I can now reveal that my Undisclosed Location of last week was the U. S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA. The Army (and other) war colleges are educational institutions devoted to officers who have been tabbed to eventually move to flag rank (generals, admirals), and which focus on strategy and national security policy. I was there to attend a Strategic Leadership Seminar jointly organized by the Columbia Business School and the War College. These sessions mix up business veterans with senior military leadership, in a way that gives us civilians a look into the processes and state of the armed forces, and (I infer) gives them potential insights from viewpoints and experiences from outside the community. And, yes, there were quite a diversity of opinions represented - on both sides.
Part of the program included backgrounders on internal management practices of the Army, such as after action reviews (AARs). Unlike some attendees from large, established companies, I often found myself in 'compare and contrast' mode, given the differences between an institution with over 200 years of history, and the infancy of Silicon Valley startups. A good reminder of the importance of building a self-auditing culture from the very beginning of an enterprise, however. The Army's ability to grow 'em up and weed 'em out is impossible to replicate in the small company setting, but I can attest to the concentration of brainpower that it creates at the AWC level.
Each seminar also includes a topical focus, and in this case it was the Global War on Terror (a phrase apparently not beloved there). All of these sessions were either not-for-attribution or outright not-for-publication. So I can say that some very smart people, some with stars on their shoulders and directly involved in the state of play, gave us very candid and provocative briefings on the current political, organizational, and intelligence issues. I went away impressed with both the people, and with the depth of understanding and commitment to making the changes necessary to win in the long run against an asymmetric, agile foe.
I'll try to work some of the more provocative NFA material into a post or two, which will likely appear on Winds of Change rather than DD. Unfortunately, the items most relevant to my interest in the role of citizens' media in foreign affairs were in the other category, so only things I can replicate from public information are going to show up here. Let's just say I'm satisfied that the armed forces are aware of what transpires in the blogosphere, but I'm not so sure the relevant political institutions are as ready to engage with the new media realities.
Another activity that was a real treat (think big red cherry on ice cream sundae) for yours truly was a staff ride of the Gettysburg battlefield, a short drive from Carlisle. If you haven't figured it from previous travelblogging, I'm a history buff, and have a particular interest in the Civil War, as three of my ancestors wore the Blue. While I'd long ago read Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, and others on Gettysburg, I had never been there. A chance to walk the ground with a war college instructor who also brought in the strategic background and leadership choices involved was not to be missed. The weather was not with us that day, varying from mist to hard rain. The photo accompanying this post looks down on the Devil's Den from Little Round Top, where the battle hung in the balance on the second day. An image that seems redolent of the atmosphere of two days after an election, peering into the mists of what will come.