Despite all the awesome and terrible powers of the US military and our highest achievements in advanced targeting, sometimes the best method for you to help a pilot drop a bomb on someone’s head is simply to tell him where to drop it. There’s a name for that critical conversation in the military: the “talk-on“. While it’s just you, the pilot, and a radio, there is an art to it that some find hard to achieve. The success of a talk-on is derived from an appreciation for perspective. Each of the two parties involved has a unique and specific view of the world at the moment the talk-on begins. The pilot up in the sky sees a vast expanse laid out beneath him as he circles around the battlefield, structures and roads carrying off over the horizon. Landscapes blur and terrain ebbs and flows over miles. The din of the radio and the aircraft’s jet engines drown out any other sounds that may have carried up high enough to reach him, the scale of the whole picture muting the details.
Alternatively, as a Marine on the ground, you are likely surrounded by dirt. The temperature is harsh and tiny details are front and center. Vibrant red fabric flapping over the entryway of a compound in disrepair to the left, muddy pockmarks in a dirt road that snakes by the wadi, and a compound in the distance with taller walls and an enemy gun team on the roof. There may be small arms fire snapping around, radios cackling, and there is definitely shouting…in at least one language. Sulfur, gunpowder, burning trash and sweat from unwashed month-old cammies blend sickly together and choke the dusty air. The two outlooks couldn’t be more different. To successfully talk the pilot onto that gun team, you have to start by understanding the pilot’s perspective, then collapse his view from 10,000 feet down to 1…until it matches yours. You have to ignore the stress and danger and start with the big picture, always using cardinal directions, North, South, East, West, and all the rest in between. Your right may be the pilot’s left, one’s up is the other’s down, but you can both agree on North. Next, you’ll find patterns, constraints, and descriptions that steadily narrow the pilot’s view until you’re both zeroed in on the two guys fucking around with a machine gun on a roof. If you’re successful, at least for a short time, you and the pilot can share a perspective of the world. Then, you blow it up.
And here we are, years removed from dodging machine gun teams, explosives, and brutal seasons, in desperate need of a good talk-on. Our civil-military relations have devolved into a cultural chasm. Civilians have been conditioned to see veterans as scarred, inside and out, torn to shreds by the horrors of a decades long war where everyone is on the “front line” (hint: they’re not). And veterans, even worse, have been conditioned to think of themselves as some higher class; the true inheritants of American exceptionalism, serving an ungrateful nation that would deny their exclusive claim to the mantles of heroism, honor, and cushy taxpayer-funded government entitlements (hint: they’re not). It’s pervasive and patently false, but at heart, it’s really just an issue of perspective.
This post is the first of what I hope will be many, many attempts to slowly find those patterns, images, and stories that can help talk us onto a new target as a productive and engaged American population. I’ll need all the help I can get…if you do it wrong, the bomb misses or even worse, lands on top of you. But if you do it right, the bad guys go away.
2 thoughts on “The Talk-On”
Despite how you may or may not feel about your thoughts and/or efforts to hone in and make clear the gray picture that exists in the Civil-military chasm, I humbly want to reaffirm that your efforts are important. I have no idea if you remember me, but I briefly served with you in the reserves at MWSS 473 (-), and as one who never found myself fully existing on either side of this civil- military relationship, I often find myself at odds with all perspectives while simultaneously feeling like I sympathetically understand the perspectives of both vantage points. I never really felt like I got the full Military experience, but I definitely don’t see myself as a civilian. I can’t say I can offer any valuable experience, for my service is often seen as laughable, but I would love to at least follow along as you pen your thoughts and perspectives, and if asked I will do my best to provide my humble perspectives. I may not be your targeted audience, but I look forward to your future posts.
Hope all is well.
Daniel, thanks for your comment. I don’t think your service is laughable by any means, but you’re not alone with that perspective. If you haven’t already, check out Meghan Mobbs’ work on this subject: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-debrief/201810/why-soldiers-crave-heros-journey