Tom Ricks's Inbox

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A friend sent me a post from an anonymous blogger at that lists what the Army has taught him or her. The 10th point reminds me of the first rule Maj. Robert Rogers supposedly laid down for his Rangers in 1759: "Don't forget nothing."

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1. Always have a notepad, pen, watch, knife, and flashlight on hand.

In life, as in the Army, there are always unforeseen events. An important note needs [to be] taken, you need the precise time, something needs fixed, or you just can't find your way. All these items are small, cheap, and lifesavers when you have them and deal breakers when you don't.

2. Have a copy of everything. If its important have two copies.

If it has your name on it, then you need a copy. If it affects your health, paycheck, or other element of well-being, then you need two copies. Records get lost, computers crash, and sometimes people just need to see a piece of 80 bond under their noses to get anything done.

3. Make friends wherever you go.

It doesn't matter if you are there for 20 minutes or 20 months, make friends. Inevitably, you will see them again. You will go to where they are. They will go to where you will be. And at the end of the day friends are the only ones covering the front of your position.

4. Make an SOP. Know the SOP. Work the SOP.

Civilian. Military. It doesn't matter. There should be a Standard Operating Procedure for daily life. Often we don't have fulfilling days or lives because "we just don't have time" and that is because we often don't have good processes. On the battlefield there is a place for everything and everything in its place. There is a rote routine (often personal) for everything from showering in the morning to they way we check our gear. We do this because often there are times when there is no time, but the task still needs done. Routine accomplishes this, and we accomplish more when we have a routine.

5. Sleep.

Sleep is one of the things in life we don't appreciate until we aren't getting it. Sleep recharges us, heals us, and lets us put a new perspective on the world. If it was bad when you went to sleep and its still bad when you wake up, well then I guess you weren't missing anything. If by chance its better when you wake up, then apparently the world doesn't rest upon your shoulders. So take a nap Atlas.

6. Don't go cheap.

On a personal note, I didn't grow up with money. I have learned to make due with what is available. There are times, however, that you can't afford to go cheap. Whether it be getting the brakes fixed on your HUMVEE or your Ford, get it done, get it done by a professional, and get the warranty. If you are buying shoes (yet again personal) don't get them because they are cheaper. Get them because they are comfortable and durable. If not it'll be more than your wallet that will hurt.

7. Find humor everywhere.

I have been in some pretty crappy places, some pretty crappy situations, and forced myself to find some humor, somewhere. It helps you cope. It takes that sting out of the painful, awkward, or otherwise difficult moments in life. And humor is one of those conversations you can have with yourself because you always get your own jokes. As a side note, as much as it may pain you, never ridicule someone for a dark sense of humor. We aren't them and they aren't us, but we are just trying to get by. I think Plato best puts this in perspective by saying, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."

8. Don't tolerate oppression.

I am again reminded of someone that is more intelligent than myself.

"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Stand up for what you think is right. In the end if you were wrong, so be it.

9. Tell your Story.

Battles are not merely lost by the Soldiers on the field, the armament, or the weather. They are one and lost by the lessons learned of prior battles. We learn these lessons because someone told their story. As a young Soldier I was a sponge for knowledge; it was before the current age of mass communication. Older Soldiers told their stories in hopes that a single silver strand of wisdom would be gleamed and be passed on. It is part of what we contribute to society. When one can gleam wisdom from the lessons others have learned we have possible prevented the hardship by which the another person gained that knowledge. And by sharing our lessons we are helping someone else. That is one of our greatest contributions to humanity.

10. Never forget.

Never forget who you are. Never forget what you have done. Never forget where you are. Never forget what it is you want from this one life we have. Never forget the people that stood behind you in support, beside you in camaraderie, or in front of you in adversity. Never forget to write home. Never forget that someone is missing you. Never forget what you have learned. Never forget to share what you have learned. Never forget anything; lest you forget everything.

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Tom Ricks is The Post's military correspondent. This feature aims to give readers a snapshot of the conversations that play out in Ricks's e-mail inbox. Have an interesting document? Send it to

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