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Warrior Writers Exhibit

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Last Wednesday, 09 September 2015, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the United States Naval Institute to the opening of the Warrior Writers exhibit at the US Naval Academy Museum. There was a very nice reception and I got to meet some interesting people, many I have only known through their writings, and others through their writings and FaceBook and Twitter. It was a great night.

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The exhibit was opened with some comments from the director of the museum, LCDR Claude Berube. LCDR Berube has written a novel called The Aden Effect and it is a very good read. His second book, Syren's Song, is due out in November and is available for pre-order now. Both of these books are published by the US Naval Institute. LCDR Berube's comments were followed by a few words from the CEO of the Institute, Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly, USN (Ret.). Admiral Jim Stavridis, USN (Ret.) closed the opening remarks with his own words about the purpose of the exhibit. Admiral Staviridis is a prolific writer himself and one of my favorite authors and I highly recommend his latest book, The Accidental Admiral.

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As I talked to several people throughout the night, a common cause was evident among us all. The exhibit was not created to brag about all the Naval Institute has done; it was not created to attract new visitors, although I am sure it will; it was not created to simply fill empty space; no, the theme I heard repeatedly, and one I shared, was "if this encourages others to write, then it is well worth the effort and expense". The motto of the USNI is "Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write."

The exhibit itself highlights important writing and events of each decade since the founding of the USNI. To reinforce this, the Naval Academy Museum has initiated a series of fourteen weekly podcasts; each podcast will focus on a single decade. The podcast can be found at iTunes.

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One part of the exhibit that I particularly enjoyed was the display of some of the books published by the USNI. In the same display case were some of the pens on loan from Admiral Stavridis and a note saying how much he likes to write.

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All in all, it was a great night; I talked to some wonderful people, saw a great exhibit, met some virtual friends in person, and was inspired. I am already thinking about a possible article for the Naval Institute Proceedings.

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Last Tuesday Mississippi State University held its first Freshman Student Convocation. In addition to the students being formally accepted by the faculty, the highlight of the event was the keynote address given by Sarah Thebarge.

Thebarge is the author of The Invisible Girls: A Memoir which is the book selected as this year's Maroon Edition. Her talk was interesting with the first portion being a synopsis of the book. I got the feeling someone forgot to tell her that the students were supposed to have already read the book, but perhaps she realized that likely many of them had not read the book yet. The later part of her talk was on how one person could change the world and she encouraged our students to do their best to do just that.

The book itself is very good and is a very easy read. It took only a few hours to read it, mainly on parts of airplane trips. In addition to describing how she came to meet the girls from Somalia and the things she did to help them, it also chronicles her diagnosis and treatment for cancer. It is a great story of survival, a strong spirit that kept her coming back despite her many setbacks, and also her ongoing faith struggle.

I'm not sure how many students was actually able to reach, several of them did appear more interested in their phones and leaving as soon as they could, but that doesn't really matter. Even though she likely didn't reach everyone, if she only reached one or two students who will change the world, then it was a worth the investment of the time and money. I also noticed the faculty seemed interested in her words as well. My only regret about the event is that we did not have community involvement, especially high school students.

My favorite quote from her talk was when she said that we often wonder what do you get the girl who has everything but the real question is what do you get the girl who has absolutely nothing? Her answer: An education. For that reason, the proceeds from the sale of this book are going into an account to cover the costs of education for the five Somali girls she meet.

Dateline: Mississippi State University, 10 December 2010.

I was honored to have been asked to be the guest speaker at the 10 December 2010 Joint Army-Air Force Commissioning ceremony at Mississippi State. There were four cadets commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants in the US Air Force and one commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. It was a pleasure to have been asked to speak and a joy to share some of the lessons I have learned with these new lieutenants who are beginning their careers.

After the ceremony I received some very nice complements on the talk and I was appreciative of them. I told several that what I told these new airmen and soldier were what I wished someone had told me when I was an Ensign. The text of my remarks is below.

Greg Mortenson Lecture

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Sara and I attended an excellent lecture tonight by Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame. We arrived at the Humphrey Coliseum shortly after 1800 for a 1900 lecture. Following the requisite introductions, the lecture began around 1910.

I had seen Mortenson video when he gave a talk at the Naval War College. I really enjoyed that lecture but he was even better in person. He seemed to really enjoy being here and we certainly enjoyed having him here. He mentioned that in a early meeting with some of our students, he asked how many had been involved with community service. Typically he said he gets about 60% to 80% response but at Mississippi State he got 100%. Similarly, later he asked how many students had spent 10 hours or more talking to their elders about historical events (depression, World War II, etc.). Again, we had about 20% greater response than others.

Mortenson said he did want to come back and visit some of the public schools and nursing homes. I know he would get a wonderful reception.

Following the lecture we waited in line with some friends for the book signing. I got both my hard back Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time signed and by hardback copy of Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan signed. Of course I have both as Kindle editions and I have bought and given away probably 10 to 15 copies of the paperback Three Cups of Tea. We had a short conversation while he was signing and I found him to be very pleasant.

His Central Asia Institute has been added to my list of charitable organizations. As I get older I find I prefer more and more to donate money to my church and to some specific organizations rather than run them through clearinghouses such as United Way. This way I can get money directly to the places that need it without the overhead charge of these clearinghouses. Call me cantankerous.

There is much talk about text books these days and how expensive they are. The Board of the Institutions of Higher Learning is working on a policy that will address the issue somewhat, but it will remain an issue. Textbooks are expensive. That's the way it is. Faculty, students, nor college bookstores have much control over the prices of books.

Some things can and will be done. It has always troubled me that some sections of the same course would use a different book. This certainly cuts down on sharing books, passing them down from student to student, or even being able to reuse the same book should a student need to take the same course again. Books can be adopted for a longer period of time which will increase their resale value. And some books can be more clearly labeled as "required", "recommended", or "suggested".

But what is bothering me more than the cost of textbooks is the attitude of some students towards books. Some, by no means all, students have been educated in schools systems with such low expectations that they are unable to make the switch from high school to college. I dare say some of them do not even belong in college. For example, on the television news tonight one student was quoted as saying something along the lines of "my professor uses PowerPoints [sic] and doesn't even use the book." Let's see now, could it possibly be that in a college class a professor does not stand in front of the class and read from the textbook? Could it be that in some college classes the professors actually expect the students to read the textbook before they come to class (gasp!)? Could it be that the textbook is expected to be used outside of class by students who are actually working at the college level?

The important factor is not the cost of a textbook but rather its value. I recall spending in the neighborhood of $120 for my calculus book a few decades ago and it was expensive then. However, I used that book for four required courses, used it as a reference in several others, and while working as a research engineer I would even pull it off the shelf for reference. My English Composition text sits on my shelf to this day and I will occasionally pull it down to research some grammar question. Yes, these texts cost a lot of money but they also had great value.

I fear too many people have started to look at higher education from the point of view of what it costs and not what it gives. Regardless of what some may think, a college education is truly a privilege and those in college are in the minority. Given the reaction some are having towards textbooks, I think they may have come a bridge too far.

Spirit of America in Afghanistan by Jim Hake, Wall Street Journal, Monday, 28 December 2009, p. A15.

Jim Hake has been leading Spirit of America for the past six years and offers a way for the average Joe to help fight the war against terrorism. The objective is to give troops sewing machines, clothing, medical supplies, toys, and other materials that can be given to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. This will help show the people that Americans are friends and not enemies. As the article notes "General Mattis has said that our 'direct support to build the hopes of the people is often as important as a resupply of ammunition."

The web site is www.spiritofamerica.net and Mr. Hake also has a book, "101 Ways to Help the Cause in Afghanistan".


The Best Military Books of the Decade, Navy Times, 18 January 2010, p 4

The Navy Times has published its list of the best military books of the decade. I can't say I disagree with too many of them and am surprised by some. For example, The Fourth Star made the list, which I think is appropriate, but it was not released until late 2009.

The list.

  1. Shane Comes Home by Rinker Buck, 2005
  2. Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by Donovan Campbell, 2009.
  3. The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army by David Cloud and Greg Jaffe, 2009.
  4. The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford, 2005.
  5. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick, 2005.
  6. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, 2008.
  7. The Good Soldiers by David Finkel, 2009
  8. Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America by Nathaniel Frank, 2009.
  9. The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War by Brandon Friedman, 2007.
  10. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael R, Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, 2006.
  11. Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq by Jason Christopher Hartley, 2005.
  12. The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education by Craig Mullaney, 2009.
  13. The Long Road Home; A Story of War and Family by Martha Raddatz, 2007.
  14. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks, 2006.
  15. Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swafford, 2003.
  16. Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War by Evan Wright, 2004.

That's five published in 2009, one in 2008, two in '07, two in '06, four in 2005, and one each in 2004 and 2003. Fully eighty-eight percent of the best books of the decade were written in the last half of the decade with thirty-one percent coming in the last year. All of these books deal with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. So, did the books most recently published make the list because they were fresh on our minds or was it because it takes some time to put things into perspective before you can write a good book about a war. I lean towards the latter.

There are other books that made the reading lists of some officers mentioned in the article but did not make the list. For example, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden published in 2000 would have been a good choice. I also think there should have been room for The Sling and The Stone: On War in the 21st Century by Thomas X. Hammes published in 2004 should have made the list. I would have also included Inside CentCom: The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Michael DeLong in 2004 and Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq by Linda Robinson published in 2008. But, it is not my list.

Top 100 Global Thinkers

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"The FP Survey: The Wisdom of the Smart Crowd", Foreign Policy, Special Edition, December 2009. p. 26

This article lists the top 100 Global Thinkers and I'm happy to see some of my favorites were listed:

#8 General David Petraeus

#19 Malcolm Gladwell

#21 Thomas Friedman

#25 Joseph Stiglitz

#44 David Kilcullen

#55 Henry Kissinger

#56 Niall Ferguson

#65 Francis Fukuyama

#66 The Kagan Family (Donald, Robert, Frederick, and Kimberly)

#81 John Arquilla

#82 Peter W. Singer

Some missing, in my opinion: Thomas P. M. Barnett, John Nagl, Greg Mortenson. Admittedly this survey was for 2009 so I can accept that the contributions made by those left off the list were made in previous years.

And just for completeness, here is the global thinkers book club.

Educate a Girl for $350!

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ARTICLE: GUEST OPINION: War, terrorism, politics and 'Three Cups of Tea', pressdemocrat.com, 02 January 2010.

This is a nice op-ed on Greg Mortenson's efforts to educate girls in the Middle East. An entire lifetimes education for a girl can be had for only $350. Contrast that to the cost of education we are used to when a few text books can cost that much.

The thiking is that by educating girls, when they have children they will discourage them from become radicalized and will encourage them to get an education as well. Education is the key to improving te human ituation around the world. What I find interesting is that, as Mortenson says, the military gets this, it is the State Department that doesn't seem to get it.

Read more about this in Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time and his just released book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Reading is, after all, fundamental. Nice interview with the creator of the Navy Professional Reading Program here. This program grew out of the CNOs recommended reading list but I think the Navy was right on the money in devising this particular program. You can easily zero in on either a general topic of interest or a list of books for a particular rank.

Interesting that they are looking at how to integrate Kindles and, I assume, other e-book readers. I maintain that the Kindle is the ideal technology for military personnel. It is light, easy to read, good battery life, and stores lots of books. Hard copy will be good for libraries but I want to have my Kindle with me.

The Unforgiving Minute

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The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education by Craig M. Mullaney. Penguin Press, 2009.

I just finished this outstanding book and can't recommend it highly enough. It is a very moving story of a soldier who completes West Point, goes to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and then to Afghanistan as a platoon leader. He explores challenges in his professional and personal life and reminds us all that the two are connected.

This book also gives insight into the war in Afghanistan, a place that has, until recently, been ignored by the news reporters. Some of my favorite lines from the book:

  • "Afghans say Americans have all the watches but they have all the time."
  • "At West Point we'd learned that responsibility preceded privilege. I had forgotten how odd that sentiment appeared outside the military."
  • "Every time units played musical chairs in Afghanistan, we became vulnerable again. Every time the music stopped, another unit would start over learning the physical and cultural terrain. The lack of continuity certainly frustrated relationships with local khans. Trust was hard-won in this part of the world, and we were treating Afghan leaders like contestants in a round of speed dating."
  • "The challenge of education is not to prepare a person for success, but to prepare him for failure. ADMIRAL JAMES STOCKDALE"

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about leadership, the military, or Afghanistan to read this book.

"Sony, Google Mount Challenge To Amazon Over Digital Books", Wall Street Journal, Vol. CCLIII, No. 64.,Thursday 19 March 2009, p. B5. By Geoffrey A. Fowler and Jessica E. Vascellaro.

"Read Our Lips: Sony, Google Take On Amazon's Kindle", ChannelWeb (www.crn.com)

Google and Sony may mount a challenge but it I doubt it will be much more than a challenge to Amazon. Let's face it, the Kindlehas taken off. Just over a year old it is already in its second version. This coupled with the tie to the store at Amazon cinches the deal, in my opinion.

The model I use is the iPod. What is the iPod without iTunes? Nothing more than an mp3 player. There are and have been other mp3 players. Know anyone who has a Zune? Maybe, but probably not many. I actually have somewhere a Dell Digital Jukebox. It was heavy and large and lacking in style. I tried it but soon I converted to the iPod and iTunes and have never looked back.

The will be other eBook readers, some will be good, others not so good. But I suspect the Kindlewill be the iPod of eBook readers.

Google and Sony may have teamed but the books available from Google all are pre-1923. Here the Kindleclearly has the advantage. "The Sony and Google partnership isn't exclusive. [Google spokeswoman Jennie Johnson] said Google isn't in talks with Amazon about a similar deal for the Kindle, but was open to the idea." Clearly there is potential here.

MyKindle 2

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I tend to be an early adopter of technology but put off the Kindle for a while. I wondered if it would really be that useful, if reading would be as easy as Amazon said it would be, and if I would enjoy it as much as the price would dictate. I did not buy the first Kindle but looked hard at the Kindle 2. I read about it before it was released and then looked at it and read reviews shortly after it was released. Finally, about a week ago, I place the order.

I requested overnight shipping with Saturday delivery. I was heading out of town and thought taking it with me would be a good test. The Kindle 2 arrived and I began to unbox it. Amazon seems to be taking lessons from Apple in terms packaging and the whole customer experience. The Kindle arrived as expected.

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I pulled the tear strip on the side of the box and folded back the top of the box to reveal another package. It was a black box as was the interior of the shipping container.

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I opened the inner container and found a cardboard top which I removed...

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...to reveal the Kindle 2.

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I lifted it from the box and found the Quick Start booklet and the computer cable/AC adapter underneath.

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I then unpacked everything.

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I plugged the Kindle into the power adapter and removed the protective plastic cover.

When I turned on the Kindle for the first time I found some items were already pre-loaded. The user manual of course was already loaded. Why send a printed manual when the purpose of the device you just purchased is to read documents? I also found that the Kindle had already been registered to me so I was ready to make my first purchase.

So, what book did I first purchase? Why Great Powers by Thomas P M Barnett of course. I already had the hardback version but wanted it in Kindle format as well.

I took the Kindle with me on my trip and was able to read it a little bit. I found to be easy to read and enjoy the ability to vary the font size. I find that I usually read with the font set to the smallest size but as I get tired, or late at night, I will sometimes bump it up a size just to lessen the eye strain. I found it was easy to read in the car (not while driving of course). I also had it nearby during the meeting but did not have time to read it.

I did order a few accessories when I ordered the Kindle 2 but I opted for 2-Day delivery on them. Being an Amazon Prime member 2-day shipping was free and I really no need for the accessories until Monday. The accessories I purchased were the Amazon Kindle 2 Leather Cover
to keep the screen from getting scratched while in my computer bag, and the Mighty Bright XtraFlex2 Clip-On Light so I can read in the dark, on planes, etc. The light is necessary for low-light conditions because the screen is called electronic paper. It is not backlit which makes it easier to read for long periods of time.

As best I can tell, this is not a purchase I will regret. I always have a book or four nearby and with the Kindle 2 I can have some 1500 books with me. When I travel I will often pack 3 or 4 books just to have variety. I take the one I am currently reading and plan to finish it on the trip. I usually pack the next book I want to start, and then I will often pack one or two optional books.

With the Kindle I will be able to greatly reduce the weight of my bags, and be able to negotiate airports much easier. Any time I get on a plane I either have a book in hand or have one in my bag. If it is in my hand then I have to negotiate the boarding pass, the coffee cup, and the carry-on. The hardback books (I seldom anything but) can be difficult to manipulate without tearing the dust jacket. The Kindle will be much easier to manipulate plus it will eliminate the need to get into my carry-on in-flight to get the next book out.

There are a couple of things I'd like to see incorporated for the Kindle. First I'd like to have some reference to the page number of the physical book. Right now all the Kindle shows is the section which is a good reference but is not he page number. If the page number were available it would make it easier to discuss works in book clubs and also allow for referencing pages in academic works. I don't think many journals would accept a footnote referencing a section of the Kindle book...not just yet anyway.

Another feature I would like to see is the bundling of hard copy with electronic copy. I still like the look and feel of real live books that you can put on the shelf. I doubt I'll ever give up on them completely, but there is something to be said for the convenience of having them on the Kindle too. Although most Kindle books are only $9.99, some are more expensive, especially some of the newer books. For example, I paid almost as much for the Kindle version of Great Powers as I did the hardback version. I would gladly buy a hardback book and then pay $5 or $6 more to get the Kindle version with it. Perhaps Amazon is reading. (If not, I've emailed them already.)

What's on my Kindle now? Here are the books I have purchased to date:
Great Powers by Thomas P M Barnett
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman
Winston Churchill by John Keegan
Types of Naval Officers, Drawn from the History of the British Navy by Alfred Thayer Mahan
Character & Success by Theodore Roosevelt
The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 - with all maps and illustrations by Alfred Thayer Mahan
UR by Stephen King
The Holy Bible English Standard Version (ESV)
US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Bill of Rights, and Guide to US Government
by MobileReference

Along with the documents that came with the Kindle:
Welcome Letter from Jeff Bezos
Kindle 2 User's Guide
The New Oxford American Dictionary

Lorenz on Leadership

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General Stephen R. Lorenz, USAF was on the campus of Mississippi State University and gave one of the best lectures on ledership I have ver seen. The talk was directed towards the ROTC (Army and Air Force) cadets but he had nuggets for eveyone.

He gave his ten tenets f leadership which are:

1. Learn the art of balancing shortfalls. There is never enough money, time, or manpower.
2. Those who do their homework...win.
3. The toughest word in the English language to say is..."Yes"
4. Don't lose your temper...unless you plan to.
5. Work on your boss's boss's problem...and you won't have any problems.
6. Self-confidence and motivation 95% of any great endeavor.
7. Study the profession and read--especially biographies.
8. Life is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash.
9. Being in our profession [the military] is all about service to others.
10. You never know you're going to make a difference.

General Lorenz also said that good grades will get you better opportunities but the fact that you do not have great grades will not necessarily keep you from achieving great things. He used self-deprecatng humor to drive his point home in saying the he made the top 75% of his class at the USAF Academy...possible.

I started to think about it and I came to the conclusion that the best leaders I have worked with were not always the top academicaly. They were surely intelligent, competent, and capable, but not always the straight-A students. In fact, the straight-A students have tened to be farly poor leaders.

I have to admit I truly loved his repeated appeals to students to read. Read anything but especially biographies.

Overal a great lecture. I hope we can get him back and have him talk to a larger audience.

Strategic Thinker, I Am

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Yep, it was confrmed this weekend that I my leadership strength falls into the domain of Strategic Thinking. I read Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie this weekend and used he code inthe back of the book to get my personal profile. I read StrengthsFinder 2.0 not too long ago (and Now, Discover Your Strengths before that) so I was able to log into the site nad use my strengths aready on file to get my leadership domain.

Based on their research, the authors found there were four leadership domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. Based on my top five strengths (out of the 34 they measure) of Learner, Strategic, Input, Achiever, and Intellection I fell into the Strategic Thinking domain. In fact, four ofmy five strengths (learner, strategic, input, and intellection) fell into the strategic thinking domain with my remaining strength of achiever falling into the Executing domain.

If you are familiar with the strengths movement then this would be a good book to get. You will not only get five strengths but you will also get your leadership domain. Strengths-Based Leadership does discuss the 34 strengths so there is a review. But, if you have not read any of the other books then you might start with one of them.

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