Sunday, May 2, 2010

Today’s military: A whole new warrior

In the last week I met hundreds of the very smart, capable, positive and mission-driven people who make up our military.

They are men and women, racially diverse and better educated that any force we have ever had. Lots of them have college degrees. Many have completed graduate degrees while in the service.

Truth is the over 70% of the population don’t qualify for military service based on education, health and other factors. The days when a judge pushed a troubled teenage boy into the military (as opposed to jail) have been over for a long time.

While the Marines we met were young, their age of Special Ops troops ranged from early 20’s to mid-50’s.

Many are married and dealing with the impact of overseas service that keeps them away from their families for four to six months at a time. As you heard them discuss deployment, I kept thinking about my son, Nicholas, and how hard it would have been to miss even a month of his childhood.

They aren’t cowboys or mavericks. In fact, they are reversed and deffential in their speech. They have a pride for what they do but speak carefully about the people they fight. You hear them talk about being “diplomats with a small “d.”

Morale is high, more “purposeful” than exuberant.

Special Operations demands bright, committed problem solvers. Today's military is competing with corporate America for the best talent. The regularly recruit leaders who could easily make more money elsewhere.

The folks I met certainly filled the bill.

You find yourself, over and over again, thanking them for their service.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Who are the advocates?

As a country, it has always been important to for us to separate the military from the government. The concept of separating elected leaders from our generals is in our DNA, going back to George Washington.

At the same time, you wonder how well our defense effort is being positioned in Washington and with citizens and voters across the country.

After a long day in the field on Tuesday, I watched a C-Span discussion on the national debt. It was casually mentioned that cutting the military budget would need to be part of any effort to close the gap. Nobody disagreed. You wonder if the people doing the talking knew how immense the task of defending the country is and how our long term interests are at stake.

You sense a theme inside the services that goes something like “if people only knew.” They are right, people do need to know. Our military needs to make it easier for all of us to understand their role. Citizens need a deeper understanding of the world. The conference is part of that effort. But non-military leaders need to lead in this area.

We have an all-volunteer military today. The draft has been gone for 37 years. Many of our most influential zip codes send virtually no young men and women to the military. How do communities like Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham and Ann Arbor gain an appreciation for this complicated world?

Who are the trusted, balanced, committed voices for America’s defense?

These people need advocates who can tell thier story.

Do Americans know that this isn’t a “war?”

The biggest lesson of this trip is the simple fact that we really aren’t fighting a “war” in the way most people think of a war.

In truth, this is an effort to address something as large in scope as the Cold War but with new, very uncertain rules. We are fighting multiple enemies who are growing in number, spreading across the globe, and constantly re-energized. We are also fighting in a way we have never done before.

Many civilians have narrowed the conflict to two areas in their minds; Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet there are issues and organizations in South America, Africa, the Philippines, and across Asia that should give us great concern.

These aren’t armies, but loose networks of terrorists and criminals. This enemy is diffused and fights for a number of intersecting reasons. Some are tied to a country, some to a religion, and some are just committed to a hatred for Western life.

There are a growing number of issues to fight over and a need for our country to be prepared to defend itself in new ways. Beyond terrorism we are fighting a drug war in a number of areas and piracy on the seas. On the horizon are the environmental concerns and global population growth. In the coming years we are as likely to fight over fresh water as we are to fight of oil.

What happens when a country suddenly damns a river that flows into a neighboring country? How does that fight play out?

Imagine if the volcano eruptions of a few weeks ago was, instead, a power grid being blown-up in a major western country.

Even our national debt comes into play, creating leverage for other countries as they become the bankers for our lifestyle.

During the Cold War, there was a sense of the “rules of engagement” between Russia and the US. We faced a single enemy. Over the years, patterns were established. There was an arena and a sense of some level of dialogue. Today, none of that seems to exist.

How do you fight with an enemy who knows no rules and is willing to die in order to kill you and anyone else he needs to?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shock and Awe

An incredible first day at the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.
We spent the morning with a briefing by Admiral Eric T. Olson, the Commander of the Special Operation Command that includes the entire range of special forces in our military, from Navy Seals to Green Berets.

Olson is “The Bullfrog,” the oldest active members of the Navy Seals. Hearing him speak, you get a real sense of the changes that are going on in the military. He talks of new technology, cyber warfare, and the need for a true understanding of the people and cultures of countries where we fight.
His concern about the personal lives of the men and women he oversees is evident throughout the discussion. He loves his people.

SOCOM includes 59,000 thousand members of our armed forces, bringing together the elite from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. A somewhat older group and mostly married, these are career-military folks. They are an important part of the upper management of our armed forces. Many have both college and advanced degrees. Some went to West Point or the Naval Academy.
We met a handful of Navy Seals, each possessed a confidence and presence that immediately changed the room.

They are smart, “Type A” people who are driving their operations hard. Every person I met could easily be a leader in any company in Michigan, probably making more money doing it. They all had a sense of mission and passion for their duty. You wouldn’t want to take them on in business or a street fight.

With the changing nature of the way we fight these days, Special Operations is more important than ever. Much of the strategy, tactics, training and new technology that is being developed comes out of this group. You hear a lot about the uses of the internet, bandwidth, new materials, and, even social media.

The discussion of logistics and development of new technologies sounds much like what you hear back in Michigan.
You hear phrases like “equip the operator” and “upgrade SOF mobility,” along with RFP’s and RFQ’s. There is a constant drive to improve effectiveness, lower the weight, raise the quality and lower the cost of equipment.
Just like you might hear when you meet with automotive suppliers and OEM’s, there is much discussion about how new products will work in the field and how they will be deployed.

Sound like it could be Delphi, Raytheon or General Dynamics? Sometimes it is.
More later. Headed for Norfolk and the Navy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Re-building the arsenal: From cars and trucks to tanks and TACOM

One important mission for me this week is to gain a better understanding of what the defense industry can mean to Michigan’s future.

What further potential does the military have for our state in the coming years? What structural and mindset changes do we need to make in order to turn opportunities that defense work offers into a larger reality? How do we become more welcoming to this world?

There is incredible potential for greater Detroit based on our unique capabilities. No area of the world has the depth and breath of capabilities to design, engineer, manufacture, deploy, distribute, maintain, and improve cars and trucks like Detroit.

Hard to believe? Ask Toyota-North America, Nissan-North America, or Hyundai, each of whom have built sizeable, state-of-the-art design centers in our state tap into our knowledge base.

The Department of Defense understands our capabilities. As a result, we are playing a larger and larger role for the DoD in 2010.

Citing the size and scope of development centers for companies including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, General Dynamics Land Systems, and others, the DoD stated, “The synergies gained from having a critical mass located in southeastern Michigan, and being able to leverage the world’s intellectual capital for automotive/ground vehicle research and development & acquisition, will ensure the Department is prepared to meet the future demands.”

A quick look at web reports gives you an idea of the synergy between our workforce and the country’s defense needs, starting with TACOM.

The Army's Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), located in Warren, Michigan is responsible for managing the Army's fleet of ground combat and tactical vehicles; developing future ground vehicles and their weapons systems; and sustaining those vehicles to preserve our combat readiness.

A multi-billion dollar corporation, TACOM manages over 75 percent of the most critical weapon systems in the Army. The Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) at TACOM is designing and developing future vehicles and their technology.

In 2005 the Department of Defense (DoD), named the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan the Joint Center of Excellence for Ground Vehicle Development and Acquisition.

Creating a Joint DoD Center of Excellence for the Development and Acquisition of the Manned and Unmanned Ground Vehicles in southeast Michigan confirmed what people in Michigan have always known - there are great benefits from clustering and the co-location of engineers and acquisition experts and Michigan’s automotive research and development community is the best in the world.

Across the state, other important operations include the Defense Logistics Information Service (DLIS) and the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) in Battle Creek, the Michigan Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, Selfridge Air National Guard Base: Selfridge Air National Guard Base, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, the W. K. Kellogg Air Guard Station

We could see more growth in the coming years. This could all play an important role in transforming our state's economy.

But, are we ready, as a region, to extend these relationships? As citizens, voters, and leaders, do we understand this world? My gut says we have a lot to learn. Lessons start tomorrow at 5am, breakfast is at 6am.

Every detail, right

Rarely in the civilian world do you receive an e-mail marked as follows:

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE


Final Preparations (UNCLASSIFIED)

The first thing you notice as you come into the world of our military is the way people communicate. The tone, style, and substance of conversations and written messages is different; more precise, more formal, detailed, and structured.

Even the e-mails looked different, were marked with the above phrases. The subject lines are specific. The sign-off includes complete contact information.

Our meetings start today, however weeks ago we received an agenda and a bios of our leaders. We were introduced to our entire group and broken into teams. We were given background briefing on the various military services and complete background on the program. Checklists and weather reports arrived.

While always upbeat and positive, there is nothing casual about the approach. For security reasons, we weren't be given a daily agenda for the entire week ahead of time. Knowing that, our leaders have provided us with all of the details we need in order to for secure about the week ahead.

I have found the same thing is true when dealing with TACOM back in Warren, Michigan. Donna Edwards, my lead contact at TACOM, speaks and writes in much the same way.

You quickly the sense that people who fight wars, defend territories and routinely move thousands of soldiers and equipment across the world know the value and importance to organized, detailed, direct communications.

I’m going to a new place, with new people and no agenda.
That sounds like a problem these folks understand. That builds confidence.
Landing shortly, very excited.
Like they say: Caveats: NONE

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Feels like going home: A little history

Both of my parents served in the military during World War II. My father was in the Army, mom was in the Navy. My mother’s twin brother, Uncle Clark, was a medic on Iwo Jima.

My dad spent most of his career working as a civilian at McGuire Air Force base in Wrightstown, New Jersey. The Air Force honored him with a 21-gun salute at his funeral in 1970.

The military has played a huge role across my family. Cousins include an Annapolis grad, two career Marine officers and a recently retired Air Force colonel.

As a kid, Memorial Day included a visit to grave sites and the playing of Taps. Army-Navy Games were a big deal. The 4th of July was truly a celebration of our freedom with a big parade down Front Street in Florence, New Jersey. When I was very young there were even World War I vets who marched.

To this day, at 54, I still call everyone in a military uniform "Sir" and offer my thanks for their service. One of my favorite nephews, Christopher Skorge, is planning a career in the military, perhaps as a Navy Seal. It is something that both scares and honors my sister Suzy. His uncle, too.

Yet, having spent a career in the media business, I've moved far away from these roots.
I've lived most of my life in pretty well-off neighborhoods of big cities where few folks ever encounter the military.

Trouble in Middle East is of great concern to my neighbors, yet the military

and defense of our country rarely touches our day-to-day lives. Most of the people I know respect and honor the military but have little sense of the size and scope of how our country is defended or how wars are fought.
When I tell my son, Nicholas, about my background going back 40 years, it feels like “history” to me and, probably, a bit of a "tall tale" to Nick.
One of the most exciting parts of this trip is the opportunity to get reconnected to an area of our lives that truly shaped me.