Come Safely Home

My year is finished.  I have accomplished all that I will and I have come safely home.   So … how did we do?

It is always hard to judge one’s own success and I am not sure I can tell.  I am also not sure ANYONE can tell.  So many factors were at work and my role was so small.  If I crow about the successes achieved in Anbar, it will be a lot like the rooster claiming credit for the sunrise.   But if I just pass over the whole thing as though my efforts meant nothing, I am denying reality and denying the whole concept of free choice.  It is almost my metaphysical duty to brag on our achievements.  I did only what others could have done, but most others did not do them.   What a person could do, what he can do and what he actually did are often not strongly related.

I made a difference to the extent of my capabilities for Western Anbar and the security of the United States.  The environment is now more hostile to insurgents and terrorists because of the efforts of my team.  (The Colonel told me that it is easier for his Marines to eliminate “f-ckos” because my team has made it harder for them to survive among the people.  I consider that great praise indeed.)  Conditions are better for the people of the province. I cannot separate my personal achievements from those of the team, so what I am most proud of is that I created the conditions for team members to thrive and that I motivated and empowered them to do a great job, but as a result of this THEY did of the heavy lifting.   That is as it should be.

The better the team, the more the leader can & should act as a catalyst rather than a directive manager.   Being a catalyst for positive change is a good thing, but a catalyst by its very nature is never actually part of the transaction.   To the question, “What did you personally do?” I would have to answer, “Almost nothing.”  But if they asked, “What did you enhance or make happen?” I could answer, “Almost everything the team did.”

I learned that from forestry, which I have been sort of practicing since I planted my first trees back in 1966.  A little leverage and patience creates great things, but you never can point to a precise moment of accomplishment and you have to understand that everything depends on the synergy of forces, many of which you do not control.  

If I look at my early post re going to Iraq, I think you can judge if I met my own vaguely stated goals.  I like vagueness.  It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.   There are things you just cannot predict or measure precisely.   Most big things are like that.

I consider it achievements that I have come safely home, that my team will continue to do its good work w/o me, that our activities made things better in Iraq, created confusion among our enemies and enhanced the security of the United States.   When we all do our small part, big things get done.  I am proud that I won the respect of the Marines and my team member colleagues.   Nothing else matters too much if you have those things.

Back safely home in Virginia, watching the gentle rain fall on green leaves.

John Matel

PS – I wrote some posts during the journey home and will post them here.  I will then archive this blog and continue on with more prosaic postings.  I will call the blog Matel-in-America.  If some of you want to come along on that trip, you are welcome.  If not thanks for coming along so far.