What is a Veteran and Why are They Considered Heroes?

In the United States, we call people who have been in the military veterans just as a colloquial term. A “veteran” of anything is really just someone who has experience in something, such as a “veteran” teacher being someone who has been in education for 10 years or so, “veteran” nurse, being someone with more than a few years experience in nursing. At some point, and I am not sure why, “A veteran” with no other qualification became generally understood to be a military veteran. I can’t really tell you when or why that happened. I suppose it came from people who “veterans” of a particular war, having experience with it, that then stuck for all others.

As to the second, and much larger question, and I will also qualify assumption, not all veterans are considered heroes by many people. I personally wouldn’t qualify all of them as such, speaking as a veteran of the Iraq War myself. Some of them are nasty, brutish people deserving of little praise, respect, nor honor. I’ll qualify that statement to make clear that it has nothing to with whether a military service member were able to deploy or participate in combat. Some people are just terrible human beings no matter if they have been in the military or not. That said, apart from me there are many non-veterans who don’t believe veterans, as a class, are heroes either. In the three years that I have written on Quora I have personally been attacked I have no idea how many times. As an example, this comment came in just yesterday:

And, of course, there’s no shortage of idiot 18-25 year-old kids who will buy whatever line their government sells them, and happily be cannon fodder, because ‘merica.


I frequently receive this sort of attack which I usually just report and block the source, and I am just happy that Quora doesn’t allow anons to comment, otherwise I know I would have left it long ago. Since I came home from Iraq, when I participated online I’ve been called names and accused of many things, not the least of which being asked to answer the question Murder: What does it feel like to murder someone?. While many people see the numerous efforts by varying groups and individuals to thank veterans, particularly those who took part in the wars, for every hundred or so that publicly acknowledge what we did favorably, there is one person who very blatantly slaps us in the face with their disapproval of us or what we believe. Sometimes, it is very hard to remember the hundred people who said “Thank you”, when their efforts are completely overshadowed by just one who called you a murderer.

Having said that, there is a question of why there is so much positive attention given publically to troops that deserves to be answered, or at least attempted to answer. In some cases, this is a welcome acknowledgement, in others it is downright shameless marketing. Last year after the Super Bowl I gave this answer Jon Davis’ answer to How do military veterans view the manner in which the NFL attempts to associate its brand with the military, particularly during the Superbowl? I’ll share this except here:

… it is a completely rational choice for the NFL to choose military to be the group they would want to associate themselves with. The types of people who support the military fall neatly into many of the demographics. They really should be supporting the military, but then again so should every other company that enjoys the freedom of American patronage, customer base and the most secure and profitable economic environment on Earth. But that is besides the point. As long as they keep doing as much as they are doing to make sure that the people of the military are still part of our thoughts, they don’t overstep themselves in literally comparing themselves to those same member and are sincere in their efforts, then I wouldn’t have any problem with using my efforts to ensure they are profitable.

We’ve seen dozens of commercials that thank troops, letting you know that Company X supports troops. Many of these I’ve noted involve actors and production units who did very poorly with unresearched acting, incorrect uniforms, and simply seemed to be communicating to civilians “we love troops, shop with us”. Many pulled from a base that was just a few miles away in the middle of California, asking them to say hello to someone back home, implying to the audience that these soldiers were overseas. One even went so far as to imply that the troops on a ship were overseas with the scripted “I’ll be home soon,” from a sailor, unaware that his message would be used to imply something other than that this ship any future out to sea than San Diego Harbor. I’ve seen few of these commercials go so far as to send actual crews to places like Iraq or Afghanistan, which has many secure areas for their civilian crews, Letterman did a whole week live from Iraq for goodness sake, to connect actual military families. Instead, they do the cheap and easy way of attaching themselves to vets, while leaving actual troops feeling taken advantage of. It’s worse if you look at corporations who advertise how much they “endeavor to hire veterans” while showing no evidence that they do in the slightest. I’m putting Chase bank on the altar of public humiliation for this one. I’d like to see of independent third party evidence to support their several years of claims that they did so. Stereotypes around vets, particularly those returning from recent wars have made such individuals virtually unhirable.

So, yes please note that while you see a lot of thank yous going out, a great deal of it is just branding for military sympathizers.

Having said that, there are many actual military sympathizers out there who say “Thank you” with the best of intentions and in complete sincerity. I think these are the people this question is honestly asking about. If I were to venture a guess as to what these people’s motivations were I would narrow it down to three things:

People were very scared after 9/11

This section will be short because it requires little understanding. People get scared. 9/11 was this era’s Pearl Harbor and woke millions to the reality that they aren’t as invulnerable as they once were. For the first time, really since the Civil War, the idea of our prosperity, our businesses, our livelihoods, and our very lives being taken from us was a reality. Now that there was a very obvious enemy that existed, there was really only one source to provide protection, as well as what many people wanted even more, retribution. That was the United States military.

In a way different from wars and conflicts like Grenada, the First Gulf War, and Vietnam, Americans very much felt the justification behind war. There wasn’t any misgivings around why it needed to happen in the months following 9/11. Most people couldn’t really do anything about that. The military was in a position to give them that sense of security and satisfy their need to see vengeance dealt to those who would attack us.

I don’t think it would be a lie to say that many people felt helpless following 9/11. The military was our arm to reach back and deliver a message that events that robbed America of 3,000 of their own wouldn’t be tolerated. For many, not feeling helpless was something that gave them a sense of security and retribution. In a small way, I think that many responded to this sensation though gratitude to the military, as it gave them a sense of empowerment in a very, very turbulent and unsure period of American history.

Many people feel horrible for the treatment of Vietnam Veterans, as well they should.

In studying veterans since leaving the military myself, I’ve noticed the drastic change in how veterans were treated from my war, the Iraq War of 2003-2011, as opposed to the war of my father’s generation. He was a Green Beret who trained many soldiers who went over to Vietnam as a hand-to-hand knife fighting specialist. In trying to understand him better, I realized the level of social harm inflicted upon soldiers of that era upon their return for what was realistically, political grievances.

On returning from Vietnam minus one arm, I was accosted twice by individuals who inquired, “Where did you lose your arm, Vietnam? I replied, “Yes.” The response was, “Good. Serves you right.”

– James W. Wagonback, quoted in Bob Greene’s Homecoming

Richard Gabriel describes another experience featured in Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s On Killing

The presence of a Vietnam veteran in his uniform in his hometown was often the occasion for glares and slurs. He was not told that he had fought well, nor was we reassured that what he had done only what his country and his fellow citizens had asked him to do. Instead of reassurance, there was often condemnation, “Baby Killer”, “Murderer” until he too began to question what he had done and ultimately his sanity. The result was that at least half a million and perhaps as many as one and a half million returning Vietnam veterans suffered some degree of psychiatric debilitation called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an illness which has become associated in the public mind with an entire generation of soldiers sent to war in Vietnam.

As a result of this Gabriel concludes that Vietnam produced more psychiatric casualties than any other war in American history. Numerous psychological studies have found that this social support system, or lack thereof upon returning from combat is a critical factor in the veterans’ psychological health. Indeed social support after war has been demonstrated in a large body of research by psychiatrists, military psychologists, Veterans Administration mental health professionals and sociologists to be more crucial than even the intensity of combat experience. When the Vietnam War began to become unpopular the soldiers who were fighting that war began to pay a psychological price for it – even before they returned home.

Another segment of On Killing provides additional examples of the deep traumatization and scarring as a result of the hostile and accusing homecoming for the nation in which they had suffered and sacrificed.

The greatest indignity heaped upon the soldier waited for him when he returned home. Many veterans were verbally abused and physically attacked or even spit on. The phenomenon of returning soldiers being spit on deserves special attention here. Many Americans do not believe, or do not want to believe that such events ever occurred.

Bob Greene, a syndicated newspaper columnist, was one of those who believe these accounts were probably a myth. Greene issued a request in his column for anyone who actually experienced such an event to write in and tell about it. He received more than a thousand letters in response collected in his book Homecoming. A typical account is that of Douglas Detmer.

“I was spat upon in the San Francisco airport. The man who spat on me ran up to me from my left rear, spat, and turned to face me. The spittal hit me on my left shoulder and on my few military decorations above my  left breast pocket. He then shouted at me that I was a Mother F’ing murderer. I was quite shocked and just stared at him.”

Speaking from my own personal experience as a returning Iraq War veteran, I can only say how profoundly different my experience was from someone who would have joined during Vietnam. Besides the few who are unafraid to comment online, I was warmly welcomed by many casual acquaintances, thanked and admired in ways I could have never imagined. The greatest of these was upon returning home during leave after my first deployment. I went to the church where I had grown up just down the street from my house. At the behest of my mother, I wore my dress blues uniform. While there, the preacher acknowledged me in front of the congregation of around three hundred people from my small town and asked that stand to be recognized. The congregation clapped and stood, giving me my first standing ovation at the age of 20.

I never received public face-to-face condemnation for my participation in the military during the War on Terror. What I had endured online was by people who I could see didn’t really matter anyway and only had the courage to speak through the mask on online distance, a factor my studies have taught me is an import factor in empowering troops in combat as well. In spite of them, I was always overwhelmed by the support of wellwishers and fans, both American and, much to my surprise, from all around the world. I always felt that I was loved and respected for my brief period of service and I know that support helped me move on from a great many burdens I carried. I’m now one of the proudest people I know to have served. I can’t imagine a world coming home to what the Vietnam veteran returned to. It must have been like returning from Hell only to experience a second circle of it, one in which the tour of service would never end. While there is nothing I could do or say for them I can only say how extremely thankful my reception has been, not only for my happiness, but for my psychiatric health as well. It should be noted that my father, the trainer of soldiers who went to Vietnam, never actually went himself, even being a member of the Special Forces community. He still suffered greatly in his later years, eventually succoming to deep seated pyschological damage and alcoholism. That may have brought about for many reasons not related to the military, but his involvement in the Vietnam war, as an “accomplice to murder”, may have had a deeply profound and negative effect on him that reverberated in him for decades. Eventually, his alcoholism took his life when he died of cirrhosis of the liver. He died a miserable and lonely man, a fate that was unfortunately not unique to him, but shared by many, perhaps statistically too many, fellow veterans from that period of the American military.

The only guess I can make is that one of two things had happened between my father’s time and my own, or perhaps both; either the public has come to realize that the way in which they treat returning veterans has far more impact on the degree of traumatization they receive than the veterans’ experiences in combat, or they have come to realize that warriors of the United States are not the representatives of the people who sent them there. I have no evidence to support my first theory, in fact, if movies and TV are any indicator, there is no common knowledge of phenomenon at all. Most people would have never have considered themselves possibly culpable of damaging the health of a military veteran, but the evidence shows they are. The second seems very plausible. It seems to me that, perhaps in the presence of imminent threat, such as that caused by 9/11, people knew that the troops were necessary and even when the war became unpopular, the sentiment that these individuals fighting it deserved respect never dissipated. I will say this though, there is still a massive number of post combat sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If what was learned by Grossman’s studies of the warrior experience on the warrior’s psychological health is to be trusted, then the huge number PTSD patients existing today should lead us to ask ourselves not what the government, or the military should be doing for returning for returning veterans, but how have we personally welcomed them back?

While I can only say that the treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is worlds better than that of Vietnam veterans, I’d still suggest that for the sake of any potential veteran’s health, it might not be that important for you to join in the chorus of voices repeating commonly known tropes, and even a few myths, about the current wars we are engaging in or which many young veterans are still dealing with internally. An example of this is the Quora question With the benefit of hindsight, should America have invaded Iraq in 2003?. For a point of reference, my own answer, as the only active participant in it, is ranked 20th. Of the other 58, only one other posts the possibility of it being a productive conflict (ranked 16th) and only one other is neutral on the matter (ranked 30th). That being said, what value do the 50 people after the original several arguments against going to Iraq feel they are offering to the debate? This sort of virulent “Me too!” form of unproductive debate and suppression of alternative opinions, views, and outright facts, I fear may be damaging to our returning veterans. I don’t believe this is the same kind of damage that was done to the Vietnam veterans, but it may be used as evidence one day that when subsets of a culture makes it so vehemently clear to veterans that it doesn’t support what they sacrificed so much for, whether they showed outright hostility to them individually or not, will produce the same or similar psychological damage as those who did. I’m not asking people to not argue against war or to not have a point of view, but in the future of conflicts that will come about, please consider if your voice is actually adding anything to the debate, or if it just more noise that does little to help your, but that echoes violently in the mind of the participants who took part in it.

Please ensure that your facts are correct, that your words are more than just empty rhetoric and additional noise, and mostly that you communicate your concerns with compassion to the participants who took part in it.

There is a selflessness inherent in the volunteer warrior

I want to ensure that I stay on topic with this one and attempt to communicate this without trying to make myself and others sound like we deserve the hero mantle. I want to talk about the nature of selflessness.

Selflessness is the attribute of someone who places someone or something at greater value than their own well-being. By itself, it isn’t really a trait that is heroic. We see it in people who are in love, parents, and great leaders. What they put in front of themselves may be many things; their family, their nation, an idea, or even a company. As with many leaders of many organizations, their obsession to success goes beyond greed, but into a true passion for success of their idea and a better world it may bring. That’s selflessness too. Most people don’t understand selflessness though.

Today’s world is one built on materialism and individualism, two cultural traits that represent the antithesis of selflessness. I’m not saying that I don’t like our culture. I love the things that the progress of our world have brought me. I’m sitting on my computer in my comfortable climate controlled living room (as opposed to the freezing temperatures outside) and could just as easily as writing to you, be watching a movie or streaming Netflix on the TV to my side. It’s a great time to be alive. I’m certainly not saying I am selfless either. I consider myself often very selfish, self-centered, and a narcissist, but in one regard, I am different from most other people. At one time, I was willing to endure great hardship for a set of ideals which included the risk of my own death. Such an idea is something most people will never experience. To be honest, I am glad of that.

Returning to the time when I received the standing ovation in my church, one might think that would have been one of the proudest moments of my life. It wasn’t; in fact, it was one of the most humiliating things I have ever endured. I didn’t expect it and then when it came, I felt a complete sense of embarrassment and the desire to not be the center of attention. I felt guilty about it for years. I wasn’t able to relieve the guilt until I met a friend of mine who, on that same day, had recently returned home from a mission trip to Romania. That was an act I thought deserved more recognition in a church than going to war, but, as far as I knew had received none of what I felt. Years later I saw him at a wedding and I was finally able to tell him that I felt he deserved the recognition and that I did not. Only after that was I able to feel good about having ever received it at all, and look back on the event without the sensation of guilt.

I’ve also noticed this same sentiments in other veterans, as well. I recently gave a review of the new movie American Sniper. In it, I was surprised to see this sentiment lived out by the films main actor, Bradley Cooper.

In that scene, Cooper displays classic signs of a veteran who doesn’t enjoy being thanked. He immediately deeply retreats upon being recognized and becomes politely evasive. His speech breaks down into monosyllabic chirps of general acknowledgement, while not maintaining eye contact and attempting to not carry the conversation further. While I’ve never saved anybody, I’ve had this experience dozens of times when random strangers thank me for my service. You really can’t describe the feeling that follows, but last Veterans’ Day when my boss made a big deal about thanking me in front of all my students, a motive I am deeply appreciative of, I was overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a profound and sudden sense of humiliation which I can’t begin to quite understand. All I can say is Cooper’s portrayal of this feeling was something I saw in his short chirps and expressionless awkward glances that communicated a level of detailed research, coaching, and acting, to say the least of getting to know realveterans that needs to be known and acknowledged.

In reflecting on that profound and sudden sense of humiliation, the only thing I can guess was the cause was a sense that nothing we have done was particularly heroic or deserving of praise. As my last point about Vietnam should have made exhaustively clear, no one deserves condemnation for military service, but I haven’t ever met one who has shown that they need or particularly loved the praise either. The fact is, I don’t know anyone who joined so that people would thank them, and if that was all they received, it wouldn’t be worth it. I think what the sense of embarrassment that veterans feel comes down to is that most haven’t acknowledged the trait that sets them apart from the rest of Americans. They are, or were at one time, willing to endure pain, such as the pain of learning that you actually can keep running even as your leg seizes up in an excruciating cramp while at bootcamp, which all go through. Many also willingly endure a lack of food, comfort, and safety while in country, not to mention the months and years many often spend apart from friends family and the society which they serve. Finally, a few make the ultimate sacrifice in the supreme anti-statement to modern individualism, through death. While many say, and some rightly believe that they would make make these commitments, veterans are those who actually did. They put themselves in that position knowing the risks involved.

It isn’t that the risks were that great that I would die and I have stated often that the United States military is by far one of the safest to have ever been in. The risk of death in the United States military during the most recent decade is less than .1% while the risk of being wounded in action is a sizable amount less than 1%. That’s even if you are part of the only 26% who get deployed to a combat environment at all. It also isn’t like the United States doesn’t reward it’s veterans well for their service. Add on the fact that there is nowhere else in the world an eighteen year old with no skills upon entering can receive such a generous pay and compensation package, to include world class vocational education, housing, and the opportunity to travel the world, there is also free college, healthcare benefits for service connected disabilities, the VA loan and many other benefits I can’t name. The facts are, there are many selfish and rational reasons to join the military.

But there is that risk. There is a risk that is different from the risk of failure that an entrepreneur might take on. You actually could die in this endeavour. Despite the odds, I knew several who did just that. Many people, for whatever the reason, could never bring themselves to take on that risk, be it even for greed or something greater than themselves. I feel that, perhaps, people realize this in themselves, and look to veterans with, perhaps, admiration for it, or at the very least confusion and curiosity about it.

We have an all volunteer service today. That means that people there weren’t forced to join. They weren’t coerced or drafted. Every one of them showed in some little way that they had a part of them that valued something enough to risk their life for it. To the American people today, that means something. I presume they are aware that their lives and prosperity are in many ways contingent of the existence of a warrior class willing to risk pain, discomfort, and death to scare away the forces that would rob Americans of their prosperity. I can’t say that this is a fact, but I think that that selflessness, or whatever it is you want to call it, that the military show is something they are very thankful for. In many ways, I think that many respect such a trait as something of value and rarity. They view it as noble, while the veteran probably has never really thought about it at all.

As I stated in the beginning, I don’t think every veteran is a hero. I think that few are given any real test to prove heroism or cowardice. I went to Iraq twice with the Marines and never faced such a test. The only test they faced was if they were selfless enough to put themselves in that position. It also isn’t that I am saying that the average American is selfish. That would be hypocritical. I love my life today and don’t want to endure pain nor discomfort. I enjoy waking up next to wife with my dog at the foot of the bed and to feel no sense of unsafety in my home. I love that I live in a nation that is prosperous beyond reason. I also know that there are billions of people who don’t get these benefits, but I also know that they are contingent. I know that my comfort and happiness rely on the continued dedication and commitment of a few who have pledged to suffer for a time to ensure it for all of us. To you, I acknowledge your suffering, having been there myself, and am deeply appreciative of everything you do each day.

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Does ISIS really stand a chance in the long run?

The group that exists today is probably doomed, but the ideas that they have propagated and evolved will live on, as will most of the individuals who are taking part in the atrocities.

The ideas that the Islamic State are building themselves around are not new. By some interpretations they can be sourced to Islamic leaders in the mid 1700’s in Saudi Arabia, but more recently in the contributions to these philosophies by others in from the Egypt, Kashmere, and others since the 1920’s. These ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world and are the root cause of Islamic Jihadism today. Until these ideas are segregated from the greater Islamic philosophy, villainized properly for the barbarity they eventually lead to, and purged by Muslims from their own practices, these ideas will continue to grow, prosper, spread, and evolve in places like Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , Afghanistan (Taliban), Mali, Nigeria, and Chad (Boko Haram), and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). Even if ISIS were to be completely routed and destroyed, (magic wand thinking), the ideology behind what brought it into existence will continue to grow even if the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant no longer exists.

Second, the people who fight for ISIS will continue to exist, as well. Most of the people who fight in jihadist wars don’t come from the land where they are fighting. Instead, they follow an international call to arms against a myriad of supposed threats. Below is an estimated map of where most of the international recruits to ISIS come from. The vast majority of are from Middle Eastern and North African nations. Still, a disturbing amount are coming from Islamic communities within Western Europe.

There are several problems with this beyond the sheer terror that it invokes. First that I will mention, is that if the core of ISIS were magically destroyed, all of these individuals would return home to their native countries. In places like France, this phenomenon has directly caused at least one massacre, as well as others in Spain and London, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. The fear that many international security agencies have had is that these individuals will go back home and bring terror with him, once again, independent of what is going on in actual war zones like Syria and Iraq. Charlie Hebdo provided proof of concept in this concern, dubbed “islamophobic” only a month ago.

Moving on from this is the international conflict it invokes. What happens if we were to be able to just capture all these individuals, not kill them, but not let them go back home? Well, they are still citizens of those foreign governments and now they are under US (or whoever’s) control. How would the Russian community respond to hearing of Russians being held by Western forces indefinitely for actions that took place overseas? What about the Chinese, or the French, or the Saudis? The United States doesn’t even understand the rationality behind it and will fight the very act of detaining known terrorists, so I have to ask about the strain this sort of event would have on international relations. Probably, in at least a few cases, important bonds would break down and geopolitical stability would be damaged.

Third, even if ISIS were to disappear, the Jihadi Wars will continue. As I have said, the land may be deprived of the jihadists, but their ideas will not go away, nor will the individuals disappear. They will continue to go on and spread their ideals and attempt to reform their home mosques to their own version of Islam. If we were to even hope to track all these people, it would require the creation of perhaps another separate CIA or an international intelligence task force with the sole purpose of tracking these individuals. It’s an almost impossible problem, let alone the philosophical and legal burdens that implies. This means that keeping track of them is a pipe dream. They will also take with them the connections: financing, weapons dealers, fanatical religious leaders, the media. These relationships will be able to grow, as well. So too will their will their tactics and the ideas which form the pillar of their fundamentalist agenda. All this will be happening as they reintegrate into their native homelands, unaware of the jihadist’s past.

Eventually, the call to arms will move somewhere else. It may be that the fight is called for Somalia, or West Africa. Perhaps it will be in the Kashmere region. It may just as easily move to places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even in Southwestern China or France. When that happens, the same mujahid fighting today will flock to the region, this time with their sons and their friends who they have converted to their perverted view of Islam. The rest of the world won’t make the connection between say, Chechnya in 2020 and ISIS today, but by the same connection, no one was tracing the link to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, or between them and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980’s or between all of them and some Saudi cleric three hundred years ago.

If we ever want to truly see the forces which caused the rise of the Islamic State to fail, we are going to have to support Muslim’s effort to purge the jihadists’ ideology from their own belief system. Their media outlets and outreach need to be secured and silenced and as many of them as possible need to be killed right now, before they go on to pollute the rest of Islam with their fanatical belief system.

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Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

So far, I haven’t seen very many reviews of American Sniper from anyone who was present in Iraq during the time Kyle was there. My first base, Al Taqaddum was about thirty minutes from Fallujah , the location of much of the story. Some of the times we were there coincided, so I feel like I have a different view of the story than most movie goers or professional reviewers.

I really don’t like seeing war movies about Iraq because, like “The Hurt Locker” and “Brothers”, they are critically acclaimed by millions who never took part in the wars, but create ridiculously stereotypical caricatures of real people who deserve more respect, and are abysmal failures of research into the actual military methodology that deserves more understanding. To me, movies like these are just riding waves of war curiosity and civilian guilt while telling their over-sensationalized story, rather than any semblance of a real story – essentially, an insult to anyone who actually took part in the conflict while making millions for people who didn’t. I fully expected American Sniper to be much of the same, so I was probably just going to wait and rent the DVD. It wasn’t until my sixth grade students, some of which still in diapers when I went to war, started asking questions about what it is was like for me after seeing they saw the movie that I decided to watch so that I could give an answer based on their new context, rather than mine.

When I sat down for the movie I fully expecting all the nonsense and war porn that was The Hurt Locker. My only hope was that Clint Eastwood, whose work I have enjoyed in the past, would do better. The lights went down and the opening began to the Islamic call to prayer. Before even the first frame of actual film footage, I was shocked that I was immediately taken back to that other time and place. What the Adhan means, to me, is an immediate sense of anxiety and foreboding. I know that for billions of people, that is not the case, but when the first place you hear it is over hundreds of loudspeakers echoing from the village of Haditha below your base, it is more reminiscent of the people living there lobbing rockets at you every week than of any religion of peace. Eastwood starting the movie with that, I feel was intended as a spiritual call to arms for Iraq veterans and for me at least, it landed. What the opening first scene actually ended up being, locked me in for the rest of the movie.

Where this film shines, in my opinion, was in the degree of accuracy it had in its presentation. As I said before, movies like The Hurt Locker turned me off for military flicks for years. This one got details right that I have no idea how they could have known. I have no idea how they thought to even ask. My case in point, which no one reading this noticed, was a water bottle used to automatically close the wooden door in their plywood shelter on the first deployment. It is an almost meaningless detail of that war that we walked past every day, but that you would never think to see in a movie because it is just so mundane and inglorious. But there it was. It meant a lot to me that that detail made it in, among countless others which will go unheralded. Honestly, the whole living area was done perfectly. It felt exactly like what I would have expected to see in Iraq. In fact, it was too perfect. There was no dust and everything was at right angles so shelves didn’t look like they were made by a cross-eyed Lance Corporal who lost his glasses. But besides being too perfect, it was perfect. To be clear, this was a very researched and well done military movie. There were times where troops wore the wrong gear and other things, but overall, very well done in most regards.

Second, was the actual portrayal of military deployments. Every war movie I have ever seen shows you and your war buddies gearing up for “The Big One” and going off to war. Those who miraculously survive come home to ticker tape and beautiful women, the war forever just a memory. What the regular people don’t get is that we go to war, once, twice, four times, eight times… I commented to Jay Wacker‘s review to his point that, “The film dragged a little in the 3rd tour, which began to feel a bit same-same…” which shows a great deal of how good movies run counter to real life. There’s a reason that the film drug during the third tour. By the third 6-to-10 month combat tour, life is same-sameish. That said, the fact that Eastwood showed the transition – civilian home, killing insurgents, having a baby, seeing a child murdered, playing with the dog, seeing your friend killed, going to the mall, nearly dying, as a realistic sequence of events does far more to display life for those of us who really deployed and our families. Living in that perpetual state of transition was a a mind numbing experience, delivered of course, by the film’s leading actor, Bradley Cooper.

Cooper got it right in so many ways I can’t even describe how much I now respect this Hangover alumni. It wasn’t his general badassness in battle. Every war movie tries to make their hero a superhero. Whatever, boring. I’ve seen that before over, and over, and over… So to those who see this as just a real-life Iron Man or Captain America”, you missed so, so much.

The scene that meant the most to me when thinking about Cooper’s acting ability was one that most people were probably bored by, but for veterans, really drives the point home that they got it right. I’ll throw a spoiler because the plot point really doesn’t matter. It was the scene where Kyle and his family are having the tire on their car changed. A Marine recognizes Kyle and comes up to thank him with all the “You saved me in, blah, blah, blah…” and “A lot of guys didn’t come back, blah, blah, blah…” tropes that are in every war movie. What you probably didn’t notice about that scene was Cooper. To moviegoers he was boring, but what I saw was something I don’t understand how he got right.

In that scene, Cooper displays classic signs of a veteran who doesn’t enjoy being thanked. He immediately deeply retreats upon being recognized and becomes politely evasive. His speech breaks down into monosyllabic chirps of general acknowledgement, while not maintaining eye contact and attempting to not carry the conversation further. While I’ve never saved anybody, I’ve had this experience dozens of times when random strangers thank me for my service. You really can’t describe the feeling that follows, but last Veterans’ Day when my boss made a big deal about thanking me in front of all my students, a motive I am deeply appreciative of, I was overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a profound and sudden sense of humiliation which I can’t begin to quite understand. I had to ask her to stop. Like seriously. All I can say is Cooper’s portrayal of this feeling was something I saw in his short chirps and expressionless awkward glances that communicated a level of detailed research, coaching, and acting, to say the least of getting to know real veterans that needs to be known and acknowledged.

What I didn’t like most was the wife, played by Sienna Miller. The character was too one-dimensional. The acting was fine, but the role was built to serve as a person who represented the state-side life of deployed military personnel and nothing else. For that reason, regardless of the real Taya Kyle’s persona, the character came off as deeply unsupportive and against the war or at least her husband’s participation in it. It lends to the idea that “normal” people wouldn’t be all right doing what he does. The only time you actually see her mention that she is proud of her husband’s achievements was when he retired from service, which left a very ambiguous taste in my mouth. What exactly was she proud of? This felt very unrealistic as the SEALs are pretty much the most gung-ho, hyper military individuals that Hollywood often paints them to be, but their families are just as gung-ho proud as they are. They suffer the deployments, sure, but “My husbands a SEAL, dammit!” In my experience, you don’t find successful military people who have a home life with someone that unsupportive of their efforts “over there”, particularly when they were in service prior to their romantic life. I can easily dismiss this because this character, in the movie, is a symbol meant to showcase the torn nature of Kyle’s character, and rounding her out would have taken away from the plot while adding time to an already very long movie, but it just didn’t land home with me. The brother’s extremely short feature in the late story also seemed remarkably unrealistic and more Hollywood than real life. I get that he may not have liked the war (who does?) but the day you go home is the happiest day of your life. You’re happy. Act happy.

There were other plot problems, as well. Specifically, on his first deployment he is pretty much looked at as some sort of key leadership role, which isn’t realistic. He’s a SEAL, not a God of Warfare. What it seemed to me to happened was that several key leaders, namely SEAL officers, were merged with Kyle’s character for story telling convenience. By his third or fourth tour he would have been an actual Chief (Chief Petty Officer) and had a leadership role, but not by the first deployment. Abandoning overwatch to go house to house was also a bit unforgivable, because I said so. “Let me show you a few things,” to the Marines, which were filmed as almost incompetent, was a bit annoying. Getting a phone call in the middle of a mission? Umm… no. The whole climax scene was also really over the top and highly fictionalized for the movie from several different events in the book at once.

The last thing I didn’t really enjoy seeing; all the PTSD and blown up troops. Honestly, the next time you see it, attempt to find me one single veteran who left the military and was not very much traumatized or horrifically maimed. If movies like this were the only evidence you had to go on, everyone would believe that all 2.5 million of us who went would to Iraq or Afghanistan are sporting a titanium leg. I’ve seen a dozen different reviews that speak about how they did a great job of showing what it’s like for returning troops mentally speaking, but they really didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they did better than any other, but you don’t feel what having cancer is like by watching an actor play a person with cancer. You just feel sad for the character. You don’t understand it, though. I appreciate how very, very hard they obviously worked on showcasing the issue respectfully, but honestly I’m concerned that the fact that since every war movie must show returning veterans as irreparably broken and destroyed individuals, (Brothers anyone?) is just perpetuating the idea that we are creatures to be pitied in the best case scenario; that is, pitied but kept safely away from friends, children, dogs, your workplaces, or guns because we will probably murder you in a fit of PTSD rage. We have enough problems without dealing with the stereotypes that films about the war continually reinforce in a population that has no first hand experience with its actual military veterans.

These few major points and the numerous small inaccuracies were why it isn’t a five star movie for me. That said, I can dismiss these because I get that we need certain things in a movie to take place and be entertaining to movie-going audiences. Enough of the details and story were preserved and given their proper respect that I can deal with the hyped up sensationalization of much of the movie. I do want to end on a positive note.

Many have spoken to the fact no one says a word when the movie ends. It was the same for us. The ending was extremely powerful and brought to the surface many emotions that you just can’t go back to the real world immediately from. For my wife and I, it remained silent for most of the twenty minute car ride home, as well. I dealt with a lot of personal feelings that the movie dug up. I’m usually livid after movies like that, talking about how this was wrong, or that was wrong, but Eastwood’s film just reached me in a way that others who want to tie themselves to the trials of military personnel couldn’t. The film respectfully and as accurately as I could imagine, tells the story of one American warrior’s struggle in making terrible choices, fighting against terrible people, separated from his family and doing it again and again for something he believed was important. To many of us who were there, the story also helps in a small way to communicate parts of ourselves we simply failed to communicate before. I honestly don’t know if there will ever be an Iraq War movie that I would give five stars to, but I am deeply appreciative to the work that Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, and the team that brought American Sniper have done to bring this story to the big screen.

In summary: Must See.

unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

A Look at the Tactics of Charlie Hebdo by a Military Veteran

We’ve had very well planned assaults happening for a very long time now. People just haven’t been paying attention.


Historical Context

Consider all the way back to 9/11. You had 19 men who were all deep agents of Al Qaeda. That means that many served as troops with the Islamic Mujahideen of Afghanistan against the Soviets and were elite warfighters of that force. They were all extremely vetted, meaning that they either served directly with the core of Al Qaeda’s founders or were family. Furthermore, these were not just poor and ignorant farmers. They were all highly literate, highly educated men of connected backgrounds. For example, Mohamed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the operation, was an architect trained in Cairo and Hamburg. Others also held professional degrees. Logistics were an important factor, as well. For the operation to be a success, the 19 had to all be brought into the United States and housed for several months. They had to be trained, each in their various roles for the operations. They were organized into cells. There was no way they would be left in one 19 man house for fear of detection. So they had to be split up. That would also mean that there needed to be an overwatch for them to make sure that they didn’t back out or blow the operation. This meant communication lines had to be created and a bureaucracy of agents supporting the would be suicide bombers. All this, the planning, the coordination, the admin, logistics, and the leadership, required a vast network of handlers and overseers for the operation. It went far beyond 19 men, themselves qualifying easily as special forces, operating for months, implementing a plan years in the making.

This had the masterful effect of pulling the Americans into a prolonged war in the Middle East, unsettling the US, but more importantly, throwing the entire region into turmoil and disarray. By bringing in Western intervention, through the manipulation of American sentimentality and reactionary mentality, they destabilized longstanding semi-secular governments of the Middle East, making way for the caliphate that was always their real primary goal.

Skip to a while later and you see Madrid. In 2004 Spain was in active support of the American presence in Iraq. On the morning of 11 March 2004 – three days before the general elections in Spain, a series of nearly simultaneous, coordinated bombings against the Cercanías commuter train system of Madrid took place. The explosions killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. This also involved a massive and sophisticated planning method where Madrid’s security system had to have been compromised completely for months. The result was the nation’s complete turnaround in the elections, pulling favor away from the Iraq War and isolating the United States from European support.

Al Qaeda is not, in the least, unsophisticated in their attacks. Every major operation they make is implemented by the best and most vetted troops able to be recruited from among various jihadi forces. Their attacks are planned and coordinated with the intent to manipulate Western sentiments to their favor toward destabilizing the Middle East. They further increase their leverage by using this propaganda to build a death cult of fanatics willing to sacrifice themselves in the realization of a grand dream of the new Caliphate, as the “heroes” of 9/11 did.

The Raid on Charlie Hebdo

One eye witness account, that of Corinne Rey, a designer known as Coco, has told L’Humanité said that she was forced to let the attackers into the Charlie Hebdo building. She said:

I had gone to pick up my daughter from daycare. Arriving at the door of the newspaper building, two hooded and armed men brutally threatened us.

They wanted to enter, go up. I typed the code. They shot Wolinski, Cabu … it lasted five minutes … I had taken refuge under a desk …
They spoke French perfectly … claiming to be Al-Qaida.

Other reports have stated that the men knew the individuals whom they were targeting precisely. In one account I’ve seen, attackers called for the editors and cartoonists by name, recognized them and shot them on the spot while ignoring many others. The fact that they did this doesn’t mean it was an inside job by any means, but means that they most likely had very large intelligence profiles on these men. These files were no doubt collected and groomed prior to the operation and delivered to the two. This also indicates a larger network of administrators and intelligence gatherers, perhaps even utilizing known connections with intelligence services of many Islamic nations, a practice seen in the past. I say it wasn’t inside because of a few mistakes made, namely the two first went into the wrong building, two buildings down from Charlie Hebdo. They demanded from a local delivery person direction to the right building, where they encountered Corinne Rey, who they needed to open the door.

In a video of the incident taken by an onlooker in the wrong place at the right time, shared by the Guardian, two gunmen are seen exiting a car presumably near the Charlie Hebdo building. This can be speculated because a news van is seen near where the shooters brutally gunned down a police officer, himself a fellow Muslim.

From what we can see plainly, the two shooters are well armed, both carrying what appear to be AK-47’s, as well as well armored with additional gear. He is wearing what appears to be either some form of load bearing vest, which the military uses to carry additional ammunition, or a bullet proof vest of desert coloring. The truth is, probably both. At the very least, he has lots of ammunition easily available.

More concerning than his equipment, which could be bought and given to any suicidal maniac, is his tactical carry and use of the weapon. The shooter nearest the camera concerns me. As a former US Marine Corps marksmanship instructor I see many things that speak of advanced military style tactical discipline. Both shooters seem to wield the Russian made AK-47 adeptly. These weapons are readily available by many avenues, and abundant in the Middle Eastern conflict, but the ability to fire it well is in less supply. The weapon is capable of automatic fire and fires a larger round than the US made M-16. This means that the weapon has extremely deadly potential, but also requires greater skill to use well in delivering accurate fire. The two assassins demonstrate a knowledge of the weapon’s use, obvious by the casualty count, but also displayed in their carry. Note how the nearer shooter holds his weapon with elbows inward pressed against his body. He also has his body firmly behind the weapon to absorb recoil and raises the weapon to eye level as he is sighted-in while searching around corners for his victim. This shows some degree of military style training and discipline in weapons use.

In reading a profile of the two suspects put together by CNN, this is exactly the type of attack they would have been prepared for.


Both brothers [Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi] were in the U.S. database of known or suspected international terrorists, known as TIDE, and also had been on the no-fly list for years, a U.S. law enforcement official said.  BFMTV reported that like his brother [Cherif], Said Kouachi was born in Paris and was known to police.

The younger of the two brothers [Said] has spent time in jail for links to terrorism. He was arrested in January 2005, at age 22, when he and another man were about to set off for Syria en route to Iraq. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for being part of a jihadist recruitment ring in Paris that sent fighters to join the conflict in Iraq. Kouachi didn’t actually go to prison after the trial because half his three-year sentence was suspended and he had already spent enough time in pretrial detention, Bloomberg reported. He was released from custody before the trial. In 2010, Kouachi was charged in connection with a foiled plot to aid the escape of Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, an Algerian Islamist imprisoned for bombing a Paris commuter rail station in 1995. But public prosecutors later dropped the charges, according to Le Monde.

Of the older brother, Cherif, little is known. He kept a much lower profile than his younger brother.

A U.S. official says the United States was given information from the French intelligence agency that Said Kouachi traveled to Yemen as late as 2011 on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliate there. Once in Yemen, the older brother received a variety of weapons training from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — the affiliate in Yemen — the official said, including on how to fire weapons.

Mohammed Benali, who runs the mosque in Gennevilliers, the suburb where Cherif Kouachi’s apartment is, said the two brothers used to come to Friday prayers there “not assiduously but regularly.” He told Le Figaro that he knew Said Kouachi better, but that he hadn’t seen either of the brothers at the mosque in at least two years.

Charlie Hebdo shooting: Who are the suspects? – CNN.com

The question remains, though now seems obvious, about the location of the two during the last two years. Various reports differ on speculating between one or both of the brothers recently visited Yemen. A French source close to the French security services told CNN that investigators have evidence to suggest one of the brothers — it is unclear which — traveled to Syria sometime in the past year. USA Today reported that they both returned from Syria in the summer. I say obvious, because wherever these two men were, they were very close to terrorist networks which provided them with ample ability to transform from none-to-special ordinary Parisians to fantasized jihadists.

Other images also showcase the extent of their capabilities.

In shooting circles a “tight group” refers to a shooter’s ability to place a collection of rounds near to the same central aiming point. As shown by the damage to this police vehicle, the shooter was able to deliver two very good groups with only a few strays. This is impressive shooting for shoulder fired, automatic weapons with such large calibers.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, their plan was so complete, they have yet to be caught. The fact that so much time has gone by, probably means that the men are already safe and sound in the Middle East. The gunmen were seen escaping into a black vehicle and going to the Paris suburbs where they abandoned their car and jumped into another. Tactically speaking, the whole event exists to spell out a very clear message to many: Islamic terrorists have the power to create an extremely complex and sophisticated raid and assassination against any Western soft targets, in any cities they want and they could do it again without suffering harm.


The Raid on Charlie Hebdo

The big question, at least the big question to me, is “Why?” I understand the obvious answer, they wanted to avenge the blasphemous portrayal of their prophet. Having two homegrown Parisian jihadists just arrive on the scene may have simply been too good of an opportunity to let go. Perhaps, all they really did want was to send a message to the West, as well as their own people. Disrespect of their prophet or their organization won’t be tolerated, and retribution will be too grand not to be showcased. Perhaps they wanted to raise tensions in France, the nation with the largest Islamic population in Europe. France has a full 10% Muslim population which, if properly motivated by revenge and retribution attacks by overzealous Frenchmen, could produce many new converts for jihad. Observe what was done with two. Imagine twenty.

Al Qaeda, though, doesn’t ever just do something for the “obvious” reason. They are very nuanced and their planning is many layers deep. As with 9/11 being used to generate rage in Americans to destabilize the entire Middle East, and Madrid being used to encourage Spain to vote against a government which would support the Iraq war, Al Qaeda has shown that they have mastered the art of manipulating Western mentalities to greater, yet less obvious purposes. What I wonder is, what are these purposes?

I’m free to speculate, as it is asked by the OP. Charles Stuart Forstall also brings to the table a theory that is very valid so I will start there.

You have to keep in mind that the primary audience for the terrorists is on their home turf and they are seeking whatever advantage they can gain with those whom they might woo either to their cause or to their support. I am of the mind, though I know this is a somewhat contentious idea, that the attack was meant to provide the terrorists with western provided media items, memes, that they can use to grow their support base.

Westerners outside of France seem to have a hard enough time grasping the proper context of the cartoons and I think that this is also part of the strategy. The images will circulate in places where people don’t have access to the internet or to “fact checking” methods like we do. In the end all that matters will be the image and not the unintelligible speech bubbles.

Another theory, lending itself to Charles’, is that the attacks may have been used to encourage additional funding and support from Arab patrons, the long time financiers of global Islamic terrorism. In recent months we have seen drastic changes in the Arabian Peninsula in two forms; one the reduction of the price of oil has upset many of the economies in the oil dependent region and frozen expendable funds for terrorist donations, and two being that these donations have finally been outlawed by the Saudi Arabian monarch. I haven’t done the research to see how successful that initiative has been, but the fact of the matter is that the two mean dangerous times for jihadists abroad if they don’t adapt soon.

Lastly, there is one more motive I would like to pose. From its inception the group known in the West as ISIS has been a force for great destruction and havoc in the region of Iraq and Syria. It was actually born of Al Qaeda in Iraq before breaking off to take part in the Syrian Civil War where it evolved. During that time they reinvented themselves as the “Islamic States” a modern day Caliphate. Al Qaeda, Arabic for “the base” disagreed with this. They felt that the creation of a true Islamic State was premature and should be held off. At that point, the two were at odds with one another. Recently, however, there has been news that the two groups have reconciled. In another answer I said that it should be noted that the attack took place seemingly in response to the unexpected boldness of French bombing offensives in Syria and Iraq over the last few months. There, the allied bombing campaign has had tremendous effect in breaking key points of the battlespace and opening the way for advances by Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army. For the French to decide to back off, would very much relieve front line fighters in Syria and Iraq. All I’m saying is that we haven’t heard a great deal from Al Qaeda in quite a while, so why such a bold move? Why now? Why France?

As I have said, everything is speculation at this point. What Western readers need to understand, though, is that this raid on Charlie Hebdo was not just some rogue terrorists who got lucky. It was not the act of some “lone gunmen”. It was an advanced and well planned, well supported military raid. Not only this, but it isn’t the first. It is the continuation of a very long history of these raids. What might be scary though, as many have feared, insurgents trained and blooded in combat in Syria and Iraq are returning home to Europe and the West. This probably won’t be the last time we see a story like this. This time though, they are good enough to get away, rather than just blowing themselves to pieces.

unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.

Military Education doesn’t mean Uneducated

A question was recently asked of me, ” Why is so much power and authority entrusted to those with comparatively low levels of education, such as the common ranks of police and military?” There is a failure in this question.  It assumes that a lack of education, which is more clearly interpreted as inadequate schooling, is the same as a lack of intelligence or knowledge. Having made note of that failure, I must address a second. It assumes that those possessing great power in the military and police are uneducated, meaning that they are not properly schooled with a great deal of actual time in seats at prestigious houses of higher learning. There is an ironic arrogance in that statement, as anyone who would ask it must be profoundly ignorant of how the United States trains its members.

Picture above is a graduation ceremony of one of the four military academies of the United States. Here officers are trained for four years in everything from leadership to aerodynamics, structural engineering, telecommunications, and law. To get into one you must have shown exemplary talent, superior intelligence, and monumental initiative far superior to your peers among the “general” civilian population of college age. They are among the greatest and most exclusive academic organizations in the United States and they supply the United States military with many of the world’s most advanced warfighting masters at only the beginning of their careers.

Of course, the academies aren’t the only sources of education. Pictured above are students of the United States Army War College. In case you didn’t notice, I said that these men are students. The college provides graduate level instruction to senior military officers and civilians to prepare them for senior leadership assignments and responsibilities within the Department of Defense and other high value positions. Army applicants must have already completed the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the required Professional Military Education for officers in the rank of major. The College is one of the three senior such institutions including the Naval War College and the Air War College. A major focus of the school is placed on research and progressing military theory. Students are also instructed in leadership, strategy, and joint-service/international operations. When the students, Colonels and Lt. Colonels in the US military among others, complete the courses, the college grants its graduates a master’s degree in Strategic Studies.

The last two examples, though, focused specifically on military officers. The elite leadership of the United States military. Beyond this, there is the enlisted side. Pictured above is a training taking place at one of the Marine Corps Recruit Depots where 18 year old young men are transformed into elite fighting riflemen. Education is not about the time one spends in a classroom. It isn’t even about the knowledge that one acquires. It is about the transformation a person endures. As a person who has both graduated Marine Corps boot camp and a person who graduated cum laude from a four year university, I can honestly say that the growth I experienced in three months of boot camp was far, far more valuable than the education I received in four years of college. Without going into specifics on boot camp (which I have) undervaluing the experience that military enlisted professionals is a grave mistake.

Besides that, every Marine, Soldier, Airmen, Sailor, whatever, spends months, if not years, in technical training schools taking part in world class technical instruction and certification. These schools cram more education into a few short months than others in civilian trade schools could hope for in years of paid tutelage. Here, students fresh out of high school become trade professionals in advanced fields such as linguistics, satellite communications, and aviation technician repair specialist. I’m proud to say that my first specialty was a computer guy in the Marines. Yes, we have those. That MOS now specializes in information warfare, and in the war of the future you might just find some 21 year old Corporal hacking distant foreign servers to bring down their anti-air capabilities prior to an attack. A similarly trained individual in the civilian education system is lucky to even get a job making sure that the email is being delivered.

I can’t speak for the police officers of this country. I’ve never served with them, but I know enough to respect their qualifications. I do know that they aren’t just some barbarian with a badge and a gun. My sister herself is going through college to get her degree in Criminal Justice with hopes of joining the force. Having said that, I know that they are also well educated, much more than this question would assume. Considering how much risk they take everyday, often surpassing even that of deployed Marines such as myself, I feel that dismissing them as uneducated is profoundly ungrateful and disrespectful, besides also being ignorant of the sacrifices they make just to be sworn police officers. This is especially true when those making these assumptions do so because they simply haven’t invested the time to rid themselves of their own ignorance.

I’ve spoken often of the prejudices against the military as being a class of individuals designated as being fit only for the lessers of society who couldn’t get into college. (Military Intelligence is an Oxymoron? I Think Not., What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?) As a college graduate myself, I can honestly say that I felt that the demands and capabilities of our higher education system are severely lacking. They lack the fundamental quality that a system that is supposed to prepare you for your future should have, they don’t motivate you to learn. There is a myth that I think young people aren’t aware they have, that by being at a college, one will simply absorb “smartness” from brilliant professors and expensive facilities. They, however, don’t want to learn. They want to be there, get their piece of paper and go on to have success handed to them. Perhaps they lack a significant training and cultural indoctrination period that molds them into good students (like boot camp.) Quite honestly, though, colleges don’t do much more than allow, if not promote the idea by lowering standards to bolster attendance while increasing tuition on an exponential scale. I remember the most disturbing thing I have ever heard in my life was the semester before graduation hearing the words from my student councilor that the economy wasn’t hiring new graduates because they lacked the skills needed in the business world. My jaw dropped and she shrugged. So much for formal education as a means of useful knowledge.

Thanks for reading!

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Is War a Zero-Sum Event?


In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s).

War is brutal and it is terrible, but it is not binary in nature. One does not “win” just because one “loses”. There can be many victors or none at all, but there is never an equal amount exchanged, one part given, one part received. The loss or gain from a military engagement is never, ever equal on both sides. If we think of warfare in the terms of a chess match then yes, this is true. Warfare and geopolitics, however, are extremely more complicated than moves on a boar. Bare with me for a short time and try to think of war pragmatically, devoid of the emotional burden which cannot be measured through exercises in game theory or by any other means.


To prove my point that war is never a zero-sum exchange, consider war as simple conflict. In its most brutal and basic form it would be just combat between two individuals, both presumably equal. Consider, now the death of a single person, the loser. That person’s death, a commonplace event in a warzone, socially and economically speaking, represents the end of any possible gains from their labor or any possible cultural contributions to a nation that he may ever produce. These are assets to a culture that are potentially invaluable. Considering the alternative, a nation may not have the means to support an individual, no matter how brilliant, to achieve their potential. What good is a world class software engineer in a nation with no power? In this case their loss represents one less mouth to feed, one less vaccination, one less series of resources expensed. This liability is finite though; there is only so much a person can take up. Therefore, in theory at least, a person lost is almost surely a net loss. Furthermore, it is almost surely more of a loss to the nation than is the bullet sacrificed by the enemy, and the gain that the victor has achieved is, in this case negligible. In this case, he walked away with only what he started with, his life. Ergo, in this example, warfare, when taken to the very base form, one person who lives, one who doesn’t, is a negative-sum event.

That said, there is also the possibility of positive-sum. When one nation overtakes another nation, it incorporates its surviving members, assets, resources and entire remaining capacity into its own. If this were the end of the story, we have a zero sum. Of course, this is not the end of the story. After the bullets have flown and mourning period has passed, the long run consequences and economies of scale take effect, new connections are formed, technologies are exchanged and the “empire” is capable of producing more value for both itself and its new citizens than either were capable of alone. This is why war can not be measured like exchanges on a chessboard, with a simple exchanges of resources. It can, however,be compared to RISK if we consider what happens when you capture enough territories. At some point, a person who has captured enough territories on the map gets a bonus, say if you capture all of North America. If you capture the right combination of territories and can hold them, you receive extra resources that would not exist at all if two or more players controlled the same spaces. In the real world, we might consider Russia’s recent intervention in Ukraine to be such an event. Considering the gain to Russia’s infrastructure that control of access the Baltic Sea and Ukrainian energy resources will have on the “new” Russia. It will experience much more economic and political power growth overall than the Ukraine has lost. This isn’t to say the Ukrainian loss is marginal; it is crushing to them, but the growth in Russia will potentially dwarf the losses experienced by the Ukrainians in the long run. So too, perhaps, will Russia’s next possible incursions as well. There is also much to say about how well this placed Russia politically in regards to force projection, international standing, discrediting NATO and the UN as well as the improved ability it now has to dictate policy throughout much of the old Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. To put it frankly, Russia’s total gain from Ukraine is immeasurably more than the simple value of the land and resources now lost to the powers of Kiev.

Then there is also the question of whether war, the very practice of organized violence has brought us all to the point of social prosperity we enjoy today. Stanford classics professor Ian Morris tries to argue this in his book, War! What Is It Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots. A historian and an archaeologist, Morris believes that we left caveman status when stopped hunting large game as our only source for survival, and started turning our spears toward each other in a more organized fashion.

…”by fighting wars, people have created larger, more organized societies that have reduced the risk that their members will die violently.”

If we consider this as even a possibility, one might ask if the whole of civilized Earth we know today, is in fact the extremely long run result of wars effect to bring about new efficiencies and social structures. It’s only a theory, but one worth investigating, both as a society and as individuals.

This argument is, of course, ignoring the loss of human life, but not because of the tragedy and drama that comes with it. Pain heals and people move on. It is a reality of the human condition. I say this callously, but consider this fact that I am speaking as former United States Marine and Iraq War veteran. I have lost friends in war and good people I knew with much more to offer the world than the potential they were given. I’ve also seen first hand the results of a war on the people there. Before you decide to rebuke me for my insensitivity, know that I have thought much more about warfare than you likely ever will. From my experience, you should consider that a blessing. Know also, the way one deals with war isn’t to dismiss it as barbaric. Any civilized person knows war is a terrible event so you shouldn’t pat yourself on the back too hard for being aware of this. It is to attempt to understanding why wars happen practically, and their long term consequences practically and not allow your objective rationally to be muddled through emotionally charged, one-liner humanist tropes, impossible to deny, but themselves of little value. If you want to solve warfare, you need to truly attempt to understand it a little bit better. That said, pain heals and people move on.

From a world standpoint there is a great deal of importance to temporary nature of human suffering caused by human death. You don’t think it is temporary? Name all four of your grandparents right now. First names. To those who can, name all eight of your great-grandparents parents. Still a good person? Name four great-great-grandparents. That’s only 1/8th of them. If humans did not have a means to move on and forget tragedy, these people would haunt you even though you never knew them. The truth, they didn’t even haunt your grandparents enough that they made sure you remembered them. At some point we all die. Those who need us will inevitably find others to lean on. Those who need us for love will find others to love. Those who need us for material wealth will find other sources for income. Those who need us for guidance and motivation will find other teachers and perhaps, if we are lucky, be furthered by our memory. No one can replace your brother, your friend, you mother, your wife, or your dog, but the qualities these people, yourself, provide to the world can be found elsewhere. In a macro scale, this is even easier. If a business person dies, his customers will send flowers to the family out of courtesy, and then they will be expected to find other service providers. Eventually, everything we provided will be replaced by our nearest competitors in every aspect. This is the fundamental strength of free systems based on mutual self interest. Losses are temporary events.

Worse yet, some people might be better off. The whole world might be better off if some people are lost. Say I and another man are the only two widget factory owners in town. Say that I bite it and he is now able to grow his business because of the boon of my sudden loss. This isn’t to say he is a bad person; he didn’t plan anything that led to my death. He is even a very good man, perhaps. He is just lucky due to my misfortune, or at the very least, inevitability being that eventually, we are not long for this Earth, regardless. If we consider the last example, though, owning both factories might make him able to achieve marvelous economies of scale, reducing the price of his goods and bettering the widget economy for all now that he is able to do more as the only player than if the two of us competed for limited resources. Maybe this growth will allow him to grow the local economy greatly built on the boom in one company’s widget success. I’ll beat you to the punch, yes I concede there is a possibility the world might be better off if I were dead. My wife, mom and dog would be very sad, but the rest of the world moved on without me and, in this example, were better off for it. Of course, just as easily, that other guy could become a tyrannical monopoly on widgets and you will all cry for the good old days of me. Who is to say?

And that is why we can’t measure human life as a factor. Who is to say what value it has. Was not bin Laden a human life? Did the world gain or lose when the Americans finally tracked him down in Pakistan and relieve the Earth of his presence? Did the world equally gain or lose when my friend Haytak was killed in Iraq? Was one more valuable than the other? Why? What of any individual human who is lost? What of great people? Mao, Stalin, Hitler? Were their deaths a gain or loss to the world? Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Abraham Lincoln; by what value do we attribute their individual losses? How do any of these compare? Why can we say some losses are good while others are tragic? We cannot. The truth is, the loss of some people greatly disrupts the order and fundamental connections of so many others, damaging the prosperity and happiness of millions. Some of these people, just so happen to be evil. Some other people, very good people, bring about conflict just because they exist. Who is to say the world would be better off, or even worse off, if they suddenly weren’t a part of the picture any more?

Having said all this and tabling the philosophical moral discussions, there is no plausible case that a true zero-sum exchange will ever happen. Some resources will be exchanged and in the immediate event, many will be lost in the war. In the short term a negative-sum event will have occurred. I have yet to see a war which hasn’t ended this way. In the long term though, there have been nations which rebuilt stronger than before because of military conflict. Perhaps it was due to a benevolent ruler or, in the most likely case, the nature of people to take advantage of opportunity when there are gains to be made through efficiencies of scale and new resource interconnectedness. Such an event achieves greater gains than either nation could have achieved on their own assuming there is no change in the level of diplomacy between the two. That said, there is also a third possibility, one where two equally powerful nations duel in such a struggle, that all parties involved are sent back decades. In such an event there is no gain to be had, but a long arduous road back to zero. In such a conflict, the goal is not attempting to maximize gains, but defeat the enemy fast enough that your own losses are minimized. There is also the possibility of disruption, where one nation gains nothing, but utterly destroys, or at least sets another. This too is often the case.

With all this in mind, there can be many outcomes to war, particularly if viewed in the long run. Many negative, but not always. Sometimes there is growth. What there is not, is a case where a conflict arises, and an equal gain is made from an equal loss. Someone out there, values what you have more than you do.

Thanks for reading!

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10 Reasons You Should Hire a Military Veteran

be different - business team

Over the last few weeks I have been working on a series of posts with the intention of communicating many of the advantages that military employment will add to company culture for those employers who take the leap of faith and put an honest effort into veteran employment. I am going to speak as a Marine and a former hiring manager. I was once a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps with two Iraq tours and have worked in the retail, real estate, the tech industry start-up and education sectors. In that time, I’ve hired more than enough people to know that it’s one of the hardest decisions you have to regularly make. The choices of who you bring into an organization will either make or break you far quicker than anything you as the individual are capable of. I also know that almost all the decisions you make as a hiring manager happen as the sum result of the generalizations and stereotypes you have attached to the bullet points on their résumé. Don’t feel bad. It’s important to not follow that instinct that all individuals are fundamentally good and fundamentally the same. That’s how you get robbed and your employees drive your company into the ground.

The facts are, you rely on those generalizations to give you the best guess of who is going to add value to your company’s culture and who isn’t going to burn the place to the ground. That said, what happens when you see military experience show up in your inbox? What generalizations do you hold? Do you really not know what it is you’re looking at? Would you like to know more? The problem with many hiring managers is that they have no idea what it means when they see a veteran’s resume. What qualities should you expect? What flaws? What do they add? How are they different from someone else? I wrote this piece to help communicate what to expect. Hopefully after reading you will be able to make an informed decision. You’ll be able to know better if this applicant is not only a good worker for you, but also someone who can grow and drive your company in the future, someone who can grow with you, and maybe even someone who can help you take your operations to the next level.

Leadership is Ingrained in Vets

What many people don’t know is that the United States Marine has an average age of only 19. What? Yes, that Marine is incredibly young, but it still needs to be led. Who do you think is doing this? 19 year olds. By the time most people are twenty in the Marines (this goes for the other services, as well) they are already an NCO. This stands for Non-Commissioned-Officer. Don’t let the “Non” throw you off. What an NCO means is, “The guy in charge who will make my life Hell if I screw up,” or just as often, “the guy whose job it is to make sure I stay alive.” By the age of 20 some kids have already become technical experts in a professional field, are teachers to younger service-members and have led small teams in everything from shop operations to combat deployments.

By the time I was 22 I was a Sergeant in charge of a team of 13 other Marines. We were all occupying very technical jobs in the computer networking field and  responsible for overseeing the maintenance and distribution of over $3 million dollars of Marine Corps property. You probably might think that that was a stupid investment on someone so young, but we pulled it off, with no fanfare I might add, and we did things like that all the time. It wasn’t until I received a degree in Business Management at 25, that the civilian world could trust me again with doing the same thing. I suppose, on the outside, people can’t be trusted with that kind of responsibility. Every day, though, vets do. The fact is that I could not have done this alone. I had those thirteen Marines who did the work and it was my job to coordinate. I had a very solid framework for leadership that include such gems as the Five Paragraph Order, Six Troop Leading steps, and the Thirteen Leadership Traits. These have become pivotal to my personal growth as a manager, teacher, and how I lead others. The military philosophies on the science of leading aren’t something that leave you. The military trains Service Members to lead by example. Skills like motivation and delegation are actually given time to be trained and implemented in the most hostile environments imaginable.

The military doesn’t just educate their members on the practical ways to manage behavior, such as the discipline and communication methods. Leadership is truly studied on the academic and theoretical level. More so than in other organization, this theoretical and practical leadership are put in practice as a matter of survival.

You want another note on leadership? In the military, no one can be fired, not at the bottom tiers at least. That means that you have to get the job done with the idiots God gave you. You are out there for seven to fourteen months with no replacements and just the same team along with all their problems. You have to train them, discipline them, correct them, counsel them and shape them, because you have no other choices. You didn’t even get to hire them. They were just assigned to you, more or less, at random. That is another reason why vets have such strong leadership skills. Could you honestly say that you could run a company the way the Marines do, with their success record, if you couldn’t even pick who gets hired and can’t even get rid of the ones who suck? You probably couldn’t, but the military does. Choosing team members and leaders who have proven they are able to do this means that you are choosing team members who are adaptable and know how to lead others.

Vets Understand Responsibility

In most veterans you will see a strong vein of personal integrity. It isn’t that they are better people than anyone else, far to the point. Many are socially unacceptable misfits by most people’s terms. It is that integrity is driven to such a degree that it is presented as a matter of life or death. Ethics and standards of behavior are codified, their policed, and a part of life to the point that it is a standard which will follow an individual. In the civilian world, that doesn’t go away. It creates employees with a proven track record of trustworthiness that are often assets to the organizations they join after they leaving military service.

I don’t mean to imply that civilians have no integrity. To contrary, there are many who are the most reliable people I have ever met, but in my experience, it can be hit or miss. In one job I had, by the time I had worked there for no more than a month nearly the entire staff had called out sick at least once, people wouldn’t show up for work, complained incessantly, and generally, would do anything to avoid work. It wasn’t legitimate sickness. It was dishonesty and an inability to be relied upon. The worst part… corporate wouldn’t even let me fire them! I know that I said that the Marines and the military in general can’t be fired and that makes vets good leaders, but firing people is a tool and needs to be used when you have it. Let’s face it, because of lawyers and HR reps afraid of wrongful termination lawsuits, people can get away with murder without being let go far too often. This blows the minds of some vets.

In the military there are no sick days. I am not exaggerating. You absolutely must come to work and then must go to Sick Call before they will ever acknowledge that there might be something wrong with you. And if it is a PT day you will run three miles before you get to go.

When on deployment we also work every day. Every single day. There are no holidays, no weekends, no birthdays. It is the same thing every day. If you show up late, even by five minutes, or so, you will be running for miles or end up digging a massive fighting hole and 300 sandbags in an effort to make the base more secure. (It’s not really about making the base more secure.) So you learn how not to get punished. In the civilian world they don’t reward this behavior, but they also don’t punish the latter.

“Why should I reward them for doing their jobs?” some might say.
“Because you won’t punish them for not doing it.” I’d reply.

People like us show up early, stay late and if you ask them to do something they work hard to see that it is done. In the worst case scenario, they will be responsible enough to tell you when they need help.  There is a point I made in the last section that I would like to take the opportunity to repeat for emphasis.

By the time I was 22 I was a Sergeant in charge of a team of 13 other Marines. We were all occupying very technical jobs in the computer networking field and  responsible for overseeing the maintenance and distribution of over $3 million dollars of Marine Corps property.

Most organizations wouldn’t consider this type of thing a wise decision, but in the military it is common for very young people to be given a great deal of responsibility, relative to civilian counterparts. You wonder how. This might help. Image you give an 18-year-old a rifle and tell him that it is only thing that will protect his life for next seven months. Follow this up with a few months of proof and little else but living with the constant reminder of this fact and I promise you that rifle will not be lost, broken, damaged and will come back to you polished and good as new. I promise. Military people get responsibility because when they were very young, there were serious consequences to the decisions they made. Civilians don’t go through this kind of trial by fire and training and many of them don’t make good decisions because of it. The military has given young men and women real life and death responsibility and choices before a regular civilian would have graduated college.

Intuition is a skill. It can be learned. The military teaches it.

What many people think is that leaders are born. Not in the military. Simply put, many times in the military people are presented with situations where they must make life and death decisions in the blink of an eye. How do you do that given that there are no pie charts to help you make the decision, no data scientists to weigh all the variables and no spreadsheets, journals or time to decide? Intuition. How exactly do you trust that someone will make the right decision when you plan to throw them into that kind of situation? Faith in a system of training which focuses on immediate decision making in response to only the information available at the time, intuition. The Marines and the military train intuition into their culture. You might not even know what intuition really is. Well, here goes.

Intuition is the ability to take massive amounts of information and quickly come to a decision from all possible options quickly and correctly. It is the precise execution of understanding gained through experience and study. You don’t do it with charts and graphs, you do it by absorbing all the knowledge available to you ahead of time and making it so readily available that the employee can access it at any given moment they wish. This sounds a lot like memory, but there is more than just recalling information. This means using that mental database to its fullest capacity. They are also able to sort through it and glean the right information without all the excessive over analysis that comes with having an abundance of information and options, often labeled “analysis paralysis” that can accompany a lot corporate level thinkers. This is one of the hardest things in the world to do and most people think you are either born with the ability you aren’t. This is a false assumption given to many by a society that worships heroes who magically just know what to do. Intuition, in truth, is a trainable skill and the vets have it already.

What they don’t have? They may not have the specific job essential abilities and skills you need. Provide them the training and let it add to their knowledge base. After that, let them use what they know, namely the ability to think, a skill often missing from many fresh college grads. You just have to provide the training and watch them succeed in implementing it.

Military people will tell you when something is wrong, even when you don’t like it, often.

I remember, more than just about anything in the military, life is punctuated with a steady stream of inspections. Almost impossibly high standards are demanded in everything from uniforms to gear. Even after getting out, the habit of a strong sense of standards runs deep. Vets have the wont of maintaining a certain level of acceptability in operations, safety, and professionalism in others. This often is directed downwards, but they also develop built in mechanisms for directing problems that are discovered upwards as well. Many that I know, also have a real problem not accepting that same level excellence in others. If a failure is present, expect the vet to let you know.

You need to understand that the military are people who have an incredible amount of responsibility, not only for “company property”, but for lives. Many seem to think that you give them an order, they say, “Sir, yes, sir!” and run off to their doom like mindless drones. It actually doesn’t work that way, and I’m sorry if that is what you want from a veteran employee. Remember, they’ve spent years earning respect and a place of distinction as field experts so expecting them to just go to a point of utter subservience to you is both demeaning and ridiculous. It also throws away one of their most valuable assets, their independence and strength of character to be able to tell those they work with when something is wrong without damaging those relationships. This really does go back to the habit of self preservation, in that you don’t just do what that young and inexperienced officer says when your experience tells you, it’s going to get you killed. National security and all, but you are going to at least offer your opinion before leaping off the cliff like a flock of lemmings.

That, however, is what I see in a lot of corporate scenarios I have seen and been a part of… Lemmings. Yes Men. If you all you’re looking for is a government sponsored yesman, you should keep looking. Most veterans won’t accept a place where their input isn’t valued and they shouldn’t. They have valuable knowledge, training and skills. That said, they aren’t going to disrespect you just to let their opinion be known. A military person knows how to use tact, a word I am learning more and more, doesn’t seem to appear in lexicon of most industry professionals. They will try to communicates to you that you may not be making a good choice. That much needs to be expected, so fragile egos need not apply. They are also not so afraid of you as to speak their mind when they have a good idea or think that one of yours could use a second look. They already have self-confidence gained through life experience. This type of mentality is important, but is often squashed by egotistical bosses.

Vets can get the job done in an environment where they are trained to succeed in.

When you make the choice to hire a veteran, you can know that when you give them a task they will do it, provided they have the means and support to get the job done. If it is safe, sound, and smart, vets will go at the task without the “incentive programs”, “rewards”, “blue jeans days” and all the other forms of extrinsic motivation that get in the way of doing business with a bunch of self-centered egotists. Veterans know what it means to have something that needs to be done. Vets have gained a sense of urgency and have seen the world through a big picture type mentality. If you ask them to do something they aren’t going to complain because it is too tough, too hard or infringes on their break time. When you need someone who is willing to work the long hours, do the hard tasks and the seemingly impossible, remember that in the back of their heads is, “Well at least I’m not getting shot at.” They have a strong respect for procedures and accountability. Service members know how policies and procedures enable an organization to be successful and they easily understand their place within an organizational framework. Vets get the obligation that comes with being responsible for the actions of subordinates and they understand how to properly alleviate issues through the proper supervisory channels.

Considering that, you may wonder why veterans you have worked with in the past, didn’t shape up like what was expected. A good thing to consider is that most hiring managers hire veterans with the wrong idea in mind. Usually, they are hiring lower to mid-level managers of whatever it is they are doing because that is the experience level that most veterans have. The problem is that these individuals often lack much of the tacit knowledge others gain through working their way up through the civilian side of the latter. You might be surprised at some of the things you would think are obvious that a veteran just won’t think of at first. It’s important to remember that most of their knowledge comes from the military, not civilian side of any industry, which has its own culture, regulations, implications, and priorities. That said, they solve problems in a completely different manner. They will do things completely differently than you have seen in your career. Often, this will be good because of the diversity it brings. Without an understanding of what is good in a civilian industry model, however, their techniques may be harmful. This is why, in the beginning, you should watch your veteran employees more to gear them for the new industry and be patient with these new mid-level employees making mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise expect from more junior employees who have worked the civilian side for a while.

That said, the important element of this combination is you giving them the instructions. If you don’t provide the support they need to do the work, they will fail. If you don’t make wise decisions and then ask them to do stupid things, they will fail. If you don’t make it possible for them do their job right, they will fail. Given a good vet and good task, however, they will never fail you. That’s why it is so important for managers to know that many military people need a great deal of structure in the beginning to survive in many organizations. They need to be trained well and given a solid framework with which to perform. Many hiring managers make the mistake of believing they will simply be able to hire a veteran and then that veteran will be a magic wand which can “get things done” absent any real training or supervision from the manager. This may happen, but just as likely that veteran employee might go off and drive your company or division into some random direction because you didn’t adequately direct their energy with training or guidance. Their drive is a useful fuel for the engine of progress in any strong company, but could just as easily have them fixing thousands of problems that either aren’t problems or don’t need to be fixed right now. They might even cause new issues because the military teaches and encourages movement and drive. If you don’t show them where they need to focus and what they need to do, then you have created a thermite mixture; a high energy burn that causes a big flash but usually breaks more than it builds.

When given a proper framework and adequate training, your veteran employees can amaze you at how hard they can work and what they can get done. Once that framework is established, many veterans are extremely independent. The thing that so many people seem to think about vets is that they want to have the strict and regimented hierarchy. Think about it, there is a reason they left the military. Most, in my experience, are confident in their abilities and just want to be left alone or to get busy with their team without strong supervision. From that point have flexibility to work strongly in teams or work independently. Military training teaches service members to work as a team by instilling a sense of a responsibility to one’s colleagues. In addition, the size and scope of military operations necessitates that service members understand how groups of all sizes relate to each other and support the overarching objective. While military duties stress teamwork and group productivity, they also build individuals who are able to perform independently at a very high level. As I mentioned before, military vets can be extremely independent. There have been numerous reports that show that military vets are more likely to start their own businesses than other demographic groups. They have natural drives to solve complex problems. They think tactically and strategically about problems. If you have given them the training and a framework to work within your organization they will be able to achieve your goals in ways you hadn’t considered before. They are resourceful and know how to use what assets they are given rather than look outside for support. This is what makes them entrepreneurial by nature and can help grow your companies from the inside rather than just be another task follower.

The Government Pays Them to get Educated, so You Don’t Have to.

Military vets come equipped with knowledge that isn’t comparable to most others. The United States military boasts some of the most educated war fighters in the world, not to mention in the history of warfare. All US service members must have, at the time of their enlistment, a high school diploma or the general equivalency diploma. To be more clear, more than 99% of those enlisted have a high school education comparable to about 60% that you will find in the general population. Also compared to the population of the United States more service members have also attended some college compared to their typical 18 to 24-year-old counterparts. They have all also passed a standardized test on to test for skills in English proficiency, mathematics, science and government. This test also serves as a placement exam for military jobs. Curious about the rigorous qualifications required to be good enough to join the United States Military? United States Military Enlistment Standards. Good luck.

To top this, most MOS schools or Military Occupational Specialty schools boast world-class educational training. First, you have to be good enough to get into the school you want, which can have very high scores required to get in. No, we don’t have the greatest recreational facilities and the dorms suck. It isn’t the Ivy League, but the education level is beyond par. While stationed in 29 Palms California, a hole in the middle of the California desert, I received two years worth of the most rigorous training in Computer Science, Data Network Administration and Information Systems maintenance. I say two-year except that I only had six months to do it. The training is taken very seriously. In 29 Palms I was 19-year-old PFC working on workstations and equipment with a cost of over half a million dollars, a task, by the way, I would be doing in the real world very soon anyway.

In your typical civilians education, students are allowed to pass with virtually any grade so long as they beg enough. In the military, every test is a fail if scored under an 80%, and if you fail you can be booted from the program. This is because, in the civilian education world, a school which doesn’t pass enough student’s isn’t viewed as exclusive, it is viewed as too hard. Students then refuse to attend, dropping tuition payments and the courses must be reevaluated to encourage more revenue. In the military, standards aren’t questioned. The service member fails and gets to demoted to a job set he can handle.

Add to this, military veterans are virtually the only class of citizens which earns a full ride scholarship to most any higher education they wish. While this is overlooked today, with a society where fresh college graduates are severely overpopulated and under educated, in the future labor will be a much more scarce commodity. Add to this, you have a person who already comes equipped with all the other training they’ve already endured. Lastly, if you have in your employ a trusted veteran who has not yet used his GI Bill, you have an amazing asset. You, as the employer, can encourage that employee to get their education and work for you during that time. Given a few years, you will have a marvelous manager with years experience and ready to take the reigns you’ve prepared for them. The best part of this arrangement is that you don’t have to pay for this. Many companies offer this as an incentive to join and in the future it will become a more common benefit. You, however, get to save that carrot for a Master’s degree.

Useful Diversity

Many companies hire a large portion of their staff where diversity is the prime differentiator. The theory is that diversity gives a company a large base of ideas with which to draw from for problem solving. This is thought of, normally, as racial or ethnic diversity, but can be applied to different backgrounds and even sub-cultures as well. This form of diversity is important, especially when the discussion of civil rights is a matter at hand. That said, in and of itself, ethnicity should not be considered a quality companies should hire for if the goal is to hire for diversity. What types of diversity are necessary for company success and evolution are those which make an individual useful while being very different from everyone else in the organization. Race and ethnicity, all else equal, rarely does this.

There are not ethnicities that provide true, useful diversities any culture, but there are cultures that add unique and predictable experiences that can help companies prosper. These cultures have their quirks, eccentricities, values, specialties, and perspectives which can guide teams in new directions and solve unique problems. For that reason, the real question isn’t if you are finding a HR perfect, color coordinated team page, but if you have a team with real depth based on a broad range of experiences. The better question might be for hiring managers, “Which cultures out there might add value, because they just care a lot about getting things done?” The point of diversity is not just to get different people working together, but also to get many different experience sets working together.

Think of it this way. If you build your diversity around different countries of origin, but everyone in the company has an almost identical skillsets, which were gained through almost identical means, how have you actually diversified your experience base? Say you are fortunate enough to have the ability to hire a team of Harvard graduates. Harvard is arguably the best university in the world in most many important fields. It is extremely exclusive and extremely competitive. For that reason, one would assume that success would come from a group such as this. Likely, it will, but the question is, will be it the greatest success? Consider adding in a few people from Stanford. Now you have two cultures of success with with two very different education systems. Different solutions are going to come from these two groups, one all of Harvard and one of a mixed class. Now consider how very different would the solutions formed from a group mixed in with a few graduates of the United States Naval Academy, or even one of self made entrepreneurial millionaires? How vastly different would the solutions to various problems be if such an amalgamation were to exist? The truth of the matter is that sometimes the Harvard group will sometimes create the best solution. Still, many other times, they will miss many things were would have been extremely obvious to everyone else, in spite of their individual and collective brilliance. For that reason, most of the time the greatest solution will come from the highly diversified group. They still have access to all their personal thought processes and their successful cultural quirk, but also now have access to another, the solutions that only become visible when multiple viewpoints are combined. This is a strategic asset and which can’t be replicated easily which means that the culture you build will differentiate you from other firms like you.

Few people can add as much constructive diversity as a military veteran. Few cultures have been engineered quite like those that military veterans have had memberships within. There are even fewer cultures that focus entirely on mission achievement, cooperation, and personal development. The fact is there is no culture in the world that shapes people in the way the military does. It changes people into something that civilians don’t really understand. What is more important is that it gives them options, mentalities, philosophies and a framework that sees opportunities and solves problems that will pass up most civilians. Even more important is that the thoughts going through their minds are centered around finding the problem and fixing it in the fastest and most efficient ways possible.

So to achieve useful diversity, it isn’t to focus on just bringing in different people, but people who have had experience successful cultures, cultures that somehow add value and are different than the culture already present an organization. That isn’t to say that the military is the only good and achieving culture in the world. It is just another one. What you want, to be clear, is an environment where there is a constant collision of successful problem solving systems in which only unique and inventive ideas can be generated. I know that this last section is more a concept of general business theory and not so centric on the military’s contribution to hiring a veteran. Well, I did graduated Cum Laude from business school and now run my own publishing firm, so I hope you take the advice regardless.

Having said this, when you start to try to diversify you team for success, you’re going to need a team which is capable of working with diversity. It isn’t built in. I will ask you a series of questions that might make it more clear why I would suggest a few military members be incorporated into such a team. What type of people have experience with extremely diverse teams? What type of group regularly asks its members to uproot and join new units and new teams? What is a group made of people from many different ethnic groups, income brackets, religious backgrounds and still manages to achieve world class results? What type of group regularly takes part in international activities with different cultures in which the fate of the mission revolves around team work? What type of group gives its members a huge amount of international travel and experience living abroad? It’s obvious the point I am making here. The military systematically builds individuals with experience that, later on as an unintended benefit, are built to join new groups of highly diverse individuals. More than that, the military is a culture which focuses on achievement, so by adding their processes to your own, you incorporate individuals who are already highly achieved in the arts of teamwork.

Adaptability and Global Thinkers

I remember when I was a young Marine I thought my only job would be to work on computers. I signed on to be a 0656, Tactical Data Network Specialist, which meant I did the same job of an IT support or network administrator, only I did it in a godforsaken desert or jungle environment with absolutely zero internal or external logistical support and with the possibility that my entire relay could be blown up on any given day. Most people don’t even realize the Marines have a computer nerd job specialty, but we do. It’s actually quite sophisticated and since my day has evolved to become part of the US’ strategy for offensive and defensive cyber operations. By the time I was 19, I was able to do what most people spend years in technical school attempting to be qualified for. It wasn’t my only job, though. After my first Iraq tour, the unit had to immediately begin getting ready for the next one. That meant training and most importantly, marksmanship training. One of the slots for coaches fell on my shop and being that all the other computer nerds were horrible shots, I was the only natural choice. So I tacked on an additional occupational specialty. Eventually I would also have under my belt proficiency with a number of weapons systems, not to mention the ability also be communicating in Arabic. All this to say, for all the jokes one has heard about the oxymoron of “military intelligence”, the military, and not just myself, are forced to be adaptable to compensate for overwhelming shortcomings in the reality of resources.

Consider the veteran’s history of technological understanding and consider what it means about their ability to mold themselves to changing technological environments, such as your company may face. Today’s military uses the cutting edge technology to maintain our dominance over the enemy in the battlefield. From communications technology to the security of computer networks and hardware, Service Members must stay aware of emerging technologies in the public and private sector. This means that the individual service member is always training and adapting their methodology to stay ahead and insure the greatest level of technological superiority of any fighting force. Add in to this the fact that their main job may not be their only job. The Squadron’s First Sergeant may also be the Communications Chief. The training NCO may also be a heavy equipment operator. The A-gunner may also be the one trained in triage medicine. They aren’t just adaptable because it looks good on a resume; in the military it is a necessity.

Besides needing to adapt to changing technology, they also must adapt to changing teams. Diversity and strong interpersonal skills are another given. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a Service member is a pleasant person to be around, but they have interpersonal skills that allow them to work with new and constantly evolving teams. They have learned to work side by side with individuals regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, economic status, and geographic origins as well as those of different mental, physical and attitudinal capabilities. Consider also, that none of us have every had the privilege of choosing who we work for, who we work with, or even who gets assigned to us. Imagine how successful your teams would be if you couldn’t even control who you hired. Hired? It’s almost impossible to get someone fired from the military, so imagine now your company without these to abilities. Now consider what kind of leadership makes it possible. Many Service members may also have also been deployed or stationed in numerous foreign countries that give them a greater appreciation for the diverse nature of our globalized economy. Many of those, like myself, had to also deal directly those in the foreign nations we worked. You really can’t find that sort of malleability in many places.

The hands on experience with technology and experiences with extreme diversity combine to give military vets one additional advantage that comes with the collision of these two experiences: A Global Mindset. Few people are knowledgeable of more than one realm of what makes the world tick. Fewer still, have first hand experience with these divergent metrics. Those who do have a unique grasp of geopolitics to the point that they can much more accurately see where the roads lead in their given focus, or at least have developed an eye for it. They look forward much more than those who look at the now. They have practice seeing how technology and culture interact because they have lived it. They care about what is going on in the world because they have been part of writing the history books. I’m not saying that your average Marine could predict how a new innovation in heat exchangers might fundamentally alter the social fabric of South East Asia. What I am saying is that if your business needs someone who is capable of learning a great deal about changing technologies or working internationally, or someone who has spent time thinking about the future of these realms, a military veteran might be a good choice for you to start your search.

Esprit de Corps; a culture built for mission accomplishment.


There is a French term that most Americans have never heard of. It’s called Esprit de Corps. Literally translated, it means, “the spirit of the group”. What it means is that there is a feeling in the culture of any collection of individuals that is affected by each one and that each is responsible for maintaining. Everyone in the organization comes into it each knowing the high expectations, history, heroes, and legends of the group. Each wishes to uphold the group’s traditions and each wishes not damage the reputation or morale of such an organization. They are motivated by one another and try harder not to let other members of the group down. When a culture such as this exists it’s expected average level of performance is above the normal for others like it. The normal is inferior and, when everyone is on board, you have an outstanding organization. You have a place where others will sacrifice their own time and resources to raise others. Esprit de Corps is the force that drives culture.

The Marines have a saying. The Marine Corps is a perfect organization made up of imperfect people. That is the level of respect each individual Marine has for their organization and when you have that level of fanaticism, you start to see each of them drive each other that much harder. If you’re that hiring manager, probably work for an imperfect organization and you surely know some imperfect people that work their. Vets aren’t perfect, by any means. I’m not saying they are, but they have experienced powerful cultures. Culture is what drives a company, far more so than leaders. Leaders will fail. They will grow and leave. They will become sick. They will make mistakes. They will die. Culture will never stop working for you. That is, it will never stop working for you, or working against you. What you need to do is get people who have experienced a strong working culture, maybe even a few who can lead that culture and get it spread around. It’s only when a team, or even a whole company works to the point that the individuals work for reasons other than themselves, for more than themselves, that you see explosive growth. More than that, it’s how you ensure long-term organizational success, regardless of leadership, regardless of temporary slumps in the economy, regardless of any storms which the company endures.

In summary, vets are a special breed. They have all the mentalities that good companies want. Tenacity, intuition, reliability, capability, responsibility, leadership and are part of a culture built on getting the job done. They are smart and they are serious. Seriously, why are all of our vets having such a hard time finding jobs? Perhaps it’s you.

The truth is, and this is why I write so much about fellow vets, many of us are having a hard time. Many civilians don’t understand us. People who have served are an enigma for many. They exist in contrast to many American values; an individualist society which champions personal expression, civil liberties, and personal financial, career, and political achievement, but that is built upon the presence of a class of warriors who, themselves enjoy little privilege to express themselves, have forgone many liberties, and have delayed their opportunities for the forms of achievement which society celebrates. In its extreme, we are society which cherishes our freedoms, luxuries, and security, but require, from time-to-time, volunteers who willingly sacrifice themselves in the greatest way imaginable. It’s a contradiction that I don’t think many have truly explored.

What’s more, the sheer presence of a veteran is becoming a rarer and rarer thing. Consider many years ago when our parents would tell stories about their fathers who fought in WWII in the Pacific, or their grandfather who battled in Europe. Those were truly different times. According the United States Census Bureau, the number of U.S. armed forces personnel who served in World War II between Dec. 1, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946 was around 16 million people. For the period since 9/11, the number of US Service members is around 10 million with around 2.5 million actually having served either in Iraq or Afghanistan. These statistics sound comparable until you think about the fact that the War on Terror has gone on for more than twice, nearly three times as long as World War II for the Americans. The 1940 US census calculated a total population of 132,164,569 citizens. Today that number is estimated to be more than 312,000,000. That means that the odds of you running into, or even being a veteran in 1945 was around 12%. Nearly 1 in every 8 people was a veteran. Given also that at that time the entire population was also directed toward the war effort, it’s reasonable to say that there was no one without an understanding of the military and a passion for caring for the returning war fighter. Today, however, the story is different. Considering all living veterans today, of any period, you will find a veteran population of about 22 million, that’s roughly 7% of the total population of the United States and only 3% having served since 9/11. You also don’t see a culture that is wired around service towards ending the war effort. Few work for the defense industry or toward any activity that has a real involvement in the wars.  War bonds also aren’t a thing. No one ever planted victory gardens in hopes of bringing home the troops. No one is recycling bacon grease or rationing gasoline in hopes that it will help us fight the terrorists. Realistically, nothing has changed much for the average American that one could really say relates to military activities. In truth it’s an afterthought or a political stance. Many citizens have opinions, but few have ownership. The truth of the matter, people who have any active role, veterans in particular, are getting rarer and rarer. One the one hand, it’s a sign of a peaceful society with few actual problems. One the other hand, its the pattern of a culture that has lost touch with the warrior subculture which shoulders the burden of American security without experiencing many of the rewards of it. This is a pattern which will continue in the future. By 2050, expect that the entire US veteran community will be less than 3% of the total population. Imagine, if you will, what this will mean for veteran benefits in the ballot boxes of the future when they are an even smaller minority of the voting population than they are today.

Frankly, people don’t associate with veterans that often. It isn’t often an intentional discrimination. It’s just much rare to find one than you think, as I have shown. Their rarity today is something of a novelty, owing a degree of admiration, a great deal of curiosity, often suspicion and fear, a few times disdain, but otherwise ignored because they are so severely misunderstood. This misunderstanding, in my opinion, comes from that break where no one really knows veterans. When people don’t really have any first hand experience with a veteran they fall back on stereotypes. There are many stereotypes which define us. Many of these I focused on because they are positive and help further the image of the United States warrior who has left the service. The truth is, no one perfectly captures all positive qualities of military service, but for the most part, there are so many good qualities which have been imbued into the character of a veteran of the United States. Many, if not most of qualities we have in common, are fundamental assets to employers. The pledge to support veterans is so strong that, for more than a decade thousands of companies have joined in numerous campaigns to hire veterans.

Yet you still aren’t hiring us. I wrote this post, if not just to show those individuals with hiring capacity  some of the benefits that come attached to hiring veterans, but to address the fact that, in spite of so many companies’ very public advertising toward campaigns supporting returning troops, vets aren’t being hired.

Since the slump in 2009 and the massive unemployment that followed, veterans have led in unemployment for reasons I can only guess. I assume much of it is based on unfair biases I have faced since getting out myself. I’ve often heard things like, “You’re so articulate for veteran” or “I don’t know, I just sort of expected you be, like, crazy hard core or something.” Many people asked if I had been shot at, or even killed someone. I’ve also been asked in interviews if I had ever been in combat, which I don’t know someone at Chase’s local bank branch would need to know for a standard sales position, and some have even asked if I have ever had an actual job before. I’m not sure what an actual job constitutes for most people many of the people I interviewed for after college. I guess my experiences running a telecommunications service team of 11 technicians and responsible for more than $3 million dollars in gear and equipment for what amounted to a four hundred person company didn’t count as an actual job. In college I even had to correct a professor who threw out the old joke when asked what an oxymoron was. She replied, “Military Intelligence” to the laughter of a roomful of 19 year olds still living in their childhood homes. To say “corrected” is probably not the appropriate term, but everyone in the room knew better than to make such an unfair generalization again.

“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Perhaps people do view that, because one forgoes college as a means to seek higher education, they are uneducated, or lack higher order cognitive processes. Perhaps media portrayal in movies, video games, and TV has simply just watered us down to two conflicting views as either a brave knight running off to do justice and make sacrifice, or of the radical bloodthirsty and murderous barbarian, too stupid to know when they are being used, both of which are completely unfit for the corporate world. Perhaps, as USA today back April of last year, followed by Forbes, have reported, there is more going on.

Many, apparently as many as one in three, employers consider the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. Since it is illegal to ask about mental health status during an interview many just take the safe route and assume there is a problem. Considering that as low as  7% of post-9/11 veterans are estimated to be experiencing PTSD it’s a far cry from a necessary precaution. I’ve read that some of the reasons for this fear are that there is a fear of safety, owing to the fear that a veteran with PTSD might “go postal” and commit an office shooting or other acts of violence. I’m just going to be honest, this is as ignorant as not hiring a black guy because he was probably in a gang.

“There’s stigma attached to PTSD and traumatic brain injury and other hidden disabilities that people may assume soldiers have when they’re leaving the military,” says Nancy B. Adams, branch chief at the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. “They may always have that at the back of their mind.”

Others consider that in the military, everyone is conditioned to follow orders and lack the ability to think for themselves. I hope I’ve shown this to be a major fallacy as service people are regularly given complex problems with limited resources where their creative thinking and ability to solve unusual problems are showcased. Sadly, the effectiveness of a Marine Corps logistics chief saving her squadron more than three million dollars over the course of a fiscal year, rarely makes the local news real when much more sensationalized media is available.

Lastly, there is the fact that you probably have no idea what a tactical data network specialist is or the qualifications and capabilities of Platoon Sergeant. What is the difference between a Major and Chief Petty Officer? Are they the same? Does it matter? What’s a DD-214? It’s all foreign jargon and no one knows what any of this nonsense means. There are even classes that transitioning veterans must take to communicate their value to hiring managers who don’t know how to read the résumé. I don’t really blame civilians for this. It isn’t really anyone’s fault, but just owes to the fact that there are realistically so very few veterans out there, relative to the number of people who know anything about them. That said, the best way to solve this problem might not be for you to learn what all the military lingo is. Perhaps the best thing to do is ask someone on your staff with military experience to decode it and see what kind of diamond lies beneath the rough of a sheet of paper which will determine their fate. Don’t have any veterans on staff to help you out with this? Oh… You should probably think about this Veterans Day.

So the next time Veterans Day rolls around, I hope you don’t just give the ceremonial greeting, “Thank you for your service.” Do something for them that they can’t do for themselves. Give a résumé or application that runs over your desk a second look, or a third. There is nothing sadder in the world we live in today than seeing someone who gave up four years of their lives of their life for the reward of a handshake and a pat on the back by people who don’t honestly respect them enough to want to work with them.

Don’t worry about me. I’m proud to say that after many employment struggles trying to get noticed after college, I am happily employed doing something I love where I can feel my experience is valued and crucial to the work I am doing. In my spare time, I am fortunate enough to get also get to write and share my experiences and assistance for other veterans for free thanks to patronage from the crowdsourcing platform Patreon. It let’s followers and supporters donate to on a recurring basis so that I can continue helping get the good word out about veterans. If you did enjoy this post, please consider pledging your support through the link I’ve provided at the bottom of this post. If you don’t want to go that far, please like, share and comment to get the word out about ways you can help veterans on this Veterans Day.

The last section I was going to write about in this series was “Triumph over adversity.” I’m not going to write that section though. We all know that the military is made of winners. They haven’t lost a battle since Korea. Wars may be lost if the politics are incorrectly managed, but that failure isn’t owed to those who fought them. We all know that the military produces people who are capable of overcoming adversity, but once they get out, they are alone. Their adversity is now and the military doesn’t prepare them for a society that doesn’t understand them, nor value their abilities. They are without the collective network of support one receives in the military. Now they are in the realm where they are judged based, not on their actions, but on current politics and media perception. Frankly, they don’t need your thanks. They need your support. They need your connections. They need to be introduced into your networks. They need to be invited to the opportunities extended to others. They need you to give them a job.

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