Sunday, September 15, 2019


For me, the theme was leadership seen through the experiences of 2LT (eventually Major) Dick Winters. The corollaries included the importance of training, and the bonds that we form by facing challenges together. When my wife was out of town visiting relatives, I made the time to watch Band of Brothers. Then, I read the book. The movie was a good instantiation. The book provided more depth and detail. The advantage to the DVDs is being able to watch the words and run it back to catch what you missed. I renewed the book twice and checked it out again. And I still watch episodes again when I have the theater to myself. I cannot imagine seeing this once on HBO-TV and getting half as much from it. 

Producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg hired good writers and directors who developed and projected additional dimensions from Stephen Ambrose’s history. But that history is the foundation. And Ambrose relies on other works such as The Face of Battle (John Keegan; Penguin), The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle (J. Glenn Gray, University of Nebraska Press), and Rendezvous with Destiny: A History of the 101stAirborne Division (Leonard Rapport and Arthur Northwood, Jr., Infantry Journal Press). In the Acknowledgements and Sources, Ambrose explains how the book came to be written in response to criticisms from the men of Easy Company. Ambrose was employed by the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans. At the time he met the men of the 506thParachute Infantry Regiment, he was working on a biography of Richard Nixon. As a result of that initial meeting, Ambrose met the men many times to record and review the interviews that are the bedrock of the book and therefore the HBO series.

Actor Shane Taylor (b. 1974) portrayed
T-4 Eugene "Doc" Roe.
Based on the personal remembrances that highlight each episode, actor Damian Lewis (English, upper class, and Eaton according to IMDB here) did yeoman’s duty portraying Richard Winters. The other actors all created or re-created their characters well enough, even though I feel that they were all too old for their roles. Acting is hard work and it takes practice. So, finding competent teenagers for this was apparently impossible. But that’s who they were: kids.  By the time they jumped at Normandy, 1LT Dick Winters was 26. Their nemesis Capt. Herbert Sobel was thirty when he drilled them at Camp Toccoa.  

Capt. Sobel (Wikipedia here) gets better treatment in the book than in the movie. According to Wikipedia, it was his son, Michael, who came to his defense in the courtroom of history. In the book, some of the men of Easy Company say that his training at Taccoa kept them alive in Europe. In the movie, we see only the martinet who can neither read a map himself, nor allow his NCO to do it for him. That being as it may, even in the unarmed forces of the state guard, we fight as we train and we train as we fight. I know from personal experience that units who bust their humps together at drill are competent to serve the people of Texas. Individuals who sit around, drink coffee, and swap lies are hospitalized when the event surpasses their expectations. 
On another level, the men of Easy Company were just being reflective and gracious. No one had to specially thank Major Dick Winters because his leadership was humane, just, fair, forthright, foresighted, and insightful – and demanding. He was a good combat officer. But why was he? We can investigate all of the parameters of personality—all of the aspects of environment and heredity—and never reduce the problem to a single cause or even to a matrix of elements. The fact remains that he was. 

As an extreme circumstance, war sets the stage for drama, and every story is a mirror. Some reflect better than others. As an epic, the HBO production of Band of Brothers is a hallway of dark and light, metal and glass, orthogonal and angular. The book is a map of that concourse. 


Saturday, September 14, 2019


“Ahead two-thirds,” said the Captain. “Ahead two-thirds,” repeated the officer of the deck. The helm did nothing. They sat there, both of them, unable to comply. The Captain’s previous ship did, indeed, have a control input for two-thirds power. This newer submarine did not. The order could not be carried out. The real problem was that the officer of the deck and the two helmsmen all knew that, but would not contradict an impossible order. It was time to “turn the ship around” and turn followers into leaders.

For a class in Complex Organizations, taught by Ron Westrum in the summer of 2007, we were assigned It’s Your Ship by Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff (2002). Both commanders faced the same problems. The crews were under-motivated and as a result the ship was rated unsuccessful in operations.  Capt. Abrashoff  solved the problem in the best way he knew: he empowered his subordinates to take charge of their areas of responsibility. They were rewarded for being pro-active, rather than waiting for orders. When Abrashoff’s billet changed and the ship came under a new captain, it all pretty much fell apart and things went back to the bad old ways. On the other hand, Capt. Marquet claimed to have effected a cultural change on board which continued after he cycled out. The difference is that Capt. Marquet got passed empowerment.

Empowerment is top-down. It does not begin with the actor but with that agent’s controller. That manager is often several levels above; and no one between is empowered to make the changes at the lowest level of action. So, Capt. Marquet did not empower anyone. Rather, he let them take on their own chosen responsibilities. 

It was not easy. Missing from their experiences was an actual picture of what was required. No book or cinema they knew told them a story like the one they were expected to act out. All they knew was the U.S.S. Ustafish, the previous submarines they used to be on. So, when the Captain asked his chiefs – the frontline supervisors, chief petty officers, and others immediately above and below in rank—if they really wanted to be in charge of their areas, they all said, “Aye-aye!” without understanding exactly what would be required of them now.

Capt. Marquet made the time and effort to lay out what they would take on and give up. He underscored the fact that authority is not responsibility. You can delegate authority. You cannot delegate responsibility. 

Ultimately, when his chiefs failed (which they did early in the new process), the responsibility remained his alone. (See, also, the same lesson explained in detail in Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Winnick and Jocko reviewed here.) Marquet created the culture of authority aboard the Santa Fe by encouraging everyone to think out loud, to speak their thoughts. The new watchword was “I intend to…”. 

That was one of several procedural changes that Capt. Marquet initiated before the failure at the helm. He was moving in the right direction. 

It paid off during inspections. Operators occasionally attempted to perform the wrong action. Everyone makes mistakes. However, thinking out loud and not acquiescing to someone else’s error prevented mishaps. The Santa Fe passed her inspections and exceeded expectations. 

Learn to think like the next higher level was another lesson here. But it goes back a long way. Gen. Jim Matiss said it best: “The battlefield has its own accounting system.” In both the book and the movie of We Were Soldiers Once and Young (reviewed hereLt. Col. Hal Moore is training his mobile infantry; and as they deploy from a helicopter, he grabs the sergeant, throws him to the ground and yells, “You’re dead!” He then points to the astonished corporal and says, “You’re in charge!” Oh… now what…?  

Capt. Marquet found concrete methods to realize his theoretical intentions. When people gathered to discuss a problem, he would wait until they had it framed and then he would leave the room. He asked, “How would we know if the crew were proud of the boat?” At the beginning, ahead of their first inspection, he told them to use “three identifiers”: Identify the visitor; identify yourself; welcome them aboard the ship. At first only about a tenth actually did that (though it was noted very positively on the evaluation). By the last inspection, it was routine. They had become proud of the boat. 

That was an unintended consequence of another change in culture: embrace the inspection. Instead of suffering through it like everyone always does, ask the inspector: How did another ship solve this problem? 

For myself, the book had two other invaluable lessons. The first was Don’t train: learn. On board the Santa Fe, learning opportunities were everywhere every day. Instead of parceling training into a time slot to be checked off, everyone was encouraged to be curious, not just questioning. The other was Don’t brief: certify. In other words, beyond assuring your managers that everything is OK, prove to yourself that it is. 


Monday, September 2, 2019

Crisp Greens at the Wheatsville Co-op

Usually, I do the shopping on Sunday, but with the Labor Day weekend, Laurel and I ran errands together on Saturday. So, we were introduced to Grant Richardson from Crisp Farms in Smithville, about 40 miles east of Austin. They sell sprouts and other greens to retailers and they sell tilapia direct to processors and other users (though not to retailers).

We bought the Spice is Nice and Make it Mighty varieties of sprouts. We found them both to be a lot fresher than the other brands we have learned over time to pass up. We have grown our own sprouts in the kitchen. It is fine as far as it goes. As much as we enjoy working in the kitchen, we enjoy other work more. So, the Crisp Sprouts are an easy choice.

You can find their story on their website (, of course. Their production mode is organic aquaponics. It allows them to grow all crops all year. They also have even closer control over the growing environment.

Father and son Bob and Chris Nagelhout developed the business plan for “a sustainable aquaponics farm that utilized a closed loop, zero waste design for growing organic produce and humanely raising tilapia to be shared with their community.” In 2017, they brought in Grant Richardson whose master’s degree is in environmental engineering.

In addition to the sprouts, they grow four lettuces (romaine, butter, green and red leaf), kale, chard, collards, spinach, and bok choy, along with  parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro, and mint.

(For other reviews and reports, put “Wheatsville” or “food” in the search box.) 

Previously on Necessary Facts