The Book Title


I struggled with trying to name the book about the Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team. The team had 17 men on it. They fought alongside Danes, Brits and Afghan soldiers in the explosive Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

The Title for the Book

Trying to come up with an awesome book title is tough. There is a lot riding on the title of a book. It’s the readers’ first impression of your work.

You want the title to be eye catching, unique and a small description of the story. Some great titles of war adventures immediately come to mind: ‘Blackhawk Down’ or ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘We Were Soldiers Once… and Young’. All of them capture what the story is about in a few words.

Hemingway would use passages from the Bible and Shakespeare: ‘The Torrents of Spring’ (1925); ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (1926); ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (1929); ‘To Have and Have Not’ (1937); ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (1940) are some of his works.

Some titles use poetic language: ‘Gone with the Wind’; ‘Of Mice and Men’; ‘Grapes of Wrath’; ‘Snow Falling On Cedars’; ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.

Some use simple titles that become a few word series that become pop-culture phenomena: ‘Twilight’; ‘Game of Thrones’; ‘The Da Vinci Code’; come to mind.

Moral Syndromes

Jane Jacobs, who is best known for her 1961 masterpiece ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities.’ It is a reflection on what she calls the “moral syndromes.” She talks about how “syndromes” drive societies.

It is out of these two primitive groups: traders (who espouse a commercial syndrome) and warriors (that espouse a guardian syndrome) that different patterns of behavior emerge.

Jacobs then argues that each set of occupations has developed its own cluster of moral principles or ethics she calls a “moral syndrome”. These syndromes operate around a number of values.

Two very different ways of dealing with our needs, we also have two fundamentally different systems of morals and values – both systems valid and necessary.

The first is Commercial Moral Syndrome. This syndrome is to support human activities around trade and the production of goods.

Guardian Moral Syndrome is the code for warriors, governments, and religions. This system arose primarily to satisfy the needs of organizing and managing territories.


Jacobs warns that society must have both of these sets of values or else they will be unhealthy. If you are a commercial entity and you develop guardian values you are operating under the wrong set of values. Similarly, a government who holds commercial values operates under the wrong set of values.

Soldiers fall into the Guardian Moral Syndrome.

The Guardian Moral Syndrome (GSM)

The GSM shuns trading and exert their prowess by being obedient and disciplined to their society. They adhere to tradition by being loyal to each other. They show fortitude and honor by treasuring honesty.

A few years ago a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and author Dave Grossman wrote a book called “On Killing.” Grossman is a former airborne ranger and infantry officer who says the human population can be divided into three groups: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.

Grossman says most people are sheep. He’s stating the fact that most human beings are kind, gentle, and peaceful.

Wolves are bad guys. Wolves are the sociopaths who commit violent crimes or ignore moral or ethical boundaries with impunity. Think Dexter without “Harry’s Code.”

Sheepdogs are society’s protectors. GSM of the population. They are a pastoral dog born for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators. As puppies they are placed within the flocks they will protect so they can “imprint” with the animals they will care for and safeguard.

Strongly bonded to them, the sheepdog will perceive other species as predators and protect those it knows from these potentially hostile outsiders. This is what “Guardians” do as firemen, police officers and soldiers.

Like actual sheepdogs, they live among the flock – one of them, and yet different and set apart. They protect the perimeter and vigilantly watch for evil “wolves.”

The Title

I settled on “Guardians of Helmand” for the book title. Their mere presence of the Coalition soldiers of Afghans, Brits, Danes and Americans kept the Taliban from turning on innocent law-abiding citizens.

When they did attack, the “Guardians” acted as human sheepdogs alert and ready to be aggressive. They were prepared to make a stand against those who would do others harm, but outside of times of crisis, they were gentle and trustworthy.

Grossman describes human sheepdogs as individuals who have a capacity for violence but also a moral compass and a “deep love for [their] fellow citizens.” No better description can be given to those brave soldiers’ decision to respond to the Taliban’s challenge.

The Hemingway Hero


Today I will dive into my favorite writer- Ernest Hemingway. By analyzing Hemingway and his basic themes, ideas and writing style we can see how his work has influenced the idea of a “modern American man.”

The Hemingway Hero

The Hemingway hero is always a man. A man who learns through his experience to confront the reality of his death. By coming to terms with the fact that we are all going to die the hero is able to confront himself.

Hemingway’s heroes always find themselves in a contest that has them facing death. It’s usually by using the “hero journey” of Homer, as seen in the Odyssey, that the hero comes to this conclusion.

The ultimate human adventure of the Hemingway hero is war. Papa was obsessed with war and death. It is a subject he uses as his narrative vehicle over and over again in all of his major works.

Hemingway’s heroes learn to live by something literary scholars call the “Hemingway Code.” The hero must establish his own values by facing life courageously and by acting honestly. The primary motivation of the hero is courage.

The hero never turns away from reality or towards abstract ideals such as religion or politics. He finds it within himself to act without the distractions of outside influences such as love. He is able to do this by accepting the reality of his death.

The way the hero defines this is through action. By acting and not wallowing in his feelings the hero is choosing to take part in reality. He leaves all the intellectual pondering to weaker and lesser men. By doing this he can choose “to make of himself what he will.”

The Modern Hero

The modern action hero has been defined by this rule. Think of John Wayne and Rambo. They are heroes who speak little, make no plans and let their actions speak for themselves.

This is an example of the modern American male to grow up thinking he needs to never talk about his feelings. To act out when he feels frustrated and to worry about the consequences of actions later.

It’s fun to watch Tony Soprano punch out an annoying co-worker because he is a mob boss. How awesome is to watch John Rambo kill godless Commies with only a bow and arrow (more on this later)?

For all this we have Hemingway to thank. Whether the device is a gunfight A Farewell To Arms), bull fight (Death in the Afternoon), using a load of dynamite (For Whom the Bell Tolls) or a fishing pole (The Old Man and the Sea) we see the hero define himself.

The ritual of facing death allows the hero to rely on himself and overcome fear. Fear of the greatest uncontrollable of all time- death.

I better close this one out. I wanted to make this one a short introduction before we get into his writing style and how we all have Hemingway to thank for defining how we see manhood, lol.


Colonel John Boyd- OODA Loop


John Boyd was a brilliant man of contrasts and one of the most influential military theorists of the 20th century. He was an Air Force fighter pilot who changed the way every air force flies and fights.

His pursuit of the intellectual side of war became the basis for the Marine Corps ‘Warfighting Manual.’ He was an arrogant, stubborn, and brilliant man who was shelved until he was called out of retirement to help plan Desert Storm. He had substantial influence on the ultimate “left hook” design of the invasion plan (Coram, 2002).

Colonel John R. Boyd

The Fighter Pilot

After a brief stint in the Army, Boyd joined the Air Force. He became a fighter pilot. He flew 20 combat missions in F-86s at the tail end of the Korean War.

He was selected to become one of the first instructors at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis, Air Force Base in Nevada. This is the Air Force version of the US Navy’s “Top Gun.”

Boyd was much a great stick-and-rudder man. He was a thinking fighter pilot. Boyd was the first man to codify the elusive and mysterious ways of air-to-air combat (Coram, 2002). He developed and wrote the “Aerial Attack Study,” a document that become the bible of air combat.

Later, after it was declassified, it became the basis for aerial combat for air forces around the world. It was a huge intellectual contribution to the US Air Force. Heady stuff for a junior officer.

A young captain designed the dogfight tactics that were used at Fighter Weapons School. He earned the nickname “40-Second Boyd.

It was a standing bet he could maneuver from a position of disadvantage (challenger on his tail) to advantage (positions reversed) in 40 seconds — or pay the challenger 40 dollars (Spinney, 1997).

By the late 1950’s he was considered one of the best U.S. fighter pilots in the Air Force. The man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds (Coram, 2002). Boyd was “… a this maddening mix of eccentricity, intellect, creativity, and moral courage — a mix that did not fit into neat compartments,” (Spinney, 1997).

The Warrior Scientist

He personified the romantic image of a fighter jock. A tall, lanky man who wildly gestured while he talked. He was a loud and irrepressible, in-your-face type of guy.

He smoked long, thin stogies. While blowing smoke in your face, he shouted and sprayed saliva at you in a head-on attack. He felt no shame in doing this two inches, nose-to-nose with you while telling about his theories.

But 40-Second Boyd’s flamboyant exterior hid a razor-sharp intellect. Not everyone was a fan of the gregarious strategist.

He was about to blossom into a warrior-scientist.

Energy–maneuverability theory

Energy–maneuverability theory is a model of aircraft performance. It is useful in describing an aircraft’s performance as the total of kinetic and potential energies or aircraft specific energy.

The quantitative model (thrust, drag, and weight) of flight characteristics says that a faster a plane flies the more it will survive a dogfight. A plane may fly excellent, but a good fighter plane most also think fast.

This theory brought about improvements in the requirements for the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters. It was a physical theory that forever altered the way fighter planes were designed (Coram, 2002).

He devoured books. He marked them up, cross-correlating information in the front with information in the back, seeking out contradictions with every turn of the page, gleefully tearing each author’s argument to pieces (Spinney, 1997).


How Boyd is best remembered as an influential military theorist. He developed a theory of military strategy that has been adopted throughout the world and even applied to business models for maximizing efficiency (Coram, 2002).

Boyd thought that any conflict could be viewed as a duel wherein each adversary observes (O) his opponent’s actions, orients (O) himself to the unfolding situation, decides (D) on the most appropriate response or countermove, then acts (A) (Spinney, 1997). OODA Loop was a bold way of looking at warfighting.

Boyd’s theory of operating inside an adversary’s decision cycle -or OODA loop- and its relationship to conflict was a bold new conception. His strategic aim was to isolate his adversary – physically, mentally, and morally – from his external environment by destroying his view of the world: his orientation (Spinney, 1997).

The key to appreciating the power of Boyd’s ideas is to understand why the orientation function is the door through which a competitor can penetrate his opponent’s decision cycle.

In short, the key to victory is to be able to create situations where you can make appropriate decisions quicker than your opponent. The faster you can make decisions you achieve victory.


Desert Storm

Boyd was also known at different points of his career as “The Mad Major” for the intensity of his passions. Also known as “Genghis John” for his confrontational style of interpersonal discussion (Coram, 2002).

Not everyone was a fan of the brilliant officer. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force.

He never attempted to publish his work, but assembled all his research into a 13-hour briefing called a “Discourse on Winning and Losing.” He gave the briefing to enlisted men and generals, congressmen, newspaper reporters, scientists, futurists, academics, anyone who would listen (Spinney, 1997).

Boyd is credited for largely developing the strategy for the invasion of Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. In 1981, Boyd had presented his briefing, Patterns of Conflict, to Dick Cheney, then a member of the United States House of Representatives (Coram, 2002).

By 1990 Boyd had moved to Florida because of declining health, but Cheney (then the Secretary of Defense in the George H. W. Bush administration) called him back to work on the plans for Operation Desert Storm (Coram, 2002).


The Marine Corps revere Colonel Boyd. The Air Force and Army gave him little credit due to his brash demeanor and challenge of authority – the Marines, however, erected a statue of him at the Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, VA (Fritz, 2014) .

His strategy was credited for the ingenious “left-hook” campaign that decisively won the Iraq Invasion in the 1991 Gulf War. Two divisions of Marines raided behind Iraqi lines and prevailed while Saddam’s army searched forward for a massive Army invasion they had been programmed to expect (Fritz, 2014).

Commandant of the Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak is quoted as saying, “The Iraqi army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he’d commanded a fighter wing or a maneuver division in the desert,” (Coram, 2002).


To build a new paradigm you have to destroy the existing one. Boyd’s legacy is disputed because of his confrontational personality than his contribution.

Colonel Boyd wanted “to do” something for America and the Air Force, and chose to make sacrifices, endured much abuse, and repeatedly jeopardized his career with that goal in mind.

He purposely chose “to do” something, rather than “to be” somebody, which he defined as one who gives up his integrity to get ahead in the system. This insight is one that applies not only to the military, but to any organization.

It is the fundamental choice that everyone has to make, and hearing of his successes against the system has encouraged others to follow his example, if only in some small measure.

He taught military leaders to Fingerspitzengefühl- a German term, literally meaning “finger tips feeling.” It means intuitive flair or instinct, as used in English as a loanword.

In military terminology, it is used for the stated ability of some military commanders, such as Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, as the ability to maintain, with accuracy and attention to detail, an ever-changing operational and tactical situation by maintaining a mental map of the battlefield.

The idiom is intended to evoke a military commander who is in intimate communication with the battlefield. It seems like he has a feel for the pulse of battle, a fingertip on each critical point. By “having a feel for combat” a commander can make quick, decisive choices to win a battle.

“…you have to make a decision: to be or to do,” said Colonel John Richard Boyd.



Coram, R. (2002). Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. New York : Hatchette Book Group .

Fritz, M. (2014, March 30). Innovation Excellence. Retrieved from What’s in Your OODA Loop?:

Spinney, F. C. (1997). “Genghis John”. Newport, RI: U. S. Naval Institute.


Book Review: “What It Is Like To Go To War” by Karl Marlantes

Book Review

Just finished a book called, “What It Is Like To Go To War” by Karl Marlantes. Marlantes is a former Marine who served as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Commander in Vietnam in 1968-69. His brutally honest book is a must read for anyone trying to understand veterans and the price of, both psychologically and physically, about war.

Marlantes Award
Marlantes receiving the Navy Cross for Valor


It is a valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings. It is a debunking of anything about the glory of warfare. It is a noble and intelligent conversation between the author, a highly decorated, former Marine officer and Vietnam Veteran, and the reader, an unknowing public. It grapples with the myth, the history, and the spirituality of war.

It is a beautifully written book that elevates the cultural conversation on the role of the military in today’s world. It is an emotional and honest primer for all Americans at war and the national psyche. It is our own peril that we ignore this book.

It explores what a combat veteran thinks and feels. Marlantes is a master at exploring the psyche of the combat veteran and translating it into words so that civilians can understand.

The Conversation

Marlantes talks about what is like to return from war. How veterans wrestle with demons of what they saw and did. There is conflicting feelings of guilt and pride. There is a constant vibration back and forth between these mixed feelings. The pendulum causes there to be diverse emotions.

Today’s wars have placed an enormous burden on a small portion of the population. There are now more than two million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is a divide between the warrior and society he represents. A “code of silence” gets in the way with the warrior and his loved ones. Both are trying to be kind by avoiding talking about horrendous experiences.

This adds to the sense of alienation for the veteran that he has done something horrific. With killing or witnessing a death, there are many levels of feelings: sadness, pride, relief that you are alive, and guilt because you are still alive while your brothers died.


The Mindset of the young (read: inexperienced) Warrior

The young warrior goes into combat with all his confidence. He has faith in his weapons, and his training. He is willing to sacrifice his individual self for the good of others. There is a shared identity.

The idea of, “I can be killed, but WE cannot.” By facing danger together we will survive the crucible of combat. There is another feeling. The thought of letting down your buddies is a fate worse than death.

The warrior is immersed in a culture where words like honor, sacrifice, duty causes young soldiers to be conditioned to sacrifice their humanity by killing and sometimes dying. In this same culture old warriors are venerated.

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. He was friends with Freud.

Jung believed that people have “a shadow,” or an unconscious dark side of one’s personality. The shadow is what allows moral men to carry out the deeds of war. He wrote that the shadow must be confronted and integrated in order for the veteran to take responsibility for all sides of ourselves. This will effect positive change.

PTSD is an ongoing counterpart to war. It is important for us to study the history of PTSD treatment and learn from its lessons.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a rewiring of the brain. It is a collection of memories and feelings. Our mind is trying to reconcile coming to terms with a cocktail of emotions. Exhilaration, grief, anger and sometimes joy.

When you first get into combat your brain learns to associate loud noises with people trying to kill you. You have adrenaline episodes that shoot through your body. You become “hyper vigilant.”

This flight or fight reaction rewires the brain to think differently. When you return home this chemical reaction is mapped in your brain. You are both physically and emotionally different.

Effects of war

For Marlantes, he wanted a medal to prove to his dad, a World War II vet, that he was man enough to carry on the family name. There was expectation of manhood.

There is the mystical quality about killing. War violates every value we have in the Judeo-Christian culture we are born into. But in sharing this emotional burden there is brotherhood.

This brotherhood is a key to understanding why men “want to go back.”

When you look at religious mystics, they have four things that they strive to do. One is they are always aware of their mortality. Don Juan says death is always over your shoulder. Soldiers feel the same thing.

Second, they’re always in the present moment. In combat, there is no thought about the future or the past. You are completely focused, completely in the terrible present moment.

The third thing that mystics do is they overcome their own sense of ego in terms of seeing that they have to move beyond that for the good of others.

In combat, time after time after time, you see people sacrificing their lives or their limbs to help their friends. It’s the same thing.

And then the fourth thing is that almost all of these mystics are part of a group. They’re in a convent or a monastery. They’re part of the Sangha, if they’re Buddhist. They’re a part of the Umma if they’re Muslim. They’re part of a larger group.

This sense of identity is strong. While deployed the soldiers are told they are, “brave and loyal.” This all enforces the identity of sacrificing for your nation. It gives you a powerful sense of identity. You, as a soldier, are living up to the highest ideals of your profession.

The kid

Heady and powerful stuff for a 19 or 20 year old kid. This is the first adult experience out of high school. They don’t have the life experience yet to process the experience of what they are seeing or doing.

This is why a delayed reaction of PTSD happens 10 to 20 years down the line. It takes a while to have the life experience to process what happened.

The very nature of the experience of combat violates our Judeo-Christian culture. Young people make perfect soldiers. They are impressionable and strong. Judgment and foresight don’t develop until you are in your 20’s.

The Burden

Our current wars have placed an enormous burden on a small portion of the population. In World War II an average grunt saw about 40 days of combat in a two year tour. There was a frontline and a rear area to rest in.

In this war, as in Vietnam, you are always on alert. Soldiers are always exposed to random acts of violence. This causes returning veterans to be on alert when they get home.

The Wars define the Veteran

During this war the sense of victory is ambiguous. How do you know you are making progress or winning? The endstate is not defined and there is no sense of closure. Think about Desert Storm only 20 years ago.

The good guys won that one. It was all said and done in less than 100 hours of fighting. If you are a veteran of a “popular” or “winning” war you are a hero.

The army of any nation has a social contract with the society it protects. When you, the vet, feels that no one cares about what you did this can add to the isolation of all the other feelings you are having.

A soldier who comes home feels alienated and not appreciated by the society he defended. Veterans feel, as did Vietnam Veterans did, that their sacrifice was for nothing and no one really cared.

Compound this with the young age of the veteran can really add a large burden. What veterans need is recognition and honor for their service. It helps to mend the wounds to your psyche and your soul.

This amazing book explores all these issues.

Karl Marlantes today


Marlantes, K. (2011). What It Is Like to Go to War . New York : Atlantic Monthly Press.