Posts Tagged ‘government service’

On national service

January 3, 2011

We interrupt the regularly scheduled broadcast… to bring you this worthwhile (but not exactly related to the mainstay of this blog’s focus) video of Matt Pottinger, formerly a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in China, formerly a U.S. Marine Corps officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, now the Edwin R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations delivering an address to his high school last Veteran’s Day.

Pottinger graduated from the Milton Academy in 1991 and was invited back to speak nearly 20 years later.  It’s funny and a little bit interesting to see the emphasis he puts on how he was less than totally dedicated to his studies while a student there, particularly in light of his subsequent professional success both as a reporter for one of the world’s premier newspapers and as a military officer.

It’s an interesting speech to me on a number of levels – first, it’s clear that his story is not typical.  Rarely in the modern day do you see people leave behind rewarding positions like the one Matt had with the WSJ in Beijing to do selfless things like join the Marine Corps to fight, though Matt’s story is not the only one like this – even more well-known was pro-footballer turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman; and there are many more who are relatively more obscure, like the investment banker from San Francisco I personally know who, like Matt, joined the Corps for a single tour in wartime, but in his case it was as a “conscience-clearing” to justify in his own mind the ridiculous amounts of money he was making (he has since returned to investment banking after four years of honorable service that included a tour in Iraq).  We need more people like Matt and my investment banker friend who are willing to step up and serve their countries.

It is also interesting because of the outsize success that Matt enjoyed during his time in the Corps.  He served only 5 years, but accomplished more during that time than many officers can claim in a whole career.  For instance, he innovated the first Marine Corps female engagement teams (FET) in Afghanistan that took advantage of local perceptions about women that allowed female Marines greater access and trust in the local society than the male Marines they served with.  Unlike the male Marines, the female Marines were seen as OK to enter local households without necessitating revenge in the Pashtun honor society system.  Since the FETs were able to get inside the homes of locals, they could better collect information and also tell the locals about what the coalition forces were trying to accomplish, an information operations (IO) bonanza of the first order. (For more on FETs and IO, this recent piece in The Nation discusses the difficulties the Marines and now the Army are having in sourcing personnel for the FETs and more importantly discusses some of the limitations and problems in their use.  This master’s thesis (PDF) from a student at Marine Corps University discusses the need for improved intelligence support to information operations in the types of fighting and nation-building that the US is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Probably largely on the strength of innovating the FETs he was named the 2009 Marine Corps Intelligence Officer of the Year.  He followed that up by deploying to Afghanistan for a second time, and this time around he co-authored (with two high-level intelligence officials also serving in Afghanistan at the time) an influential critique of American intelligence efforts there.  Entitled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (recommended reading here at Facing China about a year ago) that advocated, among other things, establishing positions for officers whose jobs would be not unlike that of a newspaper reporter – traveling widely around Afghanistan to speak face-to-face with people on the ground, then taking the information they gleaned at the tactical level back to the headquarters to fuse it together to provide the “real” picture that was getting lost in all the layers of bureaucracy and in the overdependence on technical intelligence collection (no doubt his background as a reporter in China informed this recommendation).

I think Matt makes a good argument for the importance and value of performing national service of some nature – it by no means has to be in the military.  I wonder if through his appearance at his alma mater Matt was able to convince any young Americans of the significance and virtue of seeking service to the point that they resolve to take action.  Only time will tell.

As he says in the speech, Matt has now completed his service and is back at his first love – writing.  I know I am looking forward to what I am sure will be relevant and insightful contributions from him at CFR.

The video is about 40 minutes long, so if that’s too long, you can at least read the “Cliffs Notes” version of it here, in a news release from the Milton Academy.

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And we’re back! Thoughts on new Cyber Command deputy

July 2, 2010

Closed out the semester at school this week, so I should have more time to post things here now.  First thing I wanted to talk about was a recent general officer announcement that caught my eye yesterday:

Defense.gov News Release: Flag Officer Announcements.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has made the following nominations:

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr. for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command.  Maj. Gen. Schmidle is currently serving as assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources (programs) in Washington, D.C.

First, this is a good thing for the Marine Corps.  It’s useful for us as an institution to have our senior officers serving at high levels amongst the various combatant and sub-unified commands.  For instance, right now we’ve got one Marine general serving as Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, and I know of at least one other Marine three-star (besides the new one announce above) who is serving as a combatant command deputy commander (at Central Command).  Of course, we also have Gen Cartwright, former U.S. Strategic Command commander, who is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Secondly, the selection of General Schmidle for Deputy, U.S. Cyber Command it a bit odd…I mean, the man is a career pilot!  What specific knowledge about cyber operations does he have?  Well, as it turns out, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot.  Seems that even at the senior officer ranks, it’s often the requirement that a person bring “general-purpose smarts” and adaptability to a position, not that the absolute perfect expert in a particular field or discipline be magically assigned to the job in question.  It’s clear to me that this has long been the case at the junior officer ranks; I am beginning to see that it does not change as one moves up the ladder.

Also, if for some reason you think that I was calling General Schmidle a dummy or disparaging pilots in general, that is most certainly not the case.  A brief glance at Schmidle’s bio shows you that he has a proven record of success in challenging assignments  apart from flying and command jobs that require a fair amount of grey matter activity.  For example, he’s a distinguished graduate of both intermediate and top-level professional military education schools, and he is currently pursuing a PhD from Georgetown during his “off time.”  He’s been involved with some of the Marine Corps’ most prominent warfighting experiments, served as military secretary to a pair of Marine commandants, and most recently, was the Marine Corps’ lead representative for the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

There’s nothing in there about computer network operations, or any cyber this, that, or the other.  But it won’t matter.  General Schmidle is a well-educated, smart, adaptable leader who will do a great job as the Cyber Command deputy and learn a lot in the process.

Congratulations, Lieutenant General!

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Former Minister of Foreign Affairs speaks at NSYSU

December 2, 2009

Ambassdor Ding Mou-shi (L) and Dean Lin Wen-cheng (R)

Dean Lin Wen-cheng (R) introduces Ambassador Ding Mao-shi (L)

I said I would write about yesterday’s lecture if it was interesting.  I want to share a little bit about it.

First, I didn’t really do Ambassador Ding’s (丁懋時) background justice with my post yesterday (which I can partly attribute to writing it while mobile and not having access to his full bio at the time – what stood out when I read it initially was what I mentioned, that he was Taiwan’s representative to the US).  He’s done a lot more than that, including foreign service in Africa for over 10 years, was Taiwan’s ambassador to South Korea, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, secretary-general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, and so forth.  You can read all about it here (link to a translated version of his biography on Wikipedia).  His experience in over four decades of foreign affairs work runs the gamut.

Which is precisely why he came to talk yesterday.  His talk mainly focused on the earlier portion of his career when posted in various places in Africa.  He spoke of the various noteworthy things in the numerous countries he worked in or traveled to, referring to Rwanda as the “land of 1000 hills” and mentioned that he saw vast rain forests in The Congo.

He also spoke of some of the challenges he faced, primarily linguistic.  I did not catch how many languages he speaks, but clearly his English is excellent and he is a native Chinese speaker (most of the lecture was in Chinese, but now and again he switched to English for a few words to describe things hard to express in Chinese).  He talked about how he was able to speak with the South Koreans in Chinese and in English.  I would not be surprised, due to the amount of time he spent in Africa and working on Africa issues (such as at working in the Africa Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the early 1970s) if he is also conversant in at least one of the African languages.

Ambassador Ding Mou-shi addresses NSYSU students

Ambassador Ding Mao-shi addresses NSYSU students

All this was essentially a “soft sell” for the foreign service.  Here was an elder statesman of Taiwan, talking to an audience of who could essentially be his grandchildren, about the good things that come from a career in foreign affairs.  He talked about the travel, about learning about other cultures and people, about sorting out language differences and learning foreign languages.  This type of experience will open your eyes to the rest of the world.

But he didn’t make it all sound like it was easy – far from it.  He explicitly mentioned that foreign affairs work is hard and that it is a high-pressure field.  About this, he expressed the sentiment that “hard work is good training.”

National Sun Yat-sen University has these types of lectures and events from time to time and as I am able to attend and discover relevant material, I will treat it here in the future.

From the Road

December 1, 2009

Later today I am going to attend a lecture by a former Taiwanese representative to the United States, among other places. (Due to Taiwan’s political status, their “representative” in the US is equivalent to an ambassador.) The topic is foreign service. I’d like to get an idea about what my local classmates think about the possibility of serving their country overseas. I’ve asked a few of them in the past about what their plans are after they graduate. The kinds of responses I have heard include government work, NGOs, or continuing on to study for a PhD. (We are masters degree students right now.). If there is anything interesting to report, I will write more about it later.


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