Small Wars Journal

Irregular Warfare: Fielding and Phasing in the Venture Capital Green Beret

Thu, 09/06/2012 - 5:30am

In the first two articles of this series, Irregular Warfare; Village Stability Operations and the Venture Capital Green Beret and Irregular Warfare and the Two Minds of the Venture Capital Green Beret, published with Small Wars Journal, I discussed the need for venture capital and entrepreneur training as a part of the Army Special Forces curriculum and body of practice. Though there were questions and pushback in the comments to these articles which should be addressed, I will limit my efforts in this article to how such capacity would be added to the Regiment and practiced in application.

Economic Development Program

As stated in the previous articles, the program would not create another mission for the Regiment but instead be designed only to enhance the five existing components of modern Irregular Warfare. Specifically, the EDP would consist of three interdependent components, which collectively employ Venture Capitalist thinking, resources, tools and success metrics in empowering local entrepreneurs. The three interwoven components would be:

Academics – Structured and operated as a formal center of learning and maintained by the Warrant Officer Institute, the academic component emphasizes a body of knowledge related to universal, regional and local best practices and models. Academics would be responsible for: development of scholarly works; field and case studies; 180A, 18A and other 18X EDP training programs; and, creation, maintenance and dissemination of a base of knowledge derived from real-world operations.

Command – Structured and managed like an Investment Bank, operated within the USASOC G3 and its subordinate commands and offices, the Command component would emphasize coordination of business and financial development efforts across each Group’s Area of Responsibility. Command would be responsible for: direction; long-range planning; high-level resource and relationship access; long-term project-program approving authority; and, other operational supports.

Operations – Operationally the EDP would be seamlessly intertwined with the many other activities a SF Company, ODA or individual SF Operator engages in when executing any of the five components of IW. Specifically the Company and ODA would be responsible for building and maintaining business and investor relationships; economic information attainment and investment due diligence; business, financial and market analysis; and investment placement, monitoring and reporting.

In Practice

The best way to provide for an awareness of how this would operate in practice is to describe in brief how the program would be applied during a specific mission. The following is a depiction of what an ODA, tasked with conducting Village Stability Operations in Afghanistan, would do prior, during and post deployment.

Predeployment: As part of normal Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield efforts, the EDP trained 180A, and other ODA members would draw upon traditional and EDP specific information sources to develop a detailed picture of the economic network(s) within the communities, districts and the province to which they are assigned.

The EDP aspects of the mission preparation process would emphasize identification of: businesses and products created or sold in the communities in these districts; logistical chains (where products sold or raw materials are acquired and from whom); business owners and leaders native to but not necessarily living in these communities; skilled labor; existing and planned CERP, USAID, Ministry of the Interior and other projects; banking, investors and other finance providers; and other business related information.

Once these items have been identified, to include holes in information, the EDP database and personal experience will be drawn upon to identify business and financial resources which can be accessed and employed to enhance the local economy of these communities. Emphasis will be on developing a Course of Action which fills in information gaps and best utilizes all the available Host Nation, US and NGO funds, and supplier, customer, businesses partner and investor access and relationships available through the EDP. Initial efforts will emphasize a Course of Action which provides for improvement and expansion of existing business, development of local business leaders and investors, with subsequent and ongoing efforts focusing on establishment of new businesses to fulfill unmet need and demand.

Relief in Place: During the RIP-in the ODA would refine its EDP COA based on more current and improved information derived directly from the ODA in place and with updated information sources. Additionally, the ODA would ensure coordination and interface with the various layers of partners, agencies and organizations which will be participating in realizing the ODA’s EDP COA.

For those AOs where the ODA is conducting a RIP of another ODA, final coordination would be made between the existing ODA’s EDP efforts and the incoming ODA’s EDP COA.  And where the ODA is conducting VSO for the first time, emphasis would be placed on filling as many gaps in situational awareness and planning and establishing higher level relationships and partnerships as is possible before embedding and going operational in the AO.

Operational: Coinciding with Governance and Security efforts, the following is what would be emphasized during the operational phase of the mission by those responsible for conducting EDP efforts: training on job skills, business and finance and investing; establishing and improving situational awareness information related to economic base and participants; economic network development, expansion and improvement, to include the placement of investments and other funding in specific businesses; and, establishing, enhancing and deconflicting business relationships both intra and inter-district and between the community and the greater district, provincial, national, regional and global level economies.

At the ODA level, EDP efforts emphasize the small businesses in the local community and district, and larger businesses which reside within the greater AO. At this level the ODA’s focus will be on creating or enhancing local production while also enabling businesses which provide for local consumer needs. Fully integrated with the efforts of the ODA conducted at the village and district level, will be EDP efforts conducted by the SF Company. The Advance Operating Base, nested within the larger community centers or at the provincial level, will emphasize larger businesses which provide the products or services to the small businesses in the outlying communities or which provide external markets for the productivity of these villages.

EDP efforts at the Special Operations Task Force level would emphasize development of the overall economic base of the SOTF’s AOR. This would include integration and deconfliction of the efforts of the many ODAs and multiple AOBs within the command, and coordination of efforts and assets and resources across the entire AOR. Efforts would also be dedicated to providing coordination between the ODA and the local Provincial Response Team, USAID and many other national, provincial and international aid and development agencies focused on the AOR. Particular attention would be placed on creating linkages with the economic networks of the other SOTFs.

At the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force level the EDP would emphasize national economic development and integration of the national economy with the regional and international economy. At this level many other assets and resources would also be coordinated such as those of the Worldbank, OECD, UN, the State Department’s Crisis Response Center and many other aid and development agencies and private enterprise and finance and funding providers. Particular attention will be placed on interface with national regulatory bodies, agencies and individuals which impact the economic development efforts being conducted in the Theatre.

For a best case and best practices model we can look to the Keiretsu model employed to great success in post WWII Japan. Though Japan of course was already an industrial and commercial power before the war, there remain models and practices which can be applied in far less advanced nations like Afghanistan. In essence the Keiretsu model establishes an atomic style economic engine, whereby a funding source and a small number of large companies reside within the nucleus, around which are several rings of small businesses which feed productivity into the large companies in the core.

At the center may be a company delivering products to the market as sophisticated as a car, while on the periphery would be layers of component and subcomponent manufacturers varying in the complexity of the products built and all of which are part of the same business ecosystem and end product. Even today you can walk through the housing areas of Tokyo and other Japanese cities and in the garage attached to a family home will be five people working, machining a component for a Camry or other end item product manufactured in Japan.

Conceptually the ODA would be working to establish the outer rings of the Keiretsu model in the villages and community centers of their AO. While concurrently the AOB would be focused on absorbing the capacity of these outer rings and moving it inwards toward larger enterprises, which in turn either deliver directly to market or feed inwards to the SOTF and CJSOTF level for inclusion in finished products or for delivery to market by large enterprises with access to much larger markets.

We are not talking about manufacturing cars or consumer electronics in Afghanistan just yet, but rather, simple products designed to meet domestic and regional consumer goods demand. As the economy improves however, these same low-skilled, local manufacturing facilities and the productivity they represent will be directed to increasingly more complex and sophisticated products and larger domestic and international markets. Just as happened at a much more advanced manner in Japan and more recently South Korea.

RIP Out: During the RIP out process it will be essential to conduct a thorough handover of the EDP initiatives underway and to fill in any gaps in information the incoming ODA, SOTF or CJSOTF may have. Of even greater importance will be personal introductions and in person handover of the business and financial and agency relationships established by the previous ODA and its predecessors. As well, the outgoing ODA, SOTF, CJSOTF will need to ensure the EDP database and information repositories are current and well detailed. This would include introduction of any academic or other works completed during the deployment which provide for greater EDP situational and operational awareness as impacts the local economy, best practices, etc.

Post-deployment: One of the greatest values of the EDP is that it provides an ODA with the ability to continue to improve the economics of a given community long after they have left the country. This is not realized through the ODA remaining focused on the AO they once were responsible for but rather simply by conducting their EDP efforts during the missions they go on to conduct. It is the linkages created between the local economies in which they have and will work and which other ODAs have and are currently working in which is the real strength of the EDP.

As a natural portion of the planning and COA development for the next deployment, the ODA will look to see if there are production resources, components or markets made available by companies reflected in the EDP database which would enhance or accelerate the EDP efforts in the new AO the ODA is going to be responsible for. Post-deployment efforts would emphasize maintaining an overall awareness of the business and financial resources made available and accessible, locally, domestically and internationally, through the EDP and on how such could be utilized to improve the ODA’s current and upcoming missions.

The previous provides a view into how the EDP would be operated during VSO in Afghanistan. However, tailored correctly, these capabilities would enhance any of the five component missions of IW. The primary focus, regardless of mission type or location, would be on training local business leaders and investors on how to benefit from the relationships and resources provided by the ODA to improve the standard of living for their own children.

Special Forces Warrant Officer Corp

Though designed and operated to provide for short and medium returns, the EDP is first and foremost about continuity and long-range gains. And those Green Berets tasked with continuity, relationships and long-range planning are the Warrant Officers. Of course the difficulty becomes one of how responsibility for and operation of the EDP would be added to the already over tasked and understaffed Corp. There are however models for such.

Many large Investment Banks operate their own Venture Funds (Vertical System combined with Horizontal Disruptor) and this well developed model from the financial world would be adapted to fit the unique nature and needs of the EDP. The following structure and framework was developed from the IB with VC Fund model and is excerpted from the proposal presented to the Command Warrant for Special Forces and the Commandant of the Warrant Officer Institute in 2011.

As a program and not a for-profit business or financial firm, and unlike an actual IB or VC Fund, the EDP will not own or directly manage any business or financial assets. However, the operational structure and approval authorities, the asset allocation decision analytics and the Risk & Uncertainty and Return on Investment modeling will closely follow that of a large Investment Bank with owned Venture Fund.

Though guidance and higher level relationships and access are provided from the IB hierarchy above, the greatest strength of the VC world is its ability to make decisions and apply resources rapidly and independently at the edges. What this means is ODA & Company level 180As will oversee a number of specific local initiatives with SOTF & Battalion level 180As overseeing a portfolio of ventures across their AOR and the Group level 180A responsible for a portfolio of portfolios across the AOR of the Group. And of course, these efforts would all be coordinated and overseen, though not managed, across and between the Groups by the parent organization, USASOC.

Just as in the IB and VC worlds, this will require experienced and highly educated, skilled and connected Warrant Officers at every level. In order to ensure this high degree of individual capacities, a three tiered certification process is recommended, with each level demonstrating thorough understanding, not just knowledge attainment. Though focused on the Warrant Officer Institute and its education and training guidelines, ongoing education should very much include opportunities to pursue civilian education at higher institutes of learning, both undergraduate and graduate.

Level I – Area Analyst – Equivalent to Investment Analyst

Role: A Level I is trained to analyze assets and businesses and to make recommendations as to the application of financial and other resources to the formation of new or expansion of existing businesses. The primary focus of a Level I is the business and financial success of specific individuals and ventures in the communities of the AO. The purpose of these efforts is to apply job creation and economic development as a means to enhance stability efforts and assist in attaining the Commander’s desired endstate.

Responsibility: Prior to deployment and as part of planning, a Level I would look at the EDP database to see what assets, individuals, skilled labor, productive resources and businesses exist within the AO and what if any EDP focused efforts and capabilities have been applied. Level I’s are responsible for EDP specific COA development which is an integrated and supportive portion of the overall COA for the mission. While operational, the Level I is responsible for oversight, placing investments analyzing assets and investments and for ensuring the EDP database is current and correct.

Level II – Area Developer – Equivalent to a Managing Director

Role: A Level II is trained to analyze a portfolio of ventures and to make recommendations as to individual ventures in the portfolio and the portfolio as a whole, to provide operational and funding guidance to Level I’s conducting EDP efforts at the ODA level. The primary focus of the Level II is the business and financial success of a portfolio of individuals and ventures with purpose to establish or enhance a network of ventures across the AOR.

Responsibilities: While the Level I is primarily focused at the tactical level of business, the Level II is focused on operations with the purpose to assist the Level I in their efforts to grow specific businesses within the portfolio. The Level II provides guidance as to: business operations; marketing; partnerships & alliances; contracting; vendor management; regulatory compliance; and more, with particular emphasis on access to higher level relationships and application of Seed & Angel funding and VC style investment analytics and oversight.

Level III – Area Partner – Equivalent to a Partner in a VC Fund or Investment Bank

Role: A Level III is trained to analyze and manage a portfolio of portfolios and to make determination as to the businesses approved for funding and support, to be sustained and which are to lose support or to be transitioned to other organizations or agencies. The Level III provides very high level access and resources and is responsible for management of the EDP at the Group or Battalion level. The focus of the Level III is on expansion of the overall economy, with particular emphasis on international investment and economic integration and expansion.

Responsibility: Whereas the Level I and II is focused on tactical and operational application of the EDP in their specific AO or AOR, the Level III works to strategically apply the program across the greater AOR. Where the Level I works with very small businesses and the Level II focuses on enhancing the efforts of the Level I while working with larger businesses, the Level III works with large businesses which absorb or feed the productivity of the lower levels and which operate nationally and internationally. The Level III is also dedicated to improvement of the EDP itself, which efforts emphasize relationship development with corporations, investors, markets, academia, government and regulators and regulatory bodies as well as resource and guidance development.

Staffing Recommendations:

Level I: Every 180A serving on an ODA should be certified Level I.

Level II: At least one Level II should be resident in each SF Company.

Level III: Every 180A working in the EDP at the battalion level and above should be a Level III.

As with all endeavors undertaken by an ODA, success of the EDP will be dependent upon more than a single MOS or individual and instead will be dependent upon the capacities and efforts of the Team and the many other participants in the SOF community. In addition to those within the ODA and native to SF, there are many other participants to the EDP which already work closely with SF and which are part of the greater SOF or US Government Aid communities. The EDP would provide a framework for how these assets are employed and tailored to different mission types and environments to maximum effect.

Training Regimen

EDP specific training would be enmeshed in the curriculum of the Special Forces Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, to be added in various parts of the Special Forces Qualification Course and to other specific 18X courses. These studies and courses of instruction would emphasize the program, its purpose, application and impact and how the various participants contribute. However, EDP training and education for 180As would be more collegiate and administered separately by the Warrant Officer Institute.

To ensure 18 Series EDP certified practitioners are and remain competitive with their civilian counterparts, it is essential the education and training program be rigorous and thorough. This means all coursework must directly correspond to that offered in comparable collegiate courses and programs. To meet this demand and to deal with obvious time constraints, academics would be broken into three components administered separately over time, with the work of all three, combined with on the job experience, which in total would equate to an MBA worth of study.

Level I – (1 month. self paced and driven – online) Assigned reading and coursework providing for a basic understanding of accounting, finance and business, sales and Entrepreneurship. Level is attained when coursework is completed.

Level II – (3 months. self paced and driven – online) Advanced reading and intermediate coursework on business, accounting, finance, sales, marketing, and Venture Capital with additional focus on regional and industry specific studies. Level is attained when coursework is completed and formal paper has been accepted by the Warrant Officer Institute.

Level I and Level II blocks of instruction and books, provided by Skillsoft, are available now through the AKO portal. And with completion of these programs automatically reflecting in ATRRS, very little additional administration is needed.

Level III – (6 months. Internship and Schoolhouse) Advanced coursework on business, and financial and fund management focused heavily on regional studies and culminating in a thesis paper. First component of study would be a two month internship with an Innovation Center or Investment Fund (Angel or Seed, Private Equity or Venture Capital), with the second being University style, civilian advised classes and thesis development and completion conducted at the WOI at Ft. Bragg.

Additionally, there are a growing number of top level universities offering MBA programs which combine studies in entrepreneurship and Venture Funding. The WOI and Regiment would work with the American College Equivalency and one or more of these universities with the purpose to provide 180As who have completed Level III, and served a period of time in such capacity, with an MBA or to be within a few credits of such.

Level I and Level II training should not be limited only to 180As but should be available to any 18X qualified individual. Acceptance into Level I studies would require approval of the first Level II 180A in the Command. However, approval into Level II studies would require approval of the first Level III in the Command and would be solely dependent on a demonstration of superior comprehension during Level I study and during application.

Phased Introduction

The first step would be to add those things which do not require any or very little additional investment in time or money. Level I training is one of these, as is the introduction of an EDP database. As part of the previously referenced proposal to the WOI, I developed the Level I and II curriculums from courses now available through AKO which could be rolled out immediately at no additional cost. As well, an SQL database is being developed by a member of the Regiment which could easily be maintained by the IT department of USASOC and which could be made available through the existing USASOC, Group or Battalion portals at very little cost.

Though the coursework for Level II has also been identified and is now available through AKO, a position need be established within the WOI responsible for formalization of Level I and II certification. This same office would be responsible for providing guidance as to who should be recommended to proceed to Level II, to qualify and approve the first class of applicants and to make final determination of who is awarded Level II certification. The individual chosen to head this office would be a civilian (though prior SOF experience would enhance efforts) and must be experienced in business, Venture Capital and academia. Additionally, this office will develop the Level III program, attain necessary supports and relationships, conduct requisite hiring and make determination as to who will attend the first class.

Finally, prior to graduation from Level III, individuals will be identified from the class who possess superior understanding and comfort with the Mind of the System and the Mind of the Disruptor and with Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital. It will be these individuals, and the many Level Is and IIs who are also driven to contribute, who go on and are the driving force and intelligence which expand this meager beginning into the overall program.  However, this is not a short-term project, and though steps can and should be taken immediately, it is projected to take up to five years for the final EDP structure and its many tools, resources, relationships and body of practitioners to be in place to make a major impact. 

About the Author(s)

Mr. EM Burlingame has raised investment for his own entrepreneurial ventures in Silicon Valley and has lived and worked as an executive in the US, Asia and the EU as a Venture Capitalist and Investment Banker primarily focused on very early-stage technology, telecommunications and internet media companies. He recently returned from Eastern Afghanistan, where his ODA conducted Village Stability Operations, and is now serving with 1st Battalion 1st Special Forces Group. EM has continued as Founder and Managing Director of the Emerio Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs through education and to increasing the rate of investment in very early-stage companies directly in emerging markets.


Re this...

<i>The training proposed in this article would be enough for applying simple tools to simple local economies. Yet, as you point out, Bill, the tools are not enough; experience and innate traits define the successful venture capitalist more than the basic arithmetic of discounted cash-flows.</i>

I suspect that in actual practice the local economies, and the tools required to work with them, will be anything but simple.

I also suspect that entrepreneurial, venture capital, or angel investor experience in the US would provide an experience base of questionable utility in most of the environments where such strategies are likely to be pursued. That's particularly true as the project moves out of the realm of theory and into the realm of practice.

The US business environment may seem superficially more complex; in practice it is in many ways less so. As I pointed out way down this thread, when venture capitalists and business enterprises engage in the US they engage as equals, with a clear idea of what each party brings to the table and expects to take away from the table and a clear agreement on the rules of the game. The relationship under discussion would be very different.

PS: That was supposed to have gone below Ned's comment of January 27, 2013 - 2:57pm.

Ned McDonnell III

Sun, 01/27/2013 - 12:57am

In reply to by Bill M.

Grant, Dayuhan and Bill,

The training proposed in this article would be enough for applying simple tools to simple local economies. Yet, as you point out, Bill, the tools are not enough; experience and innate traits define the successful venture capitalist more than the basic arithmetic of discounted cash-flows. Please be clear, I am not speaking for E.M. Burlingame in any way. These are my opinions and mine alone.

You all raise large questions, which I have indeed danced around, perhaps through a basic unwillingness to admit that I do not know. If you are not inclined to read these thoughts, I of course understand. Nevertheless, I must caution you that these are thoughts based only on experience and reading, constantly updating itself along the way. A scholar I am not.

Just what do people, particularly outside civilians, expect the Special Forces to be or do?
NED: You are not beat cops for oppressive or corrupt governments. You are who you are because the country has entrusted you to protect us from untraditional attacks and to intervene in extraordinary emergencies. And you do that well. Adding on duties creates the mission creep often following failed civilian efforts.

Just how much influence can we expect to have on internal conflicts that many of us (e.g., me) do not understand?
NED: None.

Is a particular village, province, region or country XYZ ours to win or lose?
NED: No, these remote places are not ours to win or lose. Framing situations and interventions in those terms means we are already on the wrong track.

Just who should be doing this type of development work?
NED: Truthfully, I do not know enough to say why Special Forces or Civil Affairs would be better. My preference lies toward a military roll-out because I have little faith in civilians (as a whole), based on maddening first-hand experience. To Bill’s point: the most sustainable development in a ‘hot’ conflict zone is security.

Just how often should forces be deployed?
NED: Extraordinary situations may occur in bunches. Outside of that exception, perhaps once a generation for large deployments (e.g., Plan Colombia) with intermittent smaller missions (e.g.,Grenada).

Just how long should the Special Forces / Civil Affairs be on the ground?
NED: To be defined by the mission planners but no more than a year; two, with an extension granted by Congress following a formal request from the military leadership with an open hearing. A timeline would be identified before going in; timing could be as short as a few months or even days. Such a protocol would, hopefully, force at least some thinking on succession planning in favor of police trainers, civilians and/or peace-keeping troops.

Gentlemen, I am grateful to you for these exchanges. You have pushed me to think hard about very basic questions of human nature, what really counts and what is feasible in very difficult situations. In parting, I thank you all for your service to my country. Now time for trash TV…yeah!

Bill M.

Sat, 01/26/2013 - 1:25pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

"I share the doubts raised by Bill and Grant over the implied ease of the training program proposed."

To add another thought to this for consideration we have several officers, Warrant Officers, and NCOs in our ranks that have earned MBAs, but have zero entrepreneurial experience or aptitude. I haven't seen any of these MBAs stepping out and providing business advice down range (although I'm sure there are examples) Most of them only have school based experience/learning, so not a lot of depth based on experience. It seems to me the value of experience would be as important to business advisors as it is to combat advisors. Assuming all other factors are equal (personality, intelligence, level of dedication) combat advisors that have a few years of hard earned experience under their belts in combat arms units will generally be better advisors than someone with only school based experience in combat arms. Yet some believe we can produce entreprenuerial advisors via a few hours of online education.

Since 9/11 we had several entrepreneurs, doctors, etc. joing Special Forces as enlisted men from the business world to serve their nation for a few years and then return to their business(much like the ranks of the OSS). It would be informative to hear their voices on this concept, and if they they think we can develop entrepreneurship advisors via a few hours of online education, or if there may be more effectives courses of action.

Getting back to fundamental objections....

I have to question from the start whether the military should be involved in development work or economic aid at all, beyond the most rudimentary level (i.e. repairing or replacing conflict-damaged infrastructure). It's not an area in which they are trained or equipped to be effective, and I suspect that Special Forces soldiers, of which we've a limited supply, are better suited to work as soldiers than as armed Peace Corps volunteers.

I share the doubts raised by Bill and Grant over the implied ease of the training program proposed. Doing this kind of work effectively requires extensive training and experience; it's not something that can be managed with a few online courses. I can't see how the required skills and knowledge can be developed without compromising other core military competencies. I'm not even sure who would do the training, or what would be part of it: it's not as if there's a track record of successful practice to draw on.

Perhaps most important... even in areas stabilized enough to make development aid practical, why soldiers, and why Americans? If we really want to foster entrepreneurship, wouldn't we be better off developing and supporting local capacity to promote entrepreneurship, both in government and among NGOs? Wouldn't training a cadre of local entrepreneurship trainers, and working with them to develop systems appropriate to local conditions, be more sustainable, more affordable, and more practical than sending Special Forces soldiers in to do work that will require years of presence in a single location to accomplish results that may be difficult or impossible to measure and will have little or no impact on short to medium term security concerns?

Programs like this take a long time to show results, and it will always be difficult to determine the extent to which a given outcome was produced by the project or by extraneous conditions. Those are simple realities of development work that have to be dealt with by anyone in the field. Anyone who thinks we can "fix" an economy or reliably produce a middle class is barking at the moon.

Last, having lived a long long time in tribal areas in the developing world, I have to say I think the complexities and potential pitfalls of trying to get involved in local economic life and power relations (can't separate them) are being vastly underrated. Two rules I'd suggest for that sort of thing:

1. If in doubt, don't mess with it.

2. If you're not in doubt, think again, because you should be.

Ned McDonnell III

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 7:48pm

Deleted and reinserted beneath the commentary of JasonT, immediately below.

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 01/24/2013 - 12:53pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III


Your points about constructive criticism are valid, Bill. Were I able to edit my response, I would strike the three upper-case words as being destructive and inflammatory and replace them with something like the following statements.

INCORRECT with “This concern over large personnel needs may be unfounded.”

INCOHERENT with “The conclusion presented in this comment may not follow from the material presented in the article.”

INCREDIBLE with “Since assumptions are not axiomatic, isolated exceptions may not be enough to refute them.”

It seems that my penchant for the dramatic and assonance made me, well, a little asinine. As to the unanswered critiques, I have answered some in other writings. Others, particularly who should implement the program (Special Forces versus Civil Affairs), lie beyond my qualifications to answer as a civilian never in the military who likely does not grasp your culture. I do know that I would trust this program being tested by the Army in the field since there are few civilians willing to go into conflict zones and try it.

You all are right: experimentation, experimentation and more experimentation are what the military has to do in the face of necessities imposed by the unexpected or unplanned; well, life follows the quick-step in this case. And that experimentation has to be tempered with patience, devoid of hubris and refined by arguments back and forth. One thing I have noticed in these exchanges is that I often overlook things said by others in previous comments when I am looking for an answer to a specific criticism.

My brain is only so big (or glaringly small) and I miss these points that address my previous contentions. Perhaps I am not alone in this foible or limitation. Finally, there are times when opposing views really come down to how we respectively view the world and the assumptions those divergent views create. Assumptions born of intuition – and its evil twin, prejudice – are hard to refute and harder to change.

My apologies for mistaking Grant’s earlier comment as not being constructive and for my regrettable reaction to it. The irony here is two-fold. We are not all that far apart in our thinking. Additionally, it seems that I failed to follow my own, oft-stated, counsel of creative arguments taking the raw material of proposals and working it into something better. Suffice it to say, Ralph Kramden feels like my patron saint right about now.

You all enrich me and I thank you. Very truly yours, Ned McDonnell.

Bill M.

Wed, 01/23/2013 - 2:36am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III


I think Grant's last point about constructive criticism needs to be re-read a few times. You proposed an idea that we both offered counterviews to. To make this a learning experience for all, it would be more effective if you responded directly to our criticisms than implying we're close minded and not willing to try. As Grant stated we're not locked in stone opposed, but we do understand our systems (as well as one can understand a bureaucracy), so criticisms can be helpful in gaining understanding of the opposition you will face in implementing this concept.

Online learning is a valuable addition to traditional learning systems, but I am not buying that a Soldier can spend a few hours online and then be a credible "entreprenuer advisor" in the field. What I do buy is our SF soldiers can expand their knowledge on economics and the social-political systems that facilitate or oppose economic activity, and they can employ this knnowledge to improve their on the ground assessments, and then make recommendations on what needs to be done and using our SOF network reach out and find the appropriate expert to help.

One critique I made that you have not addressed is the feasibility on facilitating economic development in an active conflict zone. Sure, short term you can move in with heavy security and build something, but will it endure and more importantly grow? SF does more than fight and enable others to fight, but if there is fighting to be done that is usually the first order of business. You seem to be pushing the assumption that Green Berets can enable the locals to develop "relatively" striving economies and if they do the underlying reasons for the conflict will be addressed and peace will blosom. Where has it ever worked? Much less in a conflict driven by ethnic competition? They have their values and you have yours. You seem to assume if they have more means they'll adapt your values. I would offer that doesn't address the underlying cause of conflict in most situations, and if you give them more means they'll use it to increase their arsenal, not send their kids to college in most cases.

Lots of other points I already addressed, but one I would like you to answer is why should SF do this instead of Civil Affairs which can and do augment ODAs?

Like Grant I agree with expermentation, continued expermentation, but it will be difficult based on the way your framing how planting the seed will result in change over time, so while you may be correct, that time period could be month? years? How to you convince an impatient Army that wants to update their slides for their twice a day staff brief that progress is being made. Overcoming our culture is at least as hard as overcoming ineffective behaviors in the Afghan society.

I have seen short term objectives achieved with economic aid in the Philippines and elsewhere, but over time, and each and everytime the tide came back in and erased those results, because in fact poverty was not the underlying issue, rather the poverty was the result of other underlying issues. You don't cure pneumonia with cough syrup. The cough may be suppressed for awhile, but it will return with gusto when the medicine wears off. You keep dancing around this challenge and simply push your faith based belief that economic development will cure all ills. I wish that was true, but strongly suspect it is not.

USASOC is uniquely capable of preparing the force to conduct Special Warfare which is focused heavily on working with and shaping what is now called the human domain, so there is no reason they couldn't contract entrepreneur experts to augment ODAs who requested them based on their educated assessments. Why wouldn't that scratch the itch?

G Martin

Wed, 01/23/2013 - 12:40am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

I thought, since I quoted the article, that it spoke for itself:

Point 1: I worked for an investment bank myself. Expecting USASOC G-3 to have a section that is "structured and managed like" one means either someone has to take on those responsibilities- receive continuing education, etc.- or they have to grow. Expecting the command and Groups to coordinate "business and financial development efforts across each Group's AOR" and "be responsible for: direction; long-range planning; high-level resource relationship access; long-term project-program approving authority; and, other operational supports" again, means that someone has to take on these tasks or grow more people to do it. From my experience no-one- and I mean NO-ONE- has the time or resources to do what they are CURRENTLY required to do- much less take on new tasks/requirements. And we are expecting cuts in budget, personnel, etc.

Point 2: This quote: "Specifically the Company and ODA would be responsible for building and maintaining business and investor relationships; economic information attainment and investment due diligence; business, financial and market analysis; and investment placement, monitoring and reporting." does not sound like something that will simply enhance the current missions. I can speak from experience- building and maintaining business and investor relationships and conducting investment due diligence is very hard and takes a lot of time and special knowledge. Conducting business, financial and market analysis is enough for a full-time job- who will do this at the company and ODA levels as a part-time job? Are you serious that all one has to do is take some on-line AKO courses to know how to do this? And the company and ODA would be responsible for "investment placement"?? Monitoring and reporting? In what alternative reality do you think this can be accomplished as just an enhancement to current missions? If you get tasked with this- that is ALL you will do- or you won't do it well. And, of course, that is assuming you can get the requisite knowledge and experience to do it (and I submit most professionals can't do it well...).

The point about children was possibly worded poorly- but I stand by my assertion that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily follow our logic and doesn't necessarily value the same things we value. I also question the concept that we can assist or make anything like this happen- I submit that that kind of wealth creation is an emergent phenomenon. There is a lot of research out there that supports that assertion- I listed a few. The few examples of research supporting a non-emergent perspective that I have read, unfortunately have been from social scientists (note- not economists) with positivist views who rarely - if ever- explicitly admit their philosophy- and thus we are left to believe their assertions without ever really knowing what they are without more research. A little bit of research uncovers their shaky assumptions. This concept- while creative- I believe rests upon the same sort of shaky assumptions. Prior to initiating anything like this some sort of background research into the underlying assertions along with possible issues with the assertions would have to be published and undertaken- or I'm afraid it will gain zero traction in a world full of good ideas.

Lastly, your comment: "The beauty of this program is that it is not seeking to fashion an outcome through an external stimulus as much as to refine local inputs with external knowledge." is all well and good- but just because you assert this does not make it true. The program doesn't exist- but, ignoring that obvious fact, in my experience- "refining local inputs with external knowledge" more than not upsets traditional power balances and is perceived - correctly or incorrectly- as a threat to those in power. I'd love it if people were rational and naturally saw us as altruistic saviors of their backward way of life (tongue in cheek here). But, unfortunately that is not the reality I have experienced.

Look, if he really believes in this concept- he can make it stronger by analyzing the critiques- critiques he will most assuredly face if he is ever in the position to try and implement it. Making it more realistic and addressing its weaknesses in logic would make it stronger. Or, he and his supporters can be defensive and ask why it wouldn't be okay to just experiment with it. I personally would have no problem with experimenting with this concept as a SOTF commander- at least having one ODA try it out- but I'm probably an anomaly. If this concept is to ever get traction- I submit it has to address the low-hanging critiques. I'm not out to kill it- and neither are the others I'd submit- but if you or he do not want constructive criticism, then the swj was probably the wrong place to publish!

Ned McDonnell III

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 7:49pm

In reply to by JasonT

Messrs D. Martin, Bill M. and Dayuhan,

Your analytical skills and reasoning abilities are beyond question. Nevertheless, you have resorted to the rhetorical devices of refashioning this proposal in your own terms and of creating a straw-man in your own image to impute assumptions not applicable to E.M. Burlingame. By contriving these conveniences, you can then persuasively punch holes in thin air, rather than refute the Venture Capital-Green Beret proposal (the 'program') under discussion. Let me explain.

POINT-1, as stated by Mr Martin, implies that this program will require a large amount of new personnel in an age of scarcity. INCORRECT. The intention of this program is to train a handful of existing and outstanding soldiers in skills directly relevant to their carrying out the expanding EDP effort. We are talking about a hundred and twenty-five people out of something like seven thousand active duty Army personnel being involved in this program when it is fully rolled out. Beyond that, training will be available to those who want it and are willing to invest the time, effort and energy into attaining new skills. Why thwart their initiative?

POINT-2 asserts that all these new people (sic) are required to re-engineer the Special Forces to address a redefined root-cause. INCOHERENT. The training is extracted from current courses available as continuing professional education through the AKO web-site. In any field, knowledge progresses with the state of the art. This training employs best practices and deliberatively supplements field-work. The article states clearly, “the program would not create another mission for the Regiment but instead be designed only to enhance the five existing components of modern Irregular Warfare…” Why not start a pilot program to see if there are soldiers enthusiastic to learn and to apply these skills?

POINT-3 implies that few host-country nationals necessarily desire a better future for their children as shown by the presence of children strapped with explosives. INCREDIBLE. The instances of children strapped with explosives are extremely rare, condemned by all sides and highly publicized. It would be unsurprising, for example, to discover that the children involved had been coerced into to doing so by parents themselves equally coerced (e.g., sacrificing one child to avoid losing all the others). If this assertion of an attenuated desire (sic) for a better future were true, it would basically also negate the value of the situational security provided by the Green Beret. Why secure a future in which people perceive no stake?

This program of training and application addresses persistent obstacles to sustained progress in all development projects, civilian or military: inhibitions against modernizing traditional economies, immediate insecurities or needs and the difficulty of learning for (often illiterate) adults. These strands and others are universal to the 'root problems' confronting various village stability operations. This program seeks to address a behavioral strand -- the resistance to modernization -- frequently overlooked.

The one worthy reservation raised is the problem inherent in external stimuli; that is, that such stimuli often lead to unexpected consequences with negative outcomes, even more oppression. The beauty of this program is that it is not seeking to fashion an outcome through an external stimulus as much as to refine local inputs with external knowledge. The monitoring and mentoring by the field soldiers provide a realistic short-term hedge against those unexpected consequences.

By collaborating with other development agencies and NGOs (or their more culturally attuned implementing partners) on issues relating program implementation and transfer as well as by phasing in this program over five years, the knowledge gained over time from that collaboration, together with the lessons-learned from pilot roll-outs, should combine to assuage such concerns over the medium and longer terms.
Thank you as always for your time in reading and considering this response.
Ned McDonnell.
SOURCE USED for force level:

George Bernard Shaw, who once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” This is a quote that has been taken by John Elkington in his book the Power of Unreasonable People. All around us in these challenging conflict prone, social and ecnomically harsh environments live examples of entrepreneurs. Some of the case studies in Elkington's book are profit making and others are more focused on filling gaps in the community. Neither have had training in any MBA program or complicated structured concepts. And I think this is the key, whether you are part of an ODA team, NGO, USAID etc is that the moment we try to structure this stuff then after a while the entrepreneurial streak is lost. Large organisations begin to confine decision making, risk taking and limit creativity. Yes of course there are basic principles and requirements for an idea to become a profit making entity to either feed ones family, employ people or maybe become a small to medium sized enterprise.

I like GMartin's references a number of solid thinkers on social/market economics and human behaviour. At the risk of being crass, take a look at John Stossal's Doc "Greed" there are awesome case studies in there - especially the one featuring the maths teacher at a tough school in NY.

It might not be AFG, Philippines, Iraq or any other place that we might work in but there basic motivations, drivers and incentives that could be of use in creating your program. I tried to get programs off the ground in the civil war area in Sri Lanka such as you describe by bringing NGOs together but you often have mindset of people who are adverse to profit making, even though the lack of any ability to make profit is why their aid is in need.

I appreciate this may be a little off track but there are great lessons all around us that big organisations can overlook in their eagerness to create something new, fancy and complex.

G Martin

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 9:17pm

In reply to by Bill M.


According to him- and two incidents I've experienced recently back it up- I would say the answer is "no"- USASOC/SOCOM are developing their own capability concepts and attempting to sell the COCOMs on them. Bass-ackwards according to the TSOC dude.

But, regardless, it seems to point to me that the concept world within SOCOM and the COCOMs isn't necessarily running on any kind of rigorous and relevant process- so, even if Burlingame's concept was good- I'd argue it wouldn't be feasible to implement- with the reality that is SOCOM and DoD right now.

Bill M.

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:06pm

In reply to by G Martin

The bruise on my thin skin is starting to heal from the empire statement now, thank you :-).

Hopefully USASOC was in agreement with the fellow from the TSOC who suggested they develop capabilities based on GCC/TSOC requirements, and not only USASOC, but all others including the services. The Army has recently tried to push some unwanted concepts based on their now Afghanistan centric view of the world. PACOM, SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, etc. all have unique challenges and the political situation is different in each which limits our options (appropriately), meaning desiging a force that can do occupation well, and of course that is questionable, isn't in great demand in most parts of the world. Not to poke a stick in the author's eye, but either or Green Beret Entrepreneurs.

The force providers have a huge challenge and that is building a force that can respond to a wide range of operational demands, so simple and flexible is better. Level 1 and 2 skills honed to a razor's edge (no fail in combat skills) and other skills shaped in the units based on their particular orientation.

G Martin

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:46pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Ha! Sorry, didn't mean to imply any evil doing by the TSOCs. I was using the language for growing slots that I usually hear used. Normally when I talk with NCOs and junior officers - any effort by any entity to grow is called "empire building". I think it comes from everyone seeming to be short personnel right now- so if the higher HQs are growing it seems unfair to most everyone else. Sorry- should have said "growing personnel authorizations". The tactical level slang for that is "growing empires".

On that note, however- I do think it is very interesting all the drama between SOCOM, the TSOCs, USASOC, etc.- about priorities, efforts, and concepts. Recently entertained a TSOC fellow at Bragg who opined that SOCOM and USASOC should build capabilities for the COCOMs (and by default TSOCs)- as the COCOMs are the clients (and, as you point out, they are force providers...)- instead of developing their own concepts and efforts in contradiction to what the COCOMs (TSOCs) want.

100% agree with you on adding tricks to one's bag. Everyone is so over-burdened right now and commanders who actually prioritize and cut non-essential tasks are both rare and very appreciated.


Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:58pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Just to emphasize a point Bill made, because it's important:

<i>they didn't have time to train on their core skills, so the last thing we need to do is throw another trick in their bag which at best they'll only be able to gain superficial knowledge on</i>


Bill M.

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 1:35pm

In reply to by G Martin

G. Martin,

Agree on all points in principle, but perhaps not in the implied nuance. TSOCs are not attempting to build empires, they're attempting to task organize appropriately to better plan and and C2 special operations throughout the full spectrum of operations (peace to war). They have never been adequately organized to do this effectively. USASOC and other force providers should welcome this change if it results in SOF being employed more effectively (USASOC and others are not operational HQs. Nor should they be, because the role of the force provider is just as important as the operational HQs, and they should be focused on it like a laser without distractions). Ideally force providing HQs like USASOC, AFSOC, MARSOC, and NAVSPECWARCOM that have a wealth of knowledge and expertise should integrate with TSOC planning efforts to ensure their forces are being used to the maxium effect to achieve theater objectives. I think this is the direction, but no doubt legacy thinkers and some officers who fail to embrace their roles as force providers (doctrine, training, equipping, etc.) to build a better future force will push back and do the nation a disservice. 80% of our senior officers and NCOs are professionally mature, but up to 20% remind me of the song, "Girls just want to have fun,", because they'll do everything possible to stay in operations (of course, we all love ops, but we also have to build and sustain the force).

I didn't leave SF that long ago, and they didn't have time to train on their core skills, so the last thing we need to do is throw another trick in their bag which at best they'll only be able to gain superficial knowledge on. On top of that it is a questionable approach to achieve our objectives anyway.

Two points, if the Army SOF community is embracing this concept, then it definitely seems like a skill set our Civil Affairs personnel should embrace instead of SF. Second, one of the great things about SF is even at the ODA and AOB levels they are quite capable of forming task forces and those with the skills can augment the SF units as required. You obviously can't develop legitimate businesses that will endure in an area where there is a high degree of insecurity, so one should assume the risk for the entreprenuer advisors would be low to moderate. If it is higher than that then there is probably something else we should be focused on. Great post.

G Martin

Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:11am

Just a few points:

#1- <em>Structured and managed like an Investment Bank, operated within the USASOC G3 and its subordinate commands and offices, the Command component would emphasize coordination of business and financial development efforts across each Group’s Area of Responsibility. Command would be responsible for: direction; long-range planning; high-level resource and relationship access; long-term project-program approving authority; and, other operational supports.</em> --- Reality: no growth for foreseeable future, massive cuts to civilian workforce, SOCOM and TSOCs growing their own empires- even if you got the concept approved, you would have to cut existing positions to make this happen. Oh, and not to mention the feasibility of USASOC and the Groups coordinating business development efforts- the turf battles over that within the USG would make the fight over intel capability pale in comparison.
#2- <em>Specifically the Company and ODA would be responsible for building and maintaining business and investor relationships; economic information attainment and investment due diligence; business, financial and market analysis; and investment placement, monitoring and reporting.</em> --- Really? I thought in previous articles this was touted as a minor addition to some teams' task list. This sounds like it is advocating for a wholesale shift in the focus of SF. And why not- since the concept implies that at the root of all problems are guys with kids that have no entrepreneurial opportunities/skills. If SF could fix that- all other problems would take care of themselves...
#3- This entire concept rests on this dubious logic chain: people the world over want a better life for their children (which explains why some sell/kill/strap with suicide vests- their kids), the major obstacle to this is a lack of venture investment opportunities/ability, that external stimuli can provide the ability and opportunities, that it is possible to do this with U.S. military entities, and that SF ODAs should focus on doing this at all times (as it is a "root" cause).

I am not a "naysayer" unless the idea strikes me as resting on extremely dubious claims. Prior to "experimenting" with SF soldiers, I would favor a logic that rests a little less on multiple and overlapping assertions. And I would rather put efforts into something that is remotely feasible. This solution doesn't seem to me to account for reality at all.

An alternative theory- and one more founded on reality and critical research- is that economic activity is grounded in systemic and emergent phenomena way beyond anything external stimuli can provide; and that the vast majority of external stimuli to a system will result in negative effects- economic and otherwise. Instead, it is much more preferable to select very clearly defined and realistically attainable short-term objectives (for SF this would mean staying in our military lane and simply providing security support that host nation's ask for) all the while establishing and constantly maintaining a learning system- and that that learning system informs other agents who take action when and how they determine.

That theory would refocus SF on freeing the oppressed- by simply offering information. If transparency doesn't free them, then I'd argue nothing will. Unfortunately, externally-provided stimuli according to my research and those of others usually results in oppressing people more than freeing them- regardless of one's good intentions.

For references- see Eric Beinhocker's study on how wealth is created (<em>Origin of Wealth</em>), Peter Senge's study on how learning can be achieved within groups (<em>Fifth Discipline</em>), and see F.A. Hayek's issues with centralization- of anything- in his books <em>The Fatal Conceit</em> and <em>The Road to Serfdom</em>- the last two possibly explaining why anything centrally managed- like DoD's efforts through the COCOMs, etc. (which EM's concept necessarily would use) would, regardless of the intent, backfire and lead paradoxically to less wealth, entrepreneurship, and jobs. I'd also recommend anything on the implications of Quantum Theory- the new scientist has this set of articles: - if a basic knowledge of QM doesn't make one seriously question the entire philosophy behind conscious action to "make things better for others"- I don't know what will.

In short: China didn't pull the most people ever out of poverty in the shortest amount of time by helping anyone as much as they just got out of the way. Unless we are "getting governments" (including our own) "out of people's way" (which implies MASSIVE social change in most places), other efforts are simply feel good efforts that will have little- or even negative- effects.


Sat, 01/19/2013 - 10:52pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Some of the nay-sayers have been there too. Some of them have spent most of their lives "there", in one sense or another. Certainly we're all entitled to an opinion, but I'm not sure it's completely valid to assume that there's an experience deficit on one side of this particular debate.

The ascendancy of an entrepreneurial middle class is certainly a desirable goal, but the idea that an entrepreneurial middle class can be conjured up by a small number of outside venture capitalists seems unrealistic and inconsistent with the history of economic aid. Economies do develop and middle classes do emerge, but they are not developed or brought to emergence by outside intervention. They evolve organically when suitable conditions exist.

The idea that people need to be taught to be entrepreneurial or that there's a skill set or a capacity that needs to be "given" by an outsider seems unnecessarily paternalistic, and does not acknowledge the impact of local constraints. It seems to me analogous to observing that a man carrying a 100kg load is not dancing and proposing to remedy that deficit by offering dancing lessons, rather than by trying to help him lose the 100kg burden. To continue with the example of Jolo, it's worth observing that the Tausug diaspora throughout the Philippines is well known for its entrepreneurial capacity and spirit. It is true that the capacity and spirit are perhaps overly weighted toward extralegal entrepreneurship, but there's certainly no evidence that entrepreneurial ability is in any way lacking. The problem isn't a lack of capacity. The people with the greatest capacity tend to leave Jolo, and the people who stay generally repress the capacity because they know that if they use it they'll end up having a rifle stuck in their face by someone who wants a piece of their action, often before they've had a piece of the action themselves. When that happens, who will they turn to? Not the law, because the guy with the rifle works for someone who's above and outside the law. Not you, because the guy with the rifle works for the people you were sent there to support.

Instead of trying to teach people to be entrepreneurs, it might be worth considering the idea that people are entrepreneurial by nature. If that nature is not being expressed, it's probably not because the people need lessons. More likely it's because they could use some help in removing some artificial constraint. Once that constraint is removed and the evolution commences, there's a lot that can be done to assist and encourage the natural entrepreneurial impulse, but that's not best done by people who know best and descend from on high to deliver knowledge to the benighted.

Ned McDonnell III

Fri, 01/18/2013 - 10:34pm

In reply to by mastinmd

Great comment, Michael Mastin. Welcome to the fray. We tend to run in circles with this discussion. The problems of corruption and gangsterim are common among many places, not the least of which in Paktika Province where E.M. so ably served.

But, that ought not discourage those of us who believe that we can work together to give people a skill-base independent of the ´bandits´, village elders, etc. to increase their mobility and ability to create value.

Framing this as the acceleration of the ascendancy of an entrepreneurial middle class from the ashes of a burned-out status-quo may be the best hope we have.

We will never know if we never try this inexpensive capacity transfer, through by the 'Venture Capital Green Beret', and via a pilot program. We will never try if we wring our hands constantly with all that could go wrong, or listen to those who do.

Your perspective has one big advantage against the nay-sayers: you have been there and can understand how E.M.'s thinking can be harnessed to current operations. BRAVO, Michael! I proudly share your disclaimer.

Bill M.

Sat, 01/19/2013 - 4:21am

In reply to by Dayuhan


Well said, most are insights borne from long experience in developing (or unfortunately not developing) nations. I was an idealist full of hope at one time also and believed our interventions were saving the world, but over time gained a more cynical and in my view a realistic view. There are numerous studies that point to most aid efforts failing and worse than failing actually locking corrupt systems in place. I realize the proposed "entrepreneurship approach" is intended to avoid this, but as you pointed out previously the prospects for it working in nation with no supporting systems does not appear probable. Quite simply as you pointed out the government must reform to some extent.

I think the strongest point you made is we often know what the real issues are, and since our poltics and the HN politics generally prevent us taking real steps to fix the problem we just do what we can do and hope for the best.

With the negativity out of the way I still think most of the world is moving in a good direction despite the risks. When I started working in the Asia-Pacific there were dictators in Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and South Korea and they no longer exist. We didn't have the Asian-Tigers back then, but over the past four decades we have seen millions in that region alone lifted out of poverty. We need to sit back and reflect on these trends and identify what the underlying trends are that enabled this, and perhaps strengthen them. The people in these nations made the changes, we didn't and I doubt we could, but I think we demonstrated successful ideas to pursue, and we provided some degree of a security architecture that locked in a lot of bad during the Cold War, but afterwards facilitated a relatively peaceful transition to democracy and increasing wealth.

From a humanitarian perspective we should be much more critical of our current approaches and pursue new approaches based on a deeper understanding of what works. Governments, to include their militaries, are not good at providing effective aid that lifts people out of poverty due to non-adaptive bureaucracies and group think opposed to learning. While many NGOs don't want to work with us, we in the military can make a meaningful contribution by working on establishing a secure environment that allows a more effective economic system to take root and grow. Failure to do so I suspect will lead to the failure of any economic development efforts. Are there any historical examples where this isn't the case? We also must accept the damning impact of corrupt governments on economic development and if reforms don't take place accept the limitations of what can be accomplished and the fact that any development efforts in deeply corrupt nations will most likely reinforce the systems that prevent development in the first place.

From a UN report in 2004 discussing Entrepreneurship develop in 2004 (not a new concept):

Even with strong macroeconomic
and institutional foundations, three
additional factors are indispensable
for entrepreneurship and the private
sector to flourish in an economy: a
level playing field, access to finance,
and knowledge and skills."

Also of interest,…

"Wuebker and colleagues Pekka Stenholm of Finland's Turku Institute for Advanced Studies and Zoltan Acs, director of George Mason University's Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy, acknowledge that a lack of empirical understanding in those regions "has, to date, produced mixed, muddled results."

"Despite decades of attention, scholars have struggled to explain precisely why rates of entrepreneurial activity differ across such countries," says Wuebker. "Researchers were fairly certain that these differences had at least something to do with the things that differ across countries - such as institutions and culture - but research has been surprisingly light on the details."


Fri, 01/18/2013 - 9:39pm

In reply to by mastinmd

Let us not be naive, please. If you're in the Southern Philippines your OGA already knows who is taking kickbacks and who is manipulating. He knows a bunch of other stuff too. He knows who's buying votes, rigging elections, and killing political opponents. He knows who's selling arms and ammunition onto the black market. He know who's taken cuts of ransom money in exchange for coddling kidnappers, who rakes off a cut from smuggling, drugs, illegal logging, illegal gambling. He knows who runs the small scale gold mining mafia and who's behind any number of artificially enforced business monopolies, etc, <i>ad nauseam</i>. Most people on the street will know the same things. If you're half paying attention you'll know too. If you don't, start with a short list of people with positions in government, the police, and the military who nominally earn less that 50k pesos a month but who enjoy palatial homes, garages full of SUVs, multiple mistresses, and armed bodyguards, often active-duty soldiers and policemen.

Getting this information is not difficult. Addressing these issues is difficult, because you can't and the host government won't. You haven't the capacity and they haven't the will.

There are sharp limits to what economic development projects can achive in environments where the primary constraints on economic development are political. Our response to that is often to try to do what little we can with economic tools, since we can't do anything about host country politics. Typically that ends up with us actively supporting the people who are at the core of the problem locally, and providing just enough support to allow the central government to go on kicking the problem down the road.

The challenge in the southern Philippines is not providing venture capital, or bringing rebels and bandits within the rule of law. It's bringing the government's own representatives within the rule of law. Until that's dealt with, everything else is a band-aid on a bleeding artery. Of course that's not our problem to solve, but we aren't helping ourselves or the Filipinos by avoiding the problem and helping them to do the same.

I suspect that similar conditions apply in many other environments where we have to work.



Fri, 01/18/2013 - 6:08am

A great deal of attention has been paid to using Afghanistan and it's tribal structure as the example for EM Burlingame's GB as VC and everyone has gone a long way towards addressing both advantages and concerns in that environment within the comment threads of his articles. A couple have also used Mindanao and Jolo, Philippines in examples too.
I was able to deploy in both theaters and as Afghanistan has been discussed frequently I would just like to say that I think the EDP would meet with even more success in the PI since the combat requirements are significantly less than they are in Afghanistan (US Forces are not permitted to carry out combat operations under the Philippine Constitution except in self defense)and the ODA has more time available to focus on development projects.
In Jolo for example med clinics are often used by the ODA to get out into the villages and meet with the people. However these seem to primarily draw women and children and the military aged male demographic is often not present in great numbers. I think that if the ODA had the capability to host business related seminars in support of the EDP then the MAM demographic would be more interested in showing and also be more willing to discuss issues and obstacles they are facing in developing infrastructure and business such as which elders are taking kickbacks, which power brokers are manipulating or favoring certain areas over others, etc. Then ODA's and partnered OGA's can seek to address these problems using more complete and relevant information. It's the kind of information that is harder to get from people who just came to you to get their teeth looked at.

Michael Mastin

Disclaimer: I am a personal friend of EM Burlingame and was previously a co-worker.

For those who wring their hands at the imaginary or grossly exaggerated risks involved in taking this counter-insurgency thinking of EM Burlingame forward into a pilot program, please take a moment to read this article.…

The prospect of imminent failure can either demoralize us or free us to try new tactics – a choice similar to one facing General George Washington in Valley Forge some 235 years ago. Now is the time to experiment boldly.

Money has not worked.

Firepower has not worked.

Nation-building has not worked, at least for now.

Why not try a low-cost training for beleaguered people to build their futures from the bottom-up on their terms and not ours? Seriously, what do have to lose at this point except, possibly, our shame?


Tue, 09/25/2012 - 11:03pm

In reply to by G Martin

Yes, it works because they make money: they have a clear, discrete, quantifiable goal. More than that, it works because all parties to the deal have the same goal, and a similar understanding of how the goal is to be achieved and how the returns are to be shared. Again, they come from the same environment, speak the same language, are governed by the same rule set and approach the problem with similar assumptions and goals.

In the proposed scenario, so far as I can determine, our desired ROI would be "stability", which is a good deal less clear, discrete, and quantifiable than money. Those we work with will have all manner of goals of their own, though they will very quickly figure out what our goals are and how we think they should be achieved, and tell us all the things we want to hear. We will fall for it (we always do) and they will use whatever resources we provide to pursue their own desired returns on our investment, which may or (more likely) may not have anything to do with ours.

Yes, I'm a cynic, for which I do not apologize.

G Martin

Tue, 09/25/2012 - 10:24pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Doesn't the AI/VC model work because .... they make money off it? They risk- and thus they get the reward, assuming it works. When government types get involved I also have to ask- return on investment to who? If our assessments folks have a hand in determining if we are getting a return, then all I can say is that we might as well pack our bags now. Surely the same things that motivate VCs (return on investment) won't motivate an SF soldier- who we can't rely on being that altruistic IMO.

I wouldn't mind this concept if it was confined to taking some of the good parts of the venture capitalist mindset and attempting to impart them on individuals - be they SF or not. Beyond that- attempting to make the argument that economic efforts will solve our problems- or even help to solve them- does not jive with the historical record from my perch.

But, I don't think it matters much- the American people don't seem to be too willing nowadays to keep throwing money at problems- especially since we're running out of it today. I think concepts that will win for at least the next 10 years will be ones that can be done on the cheap and don't talk about return on investment as much as "done without any economic investment"...


Tue, 09/25/2012 - 9:09pm

In reply to by emburlingame

Re these:

<i>this will not change the fact such is becoming an increasing factor in military strategy and doctrine.</i>

If that's the case, all we can do is hope for a reassessment of strategy and doctrine. I am not optimistic.

<i>we are here, we are not leaving, we are already dumping massive amounts of highly disruptive cash into local communities. Why should we not seek to ensure we are, as Ned stated, creating wealth instead of squandering it with no real thought to Return on Investment?</i>

Return on investment for who? What are we investing and what return do we seek? Are we so sure that our terms, our concepts, our expectation and goals are compatible with those of the people we're dealing with? Isn't it a bit presumptuous to think that we are in a position to tell others what "sustainable economic development" means in their context, tell them what they need and how they should go about getting it?

I personally doubt that the "venture capitalist/angel investor" model provides a relevant conceptual framework for addressing development needs in other cultures. The system works for us, because the venture capitalists and those they support are of the same culture. They engage as equals. They understand each others expectations, roles, and goals, they come from the same business culture, they speak the same language, their interactions are governed by a single set of mutually accepted rules. They come from the same environment and share the same understanding of the interface between society and economy and the written and unwritten rules that govern that interface. If we're looking at efforts to promote development in very foreign cultures, none of these conditions apply... in fact opposite conditions apply. It just isn't the same world. I strongly suspect that anyone who plans to walk into a tribal village in the developing world and replicate the function that a venture capitalist has in our business culture is in for a rather humbling educational experience.


Tue, 09/25/2012 - 1:02am

In reply to by Dayuhan

We can argue the merits of US Military involvement in Economic Development till the end of our lifetimes at the very least. But this will not change the fact such is becoming an increasing factor in military strategy and doctrine. I should like to direct everyone's attention to the work of David Anderson and Jonathan Schaffner and their summation of the growing body of military doctrine related to economic development, and in particular such doctrine's failure to meet Tactical needs.…

As stated in response to a previous comment to previous article in the series, we are here, we are not leaving, we are already dumping massive amounts of highly disruptive cash into local communities. Why should we not seek to ensure we are, as Ned stated, creating wealth instead of squandering it with no real thought to Return on Investment?


Mon, 09/24/2012 - 8:03pm

In reply to by NedMcD

I'm aware of the ad nauseam, and thus stayed off this thread for a long time and tried to stay brief when I did intrude. Examples could be cited - I could cite a few from my own neighborhood, which has seen its share - but would require a good deal of explanation.

I see no real problem with, for example, small-scale lending to support viable village-level economic enterprises. Ideally these would be locally managed, by people from the area who know the people and the place and who will stay there for extended periods of time.

I cannot see any reason for an army - any army - to be involved in this sort of activity. It's simply outside their competence and their mission. Besides, can we really commit highly trained specialists to a single village for an extended period of time - and I'm talking about up to a decade, or more - to support an effort that will have visible impact only in that village?

A pilot program is fine. My advice would be to keep it civilian, not military, keep every publicly visible face of the program local, and to bear in mind that your time frame for really positive results will be measured in decades and generations, not months and years.

It also must be considered that when you take such a program to the village level in a tribal society you are messing in local political/social/hierarchical relationships that you do not fully understand. No matter what you do, you will piss people off and you will generate conflict. That conflict may or may not reach the level of violence, but it can have a whole lot of impact on your program.

I'd be curious about how you propose to produce "genuine enterprise development and capacity transfer" rather than cash transfer, but that would be another discussion. There is a danger there of assuming the constraint on local development is a lack of capacity, and subsequently assuming that the locals need a nice foreign guru to come and tell them what to do and how to do it. This is a road well avoided.

I could go on, but that would be ad nauseam. uffice it to say that I think anyone embarking on such a pilot program would be well advised to take a much more realistic view of the challenges and obstacles involved than what's expressed in this sequence of articles.


Sun, 09/23/2012 - 11:12pm

In reply to by Dayuhan


Well stated, again and again and again ad nauseam. Obviously nothing will convince you that this inexpensive and collaborative framework is worth the marginal risk of a pilot program. The failures you decry but do rarely ever cite usually occur because genuine enterprise development and capacity transfer are not taking place; cash transfers are. That is a formula for the dissipation and not the creation of wealth. Ascribing the outcomes of failed or corrupted policies to a refreshing, low-cost and high impact proposal sounds powerful at first but fails to hold up under even modest scrutiny. In a conflict zone, who else is in a position to transfer such tools of the mind than the Special Forces? After all, the most effective deterrent against a widening insurgency is a future with even wider prospects that can preclude it.

Ned McDonnell.

I remain unconvinced, on multiple levels.

First, the proposition that meaningful economic development can be delivered efficiently by outside agency, especially by agents utterly foreign to the environment in question, remains highly doubtful. There is a long, long history of attempts, but failure, often with serious unintended consequences, is common and success rare. I see little evidence here of familiarity with the history of village level economic development projects and the complications that accompany them.

Second, the proposition that economic development projects are an effective deterrent or remedy for insurgency remains very questionable.

Third, I have to question the idea that economic development projects are within the competence or natural scope of the US Army. Do we need or want to try to turn soldiers into development workers? How can one effect that transformation without compromising their efficiency as soldiers?


Mon, 09/24/2012 - 1:51am

In reply to by Frogman89

Just for the record, I started my professional and working life as an enlisted man in the Army, joining straight out of high school, and serving in Active and Reserves from the mid '80s through the mid '90s in the Artillery, Aviation, Infantry and Combat Engineers.

Separately, if you had read through this and the previous articles carefully, you would not be making such assertions and would have instead recognized these ideas put forward are identified as only a single component of a much larger and vastly more complex system in which many actors and conceptual frameworks are involved and required for success.

G Martin

Tue, 09/25/2012 - 12:46pm

In reply to by emburlingame

One of the problems with referencing doctrine is you're not really sure where the doctrine comes from. Another problem is doctrine is ideology by committee. Since being a part of the 3-24 re-write I'm even more cynical than I was before about doctrine (and I didn't think I could get more cynical!!).

"These manuals see..."- yes, totally agree with you- they "see" something as a sufficient cause because the committee that wrote that section voted that that was what they believed.

And "the manuals see the economy as a source of power"- yes, agree with you, they see something monolithic and a source of stability (chicken and egg- stability or economics?) as opposed to a complex interplay between culture-geography-economics-stabilizing influences and regional politics that we are prone to misread.

That is why I have an issue with 3-24- it is full of linear logic that is supposedly backed up by the Brits in Malaya and a few examples that a RAND study cherry-picked from the last 50 years...


Tue, 09/25/2012 - 1:12am

In reply to by G Martin

As referenced in the latest response to Dayuhan and excerpted from the work of David Anderson and Jonathan Schaffner in their Small Wars Journal article, "The Void in Tactical Level Economic Doctrine"

Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, and FM 3-24.2, Tactics, Techniques and Procedures in Counterinsurgency...These manuals see economic disparity as an insurgency driver and inequities as a source of unrest. Additionally, the manuals see the economy as a source of power through formal and informal commerce.

G Martin

Mon, 09/24/2012 - 7:22pm

In reply to by NedMcD

Linear logic: increased economic opportunity/wealth leads to less instability/insurgency.


Sun, 09/23/2012 - 11:14pm

In reply to by Frogman89


Interesting to me, not to mention convenient, that you make caustic and unconstructive comments hiding behind a pseudonym. In the interest that others are not seduced by your faceless sarcasm, I make the following observations.

1st, one advantage of this idea, is that it is not linear or causal. It is a tool-set to be leveraged by its beneficiaries in a manner congruent with their cultures and circumstances and not in line with any doctrine or world-view alien to them.

2nd, much of innovation is taking things one knows and making something new from them. Biases are the inevitable building blocks of new ideas. In this case, we have an adaptation of the author’s knowledge to permit the progress toward modernity that every society undertakes, sooner or later, and often several times in its history. Mocking an intellectual for being transparent in stating his biases may suggest more about you, whoever you are, than about him.

3rd, your idea of collaboration of people from diverse perspectives is valid but mis-timed. That collaboration occurs as parties negotiate their common future previously catalyzed by the deployment of this ‘development tool’.

Ned McDonnell (not a pseudonym).


Thu, 09/13/2012 - 6:00am

A one-dimensional argument. Replacing one worldview for another is linear causality, and entirely simplistic. SOF needs not to consider things from a business model only any more than businesses need to take books like Sun Tsu or "the Book of Five Rings" and attempt to run economic-centric organizations like military organizations. We are merely replacing one limited viewpoint for another;

With the author's background, there is clearly some strong bias. I can only imagine if he had spent another career as a political advisor, or a scuba instructor at a Caribean resort, or perhaps a Tai Chi master in San Diego, we would instead have an argument to replace the SOF worldview on FID/UW with running a political campaign, or how human terrain is akin to coral reef formations; or how Tai Chi is the gateway to deeper appreciation to non-western social ills. In the end, the background of the author is more revealing than the footnotes for where his inspiration is.

A solid argument is less one-dimensional; less black and white; and more appreciative of how social systems are soft, complex, squishy; and usually require highly conceptual and multiple perspectives. Economics works in some places, but not all. To return to my earlier idiom, if you put a SOF operator in the room with only a business man, you get this limited article. Add to the room a scuba instructor, political advisor, Tai Chi master, and perhaps a school teacher from a non-western society- and now you have something going because there will not merely be the substitution of one world view for another.

Biggs Darklighter

Sun, 09/09/2012 - 4:48am

This is a great training concept but too specialized and out of scope for Special Forces. One of the primary reasons we brought District Augmentation Teams (DATs) and Provincial Augmentation Teams (PATs) in to Afghanistan to support the Village Stability Platforms and VSO was to take the burdern of Development and Governance activites off of the ODA's manning the VSP's so they could foucs on SF's core capability of SFA by training the Afghan Local Police and enabling the Security LOO. Civil Affairs should be doing this but are lacking such competencies. Sounds like EM could teach CA something.


Sat, 09/08/2012 - 12:19pm


Good job, appreciate your powerful articles.

Here are a few links that might be of interest to you on your journey:

RECONSTRUCTION | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA),

Military Agency Records RG 153,…

Civil Affairs: Soldiers become Governors,



How does one go about valuing/costing out intangible benefits?

Is the the high density/high dollar model of building a defense manufacturing base producing disposable widgets in someone's political district for votes the best way to define intangible benefits to America?

Is the low density/low dollar model of continually training people to the very limits of their capabilities, both physical and mental, and sending them forth in the world the best way to define intangible benefits to America?

Are the synergies which result from having a small group of SOF personnel conversant with 'typically civilian concerns' in whatever corner of the world we are working in....

My thesis is that the highly skilled people America sends forth, not just SOF, are worth quality education. The return on these intangible benefits is far in excess of the pittance we spend on educating them. Our nation is more than a one-dimensional killing machine. I see EM's articles as an interesting expression of how to operationalize such a world view...


Wed, 09/12/2012 - 11:42am

In reply to by Bill M.


Excellent observations and summation of where we are.

None of us want to throw the both baby and the bathwater out, but perhaps we can broadly agree that the bathwater is nasty. The 'baby', as I see it, is the observation that economics (and it's derivatives such as capitalism) imperfectly mirror darwinism/nature. Successful predators and herbivores have an innate understanding of darwinism/nature, semi-succesful ones can be taught enough to survive, and unsuccessful ones perish.

With respect to the teaching; I read your posting, thought about it, and then spoke with some university friends of mine all in an attempt to outline a business model. Your post above captures much of what our successful universities use, business model wise, however our military institutions do not appear to integrate/extend the components you describe. Perhaps this is part of our collective (when i point a finger, three point back at me) failure to quickly adapt and overcome?

The successful university education business model as I understand it:

1. Codified/common curriculum, regularly updated
2. Institutionalized emphasis on regular/ongoing consulting and sabbatical opportunities for teachers
3. Original research
4. Regular inspection and certification of the institution by impartial, independent entities

The military education business model as I understand it:

1. Codified/common curriculum
2. Contractors in the field conducting high level consulting which does not make it back to the schoolhouse
3. Unit lessons, observed by CALL, filtered once, and then again by the schoolhouse before perhaps being taught
4. Regular inspection and certification of school houses by partial, dependent organizations

That is as far as I am in the thought process...could be wrong, not wanting to throw stones, but I very much want us to be successful and so, there it is...

Bill M.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 3:29am

In reply to by JasonT

Jason and EM,

Good comments, and please note when I criticize I'm almost always criticizing "us", which means I'm also pointing the finger at myself since I'm a cog in the system like most of us. I'm as guilty as others of defaulting to accepted systems that have been engrained through education, training, and life experiences. Even in Special Forces, and especially over the last two decades we engage in group think. New ideas are harder than one would think to inject into the borg. I do make a concerted effort to talk to others with different views (in case I don't always have two minds present in my brain housing group). More and more I'm eager to get proven wrong and I am eager for the debate to see if my ideas can stand up to the onslaught of other views on a topic. Folks that aren't comfortable with debate put their "Out of Office" sign up when they know I'm inbound :-), but I wish they would see it as a sign of respect that I want to debate with them.

Jason I think many of us would be interested if you could share more on the study you're conducting. I have to think about your assumption on how large organizations measure risk because it doesn't fit what I see the military trying to do, or at least what we say we do when we assess risk. We generally assess risk for each course of action based on risk to mission, risk to force, longer term strategic objectives, etc., but perhaps subconsciously we are actually assessing risk to breaking global frameworks? As for teaching free thinkiing, I think Alvin Toffler captures this in this quote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”

We pay a lot of lip service to being a learning organization, but in many ways it is the nature of any established organization to be opposed to learning naturally, that is why have "systems" to impose learning, which distract from adaptive learning in response to the environment. Admittedly this requires more explaination, so I'll try to expand it on later.

EM I'm not letting you off the hook though, because in my view you have still come up short on responding to my questions on why you think this development approach will help us achieve our stated ends in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Put the humanitarian aspect to the side for now, we're all humanitarians for the most part, but you still need to explain how develoment will reduce the ethnic conflict, the role religious mandates, and counter Pakistan's support for insurgents in Afghanistan. I think even if you're successful the conflict will continue on unabated, and maybe even intensify due to the development. Most arguments I have seen on development in response to insurgency/conflict have based on "happy thoughts" instead of evidence. You look at the world through the eyes of venture capitalist, I tend to look at insurgency more from a realpolitik view based on my admittedly bias observations and experiences. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.


Mon, 09/10/2012 - 11:02pm

In reply to by JasonT

Bill and Jason-

I agree completely with both your statements, this was the topic of the previous article Irregular Warfare and the Two Minds of the Venture Capital Green Beret. The following is excerpted from such:

The nature of a healthy and expanding System is that it is always composed of, challenged by and made possible through two intertwined yet quite distinct and conflicting minds. These are the Mind of the System and the Mind of the Disruptor, and though these two are at constant war, one without the other cannot long survive. This is because only the active conflict and mutually supportive nature of these two minds allows for asset creation, management and the constructive destruction, the cannibalization of investments, necessary to the sustainment and improvement of institutions, ecosystems and civilizations.

Neither of these minds can be taught but only refined, and their differences, sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious, are always quite substantial, which is why the two are almost never resident within the same individual or organization. It is this, that the two minds exist together only within an extremely limited number of individuals and institutions, which makes it so difficult to intuitively grasp the role and purpose of each. However, if we are to understand the benefit and limitations of each and to know how they collectively create the world we live in we can begin by understanding the major differences.

The first, the Mind of the System, is an inwardly focused, defensive Mind seeking sustainability and growth by addressing Risk at the lowest energy expenditure possible. This results in:

Large, centrally driven or totalitarian systems emphasizing increases in size and scope or absolute control in order to realize efficiencies across multiple domains;

Well defined roles and responsibilities based on highly specialized and individualized skills and functionality;

Pooling of increasing amounts of assets, wealth and decision making within the control of a limited few; and

Rigidity, vulnerability and dissipation derived from over specialization and from the burdensome complexity and costs inherent to maintaining a large or totalitarian system.

The second, the Mind of the Disruptor, is an outwardly focused, offensive Mind which exploits inefficiencies to create new assets and wealth and to rapidly reach higher, sustainable systemic energy states. This results in:

New assets which expand to replace existing systems or which are folded into an existing system for improved efficiencies and management;

Flexible skills and abilities which lead to new roles – responsibilities based on entirely new specializations and functionality, allowing for the evolution of capabilities;

Expansion in the greater base of assets, wealth and skilled decision makers and a broader pool of beneficiaries and asset holders; and,

Fluidity, strength and accumulation derived from the ability to quickly adjust to complexities and from the cannibalization and reinvestment of inefficient assets.

As you have stated and is denoted in the above, excerpted from the second article in this series, if we are sending someone to school to teach them one of these minds, we will fail. However, I can say from my own experience as a technology entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and later as an investor in entrepreneurs, it wasn't until I perfected my disruptive mind with an understanding and respect of the system mind, and a comfort using its tools and resources that I was able to find true success.


Mon, 09/10/2012 - 10:41pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M.

Your comments are spot on. Whether in the military of corporate sector adaptive learning by its very success runs the risk of being institutionalised, framed and sanitised for mass consumption.

It reminds me of a story about an ultra distance runner Cliff Young, who ran in gumboots (not sure what you call them in the US) He beat all the highly, trained, structured athletes, because no body told him he had to race in a certain way, stop every 3 hours, have physio etc. He adapted to what came naturally and simply (he was used to chasing after sheep on his farm). Marathon journalists and sports medicine people were very disappointed with his answers when asked about why he won because he couldnt provide a structured, framed explanation they could create into a system.

In a current project Im involved in now the larger organisation sees rules and structures as guidance as to what they cant do - everything is measured as a risk to breaking those global frameworks. However, the small organisation views the global systems and frameworks as provide a guide to what they can do to solve problems and create solutions. Can this be taught in a structured way or is about the kind of personality recruited?

While there are critical elements to military training weapons/tactics/nav /and skills that must became second nature, it is hard to teach free thinking, adaptive and entreprenuerial approaches to ones environment apart from instilling confidence and a leadership that empowers self-belief in their teams to be creative and adaptive.

Bill M.

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 7:24am

In reply to by Surferbeetle

Definitely not in defense of bloated HQs leading from behind which is a real issue; however, the issue you address is one that can be fixed by re-visiting a few lessons from the past. The Special Warfare Center is the Army SOF school house for SF, MISO, CA, and a number of advanced speciality skills (HALO, Sniper, etc.). In almost all cases they're very good at what they do, but what they don't do well is change quickly, and I'm not so sure that is always a disadvantage. We need the school house to train and educate our cornseed on core SOF skills that are widely applicable. This produces the baseline SOF soldier who is then further molded over time in their operational units. This is especially true for adaptive learning in response to new operational challenges. The school house (neither SWC or TRADOC is set up to do this). In many cases it will take considerable experimentation to get it right, and I would add that getting right often means only for that specific time and place, getting right again will depend on the emergent operational environments, technologies, rule of engagement, etc.

We didn't need to "institutionalize" Iraqi COIN in our school house, but certainly needed to better prepare our officers for operating in Iraq, so the operational organization stood up a COIN Center in country (regardless of how good it was, it demonstrates that learning doesn't need to be restricted to the established school houses). The same holds true for the entrepreneur concept proposed. I suspect the skills needed to implement will also be environmentally specific and if it is going to be taught at all it should be taught by qualified contractors in country, which can also serve as a reachback center in the same time zone to provide guidance to those forward. They teach, then they learn from those they taught, and adapt their teaching (learning organization). We shouldn't simply leap at the conclusion we need to institutionalize entrepreneurship in the school house (once institutionalized it becomes a fossil that doesn't change shape again without considerable effort). At least experiment with it and see if it works before push it into doctrine.

Not that many years ago (maybe more than I want to admit) when I was on an ODA that has a tough target we were responsible for (I'm going back to old school warfighting, not chasing HVIs, but same lessons apply) it was our responsibility to figure it out, we didn't look for an answer from our school house. Instead we expanded on the skills taught to us in the school house by studying the target to determine the realm of what we thought was possible, and we frequently met with experts from different battlelabs to see if they could develop a widget that would do what we wanted, etc. It was constant adapting/evolution (not disruptive thinking) in response to the challenge at hand. For that to happen you have to be empowered at the lower levels to solve problems, instead of being micromanaged and told how to solve problems. Unfortunately a lot of that flexibility has been lost, especially since 9/11.

SWC and TRADOC are rarely the answer when we need to practice adaptive learning. By their very nature (system of systems=bureaucracy) their unwittingly opposed to adaptive learning. That doesn't mean the Army can't learn and adapt because the school house cant' change quickly. The school house by its very nature will always be playing catch up, their challenge is identifying what they want to institutionalize (ultimately there are time and cost limitations), and what should stay in the operational units.

I'm a proponent of encouraging the operational units to practice adaptive learning (many still do), and ensuring we focuse on critical core skills in the school house. This doesn't mean outsourcing set programs of instruction from the school house to operational units to teach, because that is not adaptive. It means empowering and encouraging experimentation/learning at the operational level to solve the problems they face. A lot of folks are no longer comfortable with this, but it used to be our operating norm in SF.

I don't know if the infantry units are doing this anymore, but I worked with one of the better ones in Iraq and they had a science advisor assigned (pony tail and all) who was outstanding. He went out with the guys so they could articulate their problems as they encountered them and then he would reach back to science community for potential solutions.

This isn't disruptive, we can do it within the current system. It is simply becoming a true learning organization.


Sun, 09/09/2012 - 3:50pm

In reply to by G Martin

Broad brush regarding bloated HQ's - Excessive layers of leadership/bureaucracy serve to shield those at the top from the daily lessons taught on the battlefield/marketplace. Why bother changing if there is no cost to those 'leading from behind'? all pays the same does it not?

Regarding your comment on sustainable third-world progress, I'd be interested in hearing your description of the objectives that were particularly emphasized (disproportionally funded)? My sense of things is that the disproportionally funded objectives were focused on resource extraction, and that those objectives were/are being met?

With respect to a 'less centralized stance in China regarding economic managment', the wiki on the National Development and Reform Commission may be of interest when mentally comparing China's economy to those which trend towards free market principles.

G Martin

Sun, 09/09/2012 - 2:18pm

In reply to by NedMcD

Resources that I was thinking about was time and money. You only have a certain amount of time and money to apply to different efforts while in theater. If you are spending time and money on "venture capital" type efforts- then those are resources you won't be using in other ways. My counter-hypothesis to Burlingame's was that attempting to affect positive change against an emergent-based phenomenon won't work- assuming economic growth is more of an emergent phenomenon as opposed to something we can positively affect with our own actions. This would explain why decades of efforts in third-world countries haven't shown real and sustainable progress and why China's recent less centralized stance on their economy has led to massive growth. If that hypothesis is right- then spending time attempting any kind of economic change would be a waste of the resources of time and money.

In terms of institutional change- if you haven't attempted change in SWCS- then it is hard to explain, suffice it to say ANY change at the Special Warfare Center in terms of education and/or adding on requirements is a HUGE emotional event. So, even if this concept was proven- actually getting the needed change instituted into the training and education system at SWCS would be difficult- if not impossible in my experience.


Sun, 09/09/2012 - 12:47am

In reply to by G Martin

Excuse me, can you tell me what resources will be wasted and what radical institutional changes occur? Much of the curriculum is already on-line with the final phase (of class-room / internships in the business world) representing the kind of inter-connection that the DoD civilian expeditionary force would dearly love to see. This proposal costs nothing to implement since it is teaching skills and harnesses the initiative already emanating from OSD. So, please, identify (not quantify) what resources are apt to be wasted and how this really changes anything but front-end training.

G Martin

Sat, 09/08/2012 - 11:13am

Again, as with the previous articles, the underlying logic has yet to be proven and I don't see the author offering a way in which to test his assertions prior to wholesale institutional change.

The theory he proposes: that greater economic opportunity and reward will lead to less insurgency- is a theory that rests on a shaky principle: that at the root of all instability are economic factors. Or- I guess- that economic factors will solve other root causes.

This logic suffers from two fundamental, but popular, flaws: that a complex problem can be solved by focusing on one issue (the magic bullet concept)- akin to the center of gravity construct, and, 2- that "fixing" an economy is feasible through positive action. There is a possibility that complex problems stem from multiple entities- and economic issues are only one of many things that must be addressed to "fix" things. And there's also the possibility that most economic activity is an emergent phenomenon- and not prone to being improved much through any kind of injections of capital, etc. Of course, MBA-ers, economists, and venture capitalists would have you believe otherwise- as that conflicts with their worldview- but I'd say they have a conflict of interest in that department.

In the end, it remains to be seen whether injecting venture capitalist principles into SF soldiers and/or injecting venture capital mechanisms into unstable areas will lead to stability. It might. But, it is just as likely that it would lead to less stability. Before getting into the solution offered here- I think more research is needed to safely conclude that an economic solution at the micro level will lead naturally to stability in most cases.

After that, the next step is to prove that we are even able to affect positive economic change- even if it is done at the micro level. If economics is mainly an emergent phenomenon- then even micro level injects could be a waste of resources.

This article again demonstrates that dual-minded capacity (of surfing on two boards) of EM Burlingame. His intellectual transition from the complex integration, outlined in the first two essays, of two disparate disciplines – those of finance and counter-insurgency theory –into discrete steps to apply new theory in the field requires a creative calculus unique to those balancing artistry and analysis.

Within the larger context established by the previous two articles – that of fomenting a long-term stabilization strategy, from the bottom-up, through identifying and incubating a nascent middle class within conflict zones – I would like to make three (sorrowfully wordy) observations about this present discussion.

First, the Keiretsu model, as explained in this article (as it lies beyond my personal knowledge), provides a compelling analogy for realizing this refreshing new framework of counter-insurgency.

• Afghanistan, for example, has a noticeably under-developed transportation network confining nearly all lives and trade to the local level.

• These fragmented, localized economies inhibit the specialization required to produce intermediate goods as inputs to more sophisticated end-products manufactured elsewhere.

• Forget a national value-chain, therefore, when the supply-chain is nearly always confined to the peasant next door.

• These truncated personal and economic horizons preclude thinking in terms of trade (i.e., comparative advantage on the micro-economic level) rather than barter.

• The incentive to build and maintain lasting physical infrastructure will be insufficient next to the lure of corruption or the immediacy of internecine inter-tribal conflicts.

Mr Burlingame’s program, then, creates and fortifies local value-chains. The program then adeptly uses the Special Forces command structure to put into place the foundations of provincial and national logistics and business networks. Host-country nationals, not Americans, can then build value-chains organically suited to their cultures over two generations rather than within the far more limited time horizons of military interventions.

Second, this proposal for training in – and, crucially, for the follow-though of – this new theory addresses oft-repeated failures in counter-insurgency practice.

• Lack of continuity. This occurs when a new group (civilian or military) comes in and simply re-invents the former group’s wheel in the image of the new commanding officer or program head.

• Lack of connectivity. Differing civilian and public affairs programs, thought to be serving different missions, end up duplicating each other’s activities to enrich a few shrewd locals and discredit the ‘whole of government’ approach.

• Lack of contiguity. Staff officers, removed from the rapidly changing ground-truth and soldiers in the villages, make smart but counter-intuitive decisions on stale or irrelevant information.

This framework of Mr Burlingame, then, addresses each stumbling block. The relief-in-place procedures plus the consolidation of lessons learned into central repositories make continuity more a discipline than a desire. This common knowledge base should be unclassified to stimulate an open innovation of counter-insurgency thinking accelerated by inter-agency connectivity.

For example, USAID’s global partners program should be able to reach-down to the village level, through these repositories, to enable its role as a conduit for local investing by multi-national corporations interested in sustainable development. The forces in those villages then provide the security attractive to direct foreign investment.

Lastly, by embedding this Special Forces training and career path at the field, as opposed to the staff, officer level, resolves the current dilemma facing many U.S. development agencies and community stabilization efforts: an implicit and incorrect assumption that host-nations have attained a level of societal integration to permit executive-level interactions.

Conflict zones rarely possess such advanced, and assumed, levels of integration. Simply said, the locus of U.S. government decision making inherent in Mr Burlingame’s framework corresponds to the center of gravity in most failed states: that of the clan or village.

Third, the proposed training regimen not only sharpens the skills of current recruits but also establishes links between the “angel-adventure” investment community and developing economies. These investment networks will grow out of the internships contemplated by the program and the inevitable transition of able minds from the Special Forces into the civilian venture capital community.

This network not only entrenches continuity over tours and connectivity between levels of society or government but also quick-steps the march of progress for the wretched of the earth toward the benefits afforded by modernization.

As always, fellow COIN compatriots, I thank you for your patience in reading through this response.

Ned McDonnell.

EM, I know I emailed this to both you and CW5 XXXX previously so this should not come as a surprise.

Through CW5 XXXX, EM Burlingame made these recommendations to the Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute some time ago and below is my answer to him. What disturbs me most is that after that explanation he felt the need to propose it again through the Small Wars Journal making it sound like it was a developed and fully analyzed proposal, without addressing any of the authority and rice-bowl issues I outlined. The last thing I want is for our CA and OGA partners to start believing that we are conspiring amongst ourselves in the belief that we can do their job better than they can.

"Have read the paper and Mr Burlingame has certainly identified a significant capability gap and proposed a coherent plan to address it. While we in SF do regularly cross the DIMEFIL spectrum our foundations and that upon which our Titled authorities rest remain in the “M” of that acronym. Others have the authorities for the other lettered areas.

He has anticipated many of the arguments and that is good but I don’t believe he has a realization of the 2nd and 3rd order effects should we begin to institutionalize training and programs outside our mandate.

1.Civil Affairs does have personnel that do this and they work closely with the OGAs and NGOs to try and organize a successful campaign.

2.The US Civilian Response Corps (CRC) has this in their mandate, though as a fledgling organization their effectiveness is to be seen. Any attempt on our part to replicate what they already have as their mission would sour the steady progress we’ve made with the OGAs. They already think we are trying to take over.
Made up of diplomats, development specialists, public health officials, law enforcement and corrections officers, engineers, economists, lawyers, public administrators, agronomists and others, the volunteer members of the Civilian Response Corps are prepared to deploy to the nations in crisis within 48-72 hours. Once in-country, CRC teams assist in restoring civil stability and rule of law, and in achieving long-term economic recovery and sustainable growth. The CRC is currently comprised of 250 active members and up to 2000 reserve members. In addition, the State Department plans to add as many as 2000 CRC reserve volunteers from the private sector and state and local governments in the future.

3.Adding another line of operation to the mission and the training pipeline means not just additional training time and personnel to manage the training but additional management time and resources in sustainment. In the resource constrained environment we are looking at in the future the prospects are doubtful. Add to this that we still do not have the time to facilitate the learning of the current duties and this does not make the priority cut.

4. Our SF Augmentation teams and the conceptual Volkman teams address this issue to some extent however their focus is to augment and enhance the existing OGA efforts with planning and resource capabilities. A block of instruction to familiarize the senior WOs who’d fill these positions would be beneficial but as most of them have duties as an Ops O (which is a full-time job) Planning, managing and oversight of entrepreneur efforts would require an additional body.

Mr Burlingame’s insights are correct and I applaud him for the realizations he’s made and the work he’s done however I cannot for the reasons stated above support this initiative.

Please feel free to share with Mr Burlingame and anyone else who has an interest."


Fri, 09/07/2012 - 8:39am

While it's always interesting to read new approaches to an old problem set, this is graduate level work in a Kindergarten environment. While some Village Stability Operations are being conducted at semi-developed district centers with varying levels of market economy, a lot of sites are in extremely rural areas that survive on a local economy. To think that an ODA conducting VSO should be linking the sale of say, pomegranites for example, to a global economy is not only inpractical but not appropriate. At best, they can link sales of a local product to a district center, or at most a provincial market, but past that, a Detachment would be spinning their wheels. Great thought, great presentation, but it's a far stretch to think that this could be executed in a place like Afghanistan where most people can't read and most locals don't care about anything outside their village.


Fri, 09/07/2012 - 7:49am

I applaud the thinking, the creative thinking, that has gone into this series. However, I don't see this as a role for SF. Should SF personnel be entreprenurial in spirit, yes. Is this discussion of value in the greater scope of plans and operations, yes. Should this be something that USAID drives in coordination with SF plans, SF objectives, and SF operations, yes. The temptation to take well-trained, proven assets and focus them on problem sets outside their mission area is a temptation best resisted. Otherwise, we dilute the ability of SF to focus on the specific-special missions already identified and tasked, and the emerging threats that will require SF as the best-option response.