27 January, 2008

Interviewing the Big Guys

Last Friday I had the surprising experience of interviewing--in my capacity as a "Denizenne" of The Castle--the 3rd Infantry Division Chief of Staff, direct from Baghdad.

As I understand it, 3rd ID is reaching out to bloggers and other independent media at a more engaged and detailed level than the blogger roundtables that the Office of the Secretary of Defense facilitates. It is an ongoing process, with selected bloggers receiving repeated, one-on-one interview time with individuals in leadership positions. Finding myself involved in this is somewhat shocking, but I'm very glad to have the opportunity (next week I will interview the Division CSM).

The interview with the CoS was extremely educational, both in direct content and in time spent preparing. It was interesting to interact with someone in Iraq right now who can see things from from a "forest-level" perspective rather then the anecdotal level we get through deployed bloggers (entertaining and invaluable/irreplaceable though those milbloggers are).

I don't want to read too much into the CoS' comments, but there were two moments in the interview that jumped out at me, times when he seemed particularly passionate about what he was saying. The first was when he was talking about the evil (his word--said after a hesitation, as if he wasn't sure he should use it, but then he said it with emphasis) that is killing Iraqi "families, women and children." The second was when he spoke of his "appreciation" for Iraqis' courage and determination, which came from living among them during his previous deployment to Iraq. That admiration also came through in his excitement in reporting how much the Iraqis had been involved with Ashura security.

If I may be so bold... He may have a desk jockey job, but underneath it all I'm betting he's still a front-line soldier--it's obvious where his heart is, where he'd rather be, and how much he believes in the nobility of the mission. It's encouraging to find a warrior's heart in such a high administrative position. [And it's great to see senior officers these days are starting to have had at least one "boots on the ground" wartime deployment before they move up. The senior generals are still from the peacetime military, of course, but it's good to see experienced guys moving up the ranks like this.]

He was a challenging interview for someone like me, and I don't think I'd want to sit down and have a drink with him. But I came away with a great deal of respect for him.

Lessons learned?

1) Prepare more questions. I thought I had more than an hour's worth, but I was wrong because most of his answers were quite succinct. We were fine until I ran out of questions and tried to make 'em up on the fly--asked a couple of stupid ones, and he sounded irritated by them. However, it couldn't have been too bad because they've invited me back. ;)

2) Ask more more open-ended/general questions. Even though I asked very few yes/no questions, looking back on it, I think my questions were still a little too specific at times (leading to his shorter answers).

3) Relax. I was so focused on sounding competent and professional that I never relaxed enough to find the right words to truly break the ice.

It was a challenging interview, all the way around. Hopefully I'll be able to improve in the next one.