, we were all formed up in a battalion mass- everyone in the battalion in one formation, not arranged by squads or companies. As an aside, I always wish I knew in advance when we were going to stand like that, so I could just skip the formation entirely given that no one has any idea when someone is not present in such a cluster. Then, to start the formation, we were asked to “report”- a typical accountability process in which the leaders indicate who is there, accounted for, etc. In this case however, the soldiers in the four lead positions for the four ranks were not necessarily squad leaders and definitely couldn’t report on behalf of all of the battalion which was in their ranks. But they went ahead and “reported”: "All present and accounted for!" Honestly, they had no idea. But we go through the motions for some reason. Then, during the formation, we were counseled about not spreading rumors. “If you don’t know its true, and it’s not in your lane, then don’t say anything!” Hmmm, like reporting that all are present and accounted for even though you have no idea?
We basically went through an exercise which dispensed with reality in preference for giving the impression of a “disciplined” formation. To me it reinforces my belief that military leaders sometimes don’t want the truth.


Conflicting directions from leadership prevent alignment. For example, one imperative given to those working with the Ministry of Interior (MOI)- “don’t let them fail”. Another direction is “teach them to take care of themselves, don’t do it for them” You can’t have it both ways. As I heard explanations of what "don't let them fail" meant, presenters provided examples where the Americans would observe and would try to let the MOI folks work it out. At the point where it became clear that an initiative or action would fail without their immediate intervention, then the US advisor swoops into actions and makes it happen. Seems to me to be in direct contradiction to the second direction noted above.

Extrajudicial killings

Odd words that hide the truth: extrajudicial killings- sounds to me like murder- the nuances were lost on me, and were also lost on the presenter I questioned the other day who used the term.

So I look it up on the source of all quick and easy but not necessarily correct information, Wikipedia, where it discusses extrajudicial punishment:

Extrajudicial punishment is physical punishment without the permission of a court or legal authority. Generally, it can be carried out by a state apparatus needing to rid itself of a dangerously disruptive influence. One interpretation behind the concept of extrajudicial punishment is that governments will break their own legal code when it is expedient for them to do so. Non-governmental or non-state actors, including private individuals, can also resort to different forms of extrajudicial punishment, though such actions are often classified as assassinations or murders instead.

So if I understand it correctly, extrajudicial killings are illegal killings by a government, which done by non-governments or non-states, like Ralph next door, would be considered murder or assassination. Words are interesting things. It is sometimes interesting to me to note the left or right leaning media treatments of folks who wear bomb vests- shall we label them "suicide-bombers" or "murder-bombers"?

Microfinance in Iraq?

First, a disclaimer- the image is of a woman benefitting from microfinance in the Phillipines- not in Iraq- I pulled this photo off of a U.N. site.
I was curious about one concept as we prepare for Iraq with cultural training- we have been taught in some of our readings that in the Muslim faith, banks are rare because of a faith tenet that one should not charge fixed interest rates for loans or something to that effect. Have micro-credit and micro-finance initiatives been tried in Islamic countries? If so, what were the outcomes? What if such activities were tried in Iraq, where there is arguably a more “ecumenical” approach? During Saddam’s time, he tried to build a less religiously oriented culture with separation of church and state, but that is less true now with religious sectarianism reintroducing religion into the day to day of governance. What I found out in a briefing last week however, is that microfinance initiatives have been started there in Iraq- they work around the interest problem by having "loan origination fees paid over time." As the Guiness Draft beer commercial guys would say, "Brilliant!" I hope my old instructor for 3rd World Development hears about it- Cheers, Warner!

Some microfinance websites:

No Stupid Questions?

The two types of stupid questions most frequently manifest in our mobilization briefings: long, drawn-out questions by folks trying to show how much they know, and the incredibly self-focused questions which show the person has no clue what’s going on in the big picture, i.e., when shown a map of Iraq with current posts and major installations, one veteran of Iraq from a few years back asks “where is Key West?” referring to a FOB (Forward Operating Base) that he worked at last time he went. Of course, the presenter had no idea what he was talking about. As he finally started to understand he said, “It has all changed in the past year or so, but I can put a box labeled ‘Key West’ on the map if it makes you happy.” Priceless. Reminds me a bit of the Demotivator: "There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."

Iraqi Electricity

So we had an odd discussion in one of our endless mobilization training meetings, I think it was last week, about why the electricity power grid and delivery services are so poor in Iraq. The presenter gave 2 reasons- 1) Saddam’s poor maintenance programs and 2) the insurgents’ sabotage efforts. Sadly, and expectedly, he left off one of the painfully obvious reasons for the electricity problems: we “liberated” their electricity with the invasion back in 2003. I remember some articles about one of the “hi-tech” approaches to knocking out electricity that coalition forces used- projectiles that released filaments or wires that would become ensnared in the power lines and short them out. True, the insurgents’ efforts at sabotage have prevented progress, but there’s a difference between starting from an intact electrical infrastructure and what we left them after the invasion. Just another experience in the bizarre world of politics and doublespeak.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Leadership rules to live by

As I grow in experience and wisdom here in the U.S. Army, I have come across some positive and negative leadership examples which have helped me coalesce some leadership lessons.

1. When in the military, if you want something (and your rank/position fit), use direct orders. For example, "so and so did it this way. It might be good if you did ....." would be less effective. More effective: "This spreadsheet is due at x time." Oblique references to others' activities are not always understood as the clear orders that you might think them to be.

2. If you want someone to do something, don't give them orders not to do it, and try to shame them when they follow those orders. Unless of course, you know they operate on the whole "reverse psychology" thing ("don't you eat those peas!").

3. Don't try to either blatantly lie or misleadingly sugarcoat things to intelligent people. You lose their trust.

4. If I say something more loudly, it doesn't make it any more true, but it does get me lots of attention.

5. If you don't know where you're going, it doesn't really matter what path you're taking- but if you can spend/make a lot of money by taking a long time, well, maybe that compensates for the extended time away from family (ok, I don't believe this one).

6. Kinetic means something different in the army than in the rest of the english language. In army-talk, it means killing people and blowing things up. For example, Patrick Swayze goes kinetic quite often in the masterpiece "Road House."