This is not a book about epic firefights. It’s not about battlefield heroics. No one will extract a blockbuster movie from these words. Rather, the purpose of this book is to use the story of a combat advisor’s deployment to Afghanistan to illustrate one of America’s gravest betrayals. For nearly two decades, the United States has sent its youth to fight and die in Afghanistan, all the while failing to define a clear political objective to be achieved by these military means. This failure came to a head as 2014 rolled into 2015, and the U.S. government declared an “end to combat operations.” These empty words failed to align with the reality on the ground; they simply forced our nation’s warfighters to shoulder the risk of combat without the ability to defend themselves. This is the story of that time, about America’s new “Ministry of Truth” and the servicemembers sent to carry out its whims.
Tell me a little bit about your book The New Ministry of Truth.
I suppose every author possesses a different motivation for writing, but for me, the book was more of a byproduct than a goal in and of itself. During our time as combat advisors in Afghanistan, I became progressively more frustrated with the situation on a daily basis. But, I needed to focus on the task at hand, that is, bringing our Marines home alive. So, to cope with this growing anger and frustration, I turned to journaling, dumping my emotions onto the page as a way to compartmentalize. That way, I could temporarily set these negative feelings aside and focus on our mission. But, shortly after returning back to the States, it became readily apparent that this anger of mine was still bubbling just beneath the surface, and I needed to find a way to cope with it. In that sense, writing this book was first and foremost an exercise in catharsis for me, a means of trying to find a healthy way to address the stress, anger, and frustration that remained from our time in Afghanistan. However, I also hope that it provides a voice to fellow veterans who share similar feelings – and, ideally, inspires more of them to tell their own stories.
Tell us a little bit about your time in the middle east?
Our team was part of a mission – the Georgian Deployment Program – that involved serving as combat advisors to an infantry battalion from the Republic of Georgia. In this capacity, after training in the States, we deployed to Georgia where we spent three months embedded with and training side-by-side with our Georgian partners. We then deployed to Afghanistan for seven months, acting as both combat advisors and English-language liaisons between these forces and our US headquarters. And, in a somewhat last-minute tasking, we also ended up advising a battalion of Afghan National Army soldiers once we arrived in Afghanistan. We were a pretty eclectic group, to say the least – US Marines, Georgians, and Afghan soldiers all out on patrol with each other.
What was your biggest frustration about fighting in Afghanistan?
Without question, my biggest frustration about fighting in Afghanistan was a complete and utter failure to define an overarching political objective for our military forces in that country. The beauty of the American system is that our elected officials are meant to define the political objectives prior to committing military forces to combat, and then these military forces are meant to figure out the means to accomplish those objectives. However, when there is no clearly defined political objective, you end up with a situation in which military force is used for the sake of military force. And, lacking any clear goal, our warfighters are the ones who ultimately suffer, as they are asked to shoulder the burden of combat with no way to possibly win, as winning inherently implies that some actual definition of what victory looks like exists.
What lessons can a Junior Officer take from your book?
I hope that, if nothing else, junior officers take away from this book the importance of always providing a reason why. When receiving tasks, no one wants to hear “shut up and color.” Providing a clear reason why – a purpose – is the most critical element of any tasking, and we as leaders should think long and hard before tasking a subordinate to do something if we can’t clearly articulate the purpose of that task. Without justification, what incentive do people have to pour their hearts and souls into the job? And, related to this, “because we’ve always done it this way” is not a valid purpose. This phrase may actually be the most dangerous statement uttered in any organization – military or not.
What books had the most impact on you and your professional development?
Tough question. Looking back, it’s difficult to parse out what major lessons I took from individual books compared to general lessons I’ve absorbed from many different ones. But, two books jump out. First, Jon Krakauer’s story of Pat Tillman, Where Men Win Glory, cannot be ignored. I remember reading it one summer during college and not being able to put it down. From one perspective, Tillman lived a life worthy of the highest praise, and it that sense, he sets the standard towards which all leaders – and Americans – should strive. From another perspective, the military’s cover-up of the events surrounding his death by friendly fire taught another critical lesson: rank does not equate with moral authority. When higher-ups – in any context – use their power and authority to suppress discussion and information, they forfeit their moral authority and need to be questioned.
Next, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young by Hal Moore and Joe Galloway is an outstanding case study in the burden of command. In a deeply personal way, Moore brings readers inside the stress, loneliness, and discipline required of leaders in combat, and he does so in the context of commanding troops at Ia Drang – one of the Vietnam War’s fiercest battles. When I finished this book, it seemed like I’d underlined half the text. It’s almost impossible to read a page without extracting lessons on leadership.
What advice would you give to a smart and aspiring military author? Is there any advice they should ignore?
From a big picture point of view, I’d argue that the two most important traits military authors should embrace are honesty and sincerity. When a leader – especially a young one – stands in front of his or her troops for the first time, those troops will immediately recognize whether that leader is genuine or not. And, one of the surest ways to lose credibility (in addition to incompetence and immoral behavior) is insincerity as a leader. Similarly, in writing, it’s easy to spot books in which the author attempts a thinly veiled work of “look at me and how awesome I am,” an approach that naturally undermines the stated message of the book. If people think my book is a poorly written rag, that’s fine – so long as they come away with the realization that I was honest and true to my voice, for better or worse.
From a technical aspect, I’d say two things are key to completing a manuscript. First, have a clear message that you want the book to convey. Without this, the story will end up disjointed, and actually writing several hundred pages will be quite challenging. Next, once this message has been defined, use an outline! Though I speak for no one but myself, the hardest part of writing my book was actually creating a bulletized outline that logically flowed from start to finish. Once that’s done, writing is just a matter of converting that information to narrative form – a relatively straightforward process with a thorough outline.
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After growing up in Buffalo, New York, Maurice L. Naylon IV (nickname: “Chipp”) attended the United States Naval Academy and commissioned into the Marine Corps. In his nine years in the Marines, he served as an infantry officer in a variety of roles with a group of absolutely incredible people. Following his time in the service, he and his wife, Jenna, settled in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to serving as the chief editor for the www.newministryoftruth.us blog – a site for veterans to share their experiences – Chipp currently works as an accountant, a job he acknowledges is just about as far from the content of his book as he could possibly travel.