Saturday, June 25, 2011

Word of the Day - Kinetics

June 22

One of the most interesting aspects of working in a mixed civilian and military (aka CivMil) environment is exploring the stereotypes that exist about each group, and how accurate or inaccurate they are. Among the most enjoyable and positive aspects of the training has been the chance to better understand what these preconceptions are, and make some tiny inroads on bridging what can be a yawning gap.

Broadly speaking, civilians, who are assumed to all work for the Department of State (though we have terrific folks from USAID, Dept of Agriculture, DHS, DEA and others doing great work overseas) are presumed to be long on education, short on common sense, and prone to giving extended erudite discourses permeated with polysyllabic terminology, but lacking clear purpose or goals.  Our military brethren are categorized as rigid drones who take a linear approach to even the most complex issues, addressing the ambiguity and uncertainties not with cogent analysis and reflection but with additional PowerPoint slides.

As a consequence, civilians have been known to ignore the considerable talents and knowledge of colleagues and to disrespect them through simple omission, treating them as a guidance system system for the weapon they carry for the purpose of saving the life of said civilian.  From the other side of the fence (or from the back of the truck) civilians are simply prone to becoming absorbed in their thinking and their work.  Somewhat surprisingly, FSOs are among the least sociable groups around, partly because they want to respect the personal space of colleagues, who may be saving the interpersonal engagement energy for their daily work with foreigners.  In other words, in treating the military the way they treat their peers they are badly misreading the military culture and can easily give offense, or at least fail to build bridges.  Additionally civilians (at least this one) can be intimidated by the deep bond among military colleagues who have the kind of gruffness, competition, and underlying loyalty and affection that is familiar to a father of three boys, as we may gain acceptance, but will not (and should not) gain entry into their clan. Finally, as diplomats we tend to presume (or at least make a big show of pretending) that every team member is valuable and can contribute to the collective effort.  Preoccupied with the daily business of managing massive numbers of people and handling spectacular logistical challenges, new civilians are (rightly) the subject of considerable scrutiny due to the resource intensive demands we place on the military (people and vehicles to get us places "outside the wire") and we have heard a consistent refrain of needing to quickly demonstrate what skills we "bring to the fight" - and rebut the alternative conclusion that we are simply an "oxygen theif".

Important Not to Forget to Clear your Weapon on the way home from Work

Given the above, I was very pleased with the friendships that developed between my team of 7 civilians and our counterpart military group from the Indiana National Guard.  It was a validating and refreshing experience to spend time with some of the young men and women whose entire job is to get us to and from our KLEs (see last post if you are scratching your head) and other activities in one peice.  As one young man explained, he expected us "PhD types" to be a lot different.  It might have just been hinting that he thought we'd be smarter (and I must confess to only holding a Masters) - but I THINK he meant that we were more down to earth and more open to befriending him than he had been led to expect.

With regard to military stereotypes, I have been previously disabused of any notion that the military are, as a good friend likes to say "a bunch of mouth breathers", since the contributions and insights of all the Defense Attaches and military personnel at Embassies have been of very high caliber - often because they cut through many of the niceties and flourishes that we civilians are indeed prone to use in our writing, presentations, and daily discourse.  Plus, anybody that gets a "TIC report that AAF VBIEDs struck 2 MRAPS together with RPGs and IDF in our AOR. CF RA were engaged, SecFor reports 2 WIA and no KIA" without so much as blinking to let their brain catch up should maybe trade places with us PhD types.  If my acronym immersion program is as intensive in Afghanistan as it was during the training I have prepared a laminated card I can wear that reads "WDTAD" - pronounced "Whaa Dat" that I can point to throughout a briefing to minimize interruptions. (What Does That Acronym Denote).

As the training developed we began to have TICs (troops in contact) as the AAF (Anti-Afghan Forces) in our AOR (Area Of Responsibility) got active.  Although the training did not include Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) being fired at us, there were IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) other simulations that were very effective in developing a healthy instinct for hitting the deck, and running like hell, while keeping close by our SecFor (Security Forces - our soldiers), preferably the one using the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon - which holds 200 rounds).  Our SecFor appreciated our enthusiasm in participating (getting dirty), and we had a good laugh together counting how many civilians can fit in the back of a single Humvee (4 though we would could have done beaten that with more practice), and how fast we all got in.

Excellent Meeting (I Mean KLE) Until the Kinetics Began

Anyhow, one thing that has surprised me a bit is the precision and sophistication of military vocabulary, which can be quite scholarly, and which is an interesting counterpoint to the colorful and creative (read off-color) language that fits better with our stereotype.  Words like "combatant", "sanction", "detainee" and "kinetic" roll off as easily (and often in conjunction with) the four letter types one might expect. Some liberties are taken with usage and noun creation of course, so you can either refer to a "very kinetic province" or to having had "a lot of kinetics" on a given day, week, month. If you, like this PhD type, don't know the definition of kinetic - it means "relating to, caused by, or producing motion".

So, we had a day with plenty of kinetics, which is to say that the AAF roleplayers tried a variety of methods to injure or kill us, which successfully caused and produced motion. :)

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