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I just finished an excellent book called The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army. I believe that the experience of the generals profiled in this book can teach us in academia a great deal about how the culture of large and tradition bound institutions can be transformed.
In order to effectively fight in Iraq these generals, particularly David Patraeus, needed to reverse the deeply held traditional Army doctrine of force protection and overwhelming kinetic warfare. In its place, Petraeus was able to instill counter-insurgency tactics that emphasized protecting the population and co-opting former insurgents to create the security necessary to build institutions.
As a learning technologist working for a private college I have very little contact with military people and institutions. I know little about the armed forces academies and colleges, beyond that they have a reputation for extreme academic rigor and are known for producing some of our highest quality postsecondary graduates.
I have no idea how the armed forces utilize learning technology in their institutions of higher learning. I have an inkling that a great number of active duty personnel and veterans utilize online learning, but I have never worked directly with this population.
I've come to believe that my ignorance about our military is a problem. Beyond the embarrassing fact that I don't personally know anybody who has served and sacrificed in our nation's wars over the past 6 years, and have a poor understanding of military educational institutions, I think that I am missing an opportunity to learn about cultures and how they transform themselves.
In higher education we are engaged in a cultural shift. One that puts the learner at the center of the construction and delivery of education, a process that is catalyzed by technology. We are living through a transition from a scarcity of educational materials and knowledge to an abundance. We are working to redesign our institutions, programs and courses to meet the needs of a new set learners, as well as to open up higher education to groups that have traditionally been closed out.
How can we make connections and build relationships with members of our military who also work in education? At EDUCAUSE I did not see any presentations by people from armed forces academies or institutions (did I miss them?). I'm not sure how to make these connections. How can we learn from the larger experience of transformation in the military to help us manage our own transformations?
Below are 4 books that I read in the past couple years on the U.S. military. Any recommendations for other books would be appreciated.
The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq
Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground
Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond
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This book tells about the lives and experiences of four modern American generals. I typically don't like that sort of multi-biographical approach, but I got used to it in this case and ended up enjoying it. It did take me a while to get involved in it.
It may be a bit confusing for listeners at times because the authors switch back and forth between the four men, and eventually they interact with each other. We get a good background on the four of them, but it's still hard, as they are all pretty similar. It may be hard for readers to keep them straight. If you aren't able to separate each one from the other, it won't be as meaningful of course. It gets even more confusing when many other additional characters are introduced late in the book.
One thing I was disappointed in was that the book doesn't really explain the star system. It's not as though the moment when each general achieved that 4th star is covered either (although there are some references to it).
The narrator is absolutely perfect for the subject matter.