Thursday, December 01, 2022

Galrahn ... Rest in Peace

Life is short, and people are few.

That little cornerstone was pointed out to me yesterday when I found out that Raymond Pritchett, AKA "Galrahn" passed away last week.

How do you remember a friend and colleague who passes away too early? Everyone has there own way, mine is to tell a story. Here an outline of the Raymond I got to know.

I got to know him like most listeners here did - via the maritime natsec online community. Raymond and I used to have fun talking about "the early days" and that is where I'd like to start the story, as in this corner of the world, that is how we got to know Raymond.

While everyone is online and communicating via a huge constellation of methods today, the first phase where in addition to many of you, Raymond and I (unknowingly at the time) used to communicate was in Phase-1 of the online navalist community; bulletin boards, forums, and chat rooms. In the early 1990s through the early 2000's that is all there pretty much was. 

There was a community though, and in some ways it was a better community. Everyone had an online name they went by, that is where Galrahn came from. I ran under a variety of names, but the ethos of that era is where "CDR Salamander" came from. 

When Raymond and I first met face to face a dozen years ago, we pulled that thread for awhile until we realized we had actually been exchanging ideas for a long time, well before we both started blogging.

Yes, blogging. 

For those who were not there, milblogging in the early years was a surprisingly small space. I started in the summer of 2004 after being inspired by places such as National Review's The Corner and John Donovan's Castle Argghhh!!!

Plus or minus a year from when I started there was a Navy presence in the online discussion space. There was the late Neptunus Lex, Steeljaw Scribe, The Stupid Will Be Punished, Skippy-San, Boston Maggie, EagleOne, and a few others. It was a free wheeling place and we communicated and occasionally collaborated with each other. There was no social media churn like you see today. There was us and our comments sections; that was it.

Looking back at it, we all were writing for roughly the same reasons - it was a hobby and we did not care to rely on traditional institutional structures to get our ideas out there - if they would facilitate it at all. We would bounce in to each others comments sections, link to each other's posts ... it was a new place to exchange ideas and discuss topics we did not think were getting discussed properly.

That was Phase-2, and right in the juicy middle of Phase-2 was when Raymond came onboard with his blog, "Information Dissemination" (ID) in 2007 and we all started to get to know him.

ID started simple, but then quickly grew. ID grew fast and for all the right reasons. Raymond was good, clear, direct. He then brought on other writers who to this day represent some of the best thinking in navalist circles. 

That is a key part of Raymond's legacy. He knew this wasn't a zero sum game. More voices need space to come forward, to work around the barriers, filters, and warping nature of traditional institutions who dominated the discussion space. 

His sharp critique and tight arguments are why when you found yourself in disagreement with him, you had to pay attention. At the end of the day, you may remain in disagreement, but Raymond helped you better understand an opposing view, and as such, better refine your oppositional view to his. All without rancor ... if he saw you as an honest player. Bad actors or grifters? He did not suffer them all that well.

I spent last night reviewing the ID archives to where he commented on my writings and then in the CDR Salamander archives to where I mentioned his. It had me nodding my head, smiling on occasion, but more than anything else missing that phase. As a sidenote, in 2012 Wired had a nice overview of the rise of ID.

We then came to Phase-3; the podcast/social media expansion. A few months after I left active duty in 2009 I started to think about the possibility to take advantage of the growth of bandwidth that might present the opportunity to have a "radio show" without having access to a radio. Audio recordings were nothing new online, but at that time "podcast" was not the term of art or that common. In to the space came our friend Claude Berube who saw the same opportunity and thought that Raymond, EagleOne, and I should have a talk show. I had not thought of doing a group show - and without Claude's push may have never gone solo - but I could think of nothing better than spending an hour with two individuals I've communicated with for years and had the greatest respect for.

If you dig in to the Midrats archive's first year, there's "Galrahn" as our third co-host. Of course, life gets busy, and with work and a growing family of young'uns, weekend time became a premium. Raymond had to drop, but we managed to bring him back for an anniversary show in 2016. In 5-weeks we celebrate our 13th anniversary of a show that Raymond helped create. 

2016 is roughly where Phase-4 started and Raymond was not "out there" as much as we selfishly wanted him to be, but playing in the maritime natsec space was a hobby. He had a serious job and a big family ... but he was always there if you dropped him a line.

That was probably for the best. Phase-4 saw the closing of the Navy's mind in a way. Not a byproduct of, but in sympathy with, the rise of twitter - things started to get nasty. Senior leadership became more distant. PAO's who used to reach out on a regular basis, now were hard to get a word from ... for everyone. The Navy's information ecosystem is a more distracted, paranoid, and toxic environment - right at a time where it needs more ideas, more openness, and smart minds like Raymond's to face the challenges west of Wake. That revival, if it comes, will not have Raymond's help.

The last few years, Raymond and I would drop an email, send a DM, or like we did last in March of this year, tweet back and forth to each other - but that was it. We all think we have more time. Of course, he knew he was sick, but I didn't know. I wouldn't think someone almost a decade younger than I am would go so early. None of us in this space knew.

I last saw Raymond in person last almost exactly five years ago at NAVYCON One. As in San Diego the previous time, Raymond may not have been a Sailor, but he could hang with them. With an interesting gaggle of folks who many of you would recognize, we haunted the Annapolis pubs until closing. We all had the honor of meeting one of Raymond's daughters who was there I think to keep dad out of trouble. It was five years ago, but I still smile at our conversation and good company.

I'll miss him for two reasons; professionally I hoped he would find an opportunity to rejoin the conversation with vigor when work and family would allow; personally I was looking forward to an opportunity once again to spend an evening of good food and good drinks with a good man.

If you never met Raymond in person, take time to watch his presentation. I think he'd be honored if you would, a screenshot of it was his twitter profile.

This is where I'd like to make a point I've brought up to many in the past. Raymond started ID when he was 32. Didn't even have a Navy background and was always a great person to point to in order to tell people they aren't too young or too inexperienced to be a good thinker and share those ideas.

He was on the short list for me to point to whenever the usual suspects would bring credentialism-based barriers in the face of people bringing ideas forward. Look who listened to Raymond - and that defines the man. Ideas and character matter, not your CV.

Credentialism: those who care the most about credentials seem to know the least; those who care the least about credentials seem to learn the most.

We all learned a lot from Raymond.

For those who never got a chance to know Raymond in person, here is what I took away from three occasions covering a half dozen days we broke bread and shared drinks from San Diego to DC; he was funny. He loved, more than anything else, his family; he loved our Navy; he was self-deprecating, to a fault; he was welcomingly direct with his opinions of himself, you, and others; he was rough on those who deserved it, but understanding of everyone else, and exceptionally nice ... with a sly smirk when he decided someone needed to be poked in the rib.

He left too early. Selfishly, I wish I knew he was sick - but if he wanted others to know, he would have let us know. He was, in the end, a private man - and I respect that. He left us as we knew him; his own man on his own terms. 

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