Sweet Serendipity Strikes Again

The picture is Madison, Wisconsin where I went to school.  I took it in September, just before I left for Iraq. It has nothing to do with Iraq.  It is just a place I enjoyed being.

I have conflicting feelings being the boss.  Everybody else on my staff has something particular to do.  In the “management position” you give up much of the hands-on fun and have to resist the urge to interfere in the productive work of others.  In compensation, you get to avoid some details as well as see and maybe shape the big picture.  The bargain is worth it, but there are clearly costs as well as gains.  For example, I would dearly love to tramp along on the agricultural assessments, but I cannot justify the investment in my time and, besides, I would surely get in the way of the real work if I hung around like a f*rt in a phone booth. 

One of my management duties today is to aggregate the work of my team so that I can understand and to coordinate efforts and, more urgently although perhaps less importantly, be able to brief high level visitors who will be coming around in a couple of days.  The team is active, making the aggregating job more complex, but at the same time making the leadership job a lot more satisfying.

I have everywhere been lucky in finding good colleagues and being able to profit from serendipitous opportunities.  Timing has also often worked to my advantage.

My timing in Iraq was luckier than I had any right to expect.  My predecessor set up the ePRT.  In the creation stage of any endeavourer, investments in time and resources show few tangible results, so the poor guy was working hard and doing good work, but had few specific achievements to brag about.  I inherited an operation at the takeoff stage.  In my short tenure, I have been able to approve and start scores of small projects collectively worth a half million dollars.  I look pretty tall standing on my predecessor’s shoulders.

I had even better timing with the security situation.  I set foot in Anbar at almost exactly at an inflection point in the violence.   Investments the Marines made in blood and treasure were beginning to yield results and the situation just continued to improve. The remarkable reduction of violence make it POSSIBLE to do our projects.   My colleagues who have been here longer tell me that six months ago it was hard to find organizations or contractors brave enough to take our money for projects.  Our problem today is choosing who among the many excellent opportunities.   Nor do I want to minimize the personal benefits for me and my staff.  It is much more pleasant to visit projects or contacts when you have a reasonable expectation of coming safely home.  The excitement of danger is much more attractive in the movies than in real life and I prefer to do w/o it whenever possible.

Life is an enormous relay race.  I got the baton now and it is my duty to run as best I can until I hand it off, but I have to be grateful that my stretch of track is smooth and mostly downhill due to the work of others.

Anyway, I need to get to work actually assessing the projects, making the list and checking it twice, so that I can better understand and explain all that we do and what we will do.  I am proud of my team.  It just goes to show that you don’t have to be smart if you are lucky and I am lucky to be here at this time with these guys.

BTW – to help me keep up with the many projects and commitments, I have gone low tech returning to something I used successfully for years – a durable little green notebook (Federal supply 7530-01-060-7511) about the size of a wallet that fits in my back pocket.  I always have access to it and when I have even a short time available, I can page through my notes.  It is a type of study and memorandum.  It has the advantage of being simple.  I used to make notes on a Blackberry, but I often forgot the notes I made and even more often let the urgent of the latest message replace the importance of the best idea.   With this, my constant review keeps important things at the front of my mind.  I am not going to give up technology, but for some tasks perhaps the appropriate technology is the simplest.

The picture above shows a couple of my paper PDAs.  Don’t worry the notes are from unclassified briefings and I made sure to practice good OPSEC.  Besides, who can read my writing?