Imperial Grunts: The American Military On the Ground

By Ralph “R.C.” Miles, CPP

*****Imperial Grunts: The American Military On the Ground. By Robert D. Kaplan; published by Random House, (Web); 448 pages; $27.95.

Most books on homeland security focus on policy, procedure, or technology. The real key is the people who fight for our well-being, specifically the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Robert D. Kaplan recounts their experience in this work.

Kaplan isn’t a security professional or policy wonk, but a widely traveled correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly who has a penchant for getting on the ground and close to the source of his story. Here, his first-person observations are coupled with his extensive knowledge of history to reveal the methods used by the men and women of the military to implement the policies set forth from above.

Kaplan explores the parallels between the global war on terrorism (GWOT) and the U.S. Army’s efforts to pacify the Native American population during the second half of the 19th century. In both cases, Kaplan asserts, critical actions are/were being executed by relatively small groups of U.S. forces in remote locations, often at odds with some of the bureaucrats in the Department of Defense (and its predecessor, the Department of War). Relationships are built with the local populace in an effort to comply with the nation’s policy and to achieve realistic success. Neither has been a model of success, however.

Kaplan’s time spent with mid-level career military professionals provides keen insights. He recounts, for example, how during a trip to Yemen in the winter of 2002, he met Bob Adolph, the United Nations security officer for that country and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Special Forces. In preparation for a trip into the deserts of northern Yemen, Kaplan learned from Adolph what to do and not to do if he was taken captive. This kind of practical information is not likely to come from a country brief issued by the U.S. Department of State.

At first glance, the book appears to be irrelevant to security professionals. But under the surface it provides a wealth of information. Like the soldiers and marines the author describes, security professionals operating in emerging markets must apply creativity on the ground to carry out the policies issued by a distant headquarters. Similarly, establishing a rapport and trust with key influencers in a dynamic environment can mean the difference between business success and failure—or life and death.

Reviewer: Ralph “R.C.” Miles, CPP, has over 20 years of military and private-sector experience. He is currently responsible for conducting risk assessments and pretravel briefings for employees traveling on company business throughout the world. He has provided protective services for employees and executives traveling to such locations as Iraq and the Palestinian West Bank. He is a member of ASIS International.



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