Military Intelligence Officer Interview

by Steve Pavlina
(Las Vegas, NV, USA)

Military Intelligence Officer Interview


Here's an interview I recently did with a British military intelligence officer.

We met last July in Las Vegas and talked for a few hours about military strategy, Iraq, Afghanistan, blogging, and many other topics. I thought that some of what we discussed would make an interesting blog post, so I suggested that we do an interview for my website, and he agreed.

At the time, I posted a forum thread to solicit suggestions for questions, which helped us piece together the structure of this interview.

It took quite a while to get the necessary approval to post this, which was granted on the condition that we don't share his name. His rank is that of Major.

Opening comments

Let me start by saying that I've followed the thread with interest and enjoyed the debate and questions. My answers will be 100% honest, but circumspect, as you would expect.

You will all understand that the political neutrality of the military is essential in a democracy, and so it is not my place to contribute a political opinion. For those of you interested in a military perspective on some of the issues raised with regards to our future in Afghanistan etc. I would recommend the Small Wars Journal.

What is a typical day in the life of a military intelligence officer?

The short answer to this question is that there isn?t a typical day. In my career I have served in both my core role, analyzing the ways in which an adversary, or potential adversary might try and shoot down British or allied aircraft only three times, twice for short periods of a few months and once for two years.

The first and longest period saw me serve as part of a large team undertaking this role in the UK. The second and third occasions were for 6 months and very similar to each other, albeit one was in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.

I was one of just two people supporting an operational detachment of aircraft with warnings about who might want to shoot them down, how, and where. I have also served at Nellis Air Force Base (the reason I was in Las Vegas, to answer another question from the forum) with the 64th Aggressor Squadron. You can learn more about them here.

I've also served in two staff officer positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing senior officers with information on the situation in their area of responsibility.

Outside of my core role I deployed as a United Nations military observer with UNOMIG in Georgia. My "typical day" here varied enormously. One day I might be patrolling towns and villages to discover locals? concerns and ensure the ceasefire agreement (now irrelevant following the 2008 Russo-Georgia conflict) was being implemented correctly, on another, briefing a room of officers from all over the world on the situation across the area we patrolled.

How have your experiences in the military changed you as a person?

After my Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell I would have said that it had already changed me quite profoundly. Since then, that which was learned has been internalized, but I think I have retained much of the person I was before. I think this would be a better question to ask a close friend of mine who has know me throughout, rather than me, as it is difficult to say.

I still have a strong sense of justice, a desire to help other people, and to make a difference in the world. I am as ambitious as I have always been, and am proud of my willingness to take on new challenges, fascinated by people and history and politics and love traveling.

I feel privileged to be part of an organization that allows me to explore my interests, to be amongst people who share my desire to make the world a better place, and with whom, collectively, I am able to test my abilities in pursuance of my ambition while helping to make more of a difference than I ever could alone.

Many of the questions on the forum seemed to imply that there was a conflict between positive values and military service. I fundamentally disagree, and could not do my job if I did not think they were compatible. So this is what has not changed, but let us move on to some things which I think have.

Military training instilled in me a deeper confidence in my own abilities. It provided me with training in how to balance competing priorities and to deal with demanding situations calmly and rationally.

It gave me a better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses, and improved my ability to see the strengths and weaknesses in others around me. I benefited greatly from the leadership lessons, and am more confident in positions of responsibility than I would have been otherwise.

The reporting system in the British military is designed to identify your strengths and your weaknesses throughout your career. A good commanding officer provides you with advice on how to overcome your deficiencies and to further develop those areas in which you are showing ability.

Institutionalized personal development perhaps? For example, early on in my career I had a tendency to be over-confident, and as a consequence over-bearing. I have worked hard to be more humble, and, though of course some might disagree, I think I am sufficiently aware of this tendency now to manage it better.

The British military is encouraged to study past wars to learn the lessons for future conflicts, and part of that learning experience is seeing the mistakes others have made, and to note their successes, in order to avoid the former and repeat the latter.

This is much like "modeling" as practiced in the self-improvement world, where one notes the qualities and actions one admires in another person, and seeks to emulate them. This is something I have undertaken professionally as well, noting the qualities I admire in the men and women who serve with me and seeking to match their example.

The military also attracts some remarkable people, and this can affect you in lots of ways. They tend to be physically fit, which means that you have plenty of people to train with, a certain social pressure (and professional requirement) to maintain your fitness and, if you are competitive, as most of us are, you will have to push yourself that much harder if you want to be one of the fittest amongst your peers.

We also have "Officer's Development Days". I have been taken to London on one such day, where we were required to visit various art galleries and "brief", i.e. give a 10-20 minute talk, without notes on three paintings at each gallery, which we had researched beforehand.

This not only improved my public speaking, but gave me an interest in, and understanding of, art. It would be fair to say that before this my interest in art was minimal, I had always preferred theater, literature and poetry. I was so enthused by the experience of learning about this new subject that I took a civilian friend of mine, James, who now runs a personal development website, round the same galleries a few weeks later.

As you can see from the length of the answer, being a part of the military has helped to make me who I am. I suspect that the person asking the question wanted to know how serving overseas had affected me. The answer is much shorter. It has made me more broad minded, and only made me want to understand people, from all cultures, more completely.

Why did you decide to join the military? How did you become a military intelligence officer? Why do you work in this field?

I think I have already answered the first part of this. Joining was relatively straightforward, if demanding, I applied through an RAF careers office, passed through a selection weekend, initial officer training and my trade training and, well, here I am.

My job is an extension of my interest in people, politics and international relations. I am intensely curious about the world, and in my job I get to study it continuously, and travel around it often.

To read the rest of this great military officer interview, visit StevePavlina.com.

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