Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On: Moving On Out Part 2

I'm still nervous about all of the stuff I have to accomplish in the next couple of weeks.

At this point, I have:

  • Gorilla on Wheels foot lockers (at least one will have to be decommissioned)
  • Rubbermaid Action Packers: two 48 gallons, six 24 gallons, and two 8 gallons
  • 10.5 galloon Styleworks Tough Totes

    One of my few vices is the purchase of books. I need to get rid of plenty of them, and I need to extricate most of the rest from my parents' house. I'm in the process of locating a temporary point of storage for my belongings, and since I'd prefer something a bit more durable than my current cache of printer paper boxes (quite sturdy, but increasingly aged), I'll be putting my books into the massive cache of Tough Notes - Action Packer knock-offs, really, but despite the weak plastic in their hinges, they enjoy the virtue of having been made in America.

    The 24 gallon bins will be useful for packing up individual rooms: the bathroom, the kitchen, and the bedroom specifically. I'm not sure what use the other three will be put to, and perhaps I've purchased too many, but I never seem to have any shortage of stuff, so I imagine I'll be able to fill them.

    I really shouldn't be quite this nervous. In fact, I have more time to move this time around than I had when leaving California or Virginia previously. Still, I remember being under the gun before, and like my departure from the Middle East earlier this year, this move has a set deadline. I'm sure I'll relax considerably once everything is properly sorted out.
  • Saturday, August 25, 2012

    Updated Spreadsheets

    I've made a few updates to my spreadsheets.

    I completed my passport renewal and my visa application, so I crossed those items off. I also crossed off pre-reading and applying to the University, since I don't anticipate finishing any more of my textbooks prior to departure. Other items that weren't accomplished in time have been highlighted in red.

    I made a few updates to my "Current Plans" spreadsheet to reflect items that have been purchased, and changes in the Dollar-to-Pound exchange rate. At this point, the number of items I've purchased or will purchase is a bit out of hand for the current version of the spreadsheet to track, but at this stage that's not really important. It's helped me to forecast for the last couple of years, and will help me to forecast some general costs into the future.

    My Training sheet has been updated to reflect the books I've finished reading, the books I won't finish reading before I leave, and the books that have been added to the syllabus. I've accordingly updated my Readings slide with the same information. While this may seem redundant, the Readings slide has helped me keep to some semblance of a reading schedule while the Training slide has helped me to keep the readings into the larger context of my overall personal training plan.

    I've done some work on my dissertation bibliography worksheet, and I'll likely do some more soon. The segments of this sheet are divided by topic, and include the author, the title of the item in question, the publisher, the location published, the year, the type of publication (book or article), the retail price, the price on Amazon, whether it's available on Kindle, and the URL (mostly Amazon). Although it may cost me some serious coin, I'm going to try to get a number of books for my several dissertation topics on Kindle to reduce packing and shipping weight. I generally prefer traditional "dead tree" books, but for this particular occasion weight and bulk will be at a premium, so it's worth it to me to replace at least some of my current books for ease of carry en route, and ease of use once I get to Aberdeen.

    In addition to a few other updates, the next order of business will be to make out a sheet that schedules the tasks I need or want to complete while I'm in Scotland. When I came home from the Middle East, I made out a spreadsheet that tracked, week by week, what I wanted to accomplish. I was either far too ambitious, or nowhere near disciplined enough. I'll have a year to work with in Aberdeen, and all of the pre-reading I've done thus far will help to reduce the overall workload. I'll still be ambitious, but I'll try to be a bit more realistic, and a bit more disciplined. I've listed my other projects previously, and when I've put the spreadsheet together, I'll post some of the specifics.

    The Dissertation: Roman Lessons for Afghan Counterinsurgents

    The Dissertation: Roman Lessons for Afghan Counterinsurgents I spent a lot of my time as an undergraduate studying the Roman campaigns in ancient Britain. As I read the accounts of Caesar and Tacitus, I was always struck by the obvious parallels between the Roman campaigns in Britain and modern campaigns in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. I've wanted to write a lengthy paper on the subject for several years now, and I got started on it in 2010. I've done some more work on it since I've returned from the Middle East, and I think that it has the potential to be a good dissertation topic, if it can be made relevant to current strategic thought.

    My goal is to present a detailed survey of the Roman campaigns in Britain from Caesar to the end of Julius Agricola's tenure, followed by a brief outline of the last two hundred years of Afghan history, then compare and contrast the two. I'll conclude with relevant observations from the Roman campaigns that should be applied to the campaign in Afghanistan. The introduction will include an explanation of the contemporary relevance of seemingly obsolete examples from ancient history, and the first major section will offer some historical context to the Roman foray into Britain.

    Sourcing will be interesting. I wrote a long paper in 2003 about the Roman campaigns in Britain, so I'll be drawing extensively from that - both the format and the sources. Unfortunately, I drew from several loosely reliable web sources, including a nascent Wikipedia, so I'll need to review my more credible sources to ensure accuracy in the parts I'll be including. With respect to ancient sources, I have and will make copious use of The Annals, Histories, and of course The Agricola, all by Gaius Cornelius Tacitus. Of course, Caesar's dispatches from Gaul are a critical resource, and several relevant sections can be quoted from Suetonius. Good modern sources on Roman Britain include the works of R.G. Collingwood and H.H. Scullard, and a fantastic book by Ramon Jimenez about Caesar's campaigns. The Jimenez book will be especially helpful with respect to identifying additional sources.

    My recital of recent Afghan history won't have to be as exacting, as it has been covered in exhausting detail elsewhere. One potential source of articles will be the Middle East and South Asia section of the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office website. There are a handful of other great websites run by a variety of military and military-affiliated institutions, but the actual narrative about Afghanistan isn't the most critical element of the paper - in fact, the Afghan connection may be dropped altogether, given the impending precipitous withdrawal and the fact that I'll be completing this dissertation in the waning months of the campaign.

    I'm an extremely good writer, but I'm not sure that even I can convince my dissertation advisors that this topic is relevant to modern strategy. Regardless, this paper will be written, by hook or by crook.

    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    Keep Calm and Carry On: Moving On Out

    So, I shouldn't be so nervous about this, but I'm extremely nervous about getting all of my stuff out of my apartment in time. I also have to move some stuff out of my parents' house that they've been bugging me about for years - and rightly so, but I've never really had the means to get it out or put it anywhere. I'm going to try to get rid of a bunch of stuff, to include nearly all of my furniture, but that still leaves a lot of ancillary stuff to account for.

    I've moved - like, seriously moved - about three times, and it's painful. Two of those were moves across the country (first east, then back west), and the third was to the Middle East and back. This time, no matter where I store my stuff, I'll have the advantage of only having to move it ten or fifteen miles. I also have more time to work with than I have in previous moves. I'm still stressing out about it.

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Late August Status Update

    Alright, here are a few updates on what's been going on lately.

    Item #1: I got my CAS and applied for my visa.

    My CAS and additional paperwork on August 9th, and applied for my visa, filled out the hard copy application paperwork over the last few days, and then applied online today. I have an appointment to complete my application later this week. I expect that the process will continue to proceed as planned in a timely manner. Believe it or not, despite my earlier anxiety, this process has ended up being quite a bit easier than other applications I've had to go through over the past few years. That said, it would have been nice if the University had been more on the ball.

    Item #2: I bought a bunch of stuff last week.

    This week, I'll start the long process of packing and storing the contents of my apartment, liquidating things like furniture and small appliances, and packing up the stuff I'll need for Aberdeen.

  • 5 Rubbermaid Action Packers
  • 4 dress shirts from the Tommy Hilfiger factory outlet
  • 2 SanDisk Cruzer 16 GB flash drives
  • 2 SanDisk 16 GB SDHC memory cards
  • 2 canvas sea bags
  • 5.11 Covert Casual shirt (burnt orange)
  • LL Bean Rugby shirt (raven blue/burgundy/gold)

    I'm pretty much positive that the sea bags I got are way too big for what I need them for. Instead, what I may do is store some of my stuff in them while I'm gone, and take my existing sea bags with me to Scotland.

    I already had two large Rubbermaid Action Packers and another mid-sized one, and I just bought three more mid-sized and two small ones. I also have four Gorilla on Wheels foot lockers that I used to get my stuff back from the Middle East, thouh they're in various states of repair following their expert handling by the United States Air Force and Postal Service. I'd like to get rid of as much stuff as possible (I'll probably still have a bunch of crap), and then find some unsuspecting relative or friend to store it with for a year.

    Item #3: I finished a book.

    I finished reading The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy by Lawrence Freedman. I think my next read is going to be Strategy in the Contemporary World by John Baylis, et al.

    As I mentioned previously, I bought most of the books on the 2010/'11 welcome letter reading list, but held off on the ones about Latin America because I knew I could delay them until the second semester. Then, I found out that that's one of four courses to choose from, so I may not wind up reading them after all. Three additional books were added for the 2012/'13 academic year, and I'll wait to purchase those until I arrive in Scotland. If I can finish one more book before I'll leave, that will leave five additional books for me to read, at least one of which won't be on the agenda until the second semester.

    I'm toying with the idea of leaving most of the textbooks that I've already read behind, which will allow me to either lighten my baggage - I'd guess that the textbooks I already have weigh at least five pounds, and they're bulky - or allow me to take different books for my thesis research. So, if I can finish one more, that will leave me with a pretty light load of textbooks to take with me. Any weight I can save will help - I'm already paying Evan's way so that he can help me mule my stuff over there.

    UPDATE: My visa biometric something-or-other appointment is today, so I've got all of my paperwork put together and I'll be heading out for that in a few hours. I also got an E-mail confirming that the accommodation (housing) that I applied for on Tuesday has been assigned. It looks like I registered for housing too late to get what appears to be the best hall, but I think the residence hall I got will work alright. I gotta tell you, it's starting to feel pretty real.
  • The Dissertation: Private Military Companies

    I was first exposed to the existence of private military companies, or PMCs, during a conversation in a surplus store back in 2006. I can't remember whether the guy I was talking to recommended it, or if I found it based on what he'd told me in the conversation, but I subsequently read An Unorthodox Soldier by Tim Spicer. Having worked almost entirely as a defense contractor since graduating from college, the ramifications of the privatization of various aspects of national security is of keen interest to me.

    National security has always relied upon industry, but the current situation is unprecedented. In 1991, the uniform-to-contractor ratio of personnel deployed to the Persian Gulf was fifty to one. Reductions in American and NATO force strengths following the collapse of the Soviet Union were predicated on a belief that in future conflicts, reductions in manpower could be mitigated by increased reliance on technology. With extreme manpower requirements in Iraq, and the subsequent surge of forces in Afghanistan, the current uniform-to-contractor ratio is one-to-one.

    In Tim Spicer's book, he advocated a system whereby legitimate PMCs would employ military veterans to assist legitimate governments in national security challenges. Rather than providing combat forces, Spicer envisioned PMCs assisting legitimate governments by providing training, logistical, aviation, and other types of support to host nation combat forces. Operating independently of national military forces, Spicer proposed that PMCs could volunteer for regulation by the United Nations. For the most part, Spicer's vision has failed to materialize.

    What has happened instead is that "private security companies", as well as more long-standing defense contractors, have been retained by national militaries - primarily by the Department of Defense - to augment the uniformed personnel. This phenomenon occurs in both domestic and deployed units. There are few aspects of national security that aren't touched in one way or another by contractors and/or PSCs. Many contractors even carry weapons, providing security for bases, convoys, and high value personnel.

    Thus far, I've sourced some books, but I haven't sourced any articles. Here's what I have so far.

  • Timothy Spicer; An Unorthodox Soldier: Peace and War and the Sandline Affair; Mainstream Publishing, 2000
  • Gerry Schumacher and Steve Gansen; A Bloody Business: America's War Zone Contractors and the Occupation of Iraq; Zenith Press, 2006
  • James Ashcroft; Making a Killing: The Explosive Story of a Hired Gun in Iraq; Virgin Books, 2010
  • Madelaine Drohan; Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business; The Lyons Press, 2004
  • Robert Young Pelton; Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror; Broadway, 2007
  • P.W. Singer; Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry; Cornell University Press, 2007
  • Jeremy Scahill; Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army; Nation Books, 2008
  • James Jay Carafano; Private Sector, Public Wars: Contractors in Combat - Afghanistan, Iraq, and Future Conflicts; Praeger, 2008
  • Deborah D. Avant; The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security; Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • Steve Fainaru; Big Boy Rules: America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq; Da Capo Press, 2008
  • Thomas C. Bruneau; Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security; Stanford Security Studies, 2011
  • Berube, Claude and Cullen, Patrick; Maritime Private Security: Market responses to piracy, terrorism and waterborne security risks in the 21st century; Routledge, 2012

    I know that the DoD has done some research on the long-term impact of employing PSC/PMC personnel, but I'm not sure how much of that research is in the public domain. I may be able to find some information at some of my old standby sources: Small Wars Journal, the Foreign Military Studies Office, Global Security, and the RAND Corporation.
  • Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Some Other Projects

    I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't have anywhere near the amount of free time that I expect to have once I get to Aberdeen. Even so, I have some other projects I want to work on during my year abroad.

    What I'm hoping to do is what I now wish I had done as an undergraduate: treat school like a forty hour per week job. Even with the amount of pre-reading I've done, I expect that my actual course commitments will take up a great deal of time.

  • Arabic: I've been studying Arabic since 2005, and not only has it helped me to get a couple of jobs, but it's been helfpul in both my professional and personal lives. I'd like to spend at least an hour each day working on Arabic.
  • Other Security Stuff: In addition to the master's degree, part of my overall plan is to get a couple of additional security certifications: the Physical Security Professional certification from ASIS International, and a graduate certificate in Terrorism Studies from the University of St. Andrews. I think both of these are attainable, if I can treat them like an additional class.
  • Physical Fitness: I've had a workout plan that I've wanted to complete for a few years now, but I either haven't had the opportunity, or haven't been on a stable enough schedule to stick to the plan. My hope is that a more defined daily routine will allow me to make this happen.
  • Skydiving: I've wanted to get my Accelerated Free Fall certification for about three years now. I'm hoping that I can do that through Skydive St. Andrews. Aberdeen itself doesn't seem to have any sort of skydiving program. I'll investigate further once I get to Scotland.

    It's going to be a busy year, that's for sure.
  • Thursday, August 9, 2012

    Early August Status Update

    Okay, a few days ago I posted that my new passport had arrived. Today, I finally got my Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies paperwork via E-mail, which means that I have everything I need to apply for my visa. I have a hard copy of the paperwork, so I'll fill that out so that I have everything sorted to submit the application online early next week. At some point, I'll have to send my passport to the UK Border Agency, which should take a couple of weeks, but thanks to the timely return of my passport, I'm no longer in "Keep Calm and Carry On" territory - at least, not as far as credentials go.

    I also booked our airline tickets yesterday, so those are all set. Some time next week, Gus and I will sit down together and figure out where we'll be staying. That's also contingent upon me applying for housing, which I can do now that I have my student ID number.

    Basically, it's starting to get to the point where it's scary real.

    The Gear: Clothes

    There are a lot of cliches about clothes, but the truth is that there's a big difference between the right clothes for a mission, and the wrong clothes for a mission. Over the years, I've been pretty good at packing the right clothes for the various places I've gone, and I was particularly successful in planning and packing for the Middle East. Having grown up in conditions similar to those I'll experience in Aberdeen, and having previously spent five years on a college campus, I'm confident that I'll be able to choose the right clothes for this particular mission.

    My dad turned me on to Carhartt, particularly Carhartt trousers, when I was in college. In the Middle East, I wore Carhartt's B151 Canvas Work Dungarees and B260 Canvas Utility Cargo Pants exclusively. I've also been wearing their B73 Double Front Logger Dungarees and B136 Double Front Duck Work Dungarees for years. The former are lightweight and good for looking somewhat presentable, while the latter are heavier and great for cold weather. I'll also take at least one pair of Desert Tiger Stripe trousers for hikes. Between various military style utility belts, and a couple of leather belts, I should be able to keep all of them from falling down.

    When I left for the Middle East in late 2010, I also threw out my well worn Carhartt Jacket, which had served me well since 2002, so I'll be replacing it with a new J97 Blanket Lined Sandstone Detroit Jacket to supplement my TAD Gear Pathfinder Jacket.

    Boots are another important piece of kit, and I'll be taking my Doc Martens. Despite being heavy, I've had great results from my Docs over the years. I'll probably also take one pair of desert combat boots. Other than a set of shower shoes, I'm not sure what other footwear I'll take.

    That brings us to shirts. I have a pretty good T-shirt collection that I've snagged over the years, most of which are from Ranger Up, with a few more from David Malki(!)'s store at Topatoco. As comfortable as T-shirts are, my dress code has become a bit more professional as I've gotten older. I've had great results from 5.11's Professional Polos and Covert Casual Shirts, as well as L.L. Bean's Classic Rugby Shirt. My white dress shirts are classic and ubiquitous, and I have a few other dress shirts that I plan to take, but I could stand to hit the outlet mall up north and snag another couple before I go.

    I imagine it will get fairly cold there from time to time, so I plan to take bona fide Navy watch cap and a couple of shemaghs. I know what you're thinking: "Tom, a shemagh? Aren't those just for the Middle East?" Nay, my friends. Shemaghs are great for protecting you from the sun and the sand, yes, but they're also great for retaining heat under cold conditions. If it's freezing cold outside and you've got a Carhartt jacket and jeans, wool socks, Docs, a watch cap, and a shemagh to wrap around your neck and face, you're going to be nice and warm while you're walking from your flat to class.

    I don't yet have any indication of how much baggage all of this stuff is going to require, but I made it to the Middle East with about two bags full of gear, so I ought to be able to get away with three for Aberdeen once you figure in books and additional gear. Fortunately, some of this stuff will be considered field expendable (meaning it will be left in Aberdeen when I leave), and Gus will be helping me to mule it over. Great success!

    Maps: University of Aberdeen Campus

    A couple of days ago, I posted my personal orientation maps of Aberdeen. Today's maps are of the University of Aberdeen campus. I remember from my undergraduate years that the geography of a university campus can be every bit as complex as the geography of a city.

    Here's the campus satellite map, and this is the PDF map. I think my lectures are going to take place primarily in the Edward Wright Building, though I'll obviously spend a lot of time in the University's brand new (and completely hideous, but presumably quite functional) library.

    I'm still not sure where I'll wind up living, and that will dictate which areas of the city and campus I get most intimately acquainted with. Apparently the Hillhead dorms are sort of sketchy, and the design is copied from a Swedish women's prison. I just found a 2005 article on The Guardian (The Guardian itself being one of the world's poorest excuses for modern journalism) that discusses life on campus. I'm sure a lot has changed since '05, though. Maybe The Guardian (or, better yet, The Times) will do an interview with me!

    Please note that this is the King's Campus. The other campus, whose name I forget, is the home of the medical school, so I doubt I'll ever make it there unless I wind up with scurvy or mingingitis or something.

    Tuesday, August 7, 2012

    Maps: Aberdeen

    I've always loved maps. I study them for fun, I collect them, I decorate my house with them. They're great. When I was in a fourth/fifth grade split class (I was a fourth grader), I got the highest grade on our final geography exam of the year - 250 out of 100. When I travel, I always make sure that I have an adequate idea of the local geography.

    I started assembling maps of Aberdeen and the University last year. I harnessed the power of PowerPoint to synchronize satellite maps with street maps, and add labels.

    1. University of Aberdeen
    2. Aberdeen Sports Village
    3. potential employer
    4. potential employer
    5. Kirk of St. Nicholas/kirkyard
    6. Aberdeen Railway Station
    7. Northlink Ferry Terminal
    8. former Jimmy Chung's location
    9. SYHA Youth Hostel
    10. Cathedral Church of St. Mary
    11. former Safeway location
    12. William Wallace Statue
    13. Aberdeen Central Library

    A number of things have changed since I was in Aberdeen eight years ago. (I'll be arriving almost eight years to the day since I left Scotland.) A Chinese joint that I enjoyed apparently closed down (at least, the location I'd eaten at), and the Safeway where I bought some crumpets has apparently been sold and possibly closed down as well. I suppose I'll just be forced to find another supermarket closer to campus, and a neighb(u)rhood pub.

    The plan is to paste all of this into a sort of field journal for easy use in navigating around the city while I work to get my bearings once again.

    One thing I have to mention is how much easier a lot of this stuff is than it used to be, thanks to the Internet. Wikimapia, Google Maps, Google Street View, and even Wikipedia - the infallible and undisputed source of all knowledge and wisdom - have made what I'm preparing to do much easier than it was when I spent the Summer of '04 in the United Kingdom.

    Next up, the University of Aberdeen campus.

    Monday, August 6, 2012

    Spreadsheets Aplenty

    In case you hadn't gathered from the maps and the lists, I'm a pretty organized person. One of my favorite tools for organizing my like if Microsoft Excel. My first spreadsheets for Operation Highlander were drafted in Spring of 2010, shortly after Aunt Jo planted the idea in my head.

    The original spreadsheets dealt with two aspects of the plan: gear, and operating costs. Gear included things like clothing, entertainment, field equipment, and such. Operating costs included things like tuition, living expenses, the cost of keeping things like my mobile phone and car insurance paid for back home, flights, and the like. Excel was great because I could plug in a couple of simple scripts, like a cascading cell system that allowed me to easily account for changes in the exchange rate between the dollar and the British pound.

    My spreadsheets for Operation Highlander were copied and retooled for my sojourn to the Middle East, which was a good pre-Highlander exercise. I've since used Excel to come up with a variety of additional spreadsheets to help me through the process of preparing for Scotland.

  • Goals/Time: (2 spreadsheets) These sheets helped me to track tasks I needed to complete before leaving the Middle East, and before leaving for Scotland, and the timeline in which I needed to complete them.
  • Ricochet/Current/Old Plans: (3 spreadsheets) Ricochet is my current "operation", so named because I've arrived in one location before almost immediately bouncing to another. My Current and Old Plans worksheets include Highlander, other potential near term plans, as well as former plans (like Carnivore - my deployment to the Middle East) that I've archived for reference purposes.
  • Writing/Bibliography: (2 spreadsheets) These spreadsheets contain the writing outlines for my potential dissertations, as well as my source list. The source list will become especially useful when I'm working on the bibliography for my dissertation.
  • Training/Readings: (2 spreadsheets) I've had a lot of readings to keep track of as I've prepared for grad school, as well as a number of other certifications for my risk management work.
  • ME Pay/Forecast/Old Money: (3 spreadsheets) Excel has been great for tracking my money over the last couple of years. I've used it to forecast and track my earnings. Like the Operation Highlander portions of the Current Plans spreadsheet, I made great use of Excel's cascading matrix and formulas to do the heavy mathematical lifting for me.
  • Travel: Finally, my Travel sheet has helped me to organize my travel goals, of which I've spoken previously. At some point, particularly if I get to North Africa and especially if I have an opportunity to travel throughout Continental Europe, the organizational boost I get from using Excel will help me to plan an efficient route so that I don't waste time covering any ground twice.
    I've already posted a few of my spreadsheets, and as appropriate, I'll post more as time goes on. Stay tuned to learn more about the trip and how I've planned for it.
  • Friday, August 3, 2012

    Passport Arrival

    The new passport has arrived! That significantly reduces the pucker factor on my remaining timelines: my Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), and my Tier 4 student visa. Assuming long lead times, I should still have everything sorted by the end of August. Brilliant!

    The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 1

    One of my prime options for a dissertation topic is an academic study of the Dhofar Rebellion.

    In a nutshell, the Dhofar Rebellion was a war that took place in southwestern Oman from 1965 to 1975. The war was fought by loyalist Omani troops, supported by British and Iranian troops; and rebels agitated and reinforced by communist guerrillas from neighboring South Yemen, and supported by the Soviet Union and China. Loyalist forces ultimately prevailed by implementing a carefully planned counterinsurgency strategy that reconciled the Dhofaris and the Omani rebels to the rest of the country while capitalizing on conflict between the rebels and the communist guerrillas.

    The Dhofar Rebellion is one of the great counterinsurgency success stories of the recent past. I first learned about it in 2006, when I read a very brief mention of the British contribution in An Unorthodox Soldier by Tim Spicer. I visited Oman for the first time in January of this year, and fell in love with the country, its unique and fascinating culture, and its history. I began studying the Dhofar Rebellion in earnest, and I have been shocked by how little information is available on the conflict. One illustration of this is that the touted US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual features one mention - one - of the Dhofar Rebellion, and that's only a listing for Tony Jeapes' SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East. After months of looking, I've found around a dozen books of varying quality on the topic, most of them personal autobiographies, and next to nothing from the academic powerhouses of the Department of Defense. By contrast, there are probably more books on solely on the topic of Helmand Province (Afghanistan) than there are about the Dhofar Rebellion.

    Of course, quantity does not equal quality. One example of this is the Algerian War, for which the number of sources is few, but those sources are of extremely high quality (A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne, Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958 by David Galula, and the such). With the former as a model, the closest corollary is probably the aforementioned book by Major General Tony Jeapes, who commanded 22 SAS during the campaign. Sir Alistair Horne's offering was widely read by military leaders engaged in the Iraq campaign, to include President Bush - ironic, in part, since the French campaign in Algeria ultimately ended in failure.

    When the Vietnam War concluded, people claimed that the best solution was to avoid getting involved in counterinsurgency operations in the first place. With operations in Iraq having been concluded, and with the Afghan campaign being ended on an arbitrary timeline, the popular sentiment is that we should just avoid getting drawn into counterinsurgency warfare in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this is a fallacious argument that implies that wars are by and large a matter of choice, rather than actions taken out of political necessity. There's a fantasy in some military or quasi-military circles that a choice exists between fighting conventional armies, or fighting insurgents. In all actuality, though, this is wishful thinking on the part of those who prefer conventional force-on-force engagements because they are comparatively easy to counterinsurgency, or out of parochial attitudes toward force structure and tactics. It is for precisely this reason - the overwhelming Western superiority in force-on-force engagements - that irregular and hybrid warfare styles have proven so effective in recent years, and appear poised to retain their popularity amongst the rogue states and sub-state actors whom are likely to threaten international security for the foreseeable future.

    The West, and America in particular, will find itself engaged in counterinsurgency warfare again within my lifetime, and possibly sooner, either directly or by proxy through partnerships with host nation forces. It is for precisely this reason that I believe the lessons of the Dhofar Rebellion are valuable for current and future soldiers.

    So, where does that put me? Well, I've identified a few sources. Here's what I have so far.

  • Tony Jeapes; SAS Secret War: Operation Storm in the Middle East (Book); Greenhill Books, 2005
  • Tony Geraghty; Who Dares Wins: The Story of the Special Air Service, 1950-1982 (Book); HarperCollins Publishers, 1983
  • Ranulph Fiennes; Where Soldiers Fear to Tread (Book); Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1983
  • Ranulph Fiennes; The Feather Men (Book); Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., 1991
  • David C. Arkless; The Secret War: Dhofar 1971/1972 (Book); William Kimber, 1988
  • Ibrahim bin Saif al Hamdani; Development as an anti-Insurgency weapon: The Dhofar War (Book); unknown, unknown
  • Roger Cole and Richard Belfield; SAS Operation Storm: Nine Men Against Four Hundred in Britain's Secret War (Book); Hodder & Stoughton, 2011
  • Ian Gardiner; In the Service of the Sultan: A First Hand Account of the Dhofar Insurgency (Book); Pen & Sword Military, 2007
  • Andrew Higgins; With the SAS and Other Animals: A Vet's Experiences During the Dhofar War 1974 (Book); Pen & Sword Military, 2011
  • Rowland White; Storm Front: The Epic True Story of a Secret War, the SAS's Greatest Battle, and the British Pilots Who Saved Them (Book); Corgi, 2011
  • John Akehurst; We Won a War: The Campaign in Oman 1965-1975 (Book); M. Russell, 1982
  • Stephen A. Cheney; The Insurgency in Oman 1962-1976 (Article); Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1984
  • John B. Meagher; The Jebel Akhdar War Oman 1954-1959 (Article); Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1985
  • N/A; British Army Field Manual: Countering Insurgency (Article); British Army, 2009
  • Joseph A. Kechichian; Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy (Article); RAND Corporation, 1995
  • Bruce Hoffman; British Air Power in Peripheral Conflict 1919-1976 (Article); RAND Corporation, 1989
  • Jim White; Oman 1965-1976: From Certain Defeat to Decisive Victory (Article); Small Wars Journal, 2008

    I have all of the articles saved to my hard drive, but at this point I only have three of the books - Jeapes, Arkless, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes' The Feather Men. I had hoped to be able to get a few more of these on Kindle, but as most of them are fifteen or twenty years old and published outside the United States, that's not going to happen. (I may be able to find a few of them on interlibrary loan or something, if I'm unable to track down used copies by way of Amazon or a book shop.

    It will also be interesting to see how much overlap there is. I get the impression that Major General Jeapes' book, thus far the most authoritative source on the conflict, may be the primary source for most of the listed articles. One of the skills I refined while working in Virginia, and through five years of blogging, is the fine art of citation. Regardless of what I ultimately settle on for my dissertation topic, it will be well documented. If it's the Dhofar Rebellion, my task will be to review the handful of scholarly and semi-scholarly accounts of the conflict, and match those thirty-thousand-foot views to the ground floor perspectives offered by the handful of autobiographical accounts. I may also try to incorporate other sources, such as military field manuals and treatises on tactics and strategy.

    As I mentioned, the sources in question are of varying quality. The Feather Men, for example, won't be of much use, as the actual topic of the Dhofar Rebellion is ancillary to the book's core narrative. I read the first few chapters of the Cole and Belfield book, and it's truly awful, but I think I may be able to pick a few details out of it. The articles all appear to be helpful, so despite being few in number, I'm optimistic that they'll help me to be productive.
  • Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    Travel Destinations: Middle East and North Africa

    In addition to the British Isles and Continental Europe, I hope to visit a few other locations during my year abroad. Over the course of the last couple of years, I've had the chance to visit Kuwait, the Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, and Qatar. During my upcoming year abroad, I want to revisit Oman, and if I'm able I'd also like to visit Morocco and Algeria. I'd add Libya to that list, but Libya's pretty rough at the moment, even for my tastes.

    Oman is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life, and its people are amazing. I spent three days in and around Muscat earlier this year, but didn't get the opportunity to see anything else. Several people told me that I needed to visit Oman's second city, Salalah, and I also had a couple of offers from locals who wanted to take me to see Jebel Akhdar. I'd also like to visit the Omani enclave of Musandam that forms the Arabian side of the Strait of Hormuz, and Masirah Island, which has been used as a basing and staging area for Western military forces. Assuming that I do some significant research on the Dhofar Rebellion, it would be helpful to visit Mirbat, Thumrait, and a handful of other locations in Dhofar Governorate.

    I've been fascinated by Algeria for several years now, and particularly since I read A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne and Legionnaire: Five Years in the French Foreign Legion by Simon Murray. Algeria has such a fascinating and tragic history, and I'd like to see a few of the places I've read so much about over the years.

    And, while I'm in the neighborhood, it might be nice to go to Morocco. I've never had much interest in Morocco, but sometimes it's nice to go somewhere for no better reason than it's there, waiting for you to come and visit.

    Keep Calm and Carry On: The Trouble with Credentials

    Mea culpa - some of my frustration could have been avoided if I had renewed my passport in May or June, rather than waiting on the off chance that I might travel between my return from the Middle East and my departure for Scotland. That having been said, a combination of my own stalling, and sluggish responses from the University, have led to some consternation regarding my travel credentials. I expect that everything will be settled in sufficient time, but waiting on other people and dealing with unnecessary ambiguity are well outside my personal comfort zone. I'd rather this all be settled quickly and succinctly.

    I sent my passport in for renewal last week, and paid for expedited processing. In theory, that could still take up to a month (though a guy on the State Department's hotline seemed to think it would only take two or three weeks - hopefully I'll get lucky). Meanwhile, I'll also need a Tier 4 visa. In order to apply for this visa, I need my passport; I also need my Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS), which the University won't issue to me until they get a scan of my new passport. I also can't apply for a visa while I'm in the United Kingdom, and I can't register for courses without the visa. So, I'm waiting, to start waiting, to start waiting. While I'm waiting, I'm going to try to do everything in my power to get all of the relevant materials together. Of course, the UK Border Agency seems to have done everything in its power to make that difficult, too.

    In addition to completing the online application form (for which I require the passport and CAS) and paying a fee to the UK Border Agency, I'll also need to provide evidence that I have sufficient funds to support myself, as well as evidence relevant to the issuance of my Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). Not surprisingly, descriptions of what documentation will meet these requirements is exceptionally vague, and a call to the San Francisco consulate yielded only an automated notice that they can neither issue visas, nor advise on matters related to visas. The best lead I've found so far on the myriad of semi-functional websites maintained by the Foreign Office and its subsidiaries is:
    Assessment by other means

    If your course is at National Qualification Framework (NQF) level 3 or above and you have been assessed by other means (such as references, a portfolio of artwork, interview, or the Tier 4 sponsor's own test or entrance exam), you do not need to include these documents with your application. However, your Tier 4 sponsor must include details of how they assessed you on the CAS.
    I think that means that I may not need to send any documentary evidence, which is good because I don't have any copies of the sealed, confidential letters of reference I sent with my original application to the University. The take-away is that the whole thing is very vague, which makes it difficult to put the appropriate documentation together in advance.

    Now, to be fair, I've always expected that some administrative requirements would be included in the process of getting to Aberdeen. It's the timeline that's upsetting me. I mailed my application at the beginning of June (soon after I'd received the second of my two letters of reference), received acknowledgment of its receipt on 11 June, inquired as to its status nearly a month later, addressed a concern about my reference letters in the first week of July, and received confirmation from The Director that I'd be receiving an offer of admission later that week. It took the University an additional two weeks to actually send the offer, I took a few days to sign and scan the acceptance forms, and then it took the University a few more days to continue their portion of the sequence. We're now at about six weeks and counting, and when you figure in weekends and lag times, each leg of the remaining sequence adds additional risk of delay, which results in a corresponding risk that I won't be able to arrive on time.

    The Director, being the outstanding specimen of the human condition that he is, wrote to me and said that if things didn't get sorted out in time, I could arrive up to two weeks late. I'm hoping it won't come to that, and I don't think it will (at worst, I think I might have to miss orientation week and arrive on time for the commencement of classes the following week), but I appreciate that the program staff will be willing to work with me. The University, for all of my frustrations, strikes me as a typical bureaucracy doing its best (with mostly satisfactory results) to operate in a timely manner; the program itself continues to strike me as outstanding, and I'm eager to arrive and commence my studies.

    It's also incumbent upon me to give proper credit to my friend Paje, who previously studied in Edinburgh and has plenty of experience with travel, visas, and such. I called her for advice and she called me back as I was drafting this post. She managed to calm me down a bit, and assured me not only that the timelines I'm worried about should end up being shorter than I expect, but that the documentation I'm worried about should wind up being easier than I'm worried they will be.

    I'm sure there will be additional occasions when I'll be compelled to keep calm and carry on, so consider this a new category on the blog. (I think I'll also go back and categorize some of the other posts before there are too many posts to tag!)