Chris' background is in trade and foreign policy, but joined the Army infantry for a profession. We talk about how he has seen foreign policy develop in the last 20 years across a civilian job on Capitol Hill and then throughout his time deployed in the Middle East. Chris talks about his stint as a speechwriter for a senior officer and the things he'd learned about how to communicate more effectively. And last, we dive into the Military Writers Guild, of whom Chris is the President, and why writing is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
You can reach out to Chris on Twitter.
• (01:05) - Capitol Hill and then the Army
• (02:20) - What is foreign policy?
• (05:46) - Major foreign policy changes over the last 20 years
• (13:42) - Trade as a weapon
• (19:10) - Why Join the infantry after a promising career in politics
• (22:18) - How have economic views on Afghanistan changed after joining the Army
• (28:07) - Joining the service later in life, pros and cons
• (32:17) - Speech writing and effective communication
• (39:17) - Best practices for speaking in a thoughtful and compelling way
• (43:00) - Takeaways from Afghanistan
• (47:04) - The power to change one regulation in the Army
• (51:40) - The Military Writers Guild, what it is and what is offered
• (01:00:40) - The future of the guild
• (01:05:13) - Book recommendations
The Scuttlebutt Podcast - The podcast for service members and veterans building a life outside the military.
The Scuttlebutt Podcast features discussions on lifestyle, careers, business, and resources for service members. Show host, Brock Briggs, talks with a special guest from the community committed to helping military members build a successful life, inside and outside the service.
Get a weekly episode breakdown, a sneak peek of the next episode and other resources in your inbox for free at https://scuttlebutt.substack.com/.
Brock Briggs 0:00
Hello, and welcome to the Scuttlebutt Podcast, the podcast for current and former service members looking to be challenged and to grow. I'm your host, Brock Briggs, and today I'm speaking with Chris Ingram. Chris' background is in trade and foreign policy, but joined the Army infantry for a profession. We talk about how he has seen foreign policy develop in the last 20 years across a civilian job on Capitol Hill and then throughout his time deployed in the Middle East. Chris talks about his stint as a speechwriter for a senior officer and the things he'd learned about how to communicate more effectively. And last, we dive into the Military Writers Guild, of whom Chris is the President, and why writing is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Please enjoy this conversation with Chris Ingram.
We were just talking a few minutes ago about your career and how you've had kind of a little bit of a backwards career than the traditional one, you pursued sort of a career in, on Capitol Hill in politics of some sort, and then join the army. And usually that's the other way around. What gets you interested to pursue a job in politics early on in your life.
Chris Ingram 1:33
So, you know, back in the day, so I've always been interested in foreign policy and international relations. In high school, I did Model United Nations went to high school in Germany. And so really got interested in foreign policy. And so as I graduated college and went to DC, to get my master's degree, sort of looking at jobs, and interesting things to do out there, it took me to Capitol Hill. And that's where we started. So then, like you mentioned, like put on the uniform later, normally, people put on a uniform to like, build up a resume to go get into politics, I came at it from an opposite direction, and really put on the uniform to escape politics.
Brock Briggs 2:18
You've spent the greater part of the last, like 20 years in that sphere, I know that you've kind of changed jobs, technically, but I don't think that you really, totally have like divorced that. If you had to sum up what foreign policy is, and like a couple sentences, what does that actually mean?
Chris Ingram 2:40
It's how we, as a nation, sort of use all the elements of power to kind of maintain our position of advantage in the world. How do we make you know, how do we take our values about free and open society and and our goals about being prosperous and safe? And how do we turn that and how do we how do we maintain that?
Brock Briggs 3:04
Does that, by default mean that we kind of as the US maybe believe that we have the right way of doing things?
Chris Ingram 3:14
I think we probably believe that I think, you know, we get it wrong sometimes. And that's, you know, inherent its foreign policy, or strategy, or whatever you want to talk about. It's hard. It's about human conflict at the end of the day. It's about competing interests. It's about you know, it's it becomes a wicked problem, really, because there's, you know, there's 100 Something nations and everybody's got competing interests. And then you've got, you know, other super empowered individuals and other all sorts of organizations and things in balancing all that. It's, it's hard work, it's hard, it takes a lot of thought. And you're not going to always be right.
Brock Briggs 3:54
One of the things that as I was preparing for the show, I was kind of spending some time thinking about what I thought foreign policy might mean. And to kind of pick up the line that you're dropping, there is like, I was kind of wondering if the study of foreign policy is kind of a proxy for cultural psychology, like, are you really just trying to, you know, like you said, You've got 100 or so countries that all have different belief systems and ways that they think ought to be done. And you need to, on the belief that what you think is right, somehow convinced these other people with a different background, that it ought to be a different way.
Chris Ingram 4:35
You know, culture is probably something we get wrong the most, in terms of foreign policy and strategy, the understanding, you know, we're especially coming from a sort of a US or even from a kind of a Western perspective, very rational. You know, we have to different schools of thought whether you're talking about realism or neoliberalism or that sort of thing, but we tend to think that the world thinks the way we do and as I mentioned before, our foreign policy derives from our values, right, and our values are part of our are derived from our culture. I think sometimes we fail to understand that, cultures that don't read Clausewitz, and all the Huntington and all the things that our society has read, and the formulation of foreign policy might look at things differently than that. So as we compete as we try to navigate these, these Muddy Waters of foreign policy, a lot of times we don't even recognize it the interest of others, because we were kind of blinded to their culture, what drives their interests, motivations.
Brock Briggs 5:46
One of the things that I wanted to kind of get your opinion on it, and maybe this is kind of the answer to part of it, but I'd love to hear what do you think, are the benefit of our foreign policy over the last 20 years, what the benefits to the United States has been? And maybe some of the downfalls of that as well?
Chris Ingram 6:07
Well, it's probably good time for that disclaimer about nothing I say, represents the Department of the Army or the United States government in any way, shape, or form. Just my personal opinion. So we're, we've been in a unique position, you know, since I started thinking about foreign policy of really being because I got into it early, you know, post Cold Wars, we're trying to kind of figure out what was going on in the 90s. And we've been in a position of relative advantage, right. For the US. And so there's been an international rules based order, that is, has been beneficial to us in general. Right. I think, you know, there's certainly an argument to be made that, you know, there's some inequalities and some issues that, that even affect within our own society out of it. But overall, we've had a foreign policy that's been focused on maintaining that order, as it comes under attack from from different angles. And so I think that puts us in a difficult position as the US government. As we try to maintain that position. It's gonna be hard and, frankly, as we look forward, you know, I'm not sure we're going to be able to maintain that position, necessarily. The question now becomes, as other powers grow, if you look at China, for instance, in terms of its economy, in terms of its military, they're going to be they're gonna be a competitor. And we're gonna have to address that. And, you know, I think it comes down to looking at the structure and focusing on that, but.
Brock Briggs 7:55
When you talk about maintaining, and that that power that you're talking about, are you referring to the US as kind of like a world power and like, kind of a leader of the first world sort of?
Chris Ingram 8:10
I wouldn't use I wouldn't use the first world term. But in terms of like free and open societies, if you look at democracies around the world, we have some shared interests, and the system, for the most part, benefits those types of societies. And again, that's, that goes back to our cultural values and what we think is important, right? So if we're going to maintain that, sometimes we have to actually, you know, sell it, right, convince people, that's, that benefits them as well. But not everybody's gonna see it the same way. And especially countries that have not fared as well over the last 20 or 40 years. They might blame the system in place and the international rules based order as our liberal world or we call it, that we, that we're we are benefiting from and that's, that creates challenges.
Brock Briggs 9:04
As the US has kind of maybe self described, or however, we want to figure how they came into this role as this kind of like hegemon in like the world ranking. It's interesting to talk to different people, because everybody's got a different viewpoint about, you know, we're helping our allies, we're doing these things. And then there are people on the other side of the aisle that want to say like, we have absolutely no business being in anybody else's business. And I don't know if that there's an easy answer.
Chris Ingram 9:44
We have to be judicious in our resources. We have to be humble, I think sometimes in our foreign policy, and that's, that's not always a natural place for Americans to be. As an American who's lived abroad, the kind of notice, you know, we tend to be It allowed once. It's not just our foreign policy. It's us as a people, part of our culture, probably always has been. So I think, I think we have to consider that. And we have to think about others and understand, you know, if I want a country to start rowing in the same direction that we're rowing, I need to understand them and kind of meet them where they are.
Brock Briggs 10:29
What have been the major foreign policy or like World Economic things, developments, I guess I should say, during your time in this space that have been the most interesting to you?
Chris Ingram 10:43
Well, the biggest thing I've that sort of thing is change. Right? Change and disruption. Because so what I, you know, we were talking about before we came on, I started out doing economic policy, right. Like, why is this economic policy guy now joining the army and becoming a soldier, right? So when I started doing foreign policy as a professional and started thinking about how I could kind of work within that space within the US. It was globalization, right. That's what people were talking about. They were, you know, the World Trade Organization, protests and all of the things that were going on in the world, in the late 1990s, early two, very early 2000s, really up to the year 2000 2001. And that's what we thought was going to be the next big challenge was globalization was inequality. And that didn't go away. Right. Like, if you think about it, those challenges still exist. But 911 happened. And it changed the direction. So I was working in the house at the time on the House Ways and Means committees Trade Subcommittee, focused entirely on international trade. And within a few months after that, I got picked up to go to the Senate side and work as a foreign policy adviser for Senator on the who was on the finance committee. But she was also on the Intelligence Committee. And this was, so now, there's actually early 2003. And so even though I came into that space, as an economic policy wonk, who was you know, could talk about trade policy all day long as if it was something interesting to other people. So soon as I went to work for her, were starting to look at questions about WMD in Iraq, and the whole focus had changed at that point. And now, America was feeling a little bit less secure post 911. And so the, that changed our dynamics. And then, of course, we spent the last 20 years, dealing with that. And then now, you know, we're realizing one, there was economic inequality and other issues, the globalization issues never went away. So we're back to dealing with those. And then oh, while we were focused in Iraq and Afghanistan, you know, Russia was finding itself, and then trying to reassert itself and trying to reclaim its position on the global stage. And China just kept growing, and their economy just kept advancing, and they just kept investing in their military. And they were watching us and they were adjusting to us while we were paying attention to things, and then that's part of that foreign policy dilemma, right. Where you spend your resources where you spend your energy, your focus, that's not always on the right threat, or, you know, it's on the right threat, but you can't, you can't meet all the threats, you can't resource everything. So you open yourself up to risks and other areas.
Brock Briggs 13:40
I think when you if somebody were to mention, like the defense of our country, or like the attack on another country, by us, we want to our first thought is going to be to the military, and like using force in that way. But behind that, like, maybe second to that is like we have this much more discreet weapon in trade that really sets the terms for like, there are countries that are on the map, because we trade with them. And you know, I mean, the whole introduction of COVID and like what that did to supply chains, and then now this like globalization idea of having this dispersed just in time inventory thing. Now we want to bring it all back in and just as we the the government said to Nvidia, like, hey, stop sending chips to China, like that. That's a trade weapon right there.
Chris Ingram 14:45
So, you know, one of my my first job in DC actually, as an economic policy wonk was for the trade deficit Review Commission, right. It's like the 911 Commission, except we have less money and nobody read a report. But we were nuts. That's some of the stuff we're looking at is these trade imbalances and sort of security questions and that were that commissioners would have ended up kind of transforming the next year to the US China Security and Economic Review Commission. So that was my second job. That commission is still in place. And what that commission has been looking at for all these years is, is this issue of, you know, we have this deep trading partnership and in relationship, but that opens us up to some risks. Right, so the international trading system, the, you know, coming out of Bretton Woods, and, you know, general agreement with tariffs trade, the World Trade Organization, this has created a level of interdependence that has benefited the United States. It's made us more prosperous, but at the same time, it's also made us more interdependent. And if you go back to the globalization issues, the world's getting smaller. And that's where, you know, some of these conflicts are, I think, go back to the fact that we are so interconnected. And so we are, you know, conflicts in the past that may not have kind of turned into, into more violent things, or been as disruptive as they are. Now, something that happened, you know, a plant in one country getting hit by a tsunami or a flood or something like that, that shuts down, you know, that starts affecting supply chains, and it starts affecting jobs in Alabama, right. And that happens within within days, you know. Suez Canal, one ship gets stuck, and the whole world thinks it's gonna come to the end, because supply chains get disrupted. We develop this, you know, this just in time manufacturing, where we had these really efficient supply chains. And so we became dependent on that efficiency. And then, as things became disruptive, and that's, that's where some of the issues of climate change. And the other challenges are more acute than I think people realize, is because a climate issue, you know, a hurricane or a flood that, you know, Pakistan right now has, you know, an area larger than the size of Colorado that's underwater, alright. So, you know, years ago, that wouldn't have affected us necessarily directly. But now with interdependent economies and manufacturing that spread across the world, those things have second and third order effects that do affect us.
Brock Briggs 17:24
I've recently been reading some of Nassim Taleb's work around black swan events and it's interesting to me, looking at some of these global issues, where, you know, prior to COVID, there's people probably like you pointing out that like, hey, you know, we're, we're really dependent on these countries. And if something bad happens, like this isn't great, but the general consensus is that things are fine. And all it takes is supposedly one of these, you know, freak things to happen. And then all of a sudden, like, we're like, we're bringing every bit of manufacturing back home, like we just can't, it can't do that again. But those things like happen so much more frequently than you actually think. And there's just like, they're impossible to predict.
Chris Ingram 18:17
Well, and there's trade offs to write. So you open yourself up to risk, but also, America's more prosperous because of that global trade, right? You know, a lot of people like to knock Walmart and trust me, there's plenty of things to knock about Walmart, they say the same now about Amazon. But if you look at what people in the United States are able to afford, we're buying things that we couldn't have afforded years ago. If we tried to manufacture those things in the United States, we wouldn't be able to afford it, the standard of living would be lower. You know, people would have jobs, and they're there, you know, there might be similar benefits to it. But at the end of the day, we've promoted a system because it benefits us. And that's where we just have to mitigate those risks and, and look at things a little bit differently. I think we haven't.
Brock Briggs 19:10
It's easy for me to tell listening to you talk about this, like, you're obviously very well informed on this. And you can tell that you've spent a lot of time studying this type of thing. What makes you want to get out of this and go join the infantry.
Chris Ingram 19:25
You know, goes back to disruption. Right. So worked on Capitol Hill for a while. people joke about long hours in the military, I assure you, my hours when I worked on Capitol Hill are far worse than any job I've had in the army. And so my son was born, decided it was a great time to go get a PhD. So I just I went down to, you know, apply to several schools. LSU came in best offer so we moved down to Baton Rouge, just in time for Hurricane Katrina. But if you think back to about the time that I was finishing up, so I took my comprehensive exams, we were getting ready to do my dissertation research, but my fellowship, money ran out. And at this point, I had a wife and two kids and mortgage, you know, things to be concerned with. And oh, it's, you know, now it's 2009. Were in a recession, and so 2010. So, universities around the country weren't hiring the job market, the academic job market sort of fell out. And as I looked at what I wanted to do, part of my thinking was, I needed a profession. So I had a lot of cool jobs early on in my career, working in the House working in the Senate. That first job of the trade deficit Review Commission, first person ever yelled at me professionally was Don Rumsfeld, right, since before he was Secretary of Defense. That's how old I am. But they were cool jobs, but very insecure. Lots of lots of different jobs. And I needed something that, like I was growing up at this point, now I need like, what what's my retirement plan? What's my pension plan. And so I look looked at the army as an opportunity. This was, you know, now we're in the middle of wars. Were fighting both in Afghanistan and Iraq at the time. And it was a chance for someone who's been thinking about foreign policy and and thinking about international relations, it was really an opportunity for me to one provide for my family, but and join a profession that allows me to go do what I'm interested in. It's all conflict, right? Economics or, you know, conflict and competition. You do it with guns, or you do it with dollars, but it's when you really start to think about it. Even Trade conflict, right, you've got a Snickers bar, I want it, you're not going to give me that Snickers bar. But I've got $1, and you want that dollar, if you want that dollar more than one Snickers bar, we've just bargain. And we've figured out how to solve a conflict between the two of us. The same thing applies as you start to go from that micro level. To the macro level, it's probably I probably think about war a little bit differently than most people coming from that kind of economics background. But the other day, it's conflict.
Brock Briggs 22:18
Did you have any beliefs about the war in Afghanistan, the economic relations with Afghanistan, that were drastically changed after you join the army?
Chris Ingram 22:33
No, I don't think so. You know, I certainly looked at Afghanistan as a country, that would be challenging, right. And from an economic standpoint, it meets all the criteria, it was a failed state for a reason. And it wasn't just because of extremist political views. It was a failed state because of its location, you know, the tyranny of geography for Afghanistan. It's been a challenge for them their entire existence. So it has its own development problems that that we weren't going to be able to go in and solve. In some sense, and Afghanistan was where I did, you know, my platoon leader time, it? You know, we were doing the best we could, we were trying to, you know, solve the problem in my little area of operations. But it was it was a deeper problem, I think, then we realized that the country we were getting into we were, you know, a lot of people look at, you know, talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, people kind of look at Afghanistan, sometimes as the right war, right, because we were responding to 911. And Iraq is sort of looked at a little differently. But they're also two very different countries, right. Iraq has, which is a place that I've been fairly recently, but Iraq has fairly solid education level that has a civil, sort of society, and it has bureaucrats and administrators and people who know how to run a government, and it has the resources, and it has better geography a little bit. So it's a different, a different problem set. And that's why yes, there's a lot of problems in Baghdad right now. And they're still fighting or figure out who the next government is going to be. Because of the cultural or other challenges they have, but they haven't they have a much better chance, I think, going forward than Afghanistan does. Just from a development standpoint.
Brock Briggs 24:33
Why did you choose the infantry?
Chris Ingram 24:37
You know, I've asked myself that many times. So there were a couple of things. One, when I joined the army, I knew I was doing it for a living. I there was never a question in my mind when I joined that. I was going to be in for at least 20 years. So I really was kind of playing the long game from the very beginning. I didn't you know, I've had cool jobs. I didn't I didn't join the army to get work experience. So as I looked at what would set me up in the long term, and I knew at the time as well that I wanted to be a strategist. But you can't be a strategist in the army until you make major, there are no jobs for obvious reasons. It's a job that requires some experience. So I looked at infantry as one we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. So I knew as a young officer, my best opportunity to lead would be in an as an infantry officer, as I looked at counterinsurgency and is not thinking about sort of, who makes a difference in that I a lot of people like, Oh, why didn't you go into my intelligence and part of the reason I didn't is because especially as a lieutenant, right, like you're giving people advice as an intelligence officer. But at the end of the day, it's it's infantry officer, or an infantry man who's leading their unit that walks outside the wire and has to make those rapid decisions, that really are the heart of war of conflict. So I felt like being an infantry officer early would give me that experience. And so you know, if you look at the long game of who influences the army, most of the general officers come from combat arms. And so if I'm going to be a strategist, whose job is to advise those individuals that CIB that's on my uniform, brings a little bit of credibility with it. And then that also, I will also say that I come from a family of military. So I am third generation OCS. My grandfather was an infantry officer, he was a platoon leader Battle of the Bulge and a battalion commander. So there was a legacy there that I had kind of grown up around and see, that meant a lot to me.
Brock Briggs 27:00
I'm sure that when you didn't immediately go off to college, and then the army, or vice versa. Like that was probably kind of like a, maybe a little bit of a letdown from your dad and grandpa, like at the beginning, if that was your paternal. But then you like were able to come back just much later on, which I think is really interesting.
Chris Ingram 27:24
My brother and I both I don't know why, but my brother and I, so my parents, my dad. So my dad and my grandfather, both retired, as colonels, my dad never once tried to encourage me to join the military. In fact, when I talked about joining the military, he tried to join the Air Force. So there was never a sense of that. But I do think there was a sense, at least in me, that kind of held that at higher and higher esteem. You know, it's, it's, you know, my hero is my grandfather. So, you know, if we want to be like our heroes, sometimes. That's probably that was probably an underlying reason that I joined.
Brock Briggs 28:07
I'm curious the dynamics of you joining a little bit later. So you joined in 2011. And at this point, you have your doctorate right.
Chris Ingram 28:16
I didn't finish it.
Brock Briggs 28:18
Oh, you didn't finish it? Okay.
Chris Ingram 28:20
Second Lieutenant infantry is not conducive to doing dissertation research. So I timed out. I'm all but dissertation ABD. So it, I paid all that money and learned a good bit about international relations and political science, but don't have the paper to show show anymore.
Brock Briggs 28:41
As a side note, are you able to go back and like do the dissertation to finish it?
Chris Ingram 28:45
No, no, but honestly, in I will get I will go back to school at some point and get a PhD. Most likely, it it's something that a long term as a goal of mine. But going back to that PhD, and to that dissertation, it's kind of passed, right? Both both timewise. I can't go back. But also, as I as I learned more, it probably changes my focus in my area of interest.
Brock Briggs 29:16
How old were you when you joined then?
Chris Ingram 29:19
I turned 32 in basic training.
Brock Briggs 29:22
Oh, wow. Okay, so that that is kind of a dynamic that I want to unpack a little bit. I'm imagining and tried to like put myself in your shoes a little bit here. You're a newly commissioned infantry officer. And I bet, you know that. Probably two personas. We've got the ones right out of school that are trying to like charge ahead and like make decisions because and just be that leader because they feel like they need to and then I imagine that you're probably eager to leave but not just like bossing people for no reason you've got this wealth of knowledge and experience to kind of like back it. Do you think that you were given a different level of credence just because of your your prior experience?
Chris Ingram 30:12
I think the majority helped. I think the background certainly helped. But it also hurt. So infantry as a young man's game. Ranger School is not designed for people that are 30s, which is why I don't have a ranger tab. And so there were some, there were some some absolute challenges that I probably wouldn't have had, if I had gone a branch besides infantry, right. And for many reasons why we expect our infantry officers because of the position that they're in, and the requirements of the job to be very physically fit. It wasn't that I wasn't physically fit. It's just that it's it's different, you know, it's different in your 30s. PT hits a little different. And so, you know, that was a challenge. I think the maturity helped. Even we mentioned sort of doing things backwards, like I, I was an XO before I was a platoon leader I you know, there were there were there are from the very beginning, there were positions that I got put into opportunities, you want to call it that, that I was given based on maturity and based on the level of trust, with my leadership in terms of my judgment, and my ability to think through problems.
Brock Briggs 31:26
Did joining humble you in any way that you didn't expect?
Chris Ingram 31:31
Absolutely, it's hard to go from owning your second home, I think at that point to living in a bay was 40 other dudes and you know, in basic training, like it absolutely is humbling, but in good ways. And then I'll say the same thing. Same thing, or big as big an adventure officers a platoon leader, right? There were there were challenges, but I had that, you know, humility is good for you.
Brock Briggs 31:58
We're gonna get into a little bit of the your love of writing later when we talk about the the Writers Guild, but at what point? Does writing become a meaningful part of your life? Is this point here in the army? Or was it even before?
Chris Ingram 32:17
No. Like the I mentioned before, the first job at the trade deficit Review Commission, like my, my job, my first job out of college was writing a chapter in that report. And, you know, if you think about it, I used to tell my students this when I taught political science, in the foreign policy realm, it doesn't, and this, this probably applies in other jobs, too. But it doesn't matter if you know, something, it doesn't matter if you're right, you have to be able to explain it. And that's, and that comes through oral communication. But also, most of the time it comes in writing, you have to be able to explain the problem, and explain, you know, what you're trying to do or what your recommendation is. And so writing became very important for me early on. Certainly, I was forced very early on to improve my writing, as a form of communication and the social sciences and in foreign policy. And then working in the Senate. You know, I was writing questions. I was writing talking points for a Senator who was getting ready to go on CNN and talk about, you know, why we need to send forces into Iraq. So, you know, got some very early lessons on the importance of writing well, and then took that into the army.
Brock Briggs 33:35
You said that you had the opportunity to be a speech writer, while you were in I'm guessing that your background and, and way with words probably had a way to bring that about, is that right?
Chris Ingram 33:47
Absolutely. And you know, and I'll probably credit some of that to the Writers Guild as well, and sort of that community of writers that that helped me improve, right, the only way you get better at writing is by doing it. And so I've kind of forced myself over time to write things and to think through things and to publish because it really forces you to think through a problem if you think other people are going to read your writing. And so when the the job opportunity came open, they were looking for somebody to be a speechwriter for the commanding general Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, which is our counter ISIS fight there and Iraq and Syria right now. I threw my name in the hat, and it's an interview. And we got selected to go be a speech writer.
Brock Briggs 34:34
What all is involved with being a speech writer, do you just tag along with whoever it is that you're with and just take notes and put together nice things like I tried to like mentally -
Chris Ingram 34:51
I wish it was easy to explain. So the thing about you to remember and again, you know, I had the same experience working in the house in the Senate. When you Start working around people at that level, it becomes very personality driven. Right, the organization of a Senate office is based on the personality of the Senator. Right. So a commanding general staff and what they do and what their roles and functions are. Yes, there's some standards, right? The aide does this, the echo does that the SGS does this. But it really becomes about the person. A speech writer is probably the most so in that case, because a lot of general officers are very comfortable speaking, or a lot of general officers are very comfortable. You know, they don't want talking points going into a meeting. And then there are others who do kind of want to be more deliberate about that process. And so, you know, for instance, going into that position, the previous commanding general did not have didn't use a speechwriter didn't have commanders initiative group, which is usually a small group within the Command General Staff that kind of helps them with engagements and talking points, readouts, you know, coming out of the meeting that then feed into future engagements. So going into the job, I didn't know what I would do. I knew there would be writing involved. I didn't, but you really have to kind of learn on the job. And I've, as soon as I got selected for the position, I reached out, and there's some other speech writers out there that I spoke to, and and they do all you all have different experiences. Some of the keys are yes, you do. You mentioned the following the boss around you have to be in the room. If you want to be able to speech writers job is not to write well, a speech writers job is to write so that the boss is the best version of themselves. It doesn't matter how I want to say something, or how I would communicate it right, you really have to pick up their voice. So that and even their logic sometimes, so that what they're saying, is them. And so you really have to learn your boss being in the room. So as I got picked up for that job, General Calvert, just awesome guy to work for he, he wanted a speech writer, he wanted a sick, so you wanted a commander as a distributor, he wanted people that would help him kind of think through big problems and articulate them very carefully. Because if you think about it's a combined organization, they're a joint task force as well. So you've got a lot of different cultures and a lot of different people you're communicating with every day and, you know, foreign policy, a lot of times comes down to words and comes down to how you say them. And so it's important. So he wanted that. And he brought me in. I was his shadow, for the entire time that I was there traveling around Iraq and Syria. If he was in a meeting, in almost every case, I was in there as well, taking notes, which helps because as you're writing down, what the boss says, you write it down, because he said it 20 times you get pretty, pretty good at what he likes to say.
Brock Briggs 38:12
I'm just picturing like, trying to have to write something through another person's voice, like your, you almost need to like shut down how you think about things and you're needing to use words, and put them together in sentences like the other person, because it's going to be very blatantly obvious if the person is reading something. And it's like, I know that they they didn't even have a hand in reading this beforehand, or somebody handed them a piece of paper. And this doesn't even sound like words that they say.
Chris Ingram 38:47
Yes. And you can the audience, a lot of times the audience can see through that. Right. Yeah. And also becomes uncomfortable for the boss, right? It was uncomfortable for the principle. And in terms of it doesn't come out naturally. So you do have to - I don't I don't communicate the same way general Calvert does. He's a better much better storyteller than I am. But you do you have to think you have to start thinking like the boss. And if you have that close relationship, I had an amazing relationship with him. Certainly a high level of trust that kind of let me be there as a fly on the wall. And you did, you pick up the voice. You have to be deliberate about it. But it's something that if you're in the room, you can do.
Brock Briggs 39:36
I'm sure that you have more maybe more than anybody else, completely understand the power of words and like words on paper and the spoken word as well. What have you learned in your years writing but then also as a speech writer, that would help people articulate and put together their thoughts In a convincing manner, and deliver that in a way that's compelling?
Chris Ingram 40:05
Well, the first thing you have to do is you have to think about your audience. Right? Who are you speaking to? So, you know, power is influence words are the way that we, you know, one of the primary ways we influence people. And you have to know. And this gets back to that discussion earlier about culture, right, you have to understand the motivations, the interests, the culture, of the audience that you're speaking to. Not just the voice of the person who's giving a speech, but also what they say. So it doesn't matter if you're writing a speech or if you're writing an article for a journal, right? It's, it's who is your audience? Who are you trying to influence? What are you trying to change? And who could make those changes? And then how do they receive information?
Brock Briggs 40:55
Do you have any best practices or like a ritual that you would highly endorse to people that I not? A lot of people are writing speeches, surely. But I think that if people put more thought into how they say and how they deliver it, I think that communication would be much more effective. Generally, there's so much misunderstanding in our world, but I was just wondering if there's maybe how you outline things or how you think about going into preparing something?
Chris Ingram 41:28
Well, first thing I'd say is be more organized than me. Well, no, that was something that, especially going into that job, where I knew I was gonna be a note taker, and just taking voluminous notes. Like, I had to, I had to build a system that wasn't natural. It wasn't the way that I take notes, it wasn't the way that that I think there are things but I had to be far more deliberate about being organized, because I'm not, I'm not organized at all. The thing I would say about writing is, you're telling a story. Right. And if you think about writing as a story, you think about the fact that you got to get their attention, you got to kind of show them where you're going, right? You gotta have a plot to your to your writing. So whether it's an essay or a poem, or a thing, there's a plot to it. And where where's that story going?
Brock Briggs 42:26
Think that that intentionality early on, would go a long ways and people just didn't even in everyday conversation with people say it said we misunderstand each other so much. And that results in so much kind of turmoil. Have a couple more questions about your time in the army, and then we can talk a little bit more about writing with the Writers Guild. What do you think were your large takeaways from spending time in Afghanistan?
Chris Ingram 43:00
Probably humanity at all.
Brock Briggs 43:04
What does that mean?
Chris Ingram 43:05
So, you know, we think about, you know, we think about war and conflict, and you know, but when you're there when you're in the middle of it, you think about the face of the seven year old girl is that blown up by an IED in the head to bring into the the outposts and try to treat and try to take care of. It certainly brings home, the humanity and really by humanity, the inhumanity of war. The cost you feel it on such a deeper level, I think that than you would otherwise. Also, the other takeaway I had was that people are people. It's hard sometimes I think there's a tendency for us to kind of think about people differently, but from different cultures, different societies. Like Afghanistan was different. Afghanistan was so different than what we see here in the United States, but at the same time, if you open your eyes, if you listen to the stories, listen to the complaints, if you sat nasura and, and really listen to what they wanted, it was the same, same things we want. They wanted, they wanted to be safe, they wanted to be secure, and they want him to be prosperous. They were put in dilemma that that I've I can't imagine where, you know, they don't know which side of this violent conflict is going to is going to win who's going to you know, and they had a live there. You know, I think back, some of the kids that we would now within probably a lot of them are dead. Probably a lot of them, some of them are probably fighting with the Taliban right now. And, and just that survival instinct, it's really deeply human.
Brock Briggs 45:13
Did you have any takeaways on how you or what you saw a took to be a better soldier?
Chris Ingram 45:22
I think it kind of gets back to that same point, right? I think we have to be tactically proficient. We have to be good at what we do. Right. And that takes a lot of effort. But we also have to understand the why we have to understand the repercussions. And that's hard. There's a lot of a lot of people that went to Afghanistan or Iraq that are still struggling with, with what they saw in some of the decisions they made. And, you know, we we talk sometimes about building more, you know, ethical leaders and building people who are going to think through the moral dilemmas. But the reality is most of us dealt with those things for the first time, after we got there hadn't had to think through things that that we weren't expected to, certainly weren't prepared for.
Brock Briggs 46:25
The military has a funny way of putting you in situations and around things that you never would have expected. Some for the good some for maybe they're not so good. But think that a lot of growth opportunities, that's for sure.
Chris Ingram 46:44
Yes, it is. Yeah, I've certainly learned a lot. I still, today, we had had a conversation earlier today or reflecting back on a moral decision that was made in Afghanistan over 10 years ago. And like that's something that, you know, you learn you grow from?
Brock Briggs 47:04
Doug, one more question about the army. If you had the power to change one Army Regulation today. What would it be and why?
Chris Ingram 47:15
Well, it wasn't raining today, or I would have said, you know, why can't we carry an umbrella and uniform? That's kind of silly. Now, in terms of regulatory I think that I think that we get hung up sometimes on professional. So our image of the professional, is you think about it really based on almost like a 1950s, this is what a soldier looks like, really? Maybe it comes out of World War Two? I don't know. But it's our profession. Right? We own it. And we get to decide and sense what professional is and what it looks like. So I think sometimes when we're having our discussions and debates about uniform regulations, and hair regulations, and that sort of thing, you know, people will fall back on that, well, that doesn't look professional. Well, are you a professional? Right? If you're a professional and the professional arms, professionals police themselves, right, so we kind of get to decide. I think what that is I think I've been very impressed that over the last several years, we've started to make some more common sense decisions, more inclusive decisions about some of those uniform regulations, but I still have some work to do and in my hands feel really comfortable in my pockets, so.
Brock Briggs 48:44
What's been the most common sense regulation that's that's changed in the last couple of years?
Chris Ingram 48:49
Well, the easiest one, it was the ridiculously easiest one was the requirements wear white socks and physical fitness uniform, right? Now you can wear black socks, it'd be okay. You might run out you might run faster. If planning is if you look at a PT formation, and I try to avoid them, but if you look at a PT formation right now, nobody's wearing white socks, like they're all wearing black socks. Right? It didn't cost the army, anything it didn't. But the one that I think it was kind of the most valuable was some of the changes about women and how they wear their hair. You know, it the fact that we expected women to wear their hair in such a way that they looked just like men and the formation, right. So their hair was tightened up and in buns, like it just didn't make sense. And so you know, letting women and trusting women to wear their hair the way they want to I think is I think it was very valuable decision and I think it'll make us a better Army.
Brock Briggs 49:56
That was kind of a surprise to me. There's I think some junior officers in the class next to me, I just went back and started back at school this week. And there's a couple of female officers that are soon to be officers that had their hair like down in a ponytail. And I was like, ah, like that must be, that must be a new thing.
Chris Ingram 50:15
You know, the funny thing, the army sends you to weird places, right? So when the Army was having this debate, a year or so ago, I was in Iraq. And so we were it was a Combined Joint Task Force, right. So we had Italian and we had Stan Nash, we had k and then all these other services. And I actually it kind of caught my attention. And I started taking pictures. But almost every time I got in a helicopter, my door gunner had a ponytail. I was just as safe. Right. Like, and even in the Army, we probably started saying ponytail or elbow but not in combat? Oh, not necessarily. No, she will wear a ponytail. She was hooked in in the back, you know? Because, you know, gunners actually hooked in and she didn't it didn't keep them from doing their jobs. So in the same thing, I, I get a little annoyed on people like, Well, what about beards? Right? Because, you know, we think that if someone else gets something which he gets something to, but, you know, if you look at the Canadian, you look at some of the some of the European military, men who are beards. And it doesn't, it doesn't make them less professional doesn't make them worse at their jobs. At that, I think sometimes we're focusing on the wrong thing. When we define a professional by appearance.
Brock Briggs 51:40
Give me the breakdown on the military Writers Guild. What is it? How are you involved? How did it come to be? Give me the spiel?
Chris Ingram 51:51
So probably about I don't remember exactly when it happened now, probably about seven or eight years ago. It started on Twitter. It started with a group of folks on mil Twitter. They jokingly call them the OG mil Twitter folks. And you know, we a lot of them were they were writing and publishing. But they kind of recognized the need. If you think about it, you go back, especially 10 years ago, there's, there's a stigma about writing, sometimes the military, you know, there's a, there is there is sort of sometimes a sort of anti intellectual bias from an organization that's very focused on combat and muddy boots kind of leadership. So, thinking about the profession writing, it needed that community in need is a community of support, and also a community of practice, right? So the practice kind of helps each other get better, right? And I'll send something off the publication, let's have had two or three other people look at and be like, Yeah, that makes sense. Or yeah, you probably ought to rethink how you said that part online, you know, that third paragraph. Might want to clean that up. So it helps to have that kind of community. And so they they set it up, it started out as a very small group of folks. And then it kind of grew out from there. Because it started on Twitter, it actually went international pretty soon. So we have members in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US, obviously, in the UK, India, as well. So it grew pretty quickly. And now we have years later, we have several 100 members, part of our challenge as an organization, so several years ago, so I've been on the board now for I think 6 years or so. And so we early on, we started to realize, okay, this is growing, it's growing fast. But we needed a structure. We needed a funding mechanism, so we, a few years ago, Gary Klein and I and the other members of the board, put in the work and created a nonprofit organization. And then now we've been working on sort of the bylaws and things we need to do to to really make it a functioning organization. But I've been president here the last four years. It's been a passion for me that we grow a community of practice and their profession because, you know, you're not reflecting and thinking and evolving a profession, and what were the things we do or not thinking about it and writing about it. You know, we can we can talk over beers or you know, all day long, but does that really get change? And so some of the things that come out from that, I can we can point to some members of The Guild had done some writing that have started to change the discussion within the profession and that's been pretty awesome to watch.
Brock Briggs 54:57
Your guys's mission statement from The website, I think that this is really powerful. They exist to gather writers committed to the development of the profession of arms through the exchange of ideas in the written medium, to foster a strong peer ecosystem focused on writing about military affairs, through our ability to advocate collaborate and promote.
Chris Ingram 55:23
Yeah, that's, that's really kind of drum drawn, driven us from the very beginning. Rverybody's got a story to tell. Right? Probably good idea. There's some great ideas about how to fix our Army or Air Force or, and there's also some further ideas about learning why we do the things we do or, or, or how we can cope with the things I think certainly, you know, as the wars kind of drew on, you're seeing a lot of folks who are using writing, frankly, as therapy, either because they need to tell their story and get it out, or they need to cope with it. We wouldn't have we wouldn't have Lord of the Rings of somebody that wasn't dealing with some very deep issues coming out of World War One that they need to think about, and deep ways. So writing sometimes can be therapy as well.
Brock Briggs 56:19
it's incredibly therapeutic. And you've kind of alluded to this a few times, but it really forces you to think through something. Over my experiences with writing, I've found that I will kind of have an idea about how I think something is or like an experience that I had or something that I observe. And then I will go to write about it and I will be a couple lines into it or a paragraph and be like, Oh, that's actually not what I think is at all like that, in fact, is completely the opposite of what this is.
Chris Ingram 56:58
No words matter. And, you know, we I don't know, maybe it's because of cognitive issues, or what sometimes when you, you see your own words and writing. One is you're forming the words and forming the sentences and the paragraphs in the argument, you have to really think about the argument and think about what it is. And sometimes when you see it in writing, you're right, you're like, Oh, that's not what I meant. Or, in this is where the sharing it matters. So, you know, I may have an idea about something. And I might think that I've argued for it well, or laid it out pretty clearly because it makes sense to me, but then you share it with someone else and all of a sudden, either one, they bring in a new perspective. Or two, they don't see it the way you explained it. And so you have to go back and clean it up and either take in their perspective or explain in a way that makes sense, someone is not occupying that chaos inside your mind. Because we all think differently.
Brock Briggs 58:00
It humbles you in more ways than one. I think when you talk to people who are consistent writers, either in private or publicly, there's something that is unique about that person that they're trying to better themselves in some way. And I think that that's really admirable and like critical to our own self development.
Chris Ingram 58:26
It's still unknown, and some people don't even publish write journals, diaries. If you think about your diary, as a teenager, it was to help you cope was to help you think through challenges that you're facing. And as adults, we carry around green notebooks. And so we sort of look more professional and I call them diaries, but that's what they are. They're the place where we write down our thoughts and our ideas. And then as we reflect on them, sometimes we think maybe there's something we're sharing with others.
Brock Briggs 59:00
How many members do you have in the guild and what do you think the value is that's offered to people who are a part of it?
Chris Ingram 59:10
Both are tough questions. One is because I can't remember off the top of my head, we have several, several 100 members. The value one is tougher. I see the benefits, I see some of the work that's coming out of our members and some of the collaboration. We certainly amplify, you know, I forget how many followers we have now on Twitter, but we have quite a few. So as our members write articles or books, or whatever, we try to help them share their ideas with other people by amplifying it by retweeting or sharing it. So I think that's probably if you think about it from very rational perspective, that's one of the benefits. But then the collaboration I think, is the biggest. So if you look at, over the last several years, there have been several anthologies that have come out with multiple writers and a lot of cases, they're members of the Writers Guild who know each other through the guild. And so, sometimes, you know, it's hard to say, oh, yeah, that book came out, because they're in the guild. Every time I see an edited book come out of military writing, I go out and take a look at the authors, the contributing authorss and most of the time there's, there's a handful of Writers Guild members. And so I hope that in some way we've helped connect to those writers.
Brock Briggs 1:00:40
What do you think the future of the guild looks like? Where would you like to see it in the next five or 10 years?
Chris Ingram 1:00:49
So where we are right now, you know, establishing the nonprofit and trying to one of the things that the board has been talking a lot about is sort of that value proposition question you just raised right. At some point, we're probably going to have, it's right now and membership is free. And the only way we raise money, frankly, is through like Amazon smile, which you can donate to a nonprofit through that doesn't cost you anything. So Amazon can save money on taxes. But at some point, we'll probably we'll go to some sort of dues paying membership. And that's probably going to cut our membership, right. That's why now when you ask the question, How many members do we have? Well, we have a whole bunch of members because people have asked to be in at some point. But because we don't require dues, we don't there's nothing that no mechanism related to like, weed people out over time, that may or may not be participants and setting the dues dues will kind of change that. But I don't want to start having dues until there's a value proposition until people are saying, yeah, this is absolutely worth that. And I think part of that is improving our methods for collaboration. I think part of that is improving our outreach and our advocacy. So if you look at, you know, writing workshops, those sorts of things. There are some ways now is we kind of evolved and look at like this conversation we're having right now, you know, you can do that through zoom and through other other means, because we are such a distributed organization. But I think, I think growing that part, I think that recognitions, so I think there's there's absolutely some value in organizations that recognize, you know, the best journal article, or the best poem, or the best, whatever that came out this year, and the military and military writing, I think that's something that at some point is an organization we'll probably go into, but that takes money. And it's hard for an organization, it's all nonprofit, and also all volunteer. Nobody on our board, or nobody in our organization is paid anything, in fact, like being on the board probably cost money, because we tend to be the ones that pay for some of those subscriptions, and some of those things that help us work that overhead to help us help us do things. But that's where I see it going.
Brock Briggs 1:03:12
I don't think that you need to sell me on the value of writing and what that does for an individual, but for somebody that's maybe wanting to get started writing, and maybe is convinced of the value but struggles getting started making it a habit or staying consistent with it. Have you found anything that's helpful for overcoming now that hump?
Chris Ingram 1:03:42
So we did a an anthology here couple years ago called Why We write and we brought in, it's edited by a couple of folks are on the board of the Writers Guild, and I wrote the introductory chapter, but we brought it in, I think it's like 40 authors who wrote a chapter on why they do what they do. What struck me, I wasn't sure, who's gonna read a book about why we write. They all had a different story. Right, they all had a different reason for doing it, you start to see some themes, you start to see, this desire to share things they thought about or ideas they have. But even in the way they wrote their chapters. So we let we just say, hey, send us a chapter why you right. Some of them wrote as a science fiction story, right? Like, literally, like made it a story. And others wrote it very differently. So there's a variety. You know, for every person, there's a story and for every story, there's a way to write. I think you have to think about what's your story, think about what matters to you and that changes over time. If you look at the handful of things that I've written publicly have written more behind the scenes that I have publicly, but if you look at some of the things that I post, some of them, they're on some random topics, because that was something that at the time I was thinking about, and and while it was worth sharing.
Brock Briggs 1:05:13
One thing that I find consistent with most regular writers is that they're actually avid readers as well. So, correct me if I'm wrong on that, I'm guessing that you read a fair amount. Have you read anything recently? Or would you recommend anything for people to check out?
Chris Ingram 1:05:32
So, yes, I read a lot. And unusually, and I found this to be true to most avid readers are not reading one book at a time. So I typically will have three or four books that I'm working at at a given time, and whatever the mood or the medium. So I also read books in different ways. So you know, there are books that are on my nightstand or books that that, you know, are in my backpack, when I go to school, there are books that are at work, and there's also I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Because if I'm running or walking, or in the gym, or driving in my car, it's an opportunity to learn. I tend to read also in different groups. So I will, I will tend to be reading some things about my job, or usually about my next job. So I'm the kind of person that if I find out my next job is going to be in Europe, which is going to where it's actually where I'm going next. I've, I'm reading data in front of me, I got four books that I've read here in the last couple of weeks, actually one that I just started, like Putin's People, by Katherine Belden, Active Measures by Thomas Read, the Russian Understanding of War by Johnson, which is really good way of thinking about how Russians are thinking about war. And then that drove me to another book Strategia, which is a translation of some sort of key strategic thinkers and Russia, because I'm really trying to wrap my head around why Russia does what it does, and what, how, why do they think about things the way they do think about things because I think good. Then I'm also reading something, I also usually try to read stuff to make me a better person and kind of fill some gaps. So I'll be honest, last book I just finished was A epic biography of Frederick Douglass. That was sort of a part of our history that I'm a little bit less familiar with. But also he's a he's a great writer, and orrator. And so that kind of drew me to him and I really enjoyed it because frankly, the prose matched the story in a sense that the author did such a good job, not just of highlighting how well Frederick Douglass wrote and spoke, but also, historically. I thought the author did a good job of sort of matching that that capability because and that's a tough one. I don't think I could write about another writer. You've got to you got to be writing, when you got a long quote from them, you got to the rest of your your own writing has to match that, that quality. So I enjoyed that. But I enjoy biographies. I heard a general officer one time was asked what books to read on leadership. And the first thing he said was, if it's a book on leadership, don't read it. It was read biographies. Look at people that you admire, that got through adversity and see how they did it. And I think biographies give us a deeper understanding of sort of how to lead and, and also humanity of people. You know, Frederick Douglass wasn't perfect. For some, some parts of his life that were that were challenging. The same could be said of Eisenhower or Grant, or Sherman. And also, people fail. Right? People have a hard time to look at Eisenhower's jobs leading up to the position that he was in. A lot of look like dead end jobs, those dead end jobs made him uniquely suited to the job that he later got. Grant failed. Grant failed a lot early in his life. But I think those failures probably led to his success. As we look at our own life, and you know, I've got my share of failures as well, some of which we talked about today, but, you know, failing isn't it isn't the end and in some states some ways it makes you makes you better for something down the road and you never know what that's going to be.
Brock Briggs 1:09:52
Do you have any closing thoughts for anybody, I guess, current service or former that would help me If I'm a better soldier?
Chris Ingram 1:10:02
I'm going to tell them to write. For the reasons we say helps you think about it. I would also say write about what you know. So, if you're a platoon leader write about being a platoon leader. I'm a strategist now. So I'm gonna start writing about strategy. But there is something about your experience, there's something about your job where you are something you've done, that's worth sharing with others. And as you think through that experience, you think through that, put the effort reflection that it takes to put it in writing, and then to share it with others and get that feedback that comes from that, that will make you a better soldier. It'll make you a better officer or enlisted or whatever it is, you are, but it will make you - I think it'll make you a better professional.
Brock Briggs 1:10:55
Chris, I'm really thankful that you took the time to chat with me today. Where can people go if they want to learn more about you connect with you, any kind of social media you want to plug or anything like that?
Chris Ingram 1:11:07
Yes, the easiest place to find me is on Twitter @chrisgngram. The military Writers Guild is @milwritersguild. On Twitter. We also have a Facebook account for the military Writers Guild, you can find us there. And and I look forward to I look forward to engaging with folks I enjoy the conversations. Twitter, people talk about Twitter, Twitter is writing too. If you look at some of the conversations and some of the things that people have that it forces you to think and concise. You definitely gets an immediate feedback on that writing. So I enjoy I enjoy the dialogue there and look forward to chatting with folks. The thing, the thing I tell people about Twitter today, because I hear a lot of officers, they are not on social media. Twitter is full of crap. And a Twitter is like life. Where you end up depends on who you follow. Like you can curate a feed of intellectuals. The thing that surprised me about it is the number of writers, journalists, think tank, senior administration officials - there's a lot of people that are currently, you know, very high positions in in the administration that are on Twitter, officially that frankly, they were on Twitter a few years ago unofficially and that dialogue and that discussion. Twitter makes me smarter every day. But that really does go back to who I follow. And that's if your Twitter feed is full of crap, and maybe it's a reflection of who you follow.
Brock Briggs 1:12:40
This has been a really compelling conversation. Chris, thank you so much for your time.
Chris Ingram 1:12:44
Thank you. I enjoyed it.