It was a busy week for America’s military, what with airstrikes on ISIS camps in Libya early on, and then again in Syria and Iraq.

Watching the inauguration on TV, I heard a passing reference to the second attack — which had happened just the day before — in the form of a comment on America’s impressive military “reach,” which I took to mean being able to strike in two areas, both far away.

It got me to thinking beyond military purposes to broader foreign policy.  In the context of not-entirely-random acts of kindness, what is America’s reach? I might reasonably check with the children and grandchildren of the immediate beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after WWII. Or I could talk to the recipients of America’s foreign aid spending in the developing world over the years. America hardly has a perfect record (whatever that might be), but it has an impressive reach in nonmilitary terms, nonetheless.

It got me to thinking beyond national efforts to my own. In the context of random acts of kindness or the ripples-in-a-pond impact model, what is my reach? I thought of my slightly scattered charitable giving over the decades: donations to a jumble of medical, environmental, disaster relief, and international development efforts. Hardly focused, but at least some reach, nonetheless.

Somewhere in the midst of these warm and admittedly fuzzy thoughts, I got to thinking about whether my plain-language understanding of “reach” was correct, in a military context. A bit of poking around with Google showed me that, as usual, I had the general concept, but not all the nuance.

“The distance and duration
across which a unit can successfully employ military capabilities.”

Official definition of the United States Department of Defense
military term “operational reach.”

Oh. Distance and duration.

As hard as it is to strike at all, it’s that much harder at a distance. As hard as it is to strike once, it’s that much harder to keep it up. And let’s not even talk about how hard it is to strike at a distance, repeatedly.

Operational reach is a concept that brings the logistics of war into high relief. It neatly explains why so much of WWII was spent getting ready to launch D-Day: putting in place the resources, human and otherwise, and the protected supply lines that would give the Allies the operational reach they needed after hitting the beaches. That would enable them to strike, at a distance, repeatedly.

Now, I have little occasion to liberate Europe or to employ my decidedly nonmilitary capabilities in any military mission, and likely you don’t either, so what’s my point? I’m glad you asked. Just this.

Operational reach is a useful concept for thinking about, and participating in, any public policy discussion (if such there might be) about Canada’s military missions. About how many we can sustain and how far from home, whether at one time or one right after the other. About what we want by way of operational reach in a military context, and the resources required, human and otherwise.

Operational reach can be a useful personal concept, too, reminding me to think about the distance and duration across which I can successfully employ my capabilities.

To think about what I can achieve close to home, and what I can achieve outside my community.

About what I can do once, and what I can do repeatedly.

About what I can do and what I cannot.

And about what I must do to be ready to do even the little that I can.


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10 Responses to Reach

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    You final lines sound a little like the Serenity prayer — paraphrased: to do what I can, to know what I can’t do, and to recognize the difference. Reinhold Niebuhr probably never thought it would be applied to military operations, charitable giving, or dealing with Donald Trump.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Well, I guess it’s all one, in a sense – we have a “reach” in all our endeavours, even if we don’t think about it like that. The hard thing I think is to assess it realistically – not to overstate what we do (or can do/maintain) nor to underestimate it either.

  2. Reach is local. What 3-4 million people (in America alone) did yesterday was stepping outside to make their peaceful “boots on the ground” resonate. I am comforted and cheered, knowing I am not alone.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Having overcome distance, now like-minded folks must deal with the duration aspect, I guess. I think that’s even harder.

  3. My nephew had a full University scholarship through the ROTC in California, but declined it when he learned about the middle-east drone deportment done from bases in Arizona. Talk about “reach”…

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – It’s good to see connections – in this case, between the folks paying for your education and what they might expect of you later. I think people with good hearts might make different choices about that connection – but you gotta see it.

  4. Tom Watson says:

    My hope is that someday, somehow, people of this earth will understand “reach” in the context of reaching out to each other in attempts to find the better way to get along.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – I think we can vote for that. Finding a way to improve the duration of our efforts will be key.

  5. Thank you, Tom. This weekend my “reach” for teaching people about the role of the ears in health and healing extends to a doctor in Pakistan and a computer engineer in India. I assume I am communicating with a Muslim and a Hindu. I am a Christian. A few weeks ago, I had a vision of a book with a red cover, but it had no title. Today, one of those young men had a title for the book: A New Earth. He has already grasped through his personal experience of a healing music therapy the potential I see in music to create more rational people across the entire globe. Humans have the potential and the means to change their aggressive and defensive mind sets. The Women’s Marches yesterday were a testament to that hope. And we can meet it with new understanding of what drives human behavior and a practical method for improving it.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I’m all for more rationality, pretty much in every area of life. And the inter(net)-connectedness we have available to us these days can allow us to extend our reach in ways even our parents could never have dreamt of. We just have to do the work to make use of it.

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