on December 5, 2008
This book is fast moving and immediately draws the reader in with great anecdotes and chronicles of the enigmatic world of the "Unit", its members, and life "behind the fence" at Fort Bragg. Pete's principles about leadership and management are universal, transcendent, and are just pure commonsense. Moreover,they are eminently practical and stay with you long after you put the book down. He schools us in the Die Gestalt of leadership -- learn well.
Blaber's book should be on the "must read" list at the SOF University, Command and General Staff College and the War College. Make it essential reading for every officer basic course on the Nine Principles of War, in particular, in a study on "Mission". On second thought, the principles Blaber lays out here cover the eight remaining axioms with equal aplomb. Even Wharton's Business School and Havard's Kennedy School of Government would likewise, do well to make this book mandatory reading - it is that good!
When the dust has finally settled from our involvement in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the engagements that I believe will occupy the time of many prognosticators for generations to come will be "Operation Anaconda" that took place in the Shahi Khot Valley of Afghanistan in the winter of 2002.
Several fine books have already been written describing what happened during those fateful hours in the frigid February and March air high in the mountains near the Pakistan border. Sean Naylor gives a gripping account of his part of the story in "Not a Good Day to Die." (See below for the link to my review from February, 2007.)
Nate Self's recent book, "Two Wars" (to be reviewed here soon) adds another important perspective on what happened in Afghanistan and beyond.
Pete Blaber, the Delta Force commander who was in charge of the AFO (Advanced Force Operations) involved in Operation Anaconda, has written a compelling book that is a welcome addition to the ongoing dialogue about what we can all learn from the events of those days. Adding valuable insight into this engagement, Blaber's book also takes a broad look at lessons he has learned along the way that are practical and applicable not just to military operations but to any situations that presents leadership challenges.
The title of the book, "Mission, the Men, and Me - Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander ," refers to the three priorities and three questions that Blaber set for himself in making decisions in the heat of battle: "What is best for the Mission; what is best for my men; what is best for me?" Any leader would be well served to adapt these priorities at decisive moments in responding to challenges and opportunities.
Let me share just a few of the nuggets that I found in reading with rapt attention Blaber's thoughts and conclusions. For a more thorough understanding of the depth of his insights, I recommend that you read the book - even if you have no military background or proclivities. This is - above all else - a book about leadership.
"The 3Ms is a guiding principle that I learned early in my career, which had provided direction and context for me ever since. In 1985, when I was a brand-new second lieutenant reporting for duty in Korea, my battalion commander, a soft-spoken Vietnam veteran and Marlboro Man lookalike, called me into his office and asked me if I had ever heard of the 3Ms.
'No-sir,' I replied sheepishly (I was sure it was something I was supposed to have learned during basic officer training). He sauntered over to the chalkboard and drew three capital Ms, one on top of the other in a column. Then he turned to me and explained.
'The 3Ms are the keys to being successful in life. The stand for the mission, the men, and me.' He then drew a line from the top M through the middle M, down to the bottom M. 'They're all connected,' he continued. 'So if you neglect one, you'll screw up the others. The first M stands for the mission; it's the purpose for which you're doing what you're doing. Whether in your personal or professional life, make sure you understand it, and that it makes legal, moral, and ethical sense, then use it to guide all your decisions. The second M stands for the men. Joshua Chamberlain, a Medal of Honor-receiving schoolteacher in the Civil War, once said that "there are two things an officer must do to lead men; he must be careful for his men's welfare, and he must show courage." Welfare of the troops and courage are inextricably linked. When it comes to your men you can't be good at one without being good at the other. Take care of your men's welfare by listening and leading them with sound tactics and techniques that accomplish your mission, and by always having the courage to do the right thing by them. The final M stands for me. Me comes last for a reason. You have to take care of yourself, but you should only do so after you have taken care of the mission, and the men. Never put your own personal well-being, or advancement, ahead of the accomplishment of your mission and taking care of your men . . .'" (Pages 10-11)
Blaber shares his recollection of an incident early in his career within Delta force that tested his commitment to the 3Ms. He chose to countermand the radio order of a commanding general in order to save the lives of his men:
"That simple handshake and the barely audible words of gratitude from a man I completely respected , along with the knowledge that all my men had successfully returned from a dangerous mission, was a defining moment for me that I am proud of as any event in my entire life. Ironically, I didn't do anything other than what I was supposed to do. I didn't lead a charge against an enemy machine-gun nest, nor did I execute some Napoleonic cutting-edge operational maneuver; I simply did the right thing. It was the right thing for the mission, it was the right thing for the men, and it was the right thing for me." (Pages 12-13)
Blaber succinctly summarizes the reason why he labored to write this book and bring it to publication:
"The ultimate goal of this book is to share what I consider to be life-saving and life-changing lessons that I was fortunate enough to learn as a key participant in many of recent history's most impactful events. The single most important lesson I learned, and the plain but powerful foundation that supports the entire book, is that the most effective weapon on any battlefield - whether it be combat, business, or life - is our mind's ability to recognize life's underlying patterns." (Page 14)
One example of recognizing patterns is found in the author's recounting a pivotal conversation with a Delta Force consulting psychologist. Blaber was having trouble sleeping, and was looking for some help:
"You need to understand how the human mind works. The mind has three elementary phases it goes through when it's thinking: saturate, incubate, and illuminate. Although they generally occur in order, all three are continuous processes, so your mind is constantly cycling through all three phases. The saturation phase occurs when the mind if first exposed to something. When you're planning a new mission, you're saturating your mind with facts, assumptions, insights and/or sensory cues - ergo, the saturation phase. the next phase is incubation. This is a critical phase if you ever want to come up with something innovative. The mind needs time to incubate. During this phase the mind subconsciously sorts through all of the inputs and begins to recognize patterns and snap those patterns together to come up with concepts and ideas. This is why you may have heard people say, 'I need to sleep on it' before making a major decision. It's not the sleep per se that they need: it's the time to allow their mind to sort through information and search for patterns. The recognition of patterns that occurs during the incubation phase produces the illumination phase, also known as 'eureka' moments, when your mind begins to translate those patterns and form the into actionable ideas. Saturate, incubate, illuminate - it's how the mind works, and it's probably the main reason why you have last so much sleep over the years. The best thing you can do is to keep a pen and paper by your bed. Writing down your thoughts while you're incubating and illuminating should help to temporarily get the off your mind and back to sleep." (Page 70)
As Blaber continues with his account of the things that happened in the Shahi Khot Valley, one over-arching principle emerges that resonated with me, because I have heard it articulated in many different ways by leaders that I respect: "Always listen to the guy on the ground who is closest to the action." Leaps forward in communication technologies have allowed commanders in the rear echelon to have a false sense of being present in the battle, and making false assumptions that the view that they are seeing "through a straw" has given them enough battlefield awareness to countermand the recommendations of the leaders on the front lines. The last chapters of the book bear strong and impassioned witness to the tragic results of not listening to those on the ground.
I plan to share copies of this book with friends who are leaders in a variety of fields. I strongly recommend that you read it and pass it along.
on August 25, 2009
This excellent book is really about how to thrive out on the edge of a high-risk, high-profile career. It's not a book for armchair experts or backseat drivers of whatever stripe, because one of Blaber's key teachings is how to circumvent the kibbutzers and second-guessers in positions of authority, ignore their distractions and overcome their interference, and accomplish the mission.
In fact, while it's a great title, the equation of the "mission", his "men" and himself "me" gives the misleading impression that Blaber may be a bit of a prima donna. In fact, the "Mission, Men and Me" framework is applied whenever Blaber is being pressured by a senior commander to take an action that Blaber is convinced will result in damage to the mission or needless harm to his men. When forced into these dilemmas, if the only consideration is his personal or career interests, than Blaber always puts "Me" at risk to assure the best outcome for the Mission and his Men.
The realism of the book can be conveyed by observing that Blaber needs to apply the Mission, Men and Me framework fairly frequently!
The book, which is officially divided into Parts One - Four, is thematically structured into three sections:
(1) The first section is a series of very helpful lessons and mental frameworks for handling intense, stressful and complex situations. Blaber has benefited from the kind of resources the US Government can afford to pour into its best and brightest, and an unbelievable amount of cutting edge cognitive, psychological, sociological, and other areas of research have been reduced to practical learnings and made available to the operators of Delta Force, and Blaber makes them available to readers of this book. Just the insight into chronic insomnia provided by a Delta psychologist (page 70) from which I and many people I know who work in high stress professions suffer, is worth many times the price of the book. This section comprises Parts One and Two of the book;
(2) The second section is a realistic, clear-eyed critique of the organisational pathologies that are running rampant in the US Government, and which clog the arteries of any large institution. This is a very alarming section. This is where Blaber's Mission-Men-Me framework, while nominally one of the key tools he explains in Section 1, is used again and again. Blaber has very insightful comments to make about risk aversion, the tactical foolishness of the helicopter assault concept, and the counter-productive stupidities that have been institutionalised through high bandwidth modern telecommunications technology. Two examples of this are (a) the way deeply rear echelon senior commanders, at one end of a data feed 10,000 kilometers away, over-ride combat participants because of the communications capabilities that give the Generals access to two-dimensional video imagery and real time voice contact--and therefore the illusion that they are across all the information required to make tactical decisions during combat, and (b) the second example is the pervasive abuse of the VTC (Video Teleconference), a subject all its own, and how the VTC has allowed the Staff Planning function to engulf and just about devour actual war-fighting, at least in Blaber's account--which is persuasive. This second section is Part Three of the book.
(3) The third section is a live example of Blaber's experiences in combat in the conquest of Afghanistan and the sudden collapse of the Taliban. This is exciting material on its own, but Blaber includes it with a view to illustrating the frameworks he explains in the first section and the kinds of organisational irrationalities he critiques in the second section. This third section is compelling at all levels, but I must say my blood boiled from time to time at the account of the self-serving careerist officers and senior authorities driven by their own egos who repeatedly interfered with the mission and the best interests of the brave men in harm's way.
While this book could be considered an unusually useful management resource there is a broader vista that opens up in its pages, and that is a vision of horizon-to-horizon mismanagement and incompetence in the US Government. I really hope plenty of people in a position to push through much needed reforms are reading this book . . . we need to embark on root to branch institutional reform across the US Government before it's too late . . . 9/11 and the operations described by Blaber were one symptom, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was another, and the Global Financial Crisis (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the SEC, etc.) was yet another . . .
How many of these shocks can we sustain? I hope many people read Blaber's book--and then do something!
on July 27, 2009
This is an extremely worthwhile book, especially if you are of a more cerebral type. All too many special operator memoirs suffer from an excess of rah-rah me-tough-guy braggadocio. Blaber's book is very different. Here is a professional warrior who can both fight and think, and then produce intelligent writing about it. His book is not just descriptive, but reflective. Now don't misunderstand: this is not some philosophical treatise. There are plenty of good, well told recountings of adventures and operations from his decades-long career in special ops, many of which, especially his perspectives on the battle of Sha-hi-Kot, I found very illuminating, having read the other books about it. But what sets this book apart from other memoirs is the fact that his stories always serve to illustrate a point, a broader principle that can be applied not just to military life, but life in general. Other reviewers have detailed those lessons, so I won't go into details, but I highly recommend this book. I guarantee that you will finish it with a feeling of not just having read an interesting story, but having learned some lessons that you will remember.
on April 22, 2011
I just finished reading Pete Blaber's accounting of his Unit time and specifically AF time in country. I think as a book on a commander's mantra it is excellent and I hope a classified version exists for those in this business to teach others what his learning curve was in key operations he has been in command of in past years. However, he could have done those senior commanders in the Department of Defense and specifically the Army a favor and focused more on how it is hard to be called the commander of a mission and then be worked over by GO/FO's (code word for General Officers/Flag Officers). Every time you have a special mission unit working with regular Army/Navy/USMC forces, you will get this type of situation of being over managed from several time zones away. Blaber should have mentioned operational security (OPSEC) as what caused many brave warriors to die on the top of that mountain he notes in his book. EVERYBODY at Bagram and outside locations thinks they are cleared to comment or participate in a mission - which got folks killed in Blaber's AFO operation that was skillfully prepared and executed until higher headquarters could not resist the need to tinker with Blaber's command authority. This is important as the Unit guy working at Bagram TOC (likely a Master Sgt.) was a key mistake in managing the mission and needed a senior Unit officer to keep tabs on folks in the TOC who were pushing the Unit around on decisions affecting the mission.
Although Blaber did not discuss this at all in his book, it was Gen. Franks who was hesitant to put any Rangers in the operation as he feared too many loses. Blaber also underplays the Afghan participation which was good at the start and completely collapsed as things heated up. Why Gen Franks thought it a good idea to leave it to Afghans ("Afghan Face") to go against hardened Arabs, Chechens, and Afghans is beyond my ability to comprehend that type of command thinking. In fact, a true hammer and anvil operation (with a Brigade sized element of Rangers) would have produced results so spectacular as a result of so many Taliban and forieign fghters killed/captured and the real prize that of Bin Laden in the bag - who escaped unharmed.
Last, TF 11 was a predominantly Navy Task Force as he mentions in his book. NAVSPECWAR personnel in command could not stand to be a limited role player in an AFO operation and pushed to get into the fight. Forever they will not get to change the fact that it was this vanity that caused MH47 helos to park on top of a mountain Blaber had advised was a terrible idea and he scratched as a commander. Like the book says, follow the commander on the ground and his recommendation.
Pete - write another book. Looking forward to your next effort.
on April 21, 2015
If I had the power I would make this book recommended reading for the various U.S. military academies, and command and staff colleges. Colonel Pete Blabber, USA, (Retired), a former 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (Airborne) commander provides some sound principles on how to fight a counterinsurgency war/global war on terrorism. It seems our government and senior military leaders are still stuck in a World War type warfare strategy. It is as if we did not learn anything from Vietnam. I would also like to add another nugget of information to the many that COL Blabber pointed out in his book, “Never fall in love with a plan.” The mission is not the plan. Plus helicopter assaults into hot landing zones have no place in today’s military tactics.
I personally knew the general-grade officers in Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that COL Blabber mentions in the book. I am extremely disappointed in their leadership during Operation Anaconda and the Tikrit, Iraq, deception operation, if what COL Blabber stated in the book is true. I retired from the Army and 1st SFOD-D in January 1999 and my main interest in reading this book was to find out what my old unit and team mates were doing in the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In reading the accounts of the next generations of Delta Operators in the book, I could not be more proud of them.
In the early days of the Unit we did a lot of mountain environmental training, in fact I served on a Mountain Team. I was surprised to learn from the book that the Unit had not done a lot of training in the mountains until things started heating up in Afghanistan. In the Unit I was involved with two squadron ascents of Mount Rainier (14,411 feet) in Washington State, plus a six-man ascent of the famous Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier, and a successful joint Delta and 22nd Special Air Services ascent of Mount McKinley/Denali (20,320 feet), Alaska. We also conducted ski mountaineering training in Austria and Poland.
I hope that the many points COL Blabber makes in this book become in gain with future military operations against terrorism. I also hope that the reader understands that the United States has a special operations capability that is second-to-none, and in Delta we are very critical of ourselves and we constantly strive to improve. Nothing is held back in our after operations “hot washes.”
The book is a paperback containing 324 pages, six maps, 13 photos, an index, and is published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
The reviewer, Mike R. Vining, is a retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major who served in the Army from 1968 to 1999 in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal field, with 20 years of that in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (Airborne) as an Operator and Breacher.
on February 23, 2009
This is a wonderful book. In it, Pete Blaber shows clearly what true leadership is and gives you a road map to follow to be a true leader: if you dare.
In his time in the US Army, Blaber was handed a simple but powerful tool for cutting through the clutter as a leader in stressful and confusing situations, "The mission, the men, and me." The idea being that when it becomes unclear what path t take, when conditions are frantic, when orders and ideas conflict, you return to these fundamental precepts to determine the proper course of action. First, think clearly about what the mission at hand is and how it can best be accomplished. From there, think about the well-being of the men in your command and how it can best be supported, preserved or improved. Last, and often least, think about your own well-being.
Blaber gives examples throughout his book of this type of leadership being applied. He also peppers it with other important concepts about planning, preparedness and leadership that fit in perfectly with the basic concept. You come to see the power of leading in the way that Blaber espouses. Unfortunately, you also come to see how rare that type of leadership is and how tough it can be to execute in a large, bureaucratic organization.
Blaber's book is filled with examples of officers in the Army who think first of themselves and then of the mission and the men, or with people who simply go with formulaic, but flawed, ideas rather than risk trying something potentially better, but personally more risky because of its novelty. I've worked in a large company, and tried to lead the way Blaber does and can tell you that the leadership style yields great results. However, the organizational pitfalls Blaber encountered in the Army are in no way limited to the military alone. I ran into identical problems in the private sector, and I'm sure any large charitable group would contain the same issues.
None of this diminishes the power of Blaber's principles, it just serves to prepare you for the challenges you will face if you choose to lead the way Blaber proposes. I highly recommend this book, we can use all the people we can get leading the the way Blaber describes so adeptly in this book.
on June 7, 2009
This compelling, historic and courageous rendition of Pete's military missions should be required reading for everyone in all levels of personal and professional growth!
I will say that I took to heart all of the guiding principles and brought them to life as I thought of examples in my personal and professional life that reflected each one of them.
"When in doubt, develop the situation" is a guiding principle that is evident in every day of our lives.
As the story unfolds, I was purely amazed at Pete's commanding general's reluctance to break away from the rigid plan, despite its misinformation. The principle was at work when Pete decided to stick to his plan, develop the situation and always listen to the guy on the ground.
The principle that also struck me was "it's not reality unless it's shared". Put so perfectly in such few words, this should be an addendum to the "golden rule". The concept is global and yet elementary at the same time. From family to friend, local to multinational business, government, peace and wartime - it's true! If you can't get others to buy in/agree/share your feelings, concept, plan, mission then you clearly will not be successful in achieving your goals!
I can also relate to the "humor your imagination" principle as I believe that humor is essential to the ebb and flow of life's situations, business and personal. If you can't laugh about things you're sure to sink yourself in the process of living and understanding why things happen as they do.
"Don't get treed by a Chihuahua" - this guiding principle is a great reality check, as you proved in the book in several situations that forced you and your team to look at the big picture, alas, The Mission, The Men and Me!
on March 26, 2009
I was really impressed with this book. Equal parts memoir, history, and management. Mr. Blaber very thoughtfully presents the many different organizational and situational challenges he has encountered in his career; and his time-tested concepts on how to mitigate them. The recurring themes of collaboration, open-mindedness, and free-thinking are in stark contrast to the autocratic, command and control culture I often associate with the military.
Sounds silly to say - but the Forward really stood out in my mind. It kind of set the table for the rest of the book - and sets the author apart from some of the other different but similar books like 'Kill Bin Laden', and 'Jawbreaker' where the authors motivations were sometimes called into question by members of the military. I don't necessarily agree with those critics; but i think addressing those potential criticisms preemptively was a responsible thing to do, considering the subject matter.
on January 17, 2009
This is a truly phenomenal book if you want leadership insight in a very fast-paced read. As an Air Force officer, I frequently read autobiographical books by military leaders in an effort to improve my own leadership skills. While I often find books that are far too focused on specific skill sets, the lessons in The Mission, The Men, and Me should be universal to any career field--military or civilian. It is very easy for one to instantly apply the insights he provides because they are all based on common sense!
I also recommend reading Not a Good Day to Die by Sean Naylor to give you a good context as to the role Lt. Col. Blaber played in Operation Anaconda that he comments on in this book. But even by itself, this book is still amazing. I have already strongly recommended the book to quite a few of my colleagues.