Leadership of Generals Chesty Puller and David Petraeus


Let’s compare and contrast the leadership styles of Generals Chesty Puller and David Petraeus. Both men who defined leadership in their times, General Puller for World War II and Korea and General Petraeus for America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Both men were products of their times and left huge legacies from their service.

Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller

No individual service in the fabled history of the Marine Corps and embodies the service’s ethos as General Chesty Puller. Puller went far beyond; he personally crafted the way the Marine Corps has defined itself since World War II through his own personal example, first as a battalion commander at Guadalcanal and later as a Regimental Commander at Battle of Peleliu.

The Marine tradition of were the officers eating last in field messes, in descending order of rank, is something Puller started. It got his officers into the habit of leading from the front. Puller was certainly not the only senior Marine of World War II and Korea to put his command post on the front lines, but his stubborn habit of always doing so was unusual even among Marine leaders (Davis, 1991).

Puller’s real value to the Marine Corps lies not only in his impressive combat record, but in the legacy of what he saw as the greatest virtue of military leadership: “leadership by example.” He had uncompromising approach to tough, realistic training. He had a dedication of taking care of his Marines without coddling them and treating them like men made him a beloved figure among the Corps.

His 14 decorations, to include five Navy Crosses, plus a long list of campaign medals, unit citation ribbons and other awards are part of Puller’s enduring lore, but maybe the stories of his leadership, courage, honor, and fighting ability are his most important legacy.

Chesty as a Combat Advisor

Advisory Teams were nothing new in the history of the United States. The Marines was the force of choice for these tough, obscure missions.

The Marine Corps has a long tradition in these kinds of conflicts; its Small Wars Manual, published back in 1940, had noted that they “represent the normal and frequent operations of the Marine Corps,” which, from 1800 to 1934, had landed 187 times in 37 countries “to suppress lawlessness or insurrection,” mainly in Latin America but also as far away as the shores of Tripoli, as the “Marines’ Hymn” put it (Kaplan 2013).

“Chesty” fought as an advisor battling guerillas in Haiti and Nicaragua, here he would earn two of his five Navy Crosses.

General David Petraeus

Petraeus, with his affair aside, is one of the most transformational leaders of this last decade (Ricks, 2012). Petraeus revolutionized the way America fights its wars, starting with the surge in Iraq and continuing into his last command in Afghanistan.

Petraeus faced a relentless challenge and using his unceasing drive, groundbreaking methods in got the army to be serious about counterinsurgency (COIN) for the first time since the Vietnam. He helped haul America out of one of its darkest moments in the war in Iraq.

I briefed General Petraeus in the fall of 2010 on the future of the Afghan National Army Special Forces Program. He was a slight man who still looked boyish even in his mid-50s, he looks more like a bookworm professor than the world class warrior he was in the press.

Cheerful by nature, he was eager to both listen and talk to a lowly Major. I felt like he was addressing me as a peer with my presentation in the general’s own words, “… been PowerPointed to within an inch of his life.”

Petraeus learned at the foot of several masters, including Gen. John “Jack” Galvin, who retired as the supreme allied commander, Europe in 1992.

Petraeus, as a captain, served Galvin as his aide-de-camp in the 24th Infantry Division. Galvin, is considered one of the most intellectual officers of his generation, often discussed decision-making and the problems of command with his young protégé.

Galvin, who encouraged Petraeus to attend graduate school at Princeton, where he earned both a Master’s and Ph.D. Petraeus believed that a great leader must weave a myth about himself—both to enhance the loyalty of his cadres and to build popular support for his mission (Kaplan, 2013).

Petraeus learned the lesson well from Galvin and applied it with skill and vigor.

In Iraq

It’s worth noting that some of our nation’s greatest achievements during the Iraq war were the result of his leadership. Early in the occupation, as commander of the 101st Airborne Division, he brought order to the city of Mosul by applying principles of COIN theory—creating a new political system, vetting candidates, providing economic services, opening the border to Syria—entirely on his own initiative and with little or no guidance (Ricks T. E., 2006).

Later, when he became commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, he launched raids on Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi army, without telling Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki what he was doing.

Finally, during the Sunni Awakening that emerged in Iraq’s western provinces, he had his subordinate commanders recruit thousands of ex-militants into the Sons of Iraq, without telling anyone in Washington that he was paying them with U.S. Army funds (Ricks T. E., 2009).

This allowed him to put an “Iraqi Face” on the changes happening in and around the country. Petraeus was a genuinely talented general: intellectually agile, strategically minded, and tactically bold. But the myth-making enshrined him, in the eyes of many, as an icon.


Davis, B. (1991). Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller . New York: Bantam

Kaplan, F. (2013). The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War . New York: Simon & Schuster.

Ricks, T. (2012). The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin Books.

Ricks, T. E. (2006). Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq . new York : The Penguin Press .

Ricks, T. E. (2009). The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq . New York: Penguin Group.

Chesty & Petraeus


Veteran’s Day Tribute


Happy Veteran’s Day. I did my best to capture the spirit and essence of Veteran’s Day, such a solemn holiday deserved a stirring tribute.

I promised many of the families of my friends of some extraordinary men I knew who died in the last few years I would write about them. Writing about them and how their lives were connected to mine.

General George S. Patton said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

That is definitely the case with Larry Bauguess, Phil Esposito and Bruno DeSolenni. Sadly, there are other names. There have been times that I think the only reason I lived was only to tell their story and how amazing and courageous they were.

Odysseus is declaring his wishes if his story of his incredible journey were ever told again, “If they ever tell my story, let them say that I walked with giants.” Here is a story about remembering brave deeds by valiant Americans, both living and dead.

Magnificent Americans that our the Next Greatest Generation

I have been a part of some extraordinary teams of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in my 22 years in the army. On some of those teams I went to Iraq, on others I mentored the Afghan National Army and on another I was a part of a larger project like the Physical Evaluation Board at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington.

I was a part of another unexpected and amazing group this past week at the Purdue University. I took part in the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities.

It was in the company of these remarkable groups of servicemen I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. The links we forged from our time there will bind us together forever.

In all of you, we see the best of a generation that has served with distinction through a decade of war. I am proud all of you are my friends. I am so grateful to have been part of all the extraordinary teams I served with throughout my time in the army.


For almost two centuries the nobility, the devotion and the selflessness of those who defended America and protected liberty by going to war has never been a matter of debate. A lot time we use the word “hero” is to describe the young people who volunteer to go to war.

My father, a decorated veteran of Korea and Vietnam, said, “Real heroes die in war. What more can you give than your life?” Maybe he was right, I don’t know. I finally came to understand why he was so uncomfortable being called a hero.

Heroes are something we create, something we need. It’s a way for us to understand what’s almost incomprehensible and tragic, about how people could sacrifice so much for freedom, but for my dad and his friends, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that really for one reason: their buddies- all of you on this email list!

Unconditional Love

Men’s performance in combat is never inspired by patriotism or duty, but a feeling of loyalty to the men they are facing hardship with. The brutality of war mixed with the hierarchy and tight constraints of military life allows them to feel love and tenderness towards each other.

Noted war correspondent Tim Hetherington once said, “War is the only opportunity men have in society to love each other unconditionally.” Risking your life to save the life of another is the definitive and sometimes a final act of that love.

It’s the ultimate expression of what they mean to each other. It is a promise made among brothers that allow men to serve and die together with no fear, and most of all with no regrets, facing those times with courage and professionalism.

Over time there is nothing you wouldn’t do for the members of your team who you deploy with. It becomes a family. The bonding has to do with the intensity of the experience.

It is the warrior calling: Life and Death along with Love and Violence. Brave men may have fought for their country, but they died for their friends.

Intensity and Duration

Ernest Hemingway once said, “… what gives an experience meaning is not the duration but the intensity.”

Those bonds create meaning in a world full of chaos and death. They imply one guiding premise- you will not be alone in this loneliest of human experiences. I am here with you, I will not leave you, I will stay with you no matter what happens- even death.

Friendships borne of such intense experiences are more intimate than any other. In such times, every moment brims with value because it may be your last. The intensity and duration of the experience fuses together bonds that last a lifetime.

The Sacrifice of Volunteering

By volunteering for a deployment soldiers do so with the knowledge that by embarking on this course of action they risk losing their life as a possibility; there is a chance you may die.

Duty to one’s country demands certain things, certain responsibilities. But this is something more. This is not simply answering the call of duty. I always thought such commitment was truly “above and beyond.”

I have known several young men who have given this country the supreme sacrifice. They are our country’s best, the nation’s sons, who answered the call of service to defend this country in a time of war.

They answered what Theodore Roosevelt described as “the trumpet call,” which he said, “Is the most inspiring of all sounds, because it summons men to spurn all ease and self-indulgence and bids them forth to the field where they must dare and do and die at need.”

Some of my friends were men who answered that trumpet call, the ones who also possessed that extra measure of courage and determination to be at the very tip of the spear in America’s wars.

In ancient times when a Spartan warrior died in a victorious campaign, his headstones would simply read: “Here lies a hero, he died for his country.”

What They Leave Behind

In many cases, that meant in leaving these valiant men left loving families and prosperous jobs to join the armed forces.

Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away, especially after several harrowing tours. Every soldier is trained to seek cover.

Instead of staying home, these young volunteers with their whole lives ahead of him, did something extraordinary. They volunteered to go with a group of other volunteers to a faraway land, to an alien culture because they knew they were needed and their skills would allow men to live.

Mourning Their Passing

The Roman Military historian Tacitus said; “In valor, there is hope.” By remembering the passing of these heroes, they become a symbol of that hope, that is why we bestow this honor on those uncommon individuals who’ve already proven their ability to bear such burdens for the sake of our country, we call them heroes. Their valor and ultimate sacrifice, offers enduring hope for the future of our country.

Pericles’ speech to the families of the Athenian war dead, in which he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Today and in the years to come, we may find peace and some comfort in knowing that our fallen comrades gave their lives doing what they loved — protecting their friends and defending their country.


For each fallen servicemen a family gave a son, daughter, sister, brother and aunt or uncle to America and America is forever in their debt. We are reminded that behind every American who wears our nation’s uniform stands a family who serves with them.

And behind every American who lays down their life for our country is a family who mourns them, and honors them, for the rest of their lives.

Their Legacy

I’ll close with my favorite line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” Those who we loved and lost are now known to history as one of those valiant. Their names, and stories, belongs to the ages.

May God bless you courageous men and women for your sacrifices. And may God grant peace of heart and soul to your loving his families and to the men and women we have served with these brave Americans. They are missed.

We must remember the valiant dead, who ventured far, fought bravely and gave their lives to preserve freedom and liberty. Their sacrifice lies in mute testimony in the manner in which they lived, worked and fought to achieve the victories so that America may live.




The NCO as a Leader


The Role of an NCO

Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) are the backbone of the Army. They serve as the key trainers for soldiers, both Officers and Enlisted alike.

Officers and NCOs are always paired up throughout operational structures. The NCO acts as the primary advisor to the officer using their experiences to mentor and train the Officer through their operational experience.  NCOs provide continuity in units due to their institutional knowledge.

Commissioned by the Army and not the Executive Branch of the United States Government and that is why they are called “Non-Commissioned Officers.”

This pairing of NCOs and Officers allows the NCO the ability to take over in any situation in the absence of their appointed officer. The American Army is the only Army in the world that places so much trust in the experience of the NCO.

The embodiment of the professional NCO is Sergeant Major (SGM) Jerry.

Jerry Wounded Afghan
Jerry treats a wounded Afghan soldier

SGM Jerry

Jerry will tell you that he never did anything special; that he was just doing his job. I saw him risk his life to save the lives of others and for one simple reason, in his words, “… because you were my friend.”

Jerry is a soft-spoken, giant of a man. Standing over 6 feet and 5 inches tall he is a large presence. A man of few words he lets his deeds speak for him.

He is the sort of NCO who commanding officers cherish, because men like Jerry win battles. Legendary commander, General William DePuy said, “The average of man, like nine out of ten, does not have an instinct for the battlefield, do not relish it and will not act independently except under direct orders” (Hastings 2006). Jerry in action is that one man in ten, maybe one in a thousand.

He never flinched when it came time to fulfill the hardest duty of an NCO in combat. He was willing to engage the enemy and wade into danger when instinct called for normal men to flee.

Time and again in Afghanistan I saw him show a gift for judging a combat situation. Assessing whether a position could be held, advising our Afghan soldiers while under enemy fire and exercising excellent tactical judgment. He would always move to the sound of the guns and help a friend in need.

I experienced this first-hand on two occasions; he saved my life risking his own. At the end of the day, each battle that is fought is won by the better gun in the fight- and how well the gunfighter can react and how much fire there is in his belly.

It’s all about courage and the willingness to die for your buddies. In this ugly act no warrior is a better example of NCO leadership than Jerry. His entire career has been about him helping others.

I have never seen him claim experience, he didn’t have but I have seen him downplay his own role in heroic events. He would never sacrifice what he knows is right for what is convenient or expedient, but stand by his values at the cost of his career but never his humanity.

His life has been the life of a leader- one of values, courage and commitment. This is the ultimate mission of an NCO.

Jerry’s motto is, “The prime measure of your own performance is the performance of your soldiers.”

May 20, 2004, Rusafa Neighborhood- Baghdad, Iraq

Jerry deployed to Iraq with Alpha Company, 2-162 Infantry Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom II in 2004. The battalion was attached to the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard, which operated by 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry Division (Association 2013).

2–162nd Infantry was tasked with supplying a military assistance training team to the fledging Iraqi Army. Stationed at FOB Volunteer in the Rusafa neighborhood of Baghdad, which lies to the south of Sadr City.

Jerry, then a Sergeant First Class, was on a training team occupying an Iraqi bunker that was used as a headquarters by Companies A and B, of the 301st Iraqi National Guard Battalion (later to renamed the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Division) (Kerry 2008).

Jerry was talking with his Iraqi counterpart when enemy small arms fire broke out at the main gate. Jerry ran to the front gate into the area where the firing was taking place. Without regard for his own safety, he exposed himself to direct enemy small arms fire to support the Iraqi National Guard Soldiers assigned to guard the gate and under fire.

Jerry was able to disarm and secure the perpetrator by himself and diffuse the dangerous situation. He employed the Iraqi Soldiers he was advising in Overwatch Positions to enhance security.

His actions provided an example to the Iraqi National Guard Soldiers of how to aggressively close with the enemy. These procedures proved saved lives later in the deployment during multiple enemy engagements on combat patrols Jerry led.

Afghanistan, 2008

Assigned to a 17 man Oregon Army National Guard Embedded Training Team (ETT), Jerry, now a Master Sergreant, deployed to Afghanistan in March 2008. The team was responsible for mentoring an Afghan National Army (ANA) battalion.

September 20, 2008, Kandahar, Afghanistan

There is an old saying that states, “War makes bad men worse and good men better,” and Jerry came alive during combat.

Fighting and destruction of human life are terrible, but it seems in these terrible times some men seem to show the highest qualities of manhood.  There are many names for it- courage, sacrifice of self for the sake of something held higher. In days of old this trait was used to describe knights- chivalry.

It has been said that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. For Jerry, that testing point came seven years ago, in an Afghan valley desert where he risked his life to save the lives of his friends after an incredible explosion destroyed a vehicle in his convoy.

When asked why jumped from the safety of his own truck to rush forward to see if he could render aid. He simply said, “I only did what anyone else would have done.” The truth is Jerry did something no one else did that day.

He subjected himself to the possibility of a secondary explosive device to provide critical medical attention for three severely wounded American Officers and two Afghan interpreters. He saved the life of two and worked for 45 minutes to try and revive a third casualty after he expired of his wounds.

That day, he set the highest example of personal bravery by his valor and calmness under stress. He helped organize a security perimeter and evacuated casualties once the MEDEVAC helicopter arrived. At the end, he personally led the recovery of the remains of the fallen and the evacuation of the wreckage of the vehicle.

His actions that day were directly responsible for saving the lives of two men, I was one of them.

Minutes after the explosion and I came awake from being unconscious I heard Jerry calling my name. I knew that he would come for me and pull me out of that vehicle, no matter what it took. The courage he displayed that day reflects every virtue that defines his life.

It was written a long ago that, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet, notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” Jerry saw the danger before him and went to meet it because he knew he was needed.

That a man would willingly risk mortal combat rush to the aid of a wounded comrade or to recover the remains of a fallen comrade or is difficult for many people to understand. Jerry, in the face of a horrific event was unwilling to abandon his friends. He would never leave anyone behind. This means little to the loved ones of the warrior who perished in the face of battle to help save a friend, but it means everything to the men fighting alongside each other.

Jerry’s story is the tale of an NCO who loves others more than he loves himself.

The NCO as a Leader

A good NCO is both a teacher and a leader. As Marine Corps vet Karl Marlantes writes in “What It Is Like to Go to War,” “Warriors must touch their souls because their jobs involve killing people. Warriors deal with eternity.”  To understand how the military is forging the modern warriors all you have to do is look at a good NCO, like Jerry, to learn how soldiers need to learn to be both violent and sensitive.

Death is an occupational reality for Soldiers who do the brunt of the fighting. Teammate, buddy, and friend: by whatever term used for this band of brothers, it simply means that “I love you”; I will, if necessary, die in an effort to save you and preserve your earthly remains for the sake of others who love you- your nonmilitary family (Couch 2009). It is not a cliché, it is the definition of the warrior ethic of the NCO.

In Jerry’s character and conduct, a leader can find guidance and a model for their own behavior.  His stoic, unflappable command is the aim of every leader on the battlefield.

His moral courage, patience, and quiet loyalty to his chain of command along with his common decency and respect for others are the critical starting point for effective leadership in an army of a democratic society.

These qualities are the character traits most prized and respected in the Armed Forces of the 21st Century.

Jerry Dom
Jerry and Dom


Association, 1st Cavalry Division. 1st Cavalry Division History, Order of Battle. August 20 , 2013. http://www.first-team.us/tableaux/apndx_03/ (accessed August 25, 2013).

Beattie, Doug. Task Force Helmand: A Soldier’s Story of Life, Death and Combat on the Afghan Front Line. London : Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Bruning, John. The Devil’s Sandbox: With the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry at War in Iraq. St Paul, MN : MBI Publishing Company, 2006.

Couch, Dick. The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228. New York: Random House, 2009.

Hastings, Max. Warriors: Portraits from the Battle Field . New York : Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group., 2006.

Kerry, Mark. Tigers of the Tigris. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing, 2008.

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

McAllister, Patricia. OEF Embedded Training Team: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures : the First 100 Days. Leavenworth, KS : Center for Army Lessons Learned, 2008.

Newark, Tim. The Fighting Irish: The Story of the Extraordinary Irish Soldier. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 2010.



Major Paul as a Leader


I wrote descriptions for all the members of the team but the one I just finished was about my buddy Paul. He is a brave and noble man that I proud to call my friend.

The Role of an Officer

The best description of combat leadership I’ve read comes not from a military manual or a history book, but from my favorite novel about the ancient Spartans. “In Gates of Fire,” the author, Steven Pressfield, describes a Spartan Officer in battle,

“I watched Dienekes, re-forming the ranks of his platoon, listing their losses and summoning aid for the wounded. …The Spartans have a term for that state of mind which at all costs be shunned in battle. They call it “katalepsis,” possession, meaning that derangement of the senses that comes when terror or anger usurps dominion of the mind.

This I realized now watching Dienekes rally and tend to his men, was the role of the officer: to prevent those under his command, at all stages of battle- before, during, and after- from becoming “possessed.” To fire their valor when it flagged and rein their fury when it threatened to take them out of hand.  That was Dienekes’ job. That was why he wore the traverse-crested helmet of an officer,” (Pressfield 1998).

This is how I saw Captain, now Major, Paul in the summer of 2008 in Afghanistan. Paul is a modern day Dienekes bringing organization to chaos and calm to calamity.

Paul Sandstorm


Paul is almost unassuming in appearance. With his corn yellow hair and blue eyes that sparkle when he laughs, he radiates a powerful and contagious inner calm. I always thought he should have been a Viking: Paul would have fit right in with a pointed helmet with horns on his head, furs hanging off his shoulders, and one of those big double-edged swords in his hands, but he would need a Hunter S. Thompson book in his pocket to finish the picture.

He stands comfortably over 6 feet tall and with a laidback surfer attitude that belays his fighting spirit. He always reminded me of a cross between Marshall from “How I Met Your Mother” and the Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain.

His compassion for other people and the nobility in which he carries himself are hallmarks of his leadership style. He truly is a warrior of the heart and his inherent kindness makes him one of the most compassionate Officers I have served with.

When I first met him in January of 2008 he was holding a well-thumbed copy of Jack Kerouac’s  “On the Road.” It is a largely autobiographical work that was based on the spontaneous road trips of Kerouac and his friends across mid-century America. It is often considered a defining work of the postwar Beat Generation that was inspired by jazz, poetry, and drug experiences (Kerouac 2007).

Strange reading for a young Infantry Captain, but as I came to know and later love Paul this showed the duality of his nature. He always seemed to be two people in the same body.

He was a warrior who hated violence, a thinker who was immensely physical, and a quiet and considerate soul who could describe how he felt in few words that were powerful. Paul always demonstrated the knightly traits of honor, courtesy and benevolence even to his enemies.

He displayed an abiding faith in those he met and in some long talks he shared insights to the men he led. In time, he would also become the finest combat commander I would serve with.  Another description of Chamberlain suited Paul like no other, “He had the soul of a lion but the heart of a woman.”


1-186 Infantry, Oregon Army National Guard

Paul first joined the Army in 1996 and joined the 3rd Infantry Division as a Forward Observer. He took part in the December 1998 bombing of Iraq (code-named Operation Desert Fox). A major four-day bombing campaign on Iraqi targets from December 16, 1998, to December 19, 1998, by the United States and Britain. The skills learned there would save his life in Afghanistan.

But it was in the Oregon Army National Guard, and the 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry Regiment where he learned how to lead men in battle.

The motto of the battalion is “Guardians of the Western Gate” because they stand ready to strike at an enemy who stands ready to enter through the West. This goes back to the unit’s history as being made up of men from all over Oregon.

The 186th, as part of the 41st Infantry Division, was one of the first American combat units to be sent overseas after Pearl Harbor (McCartney 2010). Heading into fierce combat the 186th Regimental Combat Team fought across New Guinea and the Philippines as part of the remorseless Allied advance across the Southwest Pacific that forced the Japanese to divert precious material like planes and ships and men who might otherwise have reinforced their crumbling Central Pacific front.

Headquartered in Southern Oregon Paul would serve in the unit as it again was called to serve in the Global War on Terrorism.

Paul and Bruno

Sinai Mission, 2002

Paul served as Platoon Leader for Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment. He deployed to the Sinai region of Egypt in July 2002, as part of the U.S. portion of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission. This marked only the second time a reserve-component unit has been called upon to perform the Sinai mission.

Paul led the way in the Sinai Mission being one of only five Soldiers to earn the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge. Two others were Captain Bruno G. DeSolenni and Command Sergeant Major Mike Campbell. Both of these men would join him when he deployed to Afghanistan. One would be badly wounded and the other would die.

Afghanistan, 2008

In 2008, Paul, then a Captain, deployed as a combat advisor to Afghanistan, mentoring a 700 man Afghan National Army counter-drug battalion. He lived with his Afghan counterparts in austere conditions, on a remote firebase, faraway from any U.S. or coalition support.

In Afghanistan, Embedded Training Teams (ETTs), are tasked with the mission of advising the Afghan National Army (ANA). The ETTs advise the ANA on leadership, staff work, and help them in execute operations.  In addition, to training and advising the ANA the ETTs offer the ANA access to American combat assistance such as medical evacuation, close air support, indirect fires, and a quick reaction force of American Soldiers, if needed (McAllister 2008).

The team had been assigned to the volatile Helmand Province with their ANA battalion. Helmand produces two-thirds of the country’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

Bruno, Paul, Dom

The Royal Irish Regiment

The team was assigned to work with the British Army’s famed Royal Irish Regiment.  The Royal Irish Regiment is the last remaining Irish infantry regiment of the line in the British Army (Newark 2010). The Royal Irish are listed as 1 IRISH.

The Royal Irish deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, as part of 16th Air Assault Brigade. The British had been in Helmand since 2006 but 2008 was their most their most active year yet (Beattie 2010). They provided Operational mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT) to assist in training the ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP).

The OMLT was augmented by Soldiers from the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS) and the Highlanders, 4th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS). 4 SCOTS were an Armored Infantry Battalion based in Fallingbostel, Germany and are part of 7th Armored Brigade, famously known as the Desert Rats.  For the OMLT mission they operated as Light Infantry.

In 2008 Paul’s team were the only Americans operating in Helmand besides a battalion of Marines providing security for Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bastion. The team, partnered with elements of the Royal Irish, had fully manned four Combat Outposts in the Green Zone of the Upper Gereshk Valley in Helmand.

Paul as a Commander

The Royal Irish had a huge impact on the team. Almost immediately Paul and the rest of the team started going British. He was learning from the experts, men who managed to stay alive not only in Afghanistan for one or two tours but several tours in Iraq and Northern Ireland.

Paul and Mark

He dressed liked them, talked like them, thought like them and acted like them. He started to refer to the Brits at FOB Attal by their first names. They informally called him, “boss” indifference to his rank as an American Captain.

Where Paul really shined was with the Afghans. Paul had sort of adopted the 1st Company of the Afghan National Army Counter Narcotics Kandak (CNIK) and vice versa. Paul was technically assigned to the Company as a “Combat Advisor” but he spent his days and nights with the men of 1st Company providing whatever creature comforts he could for “his” Afghan Soldiers.

With Paul’s open-minded attitude the distinctions between Americans and Afghans he was advising seem to disappear. He never treated the Afghans like second-class citizens the way some of the advisors did.

The Afghans are a tough race and the Afghans followed advisors who lived as they did, sharing both the hardship and danger of combat. Paul did that and more. Paul was one of the only Officers on his Embedded Training Team who matter-of-factly issued orders directly to Afghan Soldiers, and more importantly, his orders were obeyed.

If Afghan troops didn’t like their American Advisor, they weren’t insubordinate; they just were simply and suddenly unable to comprehend what the American wanted them to do, unless it was translated for them by their own Officers.

Yet, the Afghans of 1st Company never seemed to have any trouble understanding Paul in his really awful, hundred-word Dari vocabulary. This loyalty was soon put to the test within weeks of arriving at Patrol Base Attal.

Paul as a Leader

Paul as a Combat Advisor in performed in an exceptional manner. He possessed a breadth and depth of doctrinal knowledge that he was constantly sought out by more senior Officers, both Afghan and American, for advice throughout his tour.

His real gift was his natural ability to express complicated and technical information clearly while showing his Soldiers how to do it by leading by example. His patience, compassion and courage served him well as a leader.

On conclusion of his tour in Afghanistan he was awarded a Bronze Star for Service, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and an Army Commendation for Valor for braving enemy fire to save the life of a wounded Afghan Soldier under withering fire from an anti-aircraft machine gun.

Paul is an outstanding combat commander. He just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan this summer. This time as the Executive Officer of the 1-186 IN.

Bruno, Mark, Paul


Beattie, Doug. Task Force Helmand: A Soldier’s Story of Life, Death

and Combat on the Afghan Front Line. London : Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Englishman, The. “Culture Shocks in killing firls as Scots train an

army of Allah.” Scotsman on Sunday, May 29 , 2008.

Kerouac, Jack. On The Road. New York : Viking Press, 2007.

McCartney, William F. The Jungleers: A History of the 41st Infantry

Division. Kessinger Publishing : Infantry Journel Press, 2010.

Pressfield, Steven. Gates of Fire. New York : Bantam Dell Publishing, 1998.

Westerfield, Hargis and Russo, Nick. 41st Infantry Division, Fighting

Jungleers II. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.


Eisenhower as a Leader


History does not provide a blueprint or and cannot act as a crystal ball. Its greatest gift is that it may act as a guide for future decisions.


History helps to provide a framework that equips an agile mind to make informed decisions. History provides a background as maneuver leaders reflect on personal experience in training and combat.

The study of history should be, as Clausewitz suggested, “meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield; just as a wise teacher guides and stimulates a young man’s intellectual development, but is careful not to lead him by the hand for the rest of his life.”

Studying past leaders helps leaders to understand their responsibilities. Leaders know the importance of discipline and the need to build confident, cohesive teams. These teams will be resilient to the debilitating effects of combat trauma and the corrosive effects of persistent danger.

One effective way is to study military leaders. Leaders and history are inseparable. Examining the brilliant military careers and intriguing personalities of the great captains of history reveals not only their genius and impact, but offers relevant lessons that military commanders can use later.

Through the lens of history would be as Sir Michael Howard observed, “not to make us cleverer for the next time,” but instead to help make leaders “wise forever.”

Ike in history

General Dwight David Eisenhower (Ike) is one of the most fascinating figures in American military history. He is one of five Presidents who was also a General.

He never held a command higher than a battalion, (1940) as a lieutenant colonel and two years later he was a Major General a commander of an Army Corps. By 1944, he commanded the largest army ever assembled for the invasion of France on D-Day.

Ike the Man

Ike is a character of consequence like Churchill, Stalin and Mao. He was a man who fulfilled a time in history. He knew the importance of the time he was living in and did his best to live up to it.

Born into hardscrabble poverty in rural Kansas, the son of stern pacifists, Dwight David Eisenhower graduated from high school more likely to teach history than to make it (D’Este, 2003). There was nothing in his family background, but a surplus of love. This would form the backbone of his Midwestern values and how he saw the world while in command.

West Point and World War I

Ike graduated from West Point in the Class of 1915, “the Class the Stars Fell On.” In the U.S. Army, the insignia reserved for generals is one or more stars. Of the 164 graduates that year, 59 (36%) attained the rank of general, the most of any class in the history of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Two, Ike and General Omar Bradley, reached the rank of five-star General of the Army. There were also two four-star generals, seven three-star lieutenant generals, 24 two-star major generals and 24 one-star brigadier generals. Ike graduated the middle of his class, but as history has shown, class standing at West Point has been never a prediction of military greatness.

When the US entered World War I in 1917 he repeatedly requested an overseas assignment, but was repeatedly denied due to a talent for training National Guard units.

It was here he earned his reputation as an officer who was straight, blunt, and not a buck passed. His excellent organizational skills and his ability to assess junior officers’ and a units’ strengths and make optimal placements of personnel gained him a reputation of someone who could get things done.

Before he went overseas World War I ended. World War I, was important because it allowed future leaders, like George Patton, to distinguish themselves in war and seek recognition in combat.

In World War II, rivals who had combat service in the first great war (led by British General Bernard Montgomery) sought to denigrate Eisenhower for his previous lack of combat duty, despite his stateside experience establishing a camp, completely equipped, for thousands of troops, and developing a full combat training schedule.

The Interwar Years

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Eisenhower’s career in the postwar army stalled somewhat, as military priorities diminished. Between the world wars, there was a glacial rate of promotion in the army and Ike would remain a Major for 15 years. Eisenhower served under a succession of talented generals learning how to command- Fox Conner, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall.

Ike learned command, debate and policy from MacArthur. In 1930, Chief of Staff of Army MacArthur, Ike was his aide- de-camp. MacArthur said of Ike in a fitness report, “… this is the best officer in the army.” He served in the Philippines with MacArthur and watched him build an Army from scratch.

World War II

After Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington, where he served until June 1942. He was responsible for creating the major war plans to defeat Japan and Germany. General George Marshall, now Chief of Staff of the Army, knew his reputation as an excellent staff officer.

In November 1942, he was also appointed Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force of the North African Theater of Operations. He said, “Over the next 5 months in Africa from Dec 1942- May 1943 OPERATION TORCH violated every principle of War, would condemn the campaign at Leavenworth for the next 25 years.” He made a lot of mistakes but learned from them. The biggest lesson was the battle of Kasserine Pass.

For roles in the invasions of Sicily, Italy he was made the Allied Supreme Commander of Europe. His leadership was key in the Assault on Fortress Europe.

Assessment of Personality

A lieutenant colonel at 50 with no military future ahead of him in the stifling between-the-wars promotion system, Eisenhower became, in little more than three years and three months, a five-star general (D’Este, 2003).

Ike lived an “extraordinarily charmed life” on the basis of likability, desk-officer brilliance and the active patronage of influential men he had worked for all added to his success.

His explosive charisma, his modest, self-deprecating humor allowed some folks to be fooled by his “aw-shucks attitude” but he was a shrewd judge of character. Undoubtedly, his previous assignments and experiences were valuable preparation for handling the challenging personalities of Winston Churchill, George S. Patton, George Marshall and General Montgomery during World War II. He was a talented and complicated man.

He was a flawed leader in the opening days of World War II. He never had hands-on command of a unit in combat. His soldiers would pay heavy prices for his inexperience especially at Kasserine Pass. But he would learn from his mistakes and grow. His heart was heavy, with concerns for the enlisted men he knew would do the dying and this was always at the center of his leadership.

After WWII, he was called to service as Army Chief of Staff and the first head of NATO. He would later become President of the United States.


D’Este, C. (2003). Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Paperback . New York: Holt Paperback.

General Lincoln and the The Social Science (Sosh) Department at West Point


I really love writing these blogs to you. I have gotten lots of positive responses but a few negative as well, again, no big deal. You can’t put something out in the world and expect everyone to love it.

The goal is to provide leaders with a few tools, references and information to make our profession stronger. This is a mission I take very seriously. As my friend Captain Larry Bauguess used to always say, “Be the leader you would want to be led by because being in the service means being in the ‘service’ of others.”

The focus this blog post is to talk about the importance of civilian education and mentoring for military leaders. The future of both the Army and our nation depends on the ingenuity and integrity of leaders that are capable of accomplishing tough missions in murky and changing environments.

The scholar who is mentored today becomes the leader who is prepared tomorrow to handle these ambiguous situations. Effective mentors play a critical part in the development of the future.


When most people think of intellectuals in the army they have a vision of a group of guys in uniforms sitting around a room discussing strategy. There is a scholarly department at West Point where most of the generals and radical free thinkers have taught and changed the direction of the army. Many of them were the commanders of America’s last two wars. It is called the Department of Social Science or “Sosh” at the United States Military Academy at West Point.


Created in the vision of Brigadier General George “Abe” Lincoln, who wanted to create an academic center for enhancing the quality of U.S. national decision-making. He did this by recruiting some of the best and brightest young officers in the Army and sending them to top graduate schools, bringing them back to West Point to teach and gave them opportunities to work with decision-makers in Washington D.C. as intelligent, hardworking officers, capable of being placed in the most demanding of jobs.

Lincoln, a Rhodes Scholar from the West Point Class of 1929, fought in World War II and was a primary planner for the invasion of Normandy. Recognizing his brilliance he became the senior planning aide to Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall and the youngest general in the army at 38. After WWII with America’s new position as a superpower Lincoln realized that the Army needed to breed a new type of officer to help the nation meet its new global responsibilities in the postwar era.

Lincoln thought that policy makers in the U.S. government, especially military officers, had not been educated to understand the increased dimensions of national security (Kaplan 2013). The post-war world was a complex environment with more at stake than ever with America’s increasing tensions with the Soviet Union.

He took a demotion from the rank of Major General to Colonel in 1947 to return to West Point to become the Deputy Head of the newly named Department of Social Sciences. He recruited some of the brightest minds in the army over the next twenty years to staff the new department. His vision was to create a curriculum “to improve the so-called Army mind” in just this way: a social science department, encouraging critical thinking, even occasionally dissent (Jaffe and Cloud 2009).

Lincoln set up a program allowing cadets with high scores in Sosh classes to go study at top civilian graduate schools, with West Point paying the tuition. In exchange, the cadets, after earning their doctorates, would come back and teach for at least three years (Kaplan 2013) . The chosen officer would spend a few years in an academic environment away from the regimented life of the army at Sosh they were encouraged to teach, think broadly about the world and to publish scholarly articles before heading back to combat units.

He would later articulate a philosophy in personnel policy broadly: “Pick good people, pick them young before other pickers get into the competition, help them to grow, keep in touch, and exploit excellence” (VanDriel n.d.).

The Lincoln Brigade Each year Lincoln would go to Washington D.C. to help write the U.S. Army’s annual posture statement. Since most the Army Chiefs of Staff knew of his work on General Marshall’s staff during World War II, he was able to place Sosh alumni throughout the Army and the Department of Defense. Over the coming decades Lincoln’s protégés would establish reputations among the military as being “men of gold.”

Over time, a network of Lincoln’s acolytes- and the protégés of those acolytes—emerged and expanded throughout the Army and U.S. Government. They called themselves the “Lincoln Brigade,” naming themselves after the American volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War for Spanish Republican forces against the dictator Franco. When these alumni-officers were appointed to high-level positions, would call Lincoln, and later, his successors and ask for the new latest crop of top Sosh cadets, or the most promising faculty members, to come work as assistants.

Lincoln’s goal would be to create an elite corps of officers whose talents and schooling would prepare them for major roles in the postwar Army. Leaders who understood not only the military but America’s place in the world at large, intellectuals armed with practical experience of leading Soldiers and who understood politics, economics and international relations. Members of the Lincoln Brigade were able to keep in touch easily because Lincoln had developed a philosophy that would endure – “Once a (faculty) member, always a (faculty) member.” Lincoln directed the department staff to include a roster of all past and present Sosh alumni and instructors. This was kept alive each Spring and Fall by “Sosh Reunions” where past and present faculty and students would mingle and meet each other (Jaffe and Cloud 2009).     Over the coming decades some of the army’s most illustrious leaders would have a turn at Sosh. General Peter Chiarelli after attending the University of Washington for a Master’s Degree taught at Sosh (Jaffe and Cloud 2009). He loved it so much he stayed an extra year past the required three years. He applied and was not accepted for one of the half dozen permanent teaching positions in 1988. After two years at graduate school and four years at Sosh he had been away from the army for a long time (Jaffe and Cloud 2009). When he needed a job that would get his career back on track the Sosh network lobbied for him to get a key job commanding a battalion. In 2004- 2005 he was the Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and would lead that storied unit through of some of the darkest days of the American war in Iraq.

Other distinguished alum would include General Dave Petraeus, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division in 2003 and Multi-National Forces Iraq in 2007 (Ricks 2009). Petraeus attended Princeton University’ Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where he obtained a master’s degree in public administration in 1985. In typical Petraeus overachiever fashion he crammed in as much research as he could before leaving Princeton then wrote his doctoral dissertation while he taught at West Point in the social sciences department (Robinson 2008).

General Daniel Bolger who was also a commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division and currently serves as the Commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan taught at Sosh. He simultaneously pursued and a Master’s Degree and PhD, in Russian History, from the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. He is also the author of books such as “Americans at War,” “The Battle for Hunger Hill,” and “ Death Ground,” each of them exploring leadership and shaping generations of American officers with ideas on leadership in an historical context.

John Nagl was a student at Sosh when one his professors, Major Dave Petraeus, noticed his agile mind. Nagl would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar attending Oxford University for both his Master of Philosophy (Mphil) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). He taught as a social sciences professor at West Point in 1997. While teaching at West Point, he was affiliated with the Strategic Studies Institute at the United States Army War College for which he co-authored a book on military professionalism in 1999 (Kaplan 2013).

A revised version of his dissertation was published in 2002 as “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife,” titled after an observation made by T. E. Lawrence about the challenges of advising guerilla forces in Arabia during World War I. In 2006 when Petraeus was writing his landmark counterinsurgency manual he would tap Nagl to both edit and write the foreword of the new document (Kaplan 2013).

Five years later when Petraeus retired the American Army had evolved into a different institution fulfilling Lincoln’s idea that West Point and had a role in developing intelligent leaders of the Army and the nation. At West Point, Sosh is located inside Lincoln Hall, named after its distinguished founder, a plaque quotes his words: “The engraving on monuments does not mark achievement. Only the engraving on the character and competence of our cadets and our young officers counts towards fulfillment of our mission” (VanDriel n.d.).


Bolger, Daniel P. Americans at War, 1975-1986: An Era of Violent Peace. New York: Random House Publishing, 1988.

—. Death Ground: Today’s American Infantry in Battle. New York: Random House , 1999.

—. The Battle for Hunger Hill. New York: Random House, 1997.

Jaffe, Greg, and David Cloud. The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army . New York : Random House Publishing, 2009.

Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Lundberg, Kirsten. The Accidental Statesman: General Petraeus and the City of Mosul, Iraq . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Nagl, John A. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam . Westport, CT: Praegar Publishers, 2002.

Ricks, Thomas E. The Gamble: General Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq . New York: Penguin Group. , 2009.

Robinson, Linda. Tell Me How This Ends. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2008.

VanDriel, Martha. The Lincoln Brigade: One Story of the Faculty of USMA Department of Social Sciences. West Point, NY: USMA Publishing .

Hiking A Marathon


Doing 26 mile race with a bag of bricks on your back doesn’t sound like the most folks’ idea of a good time, but over the last several years it has become my obsession and love. I hope you guys like this one. It felt inspired as I wrote it.

Hiking a Marathon

Road March. Rucksack (army backpack). Hiking. Those words seem like a mantra and are beautiful to me.  Walking marathons with me wearing an oversized and heavy pack people think you are a little crazy.

I will tell you that finishing a marathon in record time is like nothing else on earth. The first ten minutes you are done is a feeling of utter euphoria. When I hike a race or pushing myself against time on a hard course.

I seem to feel a nakedness of spirit, an absolute purity, a divine madness while I let loose to ramble on a course.

It feels like I am doing what I was trained to do, what I was bred to do, what I was born to do! Several times I have tested against the Portland and Eugene Marathons. I gave it everything I had.

Finding Zen

I hiked the races the best I could. I willed myself to be the best I could in the moment.  Win or lose, victory or defeat it is those moments that I feel I am being the very best person I could be straining against the knowledge of my own limitations.

No matter what I was before or would be after the moments following a great race I feel more alive than other time. It is a feeling of pure grace that comes only in the full abandonment of the divinity of flight.

It was a joy to be done, the pure orgasmic joy of the dance. The Portland Marathon was always a sort of last dance, a day of last roses.  It was the best race that I have ever done.

Why Hike A Marathon?

With all the physical events in the army there is one super macho event that stands out- the road march. As my buddy Kent, a decorated Green Beret, said, “… it tests the size of your heart.”

A 30-40 pound pack plus water and gear that is to be humped as fast as you can. The race is against the clock and at its core is a race against yourself and no one else. It’s an individual effort and not a team effort.

This is the basis of being a soldier: Strong men hauling heavy loads over rough ground. At its essence, it is both elemental and dangerous and it is exactly the reason I joined the army.

Struggling against the clock and trying to get the best time, I believe, is one of the ultimate tests of military virtues. Qualities such as courage, bravery, endurance, and sacrifice are all tested and explored in the most human of terms.

By pushing yourself physically you triumph over fear, and in the end you feel doing something heroic by being the best you can be. You become the best person you can be in that moment.

Before each race I pack and repack the rucksack countless times to save space and eliminate weight. I even went so far as cutting the handle off my toothbrush.

This might seem like a ridiculous detail, but unless you’ve carried one of these monster packs through 26.2 miles of sand, hills and heat, it makes perfect sense.

Those final minutes before a big race are always filled with nervous anticipation, and the excitement almost seems palpable. Over time, that feeling slowly diminishes, but never goes completely away even after years of racing.

It is the time when all the ‘what ifs’ fill your head. Did I train hard enough? Did I eat the right thing in the last twenty-four hours?

These things are all par for the course and are part of the excitement of choosing to participate in an arduous sport. Instead of hiding under the covers on a Saturday morning.


At the premier sporting event for crazy folks who like to hike marathons with heavy packs is the Bataan Memorial Death March. Set in the back training ranges of White Sands Missile Range it is a challenging march through the high desert terrain of New Mexico.

The course is set on winding desert trails and literally over a mountain range and back down again. Miles 9 to 12 going straight up hill. It is considered one of the toughest marathons in America, even more so when you add 35 pounds of unforgiving weight to your back.

As the racers gather at “Bataan,” as it’s known to the racers, the participants line-up. With their rucks and uniforms they no longer look like jocks.

Having done it six times I can tell you there is an ease and knowing in the way you shift the weight of your pack. You’re trying to find the “sweet spot.”

The weight pushing down on your shoulders, the heaviness of the pack resting on your lower back- this is home. This is what all the training was for.

All the marches on cold, early mornings, hours of boredom and sweat getting ready for this one event, this is what the animal is trained for.

All the conditioning is not about looking good in a tight t-shirt, but to hump an unforgiving load over long distances at the highest possible speed.

A gut check of this type is the ultimate test of endurance and commitment. But for me the race is much deeper than that.  It holds a deeper demonstration; it is a testimony of the power of the spirit.


It is during a tough race or road march that I feel closest to God. For me, hiking is the ultimate form of prayer. It is the best way to open yourself up to the Lord.

I believe there is a part of my soul that yearns to fulfill my God-made potential and to be eternal. I always try to ask for the Lord to be with me during these times.

At the start of every race I pray to God with the same mantra, “See in me, Lord, and please, be with me.”

For a long time, I have come to believe hiking and spirituality are inseparable. So connected are the two that I believe you can, “experience the divine in the physicality of hiking” and have a conversation with God while hiking.

It is when I am absolutely spent and my energy is at an all-time low that the still, small voice of God will tug at my heart the most.

It really doesn’t seem like a voice, or a thought, or even an intuition. It is the way your whole body cries for water when you are so thirsty you would drink from a mud puddle, if that was all you could get.

When backed into a wall, physically, I feel I am the most open to God. This doesn’t mean that I have visions of Jesus when hiking up down a mountain. Or, hear voices from beyond the grave.

It’s more about appreciating the beauty of God’s creation and enjoying the gift of friendship during a hike. In the end, it’s about giving thanks to the Lord to even be able to do hike up down mountains for hours at a time.

In the end this is something that has worked for me and has been the best form of my expression of spirituality through a physical medium.

One More College Try

I have decided to go for it one more time and enter Bataan in 2015 but with a catch. This year I am going to try and get my best time. I have been focusing on four areas: Back, Legs, Shoulders and Abs.

The idea to make my body a Steam Engine designed and conditioned to run the race as quickly as I can with a 35 pound pack up and over hills.

Lots of running, lifting, and hiking to get ready for the ultimate race of the spirit and the foothills of Kentucky as my training ground. The rucking is a mode for spiritual growth more than any other thing I have ever done.

Rucking doesn’t require any external tools or devices; you have your body, a heavy pack and an open heart for the Lord and that’s all you need.

Training for Bataan and attempting to do well is much more about spiritual development than just winning a race. I will keep you guys abreast of my progress. Know you are all missed and thought of often.


Navy SEAL Billy “Wags” Wagasy and the Secret to Doing Anything


I hope this blog finds you well. The business is going great. We are growing at an unprecedented rate and I am learning a lot. In this journey I have met some amazing people.

But even within a circle of amazing people there are those who are outstanding- and even within the innermost circles of excellence, there are folks who are extraordinary. One of those is my friend and mentor Billy “Wags” Wagasy. Even more extraordinary then his story is the man himself.


In late 2010 I was the Personnel Officer of the Special Operations Advisory Group (SOAG). Our job was to mentor and train the Afghan National Army (ANA) Commando Brigade, similar to the Army Ranger Regiment.

Their training and mentoring was overseen by Special Forces Groups (Green Berets) but because it was a Special Operations Command mission there were a few Navy SEALs thrown in. As a National Guard Major it was a cool way to spend a tour even if all I was doing was pushing paper. Wags was the Program Manager of the Afghan National Army (ANA) Commando Program.

When I first met Wags I couldn’t get over how big he was. He must have stood well over six feet four in his socks, he was a mountain of a man with an infectious smile and a mop of unruly brown hair.

Over the next couple of weeks I would get to know his amazing story and how he came to be a Navy SEAL. First he had played football at the University of Notre Dame under legendary Coach Lou Holtz and even had a bit part in the movie, “Rudy.”

As an outside Linebacker and Special Teams player he learned about adversity. Coach Holtz taught Wags an essential lesson in the quote, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

Wags told me that the last freedom you have is how you respond to your environment. Many times you can’t control what is happening to you but you do have a vote in how you respond it. This message would play a central part in the life of Wags a few years later.

Far from being a dumb jock he graduated with an Accounting Degree and a second Major in Philosophy in 1996 with honors. While finishing up his law degree at Pepperdine University the attacks of September 11th happened. After watching a TV Spot about Navy SEALs he decided he wanted to serve his country. Four days shy of taking the bar exam he joined the Navy.


Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL (BUD/S) is designed to create warriors. It is a brutal sorting out process that aim is to find young men who would rather die than quit, then it seeks to instill in them a relentless desire to fight and win as a team. Once a prospective SEAL trainee reports to BUD/S training he is immediately immersed in the warrior culture of the SEAL Teams (Couch, 2004).

The method for doing this are brutal Physical Training (PT) sessions designed to get men to quit but also to teach the survivors how to overcome impossible odds. Harsh physical demands and grueling academic standards are the norm.

All of this is done to see if the young apprentice warriors have the desire to belong to an elite group- to become some of the finest warriors our nation has to offer. They have to not only have to demonstrate the highest degree of physical fitness but also intelligence.

The ability to think ahead and to clearly visualize one’s personal goals and their commitment to each other (Owen, 2012). The biggest lesson here is that an individual through hard needs to learns to submit his ego, desires and needs to that of the team, no matter where mission takes them.


One day I was stressing out over getting some end of tour awards done- funny now looking back on it- and Wags told me how he had survived BUD/S. Showing up to the Navy SEAL training facility as a former offensive lineman, who was 30 years old- 10 years older than the average candidate- was tough for a man the size of a doorframe.

In BUD/S he learned to “chunk” each evolution into manageable goals. For instance, his aim could was to survive to lunchtime rather than whole 6 month training period. Once you do that, you pat yourself on the back, refocus, and set the next goal: Make it to dinner.

It didn’t matter if he couldn’t feel his arms as he hoisted logs over his and his teammates’ heads or if the cold surf soaked him to the core. It wasn’t going to last forever. There is a saying: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is simple: “One bite at a time.” Only his bites were separated by meals.

He came in last on almost all the runs, failed almost every physical evolution except the tested ones and then he only made it by a few seconds but in the end he had made it by breaking up each evolution to what he control in the present and not focusing on the future. It was the only way he could control his anxiety.

Relaying on what Coach Holtz had told him, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.” He vowed not to quit, no matter what happen. He never did despite some very tough days.

He told me that SEALs apply the principle of chunking to mission planning, learning to evaluate a goal by asking if its “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely”—or SMART. This approach applies to any goal, whether it involves fitness, relationships, or work.

Later he refined this thought process by identifying four critical skills- goal setting, visualization, positive self-talk, and controlling stress by breathing- in which mastery is a strong indicator of success in combat and sports. Using this combination contributes to an improvement in performance. Using this method goal setting becomes second nature. You’re constantly seeking ways to improve every aspect of your performance including doing boring paperwork.

The Lessons

After completing SEAL training he deployed three times to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and once to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In 2006 on his second tour in Iraq he was in Ramadi where he worked with famed Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and was teammates with Marcus Luttrell. The Battle of Ramadi was the most sustained and vicious engagement fought by Navy SEALs since their inception in 1962.

The operational and intelligence-gathering capabilities of the SEAL Task Unit produced startling and unprecedented success on the battlefield and in this violent urban battle space (Couch, 2008 ). He applied his lesson and in combat and is now applying to another endeavor.

I have used Wags’ strategy in all aspects of my life including getting my Master’s Degree in only one year, overcoming depression and most recently to losing 20 pounds in less than one month. His message can be applied to all endeavors. He is now working with Marcus Luttrell, of “Lone Survivor” as a motivational speaker on something called the Patriot Tours.


Couch, D. (2004). The Finishing School: Earning the Navy SEAL Trident. New York City : Crown Publishing Group .

Couch, D. (2008 ). The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the Winning of al-Anbar. Naval Institute Press.

Owen, M. (2012). No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden . New York : Bantam Publishing .

Ahmad Shah Massoud Part 3


His story will take us up to 9/11The intent is to offer leaders with information they may find useful.

The wisdom of Sun Tzu as expressed in the “Ping-fa” or “The Art of War” said it best. The revered old Chinese sage repeated advice was “know yourself” and “study your enemy.” These blogs are an attempt for all of you to know a little more about the heritage of the National Guard during our nation’s times of national emergency and the enemy we are fighting in Afghanistan.

From Last Time:

Soviet-Afghan War

Ahmad Shah Massoud was named “The Afghan who won the cold war” by the Wall Street Journal in 1989. He defeated the Soviet Red Army nine times in his native Panjshir Valley.

During the Afghan Civil War

After the war the mujahedeen warlords took over Afghanistan. In response to the warlords’ terror the Taliban came to power and swept through the country. Soon the terror of the warlords was replaced by the tyranny of the Taliban repressive rule, inspired by the 10th Century version of Islam practiced by Osama Bin Laden and spread by Saudi Arabia during the Soviet-Afghan War.

The Taliban seized Kabul on September 27, 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Massoud and his troops retreated to the northeast of Afghanistan.

The Taliban comes to Kabul

At the gates of Kabul, the Taliban tried to negotiate with Massoud, but he refused to accept their terms and withdrew to his own northern mountains again, where he had fought and defied the Russians. So began the next civil war, between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance of Massoud, the Tajik, and Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek. It was November 1996.

Only Pakistan, who had organized it, and Saudi Arabia, who paid for it, recognized the new, strange government of Afghanistan. Far to the south, an airplane landed. It brought back a tall Saudi who had fought in the caves east of Kabul in the legendary Tora Bora (Forsyth 2007).

The rich Saudi paid immediate obeisance to Mullah Omar, paying huge tribute in money and equipment, and thus securing his lifelong loyalty. It was through this tribute that he was allowed to open terrorist camps. These same camps would train the hijackers of planes over America on the morning of 9/11 (Tanner 2002).

Almost the first act of the Taliban in Kabul was to drag the toppled ex-president Najibullah from his United Nations house arrest, torture, mutilate and execute him, hanging his corpse from a lamppost. That set the tenor of the rule to come.

The tactically brilliant Massoud had counterattacked and again caused huge losses to the less competent Taliban. Throughout Afghanistan there had been massacres carried out by the unforgiving and fanatical Taliban (Moore and Lennon 2007).

At Mazar-e-Sharif, where first the native Hazara had risen in revolt and killed six hundred Taliban. This was after the brutal beating of a Hazara shop keeper for cutting his beard, an offense in Wahabbist Islam. The avenging Taliban had gone back and butchered over two thousand civilians (Tanner 2002).

Massoud fought to unite his homeland once and for all, and over the next five years his alliance had been beaten back to two small and obscure enclaves. It was truly a battle of epic proportions of a modern- day David- Massoud against an unforgiving brute Goliath- the fanatical masses of the Taliban.

With less than 5,000 fighters at any one time and 10 tubes of artillery and five aging helicopters, Massoud had held off the Taliban’s fanatical army of more than 50,000 volunteers for five years. Odds of 10 to 1 with ten tactical victories in that time but with not enough soldiers to hold the land he won in battle after battle, he was slowly beaten back (Tanner 2002).

In the end the holdout areas were a group of Hazara resistants, bottled up in the mountains of Dara-i-Suf, and the other was Massoud himself, in the impregnable Panjshir Valley and the northeastern corner called Badakhshan. With little outside help he held off the tide of the Taliban took over the remaining parts of Afghanistan.

By 1998, Massoud remained the only main leader of the North Alliance in Afghanistan and the only leader who was able to defend vast parts of his area against the Taliban. Most major leaders including the Islamic State’s President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and others were living in exile.

The Taliban repeatedly offered Massoud a position of power to make him stop his resistance but he always declined. In contrast to the time of chaos in which all structures had collapsed in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan, Massoud was able to control his troops very well during the period starting in late 1996. Human Rights Watch notes no human rights crimes for Massoud’s troops in the areas he controlled in the period from October 1996 until his assassination in September 2001.

He bravely continued to lead his guerilla warriors into battle until he was killed in a suicide attack by Al Qaeda operatives posing as foreign journalists. He died on September 9th, 2001 – just two days before the attack on the World Trade Center (Forsyth 2007).

The man whose charisma had held together the cause of the useless Rabbani, whose cleverness as a guerrilla fighter had caused the Soviets to revere him and whose generalship had carved Taliban forces to pieces, was no more. Massoud wrote a battle plan to destroy the Taliban and waited for the United States to join him. His battle plan survived to defeat Mullah Omar and reunite the nation under Karzai.

Massoud’s Legacy

Massoud’s personal mysticism led him to fight without hatred, bitterness, or spirit of revenge, regarding armed conflict only as an imposed and necessary evil in order to defend his people’s freedom, certainly not as an end in itself to be enjoyed as bloodlust or intoxication with power.

He always provided protection for humanitarian relief in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances, looked for reconciliation with defeated enemies, and invariably treated his war prisoners with humanity and dignity as the Koran dictates that true Muslims do.

Such moral integrity, I believe, in the midst of warfare ranks Massoud as one of the very few “Philosopher Kings” in history, that is, men who have been forced to wage war so as to protect their nation and people, but who detested war in itself and sought no personal political gain in doing their duty to their utmost.


Broadwell, Paula. All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Kaplan, Robert D. Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Moore, Robin, and Michael Lennon. The Wars of the Green Berets: Amazing Stories from Vietnam to the Present . New York : Skyhorse Publishing , 2007.

Naylor, Sean. Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Afghanistan’s Operation Anaconda. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

Stewart, James B. The Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban . Philidelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2002.

West, Bing. The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. New York: Random House, 2011.



The Picture

The picture is the Lion wearing a Pokol- an Afghan beret- tilted back on his head with a too large camo jacket and khaki trousers stuffed into worn and tattered Russian combat boots. He is leaning forward, one eyebrow cocked, his face furrowed in concentration, as though he was respectfully listening to someone. His mahogany and serious face lighted with a rare smile at the simple, rare, and forbidden pleasure of being able to take a rest during his long years of war.


Ahmad Shah Massoud Part 2


This one is a long one because the story is so involved. But to understand the present situation in Afghanistan we must look at the recent history of this turbulent country. To do that we will look at the life of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

From Last time:     

Ahmad Shah Massoud was named “The Afghan who won the cold war” by the Wall Street Journal in 1989. He defeated the Soviet Red Army nine times in his native Panjshir Valley. The Soviet Union’s defeat was not only a defeat in Afghanistan, but led to the collapse of the Soviet system and was followed by the liberation of the Central Asian and Eastern European countries from Moscow’s control.

The Afghan Civil War

On the morning of 15 February 1989, General Boris Gromov, commander of the Soviet 40th Army, the army of occupation in Afghanistan, walked alone back across the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya River back into Soviet Uzbekistan. His entire army had preceded him. As quietly as it started the Soviet- Afghan war was over (Tanner 2002).

In Afghanistan, the Soviets had left a government that most analysts predicted would last no time as the victorious warlords formed a stable government and took over. But the pundits were wrong. The government of President Najibullah, the whiskey-appreciating Afghan the Soviets had abandoned in Kabul, hung on for two reasons (Forsyth 2007).

One was that the Afghan Army was simply stronger than any other force in the country, backed as it was by the KHAD secret police, and was able to control the cities and thus the bulk of the population.

More to the point, the Mujahedeen warlords simply disintegrated into a patchwork quilt of snarling, grabbing, feuding, self-serving opportunists who, far from uniting to form a stable government, did the reverse: They created a civil war.

Pakistan backed Hekmatyar to become controller of all Afghanistan, and in areas he ruled utter terror existed. All who had formed the Peshawar Seven to fight the Soviets were now at each other’s throats, and the people groaned. From heroes, the mujahedeen were now seen as tyrants (Moore and Lennon 2007).

With the end of the war, the Arabs had almost all left the mountains and their precious caves. The one who by the end had become their uncrowned leader, a tall Saudi with deep pockets, was also gone, starting another organization that would later be known to the world as Al Qaeda (Forsyth 2007). Some 500 Arab veterans stayed behind, but they were not popular, were scattered far and wide and living like beggars.

President Najibullah fell after three more years of bitter war but he was alive, confined to a United Nations guesthouse in Kabul. He had supposedly been succeeded by Professor Rabbani. As a Tajik he was not acceptable to the Pashtun, the largest ethnic majority in Afghanistan. Outside Kabul, only the warlords ruled their domains, but the real master was chaos and anarchy (Forsyth 2007).

But something else was also happening. After the Soviet war, thousands of young Afghans returned to the Pakistani madrassahs (Islamic schools) to complete their educations. Others, too young to have fought at all, went over the border to get an education- any education. What they got was years of Wahhabi Islamic Fundamentalist brainwashing. Now they began to return.

The returnees were ill educated, having been taught by barely literate Imams. They knew nothing of life, of women-most lived and died virgins- or even of their own tribal cultures, that had been destroyed by the war. Apart from the Koran, they knew only one other thing: war. Most came from the deep south, where Islam had always been the most strict in all of Afghanistan (Tanner 2002).

Then something happened in the deep south. Since the fall of any semblance of a central government, the old official Afghan Army had simply reassigned itself to the local warlord who paid the best. Outside Kandahar, some soldiers took two teenage girls back to their camp and gang-raped them.

The local preacher in the village where they came from, who also ran his own religious school, went to the Army camp with thirty students and sixteen rifles. Against the odds, they trounced the soldiers, and hanged the commandant from the barrel of a tank gun. The priest was called Mohammad Omar, or Mullah Omar. He had lost his right eye in battle with the Soviets (Tanner 2002).

The news spread. Others appealed to him for help. He and his group swelled in numbers, and responded to the appeals. They took no money, they raped no women, they stole no crops, and they asked no reward. They became local heroes.

By December 1994, 12,000 had joined them, adopting this mullah’s black turban. They called themselves the students. In Pashtu, “student” is talib, and the plural is “taliban.” From village vigilantes, they became a movement, and when they captured the city of Kandahar, an alternative government and they began to swing north and in less than 18 months they were outside of Kabul (Naylor 2005). In 1995, the Taliban took power in several provinces in southern and central Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance

After the collapse of the communist Soviet-backed government of Najibullah in 1992, Massoud became the Minister of Defense under the government of Rabbani. In late 1994, most of the militia factions (Hezb-i Islami, Junbish-i Milli and Hezb-i Wahdat) which had been fighting in the battle for control of Kabul were defeated militarily by forces of the Islamic State’s new Minister of Defense Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Bombardment of the capital came to a halt. A conference in three parts was arranged by Massoud. He united political and cultural personalities, governors, commanders, clergymen and representatives, in order to reach a lasting agreement.

Massoud, like most people in Afghanistan, saw this conference as a small hope for democracy and for free elections. Massoud was now trying to put a consolidation process into action to unite Afghanistan. He also invited the Taliban to join the process wanting them to be a partner in providing stability to Afghanistan. The Taliban refused.

The Taliban

The Taliban army was no real army; it had no commanding general, no general staff, no officer corps, no ranks and no infrastructure. Each “lashkar” or fighting party was semi-independent under its tribal leader, who often held sway through personality and courage in combat, plus religious devotion (Forsyth 2007).

Like the original Muslim warriors of the first caliphates, they swept their enemies aside by fanatical courage, which gave rise to a reputation for invincibility-so much so that opponents often capitulated without a shot fired.

When they finally ran into real soldiers, like the forces of the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud, they took unspeakable losses. They had no medical corps, so their wounded just died by the roadside. But still, they came on.

At the gates of Kabul, they negotiated with Massoud, but he refused to accept their terms and withdrew to his own northern mountains again, whence he had fought and defied the Russians. So began the next second civil war, between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance of Massoud, the Tajik, and Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek.

On September 26, 1996, as the Taliban with military support by Pakistan and financial support by Saudi Arabia prepared for another major offensive, Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul. The Taliban seized Kabul on September 27, 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Massoud and his troops retreated to the northeast of Afghanistan.

Once the Taliban took Kabul only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the government as legitimate, but it was generally accepted thought that the rest of the world that the Taliban would eventually takeover the rest of the country. The only thing that stood in their way was the last ditch defenses was Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Bibliography/ Sources

Broadwell, Paula. All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Kaplan, Robert D. Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Moore, Robin, and Michael Lennon. The Wars of the Green Berets: Amazing Stories from Vietnam to the Present . New York : Skyhorse Publishing , 2007.

Naylor, Sean. Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Afghanistan’s Operation Anaconda. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

Stewart, James B. The Heart of a Soldier. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the War against the Taliban . Philidelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2002.

West, Bing. The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan. New York: Random House, 2011.


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