Saturday, February 20, 2010

Was this really that long ago? (Part II of III)

Excerpts from a letter written on 9 Aug 2003 – This is the second part.  Red text denotes current thoughts & notes.

High Profile Recovery Mission

This last Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003, I was put in charge of a recovery mission to grab a 2 ½ Ton Truck for our Alpha Company. It was involved in an incident with an improvised explosive device (IED) about two weeks prior to our recovery. The soldiers involved left the vehicle to take a wounded soldier for medical attention. When they returned later, the vehicle had been burnt to a crisp, a complete loss.

It was located in a bad area of town, just outside of the built-up area of Baghdad. The location was about 1000m from the Tigris River, and the vegetation was quite high surrounding the road where it was located. It looked more like a jungle than a desert. We took 13 vehicles out to recover it, including three Military Police vehicles (each commanded by a Captain) to assist with security. The Group Commander, a Colonel, and his Command Sergeant Major also went. The location was 20 miles away from BIAP, but with traffic it took us one-hour travel time each way.

After checking for booby traps, we lifted the vehicle onto a lowboy trailer with a crane truck. The recovery operation took 30 minutes. We closed the narrow road while we accomplished the operation. The operation was a complete success without any serious incident or enemy contact. Thank God for that. Despite the success of that recovery, I do not want to see another area similar to that one the remainder of the time I am here.

Looking back, this mission is a classic military case study on the fallacy of micro-management. Based on the excessive command attention I got, you would think it was the mission meant to end Operation Iraqi Freedom. Maybe it was in some "war hero's mind"! At the time, I was a Platoon Leader (First Lieutenant) in the United States Army. The nation was entrusting me to fulfill the responsibility of that role. I appreciated having the Military Police there to help with security and firepower, and the three Captains knew their role was support. They did not try to take over my mission. But, did I really need a Colonel and his Sergeant Major to successfully complete this mission?  Why did they feel the need to force themselves onto the scene and control every minor detail? Would I have done everything in the exact manner as them?

If they wanted to lead this mission, then why did they need me to tag along? When leadership does not allow their subordinates to step up and take charge, then the subordinates will learn not to step up and take charge. Novel concept!

Leaders, if you do not allow your subordinates to fail, how will they ever learn to succeed? ...Besides, it's a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer's job to make sure his Lieutenant doesn't fail!

Click for Part III

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Was this really that long ago? (Part I of III)

Excerpts from a letter written on 9 Aug 2003 – I plan on posting this in three parts. As I read through the original, it seemed to break up nicely that way. Lately, I've been finding things I wrote a few years ago. Thought they might be worth sharing...

Greetings from BIAP, IRAQ

For those who are unaware, BIAP is the Baghdad International Airport, formerly known as Saddam International Airport. No, he isn't a narcissist! Anyway, now we pronounce it “Bi-Op”. I have been here for a little over two months now, after spending a little more than three weeks in Kuwait.

Sometimes it seems surreal that I am really in Iraq, a country that the U.S. has been aware of for over 20 years now, but few Americans have visited. Currently we are going through the hottest time of the year, with temperatures ranging up to 135 degrees. It feels sort of like sticking your head in a brick oven. They say it will start to cool off at the end of August. Maybe we will see it drop to below 120.

In 2 months time, we have seen some things improve quite a bit and other things not so much. We continue to live in our tents, obviously, but at least we have wood floors built in each tent. We have A/C units for the tents, but continue to wait for the power grid to come up in order to actually see them work. Yesterday we were served our first meal out of a hard stand dining facility, instead of the normal Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT). The Dining Facility is run under a contract, so there are civilians working it, not the battalion’s cooks. Currently we only get dinner there, so we are still eating Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) for breakfast and lunch. But within a week’s time, they will serve 4 meals a day at the contracted dining facility, including a midnight meal (Soldiers are working 24/7!). The dining facility is nice, with lots of A/C and potable ice. First time we have had that in over 3 months.

As far as missions, the battalion continues to improve the military side of BIAP. Preparing the ground for the master plan and many buildings to come. I have the feeling that there will be an U.S. military presence here for a long time. Eventually, it will be just like Korea, with active duty soldiers serving 1-year hardship tours continuously. We don’t know anything about an exact date of when we will be allowed to return home. Rumors swarm every couple of weeks or so. We have orders that go to next May, but they could be shortened, and they could be extended. Some think they won’t let us go beyond six months, as that is when VA benefits kick in. But, six months is not too far off, and we have not heard anything yet.

On BIAP, we enjoy a relative amount of safety and security. Sure, something could still happen, and you must keep your guard up, but at least we are not out in the middle of the desert or a jungle. I only get to leave BIAP on occasion, and when I do, it is with quite an arsenal of weapons and ammo.

Honestly, with all that's happened since I wrote this, it feels like it was a whole other lifetime ago. I'll post Part II in a few days...

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Are You Going To Do About It?

Recently, I had lunch with a colleague, and we discussed many things. At one point, we were discussing the Connect Group which Mindy (my wife) and I lead through our church. It’s a book study group based on Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover (TMMO). We’ve led the group through two semesters, and are just about to start our third. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a passion for personal finance. I’ve read all kinds of books on it, and tried all sorts of systems. But it wasn’t until TMMO that I found something that really works.

My friend told me what we are doing is important, and he put it this way: “The three big rocks in a marriage are Intimacy, Communication, and Finances.” I’d never really thought about marriage with such uncomplicated clarity before. Both he and I are Christians, so involving God in your marriage was a given. The more I think about what he told me, the more it makes sense. If a man and a wife get those three things synchronized, then any other issues should tend to fall in place.

Now, I’m not about to give anyone advice on Intimacy, but I do know it’s important. Anyone who watches the news reported on society today would know it was important as well. And, I’m the last person you should talk to about better communications with your spouse – I’m too task-oriented. But, you start talking about Personal Finance and you’ve got my attention.

It’s no secret that our economy has struggled for the last two years. In turn, this has caused many families to struggle as well. But, my question would be this:

“What are You going to do about it? Are You taking a good, hard look in the mirror?”

See each of those big three rocks mentioned above are very personal things. No one is asking the government to assist their marriage with bailouts of Intimacy or Communication. Why then would we ask the government to assist with our Personal Finances? Maybe as a Nation, we just don’t know where to start. Here is a starting point, two items: Contentment & A Developed Plan.

Contentment: We are a living in a Society of Debtors, because we are not content. The wealthiest nation on the planet, and yet we are servants to lenders! Being a debt society is one of the culprits of our current economic crisis. We have replaced our needs with our desires. We place our desires before our needs. We need healthcare, but how many are willing to place that expense as a priority above entertainment? It is great to have desires, but we must live within our means and not “reward” ourselves until we can afford it. Contentment requires discipline. Discipline requires Focus.

A Developed Plan: A well-written plan requires focus to develop. It must be laid out in an achievable manner and help you reach your goals. A plan isn’t just something you write and throw on the shelf though either. A plan is a course of action, which means that it must cause you to do something. In this case, we want it to be positive action. A study of Harvard graduates found that after two years, the 3 percent who had written goals achieved more financially than the other 97 percent combined! That is an incredible stat which should motivate you to write down anything you hope to achieve.

This may not directly help with Intimacy or Communication in marriage, perhaps only in an indirect manner. Start working on the betterment of your Personal Finances, and partner with your spouse in this area. Doing this will open up lines of communication, and get you agreeing on the money allocation plan (budget) together. When you start communicating on one thing, other topics are sure to follow. The more you are communicating with one another, the more intimacy you will start to enjoy. I’ve heard it said that money fights are the number one cause of divorce in America. So, stop fighting about money, and start focusing on being content and building a plan. It may just transform your marriage!