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My Share of the Task: A Memoir Paperback – January 28, 2014
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General Stanley McChrystal is widely admired for his hunger to know the truth his courage to find it and his humility to listen to those around him Even as the commanding officer of all U S and coalition forces in Afghanistan he stationed himself forward and frequently went on patrols with his troops to experience their challenges firsthand In this illuminating New York Times bestseller McChrystal frankly explores the major episodes and controversies of his career He describes the many outstanding leaders he served with and the handful of bad leaders he learned not to emulate And he paints a vivid portrait of how the military establishment turned itself in one generation into the adaptive resilient force that would soon be tested in Iraq Afghanistan and the wider War on Terror General McChrystal is a legendary warrior with a fine eye for enduring lessons about leadership courage and consequence -Tom Brokaw A compelling account of his impressive career -The Wall Street Journal This is a brilliant book about leadership wrapped inside a fascinating personal narrative -Walter Isaacson author of Steve Jobs Engaging and humble throughout McChrystal raises the bar for his peers -Publishers Weekly starred review
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Having read it twice, I have no hesitation in describing it as the outstanding military autobiography of our time. It is the ultimate insider account from a man who commanded Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming Commander-in-Chief in Afghanistan. The story of Task Force 714 (TF 714), aka Joint Special Operations Command, in Iraq and Afghanistan at the cutting edge of what is now being called the War on Terror, is a military classic. The account of supreme command in Afghanistan demolishes the Rolling Stones narrative of a delinquent general. This is a very thoughtful man, seared by the violence amidst which he has lived his whole professional life, and fully aware that a killing machine, no matter how effective, cannot win a war of this nature by itself.
Conventional militaries value structure, hierarchy and discipline. That was what counted in the field of battle. That was how Wellington’s redcoats stood firm against Napoleon’s repeated charges at Waterloo in 1815. The great feats of arms of the 20th century grafted an industrial scale logistical and destructive capability to these fundamentals. The Red Army relied on this combination to vanquish the Germans at Stalingrad in 1942, as did the Allies when they stormed ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Conventional military engagements since then have been short and sharp. The side that demonstrated greater ability and flexibility in wielding the massive weapon that is a modern army, was victorious. This underlay the staggering Israeli triumph in the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Indian Army’s dazzling victory in 1971. That age of conventional war is, however, over. Overwhelming conventional victories in the Gulf Wars, for example, have not ended hostilities. They have led to prolonged asymmetric warfare being fought by a new kind of soldier and military.
This book is the first authoritative account of the creation of a new kind of military machine that has been created by asymmetric battle. It reveals an organization that resembles a private sector start-up. A “flat” organization without much hierarchy, the equivalent of open-floor offices; the empowerment ofemployees; and reliance on technology. It is a machine that has been custom-built to fight todays enemy – a terrorist who does not wear an uniform, relies on Improvised Explosive Devices to fight a Low-Intensity Conflict and uses social media to communicate and as a weapon.
General McChrystal partially lifts the veil on this machine. He describes how he was able to launch what has been called counter-terror operations on an “industrial scale”. He talks about some of the instruments and methods of this battle – the collection of human intelligence through ever growing numbers of arrests and interrogations (prison administration in Iraq/Afghanistan is a central focus of the book); the collection of technical intelligence through intercepts and drones; the fusing together of CIA and military intelligence capabilities that allowed technical and human intelligence to be matched and exploited on an unprecedented scale; and the mind-numbing speed of reaction made possible by use of technology that substantially reduces what Clausewitz called the “fog of war”.
The man that emerges from the book is also extraordinary. The military is an unforgiving profession. The cost of failure is the forfeiture of life or freedom. Its unforgiving nature makes it a highly competitive trade. Generals’ sit atop probably the steepest professional pyramids and the qualities that help them scale these heights are a source of endless fascination. General McChrystal is obviously a soldier’s solider and the first part of the book deals with his rise through the ranks of the US Army Rangers and airborne corps. He learns to soldier, to parachute, and to lead men and women and he obviously does it extremely well. Along the way, he finds time to obtain a Masters degree, a fellowship at the Council of Foreign Relations, AND rewrite the unarmed combat curriculum of the Special Forces. He also seems to posses a characteristic of many famous Generals – the absence of physical fear.
It is hard not to compare him to an entrepreneur - contemptuous of the spit-and-polish that many of us associate with the armed forces. He is forever open to new ideas and focused on delivering results. General McChrystal does not glorify violence. What he glorifies is the cultivation of the fortitude and the ability that makes some people withstand suffering better than others. There is no exultation in the taking of a life, even that of violent terrorists. There is sorrow that it has been lost. The understanding of the psyche of the radical Islamists opposing him is acute. His sympathy for the civilians, the actual victims of this war, is obvious. The description of how a suicide bomber is recruited, primed and finally discharged is a masterpiece.
The book is however, ultimately, curiously unsettling. That the superbly trained and highly motivated elite forces led by commanders of McChrystal’s caliber did not triumph leads us to question the strategy and tactics of the war on terror.
The book also has some great insights to leadership. His style is inspirational just from reading it. His personal touch to things is very unique. You can also tell that he is a very passionate, and compassionate leader dedicated to country and mission. This guy walked a patrol in Afghanistan. There aren't many 4 stars that do that nowadays. I know everyone will want to read about the conflict with the President which filled the papers. There is only a few pages of that conflict. Most of the book material in the book is about the war. Through those examples and stories I think the nonmilitary person will gain from it.
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