Still fighting a real war: my latest column in the North County Times

Ten days ago the Taliban launched a dramatic suicide attack against a major airbase in southern Afghanistan.  I know a lot of people who are there, and despite the waning attention of the media and the American people they continue to fight in a war that is a savage as it has ever been.  Below is my most recent column in the North County Times about that attack:

On Friday, Sept. 14, two Marines were killed in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Sadly, that is not a novel occurrence, as they were a few of the many combat deaths from Afghanistan in the last week or so.

What is novel, however, is that these Marines were not out on patrol in the hinterlands, but instead were killed in an insurgent attack on one of the coalition’s main airbases.

The Marines who were killed were members of a Marine aviation unit that supports ground forces as they battle the Taliban. They were on a joint US and British airfield named Bastion, which is home to the helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that fly and fight each and every day that the war grinds on and on. They died doing what Marines have done for over two centuries: fighting our nation’s battles.

These Marines, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, died in an attack that exemplifies the complexity of the insurgent war that we are fighting in Afghanistan. They lived aboard a base that until last Friday was largely considered as safe as it gets in a war-torn country.

The Bastion airfield, which is a joint American and British base, abuts the Marine Corps base known as Camp Leatherneck, which is the home to Camp Pendleton’s own 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s forward headquarters. It also is adjacent to the Afghanistan National Army’s Camp Shorabak, which is the headquarters and home for the Afghan’s military units responsible for the Helmand Province. All told there are several thousand uniformed personnel garrisoned on the complex.

Despite the defenses resident on the installations, the enemy was able to penetrate the perimeter, kill two Marines and wreak havoc on the airfield’s flightline and facilities. Six AV-8B Harrier attack jets were either damaged or destroyed, and nine other coalition troops were wounded in the assault.

From the safety of our living rooms in the United States, this seems absolutely intolerable and unacceptable. How could the Taliban attack such a well defended base? How could this have happened?

The reason is that our enemies are both cunning and willing to sacrifice their lives to further their cause. The enemy is also well-trained, well-equipped and completely dedicated in their convictions. In addition, they are patient. Very patient.

A difference between the counterinsurgent wars of the last decade and more “traditional” forms of combat are that our forces have been fighting from the same bases in the same places for years on end, and being in the same place offers a tremendous opportunity to the enemy. He can unwearyingly study the base defenses, waiting to attack until he is fully prepared. He can employ a network of informants to learn about the targets that he wants to hit, and the routines of the people who live and work there. As an indigenous person he or others can infiltrate the base to aid in its planning efforts.

With the benefit of time, the enemy can gather intelligence on the targeted base, plan an attack that exploits weakness, and rehearse the assault again and again until they get it right. In short, the enemy is doing exactly what our forces do.

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are fighting a real war in Afghanistan, with good men and women paying the ultimate price to maintain the freedoms that we at home so easily take for granted. As they try to bring stability and peace to a turbulent and dangerous foreign land, they are fighting an enemy with centuries of hard-fought experience at war, and they fight well. All of the dumb ones died long ago, and the adversaries that we face today are as schooled in the ways of war as we are.

That is why two of our nation’s sons died last Friday. We are fighting a war in which the enemy gets a vote, and he grimly knows how to cast it.


Nine months later…

There are a few events in life that take nine months to complete.  Things like a school year, a sailing trip around the world, or having a baby.

None of those things just happened to me.  What did just happen, however, was my VA Disability Evaluation was completed- only nine months after I submitted my paperwork.  I did a little surfing around the internet and found that nine months is about average for a claim to wend its way through the system.

So I have nothing to complain about – my claim was processed in the same amount of time as pretty much everyone else’s.  But hold on….

As with everything in life there is a catch.

My claim packet arrived in the mail yesterday.  A thick envelope was waiting by the door, and upon opening it up I found my medical records and a letter explaining, among other things, my ratings.  It seemed pretty straightforward.

But, as with all things related to transition, it wasn’t.

It turns out that the process is only partially complete.  I have a couple of things that were “not included” in the evaluation because the VA needs more information.  Apparently I will be contacted in the future for a follow up examination to address the remaining issues.

So, it looks like I have received my evaluation results in the mail and now I have to wait to be contacted to complete my evaluation?  To say I am confused is an understatement.

Fortunately there is help for situations like this.  Over a year ago I wrote about my experience with the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).  During the week that I went through the program I met with a representative from the Disabled American Veterans, or DAV.  The rep explained that they were there to help with the VA claims process, and that they would be there to help in the future when things got confusing.

Ding!  Suddenly I find myself in the future he was talking about.

I am confused today, but will be decidedly less so next week when I call the DAV representative for help.  I neither appreciated nor understood what he was saying at the time, but now it has all become clear – the DAV (and veteran’s service organizations) are there to help vets like me and others tackle a byzantine and complicated system and make sense of the whole thing.

I’ll let you know how it goes and what I find out…

Column from the North County Times: Drawdowns are necessary as wars end

Here is my latest column in the North County Times.  2014 is just around the corner, and that year will mark the end of our commitment to the war in Afghanistan.  Coupled with the end of the war in Iraq, 2014 will see the first time since the dawn of the 21st Century that we have been a nation at peace.

Whether we stay at peace or not, the end of combat operations overseas precipitates the reduction of military forces.  That is the subject of the following column:

All wars come to an end, and our current foray into Afghanistan is no different. Last year saw the departure of American forces from Iraq, and 2014 is the year when combat operations are to be handed over to the Afghan National Army.

This places the military and government in the ironic situation —- with the successful completion of the conflicts overseas, the very people who made it happen find themselves beneath the budgetman’s axe. Is that fair?

Historically, the size of the military has always shrunk after a war ends; indeed, it is perfectly normal. Our professional military system requires that the active and reserve components be ready to fight and defend the nation at the drop of a hat. The size of the military was more than adequate for Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s and the initial operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Counterinsurgency, however, changed the game. Desert Storm and the early campaigns in the war on terror were based on destroying a cohesive, centralized and organized enemy. The doctrine of the U.S. armed forces is to overwhelm the foe with an onslaught of combat power that they cannot react to to counter the assault; it took only days to liberate Kuwait and a matter of weeks for the high-tempo combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to shatter Saddam’s forces and the organized Taliban.

What followed, though, was a path to a Vietnamesque guerrilla war. Instead of being able to employ the technical and tactical advantages that are the hallmark of American “shock and awe,” we faced an enemy who changed his tactics to those of the insurgent. Instead of slugging it out toe to toe, they embraced the booby-traps of the Vietnam War and created the improvised explosive devices used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Counterinsurgency is a manpower-intensive way of war that has not fundamentally changed since Hannibal crossed the Alps over 2,000 ago —- you need lots of boots on the ground with the dedication and grit to fight the enemy on his own terms, and as a result the Army and Marine Corps grew in size.

With the war’s end and the current financial crisis it is necessary to look critically at the military establishment and prepare it for the challenges ahead. The president has begun the process by focusing on the Pacific Rim as that part of the world becomes more and more strategically significant. What tools are needed there? What skills must our military employ? How can the nation best employ its military resources?

Those are the questions that face the Pentagon as it looks into the future. The military is often accused of being prepared the fight the last war —- and to ensure that it is ready for the next one, a significant change in momentum is necessary. It is time to get the military back into being the world’s premier agile fighting force that is prepared to fight across the spectrum of conflict; we should remember the lessons learned fighting against insurgents, but not be hampered by devoting resources to capabilities in that area that are no longer needed —- including the number of people in uniform.

It is a harsh reality to face, but it is not unprecedented. Our best hope for a strong America is having a military that is prepared to meet any challenge, and in order to do so we need to refocus and rebalance our military. A significant part of that rebalancing is a thoughtful reduction in troops. It is fair to expect that the military will shrink after a decade of war, but that reduction must be made with studious attention and not made haphazardly.

It’s not personal. It’s just business, but a business that the Pentagon simply must get right. We will always be thankful for the sacrifice of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it is time to prepare for the future and ensure that the American military, although a bit smaller in size, remains second to none.

Writing your resume, part 3: The Combination Format

For those of you who have been holding your breaths in anticipation of the final installment in the resume postings –  here it is!

Today we are looking at the most flexible but most difficult resume to compose: the combination format.  As the name implies the combination format is actually a blend of the functional and chronological styles, which makes it more impactful in many industries.  It is the preferred format in situations where you have a very good idea of the job you are seeking and can tailor your resume to show your skills (think functional style) and experience (think chronological).

The difficulty in writing the combination style is that even though you are bringing in the best of both worlds you still need to fit it into two pages or less without doing something cheesy like shrinking the font down to microscopic size or using bigger sheets of paper.  Ruthless editing is everything!

What will greatly help you edit is researching the company and position where you are applying.  This will help you refine both your skill set and experience so that you are showing only what is relevant to the job or firm; you don’t have room for everything, so you can pick and choose what needs to be presented.

As with all things, there are some advantages and disadvantages to the combination format.  That said, if well written and focused on the job and firm where you want to work they can be easily mitigated.


  •  If you have little experience in the work area that you are seeking you can offset it by showcasing your skill set
  • Likewise, if you have a tremendous amount of experience you can use it to offset a limited number of entries on your chronological history
  • If you are changing careers, you can emphasize both your skill set and your experience to show why they are relevant for a new career path


  • If you have been job hopping the chronological section will still show the frequency of change in your employment history, as well as any significant gaps.
  • If you have no experience and no skills in the area where you want to work this format will highlight both situations.  You may be hoping to change your life and go in a radically new direction, which is great, but since this resume style is tailored to demonstrate both your skill set and experience that may be problematic if you have neither.

In this format we also introduce a new element: The Objective Statement.  This is where you, the applicant, articulate why you are the best person for a particular job.  Interestingly, if you surf around and read some of the posts and articles about resumes you will see that the objective statement is a controversial subject.  Many writers feel that it is unnecessary and wastes space, while others feel that it is an important component of a well written resume.

My take on it is that the objective statement is the best way to focus the reader (think hiring manager) on what it is that you can do for them.  It makes their job a little easier.  Think of it like the thesis for a term paper – you state your position up front and then support it throughout the rest of the document.

A large number of transitioning military folks seek work in the Civil Service or with a government contractor.  The objective statement is particularly useful for those who are seeking those jobs because the requirements to fill those jobs are generally fully disclosed and readily available, which means that you can tailor your resume to fit the stated requirements.  Showing the person who has to fill a position that you are the right person is the purpose of the objective statement, and a well written one that is supported throughout the resume has the advantage over someone whose resume is not focused.

The tight focus on the job you are seeking also allows for more latitude in the use of jargon and acronyms.  If you are seeking a job with specific technical skills then the odds are that the reader of the resume will understand your area-specific terminology.  That said, be judicious and use jargon sparingly unless you know for certain that the reader will understand what you are saying.  My example resume contains a fair amount of jargon and acronyms, but in my research I found that using them was not a problem.  You can see it here: Combination Resume Sample.

After the objective statement comes the Summary section.  This is a few sentences that show a thumbnail sketch that backs up your objective statement and shows why you are the right person for the job.  It also introduces the functional areas (as bullets) that showcase your skills that support your objective statement as well as your summary –  and, of course, why you are the right candidate for the job.

Immediately following the summary section are the more detailed narratives for each of the functional areas that you identified in the Summary section.  I title this section of the resume “Accomplishments” and use it to show how my skills in each area make me the best candidate for the job.  It is important to remember that each skill must relate to the objective and summary; otherwise you are wasting space and confusing the reader.  Remember: Focus, Focus, Focus on the job you are applying for!  Anything that does not bolster your objective and summary is taking up valuable space that you do not have to spare.

The accomplishments section is the end of the functional component of the resume.  The next section is a whittled down version of the chronological format, presented from the newest experience to the oldest.

This is where editing is really important!  In a traditional chronological resume you have a couple of pages to work with, but now you are down to half that space.  What I recommend is to only go back in time as many years as are needed to directly support your objective and summary statements.  For my resume (Combination Resume Sample) I chose to go into detail on the jobs that I held for the previous six years.  Those jobs are directly related to the job I was pursuing.  I then wrote a brief paragraph about other previous work experience that again supports the objective and summary statements.

The format ends with a recap of Education, Affiliations, and Awards that highlight those areas.  Here is where it is OK to include some things that may not be directly related to the objective and summary.  If you have received awards that are unique or show recognition for your great work or leadership, then by all means include them because they will show that you have distinguished yourself.  Likewise, if you have completed education or training that shows a depth of experience beyond the scope of your target job that can help as well.

In a nutshell the Combination Format is the right one for most government and contracting jobs as well as others that are have clearly defined requirements for employment.  The best part about this format is that it showcases both your skills and your experience, but to do so effectively requires a lot of research and ruthless editing.

And with that our string of posts about resume formats comes to a close.  Next we’ll dive into the wonderful world of cover letters!


Lessons Learned:

1)  The Combination Format is best for jobs and companies that are specific in their requirements.  This helps you focus your resume specifically on what the employer is looking for.  It is the best format for government and contracting jobs.

2)  You must focus your resume on the job you are applying for, which means that this particular resume format requires that you update and revise it for each job you are seeking.  A good idea is to place a date stamp in the footer of the document for the date that you complete it; just make the font the same color as the background and nobody but you will will know it is there.  Since you know where it is you can check the date by highlighting that area of the page – and this will be very useful because before you know it you will have multiple versions of your resume saved and it will help you keep them sorted.

3)  Ruthlessly edit and refine your resume.  You cannot go past two pages, and if you try tricks like filling up all of the white space or using smaller fonts the hiring manager will likely pitch it out.  Get to the golden nuggets of your skill set and experience – get rid of the rest.

4)  Write an objective statement that targets the job you are seeking and support it throughout the remainder of the resume.  It should grab the reader’s attention because it resonates fully with the job that they are trying to fill.