Book Review: My Share of the Task
Prior to 1990, I was not really familiar with places like Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, Kabul, and Kandahar, however, when the Gulf War began these places were in the news almost daily, and I watched the news intently. We have had operations in these areas for a quarter century. I just finished a book that helped provide some important background to these operations. General Stanley McChrystal wrote a book called My Share of the Task: A Memoir*, which gave insight into the operations from his perspective. He was a commander on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This book not only provided context to the Gulf War but also discussed in great detail leadership and team building.
My Share of the Task is a hefty read in terms of pages and language. McChrystal did not spare his knowledge of language while writing this book. I have to admit, I had to reference a dictionary a couple of times to ensure I got the right context. The book is 456 pages long spread across 20 chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are organized in three sections. The first section focuses on his training at West Point and his advancement through the ranks. Section two examines operation in Iraq during the second Gulf War from his perspective. The final section looks at operations in Afghanistan while he served as Commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
Although I had heard about General McChrystal through the news, he really hit my radar when I had an opportunity to hear him speak while attending an Association for Talent Development conference. I was so impressed with what I had heard that I immediately purchased My Share of the Task. I had started to read this book when I first bought it but had set it aside. Because of a Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge, I picked it back up to satisfy the “a book you previously abandoned” category. I am glad I did. Here is a clip of McChrystal speaking:
Part one of My Share of the Task examined McChrystal’s training and advancement. It also helped to define the type of leader he would be during his commands in Iraq and Afghanistan. McChrystal quickly noted that he always wanted to be an Army officer, specifically, a Ranger. He explained that he was impatient and felt school was holding him back from this objective. Because his focus was on the future rather than the present, he almost did not complete West Point because of demerits he had earned. McChrystal was an avid reader. This was something he gained from his mother before she passed away. Throughout the book, he would talk about his love of reading and the opportunities he had taken to read. He liked to read history and literature. His knowledge of cultures and military strategy helped him create successful campaigns.
During the first part of the book, McChrystal talked about the lessons he learned at each assignment as well as the transition of the Army to a truly professional force. Early on in his career, he criticized the Army’s effectiveness and exhibited a high level of frustration. There were times when he considered leaving the military. Throughout the book, McChrystal spoke about the people he had met and the lessons he had learned. I was impressed with the network of talented people he had put together. He had an eye for talent and seemed to really appreciate those who worked hard for him. He leveraged his network many times throughout the book.
In 2003, McChrystal took command of Task Force 714 (TF 714). TF 714 was formed from Rangers, “Green” (Army commandos), and “Blue” (Navy SEAL special mission unit). From this disparate group, he had to not only get them to perform as one unit but a highly functional unit. He was able to do this plus more. He improved the communications among the team with daily virtual teleconferences, improved intelligence gathering and sharing capabilities, and improved human intelligence. When he arrived in Iraq, there was a significant backlog of intelligence evidence. One of his first tasks was to get the intelligence community to the table to help improve the processes. This was a difficult task because of the silos that have been built. McChrystal wasn’t the only one who was building a network. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi had also built a lethal network. Fortunately, McChrystal’s network was able to get the upper hand and quash Zarqawi. The importance of networks and the speed in which they operate was also discussed in The Seventh Sense.
As I read his book, I was struck with the impression that he a correct moral compass. He seemed to be really concerned about how Iraqi and Afghan citizens would view his team and the entire military presence. He seemed to try to minimize what damage he could on the battlefield. The incident at Abu Ghraib made him furious. While the TF 714 commander, he sent a message to the forces under him that read,
If you screw up, you will be punished. Simple as that. I won’t wait for someone else to act; we won’t “protect our own.” I will personally make sure you are kicked out of the task force and court-martialed if necessary.
I appreciate this direct leadership, we need more of it.
In 2009, General McChrystal became the Commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. In this case, his mission was slightly different than in Iraq. While in Afghanistan, he would prevent Al Qaeda from becoming an active presence, defeat the Taliban, and help the Afghanistan government and military to successfully protect its own country. While in Afghanistan, McChrystal was very sensitive to the voices of the Afghan citizens and incorporated what they were saying into his plans. Since he was working with a NATO force of multiple countries, he had to institute the strategies he used in Iraq but to a larger scale. As he observed, they were fighting multiple small wars in Afghanistan, and he needed them to fight one war. In Afghanistan, he recognized the importance of limiting damage to the citizens even more so than in Iraq. He had to change the perception of the military presence in Afghanistan from occupiers to guests. The Afghan citizens complained that they were being damaged by the Taliban, their own government, and the international military presence. McChrystal developed and executed a strategy to address all three issues. I was fascinated to read how this was accomplished.
McChrystal’s career was brought to an unexpected end when a Rolling Stone article came out indicating that his aides criticized the President and Vice President. As a result, McChrystal submitted his resignation. Later reports indicated that the article was not accurate. Immediately after the report came back clearing McChrystal, he was asked to lead an advisory board to support military families.
In all, this book was a fascinating look behind the scenes of wartime military operations at a high level. I was intrigued with the amount of politicking that went on to safely operate. It seems that everyone’s ego had to be stroked. I also better understood the importance of networks and connections to getting things done. This is something that I am not very good at.
If you are interested in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I would strongly recommend that you read My Share of the Task. I do not think you will be disappointed.
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