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D Day 6 June imageTime Patrol: D-Day will be published two months from today, on 23 May. 6 missions, same date, six different years.

1944 A.D.: Mac parachutes into Normandy.

452 A.D.: Roland meets Beowulf. Which means he meets Grendel. Which means great mayhem ensues.

478 A.D.: Scout is back in Greece, two years after the battle of Thermopylae. She’s at the Pythian Games where Pandora and Leonidas’s widow and child show up.

1843 A.D.: Ivar is at West Point. It’s a few weeks before graduation for the class of 1843, of which a cadet named U.S. Grant is an undistinguished member. But he might not graduate at all unless . . .

1998 A.D.: Pakistan and India are flexing their nuclear muscles, while both countries are in rapture over their new-found power. But on 6 June, it’s getting ready to go a step too far . . .

founded my Rockbound Highland Home. Also known as Hudson High. Also known as West Point. Officially known as the United States Military Academy.

Washington plainI spent four years there and was barely aware that it was Jefferson who did that, not George Washington. After all, it was George on a horse who stood in the center of the Plain, in front of the main entrance to the Mess Hall. (I went in a back, side door. Seriously. Lots of doors.) We also occasionally had Martha Washington Sheet Cake for desert (an important thing to memorize as a plebe).

I have a Cullum Hall number: 38.265. That means I was the 38,265 graduate from the Academy. Considering I was in the 179th class to graduate (dated myself there, eh?), it means we averaged 213.7 graduates a year up until my class, 1981. I was part of the Old Corps, where we chewed rocks for meals (along with Martha Washington sheet cake), slept hanging upside down in our closets, and two years after the class that inscribed their rings with LCWB– the class of 1979. What does that mean? It will be said: Loyalty, Courage, Wisdom and Bravery but it could also be Last Class With Balls. 1980 was the first year women came to the Academy, which meant there was a hullabaloo (hmm, must be a word as WordPress didn’t spell check it). We don’t have frats or sororities at the Academy. We have companies. Four regiments (1 thru 4), nine companies in each (A thru I). I was in G-1 in the fearsome first reg. I heard fourth regiment was where all the parties were. I think they scramble classes now after your second (yearling) year, but I was in G-1 all four years.  Anywho, back then, there were so few women, they would only have 4 or 5 per company, every other year.

51mpRYXlBpL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_One of the keys to surviving plebe year was to be a ghost. Not get noticed. But when you’re of a different gender, it aint easy. There are some interesting books by female graduates that I’ve read in the past year. One was by Gail O’Sullivan who I ran with on the marathon team. Tough As Nails: One Woman’s Journey Through West Point. It’s a good accounting of what it was like.  This was a nonfiction account. A novel by a graduate, a mystery by Susan Spieth, was Gray Girl: Honor Isn’t Always Black and White, which is a long, but good title.

My take, for what it’s worth, was that most guys were too focused on making it through themselves to care, some guys were very pro-women there, and then there were the assholes; they would claim that women shouldn’t be there, yada yada, but also be pissed if they couldn’t get a date. They’d claim since women (back then) couldn’t go combat arms, so why were they at at the Academy and then they, themselves, would go quartermaster as branch choice. I’ve always found most angry men are scared men. Like someone is going to take their balls and they won’t get to play with them any more. Despite not being in the LCWB class, I believe I still have, unlike Cool Gus, who is snoring under my desk, yep, all okay.

Back to Jefferson. They didn’t really push the fact it was Jefferson, who feared a standing army, who founded the Academy. But he did a smart thing by starting West Point. He insured that the officer corps would be drawn from across the entire country, from all walks of life. I believe West Point has served the United States very well over the years. Not just in war, but graduates have made numerous other contributions in various aspects of society.

WestPoint_MexicoOn the flip side, I think the Civil War was so long and bloody because West Pointers commanded both sides in 55 of the 60 battles. They knew each other. They’d sat in the same classes, learned the same tactics. I delve into a question that causes consternation but is honor or loyalty more important in my Civil War trilogy. The very first law, the very first Congress enacted, was the oath of office for a military officer. We swear loyalty to the Constitution, not the President (it is different than the oath for enlisted!).

Seven days in May posterThis oath is important and we’re seeing some kerfuffle now regarding it. Let’s be glad we have it. I got into a little bit of trouble with the Association of Graduates when I wrote The Line, about a group of West Pointers planning a coup. It was my homage to Seven Days in May (just re-watched that the other night).

But let me leave you with some words by a grad, words we had to memorize. While there were some things about MacArthur not to like, he also showed great bravery in World War I (he was no Dugout Doug then) and his Pacific Campaign saved a tremendous number of lives with brilliant strategy. Plus, Inchon was brilliant and daring. But then . . . The limits of power.

This is from a speech he gave to the Corps:

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, “Where are you bound for, General?” and when I replied, “West Point,” he remarked, “Beautiful place, have you ever been there before?”

Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase.

31Dec-DayHistoryBut these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.

They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness; the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temperate will, a quality of imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.

And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory?

Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless.

His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.

But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.


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.

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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