The Mission, the Men, and Me talks about Pete Blaber’s experience in the Army’s Delta Force. He recounts stories and lessons-learned that turn into valuable advice for the avid reader. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because Blaber wrote with intrigue, yet was personable in his writing.
This book is an easy read. It didn’t take long to listen to the whole thing. If you’re a slow reader, then no worries. His stories flow from page to page, so you don’t lose yourself in the details. It makes for a better reading experience for this book.
I’ll give a brief synopsis of the book, then I’ll talk about things I liked about it, and finally, I’ll note what I didn’t like about it.
Blaber starts with the three M’s of a successful operation, which happens to be the name of the book: the mission, the men, and me. He explained a mission near Tikrit, Iraq, where Blaber’s team with an attached armor unit were conducting a show-of-force mission near the city. After several minutes of heavy fire, Blaber was able to execute his mission in mind, all while being questioned by higher-ranking officers communicating with Blaber via radio.
The mission comes first because that is most important. The task-at-hand is critical to overall strategic objectives. Second, the men come next because they’re the ones executing the mission. Take care of them, and they will take care of you. Finally, “me” is last. Get the most important things done first before tending to your own needs.
Blaber uses the sequence ‘saturate, incubate, illuminate’ to refer to developing a mission. We can gather information, think on it for a while, and execution methods then come. Blaber uses this method because it’s how human beings think about the complex issues they face. Further, this process alleviates the fear of overly cautious risk-aversion.
Blaber is a humble writer. Here is how Blaber described Delta Force: “Although the Delta Force culture is one of quiet professionalism that values humility over self-aggrandizement, that same culture also instills an innate sense of responsibility to always strive to make a contribution to the greater good.”
Blaber highlights his lessons by always listening to the guy on the ground. His story at the beginning of the book reflects that idea. Going back to the Tikrit mission I mentioned earlier, Blaber developed the situation while on the ground. Meanwhile, Blaber had the commanding general giving him other orders to move into the enemy-owned, heavily-bunkered city. Blaber made the call to move back into the desert because the mission was a show-of-force instead of an offensive operation. Later, Blaber emphasized this point when Blaber talked about his experience with his Delta team in the backwoods of the Montana mountains in an area called The Bob.
Developing the situation is critical in crisis moments. It’s essential to slow down and see what’s happening. According to Blaber, the best thing to do when you’re unsure is to develop the situation. Take stock of what’s happening and see what patterns you can use to complete the mission.
Things I liked
I enjoyed his sincerity in the book. Although Blaber can’t say everything, Blaber gave enough detail in each story to articulate his experiences. My favorite part of the book was when Blaber took his team to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, or, ‘The Bob.’ Crossing The Bob prepared the team for their upcoming deployment. Blaber talked about meeting with a man in a restaurant who told him to pack some snowshoes for the trip, which Blaber almost didn’t. However, Blaber was glad he brought them when they found snow in late-spring while passing through The Bob. It reaffirmed his idea to always listen to the guy on the ground.
His lessons were clear-cut. You knew what Blaber was going to say and how his experience shaped his ideas. I think about his chihuahua example at the beginning of the book, and how you shouldn’t get overly engaged in trivial tasks or urgent requirements. He says, “don’t get treed by a chihuahua,” meaning don’t let something small be the reason why you’re strung up.
Lastly, I enjoyed his humility. Delta Force holds a prestigious place in the United States Army, and Blaber carries himself well throughout the book. He humbly explains his mistakes and articulates how Blaber would have changed some things in his past. Blaber talked about pranking a group of prom-goers at the beginning of the book in his senior year of high school. I thought that was an exciting experience to address in light of the lessons he learned.
What I Didn’t Like
There was only one thing that gave me serious pause about his book. Even though Blaber talks about listening to the guy on the ground and creating a shared reality, I felt like Blaber had a hard time creating that shared reality with his chain of command.
Before I continue, I’ll admit I will never know all the details Blaber knows about his situations. From what Blaber wrote, I struggled to understand how Blaber handled his chain of command, and how Blaber hyper-focused on his ‘guy-on-the-ground’ piece.
Going back to the beginning of the book, Blaber talked about his misgivings with the general who told him to move into the city of Tikrit even though they were under heavy fire. My question to Blaber would be: what was the endstate to that mission? Did the general have a different endstate? Furthermore, what expectations did Blaber’s chain of command leave out to warrant such an abrasive overreach of the chain of command by the general?
Even though the guy on the ground has a great perspective, a bird’ s-eye view is great to have. I felt like Blaber discounted the staff-work that happens behind the scenes to enable missions. Other examples articulate this point in the book, as well. But, it’s enough to say that the guy on the ground can frequently provide great details of a small picture, but Blaber still needs a great staff behind him to make the grand portrait.
Also, I hesitate to take absolute qualifiers as truth. Using the word ‘always’ in the phrase “always listen to the guy on the ground” shoots up a red flag for me. I wish that Blaber expounded more on his shared reality piece instead.
However, I sympathize with his misgivings about the over-reliance on technology to solve battlefield conflicts. I’ve spent countless hours during staff exercises waiting for computer logins, network shutdowns, and technology restraints. The staff was dead-weight because of these technical issues. In short, Blaber and I share this misgiving about the military. I do agree with Blaber that the guy on the ground does have a fantastic perspective. Still, ground troops must report that information as quickly as possible so the staff can mobilize assets to leverage an effect.
Whether you’re military or not, this book is a must-read. My only problem with the book is my own opinion. Regardless, my critique pales in comparison to the need for these lessons in the Army and corporate today. With our over-dependence on technology to solve our problems, it’s refreshing to hear someone like Blaber metaphorically going outside to see what the weather is like instead of checking a phone indoors.
Also, I thoroughly enjoyed his experiences. He’s not even a humble-bragger like many military books tend to be. Blaber is as humble as it gets. Give this book a read or listen, and you’ll find out for yourself how much you can learn from Pete Blaber.
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Overall, I give this book 7/10.