Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Logic and Leadership

It's been a busy week--the Brass Quintet made another trip to another base to play for some Easter activities, and I'll see about writing more about that soon. Also, I got some new glasses, which is a subject for another blog post (you'll understand why when you read about it). There! I already have 2 more subjects to write about! But I'm not going to do those at this time. Instead, I'll do something that I haven't done in a while, which is to write something just to "get it out" of my head.

We are fortunate over here that we have relatively easy access to internet, and multiple television channels available in the chow halls and USO, etc. It is easy to keep up with the news, so I can check the baseball standings, follow my Nashville Predators as they (finally!) advance to the second round of the NHL playoffs, track the progress of the next Space Shuttle launch, and find out all there is to know about disasters such as the Japan earthquake or spring flooding in Tennessee. And of course, we now have the President's full birth certificate. (Disclaimer: technically, he is my boss.) (Also, I have known for a long time that the Honolulu papers printed his birth announcement in 1961, so this whole "birther" issue is nonsense. His opponents who have pursued this issue have only made themselves look foolish, being distracted from real, pressing issues by a red herring.)

But anyway, reading a lot about the political climate back home in the US has me thinking about something I saw on an episode of Star Trek. Many people have this misconception that the smartest people make the best leaders. Sure enough, all of our Presidents since 1989 have come from Ivy League backgrounds. (Take that as you will.) We like to place a premium on education. Have a graduate degree? A lot of jobs will pay you more for it. (I know from experience; I hold a Master's Degree. Just saying...) We typically like to be thought of as "smart," if only to not be thought of as dumb. And education is, by and large, a good thing. (More disclosure: I used to be a teacher, as were both of my parents [they're retired].) But does getting degrees and getting Jeopardy! answers make one a better leader? Does it matter if you're smarter than a fifth-grader?

Here's where the Trek comes in. In an early episode of the original series, "The Galileo Seven," seven members of the USS Enterprise crew are stranded on a barren planet when their shuttlecraft crashes. Mr. Spock is in charge, and because he's a Vulcan, dedicated to living his life by strictly logical principles, he decides to make the most logical decisions to keep his crew alive to be rescued. (I don't think that commentators who favorably compared President Obama to Spock were thinking of this episode, and you're about to find out why.) Spock is a smart guy--great memory, ship's science officer and first officer, by all accounts brilliant. He's also logical--he takes being compared to a computer as a compliment. He never lets emotion cloud his judgment. And in his first real test at command...he's a miserable failure. Not only does he not gain the trust of his crew, who find his cold manner off-putting, but his logical approach results in the deaths of two crew members. Naturally, he can only save the day when he makes an intuitive, near-emotional decision that defies what logic would dictate.

The sad truth is that leadership is not based strictly on knowledge, nor creativity, nor innovation. It is not enough to learn facts; one must be able to learn and adapt from experience. Logic is not enough to lead others, because people are not logical. While humans are capable of rational thought, rational thought is hardly the norm. Making a "smart" decision is not necessarily making the "best" decision. And having a degree doesn't mean you can't be wrong. To be a good leader, one must understand that there is often a wide gulf between intelligence and wisdom.

Friday, April 22, 2011


People don't try to jerk you around a lot in Afghanistan. It just seems that way some of the time. This past Sunday, the Bunker Brass Quintet got a nice dose of it. The problem stems from the fact that anytime personnel from the band are tasked to go to another base and perform, there are many, many logistical hoops that must be jumped. And at any given point in the process, we have to understand that there may be very good reasons why we can be scheduled to fly out, only to be bumped for other people that need that flight more. Or the flight itself may be canceled, delayed, moved forward, etc. All of which are issues that (thankfully) I don't personally deal with. Also, coordinating a trip requires good communication with a point of contact at a distant location, often a point of contact who has many more pressing things to deal with than whether or not the band folks have a place to sleep or chairs to sit in. Add to that the fact that getting good communication with anyone anywhere in Afghanistan can sometimes be a very

But we were scheduled to fly out Sunday afternoon to another base where we would be playing at a couple of Transfer of Authority ceremonies as well as doing a morale performance at a dining facility. We were packed and ready to go, loading our instruments and other gear onto the truck at our tent, when we received word that our trip was no-go. Slightly disappointed, but not very surprised, we trucked our personal gear back to our rooms and met up at the tent afterward to do some rehearsal. After finishing our first number, the phone call came--we needed to be at the departure ramp in twenty minutes. Fortunately, none of us had taken the time to unpack anything. A couple of people loaded our instruments, stands, and music onto the truck along with the "kicker," a large container that we build around the gear so it can all be forklifted at once onto the helicopter. The rest of us hopped into the van and went back to the rooms to grab all the personal gear. We met up at the loading ramp area, just in time to build the kicker and get on the aircraft.

We experienced something similar Thursday morning while waiting for our flight back to KAF when the chopper arrived about half an hour early. Gave everyone who was scheduled for that flight a bit of a surprise, but that's why you get there well before you're supposed to fly out. We had to take the kicker apart for that particular flight, as we were on a different helicopter with different space requirements, but we still managed to load and move everything by hand. (Including the disassembled kicker box.) One thing about traveling around Afghanistan--it is rarely, if ever, dull.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Power To Move You, Part 3

This week has been a little crazy! Primarily, of course, due to what I'm about to describe in this blog. We had been told not long after we moved into our housing that we might have to move yet again. They want to have all the US personnel grouped according to the units they are in, i.e. the 10th Mountain Division Soldiers should all be in a particular area. Having been in the same room since November, I was beginning to think that nothing would happen. Monday, April 11 proved me wrong.

We had spent the morning doing some more training with the Afghan National Army's 205th Corps band, and after returning the Brass Quintet had rehearsal. During rehearsal, I and another member of the group were informed that we would be moving, along with another of our roommates, that afternoon. The new building is just across the street from where we were, so the distance was not much of an issue. The condition of the room was, however, a bit of a problem. The new room apparently had not been lived in for a while, and there were copious amounts of dust. Also, some of the bed frames were rickety and the mattresses left much to be desired in terms of comfort and support. Also also, there was no refrigerator. We decided to take matters into our own hands and give the room a thorough scrubbing and sweeping, and to swap out a few of the beds with the ones from our old room. We also got clearance to move the refrigerator.

Every time I have to move, I'm amazed at the amount of stuff I accumulate and how long it takes me to get it organized and packed. Even in a war zone, this is the case. Partly this is a result of me receiving lots of packages and not being able to use or consume it all very quickly. Partly it's just human nature--we collect and store things, no matter where we are. (I direct you to George Carlin's famous monologue on "Stuff.") So it took me longer than I expected to get all my things together. At least moving gives one an opportunity to reorganize. I think my new living arrangement is superior to my previous one.

For instance, they have "extenders" that can be used to raise the bed, allowing for more storage space underneath. I picked up some extenders a while back, but the "feet" were still in the bedposts, so I was never able to use the extenders. Since I had to disassemble the bed to move it anyway, I figured this would be a good chance to fix the problem. I got my Gerber multi-tool out, and managed to pry the feet out of the bed. Now that I have the extenders attached, I have more of my things stored under the bed, and thus more floorspace for everyone.

I was concerned about not being able to connect to the internet, but one of the roommates managed to get our router connected and solved that problem. So now we're settled in, waiting for a couple more roommates to arrive back after their R&R leave period. I just hope the next time I have to move all my stuff, it's because I'm leaving Afghanistan!