Today, March 12, 2014, marks the end of Operation ATTENTION and the end of Canadian military operations in Afghanistan.
One hundred and fifty-eight soldiers are listed on the official casualty rolls, as well as a journalist, a diplomat, and two civilian contractors. One was a close friend. One was an NCO who inspired me as a young officer by his example of leadership. One was a friend to many soldiers I had the privilege and honour of leading later in my career. One was the best friend of another of my soldiers who is now finally finding a footing in his own life after his deployment. One was such a close friend of staff on one of my officer development courses that we had to shut down training briefly when the news reached us.
They all enjoy something of an immortality that few can imagine though. Stories are told of them years later, they have become their own sort of legends. Some have had ships and buildings named after them, some will just remain the subject of stories and regimental lore for years to come. Today, I honour them all – those who set off from their homes to try to do something good in the world, something for which they were willing to make such sacrifice. I am proud to have stood in the shadows of such men and women, to have worn the same uniform as them. I will long tell the stories of those I know.
Others came home wounded, including my first Platoon 2IC who also played a formative role in my military career. What he survived was a case of dumb luck as much anything. Some have visible scars of physical wounds. Some have invisible scars and are still finding their way. They will, with time.
I will leave it to historians to assess the outcomes of our efforts there, but I am proud to have been one of those who served there. For all the cynicism I had about what we were doing and whether it would really made a difference, I learned much there and came to respect and admire the resilience of the Afghan people. While much of their culture and view of the world remains a mystery to me, there I met a great many Afghans who were proud, decent people seeking to build a future for their country. If anything that we did there helped them to do a better job of it, then we have done something noble.
The truth is, I do not see how we could have done any different. I would be far more uncomfortable with the idea that we didn’t do anything when a failed state harboured an evil so vile as Al Qaeda. I will always be skeptical of the trumpets of war and the calls to arms, as I was when the United States invaded Iraq. I will always view war as the greatest of human failings, but at the same time I will always remember that sometimes things must be fought for and over.
Years ago, I was an instructor on a leadership course for junior NCOs. We made them memorize a particular quote from John Stuart Mill. Notably, this coincided with the move of Canadian troops from Kabul to Kandahar, into the hornet’s nest as it were. Here is the quote:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”
The bold part is the most commonly cited part of the quote, but the whole passage actually gives it more context.
I’m not much of a nationalist, in fact, history teaches us that nationalism is a pernicious force in some cases, but at the same time I can say that having served in a place such as Afghanistan, I have come away with a tremendous appreciation for the good fortune I have to have been born and grown up in Canada. My own travels outside of this country give me a great respect for other cultures as well, but what I realized finally after seeing Afghanistan is that virtually everything people want to complain about here is so unbelievably trivial and pointless.
I have now been home for almost a year and a half – in fact not long ago I passed the two year mark from the day I got in the plane. I’ve gone into a new line of work which is going well, and generally returned to a normal life – but some days I actually miss being “over there”, even though rereading this blog and the more detailed journal I kept of the experience reminds me that especially toward the end I was insatiably bored and frustrated with progress, that the memories that stick out in my mind weren’t what it was always like. I’m less likely to slip into “war stories” now, more interested in hearing about how others are doing with being home.
In the summer of 2001, as an Officer Cadet, I sat in the theatre at the Infantry School and listened to our instructors tell us how much better we had it joining up at that time. All they ever had as deployment opportunities was Cyprus, Cyprus, Cyprus, they told us. Now there was Bosnia, and a smattering of other missions. It was all going to be so exciting. Then came the British exchange officer who presided over the course, a presentation I won’t soon forget. It started rather jovially, with a presentation interspersed with clips of Blackadder Goes Forth and so on. Then Major Geoff Weighell, a man I recall as being eight feet tall and as hard as Chinese algebra, switched to a much more direct, blunt, real assessment of the job, his account of serving in the Falkland Islands War.
None of us really thought much about Afghanistan. I had read about the Soviet experience there, and a university politics class I took included an excerpt of Benjamin Barber’s Jihad Vs McWorld in a reading package, and it touched on tribalized societies like Afghanistan. None of us knew then what was to come that fall or how it would change things for the whole. Will we now say to new soldiers that at least they have more to look forward to than Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan?
As a last point, I want to touch on something that’s been a good discussion point amongst us.
Much is being made in the press of recent suicides and the mental health cost of Afghanistan. While it is undeniable that an appreciable percentage of personnel who served in Afghanistan (20% or so, I’ve heard) suffer from PTSD/OSI in some form. A spate of suicides has also made news.
What I want to highlight is that these aren’t the norm. It doesn’t really help those coming out the military to get settled into a new civilian career to have people assume that they might be somehow broken, when the reality is that most are in fact fine. Most come home, and go through some period of awkward adjustment and acclimatization, but then are back to normal, productive, great lives. Even those who have come away with some scars often make successful recoveries and transitions. What these stories in the media do is create a stigma that isn’t accurate or reflective of reality. It doesn’t help us at all. It doesn’t set good conditions for us to move on with the rest of our lives.
As the Afghanistan mission ends, so does mine. I’ve told the story as best I can, as I saw it. And despite the fact that the last few posts to this blog all suggest that they will end it all, I really intend to stick with it this time.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for paying attention. Thank you for persuading me to keep writing.
One year ago today, I boarded a C-17 to start the long trip home. A year ago. Some days if seems like yesterday.
I haven’t even hardly looked at stats for this blog lately, though I notice it keeps getting hits, a few here and there, for the odd search term that turns up, or whatever else. People come, read a page or two, and leave. Such is the Internet. I didn’t write this with much regard to that, otherwise I would have promoted it a lot more than I have. And frankly, it’s as much a reminder of stories for me as anything. Even the ones I can’t tell, there are cues salted throughout the posts which remind me of them, which keep them relatively clear in my mind.
What leads me to post again is a sequence of events that directly relate to this story. And I also want to circle back on something I wrote about last year that’s come into focus again. But I’ll get to that later.
When I started this blog, just after learning I was headed to Afghanistan, I shared it with my coworkers and was part of an internal promotion about their policies about hiring military/ex-military folks. This turned into more than I expected it to be and I wound up being part of big press push, which did actually shock me because I didn’t know about the scale of it until some people pointed it out to me.
So, a couple of weeks ago, sitting at home on my couch fiddling around with my iPad I get a note through Facebook from a name I don’t recognize. A friend of a friend, it turns out, who somehow stumbled upon the story that I was featured in which also covered veterans transitioning out of the military and into civilian employment. He searched for me on Facebook and found me based on the mutual friend. This man’s story is one I have heard before. He’s spent most of his adult life as an infantry soldier, and the years of physically intense work have finally taken their toll. His body can’t do it anymore, and so he’s about to be released on a medical category.
He tells me he would be in my debt if I could help him figure out how to find a job in the financial services industry because he thinks he would be good at it – he has the people skills that are the key to sales – the special sauce that you can’t teach people.
I tell him there would be no debt, and that I consider myself obliged to help him, as I would any soldier. As others have done for me.
A wise old Sergeant Major told me once, as I was trying to cope with the death of a good friend in Afghanistan, “The life we have chosen requires us to hold each other up in times of trouble.”
Read that line again. Read it slowly and deliberately. “The life we have chosen…” We didn’t just take a job. We took on a lifestyle, not just work. Even me as a member of the Reserve Force. I became part of something much bigger than just a job. “…requires us…” This isn’t optional. It’s part of the deal. “…to hold each other up in times of trouble.” Even though I am “only” a Reservist, a part time soldier, my Regiment and the Army more broadly is like a second family. In some ways, they are closer than my actual family. That awful weekend in December 2008 when I heard that statement, I heard something else amazing. Sitting in a funeral home at the visitation for our fallen friend, one of my friends noted the number of people who turned up who we hadn’t seen in years. “Weddings and funerals, that’s the only time we seem to run into each other.” And then came the line that really stuck.
“Well, that’s family for you.”
That’s what it is. It’s family.
So, on with the story. I followed the emails with a phone call, and a long rant about Veterans Affairs greeted me, followed by an effusive if unnecessary apology. I know the experience. I fought Veterans Affairs to get an injury recognized as being service-related, and eventually threw up my hands and gave up – it was a minor claim and I just didn’t have the energy to keep at it. The system sucks though. They’ll deny your claim, then give you a lawyer to fight them. For ages. And the hope sometimes seems to be that you’ll eventually go away. Unless it’s a major, life-altering thing where you can’t afford to. But they’ll still fight as long as they can, in case you do finally break. I hate to sound cynical, and I know there are people working hard at VAC to make things better, but no one is likely to tell you it works well.
Armed with more information, I then shared the story with a military networking group I know. And within minutes, people I don’t know – and who don’t know the individual who sought me out – were already engaging. Some just tossed out ideas. Some gave contacts who might help. One offered to have his firm and connections in the industry try to help. One put me in touch with someone from Wounded Warriors who are getting their “release navigation specialist” to help my new friend – my brother whom I have never met – get what he is due and get on with his life.
So this ties into a second thing – and something I touched on ages ago in this blog – about the whole “Support The Troops” line. Last Sunday, an associate professor at Virginia Tech by the name of Steven Salaita published an article on Salon.com, a generally liberal leaning website, entitled “No, thanks: Stop saying “support the troops””. The subtitle/synopsis of the article is key: “Compulsory patriotism does nothing for soldiers who risk their lives — but props up those who profit from war”.
Predictably, right leaning websites, blogs, and so on seized on it. One, examiner.com, wasted no time attacking Salaita’s post by presenting excerpts out of context, and essentially excising what he had to say. As the internet tends to do, this elicited scads of comments. I am of the opinion that social media comments are often the best evidence of why our species is doomed, especially when they are anonymous. The responses were predictable: loads of “Internet Tough Guy” offers of violence or “Come say that to my face” statements. Loads of “Go back where you came from!”, which worked well with the photograph of Mr. Salaita included with the article, which evidences his Arab heritage. For the record, he born in Virginia. His father is from Madaba, Jordan (which is the centre of Orthodox Christianity in Jordan, I visited last year) and his morther is from Nicaragua, of Palestinian heritage. He omits any mention of religion from his bio, not that it matters. The comments get rich when they talk about how “the troops” are “defending his freedom”, while essentially attacking him for exercising his freedom of speech. That, in the words of my favourite high school English teacher from way back when, is a whole lot of cognitive dissonance.
The article – as I have linked above – is worth a read. The author suffers from what I like to call the Dawkins Syndrome, after noted atheist and scientist Dr. Richard Dawkins. Dawkins generally writes with a solid thesis in mind, and good arguments, but often falls into a trap of being unable to resist the urge to toss in some unnecessarily polemic statements which stop some from reading. In the middle of the article, you will likely spot where this happens to Salaita. I broadly agree with his premise though. “Support the troops” has become, for many but not all, a trite, vacuous, throwaway statement. It’s become a means of feeling better about not thinking critically about global events. I remember all too well when before the war in Iraq became reality that those who dared to question the wisdom of a war of choice against a country which had nothing to do with 9/11, and without evidence of the claims of WMD were told to shut up. “Why don’t you support the troops?” “Why do you hate your country?” I remember as well in those days that people said things like, “Even if you don’t agree, you have to support the President because we are at war.” It’s funny how that went out the window when President Bush left office and President Obama was inaugurated, but that’s a rant for another time and another place. What this is is precisely what Professor Salaita warns of: that “support our troops” as rote, as jingoistic patriotism in the form of slogans becomes essentially a demand upon the public that they not think, that they not ask questions, and that they not dissent.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, and asking questions and demanding explanations should be the duty of citizens of a modern liberal democracy. Creating a mythical entity of “the troops”, who would take umbrage at being “unsupported” by citizens daring to ask why they are deployed where they are, is totally antithetical to that. It is repugnant to me. History is replete with examples of the horrible impact of a citizenry which stops questioning what its government does.
It is to me similarly appalling when politicians throw the phrase out, while their actions demonstrate nothing of the sort. This is not confined to any particular political party or ideology, that mythical entity of “the troops” is employed by all of them in different ways. It is fair to say that maintaining militaries is an expensive undertaking, and that it involves tradeoffs. Eisenhower long ago warned of the danger of the “military-industrial complex”, and he was right. Politicians must seek to strike a balance between maintaining such forces as are necessary to defend national interests and sovereignty, and providing any number of other social programs which are demanded by the broader public. The military must make do with the envelope it is allocated, and get on with the jobs it is given to do within reason. The problem that can arise is that politicians can easily make glib statements about how much they “support the troops” while giving them jobs to do for which they aren’t adequately resourced. Or they can make the statement while cutting the Veterans Affairs budget or overhauling benefits. Or voting against bills which seek to help veterans transition to civilian careers when their service is complete – either voluntarily or involuntarily. Often this is a matter of political necessity in trying to strike that balance I mentioned, otherwise, well, I don’t really know what drives it. I have ideas, but they’re not unique and you can read about them elsewhere from other writers.
You will perhaps note I’m not limiting my comments to what happens in Canada, and I am not about to start shilling for or attacking any politicians specifically. I can’t really, to begin with, because my position requires me not to attack government policy, and I won’t because that isn’t the point I’m trying to make. I am duty bound to serve the duly elected government and to support its decisions regardless of my personal opinion of them. Why? Because civilians control the military through the democratic process. And rightly so. I’m not going to write on specific issues because if you’re interested plenty of other sources do so. If I’ve kept you engaged this long and you’re interested I’m sure you will find them. If you get interested and get engaged, in whatever way you see fit, then I’ve done what I set out to do.
So then, is “support the troops” a universally terrible sentiment? No. Not in the context of understanding the risks of it. If you want to really, truly support the troops, then be an informed citizen. Ask questions. Demand answers that aren’t just glib throwaway statements, what in political science lectures are called “bromides” in reference to sleeping pills. Don’t just think of soldiers deployed wherever they are, but ask why they are there, whose interests are being served, and what their role is. If you want to do more, then I’ve provided links to organizations you might choose to support that make real differences in the lives of “the troops” and their families.
Do something. Don’t buy some ribbon magnet at Walmart (which literally does do nothing to support anyone but Walmart and the magnetic ribbon industry), give a donation to Soldier On or the Wounded Warrior Foundation. Look around your community and see what exists. I received some lovely packages from a couple of wonderful ladies who just wanted to make life deployed a little better and they can always use donations for those sorts of causes. Don’t have money to donate? No problem. You have time and energy and that is as valuable. Write a letter to deployed soldiers – they’re free to send generally, and if it winds up in the hands of someone like I was while I was “over there”, you’ll make someone’s day and get a response back. Write to your elected representatives and demand explanations as to why we are engaged where we are engaged, and don’t just take the answer and be gone but think it through and see if it really makes sense. Just do someting that’s more than blindly braying. Even if it makes you despise the military and its employment, I’ll feel more “supported” knowing your point of view is the product of thought and engagement than I ever will feel supported by some armchair general chickenhawk cheerleading for wars in which he would never fight.
I keep watching the blog stats for some reason, and it still gets a lot of hits, which is interesting. Some are from people clicking links on my former employer’s intranet site, some are from random google searches, usually people looking for information about the Tajbeg Palace, or about Camp Clark (since there’s very little on the web about it except my raving about the food there), about PXs, about all sorts of things.
I have stated I wasn’t going to add any more content, and yet, I keep feeling some sort of compulsion to do so because there really doesn’t feel like a good ending yet. I think now I can put one in, but we will see, I suppose. I don’t even know if anyone really reads this, anyhow, or if it’s an email that goes to some, or a cursory glance for others. Whatever it is to others, that’s fine. I did this mainly to keep a story for myself, something which I will eventually cap off and save for posterity… To give to whom, I’m not really sure.
I’m now sitting in my condo near Toronto, which I bought almost six years ago, my first real estate investment as it were, and probably one of my worst decisions ever. Yet, here I am. We have moved back to Ontario not because I really wanted to but because when I looked at my options for career moves and so on it simply made the most sense. So we evicted (that sounds so harsh) our tenants from the condo and packed up and moved. It’s a little weird that our old place looks a bit different to me now, but that is mainly a function of our having replaced all of our furniture when we went to Halifax. And now we have added a few things we didn’t have before anyhow.
My greatest looming battle is with my condo board about getting a barbecue. Well, maybe. I don’t actually know yet.
Part of the moving process was returning to my old army unit, the place where it all began for me. When I saw a recruiting ad in 2000 and decided to join the Reserve, I did it mainly because I dreaded the idea of only ever sitting behind a desk doing paperwork. The world was different then in a way, some time ago I saw the notes that the Personnel Selection Officer who interviewed me took, where I talked about the importance of the idea of peacekeeping, so romanticized it was then, and how where the UN failed it was important for NATO to intervene because it has the power to do so in the interests of all or something like that. Little did I know then that that idea would have me living in the suburbs of Kabul for eight months, though it was eight mostly quiet months.
Everyone I served with is now gone from Afghanistan, though I know a few people still over there or getting ready to go – dispersed around the world at least we have Facebook to keep in touch, it seems the easiest way, and not long ago we were all waxing nostalgic about those early days, and getting acquainted. There’s rough plans for a sort of reunion, mainly the idea of being able to have a beer with all these people who were the only people around us for so long, in a more relaxed setting. Next year, maybe.
When I was sworn in on January of 2001, I had no idea where things would go, if I’d do the Militia thing for a few years and get out, or go into the Regular Force, or whatever. Now I’ve qualified for the first of our “long service” medals and I can’t really see myself getting out any time soon, especially now that I’m back to my old unit and amongst many old friends. My first time seeing them was a Change Of Command Parade, where a man I have long seen as a mentor handed over the reins of his regiment to the next to take over. At some point, there’s an end of the line, I guess, but in that something new begins as well, and it’s not generally what one expects, either.
So it was with me. My plan when I left to start work up training was to go back to what I was doing before. That didn’t work. My plan when I got home from work up training but before I left for Kabul was to transfer to the Regular Force, that too didn’t happen. My plan late into my tour was to find another job within my old firm, and I thought I found a perfect one. That, as well, didn’t happen.
What I settled on as a course has also changed since I got home, but it seems, much to my mirth, to be good change, just as it was when I showed up to catch my flight and learned my job in Afghanistan was changing and I was set up to meet some of the most incredible people I’ve ever worked with. I have to wonder how things always seem to fall into place for me at the right instant, when all seems lost it all suddenly meshes in ways I could never have anticipated.
For that I am lucky. And grateful.
So, for me, I think that’s more or less everything to say. I’m now settling into a new job, with a steep learning curve and a high potential for failure, but one only ever reaps rewards by taking risks necessary to earn them.
I will head back to Nova Scotia in a few weeks to retrieve my motorcycle, the only thing I didn’t bring with me on the move, and while it’s not the road trip I had planned originally, I will be taking a bit of a trip to get back just to get the bike warmed up for the summer. I’m sure it’ll be a busy year when work starts taking off, and I have some ideas about things I want to do beyond that, specifically with some of the organizations which exist to help soldiers who didn’t have the fortunes I seem to have. There are so many little organizations trying to do so many things and overlapping, I feel like the must be some way to help tie them all together. That’ll be my next challenge, I think. To give something back.
If you’ve enjoyed the story, let me know with a comment. If you’re connecting from the intranet site of my former employer and want to get in touch, you can look me up on LinkedIn. As always if there’s questions I’ve left unanswered, then use comments to ask, and otherwise, well, that’s all she wrote.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.
WordPress’ form letter of sorts about stats aside, it’s interesting to see the recap and how many unique hits this blog got. I’d like to think I told a reasonable story. It’s hard to make a job that often seemed mundane really interesting, but at the same time, I wanted to tell it like it is. Neither glamorous not awful, just a year in the life as it were. This recap WP did covered most of the period the blog did so it gives something of an idea of what was accomplished.
All I can hope is that anyone that read along found it interesting. That it gave them something new to think about. That it provided some perspective on a land far from home for most, but one full of potential, or beauty, of so many stories.
Though I mused about it in a previous post, today marks the end of the story. It’s January 4, 2013, and today marks the end of my post deployment leave, and the end of my Class C contract. My deployment experience is over, for this time around at least. Today, or rather, this morning, I’m oddly restless. It’s 1:48am and I don’t know why I’m awake. Maybe it’s my subconscious realizing that this chapter really is over.
I spent my holidays mostly quietly. I traveled to Ontario and reconnected with old friends. I picked up a job offer. I have the prospect of at least two more on the horizon. This weekend I’m working with my wife to start planning to move, because our fortunes seem to lie elsewhere. Later this morning I’ll close the book on several concurrent stories in my life and start on the next one. It will begin next week when I finally turn in all my desert kit. Then I travel to Ottawa, back into the warm embrace of the army for a few weeks while I wait and see how those other job leads turn out. Finally, in February, I will get to work on something new, what it will be I am not yet sure.
This, in a way, has been the story of my life for as long as I’ve paid attention, from one journey to the next. I always seem to land on my feet in the right place at the right time, which to me is a pretty good skill to have. Or maybe, it’s more of a knack than a skill. I don’t know, and I guess it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I’m pretty happy that things seem to turn out right.
Thanks for reading.
I logged a lot of miles flying during the past year, most on a variety of military aircraft, with the occasional interlude of feeling like a normal person flying on a normal airline (some nice ones at that, I have to admit to being quite a fan of Emirates Airlines now!), but the last flights that stick in my memory were the flights home, not exactly a model of luxury, but functional and effective enough for the intended job, that is, getting from Point A to Point B.
Because it seems like an ideal time with little else to do, this post is again being composed on an aircraft, a much more comfortable and civilized Bombardier Q400 belonging to Porter Airlines, presently somewhere between Halifax and Montreal, traveling onward to Toronto, my destination. This is something of a business trip. At least, I hope it is. I’m headed to Toronto to do a whole bunch of networking in the hopes of returning with some solid job leads, if not an actual job offer. The latter isn’t likely given the time of year, the former is much more likely, and it’s what I am hoping for.
I nervously informed my boss at my civilian job this week of my decision to leave the firm – or rather, to leave the role I’m in and the firm if I cannot find anything else internally, and it went far better than I expected. I had figured it would be an unpleasant uncomfortable experience, rather like the last time I left a job, but it wasn’t. The writing, after all, was on the wall. I didn’t want to stay doing something I didn’t want to be doing, and it wasn’t really fair to anyone involved to do so. But it didn’t end how I expected. Rather than being shown the door immediately, my boss actually told me to push back my termination date in case any business I had closed (one deal might and will make me a few bucks), and so I could stay an internal candidate for any jobs that might appear. Definitely a better departure than I expected.
The purpose of my trip to Toronto is rather simple. I’m meeting with a couple of leads, and with a couple of organizations whose purpose is to help people transition from the military to civilian employment. It seems strange to need to do so, but the reality is that after a year away from the world of suits and ties in the world of camouflage and guns, I need the help. Old friends are helping with that which is incredible, providing me with networking leads and somewhere to sleep for a few days while I’m away. At worst, I’m seeing some people I haven’t seen in a while on this trip. Hopefully the rest will fall into place. I’ve got a week, heading back home on Christmas Eve in the late evening, which will make observance of some of our traditions complicated, but that’s the trade off. At least I’m home for the holidays, the roto that replaced as isn’t.
Alright, I guess I am not quite done.
I have this thing for Latin sayings, proverbs, and the like. It’s probably the product of reading far too much history and the like, coupled with an inability to articulate my thoughts well in an original way which makes it easy to put others’ sayings to good use.
My high school had an interesting one, Palma Non Sine Pulvere, which no one ever actually explained to any of us that I know of, but I came to understand while at the Infantry School. Literally, it means “no palms without the dust”. It refers to the Gladiators, who in victory walked on a path covered in palm fronds when leaving the arena in victory. To do so meant going into the fight, getting covered in the dust and dirt of the arena. To extend it, nothing worth having comes easily. If there’s anything that can teach a person just what they’re actually capable of, of what their limits are, I submit to you that infantry officer training is probably it, and finishing the dismounted course (which is as far as reservists normally go) was the feeling of walking off like that. There were palms, and there was a whole lot of dust. And mud. And so on.
Before I sound like too much of a pseudointellectual, there’s a point to all this, and since it fits into the story, I decided to include it.
I have come to a realization. It’s time to move on career-wise, and for the past week I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out how to do it.
I have at least come up with some next steps. I tend to be a fairly deliberate, methodical, calculating person – I plan and scheme with a view to getting rid of every imaginable risk in a decision to the point that it can often be almost paralyzing. It was a habit I had to break working in the military, because as you’ve likely heard, a workable plan executed aggressively at the right time is better than a perfect plan executed too late.
As it happens, there’s actually a term for this. It’s called Kotov Syndrome, named for Russian chessmaster Alexander Kotov, who described it in a book he wrote. Specifically, he used it to describe a situation where a player in a chess game is placed in a complicated position without a clear path. After contemplating for too long, the player is then forced to make a move as they run out of time, and makes devastating mistake as a result. How do I know this useless trivia? Well, one of my favourite bands is Rise Against, who have a song called Kotov Syndrome and I had to figure out what the origin of the name was. Whatever works though, right?
So, I’ve contemplated my options and I’ve made a decision on my next steps, which are relatively bold, and involve something of a leap of faith, because I do not have everything lined up the way I want it to be but I have to accept that. It is the step into thin air, in a way. Again, when I was younger and less responsible, my friends and I had a hobby of finding things to rappel off. Bridges, buildings, whatever. It was usually an “unsanctioned activity”, but a good time. When you rappel from something like a bridge (or a helicopter skid, as I’ve also been able to do in a more legitimate capacity), that first bound is into thin air. You have a drop of at least your height when the rope anchor is below you before you get tension on the line which lets you control your speed of descent. That first step you simply have to trust that you’ve set everything up right and that it will work – that the anchor was set right, that you’ve hooked your gear up right, and that it’s going to do the job. And then you go, you free fall until everything catches and you resume control.
I’m basically doing that. I realized that I only have an illusory sense of “security” anyhow, and that I have a set up that should do the job when I step off the ledge. And I do.
There’s some organizations that exist to help with transitions – they’re mainly aimed at people leaving the Regular Force and transitioning to civilian employment, but Reservists coming back from deployments are often in the same sort of position and so they offer the same sort of help. I’m working with a couple of them, and planning to relocate, which is bit of a stressful experience on its own, but ultimately will serve me well.
I still have a backup COA, as you do – but I figure if you’re going to make one of those uprooting bold changes, this is probably a good time to do it. Fortune does favour the bold, after all.