2nd Draft

2nd Draft – Afterward – Counterinsurgency is Entrepreneurship29 Jun

In the course of writing a book about a Marine Rifle Company during 4 deployments to Iraq from 03 to 07, I have developed a certain idea. The idea is that Counterinsurgency is Entrepreneurship.

1. The Problem: Veteran unemployment. IAVA Founder, Paul Rieckhoff posted this on his facebook page. In response to this post, I wrote, “[the divide between civilian elites and the military] is the reason that veterans are at 15% unemployment. if you take the idea from gladwell, outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient in a skill, then take the higher complexity of military skills, and of civilian skills, this is why it is very difficult for exiting service-members to transition.”

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000 hours required to become proficient in any job. He cites the Beatles working in Hamburg nightclubs from 1960 to 1962 as an example. I was having lunch with a hedge fund manager yesterday who cited the 10,000 hour rule for proficiency in describing his own professional indoctrination in a college economics department and investment bank before launching his own fund. I responded to him, “well, maybe I can cite my skill in calling in close air support to possible future investors in my firm, since my first job after college was a Marine Infantry Officer.” He laughed and said, well at least you stick to the prospectus that you lay out for clients, which is better than many managers these days. I try to use my military background, as well as related coursework in college with leading political scientists as a basis for having a “GlobalMacro” view — but since very few financial professionals also have a military background, this aspect of my sales pitch is usually not very compelling. With 1% of Americans serving in the military, something like 80% of my clients have some military connection.

The rule of 10,000 hours for proficiency in an area works against military veterans in civilian employment in two ways. First, in the military, a service-member must spend the 10,000 hours developing a skill set — say in calling in close air support — that is absolutely vital to that particular job. Those protocols stay with a person for life, but they are not usually the basis for a civilian career. Second, in a civilian career, a person must spend 10,000 hours acquiring a set of skills — say mastering securities law — to be proficient in another area vital to that job. When a person tries to transition from the military to a civilian career, there is a gap represented by the 10,000 hours to acquire the military skills, and the 10,000 hours required to acquire the civilian skills. In a nutshell, I think that is why the veteran unemployment rate is closer to 15% while the national unemployment rate is closer to 10%.

My proposed solution to this is to build Counterinsurgency (COIN) veteran entrepreneurial teams in 3 areas: Clean Energy, Finance, Technology. The reason that these people would be particularly well suited to entrepreneurship is because of the personal qualities that they exhibited in a COIN environment — ability to manage complex financial transactions, while under constant personal danger, yet building and maintaining a team of Americans who were embedded in a group of foreign nationals who outnumbered the Americans by a ratio of 10 to 1. In my book, I have videotaped interviews which indicate some of these personal qualities. For example, interviews with Sayce Falk, Brandon Humphrey, Robert Werth.

The COIN veterans should be backed in entrepreneurial teams that use the skills — and teams — developed in the COIN environment. For example, in the interviews cited above, the two of the Marines — Falk and Werth — worked together in the same Joint Security Station in Ramadi. The relationship between those service-members will likely endure for life to the extent that if they worked together in a business, they would draw on many of the same shared experiences that may be applicable in the business. In Band of Brothers, which has become an iconic work about the so-called Greatest Generation, at least some of the former members of that Rifle Company go into business together after that war. IAVA has compared the new GI Bill to the old GI Bill, rightly so. But, there is an important distinction to be made: In World War II, Infantry Companies saw little or no COIN. I know of no Airborne or Marine Rifle Companies that went from high intensity, state versus state maneuver warfare to counterinsurgency where Marines were embedded with foreign police to maintain peace among a foreign civilian population. COIN requires a junior officer or NCO to be a “mayor, prosecutor, venture capitalist, financier, all in one… on some days you’re a mafia boss,” as Sayce Falk says of his Ramadi COIN experience.

Therefore, the New GI Bill program should be adapted and expanded to the different experience of veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. The New GI Bill should be administered so that service-members with COIN experience are channeled into entrepreneurship programs in college and graduate school, and that the service-members are given entrepreneurship opportunities through Department of Defense, working in conjunction with civilian organizations like Kauffman Foundation, and venture funding organizations like Intel’s venture funding arm, or other corporate VC organizations.

2. The Deeper Problem: Divide between Civilian Elites and Military. IAVA Founder, Paul Rieckhoff posted this on his facebook page. Earlier he also posted this.

In response to Rieckhoff’s post, I wrote, “good article. one of the original sources on this is Fallows, “What Did You Do in The Class War, Daddy?” Washington Monthly, Oct 1975; and Webb, Fields of Fire, draws a not so thinly veiled character based upon that article, and it is a major theme of that novel. Interestingly, some of those people who crossover from the civilian elite to military service become successful authors (Fick, a graduate of a Jesuit prep, and Dartmouth before writing, One Bullet Away; Gallagher, son of two lawyers who went through ROTC before operating in a COIN environment as a Army officer, before writing — blogging — Kaboom; Bing West, graduate of a Jesuit prep and Princeton before writing The Village and a bunch of other stuff). Also, it may be that some of those who cross that divide from “civilian elite” to military are also some of the best COIN service-members.”

This divide between the military and civilian elites is something I have been acutely aware of since I was in college, where some of my closest friends were students who had decided to go into the Marines. One of my friends and I took a Freshman seminar on Vietnam, then a War and Politics class taught by Eliot Cohen, among other classes while at the same time going through the Marine Platoon Leader’s Class Program (different from ROTC in that we did not get scholarship money, and only attended during summers). I ended up writing my senior thesis on James Webb’s Fields of Fire, a classic novel of the Vietnam War. One of Webb’s major themes is the military-civilian divide, embodied in the character, Senator, who goes from Harvard to a Marine Rifle Company then back again to Cambridge to denounce his college peers in the last pages of the novel. At least 10 of my Harvard classmates, however, did go into the Marines (probably an anomaly before or after for decades) — and at least 4 of those ended up at Stanford for graduate school after the Marines. James Webb has written about this civilian-military divide in several Vietnam anthologies; and Frank Schaeffer has two books — AWOL and Keeping Faith — which update the theme in detail for the Iraq/ Afghan era.

My proposed solution to this divide is to supercharge COIN veterans in entrepreneurship in three areas — technology, finance, and clean power. So-called civilian elites are acutely focused on these areas because, in a word, of money. Venture capitalists, lawyers, MBAs, investment bankers, c-level executives — the so-called civilian elites — are working hard every day to carve out their niche in these areas to get rich or richer. On a national level, these three areas add to what political scientist, Joe Nye, calls “soft power,” which seems to have morphed into “smart power” under the current Department of State. The “Clash of Civilizations” construct of Samuel Huntington may or may not be considered useful by political scientists anymore (in a conversation with a political scientist at a recent Stanford Leading Matters event, I found that Huntington’s idea had largely been discarded). The rise of the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) — as well as the next tier BRICs, which may include Turkey, Indonesia, and others — certainly intersects with the areas of finance, technology, and clean energy. Brazil has been energy independent for decades. India is a leading country for outsourcing IT functions. Emerging Markets banks may be stronger than Western banks in many respects, as The Economist recently noted in a Special Report.

How would such an initiative be pushed out to the veterans community? Another posting by Paul Rieckhoff on the use of social media by veterans gives an important clue. In writing progressive drafts of my book, I am finding that linking to the Marines in the book on facebook, and the like, is a valuable tool for understanding the enduring relationships between these veterans. It is very clear that the relationships forged in combat will endure for a lifetime.

3. Execution. In outline, here are some thoughts on how this should be executed:

A) Get private money (eg, Kauffman Foundation, Defense Firms, Company Venture Capital Funds) to back COIN Veteran Entrepreneurs.

B) Get Government Organization and Support — but not actual money (after all Uncle Sam is pretty much broke, with 40 cents of every dollar spent borrowed money). For example, get DoD personnel lists to identify COIN veterans; reach out through veterans organizations like Marine 4 Life, IAVA, VA, etc.

C) Fund, mentor, etc through normal VC process.

2 Responses to “2nd Draft – Afterward – Counterinsurgency is Entrepreneurship”

  1. Keith McFarland

    This is amazing. This is one of the best ideas I’ve come across in ages, and frankly one of the most realistic. It’s also one of the few that could help veterans overcome some of the psychological effects of dislocation upon returning home by giving them a way to utilize skills learned in the military in their everyday lives in a way that boosts self esteem and gives continuity to their lives by integrating their skillset into new, productive ventures. I know I would be grateful for a program that took the skills I have developed in dealing with my medical issues (easily ten thousand hours) and help me repurpose that skillset to something productive. I am sure that the thousands of injured and disabled veteras would benefit from a similar program tooled to meet their abilities. You could be literall giving soldiers back their lives with this. I would be happy to help promote this idea in any way I can. Please continue pursuing this!

  2. Administrator

    Thank you for this very valuable comment. Janar

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This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.


This is a website for writing a book about Lima Company, 3/7, during 4 deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2007.