Book Review – Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary At War

After about six weeks, I finally finished reading Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, the memoir of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Normally, I would be able to get through a book like this quickly, but the narrative of the story jumped around a bit. Gates decided that the best way to tell the story was around certain themes – the Iraq War, budget fights, jet-setting around the country, etc – instead of simply telling a chronological story. It was a bit hard too follow at times, with situations occurring at multiple times based on the theme of that particular chapter.

For example, he went to many countries multiple times, but things discussed at these meetings could be found at different points in his narrative. “Since this chapter is about butterflies, this was the time I talked to Karzai about butterflies.” – Three chapters later – “Remember that story about Karzai and butterflies? Well, at that same meeting a little later, we talked about unicorns and leprechauns. It probably would have been easy to mention it then because of logical flow, but this chapter is about unicorns so it fits better here.”

Now Gates had a tough act to follow. He took over for Donald Rumsfeld, probably one of the worst SecDefs in recent American history, and he had to work with Dick Cheney and others in the Bush White House that didn’t have the greatest track record with Defense issues after an Iraq invasion that probably should have never happened and a war in Afghanistan that was being ignored. Luckily, Gates was a career bureaucrat for the most part, and he knew how to navigate.

His main goal when he showed up in late 2006 was to figure out an exit strategy, or at least a better strategy, in Iraq. From the beginning, he was only expecting to serve the remainder of Bush’s term, as no previous SecDef had ever served over two presidential administrations. He, along with the senior military leaders, admirably shifted the focus to counterinsurgency in Iraq, stabilizing the country well enough that the major US presence could leave by the end of 2011.

After expecting to leave in January 2009, he was asked to stick around under the Obama administration to shift the focus to Afghanistan and to hopefully create the same kind of magic there that he had helped create in Iraq. He wasn’t expecting to stay long, just 12 months or so, but he ended on staying until July 2011. His main reason for staying an additional year was to continue the budget fight with Congress and the president that he had started earlier in his term, trying to prepare the Department of Defense for a future where they weren’t fighting two wars with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, Defense spending is a hard thing to cut regardless of the political party in charge in Washington, and he met strong resistance, but he ultimately managed to cut some programs that were dramatically over budget and not needed for the future of the military.

One strong complaint about the book, other than its narrative style, is it kind of glossed over one of the most important things in our history, at least since 9/11. On May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL Team 6 assaulted a compound in Pakistan and eliminated the person responsible for that horrific event nearly 10 years earlier. I’m sure many of the details were omitted due to classification issues, but I think there was 4-5 pages, if not slightly less, about this historic event, while there were countless chapters about budget fights and visits with heads of state. While those things are important, and I do realize the killing of Osama bin Laden happened after Gates had already started to leave the Pentagon, but it should have been given a little more coverage in the book.

Other than that, the book is pretty standard fare for someone of Gates’ position. One thing that was clear was that he honestly cared for the troops that he had ordered to war, and he went out of his way to secretly visit military hospitals around the world away from the press. He also seemed very forthright in his dealings with the public, unlike his direct predecessor that liked to mislead and confuse people with weird sentence structures. When history looks back at the service of Robert Gates to America, it will most likely be fairly positive, though the near future of the military and how it adapts to what the future might hold will be part of his legacy as well. A lot of the successes (and failures) of senior military leaders will ultimately be remembered when we look back at the last 12+ years of combat, but I don’t think anyone can say that Robert Gates did a terrible job.

If you like military books or other similar memoirs, I would encourage you to read this book. Despite my partisan leanings, Rumsfeld’s book is up soon in the queue, so hopefully I’ll be able to get the “full” story from that.

Until next time…

Unfinished Business – Chapter One

In the first post in this series, I talked about my reasons why I am considering rejoining the Army Reserves, and since it is a month later, I figured it would be a good time to update what is going on…which isn’t really a whole lot at this point.

Shortly after my previous post, I found an e-mail attached to the Army Reserve Career Counselor’s responsible for Direct Commissions. After some e-mails back and forth clarifying what I was actually asking about, I was passed on to the Career Counselor responsible for my geographic region… who I didn’t hear from for about three weeks. After finally getting around to responding to my initial query, it turns out that the person that I will eventually need to talk to is yet another career counselor. I guess it is my fault for trying to be so proactive, and seeing as how I can’t really start the process for a little while (more on that in a minute), I don’t blame them for pushing me off until later, especially when I’m sure that they have other work to do. It was just a nice reminder of how things work in the Reserves sometime.

The only other thing that really occurred in the past month is a visit I had with a former Army colleague while I was in California on spring break. When the fiance and I arrived in Anaheim, my good friend Alberto reached out and wanted to get lunch. I had forgotten that he was in Anaheim, literally a few minutes from where we were staying, so we delayed a day in Disneyland to meet him for lunch. It was really good to see him, and I was reminded that he was one of the many good people that I met during my time in the Reserves.

He was my direct supervisor as a Reserve Soldier for few years, and one of the few people that actively worked towards helping me stay in the Army, and even though I wasn’t able to follow up and stick around through his efforts for various reasons, he was actually interested in my military future. Not saying that others weren’t, but Alberto definitely went the extra mile. Beyond the Army, we kind of went through our divorces together, so it was always nice to have a friend there to support me in what was a very trying time.

While talking with him at lunch, I mentioned that I was considering going back to the Army, and he was nothing but encouraging. As stated in the first post, and the whole premise of this series, I really feel that I have more to offer the Army Reserve, and Alberto confirmed that he always thought that I would get to the point where I could be an officer. Though it didn’t happen 5-6 years ago like it probably should have, his encouragement to do what I need to do in order to get back in was something that I needed to hear. As we parted, and the reason for our impromptu visit, was his pending departure to Kuwait for the next year. He’ll do awesome in whatever role he serves, and I hope that he’ll be around down the road if/when I get back into the Army.

In the meantime, I have been slowly getting back into the rhythm of running. A change in the weather has been helpful, and running outside is always nicer than circling a track at the gym or trudging on a treadmill. I’ve been working on adjusting my diet a bit, a constant work in progress, and will continue to work hard as I try to lose between 60-80 pounds by the end of the year.At that point, I will be in better shape physically to actually start the process and hopefully apply for the Direct Commission board during next year.

Every day I’m shuffling.

Until next time…

A Disappointing End to a Decent Show

NOTE: If you plan on watching the How I Met Your Mother finale and haven’t done so yet, you might not want to read this as it is about my feelings about the ending of the show. You’ve been warned.

I suppose when a television show is on the air for nine seasons, people have a certain reaction to it, regardless of how “critically acclaimed” a show actually is. We saw this last week after How I Met Your Mother, a staple on CBS’ Monday night lineup since September 2005, ended its run, and we meet the mother. Technically, we met the mother with in the final scene of the previous season, but Ted Mosby and the mother, Tracy McConnell, have kids, get married (in that order), and in a “twist” ending that most people probably saw coming, Ted’s children realize the story is not really about how he met their mother, but instead a device to ask his now teenage children if it was okay to start dating “Aunt Robin,” because, as viewers found out two minutes prior, the poor mother died of “sad hospital scene disease.”

Before I expand on five of the issues that I had with the way the show ended, I would like to point out that HIMYM is not a show I watched from the beginning, nor is it one that I consider to be a great show. Of the shows currently on television that I watch, it is just outside the top ten. Had I not had hours upon hours of time to kill in Iraq in 2010, with ready access to all the previous seasons, I probably wouldn’t have ever watched the show. It’s not a terrible show either, but it is procedural and on a network that doesn’t view its audience as knowing what should be funny.* Continue reading

Why I Love Kim and Will Be Marrying Her Soon

I follow on Twitter, and today’s writing prompt led me to sit down and write this while I was sitting in the airport waiting to fly back to Chicago after a fun-filled vacation with Kim, my girlfriend since last May…or at least she was my girlfriend when we left Illinois last Friday. However, during our brief stay in Las Vegas, she became something more, the woman that I will spend the rest of my life with, the woman who will be the mother to my future children, and the woman that brings me the most joy.

Now, as many suspected and even mentioned, we did not get married in Vegas, though the thought had crossed my mind. At this point in our lives, I don’t think there is much need for a long courtship, and my time with her over the past 10 months has been nothing short of wonderful. I decided to “pop the question,” asking her to marry me and become my wife, something that I suspect will happen not long after we figure out where I will be working once I finish school in May. Continue reading