22 April 2013

The Sherpatudes: Words to Live and Write By

Last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Ricks graciously featured "The Sherpatudes" on his "Best Defense" blog at Foreign Policy magazine.

I had written those 26 fortune-cookie-sized lessons in March 2012, in an attempt to distill my advice for working in a Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"). Even though it's one of the least sexy jobs in uniform, working the radios and computers in the TOC was always one of my favorite duties. That's probably because, with all the television screens and radio chatter and information feeds, it's a little like working in a newsroom.

The TOC isn't so much the brains of a military unit as it is a reactive cluster of nerves. Working together, the TOC workers process and pass information, monitoring events as they happen, focusing their collective attentions on the "here," the "now," and the "what happens in the next 15 minutes."

Ricks' readers are nearly always insightful and intellectually challenging. I was humbled by the great responses generated by the post there. One reader said, "I guess most of these rules also apply to any profession. And #3, #25 and #26 are mandatory if you want to live happily in any society."

Another noted, "something for posters to consider as they critique events/situations [...]"

Even as I saw my own words in a different light and venue last week, I didn't realize at the time was that I'd soon have a chance to follow my own advice. It was Monday morning. The bombs at the Monday's Boston Marathon weren't yet on my radar. As the day progressed, however, I found myself fighting impulses to speculate online regarding the developing situation.

Consider, for example, Sherpatude No. 3: "Never speak with complete authority regarding that which you lack direct knowledge, observation, and/or suppressive fires."

Or Sherpatude No. 15: "The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't."

Or Sherpatude No. 17: "Exercise digital/tactical patience. Communications works at the speed of light. People do not."

A couple of days later, I'm glad I followed my own advice. I didn't jump to conclusions (No. 15: "The first report is always wrong. Except when it isn't"), and I didn't crack jokes (No. 26: "Humor is a combat multiplier. Except when it isn't").

For years, I've tried to come up with a list of best-practices for mil-bloggers, something akin to a "code of conduct" from my days in newspaper and magazine journalism.

During an otherwise dark and stormy week, I was pleasantly surprised that the Sherpatudes held up to such an application. Even with the usual caveats about how "your results may vary," my TOC-inspired tips and techniques might just serve as general recommendations for mil-blogging and mainstream media practice.

In other words: words to live and write by.

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