By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 29, 2009
[Because of the extraordinary response to Maj. Jim Gant's paper, One Tribe At A Time, I've decided to leave it up all week in the "Number One Slot." My ongoing interview with Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai will pick again next Friday; the Chief has been in Kabul all week, meeting with U.S. and British commanders, and we haven't had time to speak. So all's well that ends well!]
The downloadable and open-able .pdf of One Tribe is here, on the right. On a personal note, let me say again that I consider it a privilege to offer this document in full, not only because of my great respect for Maj. Jim Gant, who has lived and breathed this Tribal Engagement idea for years, but for the piece itself and for the influence it is already having within the U.S. military and policymaking community.
One Tribe At A Time is by no means a super-pro Beltway think tank piece. What it is, in my opinion, is an idea whose time has come, put forward by an officer who has lived it in the field with his Special Forces team members–and proved it can be done. And an officer, by the way, who is ready this instant to climb aboard a helicopter to go back to Afghanistan and do it again.
Questions and comments
At the moment, Maj. Gant is at Fort Polk, Louisiana, getting ready to deploy to Iraq, where he will lead an Iraqi commando battalion. He’ll be available in the meantime, however (depending of course upon time demands), to answer questions or take criticisms. Just respond in the comments section below. And I myself have further thoughts I’d like to offer on this subject in the coming weeks.
Here’s a quick one:
The most common response I anticipate to the Tribal Engagement concept (and it’s a valid criticism, shared by Maj. Gant) will go something like this: “Yeah, this is a great idea–but where are we going to find the men to implement it?”
Men for the job
Tribal Engagement Team members, should this concept be adopted, would be called upon to commit for multiple tours under the loneliest, harshest and most hazardous conditions imaginable. To succeed with the tribe they are assigned to, they would have to demonstrate impeccable combat credentials and, even rarer, possess the “people skills” to establish and maintain rapport across a cultural chasm—Western to Tribal Afghan—that has defeated every outside entity from Alexander the Great to the British and the Soviets. The task would be extraordinarily difficult, dirty and dangerous, and in the end would almost certainly be rewarded neither by career advancement (because the enterprise would be unprecedented and outside the normal channels of military promotion) nor by recognition from the public at large, who in all probability will rarely hear of it and wouldn’t understand or appreciate it if they did.
How can we identify and attract such men?
Do you remember this tiny, three-line ad from the London Times, December 29, 1913?
Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.
5000 volunteers queued up in response to this advertisement, posted by Ernest Shackleton seeking crewmen for his Antarctic expedition.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think our young American warriors would respond with any less enthusiasm than their British cousins did a century ago to a similar call. Do you?
Again, many thanks to Maj. Jim Gant for writing One Tribe At A Time, to Printer Bowler for designing and editing the .pdf and to Callie Oettinger for managing the outreach. I’m proud to put this document in circulation with as much reach as this modest blog can offer. We all hope it proves of interest and of use.