Special Operations function in catastrophe

Catastrophe planning in the civilian world is primarily the province of engineers and management. The problem with that is engineers and management are trained for, plan for, and work in a controlled environment (what they think is a controlled environment). So delusion events are outside their comfort zone; aberrations. In fact, as we will see, engineers and managers are often trained to be blind to cascade events. Their training and work environment normally does not reward focusing on cascade events, but rather punishes it.

West Point crestWest Point is an extraordinarily controlled environment. Things run almost perfectly there; so much so that graduates often have problems adjusting to the ‘real’ Army they go into. But West Point also has over 200 years of experience training leaders and preparing soldiers for war. This accumulation of institutional knowledge is inculcated in cadets in a high-pressure cauldron of mental, physical and emotional stress for four years.

Of course, sometimes it doesn’t take, as we will see with one of the events we cover in this book that focuses on one of our more notorious graduates.

Special Operations soldiers train for war. War is called controlled chaos; an incessant series of cascade events. War might be considered the ultimate catastrophe and combat a final event. In order to prepare for this final event, Special Operations soldiers train for, plan for, and work in a chaotic environment every day.

patch-500x500Mentally, the most difficult training I went through was Robin Sage, the final exercise in the Special Forces Qualification Course. Robin Sage is where a team of students is sent into isolation, and then infiltrates into the North Carolina countryside to conduct a guerilla warfare exercise. A critical component of Robin Sage is to put prospective Green Berets in lose-lose scenarios. This is a training scenario where there is no ‘right’ solution. Rigid minds are often unable to think creatively while under stress and lose-lose training quickly determines someone’s capabilities.

Thinking outside of the immediate situation is important in preparing for and averting catastrophes. Do you remember in the Star Trek movie (Wrath of Khan) when Captain Kirk talks about being at Star Fleet Academy and being the only officer to have passed the Kobayashi Maru simulator program? The basic problem and the opening of the movie was set up this way: A Star Fleet ship which the student commands is patrolling near the neutral zone. A distress call is received from a disabled Federation vessel inside the neutral zone. An enemy warship is approaching from the other side. A vessel more powerful than the one the student commands. The choices seem obvious: ignore the distress call (which violates the law of space) or go to its aid (violating the neutral zone) and face almost certain destruction from the enemy vessel. As you can see, both choices are bad.

What Kirk did was sneak into the computer center the night before he was scheduled to go through the simulation and change the parameters so that he could successfully save the vessel without getting destroyed. Would you have thought of that? Was it cheating? If you ain’t cheating you ain’t trying. It’s not cheating when it succeeds.

A key to lose-lose training is you get to see how someone reacts when they are wrong or fail. Lose-lose training is a good way to put people in a crisis. Frustration can often lead to anger, which can lead to failure or enlightenment.

If a catastrophe struck, whom would you want at your side helping you? A doctor? Lawyer? Policeman? Engineer? MBA? Teacher? While they all have special skills, I submit that the overwhelming choice might well be a Special Forces Green Beret. Someone trained in survival, medicine, weapons, tactics, communications, engineering, counter-terrorism, tactical and strategic intelligence, and with the capability to be a force multiplier.

Most important, you want someone who has been handpicked, survived rigorous training, and has the positive mental outlook to not only survive, but thrive in chaos, and knows how to be part of a team. Green Berets have been called Masters of Chaos. Every Green Beret is also a leader.

ShitDoesntJustHappenFinal(1)A key to dealing with catastrophes is leadership, not management. Often, in order to deal with a cascade event, leadership and courage are needed to go against a culture of complacency and fear. As we will see in each catastrophe, fear is a factor in at least one, if not more, cascade events. This fear runs the gamut from physical fear, to job security fear, to social fear, to physical fear. Few people want to be the ‘boy who cries wolf’ even when they see a pack of wolves. What’s even harder is when we’re the only one who sees the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I’ve written the series IT Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure to help individuals and organizations avoid catastrophes, but I come at it from a different direction as a former Special Operations soldier. In the Special Forces (Green Berets) the key to our successful missions was the planning. The preparation.
In isolation we war-gamed as many possible catastrophe situations we could imagine for any upcoming mission and prepared as well as we could for them. In fact, we expected things to go wrong, a very different mindset from that of engineers and management. We were firm believers in Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong, will. In other words: Shit will happen.

Our job was to deal with it.

The 51st Anniversary of JFK’s Assassination and a theory.

It was the end of Camelot. Of course, in the legend, Camelot also came to an end, and not a good one.

My wife and I (particularly my wife who is a voracious reader and studier) have consumed a lot of information about our 35th President.

His actions during the Cuban Missile crisis undoubtedly saved the world from nuclear war; but we must also remember, that crisis was precipitated by our placing nuclear missiles into Italy and Turkey, not a very long flight time from Moscow. And then was the thing called the Bay of Pigs.

History is gray, not black or white. Kennedy brought hope as the country transitioned. The 50s were over and with it a sort of innocence.

Of course, one event, the last, of his presidency has garnered tons of attention, with more books being written about it than probably any other single event: his assassination. Conspiracy theories abound.

I was on a panel in San Diego a few weeks ago for a Military Book Event and a SEAL next to me made an interesting comment. He said that after going through all the tough training to become a SEAL, he reported to his team. And he expected “the curtain to be pulled aside” and he would see this whole ‘nother world of secrets and high speed action. Only to find out that there really wasn’t. That isn’t to say Special Ops aren’t doing complex, high speed things, but I remember in Group we were always sort of wondering who was doing all that super stuff you see in movies. Only to finally realize, we were.

As far as the assassination, there is no doubt Oswald was up there and he fired. Why he was up there, how he got up there—well, you can talk about the mob and Carlos Marcello. After all, Bobby Kennedy had Marcello arrested and dumped in Guatemala. And he was connected to Jack Ruby, who . . .

Well, sometimes the bread crumbs are so many and so big.

But. Why the cover up?

Because the last shot, the one that took a big chunk out of JFK’s head was different. He was probably already fatally wounded from the previous shot. He was wearing a back brace by the way, thus he couldn’t ‘get down’ in the car after that hit.

mortal errorA crime scene investigator, Colin McClaren, studied the evidence, focusing simply on what happened in the crime, not why the crime happened. And his conclusion, which others had reached before, particularly in a book (which we have) titled Mortal Error: The Shot the Killed JFK from 1992 by Bonar Menninger, which received surprisingly little attention for its claims.

That the final shot came from an accidental discharge of an M-16 wielded by a Secret Service Agent in the car behind the President’s as he reacted to Oswald’s shots. I’ve always found the Zapruder film weird. That last shot didn’t make sense given where Oswald was.

What really makes sense about all this is the coverup afterward. I won’t go into the details, but the Secret Service broke laws getting Kennedy’s body out of Texas so quickly. They covered up the autopsy. And the key is this—everyone was in on it because what good would it do to say: oops, there was a mistake and the President’s head was hit?

Thus we’ve had over half a century of debate and conspiracy theories.

I don’t know the answer. But I’m open to possibilities and having seen accidental discharges and people hurt by them, I know they are very, very possible, especially in a scenario where unexpected gunfire opens up.

But there are many angles to this, literally, and going beyond the actual event, too many strange ‘coincidences’. Indeed, enough to fill thousands of books!

Feel free to leave your thoughts here. And for those of my readers who are interested, I’m starting a private Facebook group, The A-Team, where this and other topics (including the exciting life of Cool Gus) will be discussed (and early reads and swag are included). It is a private Facebook Group, so we will need to invite you. You can request an invite a couple of different ways. You can email Jen Talty at bobandjen @ coolgus dot com with your Facebook information. Or you can send her a message on Facebook asking to join the group. Or you can leave your Facebook information in the comment section of the blog.

Remember, Shit Doesn’t Just Happen!

Nothing but good times ahead.






#Nanowrimo 1 of N does not equal N And Never Complain, Never Explain

Arrghhh.  Math.  Sorry, but it’s the best way I can explain this concept.  What this formula means is that just because you can go to the bookstore and buy a best-selling book written by so-and-so, the famous writer, that does not mean you can write a similar book and get it published.  What I’m talking about is those people who sit there and complain that their book is just as good as such and such and, damn it, they should not only be published but have a bestseller.  Also, those people who look at book number 5 from a best-selling author and complain about how bad it is.  Yes, there are many book number 5’s from best-selling authors that if they were book number 1 from a new author, would not get published.  But the primary thing that sells a book is author’s name.  I’ve always said Stephen King could write a book about doing his laundry and it would be on the bestseller list.  Stephen King earned being Stephen King and to misquote a vice-presidential debate, I’ve read Stephen King and you ain’t no Stephen King.  Neither am I.

Nanowrimo coverAnother thing people do is they see a technique used in a novel and use the same technique, and then get upset when told it doesn’t work.  They angrily point to the published book that has the same technique and say, “SEE.”  Unfortunately, what they don’t see is that that technique is part of the overall structure of the novel.  It all ties together.  I remind you of the story of Frankenstein.  Just because you can put all the pieces together, that doesn’t mean you can necessarily bring it to life.  There are some techniques that only work when put in context of other parts of the novel; thus using it in isolation can be a glaring problem.  You can’t take the type of beginning of one bestseller, tie it in with flashback style from another, and have a similar flashy ending as another and expect the novel to automatically work.  This is my Novel Writers Toolkit and other writing books are trying to show you not only the pieces, but how to pull them together.

Every part of a novel is a thread connected to all the other parts.  Pull on one piece and you pull on them all.  Tear apart a novel or a movie and see the pieces, but then be like a watchmaker and see if you can put them all together again as the writer did and if you understand why they go back that way.

For example, Quentin Tarrantino ignored the classic three act screenplay structure with PULP FICTION.  Yet the movie was a great success.  So therefore, a number of new screenwriters decided they didn’t need the three act structure.  However, what they failed to see is that it was not so much the unique story structure that made PULP FICTION such a success, but rather the intriguing dialogue.  Tarrantino’s structure without the Tarrantino dialogue would have spelled failure.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little fire burning deep inside believing you are better than those people getting published, but I think that’s the sort of thing that should be used to fuel your writing, not expressed loudly so everyone can hear it.

John Gardner once said that every book has its own rules.  Remember that when you examine a book to see what you can learn from it.  Look at the parts from the perspective of that book’s specific rules.

I think Henry Ford uttered the famous line:  Never complain, never explain.  This applies in the writing world in several ways.

One thing I do when I critique material is ask a lot of questions.  I tell my students, ‘Hey you don’t have to answer those questions to me’ (in fact I would prefer they don’t), but rather they are to get the students to think.  What I don’t tell them is that the more questions I have to ask, the worse job they’ve done.

The reason I don’t want answers is because you don’t get any opportunities to explain your book once it’s on the shelf in a store.  You also don’t get any opportunities to explain your submission when it’s sitting on an agent’s or editor’s desk.  So if they don’t “get it” the first time around, they won’t get it.  Get it?  All your explanations and defenses mean nothing because you not only won’t get the chance to say them, you shouldn’t get the chance to say them.

The never complain comes from the fact that there are people running this business.  You won’t agree with some things, particularly rejections, but do not complain or write nasty letters, make obnoxious phone calls, send dirty faxes, etc. etc.  Because you never know when you are going to run into those people again.  My first book was published by a publisher that had rejected my own query reference that same book.  I had disagreed strongly with some of the things they put on that first rejection letter, still do as a matter of fact, but I ate it and drove on.  If I had sent them a nasty letter, methinks they would have remembered me and not even considered the manuscript when my agent submitted it.

Here is the golden rule:  If an action you plan to take, words you plan to utter, a letter you want to write, an email you want to send, could have anything other than a positive reflection back on you, DON’T DO IT.  Negativity begets negativity.  Acting out of anger, frustration, righteous indignation, etc. will bite you in the butt, to put it mildly.

Be positive.

Think back to the last time you reacted and lashed out.  Did it help you or hurt in the long run?

Three books in one:  The Nanowrimo Survival Kit

The Last Czar: Leadership Failure

Russian_Imperial_Family_1911Quote: “I am not prepared to be a Czar. I never wanted to become one. I know nothing of the business of ruling.” Nicholas II, last Czar of Russia.

We still feel the effects of this catastrophe a century later. Few events have changed the course of modern history more than the Russian Revolution and the man most responsible for it occurring was Nicholas II, the last Czar.

The Facts: Nicholas II became Czar of Russia in 1896. He led his country into 2 disastrous wars, both of which were lost. He also presided at a time of great social unrest as the traditional serf system was breaking down during the technological revolution. He eventually abdicated in the face of unrelenting pressure, throwing Russia into an intense civil war between the Whites and the Reds, which led to his execution (along with that of his family) and the rise of the communist Soviet Union.

The Timeline:

19 May 1868: Nicholas II is born

20 Oct 1894: Alexander III dies and Nicholas II becomes Ruler

14 November 1894: Nicholas II marries Alexandra

14 May 1896: Nicholas II is crowned Czar of Russia; over 1,000 die in a stampede at the celebration festival for the people; that evening Nicholas attends the French ambassador’s gala

8 February 1904: The Russo-Japanese war begins with a sneak attack by the Japanese on the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur

15 October 1904: The Russian Baltic Fleet begins a journey halfway around the world to reinforce the remains of their Far East fleet

27-28 May 1905: The Russian fleet is defeated at the Battle of Tsushima

9 January 1905: Bloody Sunday starts the Russian Revolution

27 June 1905: The Potemkin mutiny

5 September 1905: Treaty of Portsmouth ends the Russo-Japanese War; Russia lost the war

17 October 1905: The October Manifesto promises civil liberties and a parliament.

15 July 1914: World War I begins

5 September 1915: Nicholas II assumes command of the Russian Army

17 December 1916: Rasputin is murdered.

23-27 February 1917: The February Revolution begins

2 March 1917: Czar Nicholas II abdicates

17 July 1918: Nicholas II and his family are executed

DEFINITION: Cascade Event: An event prior to a catastrophe that contributes to the actual catastrophe, but by itself, is not catastrophic.

CASCADE TWO: The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster for Russia & particularly Czar Nicholas II.

Later in this book I’m going to point out that the Japanese prior-to-war-declared assault on Port Arthur foreshadowed what happened at Pearl Harbor. Three hours before they declared war on Russia, the Japanese attacked the Russian fleet anchored at Port Arthur and crippled it.

It would only get worse from there for the Russians.

With the Far East fleet crippled, Nicholas II decided to send his Baltic Fleet to the Pacific. One only has to look at a map to question this decision. Add in the fact that the English wouldn’t allow passage of the Suez Canal after the Russians had mistakenly fired on some British trawlers, and the Fleet would have sail halfway around the world in order to just get to the battle zone.

It took the Baltic Fleet eight months to sail to the Pacific.

Port Arthur had already fallen, so the Fleet tried to make it to Vladivostok undetected. They almost made it. The Fleet was blacked out, trying to slip through the Tsushima Strait, which goes between Korea and Japan. Except for a Russian hospital ship which had its lights on in compliance with the rules of war which negated the blackout the rest of the fleet was operating under.

Things went downhill from there. At the end of the naval engagement, the Russian Fleet was essentially destroyed in one engagement and the war was lost.

To get an idea how this reverberated throughout Russia, by May 1905, the Black Sea Fleet had been stripped of experienced sailors and officers to join the doomed Baltic Fleet. When word reached the Fleet of the defeat at the battle of Tsushima Strait, morale plummeted. Activists spread dissension on the ranks.

On 27 June 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin revolted when they were served a meal of borscht made with meat infested with maggots. The ship’s captain was killed and the mutineers took over the ship.

This was a microcosm of what was developing in Russia.

ShitDoesntJust2_(8_smaller)(1)LESSON: Regimes rise and fall as wars are won and lost. Critical decisions such as going to war, and how to conduct the war, require decisive leadership, which also realizes when it is over-reaching.

Not only did Russia lose the war, they lost to an enemy that at the time was considered ‘inferior’ by the European powers; a humiliation piled on top of defeat. It greatly diminished the Czar’s image.

There are some who believe that Russia’s defeat indirectly destabilized the balance of power in Europe and led to the events that started the First World War. And looking even further, it could be argued that Japan’s victory built up a false sense of success that a generation later would lead to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the Second World War in the Pacific.

The defeat certainly damaged the Czar’s relationship with the Navy and the Russian Armed Forces. And a monarch relies on the military in order to stay in power.

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