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The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander Hardcover – December 2, 2008
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''His thesis is that there aren't that many different situations in life, and there aren't that many different ways of dealing with them -- have a few, simple principles, and, when in doubt, refer to them. He's a stoic with a sense of humor, and I very much enjoyed his book.'' --David Mamet, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and film director.
''A book about the complexities of combat that's just as applicable for dealing with the complexities of business and our personal lives.'' --Kevin Sharer, chairman and CEO, Amgen --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
PETE BLABER commanded at every level of Delta Force, executing vital missions across the globe including destroying the largest pocket of Al Qaeda forces to date, and helping to hasten the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. He lives in Santa Monica, California. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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As others have noted the content was somewhat of a surprise. Rather than 300 pages of adrenalin filled action, Pete Blaber has offers critical, big picture lessons in thinking and managing which are priceless.
Blaber does an outstanding job of weaving the lesson into a first hand story of the battles at Takur Ghar and events leading up to the battle. For openers it's interesting to note that he arrived in the area in January 02, only four months after 9-11 and that the primary action took place several months later. It was a classic use of Lesson 1 - When in doubt, develop the situation and Lesson 2 Always listen to the guy on the ground. Most of the last third of the book (approximately 100 pages) focus on the events leading up to the battle, the opportunities lost and the losses that need not have occurred.
Blaber describes the development of the situation as a process that began long before his arrival in Afghanistan.
Understanding operations in high, snow covered mountains
Interviewing terrorists who had knowledge of the area and bin Laden's operations
Reading both Afghan and Russian accounts of the earlier war with the Soviets
Listening to the guy on the ground is remarkably similar to Colin Powell's advice that in the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, headquarters should assume the people in the field are correct. Blaber takes it one step further in seeking out sheepherders, taxi drivers and other sources while avoiding the more traditional government officials who may be working for the other side.
One of Blaber's great contributions, and something that Washington should heed, is that the lack of a complete plan should not inhibit the development of the situation in a way that you are prepared to act upon opportunity. The use of the Lewis and Clark expedition as a classic example is enlightening.
The lessons continue......
Although Blaber does not make direct accusations it's clear that he believes the mission was compromised and a too many US and Afghanistan troops died because several people up the chain of command made bad (perhaps ego driven) decisions from distant command posts. The decisions were based on a lack of awareness of what was on the ground and ignored the advise of those who had been on the ground for several months carefully developing the situation. In addition to our losses, too many of the Arabs escaped. We had one opportunity to corner and exterminate them and we lost it.
One of the reasons the US was able to accomplish the unexpectedly rapid removal of the Taliban from control of most of the country was that in the early days we focused on sending a very limited number of people to work with the existing forces and provided them with support not supervision. While the mainstream press pronounced the US incapable of acting before the spring of 02, the Taliban were forced from government by Christmas 01, only a few months after the 9-11 attacks.
Back in the beginning of the book there is a partial account of an audacious operation which airlifted less than a dozen lightly armed vehicles far behind Saddam's lines to create the impression that there was another US army loose in the country. In a supreme act courage they took the remaining 5 vehicles into Tikrit and engaged in a firefight with the best of Saddam's forces who had believed there were no American ground forces within hundreds of miles.
There's no doubt that the flood of information available to field commanders, from internet searches, sat photos, Predator and Global Hawk sensors, AC-130 sensors and personnel and the troops engaged give our side a great advantage. However, the flood of information flowing from the battlefield to distant commands gives rise to an almost irresistible temptation on the part of both military and civilian leaders to inject themselves into tactical decisions while looking through a keyhole, without context. This is not a new problem but one that has multiplied with the flow of information. The withdrawal of the AC-130 from the battle at a very critical point was just one of the examples.
I thought we had learned one of the key decisions of the Vietnam war, that the micromanagement of the air war over N Vietnam by high DOD and WH officials who wanted to play god in the dark of the night. These decisions often resulted in orders to fly missions that were not the optimal missions for the weather, opportunities or targets. Hundreds of fliers directly paid the ultimate price for their arrogance and thousands more died on the ground.
The book is a light read and 300 pages pass quickly. The lessons should last a lifetime. Highly recommended along with First In and Not A Good Day To Die.
Having spent six years myself in the military, four of those years on active duty, and more than one of them in an active war zone, I appreciated the author’s candor. Mistakes are always made in the heat of battle, and more often than not those mistakes lead to someone getting killed or wounded, but the author brings a clear focus to the dangers of armchair commanders who try to call the shots from hundreds or even thousands of miles away and show little regard for the opinions and assessments of the soldiers actually leading and fighting the battle. Based on my personal experiences, the author’s related experiences are more common within the command structure of the U.S. military than one would hope or expect.
The message this book attempts to communicate extends well beyond the Army, Delta Force, and any battle field situation. Enlightened managers of any kind, whether military, business, or sports, could learn some very important lessons on the secrets of excellent leadership and predictable performance. All too often, many leaders assume the attainment of higher rank or position means they no longer have to listen to anyone lower on the pecking scale. As the author clearly points out, and I will agree, the sign of a great and effective leader is a man or woman who listens to and heeds the thoughts and opinions of the people who are actually performing the job. Too many leaders think this “inclusiveness” is a sign of weakness, when in actuality it is the ingredient that continually separates consistent high performers from the also-rans who consistently commits errors in judgment and then end up spending a great deal of energy trying to cover their asses and deflect the blame.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in management skills, and if you like a military tale told along the way, then so much the better. It's definitely worth the time invested.
The lessons are posted at http://peteblaber.weebly.com/lessons.html, but the book is well-written enough, and the vignettes interesting enough that the trip is more than rewarding.
This is a book that every manager of people should read - and hopefully understand and learn from.