Uncertain Future – Part XV – The Black Swan

The last leg of this answer to, “What are the biggest ways in which the world 20 years from now will probably be different from today?” is the Black Swan.

Black Swan events, as defined by the guy who proposed their theory are thus:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
  3. The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.

This is the stuff no one saw coming that will, more or less, invalidate every prediction we have had so far. They are the agents of chaos, and the disorder in ordered states. They are events which cannot be predicted with ease, never predicted together, and barely explained even in hindsight, but which have monumental effects on the hereafter. They are the surprises God throws at us that both level and unlevel the playing fields as industries rise up out of nowhere, nations fall into memory, and cities crumble as the earth shakes. Consider technology, the surprise we all see coming, but no one guesses quite right. Technology is still growing at an exponential pace. Every day it continues to change the way we live, the way we communicate, and how we conduct business. The rise of social media, perhaps the most unexpected event of the last ten years, and the rise of cellular communications in general over the last twenty certainly fits the ticket. Unfortunately, as technology has become a tool which has empowered literally billions of people into a better, more enlightened and more productive life, so too has it empowered millions of others to pursue their own interests at the detriment of everyone else. Twitter, something that was only founded exactly 10 years to this month helped spur revolution in states like Libya and Syria. Of course, now it also serves as a recruiting tool for Islamic State radicals. Drones, the weapons that were only in their infancy during my first deployment to Iraq, are now toys for children and delivery tools for Amazon. Of course, they too have a dark side which many, many already fear.

For that reason, from Swarm of Things to Human Augmentation, Crowd-sourcing to Autonomous vehicles, 3D Printing to Genetic Engineering, the brave new world we are all ready to embrace will empower those of ill-aims so greatly that only an equally aggressive improvement in the means by which we secure our safety, both bodily and the information about us, will ensure the dream of tomorrow the builder’s of this technology wish to provide today.

Beyond technology, Black Swans are the wills of billions of people; competing, converging, colliding. Nearly all you will never meet, but a few of which, will shape your future.

A Black Swan is former fighter of the Soviet Union, setting his sights on his former ally. [83]

Black Swans are are planes filled with people crashing into buildings on a clear day in September, and from the visceral reaction, war in two nations erupts.

As those wars drug on, the Black Swan was an angry and deeply confused young Army private, with a desire to punish the world. He let slip the largest stockpile of military secrets in history. Some were secrets of the United States, but more importantly was what we had learned of everyone else.

In the aftermath, a Black Swan was a wave of democratic energy and revolution. Spurred by the leaks, and the revelations about their dictators, millions went to the streets demanding reform.

Amidst the cheering, the sounds of bullets rang out and three civil wars began.

In the void that arose, one of these saw the Blackest of Swans, a resurrected medieval empire of hate rising from the desert sands to engulf and overwhelm the Levant.

In the terror it brought millions set to flight, many overwhelming Europe.

And terror following them in.

Those of us alive in 1996 remember that time before the towers fell and not a single one could have predicted any of this. Then we lived in a world of plenty where we were all still cheering the fall of the last evil empire which crumbled when its reach was greater than its capabilities. We were building relationships and the world was going closer together. “They were simpler times,” is something old ones always say of when they were young, but looking back to the last two decades, do we not all feel old now? Who, in their most honest self could have predicted any of the events of chaos which bears fruit only to more chaos like it? Who standing back before would have suspected a future like we have seen in his next 20 years?

What we can be sure of is that not everything will turn out as we hope. Change will come, but not like we expect. We can’t turn away from it. It’s coming whether we like it or not. And as soon as think we have it all figured out, a black swan will swoop down to remind us how little foresight we had. This post isn’t meant to scare or to paint a dark cloud on the future because of a few of the nightmares that exist today. It is simply a reminder that the unexpected is a factor, and that running from it, or being afraid of it, we need to prepare for it. The best we can do is prepare. Learn the threats that exist today and prepare as best we can so that when change come, we… you, me, us, are able to embrace it. Only those who build their houses on solid rock will weather the coming storms or terror, hacking, disasters, cyberware, and the dark abyss of humanity behind a mask of anonymity and a jihadist’s mask. Don’t be afraid. I’m sure, exactly because of all the answers which existed to this question, that the world of tomorrow will be as a utopia to the one I live in today, but only if we are collectively prepared for the changes utopia brings along the way. That’s why, above all else, those who look to their own security, their adaptability, and their capacity to embrace change and endure disruption… they will be the x factor in the next 20 years.

Uncertain Future – XIII – Drones

Do cheap, readily available civilian drones potentially pose a new and unique threat in terms of terrorism?

Absolutely.

I was doing research for a book I am writing on the future of war, and I explored this topic. Since using drones to commit terrorist actions hasn’t really been a thing yet, (Criminals yes. Terrorists, not quite) I decided my best place to research would be to drive down to a local remote controlled hobby shop near where I used to live and just ask a few questions. I had to introduce myself as an old Marine and Sci-Fiction writer before asking any of my other questions, because leading off with, “I’m interested in knowing how I could make a flying bomb.” would have probably not gone over so well. What the guy said amazed and terrified me, more so, his assistant who quickly developed a new respect for his nerdy boss.

What the conversation left me with was a firm understanding that terror drones will be a part of the future of warfare that the military is, unfortunately, going to have just as many problems with as we give to the bad guys. Here are a few of the key take aways that I have developed from the conversation with my friend at the hobby shop and my own experiences in Iraq fighting a counter-insurgency war.

We are taking about VBIEDs – Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices which, during my day, meant car bombs that were either parked or driven to places where they were used. In the future, we might start seeing these things in the air. A few things need to be kept in mind though when thinking about VBIEDs or IEDs of any kind.

1) Payload

The most important element for a terrorist weapon is the devastation it can inflict. During the Iraq War, that devastation was massive. That’s because the terrorists had access for much of the war to unused artillery rounds taken from Saddam’s Iraqi Army after the fall of his regime.

I’ve seen more Humvees leveled by these things than I care to remember. They are seriously massive communicators of destruction, but also, serious limiters of capabilities if we are talking about drones.  Those things weigh around 40 to 80 lbs. Yes, it would be terrifying if one of those dropped from the sky (they are artillery shells after all), but there is no practical way for most drones available today that are terrorists (I’ll get to that in a minute) to carry something like that. Take Amazon’s plan to start droning things all over major cities. They are limited by weight because those adorable little propellers are not going to be able to carry something as massive as an IKEA bookshelf (between 40 to 80 lbs).

That means that the weapons are going to have to evolve, or at least become more potent. They aren’t going to be able to carry massive bombs capable of doling out huge earth shattering explosions. They are going to need to carry smaller explosives. That doesn’t mean they will be less deadly. No, in the future it might be possible to load up pipe bombs, smaller IEDs, loaded with shrapnel in the form of screws, bolts, nails. This weapon doesn’t level buildings or destroy armored vehicles like the above option did, but it has the ability to brutally maim people who are close enough to the blast, making them visual advocates and symbols for the depravity of the terrorists for years to come. Drones carrying these could fly it directly into a crowded restaurant, through the window of a politician’s office, or even over the stands of a crowd at a sports stadium.

2) Cost

Cost is king for weapons manufacturing, as with anything. Terrorists aren’t going to have the multimillion funds that first world nations do to produce highly sophisticated weapons like the Reaper or Global Hawk drones used by the Americans, nor will they have their $80,000 Hellfire missile. Terrorists run on shoestring budgets and they’ve done quite well at it.

Part of my conversation with the hobby shop guy dealt with cost. I had a design for a terror drone and he made me realize just how bad an idea it might be. For example, for the situation above that required a pipe bomb in a stadium, you would need at least a few thousand dollars to make such a weapon. That sounds like nothing compared to the costs of creating the F-35 Strike Fighter, but when you think about the volume that terrorists need to create the terror effect they desire, those costs are extremely prohibitive. Take the below for example. These are estimates on the number of rocket attacks which were delivered from the Hamas terrorist organization.

It can be a lot. Below is Iraq. Terrorists are featured in red.

As I said, when you deal with high volume operations, unit costs can be prohibitive. In the Hamas/Israel example, one of the most used rocket designs, the Qassam, can be built for as little as $800 American. Considering what that can do with it’s 9 pound warhead over a 17 mile range, that’s a pretty good deal.

But to produce a drone, like what we think of as drones that can carry the kinds of warheads we are talking about will be much more. Some tech analysts have stated that the Prime Air drone (Amazon) could run as much as $50,000 a piece to deliver a 5 lbs “package” to anywhere within 10 miles (in under 30 minutes though!). That is way too much for a sensible terrorist to ever consider paying, especially when you consider that if those things are near enough to the ground, they are getting shot down by everything from surface to air missiles to slingshots.

What my colleague instead suggested would be something akin to balsa wood gliders. Balsa wood is an incredibly light and cheap material used for toy planes and RC hobbyists. Taken from the hands of children and old men, though, these tools could be used to some devastating effect. They are made of cheap materials which are widely available. You can even buy them in kits. Once they reach altitude, they don’t have to use the engine for guidance and can glide silently to their terminal destination. And lastly, they are small, made of light materials, and slow moving. I am not an expert on radar, but that scary. It sort of sounds like a large bird.

I’ll provide this as a proof of concept. Note that the vast majority of the cost of this plane goes into its aesthetics and ensuring it can be recovered, both unnecessary for a suicide drone. It’s also important to know that the RC – Remote Controlled – element isn’t necessary. All flight paths can be programmed into modern systems.

3) Complexity

One of the things that has prevented more people from suffering the threat of terrorism is the complexity involved in various systems. Bombs are pretty complicated to build and not just anyone can make one. Since, historically, terrorists have had two main pools of recruiting to choose from, fanatics and the unemployed, rocket scientists have not been easy for the average terrorist leader to come by. Most of the time, a few key bomb masters, such as an Algerian chemistry student who joined against the French forces in the Algerian War, are the leaders of the munitions manufacturing process. When they are killed, they take with them large amounts of the enemy’s capability to do harm. If they don’t leave quality apprentices, then the movement may have been ended with the death of only one man. Usually, those individuals who carry on in the master’s footsteps are less capable in most regards.

Take colloquially, the example of Jesse Pinkman.

In the show Breaking Bad, a brilliant chemist, Walter White teams up with scumbag degenerate methhead Jessie Pinkman in a scheme to cook meth. In the early part of the show, it is comical to see how inept Jessie actually is at the science of cooking. Walter bestows his knowledge and by the time that the series ends, Jessie is an expert of cooking meth as good as Walter is.

There is a point to be made here, though. Even at the end of the show, Jessie isn’t as good at cooking than his teacher Walter. Even after a year of intensive training, he is only an expert of cooking Walter’s way. He will forever lack Walter’s expertise in the science of chemistry, which would allow Walter to produce many, many other kinds of recipes, most completely harmless or beneficial to humanity, if he chose. Jessie may know the way he was taught, but could never produce alternative products or where he wasn’t allowed to use quality materials and processes similar to his teacher’s. He can’t improvise like Walter could.

Wow, that was tangential example, but it serves the point that complexity in operations is an extremely limiting factor. You take the few evil geniuses out, then their apprentices are left without the ability to improvise on parts, resources, implementation, or usage because they came into the act of making bombs as a terrorist who only cares about killing and not as a lifelong scientist who then joined a terrorist operation.

Now let’s take that bomb and stick it in a drone. The first obvious problem is that you are going to need people who can build and service drones, something very few people know how to do yet. The information is out there and growing in the RC communities, but it still isn’t a respected art form in the terrorist world. So let’s say we take out a few of the engineers who know how to make the birds fly. That will be a setback for them. Let’s say instead, we take out the guy who knows how to program them on their automated missions. That’s a major setback. Let’s say we take out the guy who knows how to build the warheads. That’s a huge setback because now the other two are demoted down to nerdy RC enthusiasts. Now, let’s say that they have all these geniuses rolled up into one. How replaceable is that guy? How long before he can pass off what he knows? How hard would it be to disrupt the communication networks he possesses? How devastating would killing that one guy  be? Would his people be able to adapt?

Depending on the complexity, not often, but in some cases, yeah. In the case of the Amazon Death Drone, no. What happens if the terrorists are cut off from making the engines that powers the propellers? What happens if the application they use to pilot the drone is brought down? What if the chemical they use to either fuel the thing or build the bombs gets internationally outlawed or embargoed? As I said, will they be able to adapt, or a better question, how many compromises will these people be able to make before the weapon is no longer lethal?

The fact is, terrorists have to keep weapons system as simple as possible or they can’t replicate their processes. For a terrorist organization to work, it can’t revolve around the genius of a few masterminds. It needs to be weapons that can be produced by many people, even those with very little education. Pinkman could keep a drone program up for a while, but eventually, he wouldn’t be able to adapt to circumstances and changes in the environment in the way that Walter White would.

Sorry, I spent way too long making that point. There are, however, alternatives that are simpler than what we normally think of as drones. These methods already have abundant supplies and designs in existence for the would be terrorist to experiment with and provide the flexibility he needs to do terrible things. The hobby shop guy I talked to was really adamant about the balsa wood, enough I realized he’s thought of this before.

What do I see happening?

I hypothesize for my story that weapons like the one pictured above, (yep) may be loaded with apps created with the purpose of using GPS enabled phones to autonomously steer planes like this. Being that DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, isactually funding efforts to make software programming something that is super simple for everyone, this feat might actually not be as complex as think. Thanks DARPA. Once in flight these planes, perhaps a few hundred dollars a piece up to the point, might be capable of being loaded with small pipe bombs or, more practically, napalm. Napalm is any chemical that has two qualities, it is very sticky and it will burn a long time. Napalm is also extremely cheap, made from readily available materials anywhere, and easy to use. There are even recipes all over the internet that will make you sad about humanity. Being that the plane itself becomes part of the warhead using napalm, it will literally be a weapon raining fire from the sky. En masse, that can be a weapon that is devastating, cheap, and easy to use.

Oh, and if you were keeping track, the military definition for this is a cruise missile, but thanks to the advances in modern military technology, available to just about anyone for only $500. Enjoy the future.

Uncertain Future – Part VI – If the Feds Aren’t Safe, What Makes You?

Ok, so maybe various versions of making people look bad on the internet aren’t nearly as terrifying as legitimate terrorism, but what about the presence of true cybercrime, those who use the internet with no agenda for reform, no desire for publicity, and who 99% of the time, you never knew existed? What about when the threats aren’t out to make you think about some subjective moral wrongdoing, but steal your money and ruin your life. What’s really scary is that no one is safe – quite literally no one. Not even the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

A group of young hackers, using rather unsophisticated methods, broke into the CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email. So that we are all aware, the director of the CIA is the guy in charge of all US spies and one would thing be well beyond the reach of hackers… especially a group of teenagers. Much to the chagrin of the US government, he really wasn’t. This one, however, wasn’t really his fault. The method the hackers used was to implement a tactic that predates modern computing by only a few thousand years. They pretended to be people they weren’t, tricked a Verizon worker and got Brennan’s email password changed the old fashioned way… by lying. The term they used is “social engineering”. While they didn’t find much, they did find were some documents important to him. Then they bragged about it on Wired. While all of us think this one is hilarious, if a story turns up about a few of these kids turning up missing in a couple of years when no one remembers their antics… don’t say this wasn’t foreseeable.

The same group were responsible for this breach also targeted the FBI… because they are just ballsy I guess… and broke into portals used by police and federal agents to share intel. The site is also used to book suspects, and while it isn’t known how much was taken, hundreds of thousands of users may be vulnerable, many already being leaked following the hack.

2015 saw attack after attack like these, and some of the most massive breaches to internet security the world has yet seen, all with little other incentive than stealing money, stealing information, and extortion. Like my fictional spy from the future, there are many who profit heavily from the information you keep secret. Over the course of the last year, it is estimated that some 70% of the US population experienced some form of cyber attack and over 2.1 billion internet users worldwide.   In a Verizon Study of 90 Security breaches, there were 285 million data exposures. Unsurprisingly, attacks are getting much more advanced, with hackers sometimes using multiple attacks simultaneously to succeed in a breach, such as malware, brute force, and SQL injection. Furthermore, 74% of the attacks were external, meaning that 26% were executed from within the companies we are trusting with our data.  [21]In a related vein, but just as disturbing, we are now seeing more breaches being discovered by employees than outsiders. Traditionally, these sorts of attacks were discovered by feds or other companies detecting the irregularities. [22] Now, it is much more likely that when you’re breached, you’ll be the first to know… which for some of us, isn’t that comforting.

Depending on how you look at this, it could either be welcome news or utterly terrifying. On the one hand, this means that internal security is at least able to grow to the point that they become aware of their own breaches. On the other hand, it means that the number of breaches, and all the possible avenues of failure have become so numerous, that no government agency can possibly be aware of the threats anymore, let alone protect us from them.

The next troubling discovery, this one from the 2014 report, was exactly how big the hacking business is. In spite of the whole last section of activities by groups such as Anonymous, malicious hackers working with financial motives still account for some 60% of cyber crime. Corporate spying, those seeking intellectual property and trade secrets accounted for some 25% (up from previous years). Those hackers who were not set on serious crimes (you know, for the lulz) or hacktivists with some ideological agenda, in spite of all the news, accounted for next to nothing. [23]That means that in spite of internet hacktivists publicised achievements, the vast majority of illicit attacks happen for no other reason than to rob of us of something precious.

Some of the biggest of these hits last year:

  • Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield – 10 million records lost including names, birth dates, social security numbers, mailing addresses, financial accounts, and claims information [24]
  • Anthem Health Insurance – Access to 80 million current and former customers names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and income data [25]
  • Experian – 15 million T-Mobile customers names, addresses, birth dates, drivers’ license ID numbers, and passport numbers. Encrypted Social Security numbers were also stolen, which may provide some measure of safety, but the company warned that encryption may have been compromised [26]
  • Scottrade – 4-6 million customers contact details compromised [27]
  • CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Costco – millions of customers’ credit card, email, postal addresses, phone numbers, and passwords. [28]
  • Donald Trump’s hotel chain – many thousands of guests’ credit card data [29]

Several people probably noticed that last line and thought to themselves, “Ha, that will show the asshat.” Well, we need to think about that one again, don’t we? Who was hurt by the breach at Trump hotels? Innocent people. Really think about who these people are who are hurt; people who slept at a place. Imagine yourself, really just you, getting a hotel anywhere in the world, never really thinking about the guy whose name is on the side of the exterior wall and if one day he may potentially run for President of the United Freaking States. No, you just slept in a place and now your information is floating around the internet by people who are trading it for money. So to those who are getting their lulz right now from finding out that the “Orange carpeted clown” got pwned (“laughing hard at the misfortunes of Donald Trump” for those not accustomed to the vernacular of the lower internet), you’re real a-holes.

To illustrate this point, as shown already, some the biggest breaches didn’t steal money directly. The big payoff was information. Hackers who can get access to data about real people, not just one, but millions of people at a time, are the biggest scores in the illicit industry of online invasion. Stealing a whole database with customer or employee names, birthdays, SSNs, or any other useful private information can open the door for those people to be targeted later for individual attacks. These attacks may be for money, or they can be for more information, perhaps even national secrets, incriminating information for blackmail, or worse. Often, this information is collected and merged into larger databases, where users are profiled and where that which is stolen can be used against them in some of the most terrifying ways imaginable later… like a hack on the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS is a common target of hacking. As the central collection agency for all taxes of all people of the United States, it is one of the largest gold mines ever created. In 2015 it suffered the largest breach in its history. It acknowledged that hackers had gained access to view more than 300,000 previous tax returns. They did this through a tool made available by the IRS called “Get Transcript”. Get Transcript allows users to view old returns. The safety in this system is that it requires numerous layers of identifying information to access Get Transcript and view those old returns. The types of information needed: names, social security numbers, birthdates, addresses – the very same items stolen from the other hacks mentioned above. This means that the hackers were able to make one of the largest internet heists in history, only through access of stolen information, gathered, collected, and organized by other hackers in a cyber black market where your information is the most valuable and most traded commodity there is.

Relying on personal information — like Social Security numbers, birth dates and street addresses — the hackers got through a multistep authentication process. They then used information from the returns to file fraudulent ones, generating nearly $50 million in refunds. [30]

That means that each of the victims were hacked not once, but twice. The big takeaway from the 2015 IRS Hack is that there is growing evidence of the existence of something we are all afraid of. Databases out there that are growing day by day, where cells of each of our data are collected and merged without our permission or our knowledge, and that these databases are being traded by people across the world, with no good intention for us. This leads many to believe in a future decades from now which has no secrets, where all of our information is direct and open to the public. For those of us with bank accounts, street addresses, or children, that’s not the idealistic image of an open society that some would paint. The fact is, we live in a state of danger everyday because of the secrets we entrust to others. In the next few decades, for companies to remain viable, they are going to have to prove they can be trusted with our information. More so than this, if we ever want to feel safe again, perhaps the most valuable enterprise in the future of internet security might not be the next guy who is able to steal our information, but the first guys who figure out how to get it back.

What are the disadvantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

I am going to speak as a Marine and currently a hiring manager. Here are some negative attributes that come with military service that more hiring managers need to understand.

Military people don’t get you and you don’t get them.

There are a great deal of miscommunications and misconceptions dealing with people in the military. What it is like to grow in the civilian world and what it is like to grow in the military world are two completely different things. You may have gone to a great university and interned at a very prestigious company where you met some very important people and this put you in a position of power. These qualities are not that highly respected by people from the military. If they respect you it is because of your character or in the least, your rank. Most of the time if you are CEO or VP or even just Manager that is enough for them to respect on a basis of rank, but don’t expect your story of going to an Ivy League university to mean very much to them at all. This isn’t an attack on you, but most of the time they will just attribute this to luck or born into the right family. You shouldn’t get angry about this, it is just the way they think. I had a personal experience with this in that when I started with a new branch of the company I am with there was a man who served in the military who didn’t really respect me because I was just another yuppie with a piece of paper. I had a “chat” with him where he found out that I was actually a Marine Sergeant and had done quite a bit before getting my piece of paper. Now I have his full respect. I understand where he is coming from though, most military people can be very smart, but grew up in small towns where they don’t get noticed by colleges, they are from poor families and opportunities are not that abundant. They see the military as a place where you can work hard and get noticed, so they really don’t like seeing young hot shots arrive in charge because things like college or connections. That is just a reality that many military have different values than people who became adults as civilians. You have to accept it. They will be able to appreciate and respect what you do though. Good, strong leadership is always respectable.

You have no idea what it is like to be in the military and what their mentality is like.

The fact is that you have never served in the military. You don’t know what it is like to be sent from your family, to live overseas, to live and work with the exact same people for months on end, you have never experienced the degree of isolation they do, you have never been in real danger and been expected to perform under it and you have never been a part of that culture. Your experience is in the movies, the news, some blog about how great military leadership is or that you had an uncle who served in such and such. What makes you think you could possibly understand how they think or how they solve problems. If you think that you do if that is the only reason you are hiring them than you need to investigate your own ignorance and take a look at all the experience they actually have in their resume.

I recently had a boss who was frustrated with me because he gave me very unclear goals with little guidance. He kept saying that his company needed a “Marine mindset”. I asked him what specifically did you want? He always would spit out a bunch of non-sense about how they needed my ideas and my knowledge and experience and “a bit more Marine Corps here”. I took this to mean that he wanted a strong logistics network, clear lines of communication both laterally and up the chain along with good training and discipline for the employees, which I provided. I also have a business degree specializing in entrepreneurship and have started my own company which I run on the side. I really thought that he meant he needed my business understanding and ideas for this company that he in no way actually knew how to run. After I would have ideas for problems I did see I would implement them and they never got any traction and most get shot down leaving the problem now just as bad. Finally I knew it was time to leave when he said “Because military people follow instructions.” I was incensed. Do you think military people are robots you push a button and they magically get things done. Do you expect me to hop to and go get it done with absolutely no clue what you are asking me to do? Would you like a salute with that?…SIR? The fact is that that was an incredibly insensitive and ignorant thing to say. It is an easy way to make a military person feel like they are stupid, have no individual value and can actually contribute nothing to an organization. Of course we also get very angry. Given our proclivity for violence, saying such things could be considered a major mistake, but suffice it to say, that is when I felt it was time to leave.

Military people will tell you when something is wrong, even when you don’t like it, often.

In the case above this is when I told him, with tact (honestly), that I had followed every instruction that he had given, which were almost none. You don’t go and point someone in some direction and say go when you lead them to believe that their job is completely different from the one that you intended them to do. I told him this and he wasn’t happy. Sorry, the fact is that when we serve in the military we hold a great deal of responsibility, not only of property, but of lives. We need to know what is going on and question when something isn’t right. It is a matter of practice that this has to happen something is wrong. If you are one of those people who believe you are always correct, don’t hire someone in the military.

Military people are extremely capable, when given adequate support.

If we are going to work under you, you need to know that you absolutely need to provide us with a framework, training and direction until we are capable. Sometimes this may take a long time, but it is necessary. The fact is that military people are used to a very heavy bureaucracy that provides a great deal of annoyance, but structure. You need to provide that on some level for them to succeed. Here is a point, in the Marines we spent 3 months in boot camp. That is the famous boot camp that everyone talks about. This was just to be called Marine. It was just a giant exercise in on-boarding. We spend another month in weapons and tactics training, as much as six months to a year in job training and then spend months training with our units before we go to actually do our jobs. I spent about 14 months preparing for a 7 month tour. That is why we succeed so well at war. However without that kind of training and support the Marines would suck, just like your company. If you aren’t prepared to give them a great deal of training for their job, they won’t know what to do go off trying to do something that doesn’t fit your strategy. This is in contraindication with my next point, but you will see that they are tied very well together.

Military people are also extremely independent and will go off in random directions when lacking adequate guidance.

As I mentioned in the last point military people need good direction. That is because if any one group could be stereotyped as “alpha males” it might just be young men in the military. They are rash, forceful, arrogant, stubborn and filled with pride. They also have a great deal of initiative and want to fix problems where they see them. The problem is that you didn’t obey rule number three. You hired them because they were “real go-getters” and didn’t explain their role or what a problem in your company actually is. What could have been a massive driving force for you is now more of a bull in a China closet. You will have numerous arguments with this individual and he will not get what your point is. Remember they don’t get you and you don’t get them, but train them well in their job, point them in the right direction and you will have a force and not just an employee.

Military people are not always fun to work with.

There really are two types of military people to work with. The stoic solemn ones who are extremely rigid, professional and have no time for your nonsense or the wild and unruly bombs who can be unreliable, drunks, dissidents, aggressive and might even bring massive drama into your workplace. Both of these types are likely to be extremely proud and can border on arrogance and can be very aggressive in general. They can both be extremely difficult for other personality types to mesh with and can cause conflict just with their presence. As bosses they can be extremely strict and demanding and can bring down the morale of a workplace because “incentive” to them is usually just a lack of punishment. You have a job, you do it. That is how many think. Their punishments can be incredibly severe by civilian terms because most civilians have never dug a seven foot deep fighting hole and filled 600 sand bags because they didn’t clean their room once. Simply put, aggression is not always a good thing, but these guys have it.

A lot of veterans have very real problems you don’t understand.

Post traumatic stress is a real thing. Lower back problems for wearing a 70 pound flack jacket for 8 hours a day for 7 straight months is a real thing. Hearing loss from working on rifle ranges, or near rotary-wing aircraft and artillery is a very real thing. The fact is that most military people get out with some degree of disability. They are proud so most never mention this, but it is something you will need to understand when trying to understand them. The fact is that a 22 year old veteran has the body of 35 year old because of the stresses they endure overseas. You will need to know about that and a good leader will find out how to help the vet cope and work productively. A bad manager will say that “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD.” and not hire the person. This isn’t a made up opinion. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or tragedy) it is assumed that most have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease. The fact is we all had something jarring happen, if it was only the incredibly long periods of isolation from our country and loved ones. This doesn’t mean that there is any likelihood that you will experience violence in the workplace from us. They might be a bit off by your standards, but still deserve a chance.

Military people have what some might call controlled Tourette’s Syndrome.

I added this one after some comments came up about the way that military act toward civilians and I thought that it deserved special recognition. It relates to #6 on my list, but this element deserved it’s place. In the military the way we talk to each other is often not pleasant. In the Marines bootcamp instructors are actually trained on how to manipulate their voices so that they can yell for extremely long periods of time without damaging their vocal cords. This is known as the “Frog Voice” and it is a real as the weapons we use. The fact is that once you enter the military people literally screaming at you all the time and you adapt. Eventually you will be a leader and screaming will be part of your job too. This video actually shows a great deal of things that are important. It is a video of a charity golf tournament where some Marines were invited to give a show for some of the competitors. Listen at the very beginning and you can hear a Marine using a strange voice to speak to the victim/participant. This is Frog Voice. You will also see what is known as the “Omnidirectional Ass Chewing” in which multiple D.I. will be screaming at you in unison as you attempt to make sense of the universe around you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr4C8PtfMq0

This video is in jest, but it is identical to the way that Marine recruits are trained at boot camp, except that goes on for 3 months. “Why do all these things you ask?” Because it is the easiest way to get a human being who is unaccustomed to performance under stress to take action while being placed under an extreme and sudden stress environment (combat). It trains them to block out the noise and the fear and the stress and just do what they need to do. We can’t actually shoot at the kids you know. (Oh God, that actually does make sense.) So the Omnidirectional Ass Chewing is one of the most important parts of onboarding that most military go through, and the yelling really never stops after that. What is extremely important to know is that just as quickly as these men started yelling they can turn it off just as quickly. It is mostly an act meant to instill aggression and help military people cope with combat stress without actually experiencing combat. This is why as John Albert put it “Not that my ex-military friends aren’t cool to just hang with when the pressures of work are off, but once you get them into a “business” situation it’s sometimes like flipping the “asshole” switch.” This asshole switch is a very real thing that has taken years to perfect. Yes, I acknowledge it as a conscious decision and part of our leadership and cultural mentality, but now they are in the civilian sector and this can is extreme. If you hire a military you need to know about this. If given a leadership role there might be some moments where the employees stop talking to Jon and start being talked to by Sgt Davis. As with other things, this can be an asset, but if it isn’t what you want in your culture you need to consider that. as well.

You

If I could really say the hardest thing that I have dealt with since leaving the military it is civilian managers who want to leverage my military experience, but have no understanding of it. I’ve had bosses who hired me thinking that I would be able to kick down doors, then when I made someone cry guess who got in trouble. One guy tried to lecture me on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War because now he understood warfare. Basically the worst thing that I have truly experienced is that so many think that all these traits I have listed are an all encompassing list of personality traits. Only these things are what naive managers think they want. After they realize that this may not be what they want, or that what they want doesn’t rationally belong in a civilian environment, who do they blame? Yeah. They expect some level of unattainable perfection while not allowing you the freedom to move in the way they hired you for. In the meantime, they hold the vet to a different standard than the other peers only because the vet didn’t live up to the managers impossible stereotypes.

In summary, hiring military people can be much less productive than you think if you don’t try and understand them. They can be asset or a liability. What is important for you as the hiring manager or owner is to accept that these are extremely capable and strong willed individuals that will need much guidance in the beginning, but be a major boon to your operations after that. They likely won’t fit your stereotypes and if you expect them to you will only get a great deal of resentment and difficulty. Still, there are few that know how to work harder can be more loyal, providers of effective diversity, are as reliable and can be counted on like a good US Veteran.

In all fairness you should also see my answer in What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

The 22

Veterans-March-in-Undies-640x480

22 men, carrying 22 kilograms of gear, for 22 kilometers. “22 with 22 for 22.” This is the slogan a group of irreverent veterans have adopted for a series of walks across the United States taking place on none other than the 22nd of each month. An obvious question begins to arise, what’s the significance of “22?”

To answer that, I wanted to mention something odd that happened to me a few days ago that inspired this article. I received a Facebook notification from a friend inviting me to an event, BUDDY CHECK 22. I know this guy and know that he isn’t one of those weirdies who invites me to every Facebook game he has ever played so that he will get 20 free magic crystals. He’s an old Marine buddy who I spent time with Iraq. No, this was different. The name stuck out too. The reason it stuck was that number, 22.

22 is a number that has taken on a very significant and somber meaning for the veteran community over the last few years. It signifies the approximate number of American veterans who commit suicide each day. This revelation came from the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed the death certificates of 21 states from 1999 to 2011 to arrive at the grim statistic. A more recent study, which surveyed 1.3 million veterans who were discharged between 2001 and 2007, found that between 2001 and 2009, there were 1650 deployed veterans and 7703 non-deployed veteran deaths. Of those, 351 were suicides among deployed veterans and 1517 were suicides among non-deployed veterans.

Between the two reports, veteran suicide has become a major rallying cry for those in the veteran community, particularly for older vets. The majority of the victims of what is being called an epidemic by some, are veterans from beyond the War on Terror years, those who served prior to 2001. The more recent figures, however, showcases an alarming trend, that the rate of suicide for Post 9/11 vets increased by 44 percent in two years.

Suffering years of government failings to respond and alleviate the growing stigma ailing our prior service community, many veterans are taking the matter into their own hands, as was done by Zach Ziegel. Ziegel is a Marine Veteran and a victim, having recently lost a friend to the reality of living after service. According to his Facebook post,

“So I don’t ask much from anyone, let alone on Facebook, but I’m asking all of you to please read this. I’ll be starting an event, and the best part is, that to attend you don’t have to go anywhere. I’ll call it BUDDY CHECK 22, much like buddy check 25 for breast cancer, and it will happen August 22nd, and hopefully the 22nd of every month from here on out. I want everyone to take a minute out of their day and call a veteran, check up on them, and make sure they’re doing alright. By now we all know the statistic… 22 veterans a day commit suicide, and we as a society owe it to them to do something to change that. So please… Attend my event, invite your friends to attend, and change this god awful statistic with me.”

BUDDY CHECK 22 | Facebook

Other veterans, such as the shirtless silkied wonders pictured above, are doing just as much to bring attention to the silent loss of some of America’s greatest members.

Medically retired Marine Capt. Danny Maher — who more commonly goes by his stage name Capt. Donny O’Malley — is combining some of the things Marines love most in his effort to bring awareness to a serious issue: humor and very short shorts known as silkies.

The former infantry officer-turned-comedian is leading participants on a 22-kilometer road march on Saturday while they each carry 22 kilograms — nearly 50 pounds — of gear. The number of kilometers they’ll walk and the weight that they’ll carry represents the 22 service members who die from suicide each day.

Marines march in silkies to raise suicide awarness

O’Malley made more recent news when he challenged none other than Donald Trump to join the walk taking place in New York only a few days from now.

One might ask what picking up a phone or marching around half naked through a city does, realistically, for vets who are facing mental illness and depression. Honestly, these two great veterans organizations are doing exactly what is needed right now. People like Ziegel and O’Malley are rebuilding the communities which are lost when we go our separate ways. They’re pushing for the one thing that, in my experience as an Iraq vet, heals more of the mental and spiritual wounds we suffer regularly after war or time in service.

It isn’t just me though, experts are agreeing that the single best thing that can be done for the mental health of many of these individuals is community.

This wisdom is backed up by sound logic.  Sharon French, a former professor of Ethics at the United States Naval Academy poses the question in her book, The Code of the Warrior, of whether or not so many post Vietnam era veterans are suffering right now is that they weren’t forced to endure community as part of the long ship rides home after war. The Code of the Warrior discusses the historical motivations behind why different warrior cultures decided to fight and how they were welcomed back into society after it. She notes that virtually every warrior culture until only the last two generations forced troops to endure long trips home as part of a cool down phase. This was the case with those who served in both theaters of World War II and most wars prior, but not after the advent of commercial aviation in Vietnam.

A second musing comes from Lt. Col Dave Grossman one of the world’s most respected thought leaders on the psychology of those who endure combat and the military mindset. After making a career of after-action debriefs and counselings with veterans he one major point of advice, which can be found in his book, On Combat.

Pain shared is pain divided, but joy shared is joy multiplied.

Healing happens when warriors share with other warriors in environments where they feel safe to enjoy one another and feel as if there are others who understand what they are going through. In many cases, psychologists who specialize with those who have military service records, say that it isn’t even best for friends and family to try to be healers for their veterans, and maybe seeking professional help isn’t the first place a veteran should go. They say that it is often more damaging to insist that a veteran may be psychologically broken and in need of professional therapy, when really they may only need to connect with others like them. They also have said that it may be better for families to help their vet find their way to other communities of veterans they can interact with in person, or even better, to reactivate those relationships with their friends they served with years ago.

Bringing veterans together in communities built on camaraderie, compassion, and comedy – restoring brotherhoods, this is the subtle change that has an impact in saving lives and something the rest of us should celebrate and support. If you’re a veteran, pick up the phone this next couple of days to check on one of your friends who has served, no matter how young or old. If you’re not, consider pushing someone you know and love toward joining with other local veterans’ organizations. Whoever you are, help the veteran community remember the 22 of our fellows lost every day to the silent plight of depression, loneliness, and mental health disease. Support these causes and spread the word for vets.

Irreverent Warriors
BUDDY CHECK 22 | Facebook


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If China is Doing Fine Without a Blue-Water Navy, Why Does America Need One?

China isn’t fine without a blue water navy. They have one; it’s called the US Navy. The failure in many people’s belief is that it makes sense to compare the United States to any other nation in the world. It doesn’t.

Where many people fail in their understanding of US government spending on military expenditures is that they don’t understand the purpose of the United States Navy. It doesn’t exist  simply so that we can beat all other potential combatants in a one-on-one exchange of fisticuffs. It can, but if that were its only mission, it could afford to play the game the same way all the others do.

In this case, the faulty assumption is that if we only focus on beating the Chinese, we’ll still be ahead. The most logical way to do that then must be to eliminate the “useless” elements where we don’t directly compete. China doesn’t need it; why should we? This, however, ignores that the US isn’t playing the same game as the Chinese. In fact, the military mission of the Chinese Navy isn’t even in the same league as the Americans.

This logic fails because of the most crucial reason why the US Navy exists. It isn’t just to beat the other guys. It’s to provide economic security over global commons.

“The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas” – Official Mission Statement of the US Navy

The United States is the only world power which has taken responsibility over all international trade lanes. Others are active participants, but absent a single global leader, their influence would be negligible. All other powers are regional and only enforce their strength locally, with the exception of only a few like the United Kingdom. The rest, nations like China, are focused on the creation and maintenance of green water fleets. They use their fleets not to secure global trade lane access for all nations, and the ability to take part in economic cooperation, but to enforce their own local agendas, pestering their neighbors and securing their own trade routes. They have no ability to benefit anyone elsewhere and little incentive to try.

This isn’t important, however, because other nations have no reason to. That responsibility lies with the Americans because the rest of the world knows that if the trade lanes stop, the Americans would suffer from it, as well. They, therefore, have an interest in ignoring blue water operations so that they can pursue local goals, saving the money on an expensive global fleet while still making foreign trade and still gaining political leverage in their local spheres. The system has nothing but benefits for places like China, but it puts the burden of securing that prosperity on the United States.

What makes this situation even more complicated is that the United States can’t leave this arrangement. If they did, the global economic house of cards comes crumbling down, not just for them, but for everyone else, as well. It’s also certain that whoever takes their place would put the United States in a worse position than if they just stayed in control in the first place.

So the original premise is wrong. China doesn’t do fine because they don’t waste money on a blue water fleet. They do fine because America’s blue water navy secures their access to global commons and the world trade market.

Facts and Misconceptions about what is a Wounded Warrior.

Approximately what percentage of veterans have a service level disability?

USMC Cpl. Raymond Hennagir looks to pass the ball, during a wounded warriors practice inside the Karen Wagner Sports Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to prepare for the Warrior Games.  For The News & Messenger
USMC Cpl. Raymond Hennagir looks to pass the ball, during a wounded warriors practice inside the Karen Wagner Sports Center at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to prepare for the Warrior Games. For The News & Messenger

It’s really high, but not for the obvious reasons people suspect. The reason for this isn’t because we all suffered from some car bombing, like a few of the warriors pictured above. Those numbers are actually quite low relatively speaking. The reason is more connected with day-to-day type work environment disabilities. For most, it is simply the chronic bodily maltreatment over the course several years in the military.

Take my example. I am about as average as a Marine deployed to Iraq probably gets. I am not yet thirty, but I have to see a chiropractor regularly like I was fifty. My back issues started literally weeks after my second deployment to Iraq. We traced the cause to wearing an eighty pound flak jacket, supported entirely on my shoulders, for eight hours a day, seven days a week. Turns out, in the bullet proof vest industry, you have to have a balance between ergonomics and ballistic protection. In a risk/reward scenario, I prefer back pain. That injury rated me 10% service connected disability.

Another one came from hearing damage I suffered from being a rifle and pistol coach for two years, literally standing inches from weapons going off all day. We had hearing protection, but there is only so much the 25 cent softies can do.

That is realistically what happens to most of the military injured. The jobs are just hard on the body. That isn’t to say that all people are as lucky as I was. The records are very clear in that in the wars, so far, there have been 6,845 dead, and 52,300 wounded. That being said, what doesn’t help anyone is the almost criminal misrepresentation by news agencies such as the Huffington post, making numerous posts saying that because of injuries like this, a million troops are now counted as “wounded from combat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Huffington has taken an extremely liberal definition of the word “wounded” by misquoting this definition from the International Business times:

“All that can be said with any certainty is that as of last December more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

VA Stops Releasing Data On Injured Vets As Total Reaches Grim Milestone [EXCLUSIVE]

To be clear, if I were to break my leg tomorrow for something that happened six years after leaving the military, and go to a VA hospital to see if there is anything they could do to help me, I could count in this number. However, in the Huffington Post article: 6,845 Americans Died and 900,000 Were Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Say ‘No’ to Obama’s War., an article with the seemingly intended purpose of arguing against intervention against the ISIS ( the Islamic terrorist nation and their murderous tirade through the Middle East) based on half truths and misinformation. The writer, H. A. Goodman, blatantly links this figure of 900,000 wounded with the Pentagon quote that more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED explosions” implying that upwards of 400,000 to 600,000 people were wounded by roadside bombings. Being that the actual figure of people wounded by roadside bombs is somewhere closer to maybe 20,000, as a veteran, I’m appalled by the way Huffington Post is misrepresenting us.

The reason for this rant on the HP is because they are doing a severe disservice to actual veterans by misrepresenting what is going on with us through their politically agenda layden postings. In other articles, they’ve expounded on this figure, stating that everything from a single episode of dizziness to actually being shot counts as being “wounded in action”. Meanwhile, public perception of ailments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) has turned into something that makes people so aware of the problem, that instead of understanding the diseases and the realistic numbers behind them, people just assume we are all broken from the neck up. Also, being that somewhere around only two million deployments of individuals occurred in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this 1 million wounded number that keeps being brought up gives the illusion that fully half of all veterans nearly died or are seriously messed up from going to Iraq or Afghanistan. Since these veterans, in reality, faced less than a 1% chance of ever being injured in the war, it doesn’t help me if I go in for a job and have to face the silent prejudice of “probably has PTSD” because of poor reporting like this. This is the disservice that selective, agenda based reporting like this is doing.

Shame on you Huffington Post. Be better.


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