Colonel takes shots at PowerPoint, ISAF in new rant


A military PowerPoint presentation in its natural habitat. (Photo by Greg Vojtko/Navy)

In April, a New York Times piece on the U.S. military’s PowerPoint culture generated a fair amount of buzz, especially considering it included a simple, cutting indictment from Gen. James Mattis, then-commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

The military still relies heavily on PowerPoint presentations, however. And while that may never change, one Army colonel assigned to an International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, has had enough. His brutal critique of military culture is burning up the Web today after being published by the UPI news service. An excerpt:

For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general’s thought processes as abruptly as a computer system’s blue screen of death.
The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn’t matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.
Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.

First things first: How long will the author, Col. Lawrence Sellin, have a job in Afghanistan. Does he even care? There’s nothing better than taking a verbal blow torch to your command publicly to punch an early ticket home, I suppose.

Fellow Military Times blogger Phil Ewing suggests on Scoop Deck that Sellin is “Burning down the PowerPoint palace,” which seems fair. Spencer Ackerman wonders on Danger Room if the momentum might be shifting, now that Mattis, the new head of U.S. Central Command, and a few other known PowerPoint haters have moved into positions of authority over the Afghanistan war.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. Yeah the Colonel will probably get chewed out and maybe even fired, but who cares? He made a Star Trek reference!


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