Army colonel in Afghanistan fired for criticizing PowerPoint

The Upshot
mock powerpoint slide distributed by frustrated officers in iraq

In Afghanistan, loose lips sink careers, it seems: First, commanding general Stanley McChrystal got the boot for speaking too freely about his Commander in Chief. And now NATO has fired a colonel serving as a staff officer in Afghanistan for daring to criticize the most important tool we have in the fight against insurgents: PowerPoint.

Wired's Spencer Ackerman reports that Col. Lawrence Sellin, a 61-year-old Army reservist, has been dismissed from his post in headquarters with NATO's  International Security Assistance  Force less than 48 hours after he published an op-ed, via UPI, complaining that the "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." Sellin clearly anticipated that his tirade, which NATO says he didn't clear for publication in advance, would serve as a resignation letter. It opened with, "Throughout my career I have been known to walk that fine line between good taste and unemployment. I see no reason to change that now. Consider the following therapeutic." He went on to excoriate the meaningless, self-serving, metastasizing military bureaucracy that holds sway in Afghanistan and justifies its existence via PowerPoint slide: "Little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well."

Sellin was fired for failing to get permission to publish the op-ed in advance. But he told Ackerman that he'd tried, and failed, to get someone in the chain of command to listen to his concerns about the bureaucracy. "Sellin says he tried to send a critique up the chain before he typed out his UPI piece," Ackerman wrote. "He gave his superiors a briefing on 'proven organizational methodologies' to streamline IJC, but it went nowhere. 'It was only my rant that everyone read,' he says. 'My hope is that after they stop being angry at me, maybe they will take a serious look at how they operate.' "

Sellin isn't the first officer to lament the over-reliance on PowerPoint in the military. Last year, retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes wrote in Armed Forces Journal that the application is "actively hostile to thoughtful decision-making" and "has fundamentally changed [military] culture by altering the expectations of who makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they make them." The PowerPoint slide above is from an actual presentation created by a Special Forces soldier serving in Iraq — it was designed both to brief superiors on counterinsurgency strategy and to mock the military's love affair with clip-art and bullet points.