Dust in the Wind… and the Humvees

Last week. the president announced that the troops currently in Iraq will be home by the end of the year. That’s a big statement.

This post isn’t an endorsement or a criticism of that decision, but more of a caution about communicating huge promises like that.

When I got back from Iraq in 2004, I brought my camera to a friend of mine to see if he could clean it. “Can you clean all of Iraq out if it?” I asked.

“It depends on how much of Iraq you brought back in it,” he said.

And there’s the problem, folks. You maybe happy or angry about the fact that President Obama has promised to pull out the troops by the end of the year, but you probably have no idea what that means as far as logistics go.

If you’ve ever been to Iraq, you know that “sand” is barely the correct word to describe what’s on the ground there. Forget what you’ve seen at the beach in the Carolinas, folks. Iraqi sand is brown baby powder. Soldiers don’t follow one another closely while walking because the clouds that kick up with choke them if they do. Tissues turn black when you blow your nose. You have to shake your socks out at the end of the day – regardless what boots you wear. And, yes, even our poor cameras are full of sand after a couple of weeks. I remember the stores on base couldn’t keep cans of compressed air on the shelves…

So, that said, imagine what a Humvee looks like, or a Bradley, or an MRAP, after years of duty. In order to bring that stuff back, it needs more than a drive-thru car wash. In order to prevent the spread of invasive species and whatnot, all that sand has to be removed. All of it.

Plus, have you ever seen a helicopter get shipped? Pilots don’t fly Apaches home from Iraq. Those are washed too, then each one is shrink-wrapped. That’s not a five-minute process.

The president made a big promise to a group of stakeholders that doesn’t deserve any broken promises. I’m not a logistical genius, but I know that what the president promised requires more than a few thousand plane tickets. If he doesn’t deliver on this promise, it’ll be a public relations nightmare.

It’s Easy to Look Professional

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Now that I’m getting back in the saddle, I’m starting with something simple…

When I was at UNC, I remember volunteering as a jury member in a mock trial for the law school. I sat and watched six law students argue a case and I helped render the verdict. I remember nothing about the case, but I do remember RHE.

RHE was a law student on the losing team of attorneys. I know his initials because he had them sewn into the cuffs of his shirt. I remember the cuffs of his shirt because thay were hanging out of his suit jacket the whole time. They were hanging out because his shirt sleeves were about four inches longer than his jacket sleeves. All I could look at was RHE, the entire case. Those three miserable, overly exposed letters. I voted for the other team for probably no other reason than RHE’s unnecessarily long sleeves.

Now that may sound shallow, but the truth is that there is such a thing as an attractiveness bias in humans. Part of it is conditioned; part is innate. Mothers pay more attention to more attractive babies and babies are more likely to look at pictures of attractive people. In the 1960 presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy, people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon won, while people who watched on television thought Kennedy won (look at video from the debate if you need help understanding why).

When you take this into consideration, you can understand the need to look professional, especially in fields that require you to be in front of people. Credibility is important and, quite frankly, looking dumb can hurt your credibility (right, RHE?). Now listen, I’m not saying you need to go out right now and buy Brooks Brothers suits or anything. What I mean to say is that there are some simple rules you can follow to look professional — not better for the club or the gym or whatever — that can prevent you from losing credibility before you even open your mouth.

Sorry, ladies. This is for the guys.

First, for heaven’s sake, wear clothes that are the right length. Your pants should touch the back of your shoes and there should be no more than one break in the front of the pantleg. If you’re wearing a blazer, your shirt sleeves should just barely peek out at your wrist when you’re standing with your back straight. If you’re wearing a jacket, I shouldn’t be able to see if you have your initials on your shirt cuffs…

Never button the bottom button of your blazer. I don’t care if it’s 60 degrees below zero; that button isn’t going to help. No blazer in the world, except for double-breasted blazers and military uniforms, should have the bottom button buttoned under any circumstances. Period.

Use an iron. Use collar stays. Nothing makes you look more apathetic than wrinkly clothes or a curled-up collar.

Clean your shoes. Having dirty shoes makes you look lazy. Buy some saddle soap and a rag and you’ll be doing better than the average guy.

When all else fails, wear solids. Some patterns can work together, like wearing a dotted tie with a striped shirt, but don’t be edgy on this. There’s a difference between being a trendsetter and looking like a fool. Try to avoid both in a professional setting.

Wearing brown shoes? Wear a brown belt. Black shoes? Black belt. That simple.

OK, those are easy ones. Remember that in a professional setting, you not only represent yourself, you also represent your organization. Remember the stinky kid in your elementary school class? He didn’t just represent himself; he also represented his parents. Don’t be the stinky kid.

Have more simple advice? I’d love to hear it. This is most certainly a subject I’ll return to regularly…