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04 July 2007

They also serve, who only stand and wait

We have noted that there are a good many fine analysts and officers who come into this latest contremps rather late in the game. Most are in the process of proving themselves, daily and quietly, in a dozen different areas of the community. But many remember St. Crispin’s Day speech – especially on the occasion of our own national holidays, and count themselves less a part of the enterprise of the Long War than their companions who have seen it through since the dark days of September, and in harm’s way on strange foreign shores.

To this we hope our collective experiences in combat and in crisis will weigh enough to carry our admonition against such thoughts. We spare no words for those who have not had the stomach for the fight – who turned away when their chance came to step forward, or who deliberately chose the coward’s path. But for those whose skills and abilities lie in the vaults far to the rear in reachback, or those who have sought deployments but been given lonely outposts far from the core of the current conflict, we would extend our hope that they find stillness. Their hour may well yet come.

We recall the World War II story of a briefer for the Special Operations Executive, whose responsibility it was to instruct deploying officers and agents in the use of their assigned communications and code techniques. This was typically the final briefing given before clandestine insertion into enemy territory. On this particular day, he was assigned to give an extremely unusual group presentation to a large body of men, who would be tasked to direct action missions in support of SOE’s mandate to “set Europe ablaze”(a mission also shared by their sister service, the American Office of Strategic Services, who had contributed men to the group.) These men had been in training for what seemed an eternity, and were eager to join the fight. They had seen others come and gone from the schoolhouse – to unknown fates in Occupied Europe, or to return: harrowed, but covered in the glory of deeds of unimaginable courage and effect.

Their briefer gave them the final line of this poem as his own admonishment, in order that they might not hold their service so cheaply. They would go on to become among the most successful group of paramilitary operations officers in history, under the codename Jedburgh. And they would always remember their briefer, whose contributions to their survival were no less important than the men with whom they fought on those dark nights in the deep woods and mountains of France.

We would offer the same final line today, for the same reasons. There are future Jeds out there, and before this Long War is over we will need them most.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait

Milton (On His Blindness)

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