As a general rule, when serving military officers decide to place their opinions on the public record, they write in hyper-cautious military-speak that appears designed to conceal any sort of original insight. So thank you, Col. Lawrence Sellin, for being an exception to the rule. Sellin, a staff officer in ISAF Joint Command in Kabul, sounds like he had a Very Bad Day at the office, and then returned home to pen a screed against the work being done at headquarters.
For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general’s thought processes as abruptly as a computer system’s blue screen of death.
The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn’t matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.
Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Col. Sellin sounds like he has a future career as a pundit — which, come to think of it, may soon come in handy. (H/T Ghosts of Alexander)
Update: Not surprisingly, Sellin has been sacked from his job at ISAF headquarters, officially for violating a directive that requires officers to clear "written or oral presentations to the media" with a public-affairs officer. He says that he bears no ill will to anyone in his former organization, and will be returning to Finland to work for an IT company where he had been employed before going to Afghanistan.
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| The E-Ring |