Sunday, September 29, 2013

Leaving Aberdeen

I only have one home; it's where I was born and raised, and spent the first twenty-some-odd years of my life. That said, in late September of 2012, Aberdeen became my base-away-from-home for what turned out to be just over eleven months. It hosted highs and lows - mostly highs - and served as a hospitable venue where I learned a great deal and had some amazing experiences. It was a hub for my transit to a variety of locations that most people never even attempt to visit. With my dissertation complete, and after forty-nine weeks, it was time to leave.

As I finished my dissertation about a week before most of my colleagues (CN Homeboy finished his a month early - still not sure what to make of that!), I had the opportunity to sort myself out and say a few goodbyes. I met for a wonderful lunch with CN Conquistadora, whose friendship I thoroughly enjoyed during the second semester; and with CN Wanakum, who is one of the most genuinely good-natured people I've ever met in my life. I said my (temporary) goodbyes to the Director, and a variety of other folks of whom I've grown quite fond. Finally, the day came.

My last evening began where you might expect it to begin: at Lionel's, where I enjoyed one last (for now) meal of chips, cheese, and schwarma with garlic and sweet chili sauces - truly delicious. From there, I went to the pub that became my "local" in the end: The Tippling House (which will be featured in more detail in an upcoming post). My good buddy, CN Constable, was working behind the bar, and even thought the place was jam packed on account of Offshore Europe 2013, I was able to get my picture with both Constable and one of his colleagues, the only Andorran I've ever met. Constable is continuing the tradition as a Strategic Studies '13/'14 student, and he became the recipient of many of my textbooks as I worked to lighten my load.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of the Tippling House's staff, to include its fetching floor staff. As we were getting a couple of quick snapshots, we were able to wrangle a couple of them into a pose so that I could have something to remember them by. I ran into one of these two later - she was supposed to have gotten off work at 22:00, but didn't leave until 23:15. It was bedlam in there; in fact, it was bedlam throughout the entire city. Before I ran into her for the last time before my departure, even I was impacted: I ended up being sort of strategist-napped into continuing my pub crawl by a drunk girl from Thurso who was enamoured with my American accent. With the help of an Australian and another American, I found myself impersonating a roughneck in order to get into the Old Schoolhouse, which had been hired out by executives from NLI; in fact, that late in the evening, they'd enjoyed too much alcohol to care. What an unexpectedly hilarious end to my year in Aberdeen!

I finally snuck away, and caught the last bus back to the Hillhead Halls of Residence - "Camp Raymond B.", after Joanne's father, as I liked to think of it - which I can now reveal to have been my base of operations since arriving in Aberdeen last September. I said one last goodbye to the folks at World Yummy, the central building's Chinese restaurant. Ying, Hualiang, and Byron made sure I didn't starve during my time at Hillhead - particularly during the extremely bleak winter, when everything was closed down for the better part of a month. Having spent the better part of the day cleaning my room out and packing the remainder, I crashed for a few last hours before clearing at the front desk and catching a cab. With that, I was on the train to Inverness to extend Operation Highlander by commencing Operation Bold Brigand.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Aberdeen's Public Gardens: St. Nicholas Kirkyard

One of the dominant landmarks in downtown Aberdeen (the "city centre") is St. Nicholas Kirk, and although it's not a bona fide "public garden", it may as well be. In addition to a lot of really old graves, St. Nicholas Kirkyard features a bunch of park benches. One of my favorite memories of my time here in Aberdeen was in either late July or early August, when I spent a couple of hours on one of the benches reading one of my favorite books of all time, Starship Troopers. Now, there are two places that I'll associate that book with: a middle school parking lot in my home town, and St. Nicholas Kirkyard in Aberdeen.

As you can see from that linked satellite view, St. Nicholas Kirk is right next to the twin malls of Bon Accord and St. Nicholas, the latter of which is obviously named after the kirk. (I'll be writing about the kirk itself soon.) What I want to bring your attention to is the sort-of-public-garden that's on top of the St. Nicholas mall. The gates to St. Nicholas Kirkyard close at 6:00 PM nightly, which is to say that the kirkyard has some really cool gates, and in addition to adjoining the streets, one of them adjoins to that public area over the adjacent mall.

I actually remember both St. Nicholas Kirk and the kirkyard (just a touch) from when I was in Aberdeen in 2004, and I actually included it in my initial maps of Aberdeen that longtime readers may remember from last year. The kirkyard, particularly the northern area near those malls (that's off Aberdeen's main drag, Union Street), is a really cool refuge in Aberdeen's otherwise bustling market district. Even though Scotland's relative secularism means that there are probably far more people who enjoy the benches than attend prayers or services at the kirk, it's almost tough to blame them - almost.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On: September Carries On

Wow. It's been a wild couple of weeks. Here's what I've been up to.

1) I spent a few days in Orkney. I stayed at the Stromness Hotel, did a little exploring around Stromness, conducted a bit of business in Kirkwall, and started putting a few preliminary roots down.

2) From there, I went to Bournemouth for a two week close protection/personal security detail/bodyguarding course. I took the course through a company called Titas, Ltd., and will be discussing it in more detail both here and on the JTS blog. On my way to Bournemouth, I swung through one of my old haunts and met one of my former associates, Pockets, for dinner and a walk around the area. It was really envigorating, partly because less has changed around there since I left than has changed in my own hometown during the same period.

3) Leaving Bournemouth, I went to Portsmouth to make a run at the Royal Marines Museum before heading across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. I visited the Isle of Wight in 2004 and wanted to sort of "overwrite" some old memories. That mission was successful.

4) From the Isle of Wight, it was another long travel day to get back to Aberdeen in order to sort a few things out. I was fortunate to see some dear friends in the process.

As I write this, I'm on my way back up to Orkney. I'm sort of a transient at the moment, but I should have housing sorted out in a few days. Once I'm done bouncing from place to place, I'll be able to get to work on some projects that will lend some purpose to my time in Orkney. My plans for what I'm calling Operation Bold Brigand (after an old Spin Doctors song) are ambitious, but if I can get some work done on any of them, I can consider my time in Orkney an overwhelming success... But more on those later.

I realize that it's been quite a while since I blogged regularly. I promise, I'll be back with some excellent posts within the next week or so. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rest for the Weary

I spent eleven months working fairly hard. (I think many of the other Strategists thought that I made it look effortless; in fact, I've just learned a lot of very costly lessons in things like time management and effective study habits.) I spent the last week settling my affairs in Aberdeen and moving out of my Aberdonian digs. I figured it was time for a bit of a respite, so what did I decide?

Simple: I decided to spend a few days in Orkney. After a truly unbelievable last night in Aberdeen, and a trip at breakneck pace from Aberdeen to Scrabster involving me and about four stone worth of kit on my back, I made it to Stromness. I'll be here for a few days before starting another project, which I'll discuss once it's complete. Then, as noted previously, I'll relocate to Orkney for a few months... But more on that later.

One thing is for sure: Orkney is a magical place. Despite the stress of the last few weeks, mere hours spent here have revitalized and energized me. I was here precisely nine years ago today, and it feels every bit as idyllic now as it did then - perhaps moreso, given what it's taken to get back here in the intervening decade.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Interim Content: Readings from my Dissertation

I have a lot of things to sort out over the next couple of days. I have a few pre-written posts, but I'm going to hang on to them for the time being. I expect to be off of the proverbial blogging radar for a while as I try to regain some post-dissertation equilibrium. In the mean time, I thought some of you (and maybe some random blog visitors) might find some interest in some of the sources that I used in my dissertation. Here are half of the sources I used, with some of the more important ones highlighted in bold. I used a lot of sources to demonstrate various things, as I tend to do with anything I write; and I managed to cram a lot of content into the damned thing. It was a great capstone project that allowed me to demonstrate that I'd mastered the topics discussed over the preceding months. As far as this list goes, there are a number of podcasts in there as well, so if you're curious about topics relating to what I've been studying, be sure to add a couple of them to your playlist.

• al Zawahiri, Ayman: Letter from al Zawahiri to al Zarqawi
• Albaugh, Kurt: Six Frigates and the Future of Gunboat Diplomacy
Amos, General James F., USMC: Crisis Response and Expeditionary Operations: The Future of the United States Marine Corps: Critical Questions for a Period of Transition
• Axe, David: Navy’s Newest Assault Ship Moonlights as Pint-Sized Aircraft Carrier
• Boyd, Colonel John R., USAF: Destruction and Creation
• Brown, Ronald J.: U. S. Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: With Marine Forces Afloat in Desert Shield and Desert Storm
• Carter, Lieutenant General Nicholas P.: British Army 2020: Ground Forces and Future National Security
• Casem, Sergeant Giancarlo, USA: NTC adapts to changing threat, looks to challenge rotational units with hybrid warfare
Cheney, Major Stephen A., USMC: The Insurgency in Oman 1962-1976
• Connable, Major Ben: All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence: Military Review Magazine
• Exum, Andrew: On the Defense Strategic Guidance
• Exum, Andrew: The Counterinsurgency Reading List
• Galula, David: Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958
• Galula, David: Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice
• Grau, Lester W.: The Bear went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
• Greenert, Admiral Jonathan W., USN: The Navy's Approach to the Department of Defense's Savings and Efficiencies Initiative
• Guevara, Ernesto: Guerrilla Warfare
• Gulliver (pseudonym): Finding the hidden strategy in yet another non-strategic "strategy
• Hammes, T.X.: Sorry, AirSea Battle Is No Strategy
Hoffman, Bruce: British Air Power in Peripheral Conflict 1919-1976
• Hoffman, Frank G.: Hybrid vs. compound war: The Janus choice: Defining today’s multifaceted conflict
• Hostage, General G. Michael III, USAF: Maintaining Dominant Combat Airpower in Fiscal Austerity
• Houghton, General Sir Nicholas: The UK Strategic Defence and Security Review
• Jackson, Whitney: Analysis: U.S. needs for language critical, Part 1
• Johnson, David E.: Military Capabilities for Hybrid War: Insights from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza
• Kechichian, Joseph A.: Oman and the World: The Emergence of an Independent Foreign Policy
Kim, Jason: Cultural Awareness and Language Proficiency: Critical for Regionally Aligned Forces
• Krulak, Charles C.: The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War
• Lacey, Jim: Budgets and Strategy: A review of the 20th century’s wars shows how dangerous military unpreparedness is
• Lasica, Daniel T.: Strategic Implications of Hybrid War: A Theory of Victory
• Lovelace, Douglas C. Jr., and Metz, Steven: Don't Give Up on Ground Troops: With budget cuts looming, the Pentagon should focus on adaptability—not just technolgy
• Mao Tse-tung: FMFRP 12-18 Mao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare
• Martin, Sir Laurence: The Two-Edged Sword, Lecture 4: Conflicts of the Third World
• Mattis, General James N., USMC: Assessment of Effects Based Operations
Meagher, Major John B., USMC: The Jebel Akhdar War Oman 1954-1959
• Miniter, Richard: Shadow War: The Untold Story of How America Is Winning the War on Terror
Monick, S.: Victory in Hades: The Forgotten Wars of Oman 1957-1959 and 1970-1976, Part 1
Monick, S.: Victory in Hades: The Forgotten Wars of Oman 1957-1959 and 1970-1976, Part 2A: The Dhofar Campaign 1970-1976
Monick, S.: Victory in Hades: The Forgotten Wars of Oman 1957-1959 and 1970-1976, Part 2B: The Dhofar Campaign 1970-1976
• Moyar, Mark: The Third Way of COIN: Defeating the Taliban in Sangin
‘Floating base’ deploys to Gulf: US Navy
2008 National Defense Strategy
2010 National Security Strategy
2010 Quadrennial Defense Review
2011 National Military Strategy
Active Engagement, Modern Defence: Strategic Concept For the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
British Army Field Manual, Volume 1 Part 10, Countering Insurgency
Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare
FM 3-07 Stability Operations
FM 3-22 Army Support to Security Cooperation
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency
FM 90-3/FMFM 7-27 Desert Operations
FMFRP 0-53 Afoot in the Desert
FMFRP 12-25 The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him
Libya: UK Apache helicopters used in Nato attacks
MCCP 1 Operational Maneuver from the Sea
MCDP 1 Warfighting
MCDP 1-1 Strategy
NAVMC 2890 Small Wars Manual
Reading List
Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review
Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense
Neoptolemus (psuedonym): Defense in an Age of Austerity: 2022
• Odierno, General Raymond T., USA: The Future of the United States Army: Critical Questions for a Period of Transition
• Ottens, Nick: Amphibs vs Carriers: Which Has the Future?
Outzen, Colonel Richard: Language, Culture, and Army Culture: Failing Transformation
• Peters, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph, USA: The New Strategic Trinity
Rid, Dr. Thomas (host): Counterinsurgency and War Studies
• Roach, Morgan Lorraine (hostess): Crisis in the Sahel: Bitter Fruit of the "Arab Spring
• Russell, Richard L.: We Shall Return: Don't be too sure there won't be another U.S. war in the Middle East
• Scaife, Robert B.: The Regularity of Irregular Warfare
• Spring, Baker: The FY 2012 Defense Budget Proposal: Looking for Cuts in All the Wrong Places
• Stansfield, Gareth and Kelly, Saul: A Return to East of Suez? UK Military Deployment to the Gulf
von Clausewitz, Carl: On War

Enjoy. I'll be back when I'm ready to be back. I'm going to try - try - to take a brief vacation and actually relax... In a few days.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Houses of Worship: St. Mary's Cathedral

Centrally located just off Union Street is Aberdeen's Roman Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. It's one of the handful of sites that I visited, just by chance, when I was in Aberdeen in 2004. Its location is a bit odd, as it's sort of visible from Union Street, but a few steps out of the way; basically, you'd kind of have to know that it was there to be able to find it, despite the big spires. (By contrast, the Starbucks on the corner is quite prominent!) Even so, it's a beautiful little cathedral, and its location off of Union Street quiets things down considerably. It's not quite as remote as St. Machar Cathedral, but if you need to duck in somewhere for a bit of quiet contemplation and prayer, St. Mary's Cathedral is a great option. One of the great things about St. Mary's is that it has a sort of vaguely nautical feel to it, consistent with Aberdeen's history as a port and a hub for the offshore oil industry.

Some longtime readers may remember that I marked St. Mary's Cathedral on my pre-deployment maps. It's one of the places that I remembered quite fondly from my accidental overnight in Aberdeen nearly nine years ago. It's odd to think of just how many cathedrals Aberdeen boasts, even if some of them are no longer considered true cathedrals. It's especially odd when you consider that Scotland, like many areas of Europe, is extremely secular. In fact, Aberdeen itself boasts a number of beautiful gothic churches that have been turned into clubs or even casinoes - Soul Casino, Slains Castle, and Triple Kirks, to name but three. As such, it's nice to see that some of Aberdeen's beautiful houses of worship are still operating in their original capacity.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Weekend Down South: Geocaching

Cap'n John and HH6 came to visit me in Virginia in 2009, and before they left for the States I sent him the gift of a (now discontinued) Garmin eTrex H. The intent was to help them on their trip, but I'm pretty sure he didn't even turn the thing on, and when I went down to visit in April, he was keen to ask me how the thing worked. Cap'n John's not a total luddite, but he's definitely an immigrant to the world of modern technology. So, what did we do? What else: we went geocaching.

In my waning hours with the Cap'n and HH6, the Cap'n and I hopped in the car and drove to the approximate location of the caches. I had my eTrex Vista, but we tried to rely on his eTrex H to get him into the habit of using it. The great thing about the lower end models of Garmin's product line is that their user interfaces are really, really simple - if you give it a couple of hours of practice, you can figure out the interface, and you're on your way. The eTrex Vista has a more sophisticated user interface, and USB connectivity, so I've come to rely much more on my eTrex H than my original eTrex (the latter of which is closer to the unit I gave to Cap'n John). As I've noted before, I've been thrilled to be able to combine Wikimapia coordinates with my basic knowledge of HTML/XML to put coordinates, tracks, and routes into my eTrex H.

On that day in April, I helped to program coordinates into the Cap'n's handset, and then we were off. During the course of about a couple of hours, we found and logged two caches: Beattocks Eloquently Engineered Past, and Between both Roads. That first cache was really neat to go find with Cap'n John, because he was familiar with the building and told me some things about the history of both the building and the surrounding area. Apparently this building used to be a hotel when the village of Moffat was on a rail line running north to Edinburgh and Glasgow, but now sits derelict since the rail lines have moved and the highway has been replaced with a bona fide motorway. That's one of the great things about geocaching: you learn a lot of really cool stuff while you're doing it.

And with that, my trip to visit Cap'n John and HH6 was nearly at an end. A couple of hours later, Cap'n John drove me back to Lockerbie's tiny train station, we said our goodbyes, and I boarded the train to get back to Aberdeen to continue with my studies. Hopefully, I'll run into the Cap'n and HH6 at least once more before I leave Scotland, but I'm glad we were able to hit Hadrian's Wall and the Lockerbie Memorial, enjoy some great meals and some great drams, and remember previous adventures together.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On: What's Next?

In March of 2010, I conceived Operation Highlander as a one year deployment to Scotland to get a master's degree in Strategic Studies while enjoying all that Scotland had to offer. Eleven months into the operation, I've completed the requirements for my degree, my current lease is about to expire without option for renewal, and I've seen a lot of what Scotland has to offer. In several very big ways, Operation Highlander is complete.

At the same time, my resources aren't tapped out, there's more of Scotland to see, I have some other projects to work on, graduation isn't until late November, and I also haven't lined up a follow-on gig. So... What to do?

Well, if all goes according to plan, I'm heading to Orkney.

That's right, I think I can swing a few months in my island paradise. I'm in the final stages of lining up digs up there for the next few months. That will give me an opportunity to work a few more projects during the interim period. I mentioned over a year ago that I wanted to work on some other projects while I was in Scotland, and most of those have fallen by the wayside. In theory, some time spent in Orkney would give me the opportunity to work on some of those items. Most pressing to me is getting my PSP certification. I'm also looking at another security certification, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I have some time to kill. I have just a few days left here in Aberdeen, and during that time I'll be settling my affairs (there are mercifully few to settle), cleaning all of the accumulated junk out of my digs, and taking a cue from the Maritime Prepositioning Source by preparing several different bags to serve as prepositioned gear repositories. I expect to leave a lot of my stuff behind. I've made a lackluster effort not to accumulate much, and as with everywhere else I've wound up, the biggest challenge will be books - several of which I've already given away to the Law Man, but many of which will still get packed away somehow. Once I cast off, I'll spend a few weeks travelling from place to place, trying to keep my wits about me while processing what I've just accomplished and what's yet to be done.

In the mean time, I've probably applied for around a hundred jobs in the last week, and thus far I've received a grand total of one automated response informing me that the job no longer exists. It's depressing. My buddy David the Recruiter tells me that the industry I'm applying into basically don't get any actual attention at the end of the fiscal year, but that he has no doubt that I'll be picked up by December (which would actually be pretty good timing). Even so, both the job market and the system whereby open positions are filled are astonishly bad. It's downright depressing. I've been in the system as both an employee and a hiring manager, and it's depressing. I know from experience that every open requisition gets hundreds of applications, and the overwhelming majority may be from applicants who are entirely unqualified for the position in question. Sorting through them is sort of like searching a vacuum cleaner bag for a lost gem - there's so much schmutz in there that you may never find what you're looking for. I've assembled a network of colleagues and the contact details of hiring managers and recruiters over the years, and I have no clue whether any of that will help me when all is said and done.

But, for now, maybe I've earned a few weeks of respite after a year of hard work... Right? Right!?