Focus on Taking the “High Ground”
In 2006, in the midst of our nation’s two longest wars, Generals David Petraeus and James Amos took the hard lessons we’ve learned to date in Iraq and Afghanistan and rewrote the Army and Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency manual. The revised manual outlined a new strategy for how to fight and win an insurgency in the twenty-first century.
But the new strategy centered on a familiar principle that transcends centuries of war: winning the high ground.
In previous wars, such as World War II, the high ground, or the most advantageous place to be on the battlefield, was an elevated piece of terrain such as a hill or a mountain from which a unit could best defend themselves, build up their forces, and then advance to the next objective.
But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are anything but conventional conflicts. We can’t battle Al Qaeda the same way we did the Germans—sitting on top of a hill with superior firepower is no longer an advantageous position. In fact, it’s actually counterproductive when fighting an insurgency or an enemy that blends in with the local population. Generals Petraeus and Amos argued that the “high ground” in this type of asymmetric conflict is really the indigenous people.
To win this “terrain,” we have to come off the hill and immerse ourselves in the community. We need to create relationships with the local people, understand their fears and needs, provide security, and show them that working with us is more prosperous than siding with the insurgents. We have to win their hearts and minds. It’s personal. It’s face-to-face combat. The only way to win the war is to create one positive relationship at a time.
Your military transition resembles fighting an insurgency. You can’t just sit at home behind a computer and fling email at people. Nor can you depend solely on the traditional “formal” tools of job hunting, such as answering ads, posting resumes on electronic job boards, hiring personal career coaches, signing up with recruiters or placement firms, and going to cattle call–style job fairs. There is overwhelming evidence that demonstrates that “informal” tools such as networking are far more effective in the job search. You have to get out there and build relationships with the people in your community, ask questions, discover new opportunities, learn about different careers, and figure out how you’re going to continue to live a life of service and honor.
The “high ground” in your military transition is the people in your community. Win this terrain, and you’ll have the information and opportunities you need to figure out the best next step in your life and career.