« Electricity in Iraq: Explaining Shortages | Main | Ghost Busters »

Come Safely Home

My year is finished.  I have accomplished all that I will and I have come safely home.   So … how did we do?

john matel team leader flag

It is always hard to judge one’s own success and I am not sure I can tell.  I am also not sure ANYONE can tell.  So many factors were at work and my role was so small.  If I crow about the successes achieved in Anbar, it will be a lot like the rooster claiming credit for the sunrise.   But if I just pass over the whole thing as though my efforts meant nothing, I am denying reality and denying the whole concept of free choice.  It is almost my metaphysical duty to brag on our achievements.  I did only what others could have done, but most others did not do them.   What a person could do, what he can do and what he actually did are often not strongly related.

I made a difference to the extent of my capabilities for Western Anbar and the security of the United States.  The environment is now more hostile to insurgents and terrorists because of the efforts of my team.  (The Colonel told me that it is easier for his Marines to eliminate “f-ckos” because my team has made it harder for them to survive among the people.  I consider that great praise indeed.)  Conditions are better for the people of the province. I cannot separate my personal achievements from those of the team, so what I am most proud of is that I created the conditions for team members to thrive and that I motivated and empowered them to do a great job, but as a result of this THEY did of the heavy lifting.   That is as it should be.

The better the team, the more the leader can & should act as a catalyst rather than a directive manager.   Being a catalyst for positive change is a good thing, but a catalyst by its very nature is never actually part of the transaction.   To the question, “What did you personally do?” I would have to answer, “Almost nothing.”  But if they asked, “What did you enhance or make happen?” I could answer, “Almost everything the team did.”

I learned that from forestry, which I have been sort of practicing since I planted my first trees back in 1966.  A little leverage and patience creates great things, but you never can point to a precise moment of accomplishment and you have to understand that everything depends on the synergy of forces, many of which you do not control.  

If I look at my early post re going to Iraq, I think you can judge if I met my own vaguely stated goals.  I like vagueness.  It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.   There are things you just cannot predict or measure precisely.   Most big things are like that.

I consider it achievements that I have come safely home, that my team will continue to do its good work w/o me, that our activities made things better in Iraq, created confusion among our enemies and enhanced the security of the United States.   When we all do our small part, big things get done.  I am proud that I won the respect of the Marines and my team member colleagues.   Nothing else matters too much if you have those things.

Back safely home in Virginia, watching the gentle rain fall on green leaves.

John Matel

PS - I wrote some posts during the journey home and will post them here.  I will then archive this blog and continue on with more prosaic postings.  I will call the blog Matel-in-America.  If some of you want to come along on that trip, you are welcome.  If not thanks for coming along so far.

Hosting by Yahoo!



Have enjoyed reading your blog. Having spent 2 years of my life in Iraq myself, I can appreciate much of what you experienced.

Hope that sometime soon you'll host some form of seminar, or presentation in the N. VA or DC area.. If you do, please post so that I might have a chance of attending and perhaps meeting you in person.

Ron Reece

I am glad you decided to continue with your blog. The perspective you've been sharing has been most helpful and informative. I suspect it will continue to be so, especially as you have time to gather various perspective threads into a broader weave.

Also, it sounds like the local command (the only command that really matters in such things) has adopted you into the tribe of the Corps.

Marines are picky about such things. If you got more than a simple handshake and a fare thee well, you made friends.

You might want to consider getting together with others of your primary tribe that have also made friends in such manner and see if you can capture the essence of what it was in your acts and actions that served to enhance and strengthen the inter-tribal relationship.

If you are able to do that, then you could consider approaching the mil tribe and see what they have to say on the subject.

The Corps does work with State at a much lower and constant level than the other branches. Helping both the tribes grow a better working relationship could be a most beneficial thing.

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/29/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.


Welcome home sir. Well Done.

Welcome home, John, and looking forward to another Old Rag hike before long. DB

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)