Monday, June 13, 2011
If there's one thing the military blogosphere loves, it's reading lists. Pre-deployment reading lists. Commander's reading lists. Professional reading lists. Lists of reading lists. This post is going to focus on the first. All of the pre-deployment lists out there provide for some good, interesting, and useful reading. But let's face it - you only have so much time when you're getting ready to deploy. You don't need to read 10 books on counterinsurgency, for instance, when one or two will do. So here are some recommendations on how to focus your reading in that limited time for those of you getting ready to go anywhere for any reason. It's not so much a list, per se, but a guide to manage all of that reading by genre.
Books on the country/region. Don't get bogged down in this too much. Pick two or three from the reading lists that already exist. Try to find those that are at the top of most lists. I say don't get too bogged down, because it's important to get the top view of the country, its culture, and its history. But once you have that, it's important to remember that no book will give you the feel and taste of a place - you can get that on the ground once you've done your basic homework - and you have a lot to read.
The latest doctrine. Military types need to make sure they're up on their doctrine. If you know what your mission is generally going to be, bone up on it. Re-read those manuals you haven't touched since your basic course, read the latest updates, SOPs and AARs from units who have just left where you're going, and articles that talk about doctrine. Since this is work-related, feel free to do this on company time (it worked for me at least). [If your boss gives you a rash about doing this, tell him/her you're doing it for an OPD/NCOPD - and then do the PD.] Spend plenty of time on this.
Technical/User Manuals. If you think you're going to go outside the wire at all, read your dash 10s on your vehicles, radios, and weapon systems. You never know when this refreshed knowledge will come in handy and save your life or the life of someone else - this may be one of the most important things you can do and it's often the most neglected because it's bloody boring. Know how to take care of your stuff and keep it working. And don't forget gunnery and weapons manuals. [Run out of smoke grenades? There's a great section in the M240 manual on starting brush fires with tracer rounds.] This is probably reading best done during your time enroute to your destination (such as in Kuwait) when you have ready access to your equipment.
Military History. Most military types do this anyway. My recommendation is to read a couple of books in this genre that are about the country you are going to and/or within two echelons of your rank (on both sides). You know what doesn't help you prepare that much for a deployment as a platoon leader in Iraq? Reading Patton's memoirs. Officers should already have a bunch of these great captains histories under their belt - focus on books that you can relate to.
Books that increase your understanding of the world. Other than field manuals and TMs, the books I got the most out of before a deployment were not specifically related to my upcoming deployment. I was big on reading philosophy: Nietzsche, Plato, Hobbes, Saint Augustine, etc. I doubt that these are everyone's cup tea, but reading anything that expands how you see and understand the world will do. Psychology, politics, non-military history, religion, or novels. Whatever it is that you would enjoy and would still learn from. Spend plenty of time on these - and I'd recommend bringing plenty of these along with you to read during the deployment.
If things haven't changed much in the past couple of years and unless you're an exceptionally voracious reader, I assume you have time for about 12 books in the 8 months to a year between deployment notification and getting on a plane. Assuming your boss will let you read FMs and TMs on the clock, I'd divvy these up as follows: 3 books on the country you're going to, 3 books on military history, and 6 about the world at large. This is where those reading lists come in handy - to help you determine how to whittle down to those dozen books you actually have time for. If you read that fast that you can get through 3 or 4 book lists, then great. But for the rest of us mortals who also have other things to do before going away for year, prioritization is key. And this is how I did it.