Uncertain Future – Part XI – High Value Protection

High Value Body Guards and Military Contractors

Executive security is the industry of protection for VIP and High Value Individuals. While this includes those who specialize in shuttling primped up primadonna starlets like Justin Beiber from show to show, unharassed by throngs of fans, there is a much deeper need for experienced, battle ready security teams.

Due to the attention grabbing nature of these massive catastrophes, many other acts of overt criminal activities have grown in practice, but go relatively unnoticed by those not engaged in foreign policy news. First among these is the threat of kidnapping. While assassination or general acts of terror surely rank high on the list, kidnapping has a special role to play in the story of international chaos that exists today and which will continue in the future.

To understand why this is, one needs to understand how criminal empires and murder crazed caliphates primarily get funding. According to documents discovered following a raid of a prominent ISIS leader [56], the organization is funded massively through the use of kidnapping with the purpose of ransom. CNN and Business Insider investigate further to show the staggering amounts of money generated by these tactics [57] and the rationale for why the act of kidnapping is really such a good idea for such criminal and terrorist organizations. [58]

The kidnapping of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa rattled the international press for this reason. This time, however, it wasn’t for the sheer barbarity that their fellow news agents were experiencing, (those attempting to report the news in the region are a favorite flavor of victim for the Islamic State, along with female humanitarian aid workers  [59]) but the magnitude of the ransom being demanded. The Islamic State demanded of the government of Japan $200 million for their safe return. Like so many others, this negotiation broke down and both were eventually beheaded in brutal fashion.

ISIS’ rationale seems similar to other terror groups: Kidnappings help raise money and, if ransoms aren’t paid, make a point, such as the groups are not to be messed with and even civilians are in danger.

$200 million is sizable demand and one which could drastically help fund the operations of the terrorist organization, which is currently already expanding its reach internationally as its borders shrink locally. While these two did not turn a profit, others did. The French have denied that they have paid ransoms [60], but according to a New York Times Report [61]they succeeded in buying back the freedom of kidnapped Frenchman from the Islamic State from ISIS. A second group working for a french nuclear firm were also freed by an al Qaeda affiliate in return for money. In perhaps the greatest coup for the terrorist state, 49 captives of Turkish origin were returned, seemingly for no reason at all to Ankara. Those following the report, myself among them, strongly suspect a major payoff for their safe and uneventful return [62]. There are other reports of three hundred Christians being charged more than $30 million for their release. One victim gave in an interview with New York Magazine that his captors forced him to call his family and a friend while he was being tortured, in hopes that his anguished screams would move them to pay the ransom money. [63] [64]

“We were blindfolded and chained, and every day they would torture us,” he said. “They would come in, one at a time, and electrocute us or beat us with anything they could find.”

“But they didn’t kill me because they wanted to ransom me. One time, they made me speak to my family on the phone as they were electrocuting me. Then, they made me call a friend, who told them he would pay.”

However, the practice of criminal kidnapping for profit is not limited to the ISIS threat. Moving to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia in one last example, one only has to recount the story of Captain Phillips.  [65]There, Somali pirates attempted to take an American vessel hostage along with its crew. This practice has become common in the narrow straits between Iran and the Horn of Africa. Massive ships with massive shipments worth billions are capable of attracting huge payouts to the pirates and the warlords who control them from the mostly European companies who control them. In the case of Phillips, though, the problem wasn’t solved by a financial transaction so much so as the extremely potent delivery of precision fire from the muzzle of US Navy SEAL Snipers.

Regardless of the success of the Phillips case, piracy and kidnapping for ransom are not going away. In fact, seeing the financial and propaganda potential for such violations, the value of making such attacks has prompted many, many more. This, perhaps, has only been exacerbated by the American shift in policy that some would say encourages the practice by providing a means for private individuals to pay the ransoms of their friends and families, thus encouraging more like kind kidnappings.

Having said all of this, it is no longer safe for most Westerners to travel to the Middle East, and the growing troubles of the region are only spreading more and more throughout the Islamic world, as millions sympathetic to the ideals of the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State begin to copy their tactics and methods. Still, people still have business to do, so Westerners are still going to go there. This leads to the need for private military contractors (PMCs).

Mention of the practice of PMCs is one that elicits fear and suspicion in most people unfamiliar with how they are actually used. Often, they can’t be mentioned without imaginations of secret mercenary black helicopter events and Orwellian fears of off the books private armies. In all honesty, very few such companies are used for anything other than bodyguards for individuals of extremely high value in the region, rather than elite soldiers willing to kill for the highest dollar. The US State department often contracts with these companies to provide a greater level of security than they can do otherwise with the military for their foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, and the CIA for their foreign case officers. This is outlined well in the opening chapters of the new book 13 Hours – The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi. The book begins by detailing the lives of the contractors involved, both professional and personal. All of those in the book possessed varied military experience, some US Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Marines. They may have in their experience sets Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice, stints as the local police chief, or run warrants as bail bondsmen, and PIs stateside. Other PMCs may come from more diverse backgrounds; internationals with the French Foreign Legion, British SAS, and any number of other places and backgrounds. When I was deployed to Iraq, one team which frequented our Entry Control Point in Al Anbar Province had team members that came from as far off as South Africa, Romania, and Singapore, lead by an English Special Air Service soldier.

For the CIA and State Department, the go to is the Global Response Staff, an open secret of an organization created after the attacks on September 11th, 2001. The GRS gathers together teams of the best and most experienced operators from within the United States military with the knowledge and experience to be able to covertly guard its most valuable assets anywhere on the globe. What distinguishes these individuals from the common military they appear to be is the benefits package. Some PMCs today take in over $150,000 annually for their work overseas, on average, around three to five times what they could have expected in any given military career doing much harder work. Why they are useful is their flexibility and potency. Small teams deployed to a city can easily intertwine with the area, and adapt to cover any target that needs their level of protection. They can do this, however, without the massive overhead of the slow moving US military and sticking out like a sore thumb in places where Americans already have a hard enough time blending in. While these men (and women) and their skills don’t come cheap, they come without the prohibitive costs of deploying an entire unit of Marines or Army soldiers, which could rank in the millions, assuming an entire base doesn’t need to built for the task.

As Benghazi itself showed, the need for these individuals does still exist, and the threat of kidnapping, assassination, extortion, and any number of nefarious concerns may confront high value individuals at any time. This is why operators, such as those working with the Global Response Staff or other private military contractors will be in extremely high demand by foreign dignitaries of all nations, local government leaders, spies, journalists, and corporate executives who travel abroad, all doing business in places where business has to be done. These are the types of people who don’t want to be recorded in orange jumpsuits, a propaganda tool for murder fiends across the world. What this also means is that over the next twenty years, PMC operators of every brand and color will be in such high demand that they pop up literally everywhere important people can be seen in places where bad things often happen. What’s more, many will be more than the sum of high paid former Special Forces operators. They will be homegrown and specialized to their tasks through courses like the various Executive Protection [66] [67] courses that exist and under instruction by companies such as the American security services training company Academi [68]or the European Security Academy [69]. Both of these firms provide, alongside their training, mission support in the form of human resources, planning, and operational support. Remember that these people aren’t accountants, get creative and realize that that means  more or less exactly what you think it does.

The big change we will see as a result of this will be rather undemocratic shift in politics across the world. As the means of terrorism continues to grow, the need for higher and higher priced body guards to handle the threat will make some very rich people very safe, while leaving many others with little more than a prayer. In the end, expect to never see another photo again of any person of worth in a critical conflict area of the world without a dedicated staff of very skilled warfighters at their sides and at the ready.

Of course, this causes us to ask a very important question, where are all these extremely well paid and well trained operators going to come from?

Uncertain Futures – How Safe Will You Be and How Security Will Change in the World of Tomorrow

I’m starting a multipart series on what are the biggest ways in which the world will be be different 20 years from now, with a key focus on how changes in the security fields will impact all of our lives.

When you ask most people what the groundbreaking “X-factors” of the future will be, they’ll say many wildly bold, exciting, and optimistic predictions of a future not far from us today. So far, answers to that question have ranged from technological leaps in machine automation, biotech, robotic swarms, and 3D printing; to social evolutions such as the conversion to all credit economies, an end to diseases, the post-scarcity, and new levels of international individual equality. Yet more promise better governance via more openness, and even a possible end to war through an even more interconnected world. Of course, others are going the other direction with predictions of diseases we haven’t yet discovered, or worse, haven’t yet invented. Some warn weapons too terrifying to detail. Others have echoed cautionary tales against the possible destruction of us all through climate change, energy crisis, nuclear devastation, and now to add to the list… radical religious fundamentalism.

As I examine the answers I wonder to myself what the odds of any one of these outcomes may be. Some seem well thought out, bringing in insights from brilliant minds. Some are simply ridiculous. I am left, however, with one surreal and terrifying truth… at least a few of them will be right. Some of these predictions, wild as they may be, will come true. The sad thing is, we aren’t really sure which ones. All we can be sure of, is that there will be change. Change, however it happens, is the one certainty among all this speculation.

Change will most certainly come, but it won’t come alone. After great change, there is always a period of disruption. Disruption is often used in Silicon Valley to symbolize the moment one company strikes it rich by finding an unknown vacuum to fill, a need to satiate, or dismantling an inefficient system. For many others, it is the fear that automation will leave them and millions of others out of a job and no hope to fill it. To some governments, disruption means a protest of thousands of angry and jobless people turning into a riot, or even a full blown rebellion. Disruption may be in the creation or destruction of entire industries, or as has been the case very recently, entire regimes. Most of the world has already experienced a decade pass where we feel less safe, less secure, and less sure that some catastrophic event won’t destroy our lives in the blink of an eye or the click of a mouse. Likewise, many millions have already felt the effects of change destabilize their nations with ramifications that will echo for years to come. Many of the other answers to this question have illustrated why, whether they intended to or not.

Consider a case study in change and disruption that was the Arab Spring of 2010. Then, new technology gave way to empowering the youth of several nations with information. A wave of democratic energy swept across the region. Caught in this wave were dictators over nations like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. The world watched in amazement as millions upon millions flooded streets to demand change. To them, change indeed came. In several nations, reforms are taking root, and dictatorial regimes have been replaced, if not ousted entirely. Millions are indeed living freer lives.

But…

At the same time, today there are three nations currently gripped in struggles of civil war, numerous uprisings already violently crushed, millions already killed, and many tens of millions of people displaced from their homes both nearby and across the world. Worse yet, chaos and anarchy in the region formed in the void of power that once existed under the despots who ruled there. In that void grew medieval death cults bent on absolute devastation and the full scale disruption of the Western world, for no other reason than that the West needed to be disrupted. Today, news of the Middle East centers only on one word – Chaos.

This isn’t to say that change is necessarily a bad thing, nor even that the disruption that change brings is evil in itself. It is just acknowledging that change happens, and that where change occurs, not far behind it, disruption is sure to follow. Finally, where disruption takes place, as we have seen in Middle East, instability is sure to follow, as well. It is this instability that leads to the crises which we hear about daily, and this instability that creates an ever widening gulf between where are today and the world we envisioned for it twenty years ago. Furthermore, as we experience yet more change, the kinds of technological, social, and political changes highlighted over and over throughout this question, instability will build upon itself, sometimes making way for progress and improvements, but other times, most of the time, preparing the ground for the kinds of horrors that only come from the vacuum where order once existed. It is in these environments desperation happens, and the kind of dangerous actions take place which only further dismantle everything. We see a model of this in Syria, where a desperate leader does unspeakable things to his people, to stop rebels and religious fanatics, all empowered by modern technology, both military and civilian. From the chaos of that nation we have seen yet more chaos spread far beyond when millions fled to Europe, bringing with them terror hidden as one of the refugees.

For this reason, the real “X factor” won’t be any one technology or suite of technologies. It won’t be an idea or a revolutionary act of governance, nor will be the culmination of one single ideological movement. The real “X factor” will be how we deal with all of these changes that are sure to come. How do we deal with change which could come from any source, at any time? How can we continue our operations when others fall into chaos? How do we guarantee safety when we have no guarantees on what tomorrow will look like? The world will change, but it will be the people who can adapt to that change that will survive it the best. Those people are going to be the ones who protect themselves, their communities, and their assets. As others fail and a little bit more chaos is built, these groups and individuals will be those who provide the long term stability needed and become anchors in ever changing worlds. For that reason, the true “X-factor” in the future will be the force, in all its forms, that allows the most positive change for the greatest numbers of people, while preventing the kinds of negative change that pulls us all a little bit closer to the abyss.

The factor, is security.

But wait, security isn’t something that is “possible.” It is everywhere around us already. While I would agree, this answer will seek to explain just how good our security needs to be in the future, and how it has failed us today. More so than this, I want to show all the needs we have for security already, and how improbable it is that we will live in perfect peace in the next twenty years. Internationally, 2015 saw a surge in terrorism born from conflicts in the Middle East. Attacks in Paris, one at the beginning and again the end of the year, along with another in California, woke many in the West to the present threat that exists when terrorists inspired by jihad overseas are brewed at home. The year also saw tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals hacked in some of the largest information attacks in history. Going beyond this, privately operated drones are now being empowered not only to deliver mail to our doorstep, but to look right in on our lives, as well. What this means for today is a desperate scramble to attempt to find a new normal which we can all feel a sense of peace. What it will mean in the next twenty years is a complete change in the way we see the security industry, and scale which we deal with it in our daily lives.

The rest of this series will be dedicated to listing some of the ways the security industry will need change, and how those changes will affect off all of us. Perhaps more than the question asked, this answer will leave you realizing one truth. Anyone can handle when something goes right, and some new technology makes your life better, but who is going to be left when everything goes to Hell?

What are the disadvantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

I am going to speak as a Marine and currently a hiring manager. Here are some negative attributes that come with military service that more hiring managers need to understand.

Military people don’t get you and you don’t get them.

There are a great deal of miscommunications and misconceptions dealing with people in the military. What it is like to grow in the civilian world and what it is like to grow in the military world are two completely different things. You may have gone to a great university and interned at a very prestigious company where you met some very important people and this put you in a position of power. These qualities are not that highly respected by people from the military. If they respect you it is because of your character or in the least, your rank. Most of the time if you are CEO or VP or even just Manager that is enough for them to respect on a basis of rank, but don’t expect your story of going to an Ivy League university to mean very much to them at all. This isn’t an attack on you, but most of the time they will just attribute this to luck or born into the right family. You shouldn’t get angry about this, it is just the way they think. I had a personal experience with this in that when I started with a new branch of the company I am with there was a man who served in the military who didn’t really respect me because I was just another yuppie with a piece of paper. I had a “chat” with him where he found out that I was actually a Marine Sergeant and had done quite a bit before getting my piece of paper. Now I have his full respect. I understand where he is coming from though, most military people can be very smart, but grew up in small towns where they don’t get noticed by colleges, they are from poor families and opportunities are not that abundant. They see the military as a place where you can work hard and get noticed, so they really don’t like seeing young hot shots arrive in charge because things like college or connections. That is just a reality that many military have different values than people who became adults as civilians. You have to accept it. They will be able to appreciate and respect what you do though. Good, strong leadership is always respectable.

You have no idea what it is like to be in the military and what their mentality is like.

The fact is that you have never served in the military. You don’t know what it is like to be sent from your family, to live overseas, to live and work with the exact same people for months on end, you have never experienced the degree of isolation they do, you have never been in real danger and been expected to perform under it and you have never been a part of that culture. Your experience is in the movies, the news, some blog about how great military leadership is or that you had an uncle who served in such and such. What makes you think you could possibly understand how they think or how they solve problems. If you think that you do if that is the only reason you are hiring them than you need to investigate your own ignorance and take a look at all the experience they actually have in their resume.

I recently had a boss who was frustrated with me because he gave me very unclear goals with little guidance. He kept saying that his company needed a “Marine mindset”. I asked him what specifically did you want? He always would spit out a bunch of non-sense about how they needed my ideas and my knowledge and experience and “a bit more Marine Corps here”. I took this to mean that he wanted a strong logistics network, clear lines of communication both laterally and up the chain along with good training and discipline for the employees, which I provided. I also have a business degree specializing in entrepreneurship and have started my own company which I run on the side. I really thought that he meant he needed my business understanding and ideas for this company that he in no way actually knew how to run. After I would have ideas for problems I did see I would implement them and they never got any traction and most get shot down leaving the problem now just as bad. Finally I knew it was time to leave when he said “Because military people follow instructions.” I was incensed. Do you think military people are robots you push a button and they magically get things done. Do you expect me to hop to and go get it done with absolutely no clue what you are asking me to do? Would you like a salute with that?…SIR? The fact is that that was an incredibly insensitive and ignorant thing to say. It is an easy way to make a military person feel like they are stupid, have no individual value and can actually contribute nothing to an organization. Of course we also get very angry. Given our proclivity for violence, saying such things could be considered a major mistake, but suffice it to say, that is when I felt it was time to leave.

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

In the case above this is when I told him, with tact (honestly), that I had followed every instruction that he had given, which were almost none. You don’t go and point someone in some direction and say go when you lead them to believe that their job is completely different from the one that you intended them to do. I told him this and he wasn’t happy. Sorry, the fact is that when we serve in the military we hold a great deal of responsibility, not only of property, but of lives. We need to know what is going on and question when something isn’t right. It is a matter of practice that this has to happen something is wrong. If you are one of those people who believe you are always correct, don’t hire someone in the military.

Military people are extremely capable, when given adequate support.

If we are going to work under you, you need to know that you absolutely need to provide us with a framework, training and direction until we are capable. Sometimes this may take a long time, but it is necessary. The fact is that military people are used to a very heavy bureaucracy that provides a great deal of annoyance, but structure. You need to provide that on some level for them to succeed. Here is a point, in the Marines we spent 3 months in boot camp. That is the famous boot camp that everyone talks about. This was just to be called Marine. It was just a giant exercise in on-boarding. We spend another month in weapons and tactics training, as much as six months to a year in job training and then spend months training with our units before we go to actually do our jobs. I spent about 14 months preparing for a 7 month tour. That is why we succeed so well at war. However without that kind of training and support the Marines would suck, just like your company. If you aren’t prepared to give them a great deal of training for their job, they won’t know what to do go off trying to do something that doesn’t fit your strategy. This is in contraindication with my next point, but you will see that they are tied very well together.

Military people are also extremely independent and will go off in random directions when lacking adequate guidance.

As I mentioned in the last point military people need good direction. That is because if any one group could be stereotyped as “alpha males” it might just be young men in the military. They are rash, forceful, arrogant, stubborn and filled with pride. They also have a great deal of initiative and want to fix problems where they see them. The problem is that you didn’t obey rule number three. You hired them because they were “real go-getters” and didn’t explain their role or what a problem in your company actually is. What could have been a massive driving force for you is now more of a bull in a China closet. You will have numerous arguments with this individual and he will not get what your point is. Remember they don’t get you and you don’t get them, but train them well in their job, point them in the right direction and you will have a force and not just an employee.

Military people are not always fun to work with.

There really are two types of military people to work with. The stoic solemn ones who are extremely rigid, professional and have no time for your nonsense or the wild and unruly bombs who can be unreliable, drunks, dissidents, aggressive and might even bring massive drama into your workplace. Both of these types are likely to be extremely proud and can border on arrogance and can be very aggressive in general. They can both be extremely difficult for other personality types to mesh with and can cause conflict just with their presence. As bosses they can be extremely strict and demanding and can bring down the morale of a workplace because “incentive” to them is usually just a lack of punishment. You have a job, you do it. That is how many think. Their punishments can be incredibly severe by civilian terms because most civilians have never dug a seven foot deep fighting hole and filled 600 sand bags because they didn’t clean their room once. Simply put, aggression is not always a good thing, but these guys have it.

A lot of veterans have very real problems you don’t understand.

Post traumatic stress is a real thing. Lower back problems for wearing a 70 pound flack jacket for 8 hours a day for 7 straight months is a real thing. Hearing loss from working on rifle ranges, or near rotary-wing aircraft and artillery is a very real thing. The fact is that most military people get out with some degree of disability. They are proud so most never mention this, but it is something you will need to understand when trying to understand them. The fact is that a 22 year old veteran has the body of 35 year old because of the stresses they endure overseas. You will need to know about that and a good leader will find out how to help the vet cope and work productively. A bad manager will say that “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD.” and not hire the person. This isn’t a made up opinion. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or tragedy) it is assumed that most have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease. The fact is we all had something jarring happen, if it was only the incredibly long periods of isolation from our country and loved ones. This doesn’t mean that there is any likelihood that you will experience violence in the workplace from us. They might be a bit off by your standards, but still deserve a chance.

Military people have what some might call controlled Tourette’s Syndrome.

I added this one after some comments came up about the way that military act toward civilians and I thought that it deserved special recognition. It relates to #6 on my list, but this element deserved it’s place. In the military the way we talk to each other is often not pleasant. In the Marines bootcamp instructors are actually trained on how to manipulate their voices so that they can yell for extremely long periods of time without damaging their vocal cords. This is known as the “Frog Voice” and it is a real as the weapons we use. The fact is that once you enter the military people literally screaming at you all the time and you adapt. Eventually you will be a leader and screaming will be part of your job too. This video actually shows a great deal of things that are important. It is a video of a charity golf tournament where some Marines were invited to give a show for some of the competitors. Listen at the very beginning and you can hear a Marine using a strange voice to speak to the victim/participant. This is Frog Voice. You will also see what is known as the “Omnidirectional Ass Chewing” in which multiple D.I. will be screaming at you in unison as you attempt to make sense of the universe around you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr4C8PtfMq0

This video is in jest, but it is identical to the way that Marine recruits are trained at boot camp, except that goes on for 3 months. “Why do all these things you ask?” Because it is the easiest way to get a human being who is unaccustomed to performance under stress to take action while being placed under an extreme and sudden stress environment (combat). It trains them to block out the noise and the fear and the stress and just do what they need to do. We can’t actually shoot at the kids you know. (Oh God, that actually does make sense.) So the Omnidirectional Ass Chewing is one of the most important parts of onboarding that most military go through, and the yelling really never stops after that. What is extremely important to know is that just as quickly as these men started yelling they can turn it off just as quickly. It is mostly an act meant to instill aggression and help military people cope with combat stress without actually experiencing combat. This is why as John Albert put it “Not that my ex-military friends aren’t cool to just hang with when the pressures of work are off, but once you get them into a “business” situation it’s sometimes like flipping the “asshole” switch.” This asshole switch is a very real thing that has taken years to perfect. Yes, I acknowledge it as a conscious decision and part of our leadership and cultural mentality, but now they are in the civilian sector and this can is extreme. If you hire a military you need to know about this. If given a leadership role there might be some moments where the employees stop talking to Jon and start being talked to by Sgt Davis. As with other things, this can be an asset, but if it isn’t what you want in your culture you need to consider that. as well.

You

If I could really say the hardest thing that I have dealt with since leaving the military it is civilian managers who want to leverage my military experience, but have no understanding of it. I’ve had bosses who hired me thinking that I would be able to kick down doors, then when I made someone cry guess who got in trouble. One guy tried to lecture me on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War because now he understood warfare. Basically the worst thing that I have truly experienced is that so many think that all these traits I have listed are an all encompassing list of personality traits. Only these things are what naive managers think they want. After they realize that this may not be what they want, or that what they want doesn’t rationally belong in a civilian environment, who do they blame? Yeah. They expect some level of unattainable perfection while not allowing you the freedom to move in the way they hired you for. In the meantime, they hold the vet to a different standard than the other peers only because the vet didn’t live up to the managers impossible stereotypes.

In summary, hiring military people can be much less productive than you think if you don’t try and understand them. They can be asset or a liability. What is important for you as the hiring manager or owner is to accept that these are extremely capable and strong willed individuals that will need much guidance in the beginning, but be a major boon to your operations after that. They likely won’t fit your stereotypes and if you expect them to you will only get a great deal of resentment and difficulty. Still, there are few that know how to work harder can be more loyal, providers of effective diversity, are as reliable and can be counted on like a good US Veteran.

In all fairness you should also see my answer in What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

Could a Star Destroyer Defeat the Whole US Army?

More than likely, one TIE Fighter, could defeat the whole of the US Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, Air Force, and the combined military arsenals of all earthly defense forces.

​Let’s not look at this in terms of bigness of the ships, but of advancements in technology. When we really think about the staggering gulf between the technology of the US military of 2016 and that of the Star Wars universe, you will start to see that this question isn’t really if we can be beaten, but how long would it take. For example, would you consider it possible for a few ship loads of European Conquistadors capable of disemboweling the Aztec Empire in only a matter of months?

​In 1518, Cortés, a Spanish Conquistador, was in command of an expedition to explore and secure the interior of Mexico for colonization. Accompanied by about 11 ships, 500 men, 13 horses, and a small number of cannon, Cortés landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mayan territory. By 1521 Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs, had fallen, and Cortés was the governor of all their empire.

The advantages that the Conquistadors brought to fight were steel, both covering their body in armor, and with unyielding weapons. Compare this to the Aztec Eagle Warriors, what amounted to the Aztec’s special forces. For generations, they had only specialized in capture and raid tactics to take living captives for Aztec human sacrifice rituals. The only armor they needed were tightly woven cloth over shirts, and the weapons they used amounted to wooden mallets lined with obsidian. This was virtually worthless against the armored knights of Spain. Added to it the devastating psychological effects of even early guns and the whole of the empire was outmatched by a few very advanced foreigners. Disease had no small role in the defeat of the Aztecs, but the fact was undeniable. Around a thousand men conquered a nation. The difference, it should be noted, between Spain and the Aztecs, was no more than 4,000 and by some accounts much less.

​Compare this the Star Wars of the days of Luke, Leia, and the diabolical Darth Vader. According to the expanded universe, (which shouldn’t be changed for the purposes of this article) hyperdrive was invented something around 40,000 year, at which point, advanced technologies started circulating throughout the galaxy.

Let’s assume that we are only a thousand years away from some form of faster than light travel. That still means we would need to progress for another 40,000 years to be relevant to what that civilization can do. To give it some more perspective in thinking about the conquest of Mexico, instead consider what a modern warrior, take a US Navy SEAL or Marine, armed with something like the M-27 Automatic Rifle.

​Now match them up with their 40,000 years ago counterpart… with his somewhat sharp hand tool.

​Now imagine if you will, if the Marines are that much more powerful than the caveman, what is that much more powerful to the Marines? We can’t fathom it, (it’s a Sith) but if we think logarithmically, we can start to understand exactly how much of a mismatch anything the US military could field.

How would that one lone TIE fighter bring us down? I wouldn’t have the first clue how to answer that. Neither, I assume, could Montezuma. We are operating in the realm of the unknown unknowns just as much as our caveman friend trying to determine the strengths and weaknesses of that M-27 rifle. It’s safe to say, though, that by the end of the day, whatever power he fields will outmatch our own without even the slightest hope of a chance.



 

Oh dear, people in my comments are getting all worked up about stuff. Alas…

Still, a few are cool, so I will address those.

1) Cortez won because of smallpox.

Yeah, I sort of mentioned that, but I want to remind people (subtly) that a person from another galaxy might just have their own Smallpox that could disrupt the whole system just as easily. In fact, far worse. Imagine a bug that can somehow disrupt every living cell on Earth. I’m no space virologist, but I’m just guessing that, like our unfortunate answers the Native Americans, the first time we get the lucky visit from outer space by aliens who aren’t all bad, but lacking in some basic understanding or forethought, billions of us are going to die. We won’t die by murder or conquest, neither malice nor hate… just by accident… which will still be super sad. So… score one for the TIE-Fighter and one against all known and unknown life yet to meet.

2) Cortez won because of allies.

Good job learning your history. Seriously, that’s an important part of the story that I really wish people would research. Yes, Cortez showed up and shifted the balance of power. From that point, all the rival nations tired of, you know, being raided, pillaged, enslaved, and sacrificed for all those years, sort of liked having an opportunity to overthrow the evil empire. Yeah, the Aztecs were horrible people. Don’t feel sorry for them just because a bunch of white Europeans showed up to disrupt their fun and murderous barbarism. Yeah, that’s part of history too. That said, we always have this belief that we will all rally together when evil aliens come to make war on the homeworld (I, for one, still love (with italics) Independence Day) but what happens when they offer a deal to the Russians? I’m just sayin’… in this story, I don’t really trust the Russians. Look, Cortez and his few hundred guys couldn’t have done all that alone. Perhaps our TIE-Fighter couldn’t either… but the TIE and Russia, or maybe China in exchange for a few laser blaster designs… oh yeah, the free world of humankind is boned.

Props for good discussion: Wayne Sherman, Giuseppe Longo

3) “A Tie Fighter is slower than an F16 in atmosphere and has no shields.”

This is actually really cool because someone did good research. Yeah, the specs on the actual ships of the Star Wars universe are weirdly weak, even by modern standards. If you’re interested at all… which you obviously are for reading this far you nerdy nerds, read Brian Collins‘ excellent answer to What technologies in the old Star Wars trilogy (1977 – 1983) are actually not that high-tech and would actually be sort of low-tech if they were actual products/things introduced in 2015? It actually invalidates my answer, but not for the point I was trying to make on how boned we are going to be when a real evil alien menace comes around, but because the creators of Star Wars somehow failed to envision how powerful these things should have been.

4) But how did Ewoks defeat the Stormtroopers with primitive tools?

Shovels are primitive tools. They used shovels… to dig plot holes. That’s how.


You nerds will probably like these too.

Movie Tropes and Military PTSD – Hollywood Needs to Start Getting This Right

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans of war isn’t a real disease. It’s a profitable movie trope.

Vets

This is going to be a very serious post. To be clear, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disease that affects many veterans who have taken part in combat and even non-combat operations in warfare, as well as many civilians who have experienced fatal car accidents, work in emergency medicine, and many other people who have experiences which put them in stressful situations beyond the expectations of what a normal person should expect in their lifetime. The disease can affect the way people live their lives, resulting in follow-on social dysfunctional disorders, depression, and for some, result in suicide.

That said, to not dilute the level of frustration other veterans and myself feel, Hollywood is not treating this disease as a problem which deserves understanding and respect. They’ve turned it into a plot device to add drama and communicate a story they wish to tell, depicting their own biases towards the military, the wars they fight, or the politicians that sent them to this unfortunate fate, with the “innocent veteran victim” now serving as the medium for their message. Masked in a story about “the real heroes and the struggles they face” these narrative mechanics boil down to little more than money making engines and good publicity for film creators by exploiting people who want to identify with veterans and their needs, but can’t. We aren’t part of that world. So their best opportunity years after they decided not to serve, and now maybe don’t feel so good about that, is a two hour war movie which is billed as coming from their point of view.

Movies like the Hurt Locker and Brothers are the worst of these. They tell the story of how warfare will always leave people broken, charred remnants of what used to be happy and productive human beings. Please understand that most of us are just normal people. We went to war. Then we came home and did other things. We enjoy going to our jobs where we add valuable experience and promote cultures of work ethic. We enjoy running on the track with our dogs, and we enjoy spending evenings with our families watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 and playing Mario Kart or Skyrim. However, when I see people who have done the things I have done in movies, and see the way they are depicted as I live today, it really breaks my heart. I’ve experienced prejudice, fear, and even been denied opportunities because I was a veteran of Iraq. What’s more, millions more like me have suffered far worse. Many have faced social ostracism, been denied jobs, and accosted publically for their role in an unpopular war. I just want people to understand, if that sort of treatment happens to you, it would mess you up in the head. People need to feel appreciated, loved, or at least not hated for doing something which they did for all the right reasons. Forget that the war even happened to these people. If you were to be treated as many returning vets were and are still today, you would not come out of it psychologically for the better.

This isn’t just something that sucks. It has been shown to affect how often veterans are hired in civilian positions after leaving the military. Did you know that veterans are discriminated against in hiring decisions because of the assumption that veterans have PTSD and may bring violence to the workplace? It has actually been measured that because of the negative bias created by these types of media, military veterans suffer unfair stereotyping and bias in hiring practices. This phenomena began making headlines when USA Today put out an article calling attention to it. Often, managers will look at a resume and say that, “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD. He might one day snap and shoot up the office.” The veteran is not hired because of an unfair stereotype no more accurate or just than not hiring an African American or Latino man because he was probably at one time part of a gang. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or personal tragedy) it is assumed by many people that most veterans have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease.

Researchers from the Center for New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, interviewed executives of 69 leading corporations, including Bank of America, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter and Gamble, and Raytheon. All said hiring veterans can be good for business, but more than half acknowledged harboring a negative image of veterans because of how popular media — from news coverage to films — portray PTSD. [1]

About one in three employers consider post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. [2]
This in spite of the fact that military veterans are less prone to violence than all the other population groups when matched with their own age cohorts [3] and that the presence of non-active duty veterans alone has prevented dozens of criminal acts including bank robberies, muggings, and even acts of terrorism [4]. Still though, veterans are considered potential risk factors by employers when work places say they won’t hire “our kind [5]” and continue to experience higher unemployment rates in spite of more training and more experience than other potential candidates [6].

Hopefully, this example will show that there is a link between the incorrect assumptions formed by media and actual real world civilian perceptions which are affecting veterans’ lives. Perhaps it isn’t that, though. Maybe all vets really do just suck. Well, maybe, but all anyone really has to do is watch the climactic ending to Brothers to understand that Hollywood is pushing an image of veterans that frightens people. Even if you’ve seen the movie, please watch this scene again to really get a feel for how frighteningly people like me are portrayed.

Look, movies have power. The words they say have power. The words said in movies echo over and over and over in the minds of people who see it. The specifics of a guy put into an impossible situation, (literally the premise of Brothers was beyond plausible) are lost as the audience over time forgets the details. Eventually they start to generalize, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy. As I said, it isn’t just “some guy who came back from the war.”  The “do you know what I did to come back to you?” reference in the clip was of a Marine Corps Captain captured and forced to murder another Marine by his terrorist captors  to buy himself more time in detention before he could be rescued. Anyone would be psychologically damaged from that, however it is a work of complete fiction. There are no stories like that of any actual people who came back from Iraq or Afghanistan. It is complete fiction for the point of adding drama, but that fact is lost. A few months later, people who watched the film only remember, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy.” When they see a vet a month after that, and find out he was in the war, what framework are they working under? Do you think they are aware that the only reference they had was a movie that wasn’t even possible, which also sort of aligns with vague news reports they weren’t really listening to about veterans and mental illness, and that they already have an incredibly loaded bias behind this person they are now talking to? As I said, it isn’t just, “some guy who came back from the war.” Brothers is a work of fiction, and no one should have to prove themselves against it, but now we do.

Even movies which got a lot right made this unnecessary tangent into depicting veterans as war ravaged husks. Consider the “unfortunate dog scene” from American Sniper.

That was unfortunate because, according to the book, nothing like that was ever mentioned. There was a situation where Kyle killed a dog, but not like the movie. In fact, not even in the United States. In the book American Sniper, on a night before one of Kyle’s overwatch missions, one where he considered his role to be providing security and ensuring the lives of Marines and fellow SEALs under him, there was a dog barking outside his tent. He warned the owner to shut up the dog. The dog kept barking. Deprived of sleep and needing to rest for his responsibilities the next day, he warned the owner again. The dog kept barking. Kyle shot the dog. Given that context, is that anything like what was depicted in the movie? Given the true context of being literally in the middle of a war, doesn’t that kind of sound like something a responsible person might do? Asking another question, what possible reason existed for adding the numerous hints that Chris Kyle had developed PTSD over his numerous tours in Iraq, all the while in spite of no real world evidence existing that the actual person depicted in the film ever had come under the hold of the disease? Was his life not good enough without the extra drama?

In a couple of  interviews [7][8], Clint Eastwood said that the film was meant to be “anti-war”.

“I just wonder . . . does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think.”

While the point is valid, the medium he used was to display a falsified narrative about Kyle, and by extension, all others like him who deployed to the war.

“the biggest antiwar statement any film” can make is to show “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.”
While I agree in practice, I have a problem with Eastwood’s decision to use mental destabilization and broken families as the “facts” that “family and the people who have to go back into civilian life” go through. That sort of experience isn’t universal and it isn’t even common, despite what they say in the movies.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography these movies probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, they have failed miserably. Many have set veterans’ issues back ten years. If we look at how much actually is known about PTSD, much of it discovered through studying and counseling done for combatants of the Vietnam war, and the mysterious black hole of mystery surrounding it now, one might question if the narrative of “a disease we still know so little about,” has set us back even further.

I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LGBT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical, flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin Williams’ The Birdcage. No matter your beliefs, (I actually think The Birdcage was meant to help them, somehow…) we all agree that they’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfill their narrative, and ironically, is considered a violation of 1st Amendment privileges to argue the practice, where a modern release of The Birdcage might be considered something between criminally insensitive or even a hate crime. These veteran depictions vary from bloodthirsty murderers (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scarred societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines, but incapable husbands while in (American Sniper) unstable love interests, addicted to pills (Parenthood), and everything about the Hurt Locker. In fact, the Hurt Locker was so hurtful to the soldier it was beyond a reasonable doubt depicting, that he sued the filmmakers for his portrayal. Even consider the movie Max, about a dog who goes to Iraq and develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even a freaking dog who goes to war will come back mentally damaged. Where does it end? What is the overriding theme that Hollywood movies and television are trying to present? Basically, once a person goes to war, he is from then on, on the cusp of losing control and murdering everyone around him if the door slams too loudly. That’s what people seem to think is happening. Now, why is it that I brought the LGBT stance into this? Because, frankly, veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group of so many people is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped, when the others aren’t? Furthermore, being gay isn’t a choice, but serving is. Whether you agree with their mentality, or what they did or didn’t do, they chose to serve their nation, which includes many reading this, in the best way they knew how. They deserve more respect than to become plot devices to the profit of people who neither cared about them, nor bothered getting to know and understand them.

I’ll leave you with this, Hollywood has power. It has the substantial power to mold the way that the average person identifies with experiences they have never had. Unfortunately, we live in an age where fewer and fewer people serve in the military. This is true as a percentage of the population and in real terms. We have fewer members of the military today than we did prior to World War II, and when the United States itself is twice as large. For that reason, for many, the movies are the only place they will experience the military, its veterans, or the struggles they face. When movies collectively paint only on the lines of a particular damaging movie narrative, it has a drastic impact on the lives of those it is thoughtlessly depicting. And it isn’t just the Hurt Lockers and the Brothers responsible for this. It echoes in the “artwork” of people who know even less, but who use these same devices in a downward spiral of our depiction. Below is an excerpt from an “incredibly powerful” short film by a college student for Project Greenlight entitled The Present Trauma.

This hurts me to see, not for the message it is trying to tell, but for the abuse on the character of those same individuals. It’s images like this which make a friend of mine tell me that when her husband finally came from Iraq, her friends asked her, “Do you feel safe?” It’s a childish attempt to do some good, more for creators than for the subjects, through the obvious manipulation, veterans as victims clickbait, but actually slapping the face of the plain old vet sitting at home, wondering why no one will hire him. Of course, the echo shows up in darker forms, where we are nothing more than, to use the words of Muse, “Fucking Psychos”.
I can’t help but agree with the rage of one anonymous writer in his visceral reaction to the propaganda layden depiction of veterans in Muse’s Psycho. It’s disgusting, and against no other minority would this sort of ignorance, callousness, and blind hatred be acceptable. But to the military, it is. It hurts us. We feel the sting of words, and this hurts us. Of course, I doubt this filth would have ever seen the light of day if not for a particular idea being so prevalent in our culture … that veterans are fucking psychos, something Hollywood is, in my opinion, doing the most harm in causing and the least good fixing.

Wow… all of a sudden I understand why 22 veterans kill themselves every day. It had nothing to do with Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s coming home to a place that treats them like this.


Thanks for reading. Everything I write is independent research, meaning that I am supported completely by fan and follower assistance. If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, follow JDT.  Please also show your support by visiting my support page here: Support Jon Davis creating A Military Sci-Fi Novel, Articles, and Essays.

What are some famous controversial photos that maybe shouldn’t have been taken?

The pictures of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Abu Ghraib is a large prison in Iraq. During the time of the Iraq War, it became a housing facility for American prisoners of war, as well as maintaining its role as a prison in an attempt to maintain order in the country following the collapse of the Hussein regime. Housed there were convicted terrorists, murderers, robbers, and rapists, but it was the US Army staff which brought the prison its most infamy.

Early in the Iraq war, soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion, an Army reserve unit far from the front lines of the conflict took over command of the facility. Prior to their arrival acts of barbarity by Iraqi prison officials was not uncommon. It was, in fact, a practice in Middle Eastern society prior to the American’s intervention to take pictures of people in humiliating situations, and to release the photos as a means of shame and humiliation to force coercion. In tribal societies, this works well and it was something the Hussein regime had long practiced. Having an image of a woman, in this case a woman holding a leashed naked Iraqi, I should add, greatly increased the value of the for such a work. Culturally, a women was of an inferior status, so to be depicted in such a demeaning manner by ta women was particularly offensive to Arab Muslims.

When the Americans took over, they were advised to continue the practice. Abuses under the American Army command included being forced to pose nude in demeaning positions, evidence of violence, inducing fear with military working dogs, and mocking poses with female guards. These practices, however, go against the law of war and several levels of military law and justice, as well as standing against many treaties, so when leaders in the prison took the advice to continue the status quo for the Hussein regime, they did so without good judgement or the legal leg to support their actions. This is why investigations for the prison were already underway before news of them began to circulate with international media, which had mostly been tipped off by these very same investigations.

Following the investigation, members of the 320th Military Police Battalion was charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with prisoner abuse. The United States Department of Defense removed seventeen soldiers and officers from duty, and eleven soldiers were charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, aggravated assault and battery. Between May 2004 and March 2006, these soldiers were convicted in courts-martial, sentenced to military prison, and dishonorably discharged from service. Two soldiers, Specialists Charles Graner and Lynndie England, were sentenced to ten and three years in prison, respectively. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of all detention facilities in Iraq, was reprimanded and demoted to the rank of colonel.

In April of 2004, information about the goings on at the prison began to become public, following earlier stories by the Associated Press. When the news broke, it detailed images of prisoner abuse at the prison not long after the war began.

After the pictures were released, the conversation about the war collapsed. In spite of the Army’s clear message through the imprisonment of the offending Army personnel, and the demotion of one of their Generals, the story that was told by the pictures was that this was acceptable practices for the United States military. This was detrimental to the war effort in that it unfairly misrepresented the rest of the military, myself included, in our efforts to help Iraq stabilize following the removal of the Iraqi Saddamist regime. It was never viewed as a rogue act of an undisciplined and reckless unit, but as representative of the entire United States military, and, to quote a commentor below, “…but it showed the true face of USA…” This radical hyperbole defined the war for many people even today, but the story the pictures told, rather than the truth, dramatically changed the ground war.

The United States military could not really advocate itself as a force for good when this event existed. It cast a very bright light on the decisions of an extremely small group of people in the military. Within the Iraqi population, it made a sound argument that this sort of behavior was the way of the new imperial dictator, and fed propaganda against the American occupation and populist government.  The pictures generated hatred and animosity as the images touched on very deep cultural sensitivities, beyond the obvious human reactions to them. This escalated insurgency activity and fed the increasing terror campaign for three more years before the “Surge” of 2007. In the United States, the event fed the anti-war rhetoric, silencing many supporters of the conflict and empowering those who were never behind the war in the first place with new evidence to support their views. After quickly toppling the government under Saddam Hussein and breaking grounds towards a stable and free government, the legacy of the American involvement in the country was forever damaged by Abu Gharib.

This was a tragedy on many levels. First, the actions of a very few marred the image of the United States’ mission and the conduct of its servicemen. The Marines have a saying, “No greater friend; no worse enemy.” This led many potential allies to think not in the terms of no greater friend, but that the Americans are simply an enemy to be feared. Resistance from that point on, was assured based on these pictures alone. Further, it painted the entire conflict as one of cruelty, forever ignoring the extreme effort that American and coalition forces went to minimize harm to civilians and attempt to rebuild the Iraqi way of life. And even furthermore, painted the hyperbolic assumption that all Americans were really like this.

Second, it was  a tragedy of justice in that it made it impossible to accurately judge who the just were. I will remind readers that the photos are of not just political prisoners of war, and certainly not of poor innocent Iraqis, but of convicted criminals under Iraqi courts. Some were guilty of war crimes under Saddam and some after the war began in 2003. Others were convicted murders, rapists, and all manner of citizens harmful to their own people. In truth, being tied to a leash and paraded around in some humiliating fashion was a far lighter offense than those suffered by many of their victims. You won’t find much remorse from me in the way they were treated, other than that the Americans were obligated by treaty not to participate in such acts. That said, even if these were the vilest of men, that message never got through. When they were masked, their identity was hidden along with all of their individual crimes. When their clothes or uniforms were removed, you remove their allegiances, in some cases to the criminal organizations that committed acts of terror and treason against the Iraqi people.

People can hate a face of a known killer, and they can hate anyone who wears a certain uniform. They couldn’t identify with a murderer, but to them, this was just another defenseless man. There was nothing that stopped them from identifying with just a naked man. Once you look at the picture, you only see illogical cruelty; there is never a question why did that person get into prison in the first place. The pictures didn’t capture their own atrocities, but clearly communicated human suffering they experienced at the hands of people who obligated to at least protect them, be it justified on any level or not. When we no longer saw them as criminals of the most terrible nature, we only saw people, or in this case, martyrs of the American war machine. Quick to forget who these men were and what they did, it was easy to look to those others pictured, cavalier and in American military uniforms as the unjust. I’m not saying that what the American soldiers tasked with overseeing the Abu Gharib prison did was morally justifiable. I’m just not very sorry for the individuals pictured. What I am sorry for is that the stupid actions of the soldiers caused anyone who saw them, both American or Iraqi, to forgive the evils of the men pictured for the story that was immortalized in their imagery.

The seminal tragedy in this is that it made sound the argument that the Americans should not have been in the war, and were incompetent to see it through. It increased pressure to forcing them out of the country long before Iraq was ready for them to leave. In this way, it opened the door to the premature departure of American forces, therefore leaving the door open to terrorists and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to invade and conquer vast swaths of Iraqi territory and empowering them to spread terror throughout not only the Middle East, but also throughout the world into the rest of Asia, Africa, and even Europe. I’d like to hear rational arguments, not for whether or not we should have been in Iraq, but that the world is a better place now that we have given in to emotions and retreated from the region. Having said this, it isn’t just that these pictures should not have been taken. The event they recorded never should have happened. At the bare minimum, they cost the American and coalition forces years on top of the conflict. They fed emotional reactionaries into fleeing the nation with no reasonable objectives adequately met, and worst of all, led to point where far more evil crimes are being committed today.


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Summary – The EGA and What it Takes to Make a Warrior

Earning the Title

As a regular person, you might not know why the Marine pictured above is crying. You’d probably guess he is going to a funeral or about to leave home for the first time to go off to war. You’d be wrong. The young recruits pictured above are about to take part in a culminating event of recruit training, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor Ceremony.

The EGA, the Eagle Globe and Anchor, is a small trinket of metal coated in a thin strip of black paint. It fits in the palm of the hand and can be bought for around $2 from any military apparel provider. Realistically speaking, that is all it is… it is a trinket. To the Marines, however, it is a symbol. The EGA is the emblem of the United States Marine Corps and only Marines are entitled to wear it. For the last three months, this recruit has endured all the trials of Marine Corps Boot Camp, but he was not a Marine. He, like all the other recruits with him, weren’t considered Marines until after they completed training. They were called “recruit” and suffered the hardships, tests, suffering, and indignities which come with the moniker. Once they finished Boot Camp, more properly, once they receive their EGA, only then will they have “earned the title” of United States Marine.

It’s a somewhat religious moment for our odd little cult of warriors. For many, receiving the EGA, and by extension the honor of being Marine, is the proudest moment of their lives. It is the moment, for so many of them, which truly gave their lives meaning. As melodramatic as that may sound, many of my friends who joined the Marines had no direction, no purpose, and no dreams for the future. They didn’t have a sense of agency, the belief that their decisions mattered. They were just riding the waves of life, drifting wherever the currents delivered them. They were far more likely to end up in prison as they were to be looked upon with honor and respect by their community. The Marine Corps, for many of my friends, gave them that sense of being part of something that mattered. If I were to attempt a guess, I’d say that the young man pictured above is crying because, for the first time, he is part of a community of people who matter, one which is honorable, and respected because of what they mean to the world and the citizens which they are drawn from.

Thank you for following this series of articles on the logic behind the need for a truly intense and transformative boot camp experience in today’s military. The logic is there. It is terrifyingly present in every subtle action of the Drill Instructors. As I said before, everything they do is for a reason. Boot camp, and particularly that of the Marines, is made to psychologically change a child into someone capable of performing under combat conditions. In most cases, it is intended to take from them the aspects of their civilian lives that will make life harder for them in the military, those that sometimes would have killed them and others, and makes those weakness no longer part of the calculation. The yelling, the sleep deprivation and being cut off from friends and family are part of the process of becoming a warrior. It is also part of becoming a cult.

And that is what they are. The Marines have formed a culture with the singular obsession of destroying those who endanger the United States’, her allies, and her interests. While they’re humanitarian efforts across the world, though rarely remembered, can never be denied, it is their ferocity in combat that makes them respected around the world. It is their ability to overcome and overwhelm enemies that reminds the world there are no better friends, and no worse enemies. This process of personal transformation takes place throughout a lifetime, but the seeds of it are sewn in boot camp. The foundation of a culture are laid in the welcoming of every generation’s newest members. This is why boot camp does things which aren’t normal through the eyes or our broader culture in which the Marines serve. To normal people, this is crazy.

This is why normal people can’t do the things warriors are asked to do. They can’t imagine combat or the terror of an enemy upon them and they shouldn’t be forced to. The goal of a good government and a strong military, is to create a world where their normal people never have to imagine pain, suffering, hate, or danger. But for these people to exist and prosper, there are those who do, and those who are willing to endure, and those who can fight. They don’t exist to serve and die for their country, but to fight smartly, leverage their risks with their skills, and make the other guy die for his. When others among them fall, they must see that their nation appreciates how special these people are for what they have elected to do. They have given up their innocence as civilians, free to pursue pleasure and prosperity for a time for something more, something each of them defines for themselves, but something which nonetheless, benefits all of us who prosper in the shadow of their actions. For these people, there must be a transition from “civilian” to “warrior”. Boot camp is the means of that evolution and every part of it is necessary. For those who complete the training, their lives will never be the same, they will never be the same; they will be Marines. That title can’t be passed down to you, you can’t buy it, and it is not given – it is earned when you become one of “The Few and The Proud” for life.

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