What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part VII, Discipline

michael-saldanaDiscipline

I’m laughing as I write this. I know you can’t make your employees run around the building for three hours because they were late like we did at Camp Pendleton. I know that filling sandbags isn’t really an option, but discipline is a lost artform that I wish was still existent in the real world. And I know that all you are thinking right now is about some drill instructor yelling at Marine recruits. Some think that is barbaric, others take joy in the idea of it. Well, that is a little bit of what I am talking about, but you need to understand why. It may be the hardest thing for you to accept on this list, but you need to consider this… There is a reason that “Discipline” falls under “Training” and there is a reason that it is the largest section of my list. It is the most important. Second, you followed this question for a reason. Think about that. You knew there was something the military does that you want to learn. Everyone knows that the number one thing in the military is discipline. You need to be strong enough to make it the number one thing in your organization, too. Perhaps, though, you need to understand why.

To begin, I’d like to tell you about a time in the Marines when I once yelled at a PFC for half an hour because he told me, “Hang on a sec.” Exact quote, no exaggeration. I mean screaming at his face, for a solid 30 minutes. That may sound extreme, it is, but there is a reason for it. What most people reading this don’t understand, is that yelling was the nice option compared to some punishments I was entitled to give.

Here is the deal, and it is so important that I am going to break my all caps rule so that you understand it clearly. DISCIPLINING YOUR EMPLOYEES SAVES THEIR JOBS! That is the intention of discipline. To save people from much worse punishments down the road. To make it clear, did you know that for that Marine who told me to hang on, I could have filed a Page 11 entry? A page 11 is a formal reprimand that will stay in his permanent record jacket that will follow him for the rest of his Marine Corps career. He will be labeled from the moment he moves to any command from that day on. Was it worth damaging his career? No, that would be an insane jerk move on my part. Anyone would agree that it wasn’t worth perminant concequence, but for reasons you might not understand, he had committed a serious infraction, disrespect and insubordination of a non-commissioned officer. Instead, I yelled. It left no permanent mark on his record jacket, but left a lasting impression. I didn’t have to have that talk a second time.
Maybe another example that is more applicable to the civilian world would be better. You can see how my mentality stayed the same, even though my actions had to change. I once managed a store right after college. I was young, but I had my experience from the Marines. One of the employees was late. It wasn’t his first time. He was a senior employee, but had had a lot of problems lately. I chewed him out and he became belligerent and started yelling back at me in front of the other employees. I sent him to the back office. There I filed our store’s standard write up form that is part of the firing process. I wasn’t firing him. I was starting down that road. It’s an early step, but the process is beginning. Compare it to a “three strikes rule”. I had him sign it after I asked if he knew what it was. He did. I asked him if he understood why he was signing it.

“Because I was late.” he said.

“No,” I replied in a calm voice, “I yelled at you because you were late. You didn’t accept that form of punishment. Instead you talked back and made a scene in front of the other associates. You didn’t allow me to protect you from this for being late. Instead, you followed one bad choice with a worse one and you forced me to do this so that the discipline and morale of this store doesn’t become damaged by you. This is the first step I have to ensure that you don’t work here and become a poison to the team with your declining attitude. As much as I would like to, for your sake, I don’t intend to yell at you anymore. Do you understand?”

He did. I didn’t want to do that, to put him on that track, but the message made its way through the store. He was never the model employee, but he didn’t give me problems anymore.

How does this apply to you? As I mentioned, discipline saves jobs. You apply painful punishments as a means to avoid official ones. A lot of managers I knew, in fact most, were basically always creating a list in their heads, or literal ones of their employees’ mistakes and, “building cases” for their dismissal, even if they had no intention of firing them. It was just the only method they knew of how to improve their work. “Well, Smith, you know you weren’t doing a good job. So you are one step closer to being fired. I still love you though. Have a great day!” That’s ridiculous. I would rather be yelled at than told that by someone smiling with flowers and candy.

So how do you discipline your employees? You have to discover that one for yourself. I can’t tell you that (legally, nor do I want to). You have to talk with your managers and other leaders to discuss a set of discipline norms of acceptable behaviors for your leaders that fits with your company’s values and culture. I’m not asking you to scream and yell, or to beat someone to death with hammers for every infraction. What I am telling you to do is something that conveys disappointment and reestablishes expectations in a way that doesn’t put them on the track to dismissal. One example might be assigning extra duties or assigning them to the crap assignments no one wants. (It’s also a great insensitive for the good employees to get to skip those crap tasks that someone has to do.) It sends a message, but the employee isn’t in danger of being fired.

Bring in HR and even Legal. Good ideas can have very negative unintended consequences. Another story I will share is of an employee I had who wasn’t shaping up. She was pretty and well liked, but from my point of view, as her direct supervisor, she was spoiled and used to getting her way. She managed to figure out how to not come to work about 30% of the time she was being paid for. She would say things like she had an appointment tomorrow, or whatnot, once, then twice a week. I had no idea what these appointments were. She have a cold? Cancer? Getting her hair done? When she wasn’t there, I had to cover her job. It was obvious she was abusing a friendly employee perk to help employees when they needed it. This was unproductive and made the office run poorly.  It got to be too much. I was still young so I didn’t quite know the best way to handle it. I asked if these appointments were health related and told her that she didn’t need to make all these appointments during business hours and needed to focus on her work. A good HR person will see my mistake. I had the nerve to ask what these appointments were for. That’s a violation of privacy and I got in hot water. Worse she found a way to manipulate the system and knew she had me. That relationship ended toxically and there are many things I would do differently if given a second chance. Safe to say, I had no discipline over her. I still insist I was doing the right thing, but good motives and bad execution will land you on the street as fast as downright abuse will.

So learn from my mistakes. Come up with plans to discipline that saves good employees from losing their jobs. It will echo throughout the company, and remind people of their responsibilities. It will also, if you’re doing it right, remind them that they are not expendable, and that this is your way of providing them training rather than showing them the door. Work with your managers and HR to determine a good system for your team. The order, structure and regularity it provides creates a feedback loop.
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This has been an independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform Patreon.com.

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life

What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part VI, Human Investment

Brandon+King+Enlistment+Ceremony+Service+Members+YgOjeO6NF6OlIgnore the “Training Them to Leave” Myth

Consider this, the Marines are one of the worst places imaginable to work. Set aside all your stereotypes about getting shot at twenty-four/seven. There are actually a lot of stressful things, day to day, that are not very enjoyable about working there. Add to this an incredibly low pay, relative to the social prestige often given and you wonder why anyone would enlist. A better question is, “Why, four years later, do the these people re-enlist?” The point is that people keep coming back to the military because they are fulfilled by their job. They enjoy it (somehow.) They feel valued, important, and that they are growing in their career and as people.

“Training them to leave,” you say? Whatever dude. Make it worth their while to stay. Unless you are a moron, you will know a person’s worth (or cost) is far more than the amount you pay them. They, however, are far more aware of it. If they leave, it is rarely about pay and compensation. It is usually because they are unhappy with the culture, their boss or team, or they don’t feel safe working for you. Train them and you eliminate most of that.

I knew one boss who had a marvelous realization. He said that everyone is only here so long as it suits them. As soon as they get an opportunity for a better life, they are going to take it, and he encouraged them to. Why wouldn’t he? He actually cared about his employees. It is natural to seek the best opportunity you can get. He knew he was going to if handed the chance, so why punish that behavior?

Accept it, but remember, there is such a thing as the psychological trait of loss aversion. People are naturally more afraid of losing something good than they are willing to chance something better. People who love their job don’t want to risk getting a new one because most of us are simply more afraid of losing a good thing than gaining something that might be better. Simply put, you can’t stop your people from getting opportunities  to leave, in fact, if they are good at their job, they are going to pulled upon my many people. What you can do, is make their desire to stay greater than their lust for a new position at some other company. If you make your people happy, they’ll stay.

Make the right choice, invest in them as a way of investing back into your company. The whole system will work better in the end, so much so, that the increased value in everyone else can afford to lose the few that leave. Whatever the case, you should be happy for those that do leave. If you made their work life a good one, they will leave thankful for having worked for you and maybe even be your business emissaries outside to potential contacts. Imagine what work is being done in your name when your old developer is talking about how much they loved working at your company to a bunch of interns at a different company. You can’t hire recruiters that good.
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This has been an independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform Patreon.com.

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life

What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part V, Teachers

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Find and reward teachers

When I was a young Marine I was trained as data network specialist. Basically I took care of the base’s internet capabilities with my shop. At the end of the first tour in Iraq, as you will remember, we all had to go back to the rifle range. Well something interesting was that of all the other computer nerds (yes the Marine Corps has those) I was the only one that could shoot. So they pulled me to be a coach, because shooting is kind of important in that culture. They didn’t just throw me out to make Marine’s shooters. Nope, you guessed it, I went to more training. I spent a month in another school to get deep level understanding of weapons manipulation, ballistics and how to train Marines. Yes, training was part of my training. The Corps made such an investment in my education that they gave me a secondary occupational specialty to be a teacher of Marines. I did so well at that, that they even made me the trainer for officers and senior enlisted in the pistol, too. Think about this, in the first nine months I trained, at a cost of hundreds of thousands to the Marine Corps for my first job. Then, a little over a year later, they gave me another job, just because quality educators are so important for that thing that only 1% of Marines will ever do.

All that to say this, did you know that individual leadership isn’t everything? Sometimes teachers are more valuable. Teachers are those people who are able to spread knowledge to dozens, even hundreds of people at a time. They encourage learning by individuals even when they are not at work. They are also masters of getting individuals over the tough obstacles and increasing their potential as employees and as people. But they don’t have to have a deep attachment to the people they are training or direct responsibility for their work (like Managers). Find these people. Give them special recognition and special responsibilities. Most of the time, whatever you have them doing is not as valuable as being capable of improving the performance of hundreds of others.

Don’t make this mistake: Managers or Leaders aren’t Teachers. It isn’t that they can’t be, but don’t make the mistake of only looking at your most senior leadership as being able to teach because they can do. Doing and teaching are two very different skills, the same as leading. Some are masters of their trade, but couldn’t explain it if their life depended on it. Put them in front of an audience and they look like fools, and now their confidence is shot. Broken goods. I liked one company that did small seminars between members of their engineering staff to all other members. Most of the time, it wasn’t the managers doing this, just the regular button pushers. You’ll find good teachers by sitting in on these classes. Like I said, pull these people and give them responsibility to disseminating information. It will be an important job that improves many aspects of your organization without even hiring a soul.

Furthermore, you need to know that teachers aren’t leaders. They have a technical ability, but really, their skill is communicating. Allow them the chance to perform a good class and you might see them growing greatly toward becoming a good leader. Recognizing teachers in your organization and putting them on the stand should be considered a vital part of your process toward mentoring, growing and developing future managers and leaders of your company.

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This has been an independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform Patreon.com.

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life

What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part IV, Annual Training Schedules

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Create an Annual Training Schedule

Remember those several dozen training events that we all had to go to each year. It was all maintained by the Platoon Sergeant. A major element of someone’s whole job was making sure that everyone in the platoon (30 people or so) was in the right place to hear the right thing. He even had an assistant, the Training NCO who that was their whole job. It’s a juggle, but it is worth it. For us, we had a massive dry erase board that held the status of every Marine in every training event he needed. This status board didn’t need to be seen by any one of us, but it was information readily readable by anyone in a command to see how competent a unit was at any given moment. In a way, it was a really efficient way to monitor the health of the organization.

Since my time, most of the status boards have moved into Excel spreadsheets, but their purpose doesn’t change. It helps navigate the mess of who needs what. If you don’t think it’s a mess, then you probably either need to have a conversation with HR and Legal, or give both divisions a raise. There should be a lot to do at a standard company of any size.

Create a matrix that should have every employ with all the training they must attend throughout the year. Look at all the gaps on the axis of events. Think about things you would like to see there. Maybe “Culture Meeting” would fit in there somewhere. Perhaps, a lot of those obligatory meetings could be put to good purpose by sending someone to as many at once and creating classes on your own to augment and make better use of the time they are gone.

However you do it, whether you create a position within HR, or within ever major working group, or if you just have a single Excel file that has everybody on big series of checklists, do something as far as getting organized in your training methods.

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This has been an independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform Patreon.com.

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life

What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part III, Regular Training

 

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Follow up with Regular Job Specific Training

Periodically, Marines would get pulled from the unit for all sorts of different trainings. You might have a week’s training on crew served weapons with a couple guys from the shop, or a two week class session where a few dozen Marines from the squadron learn crash course conversational Arabic and Middle Eastern customs, or even a three day “camping trip” to learn field survival. These trainings are great at improving the knowledge, survivability and mission accomplishment of the Marines in a unit. It also builds lasting relationships with the members within it, sometimes, even with members not even of the same working group.

Seminars, grouped with employees of different work groups so that everyone learns from each other and builds new valuable skills, are invaluable. I don’t mean those “teamwork workshops” by the way, where everyone shares feelings and falls down so that other people can catch them. That’s moronic and tells your employees that you think they are third graders. Did they say they loved the training? Of course they did. People lie to you, partly because you fired Sarah after three months, partly because they may not know what a good seminar is supposed to look like. Send your people to real training so that they feel you value them enough to actually invest in them as a part of the future of your company.

Ask your employees and the supervisors underneath you to suggest training that they would want to go to in the hopes of progressing their own career. Weed out those that you think may be an opportunity for shenanigans and little else, but create a list of the best external training courses within your budgetary and operational scope and send them as often as is possible.

 

Make Use of Obligatory Training Situations

Every Marine is a riflemen. It isn’t just a neat saying. It is a verifiable fact that the Marines invest millions to ensure. To make sure that every Marine is, in fact, a riflemen, it means we have to train for two weeks and qualify to prove it. That is a major investment on the part of the United States Marines, especially considering only about 1% will ever fire a weapon in combat. Think about that. There is also dozens of annual trainings that must be met; gas mask certification, MOS certification, HUMVEE license renewals along with dozens of others.

You do this already with the federally mandated sexual harassment, HIPAA law briefs for you in healthcare, and dozens of other industry specific seminars you must do every year depending on who you are. Well, you’re probably treating these as obligations because they don’t make you money. You shouldn’t. Good events that bring the company together for training allow you to spread your culture and vision while reinforcing company values of excellence and learning. You need to do them as often as you can because, for the few hours of time you give up, you increase individual and group efficiency from that point on throughout your area of responsibility for the life of the company.

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This has been independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform Patreon.com.

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life

What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part II, Onboarding

 

 Final Drill

There needs to be a very detailed process to track progress and development and know how well a person is being integrated into the company.

In the military, this is boot camp and the next six months of training that usually follows before you ever even join your real team. In business, we call this is onboarding. In the military there is also unit onboarding. Along with basic training and job training, it’s the first few months after entering a unit. That means that Marines spend more than a full year in training before they ever actually do their job.

I know, you’re thinking that isn’t feasible for you company. “We can’t exactly send everyone to boot camp.” I know, I know, but your onboarding sucks, regardless. What’s your excuse now Stanford dropout CEO? A few of you who know less than you think, are saying that you would just love to waste the military’s limitless funds on infinite training. The military would also love to live by that fantasy. What Marines do, however, can be done at any company with competent management. Marines utilize a combination of formal and informal classes to train for every problem they may come across. While formal schooling is costly and time consuming from an owner’s perspective, most of the other training is directed at the manager’s level and relevent to the small group unit. If a manager can’t really set goals that are achievable and teach the path to reach those goals, he isn’t that integrated himself. He’s just winging it, which means that that new employee is swimming in the open ocean without even a lighthouse.

Literally, onboarding is the most important part of the hiring process after vetting. And that thing you have your receptionist or office manager do to get their paperwork in the system, walk them around the office and show them their desk? You think that is onboarding? Of course you don’t, but that is all you do. I was at one company where the onboarding was made up of what basically was just a club of concerned employees, junior employees at that, who wanted to make it easier for new people based on the problems they had coming in. There was no leadership involvement, whatsoever. It obviously wasn’t a concern, and I bet it isn’t a concern for your company either.

You can have great talent show up, but feel completely overwhelmed, lost, confused, without any idea how to navigate your systems (or even your office) and in fear of not knowing who to ask. What ends up happening a month later? You label him a failure and show him the door. You recite that tired trope about how you as a manager failed, but really you just blame him, when really, surprise, surprise… it was your fault. You dropped him in the deep end and you both sank together. Hope you’re happy.

One thing that many people don’t seem to understand is that, in most places, an employee doesn’t truly pull his weight until after his first year at a job. This is even more true if your company is highly integrated, complex and if there are many systems in place. Those who have been in for a long time know exactly where to find what, but the new person must build those mental networks and learn while doing to navigate the backend efficiently. They might surprise you with bits of awesome from time to time if they are allowed to work on their own and use resources intuitively available when arrived or that they brought with them. That doesn’t mean that they are integrated, though. Given time, everyone who doesn’t integrate will show themselves to be the failure you made them. The smart ones are just geniuses of misdirection, but they are all still mostly just helping out while others do the heavy lifting. If you fire a person before that one year anniversery, you honestly never really gave him a chance to begin with. More importantly, depending on your priorities, you just wasted a lot of money, lots of your time and possibly ruined someone’s life.

Have an onboarding plan that extends throughout the year. Make every part of the process a routine, practically a religious routine. Make it applicable to every teir of the company. Make all new company hires go through a part of the process, different divisions another, all the way down to work groups. Make the managers responsible for coming up with integration plans for their teams and measure that effectiveness against other rational expectations. They are interruptions to the work needing to be done, but they are investments in the individuals ability to do it, which is much more valuable moving forward.

In this line of thought, in the event that you see that one of your managers has fired someone with less than one year on the books, you need to seriously question that manager’s capabilities in guidance. Perhaps they were once marvelous workers, but doing and leading are two very different skillsets. It may not have been an appropriate choice to promote someone to a role requiring a completely different series of abilities on the premise that they showed a great deal of other abilities in their last job. If the problem continues, you may not even realize that you have a detrimental cancer to your company’s ability to grow in the future because your manager, not the people he is hiring, is the problem.

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This has been independent, publicly funded article brought to you by patrons via the social crowdsourcing platform Patreon.com.

Thanks for reading! Everything I write is completely independent and made completely free through the generous support of fans and followers through tips and donations made available through Patreon. If you would like to show your support for independent writers like me you can find out more here: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories in Military, Science Fiction and Life

What You Should Know About The Hunger Games

This is for everyone out  there who is thinking about the movie, but haven’t seen it or hasn’t read the book. More precisely, for those of you are thinking about letting your kids go. Before you get any further I am not about to tell you it is evil and wrong and shouldn’t be watched by anyone. In fact, I think the movie is pretty good and the books are even better.

What I will tell you is that if you are young person, this is one of those films that can change your view of the world. Even though it is a fictional story set in a distant future, it touches on some very deep, important, and disturbing ideas. These are ideas that at one point or another every child needs to consider and ponder before they can truly be ready for adulthood. But the ideas of this movie are very, very intense and can deliver to children who aren’t ready, a jaw dropping earth shaking set of ideas that could really bother them for some time.

So what are the basic themes of The Hunger Games? If you are going or letting your kids go you should know. Plus it would also be good to be able to hold some sort of an intelligent conversation about the thing everyone will be talking about for the next three months. Well here is one…

The central theme and the idea that literally drives 100% of the plot is about a world where children are violently murdering each other. Whether you are looking at it from the point of a girl’s struggle to protect her family, to how will these two young people will overcome impossible odds (really… only one is allowed to live) to the world they live in to the giant dude who has quite literally been waiting his whole life to kill the cute little kids. This entire plot is centered around a gladitorial match pitting young people against each other to the death, and not “Ha! I sunk your battleship! Now you’re dead!” No. More like arrow to heart, sword to the neck dead. And don’t kid yourself, these scenes are graphic enough that you get the point. There are scenes where children are slicing each other up, breaking each other’s necks and throwing spears at one another’s chests. It isn’t an “idea” of killing. It is some deep heavy stuff. Did I mention it’s kids doing the killing? Cause that’s important. It’s freaky.

I think I made my point on that. If it bothers you that Joker kind of killed people in a funny ways in Batman, than this is not something that you should let kids into. But here is something that you should consider: What value this does offer society is that it can help children understand some very important ideas, provided they have strong adults to guide them through it. The first is the concept of evil. Most children have a view of evil is that bad guy in the mask or the terrorist or someone so very dissimilar from them that they are instantly recognizable. Children automatically know that the slimy monster with two heads is evil. They know that Darth Vader as evil. They automatically know a Jihadist with an AK-47 is evil. What they don’t yet know is that evil is something that anyone is capable of doing. They don’t understand that even we, that is you and I and the children reading the books, are all capable of great and terrible deeds when put in difficult places.

Another story that captures this mentality and shares this theme is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. The Lottery’s themes so closely match the story that one has to wonder if was an inspiration for The Hunger Games. The Lottery involves a town meeting where an annual lottery takes place. The people all scurry and talk and gripe about lottery and how annoying it is and how recent it was since the last one. They discuss how long it’s been going on and how other towns aren’t even doing one. They argue about tradition and meaning without the reader knowing what really is going on in the lottery. One woman is staunch supporter of the lottery and its meaning. In the end the men of the town draw for each of their family members and they then have a big unavailing. The woman from before, the one who was one of the advocates for the lottery, is the one chosen. She is unwilling and cries out about how now it isn’t fair. The townspeople then tell her to take her fair share like everyone else before… and then the townspeople, children first, stone her to death.

Both these stories touch on the idea that with no rational reason, every day people, our neighbors, friends and relatives are capable of unspeakable evil. This may sound far fetched, but it isn’t far from the truth. I was a Marine who served in Iraq. I have seen what can happen when people lose their rationality. When we see other humans as less than human and as evil, without truly understanding what has brought us to this point. History has also shown us this. What I am talking about is the numerous acts of world decimation that happen when good people unspeakable evil, because they lose their rationality. To see what I am talking about follow these links, but remember this, they are real, and did happen. Auschwitz, Rwandan Genocide, The Great Leap Forward. There are many, many more, but these three help serve my point best. They each are events that can still be remembered by many of good people doing what to them seemed right at the time, but which history will never ever forgive them for. Most still look back without ever thinking they actually did anything wrong. I note the fact that the commandant of Auschwitz, when interviewed, was quoted as seeming proud and unapologetic, because to him he had done a fine a job and had help Germany produce what was one of the most advanced industrial manufacturing super complexes in the world. This is what happens when people lose their rationality.

But you might know that something like a kids book can get that deep. Or that one should take it that far. But I did. And I think you should too. I think that it is important to use books like The Hunger Games and stories like The Lottery to introduce the real concept of evil. Not the kind of evil like the bad guy that the good guy throws into jail and starts again in the next episode, but the kind of evil of a starving person, or of someone who is truly scared, or the kind of evil of someone who follows a very influencial leader without ever questioning what is really going on. It speaks out that within our nature we are all good people, but we are capable of doing such very very hurtful, dangerous and deadly things if we think our life, or our way of life or even our convenience is put at stake.

So what do you do with all of this heaviness? I think it is important to ask yourself, or your kids, what they thought about it. Did it bother them (you should be worried if it didn’t) and what bothered them. Why? You should tell them about how people can be. That the story is real in many more ways than it is fictitious. And perhaps you should take the opportunity to teach them many of the ugly things that happened before they were born. It is my belief that you have to at some point wake kids up to the reality of the world in that sense. They have to learn and they have to think about, because someday these kids will be leaders and if they don’t understand what can happen, it will happen again. If you don’t teach kids about things like Auschwitz then future historians will be talking about some event in the future where thousands died in Ardmore, Oklahoma, or the millions who lost their lives in Bedford, Indiana, or of the holocaust at Auburn, Alabama.

So my point is, use the movie. In all honesty, it is pretty good. The actors do a good job, in my opinion of conveying some real emotion, namely terror. The filming was great and in all honesty, some of the most gore filled scenes were done in such delicate ways to not send the whole audience into shock. So visually it won’t freak you out as much as when the kids leave the theater. But all and all it is a good movie. Watch it with your kids. Think about these concepts and decide an age when you think it is appropriate for your kids to start tackling these difficult subjects. For instance, my wife works at a local elementary school. She told me that there about one in four kids is reading the book.  I feel that this is too young and that the books were meant for a much older audience, seventh and eighth graders perhaps. You might decide that your kids are ready.

The one thing I hope you take away from this article is this: This is not an ordinary movie. It is not an ordinary book and you need to understand it before your kids see stuff they can’t forget.

-Jon

Military Intelligence is an Oxymoron? I Think Not.

I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of the word oxymoron. For those unaware, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave examples like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. As she snickered away, the last one she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class full of college freshmen, not unlike myself at the time, laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours in Iraq, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine when she suddenly remembered.

She gathered herself and attempted to move back to whatever lesson was slated for that day. Whatever it was, that wasn’t the lesson they would be receiving.

“Ma’am,” I interrupted.

“Are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 feet per second for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction, as well as factoring for differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Trajectory 2

“Furthermore, I feel that it is important to note that by the time many military people have reached the age of twenty-two they have become experts in occupations and fields of study that takes years for civilians to achieve.”

This is true, be it Infantry (0300 Military Occupation Specialty series), Engineers (MOS 1300 series)  a data network specialist (MOS 0650 series) or (here’s a fun one) 2834– Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technician. Most have, by that time, achieved the rank of E-4 or E-5 and been given responsibility of a small team of 4 up to a squad of 13 (that’s like an assistant manager for people in college working at the fry kitchen.) Let’s also not forget that many have learned to perform their job under harsh climate, horrible living conditions and the threat of someone shooting at them.

“And while wars like Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for far too long, you may be hard pressed to find a military battle since Korea that ended in an American defeat. As you may also know, since so many students declined military service because you don’t like taking orders, the military is not free to go about and do as it will freely. They are following orders. Orders given to them by politicians. Politicians…you voted for.”

“And as an additional note, I am making an A in this class, as well as all my others.”

Calculation sheet used to make marksmanship “less complicated.”

I felt I made my point clearly, in spite of my lack of modesty. The issue stuck with me though. It does bother me that so many people perceive the Military as being synonymous with adjectives such as boorish, crash, or doltish, i.e. stupid. Oh they always thank us when they see us at work, church, or the bar. “I sure do respect what you boys did for us over there,” but they still don’t believe we could carry on an intellectual conversation with anything beyond a six year, much less anyone else. We’re sadly typecast into roles around being disciplinarians, authoritarians, or the types of guys who will be “kicking in doors” for the organization. If roles such as these do not exist, we’re looked over in a manner that is becoming societally unsettling. We couldn’t add to a company for our empathy, our artistic abilities, for our overwhelming scope with respect to the world and it’s people. We are forever known by one overriding perception; the military is made of people who went straight to the military and have received little or no college education, and since a college education is the equivalent to educated, that doesn’t shine a very bright light on military folks. That is all most civilians will ever have to go on.

What the average person doesn’t understand is that most MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) schools require a grade of 80 or above on each and every test or you fail out of the course (and mine was much harder than anything I took in college.) Few are aware of the massive education system that exists within the military for its members. They also don’t know that by the time a military person is nineteen, many have been deployed overseas, where they did the most extreme version of their particular specialty in the world. I was a Data Network Specialist. That is the equivalent to the company network administrator who sets up the computers, runs the switches and servers for five hundred people. Yeah, the Marines have computer nerds too, but our computer nerds can shoot an open sights rifle from five hundred yards away, run three miles in less than twenty minutes and have green belts in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (that’s like mixed martial arts, except the ultimate goal is that the other guy stops fighting for good.) The only other difference between what I did in the military and what a civilian does is that I also dug the three mile trench for the fiber optic cable as well as replaced a relay station when it was hit by rocket fire. My friends and I ran code and we ran convoys.

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By the time I was twenty one I was on my second deployment and headed a small team. I worked as a part of a security team and in a week learned over four hundred words in Arabic that I needed to communicate with locals. That is enough to have a conversation with someone, which I was forced to more than I would like. It had it’s upsides, though. For instance, if you need to communicate with Iraqi army personnel, who just so happen to be curious how much you would sell your iPod for if you might get a good deal for your sister-in-law on the Iraqi arranged marriages market, or if anyone around had heard of a men with bombs (pronounced ka-na-buhl in Arabic. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me.) When I was twenty-two I was responsible for ensuring that over $3 million worth of gear in the form of new laptops, switchboards, servers and accessories safely and completely changed hands along with all necessary updates, installs and user modifications.

Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)
Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

What I think is interesting is that in the military, this isn’t that special. Many military people reading this are saying to themselves “I had it harder” or “my job was a lot worse than that” and they would be right. I suppose you could ask an engineer about how to build a house, or like ours who build forty living spaces in a week. You could also ask a 40 year old department manager what it takes to handle fifteen thousand units through the warehouse in a month, or you could ask a 26 year old army logistics chief to do the same thing. For those real academics out there I will ask it this way “If two vessels are traveling towards each other, one heading east at 40 knots with a 10 knot headwind and the other traveling west at 32 knots and a 6 knot headwind and they are 4200 miles apart, how long before they meet? A butterbar ensign in the Navy could tell you that. Oh, but a civilian in my job made three times my salary, and if he ever got shot at doing his job it was a news breaking event. That’s different. So what I am curious about is “What ignorant person thinks people like me are stupid?”

As a special note, I graduated three years after that conversation with that professor and the class. I earned a degree in a school where a four year degree, which takes most students five, in three and half. I also graduated cum laude in the top 15% of my class. That is out of the 50% or so that made it to graduation from when they laughed at a funny joke about people like me and our inferior intelligence. Since then, I’ve worked in a Silicon Valley startup and am now teacher and a writer, with one book under my belt and another on the way. Although my family and others in my life were instrumental in pushing me through every step of the way, I know that really set me apart in achieving all of this was my intelligence, my military intelligence. 

– Joncropped-maxresdefault.jpg


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