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Lt. Col. Nathan Finney

Some readers of ARMY magazine will have written a history of their time in a unit, whether formally or just by capturing thoughts and notes in a green notebook as part of daily life in uniform. From time to time, some leaders, especially those in unusual situations, get the opportunity for such reflections to be published. Green Light, Go!: The Story of an Army Start Up is the tale of one of those situations.

The book is the personal story of then-Lt. Col. David Rowland, commander of a new battalion in a new security force assistance brigade (SFAB). Throughout his book, Rowland details the challenges and successes of creating this special military unit from scratch, a relatively infrequent opportunity for a commander.

The main thrust of Rowland’s argument is that the creation of his unit was akin to an entrepreneur building a startup, requiring the characteristics and spirit typically found in technologists or businesspeople in Silicon Valley—including curiosity, adaptability, self-motivation, tenacity and comfort with failure.

Undoubtedly, creating a unit from scratch for a new mission requires different leadership skills than a more typical command, but Rowland’s overemphasis on equating this to startup culture sometimes distracts from the otherwise compelling narrative found in Green Light, Go! That said, this approach could appeal to those in uniform who at times treasure leadership lessons from popular business literature (even though those lessons are often gleaned from military leaders in the first place).

Green Light, Go! is organized into three parts. The first part addresses the mission to stand up the 1st Battalion of the 5th SFAB, which would focus on peacetime activities in the Indo-Pacific and recruiting the right personnel for that mission. The second part details the training and preparation for deployment into the theater and the challenges of creating buy-in for the mission. The third part of the book covers the execution of the battalion’s mission in select countries in the Indo-Pacific and the effects of its actions.

Additionally, Rowland’s introduction is a great summation of why and how the Army established the SFABs. This section is written clearly and at a level that will be of significant value to historians and those who are generally interested in the subject, yet who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Army institution.

The greatest insight from Green Light, Go! is how the unit appeared to be a solution in search of a problem. Rowland details the work required just to get buy-in from those the SFAB was designed to support—including geographic combatant commands, U.S. country teams and partner-nation militaries.

Despite pushback in the theater (which sometimes led the author to come across as knowing better than the foreign national and U.S. military leadership at levels above the SFAB), Rowland’s team appears to have been successful in countries that were the easiest to enter or eager for support, versus those of most strategic importance to defense or national interests.

However, looking at the mission and importance of the 5th SFAB today in the Indo-Pacific, the work done by Rowland and his team undoubtedly set the foundation for increasing relevance over time.

Green Light, Go! is a quick read and would be useful for captains preparing to go into command, majors bound for operations officer or executive officer jobs, and lieutenant colonels preparing for battalion command. Rowland’s insights help frame possible command challenges and approaches to overcome them, allowing the reader to think through their own solutions before meeting such obstacles.

Lt. Col. Nathan Finney is a special assistant to the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Camp Smith, Hawaii. Previously, he was a U.S. Army Goodpaster Scholar at Duke University, North Carolina. He is a founder of The Strategy Bridge, the Military Writers Guild and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. He holds a doctorate in history from Duke.