November 2005 Archives

Dateline: Home Study

Abouit a year and a half ago, while doing my last in residence portion of the AJPME and the Joint Forces Staff College, I got email from one of my old COs. We had been talking in class about the amount of reading required (this was even more true in the Naval War College classes) and we all made the standard joke that "it's only a lot of reading if you do it". Then I got this email which is ginving General Mattis' take on reading military history. I think the message applies to any reading done to better yourself and have forwarded the message on to others. I always seem to have a hard finging it though, so I am posting it here for easy reference.

Subject: MajGen Mattis on Reading Military History


As someone who has worked with MajGen Mattis in OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, I can personally testify to his keen abilities that he credits to his extensive reading and study of military history over the course of a long career. Please read and ponder the below: the first E-mail is from a Colonel at National Defense University who hears the usual "it's only a lot of reading if you do it" type comments...and the second is MajGen Mattis' extremely pointed and eloquent response. Would love to see this reprinted somewhere....


I was having a discussion with one of my seminars this week regarding value of professional reading in response to COS of USAF providing all USAF TLS students books from the AF pro reading list. The response from some of my uniformed service students genuinely astounded me--"too busy to read", "NATOPS is all I need to know", "if it is anything more than TTP, I don't have time for it." I was curious if I could impose upon your time to share with me your thoughts on professional reading, and if possible, what books/reading material you had with you when deployed as TF-58 and to Iraq. General, as always, I'm appreciative of your time and energies, but I really don't want this teaching opportunity to pass by. I've also attached another gouge file that may be of use, if your G-2 doesn't already have.

Very respectfully and Semper Fidelis,


Colonel Barett Byrd, USMC
Professor of Military Strategy and Logistics
Industrial College of the Armed Forces
National Defense University

From: Mattis MajGen James N
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2003 9:22 PM
To: Byrd, Barett
cc: Kelly BGen John F
Subject: RE: Professional Reading


The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men's experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others' experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men. Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn't give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.

With TF 58, I had w/ me Slim's book, books about the Russian and British experiences in AFG, and a couple others. Going into Iraq, "The Siege" (about the Brits' defeat at Al Kut in WW I) was req'd reading for field grade officers. I also had Slim's book; reviewed T.E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"; a good book about the life of Gertrude Bell (the Brit archaeologist who virtually founded the modern Iraq state in the aftermath of WW I and the fall of the Ottoman empire); and "From Beirut to Jerusalem". I also went deeply into Liddel Hart's book on Sherman, and Fuller's book on Alexander the Great got a lot of my attention (although I never imagined that my HQ would end up only 500 meters from where he lay in state in Babylon).

Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun. For all the "4th Generation of War" intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say... "Not really": Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

We have been fighting on this planet for 5000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. "Winging it" and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of competence in our profession. As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don't know a hell of a lot more than just the TTPs? What happens when you're on a dynamic battlefield and things are changing faster than higher HQ can stay abreast? Do you not adapt because you cannot conceptualize faster than the enemy's adaptation? (Darwin has a pretty good theory about the outcome for those who cannot adapt to changing circumstance -- in the information age, things can change rather abruptly and at warp speed, especially the moral high ground which our regimented thinkers cede far too quickly in our recent fights.) And how can you be a sentinel and not have your unit caught flat-footed if you don't know what the warning signs are -- that your unit's preps are not sufficient for the specifics of a tasking that you have not anticipated?

Perhaps if you are in support functions waiting on the warfighters to spell out the specifics of what you are to do, you can avoid the consequences of not reading. Those who must adapt to overcoming an independent enemy's will are not allowed that luxury. This is not new to the USMC approach to warfighting -- Going into Kuwait 12 years ago, I read (and reread) Rommel's Papers (remember "Kampstaffel"?), Montgomery's book ("Eyes Officers"...), "Grant Takes Command" (need for commanders to get along, "commanders' relationships" being more important than "command relationships"), and some others. As a result, the enemy has paid when I had the opportunity to go against them, and I believe that many of my young guys lived because I didn't waste their lives because I didn't have the vision in my mind of how to destroy the enemy at least cost to our guys and to the innocents on the battlefields.

Hope this answers your question, Bear. I will cc my ADC in the event he can add to this. He is the only officer I know who has read more than I.

Semper Fi,


MSU 35 - UM 14

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Dateline: Home Study

So sweet. To beat the University of Mississippi 35 to 14, in Starkville was the highlight of the weekend. Especially since the UM fans are such obnoxious people it is no wonder why they are the least liked fans in the SEC. Earlier Sylvester Crrom said something along the lines of we are going beat Ole Miss' butt and UM people took offense. We'll take offense all they want, Croom did what he said he would do.

Of course the night was highlighted with many incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct on behalf of UM. All of the reviews they asked for is a result of the coaching staff; the conduct on the field is the fault of the officials. For most of the game there was a lot of pushing, shoving, and fighting but flags were not thrown until the fourth quarter. Our wonderful SEC officials also could see holding only on one team, but my expectations of SEC officials now are so low that this was a pretty well-officiated game.


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Dateline: Home Study

We had the first Leadership Book Club meeting today and discussed Who Moved my Cheese? Although I was disappointed with the number of students we had participate, I was not disappointed with the quality. I hope that as we begin this on a regular basis again, participation will increase.

Cheese is a great book, an easy read, but packs a powerful message. Namely, changed is inevitable and all we can do is choose how we deal with the change. The book was first recommended to me by a Navy Admiral some years ago and I read the night he recommended it. It has received its share of bad press because it is so short, but the message makes up for that.

The next book we read will be Powerful Conversations by Phil Harkin.

Dateline: Home Study

Charles Lee, the President of Mississippi State University, announced this afternoon that he would be retiring. Now the search is on for a new President and I can't help but wonder what it will be like. The last search was certainly botched, promises were made and broken, and the outrageously expensive consulting firm that was hired to help in the search could not find it their budget to even acknowledge the receipt of a nomination.

The announcement follows:

The real question will be to find who is truly in charge this time--the University, the Institutions of Higher Learning, the legislature, or the alumni who long for the university they attended but do not realize it has long-since changed. But I must remember, this is Mississippi I'm in, where we have never had a difficult time selling ourselves short. I pray we don't do it this time.

What do I want to see in the next president? Easy. First, there should be strong leadership, the kind that makes you want to go to places you never gone before and do things you've never done before, the kinds of leaders I've been privileged to know in the military. Second, someone with a vision, a vision of the university in 20 or 30 years and someone who is willing to take the steps to implement that visions. Third, I’d like to see a strong decision maker; someone who will make decisions quickly but carefully. Someone who is not afraid to involve others in the decision-making process but realizes he (or she) must make the decision. Fourth, a delegater. Someone who knows that they do not know everything, recognizes their weaknesses, and brings in people to compensate for those weaknesses. Will we find such a person? I don't know but I can hope. I wonder, is Vice Admiral Gaffney ready for a change?


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Dateline: Home Study

My visit to the pre-professional day at Meridian Communty College went well. Actually it went much better than I expected and my only regret is that we did not have more time. I mainly talked to community college students and then some students from Meridian High School came by. I had just a little time to talk to the high school students but some of the MCC students stayed around and we talked for a long while.

It did end a little earlier than I had planned so I had time to make it back in time to meet with the new faculty in the afternoon. That also went well but the meeting lasted a little longer than it probably should have. The reason it lasted so long is that we all had a lot of good things to say.

When I got home from work today I also had package, a big package, sitting on the porch. My Boston Rocker from College Chair with the US Naval War College seal arrived. It looks really noce and is comfortable to sit in as well. It is going to my office-office. I already ahve the standard chair at home, and it too is pretty comfortable and looks really good.

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