Reflections on my visit to the US Army War College

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This week I had the honor and privilege of being a guest at the US Army War College as part of their 2008 Strategy Implementation Seminar.  The program focuses on strategy and leadership to further prepare the graduates for their future roles as leaders of the United States Military.  The program culminates in a special seminar that brings in outside leaders, academics, and essentially a cross section of the American public and exposes the graduating members of the course to the rich diversity of thought found in our society. 

Conversely it is an incredible opportunity to expose those same industry leaders and cross section of the American public to the leadership talent and depth of the military.  While I am certain that the graduates take away interesting nuggets of perspective, information, thoughts, approaches, and methodologies from the guests, I would have to say the education the guests get in return is equally if not more valuable.

This event had a very profound affect on me as a leader, as an individual, and as a United States citizen. 

The dedication, talent, intelligence and sheer mental fortitude present in these students was astounding.  Their grasp of issues as far ranging as economics, politics (both domestic and foreign), law, and of course the military were simply complete. Perhaps more importantly their understanding of the interplay of these topics and the resultant gaps would put most of the people I deal with to shame as ignorant simpletons.

The Seminar brings in a host of authors, strategists, industry and military leaders to a single location for an intense and well regimented program for thought and discourse on a wide variety of topics.  There is a very strong non-attribution component to the conversations which allows the participants, speakers, panel members, and guests to be open and forthright in the exchange of ideas.  It is truly powerful stuff.  The conversations were never timid, always insightful, and you felt that all points of view got an equal share of the spotlight. Something many people might not expect from such an event.

As a leader, the lessons learned from this event will stay with me forever.  While there are always nuggets of leadership theory one can glean from any such effort (and I certainly picked up a few here), the event exposed me to different types of interactions, and greatly increased my ability to manage my ‘situational awareness’. 

I had a great many conversations with students and guests alike.  The interactions with the other guests provided a wonderful opportunity to network with people across many walks of life.  An experience most of us never truly get.  To interact with professors, think tank analysts, politicians, industry leaders, news reporters, all engaged in active debate was personally very gratifying for me. 

More impacting was the interaction with the students. The students were not all Army.  There was representation from the Marines, Navy, Air Force, State Department, and others.   Most of the students I talked to had been to Iraq or Afghanistan.   In many cases multiple times.   These folks had stories that would make you laugh, make you cry, make your heart sing for joy, and take you to some dark places, and above all allow you, to for a brief crystalline moment, see into and through the eyes of those who defend this country.   To gauge the quality of the men and women putting it on the line.  For me this was a powerful personal experience.

If you are ever so fortunate as to be invited to this event, Go! I can guarantee that It will be one of the richest and most rewarding experiences of your life. Kudos to the Department of Defense and US Army War College for building such a strong and robust program.

And finally, a great big “Hoo-Ah!” to my all compatriots in Seminar 6. I enjoyed your hospitality and willingness to bring me into your fold.  You have taught me a truly important lesson, “Always remember to Start slow, then taper off.”   :)

-Mike Manos