Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 20th, 2015






Retired Four-star general: Stanley McChrystal talked

 Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure

Ten years ago, on a Tuesday morning, I conducted a parachute jump at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was a routine training jump, like many more I’d done since I became a paratrooper 27 years before.

We went down to the airfield early because this is the Army and you always go early. You do some routine refresher training, and then you go to put on your parachute and a buddy helps you.

And you put on the T-10 parachute. And you’re very careful how you put the straps, particularly the leg straps because they go between your legs.

And you put on your reserve, and then you put on your heavy rucksack.

And then a jumpmaster comes, and he’s an experienced NCO in parachute operations. He checks you out, he grabs your adjusting straps and he tightens everything so that your chest is crushed, your shoulders are crushed down, and, of course, he’s tightened so your voice goes up a couple octaves as well.

Then you sit down, and you wait a little while, because this is the Army.

You load the aircraft, and then you stand up and you get on, and you kind of lumber to the aircraft like this, in a line of people, and you sit down on canvas seats on either side of the aircraft.

And you wait a little bit longer, because this is the Air Force teaching the Army how to wait.

1:22 Then you take off. And it’s painful enough now — and I think it’s designed this way — it’s painful enough so you want to jump.

You didn’t really want to jump, but you want out. So you get in the aircraft, you’re flying along, and at 20 minutes out, these jumpmasters start giving you commands. They give 20 minutes — that’s a time warning.

You sit there, OK. Then they give you 10 minutes. And of course, you’re responding with all of these. And that’s to boost everybody’s confidence, to show that you’re not scared.

Then they give you, “Get ready.” Then they go, “Outboard personnel, stand up.” If you’re an outboard personnel, now you stand up. If you’re an inboard personnel, stand up.

And then you hook up, and you hook up your static line. And at that point, you think, “Hey, guess what? I’m probably going to jump. There’s no way to get out of this at this point.”

You go through some additional checks, and then they open the door.

2:10 And this was that Tuesday morning in September, and it was pretty nice outside. So nice air comes flowing in.

The jumpmasters start to check the door. And then when it’s time to go, a green light goes and the jumpmaster goes, “Go.”

The first guy goes, and you’re just in line, and you just kind of lumber to the door. Jump is a misnomer; you fall.

You fall outside the door, you’re caught in the slipstream. The first thing you do is lock into a tight body position — head down in your chest, your arms extended, put over your reserve parachute.

You do that because, 27 years before, an airborne sergeant had taught me to do that. I have no idea whether it makes any difference, but he seemed to make sense, and I wasn’t going to test the hypothesis that he’d be wrong.

And you wait for the opening shock for your parachute to open. If you don’t get an opening shock, you don’t get a parachute — you’ve got a whole new problem set.

But typically you do; typically it opens. And of course, if your leg straps aren’t set right, at that point you get another little thrill. Boom.

3:15 So then you look around, you’re under a canopy and you say, “This is good.” Now you prepare for the inevitable.

You are going to hit the ground. You can’t delay that much. And you really can’t decide where you hit very much, because they pretend you can steer, but you’re being delivered.

So you look around, where you’re going to land, you try to make yourself ready. And then as you get close, you lower your rucksack below you on a lowering line, so that it’s not on you when you land, and you prepare to do a parachute-landing fall.

Now the Army teaches you to do five points of performance — the toes of your feet, your calves, your thighs, your buttocks and your push-up muscles. It’s this elegant little land, twist and roll. And that’s not going to hurt.

In 30-some years of jumping, I never did an elegant one.  I always landed like a watermelon out of a third floor window.

4:09 And as soon as I hit, the first thing I did is I’d see if I’d broken anything that I needed. I’d shake my head, and I’d ask myself the eternal question: “Why didn’t I go into banking?” 

And I’d look around, and then I’d see another paratrooper, a young guy or girl, and they’d have pulled out their M4 carbine and they’d be picking up their equipment. They’d be doing everything that we had taught them. And I realized that, if they had to go into combat, they would do what we had taught them and they would follow leaders.

And I realized that, if they came out of combat, it would be because we led them well. And I was hooked again on the importance of what I did.

4:55 So now I do that Tuesday morning jump, but it’s not any jump — that was September 11th, 2001.

And when we took off from the airfield, America was at peace. When we landed on the drop-zone, everything had changed. And what we thought about the possibility of those young soldiers going into combat as being theoretical was now very, very real — and leadership seemed important.

But things had changed; I was a 46-year-old brigadier general. I’d been successful, but things changed so much that I was going to have to make some significant changes, and on that morning, I didn’t know it.

5:34 I was raised with traditional stories of leadership: Robert E. Lee, John Buford at Gettysburg.

And I also was raised with personal examples of leadership. This was my father in Vietnam. And I was raised to believe that soldiers were strong and wise and brave and faithful; they didn’t lie, cheat, steal or abandon their comrades.

And I still believe real leaders are like that. But in my first 25 years of career, I had a bunch of different experiences.

6:10 One of my first battalion commanders, I worked in his battalion for 18 months and the only conversation he ever had with Lt. McChrystal was at mile 18 of a 25-mile road march, and he chewed my ass for about 40 seconds. And I’m not sure that was real interaction.

But then a couple of years later, when I was a company commander, I went out to the National Training Center. And we did an operation, and my company did a dawn attack — you know, the classic dawn attack: you prepare all night, move to the line of departure. And I had an armored organization at that point. We move forward, and we get wiped out — I mean, wiped out immediately.

The enemy didn’t break a sweat doing it. And after the battle, they bring this mobile theater and they do what they call an “after action review” to teach you what you’ve done wrong. Sort of leadership by humiliation. They put a big screen up, and they take you through everything: “and then you didn’t do this, and you didn’t do this, etc.”

I walked out feeling as low as a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. And I saw my battalion commander, because I had let him down. And I went up to apologize to him, and he said, “Stanley, I thought you did great.” And in one sentence, he lifted me, put me back on my feet, and taught me that leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.

7:27 When 9/11 came, 46-year-old Brig. Gen. McChrystal sees a whole new world.

First, the things that are obvious, that you’re familiar with: the environment changed — the speed, the scrutiny, the sensitivity of everything now is so fast, sometimes it evolves faster than people have time to really reflect on it.

But everything we do is in a different context.

More importantly, the force that I led was spread over more than 20 countries. And instead of being able to get all the key leaders for a decision together in a single room and look them in the eye and build their confidence and get trust from them, I’m now leading a force that’s dispersed, and I’ve got to use other techniques.

I’ve got to use video teleconferences, I’ve got to use chat, I’ve got to use email, I’ve got to use phone calls — I’ve got to use everything I can, not just for communication, but for leadership.

A 22-year-old individual operating alone, thousands of miles from me, has got to communicate to me with confidence. I have to have trust in them and vice versa. And I also have to build their faith. And that’s a new kind of leadership for me.

8:41 We had one operation where we had to coordinate it from multiple locations. An emerging opportunity came — didn’t have time to get everybody together. So we had to get complex intelligence together, we had to line up the ability to act. It was sensitive, we had to go up the chain of command, convince them that this was the right thing to do and do all of this on electronic medium.

We failed. The mission didn’t work. And so now what we had to do is I had to reach out to try to rebuild the trust of that force, rebuild their confidence — me and them, and them and me, and our seniors and us as a force — all without the ability to put a hand on a shoulder. Entirely new requirement.

9:30 Also, the people had changed.

You probably think that the force that I led was all steely-eyed commandos with big knuckle fists carrying exotic weapons.

In reality, much of the force I led looked exactly like you. It was men, women, young, old — not just from military; from different organizations, many of them detailed to us just from a handshake.

And so instead of giving orders, you’re now building consensus and you’re building a sense of shared purpose.

Probably the biggest change was understanding that the generational difference, the ages, had changed so much.

I went down to be with a Ranger platoon on an operation in Afghanistan, and on that operation, a sergeant in the platoon had lost about half his arm throwing a Taliban hand grenade back at the enemy after it had landed in his fire team. We talked about the operation, and then at the end I did what I often do with a force like that.

I asked, “Where were you on 9/11?” And one young Ranger in the back — his hair’s tousled and his face is red and windblown from being in combat in the cold Afghan wind — he said, “Sir, I was in the sixth grade.”

And it reminded me that we’re operating a force that must have shared purpose and shared consciousness, and yet he has different experiences, in many cases a different vocabulary, a completely different skill set in terms of digital media than I do and many of the other senior leaders. And yet, we need to have that shared sense.

11:21 It also produced something which I call an inversion of expertise, because we had so many changes at the lower levels in technology and tactics and whatnot, that suddenly the things that we grew up doing wasn’t what the force was doing anymore.

So how does a leader stay credible and legitimate when they haven’t done what the people you’re leading are doing?

And it’s a brand new leadership challenge.

And it forced me to become a lot more transparent, a lot more willing to listen, a lot more willing to be reverse-mentored from lower.

And yet, again, you’re not all in one room. Then another thing. There’s an effect on you and on your leaders. There’s an impact, it’s cumulative. You don’t reset, or recharge your battery every time.

12:12 I stood in front of a screen one night in Iraq with one of my senior officers and we watched a firefight from one of our forces.

And I remembered his son was in our force. And I said, “John, where’s your son? And how is he?” And he said, “Sir, he’s fine. Thanks for asking.” I said, “Where is he now?” And he pointed at the screen, he said, “He’s in that firefight.”

Think about watching your brother, father, daughter, son, wife in a firefight in real time and you can’t do anything about it. Think about knowing that over time. And it’s a new cumulative pressure on leaders.

12:45 And you have to watch and take care of each other. I probably learned the most about relationships.

I learned they are the sinew which hold the force together. I grew up much of my career in the Ranger regiment. And every morning in the Ranger regiment, every Ranger — and there are more than 2,000 of them — says a six-stanza Ranger creed. You may know one line of it, it says, “I’ll never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.”

And it’s not a mindless mantra, and it’s not a poem. It’s a promise. Every Ranger promises every other Ranger, “No matter what happens, no matter what it costs me, if you need me, I’m coming.” And every Ranger gets that same promise from every other Ranger. Think about it.

It’s extraordinarily powerful. It’s probably more powerful than marriage vows. And they’ve lived up to it, which gives it special power. And so the organizational relationship that bonds them is just amazing.

13:48 And I learned personal relationships were more important than ever.

We were in a difficult operation in Afghanistan in 2007, and an old friend of mine, that I had spent many years at various points of my career with — godfather to one of their kids — he sent me a note, just in an envelope, that had a quote from Sherman to Grant that said, “I knew if I ever got in a tight spot, that you would come, if alive.” And having that kind of relationship, for me, turned out to be critical at many points in my career.

14:21 And I learned that you have to give that in this environment, because it’s tough.

That was my journey. I hope it’s not over. I came to believe that a leader isn’t good because they’re right; they’re good because they’re willing to learn and to trust.

This isn’t easy stuff. It’s not like that electronic abs machine where, 15 minutes a month, you get washboard abs.

And it isn’t always fair. You can get knocked down, and it hurts and it leaves scars.

But if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you up. And if you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.

Patsy Z  shared this link on FB

“Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”

Four-star general Stanley McChrystal shares what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military.|By Stanley McChrystal



Varieties of uniforms worn by housekeepers in Lebanon

Lebanese families, Arabs and their housekeepers, it can be something right out of a horror flick.

Our very own modern take on slavery.

On Tuesday, the Labor Ministry announced it was investigating a maid agency after the company sent out a text message advertising a Mother’s Day “special” on Ethiopian and Nigerian nationalities. posted this March 19, 2015

Minister Sejaan Azzi is quoted as calling the SMS “an insult to human rights and dignity” and pledged to shut down the business if the text turned out to be real.

One of the most disgusting aspects of the housekeeper-employer relationship in the Arab world, and in Lebanon in particular, is the high levels of control the employers exert on these women – to the point of playing dress-up with their bodies.

The employers feel as though housekeepers are not just their property, but believe what their domestic workers wear somehow reflects their economic status as a whole.

Here are the different ways Lebanese people dress their housekeepers, from least to most degrading:

5. Human Clothing

(Image via

It is rare that a Lebanese woman would allow her housekeeper to dress in human-style jeans and T-shirts.

If Kumari looks like a human, onlookers might embarrassingly mistake her for one of Ghada’s daughters … or worse – a friend.

4. The Apron

(Image via

This is where an apron is layered over human clothing, to ensure that nobody will confuse the housekeeper for a normal person; you need to keep her in her place.

Marking her with a scarlet letter in the form of an apron is the perfect way to do that! For all of you simple-minded apron defenders who are bound to say, “Aprons are useful!” You’re wrong. You’re wrong and stupid, actually – because the only functionality an apron has it to keep your clothes from getting dirtied by food while you cook, which begs the questions:

why are you asking your housekeeper to wear an apron while she serves you coffee, cleans your room, wipes your asshole child’s asshole, etc?

3. Rags and Scraps

(Image via Al-Akhbar English)

This get-up is only slightly less dignified than the apron, because the apron is layered over human clothing.

In this version of dress-up, the employer (usually a gross woman that has a penchant for slavery,) takes her children’s ratty old clothing and gifts it to her housekeeper as one final stop before the garbage can.

Whether the employer’s children are aged 1-7 or 5-10, it doesn’t matter – because what woman wouldn’t want to wear short bellbottoms bedazzled with words like “cute” and “diva” across their thigh?!

2. Semi-Uniform

(Image via CNN)

This dress code is for the “Masters” and “Madames” of the world that convince themselves that they’re being generous, good-hearted human rights activists by allowing half-human clothing to be worn.

The other half of the outfit is taken from a poster displayed outside of a maid’s office named Golden Maids – yes, this is a real place.

1. Full Uniform + Hat

(Image via farfahinne.blogspot)

This is based on a very real thing I saw in Beirut Souks last year.

There was a family with a bratty child who was being tended to by a young girl who was dressed in a pink housekeeping uniform.

The best part was that they also had her wear a tiny French maid’s hat. I’m pretty sure that the hat came from the employer’s lingerie drawer. Who actually buys those things in real life?


Syria: In a besieged hospital

 This impossible luxury of sleeping and resting

Noor Khalil shared this link on FB. March 13, 2015

“Three years of non-stop surgery under tough circumstances – I have maxed out.

I’ve had enough of scenes of misery, but we have no other choice. People here need us.

They are in desperate need of all kinds of medical care, from the most simple to the most complicated.”
Dr. S is a young surgeon who graduated shortly after the outbreak of the crisis in Syria.

Dr S. working in a makeshift hospital that received MSF support tells the story of his medical journey.
 An experience that parallels the war in the country.

Dr. S is a young surgeon who graduated shortly after the outbreak of the crisis in Syria. He now works in a makeshift hospital in a semi-rural neighbourhood located to the east of Damascus. This is a facility that received dedicated MSF support and supplies throughout the period of siege, support that continues on a regular monthly basis to this day. He tells the story of his medical journey – an experience that parallels the war in the country.

A temporary truce that death could not penetrate

There was a pregnant woman who was trapped during the time we were under full siege. She was due to deliver soon. All negotiation attempts to get her out failed. She needed a caesarean operation, but there was no maternity hospital we could get her to, and I had never done this operation before.

A few days before the expected delivery date, I was trying to get a working internet connection to read up information on doing a C-section. The clock was ticking and my fear and stress started to peak. I wished I could stop time, but the woman’s labour started.

The atmosphere was tense already, with mad shelling hammering the area.

The bombardments had reached a deafening level. We brought the woman into the operating theatre and I did the operation. Joy overwhelmed me when we knew the baby girl was healthy, and her mother too.

In this madness, our work as surgeons is to save as many lives as we can. Sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we fail.

It is as if we repair the damage that the war left. But this operation was not the usual damage repair; it helped bring new life to this earth. It was a magical moment; a temporary truce that death could not penetrate.

I chose a deserted school as my hospital

I graduated as a surgeon shortly after the crisis started in Syria.

In the Summer of 2011, with the acceleration of events and medical needs increasing, I started working in small private hospitals.

A few months later, I was arrested, as were many of my colleagues. At the beginning of 2012 I was out, and I returned to treat people and carry on my general surgery specialization.

I was working in improvised field hospitals, operating in conditions that were largely unsuitable for medical work.

We worked in the east of Damascus and then in the Ghouta area, where the medical need was urgent.

At the end of 2012, a semi-rural neighbourhood located to the east of Damascus witnessed violent clashes. The area was packed with displaced people at the time, without any medical centre to treat wounded people. I went there and decided to set up a field hospital.

Following a search, I chose a deserted school that had previously been hit. The upper floors were damaged, but the ground floor, as well as the basement, were in a good shape.

Despite the daily, continuous shelling on the area, and the constant fear and stress, the medical team with which I worked managed to provide tremendous medical care to those who needed it the most.

The siege

A healthy man walked out, and few moments later, he came back with shards of metal in his body.

One day in July 2013, around 10:00 am, the hospital was hit by a rocket. The massive explosion turned the place upside down and its pressure tore out the wooden walls. Medical tools and people were thrown in all directions. Soon a dust cloud settled over the building and made it impossible to see.

The explosion was like nothing before. I thought that worse could follow and this explosion might be only the beginning of something very bad.

Indeed, shells rained on the area and we could hear the clashes getting worse.

As we were getting over the shock, one of the hospital workers collapsed.

She lived near the hospital. Her young boy was at home and the area was coming under heavy shelling. She could not keep it together and she wanted to save her child. A medic offered to go out and look for the child. I did not like the idea because we did not know what was going on outside.

As soon as the medic was out of the hospital door, he saw a tank with its gun facing towards him. A healthy man walked out, and few moments later, he came back with shards of metal in his body. It was only then that we realized the severity of the situation outside. We decided to evacuate the hospital – two medics per patient to carry them – and we got out of the back door.

It was apocalyptic!

We tried to walk fast towards a small medical centre not far from there. Shelling was hammering the fields around us. I was expecting the worst with every shell we heard. We managed to arrive at our destination unharmed.

It was like a miracle. We had left our equipment in the evacuated hospital, but we did not dare to go back there.

Over the next days, we heard that the fighting was moving away from the area around the hospital.

Under heavy bombardment, we decided to go back and bring our equipment. We had to do that to be able to treat people. Taking turns to do the trip, we managed to retrieve as much as possible after ten days.

From then, we were under siege – impossible to get in and out of there. This was also true for medical supplies.

We received a flow of injured people since the first day of the siege. I often operated on two people at once.

We worked around the clock. Sleeping and resting were an impossible luxury. We managed to stop for few moments before dawn to eat some food and drink some water, before getting back to work.

Most days heavy shelling and raging fighting brought us more injured people, leaving us no chance to rest.

The numbers of injured people were way beyond what we could handle, and that forced us to make painful clinical decisions.

After the siege

We were under siege for eight months, up until February 2014.

Eight months of suffering and stress, followed by a ceasefire, during which many people managed to go back to their homes. It became easier to get hold of supplies, and that helped us to continue providing medical care to people in need. Nevertheless, the humanitarian situation remained bad.

There were still often clashes at the edges of the this area and the shelling was still frequent.

This formal ceasefire did not change the nature of our work, but we finally found enough time to expand the hospital. People returning to the neighbourhood meant an increase in the needs, thus more pressure on us. We setup an obstetrics department and clinics to provide basic medical care and chronic diseases management.

We could start doing bone, internal and urinary surgeries; all operations we could not perform before because we had suffered critical shortages of supplies and we had been prioritizing life-saving operations.

MSF continued to provide us with much of what we needed. We even received laboratory kit, which allowed us to carry out diagnostic tests.

And we received an incubator for the obstetrics unit. Little by little, we could start to respond to all the basic general medical needs for the people in the area.

It has to stop, one day

Three years of non-stop surgery under tough circumstances – I have maxed out. I’ve had enough of scenes of misery.

I was on the phone recently with my surgery professor and he said: “regardless of the operating conditions, your work during these three years matches my whole 30 years’ experience as a doctor. You have reached retirement in just three years.”

And indeed, every moment of every day I feel I have had enough, but we have no other choice.

People here need us. They are in desperate need of all kinds of medical care, from the most simple to the most complicated. We cannot add another reason for the deterioration of this already disastrous situation.

Today, I am almost certain that, when the war is over, I will quit medicine. Any human being would make that decision after living what I have lived through.

I look forward to the end of this war. It has to stop, one day. Then, I can choose what to do. Only then, will we be truly alive again.

Although Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders is currently able to run six health facilities in the north of Syria, in most of the country the organization cannot have teams working directly on the ground providing hands-on medical care.

But in order to ensure some continuity of medical provision in the midst of this war, MSF supports over 100 medical centers across Syria where medical help is needed the most, with a focus on besieged communities and active conflict areas where there is little or no other medical support being provided.




March 2015

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