“Operation Pineapple Express”
Featuring Scott Mann
Intro: Welcome to Profiles In Prosperity, the leading podcast for residential service contractors, sponsored by Service Roundtable and hosted by David Heimer.
David Heimer: Hi, this is David Heimer. Before we get into our podcast, I have two short announcements. First, I am really proud to welcome our very first podcast sponsor, Daikin Comfort Technologies. I’ve always been a fan of Daikin Goodman and Amana, so it’s particularly gratifying to have them sponsor us. Among my long list of reasons to like them is this. Have you ever had a tour of their HVAC manufacturing facility outside of Houston? If not, you should go. It’s totally amazing. And get this, it’s the largest HVAC manufacturing facility in the world, and they build it right here in the USA. Isn’t that awesome? So big welcome to Daikin Comfort Technologies, and thank you for being our sponsor. Secondly, for the first time ever, I’m not doing this podcast interview. Instead, Pete Danielson, who is our VP of market development, is doing this interview with Scott Mann. And Scott Mann is our keynote speaker at Service World Expo 2022. It’s a great interview. You’re going to love it. And I’m looking forward to seeing all of you at Service World Expo.
Pete Danielson: Welcome to the show. This is Pete Danielson sitting in for David Heimer. Our special guest today is retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, a former Green Beret. Welcome to the show, Colonel.
Scott Mann: Thanks, Pete. Good to see you.
Pete Danielson: And can I start by saying, may I call you Scott?
Scott Mann: Please, please do.
Pete Danielson: Since we are friends and I felt like I needed to ask for permission, but I felt like it would be more comfortable to go that way. Is that alright?
Scott Mann: Yeah, I’m flattered, but absolutely.
Pete Danielson: So Scott is, and I’m proud to say, I just looked at Amazon, the bestselling author of Operation Pineapple Express, the new book outlining the evacuation and all of the problems in Afghanistan. And he’s also the closing keynote speaker at this years’ Service World next month, October, in Tampa. So first, I just want to say congratulations on the book. It’s truly outstanding. I read it, it’s fantastic. It took me through the full range of motions. It made me think, it made me laugh and it made me cry. And I can tell you, more than once, I got chills. So what I wanted to do is give you the opportunity to tell the audience, tell us about the book, tell us what you want to know about the book, and then we’ll go into some questions. Is that good?
Scott Mann: Yeah. And I really appreciate you diving into the book the way you did. The fact that you, and I don’t know if you’ve said this yet, but the fact that you listened to it while reading it, because I read the audio book for the audience, really means so much. And like you said, it is immersive. I wrote the book because I wanted to help Americans connect more deeply to these Afghan allies that we really haven’t seen a lot about, particularly in the last year, and the veterans who supported them. I wanted Americans to have the opportunity to really hear the story from each of these characters. What does a promise mean to you and how far would you go to honoring? Because I just feel like there’s so much in the stories about honoring a promise that Americans really resonate with, and certainly the people in Service Nation and how much just their leadership ethic and the way they raised their children. It’s all the stuff that you’ve taught your kids, and seeing it on display when our institutional leadership failed.
So that’s what you’re going to see. It’s a street level, gut punch level account of the fall of Afghanistan told through the lens of the Afghans and the veterans who supported them and who guided them through the streets and the sewage canals. And at the end, there is an opportunity to go bigger and think about, well, what does this mean to us? But I really focus on the storytelling, Pete, and in fact, I tell it in third person, I don’t do first person, here’s what I was thinking or here’s what I did. It’s more about looking through the lens of these other characters. So I think that’s what the reader’s going to come away with, is just a hard-hitting account of what really happened at a street level.
Pete Danielson: Yeah, I thought it was interesting that you chose to do it third party, because obviously, you know, I knew it was you writing it and so I was listening and reading it and kind of taking yourself out of Scott and mentioning Scott in third party, I thought was an interesting way to view it. And it did give dimension to that character.
Scott Mann: Right, right. And I just wanted to be another character. I did not want to be like the central protagonist in the story. And that means a lot to me because we had 20 years to be the central protagonist in the story and we didn’t get it done. And I felt like the real heroes in this story were those Afghan commandos, those Afghan Special Forces, the female Afghans who risked everything and then the veterans, right? And so Simon and Schuster, when I initially presented this approach, they were like, what? Really? I told them, I said, if I can tell this in third person, I think it’s going to read like a movie. And I think it did.
Pete Danielson: I do too. And I could almost see the movie coming together as I was listening to it and reading it. Some things that stood out that I wanted to have you comment on for me was the way Special Forces built teams in foreign lands was with an eternal promise, and this is in quotes, I have your back. And I thought that was just at the crux of this story as honoring a promise. Talk to me a little bit about what that means to you, to the military and also what does it mean to the business community to have that kind of faith in your business partners, your leaders? What does that mean?
Scott Mann: First of all, Green Berets are taught, at a fundamental level, when you’re going through the Green Beret qualification course, they actually put you in a role playing scenario where you’re working with indigenous people in a fictional country called Pineland in North Carolina. It covers five counties. And all of the local residents that live in those counties in North Carolina are role players. And they play the role of gorillas or insurgents, auxiliary members. So like a subway sandwich shop owner by day drives a cattle truck at night and moves insurgents around the battlefield. It’s the largest role playing exercise in the world. And Green Berets, you have to go in there and you have to build these relationships with all of these different participants and these different constituents. And it’s all around social capital, it’s all around trust, it’s all around rapport. Because reality is, you don’t have any authority over these people. They could kill you in a heartbeat.
But humans, we’ve learned since 1952 of doing this kind of work, are social creatures. Everything we do in life, it’s our only true superpower, is that we’re social. We are actually wired to connect with each other. And if we pay attention to that and we do the art and science of it, there’s no ceiling for what you can do. If you’re good at relationships and they’re authentic, you can create strategic outcomes like crazy. And if you don’t believe me, look at pineapple. We started with a handful of veterans and a few active duty guys. We had no authority, no budget, no money, only our cell phones, and we got 700 people out, right? And most of them, commandos, and even the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The reality is it was the relationship, Pete, that made that happen.
So when you translate that into, okay, what does that mean in the business world? Well, we’re remarkably similar. You know, what works in life and death works even better in life and business. Because we’re all wired the same way. We’re social creatures. You build trust. For example, if you want to really thrive in the next pandemic or the next crisis, you’ve got to start building trust right now. You build relationships and trust when risk is low, you leverage it when risk is high. So for example, when everything fell apart on August 15th last year, we leveraged the trust of commandos and Special Forces over the phone saying, I know they’re beating your wife right now, but I need you to trust me that if you go 20 more meters, you are free. Now you think about that a second.
Pete Danielson: I know, gosh.
Scott Mann: But that trust, Pete, was built back in 2010, right? In a different place, different time. It’s no different in the business world. We build trust when risk is low, we leverage it when risk is high.
Pete Danielson: I took another quote out of the book and it feeds right into this. And it said that when you first went over there, was it 2004?
Scott Mann: Yep. That was my first trip.
Pete Danielson: Yeah. And I think you wrote in the book, it said that you were full of anger, but you learned over time, and this is the quote I believe, local village engagement was the most effective strategy. Bullets sometimes were still a necessity, but tea was often better ammunition.
Scott Mann: It’s true. Isn’t that true in life though? I mean, if you think about it, coercion, landing on the other party, particularly in the work that your folks do with everything that’s going on with the supply chain issues and the economy, you’re constantly dealing with tension filled situations. And everybody’s in an elevated state of emotional temperature. And so if your default is to land on the other party, is to be coercive, all you do is you deal with conflict and we know, as Ivan Terrill says in his book, the Human Givens, anger makes us stupid. By that, I mean, it reduces our higher intelligence functions for perspective and connection. We can’t achieve the kind of things we’re capable of achieving. Again, you all’s line of work, that’s everything. This notion of local approaches, key relationships, connections. There’s always a place for coercion, we have to do it, but it should be the exception and not the rule.
I learned that the hard way in Afghanistan. The last thing I would say on this is like, some people might be going, oh, that’s some Kumbaya stuff. Well, okay, but we were Green Berets. And so like, we had a license to kill and we killed a lot. My ranger buddy was killed in the Pentagon on 9/11. And I spent quite a few years trying to get payback, and I got a lot. And it didn’t do anything. In fact, it put me in a huge disadvantage with the local people. And it was only when I got back to my roots, relationships, trust, rapport, and doing it when risk was low, that’s when I started to see strategic outcomes. And I never forgot that. And again, I had every reason to be coercive and a full reign to do it. And it didn’t work at all.
Pete Danielson: That’s really interesting to be able to say, you know, hey, I tried it. I had, if you will, authority to do it, and it didn’t work.
Scott Mann: Didn’t work, didn’t work. And it doesn’t work. I mean, all you do, really, in those situations is you create a social insurgent to your goals. You might even win whatever it is that you do where you land on the other party and you feel like you’ve got your say or whatever. They’re coming back, they’re going to roll a grenade in the room. Guaranteed. Because that’s human nature.
Pete Danielson: You know, it’s funny, as we’re on this topic, you know, I was paying attention to some of your interviews that you’ve been doing, and I wrote down some of the words that I was hearing over and over and over again. Relationships, trust, connections, honor, promise, partners. And I thought, all of these really do fit into the business world. Obviously what you do in the military world, or what you did do in the military world in saving people during this operation, it all fits, speaks to what you were saying about how we’re social animals and how we thrive on these things. And this is the only thing that is universal.
Scott Mann: It’s so true. And Pete, you and I were talking when we were last together in Louisville. And I have to tell you, this was going on, this stuff was raging. The stuff that’s in that book was happening at that time. I remember being in the room with so many of your people. I have to tell you man, it helped me. It helped me just level out, it helped me find my feet, it helped me realize how much good there is in the world with the people that were in that room and the support. And they didn’t even know what I was going through. They knew some, but I mean, you didn’t even know, right? Now you read the book now and you’re like, whoa. But what I want to say is this, everything I talked about at that event, everything that you and I are going to talk about going forward at the next event is exactly what I did and what those Green Berets did in that book, it is no different. It is no different.
Because at the end of the day, when it’s hard, when it’s hard to lead people, and when people are upset or they’re distracted, we follow the leaders who know how to connect with other humans, who relate to our pain and who are relevant to our goals, that’s who we follow. And my old man taught me that a long time ago, Green Beret sergeants taught me how to do it for a living. But I’m telling you, with the kind of work that you all do, and so many of these businesses of you all are family owned, like, you know this, like, you know this to be true. You’ve lived it. But what I’m saying is the more complex it gets, the harder it gets, the more we’ve got to get back to that, because that’s what’s going to make it through. And it’s what got me through pineapple.
Pete Danielson: You know, you mentioned pineapple a couple times. I want to circle back and tell the audience about the origin of the name. And can you tell them about Nazam?
Scott Mann: Yeah. Nazam was a great friend of mine, is a great friend of mine who was an Afghan commando, he was Afghan special forces, and he even attended our US Special Forces course. Lost his father when he was just a few months old. His dad was a mujahedeen, he was killed by the Soviets. His house was bombed, his mom was sold into slavery, his stepfather couldn’t stand him. So he was made to sleep in the barn until he was 11 and he ran away from home. And then he joined the Army at 17, put on a pair of women’s high heel shoes so he could pass the height requirements. Never looked back. He had lived a life of struggle, so he was well suited for the commandos and Special Forces. I met him when he was maybe 18 years old, we were doing these village programs.
And I just immediately took an affinity to the young man. Mentored him over the years. When I got out in 2013, we stayed in touch, we stayed in contact. And then he started contacting me early summer of last year because his special immigration visa had languished. The Taliban were sending him text threats, telling him they were coming for him. And he was hiding in his uncle’s house in Kabul with no way out. And so that, for me, was what began this whole process, was that I knew nobody else was coming. And how I responded to this collapse in Afghanistan and my own mental health was directly tied to whether this young man lived or died, to be quite honest. And so we formed a little team and we tried to help him move through the city and be his eyes and ears.
And ultimately, we got him to a point where he was close to the wire to get in, but Marines wouldn’t let him in because he had no paperwork. And we ended up calling a diplomat in the State Department to gain entry for him. Told him the story very quickly about how he was a Green Beret, he had been shot through the face defending US forces. And the diplomat said, well, you know, I was a Green Beret before I was a diplomat, got to take care of our own. Tell him to say pineapple. And so we were screaming to him to say that. And you know, Nazam’s the kind of guy that he’s a very, hopefully you’ll get to meet him, he’s very level-headed and he’s very unassuming. He doesn’t like to make a scene. Very, very proper. And so rather than screaming out pineapple, like they’re about to throw him out of the fence, he walks over to this bearded operator and he says, sir, I am the pineapple.
And the galaxian is like, you’re the pineapple? And he’s like, I’m the pineapple. And he’s like, good, just walk right down that corridor and get on your flight. That’s how we became task force pineapple. And, you know, the memes were flying at that point. It was never planned. And the irony in all of this, Pete, is that a lot of times I think in life when, you know, the things that we most remember, the things that we’re the most proud of were the things that we were the most afraid of and that we had no intention of doing. And pineapple was definitely one of them, including the name.
Pete Danielson: That was one of the moments that I actually laughed out loud, imagining, you know, the situation as you just described it, and the tension and you guys screaming, yell pineapple to anyone and everyone, get on the table. And he just calmly walks over and says, sir, I am the pineapple. And the Marine had to chuckle, but it worked and got him out of there. And I noticed in the story that that was a turning point for you when he was talking to you over the phone and through communications. And he was worried for his life and you assured him, I’m going to get you out. And I noticed it felt like, in the book, that was a turning point for you when it went from something to a promise.
Scott Mann: Yeah. And I was kind of mad at myself when I did it because I made a promise. I said, I promise you we’re going to get you out of there. And I got off the phone, I was like, dude, what are you doing? Like, you just made a promise that like, how are you even going to remotely keep this? Because honest to god, Pete, I thought I was talking to a dead man walking. I did not think there was any way that he was going to get out of there. I mean, honestly, there was just, I don’t know if you can see the board behind me here, but that’s the course of action sketch that I walked into this office and turned the music up loud and threw this thing on the board because I was so frustrated that there was no option.
So I did what I had known how to do when I was a military officer and I sketched it. And typically, when you do a plan like this, it’s a very simple, you know, you start with point of origin and then you go, I think you can probably see USA there where he ends up. But typically, you come up with one or two strategic obstacles that you’re dealing with, right? And those are written in red. You can see how many strategic obstacles were part of this plan. Like, it was almost impossible. Every single thing from getting him out of his safe house, across the city, through the checkpoints, through the wire, onto a plane, the paperwork, it was all just like, there was nothing. I just kind of think that’s the world we live in these days. We live in such a time of complexity that we scratch our heads and we wonder how in the world am I going to get through this? But I really believe once I started to write that on the board, I started to feel better. I got it out of my head. And I believe that movement and meaning are inextricably linked. Once we start to move towards the problem, it starts to lose its power over us.
Pete Danielson: And I think you probably started to see a path forward, right?
Scott Mann: Right. I mean, at least I knew what the problems were and I could articulate the problems. And then as I started to talk about the problems, for example, one of the things was how are we going to get him across the city? And I was talking to my friend Bashier, who’s also an Afghan, who I helped get over here earlier. And he said, oh, well my father has a driver that has a cab and we can get him in that. And for him it was like, it’s not a problem. But it was a huge problem for me. Yeah. And I just think that’s kind of how it goes, right? I mean, the more we open the aperture and get the right people around the problem, they’re players, again, it loses its power. And that’s what happened with Pineapple. You had these amazing volunteers who knew nobody else was coming and they were very talented, very experienced, but most of all, they were super focused and there were no egos. It was all about honoring a promise and everybody playing to their unique ability. And it was the coolest thing to witness.
Pete Danielson: It really came through loud and clear through the book about just how many people were involved, and how many people played key roles in getting this done. This was not a one man or a two man operation. This, I think you said at some point, it got up to over one hundred, right?
Scott Mann: Well over one hundred people. And there were other volunteer groups that were doing similar things and got even more people out. And what I will tell you, for me, the biggest lesson for me as a leader was knowing when to let go and let someone else lead, which was most of the time. I mean, most of the time, these younger Green Berets and Seals were far better at the technology, they’d been in the country more recently than me, and just learning how to be their cheerleader, learning how to just root for them, advocate for them, and let them shine. Let them do what they do and not worrying about credit or any of that crap. Just take care of them and give them what they need. And man, they were magnificent. They were just magnificent. And it’s probably, for me, one of the things I’m proudest of was being able to tell their story.
Pete Danielson: That’s excellent. I mean, I can imagine that that’s going to be part of your closing keynote of being able to have talented people and letting them do it, setting them up for success, getting them prepared to accomplish great things.
Scott Mann: Well, you and I have talked about this, like how many times? And I know you look at it the same way. It’s just, we talk a lot about trust in our people and we talk about empowering them and all of this, but then when it’s time to do it, when it gets real, you know, it’s not always easy to do, it’s not always easy to let go. It’s a control thing, particularly when it’s your business. In this situation, I can tell you right now, if I’d tried to lead some of those things to include the establishment of the Pineapple Express, that Underground Railroad, it would not have worked. It would’ve failed.
Pete Danielson: And just a reminder to everybody listening, the book is Operation Pineapple Express. You can get it just about everywhere. It’s an outstanding read. And I was just reading some reviews. It’s getting really great reviews. I mean, there’s a lot of people that are commenting it’s a great read, it opens your eyes. Well, similar to what I said, it strikes a lot of emotion, makes you think. One thing I wanted to get to, and I thought it was a big moment in the book that probably no one else is going to ask you about, but I did have the pleasure of meeting your father. Your father, and in fact, I’ll probably let you tell the story about how your father gave you support. I would like you to tell the story and I’d like you to say, what did that mean to you?
Scott Mann: You know, I really did not want to get involved in any of this, if I’m being super candid. I had my own mental health issues coming out of the war, and it took me a long time to put a lot of that stuff behind me and find my way again. And I was well on my way to doing that when all of this happened. I left the Army for a reason. I loved the army, but I did not like the careerism and where it was going and didn’t like the strategy in Afghanistan, I felt it was going to lead to this. That’s why I wrote the play. So I mean, I was cool to help Nazam get his visa, and then when he became trapped, I was cool to help my friend. But then when it got to the point, Pete, where we were being asked to scale up, we were being asked, hey, the government’s not coming, can you keep these groups intact? Can you help the commandos stay alive? And it was like a scale of hundreds and then thousands.
And I kept saying to myself, and I was at my dad’s and my mom’s house in Kentucky at the time, and I just kept saying to myself, you know, the government should be doing this. The State Department should be doing this, the Department of Defense. This is not the job of a 53 year old storyteller. Like, even though I was in SF, I’m not your number one draft pick for personnel extraction. And I got a phone call from one of our guys called James With The Hat, and really iconic Green Beret. And he was like, Scott, this thing’s a dumpster fire man. You’ve got to take control. And I was trying to rule by committee at that point and not be, you know, Colonel Mann and all this.
And he was like, if you don’t, I’m out. I’m not sticking around for this. And a couple other calls happened and it was just nuts in my stomach and I just don’t want to do this. And I could feel my dad sitting in the corner and I’m not kidding you, Pete, every time I would get on a call, my dad would just sit there and just smile at me and not say a word. He would just sit there. One, two in the morning, I’m talking to people and he would just sit there. And he’s 78, he’s had two bouts of cancer, he’s had a stroke, he was a wildland firefighter. He ran into the smoke when everybody ran out for 43 years. So I’m sitting there and I just remember thinking, man, I don’t want to do this. Like, I’m going to get somebody killed.
And I just remember dad just said to me, it was the only time he really spoke. He said, Scotty, you know what you have to do here. If you’re on the wrong side of this, you will never forgive yourself. In that moment, I mean, I felt like a five-year-old kid again, you know, who was just trying to decide whether or not to do the right thing. And I was so grateful to have my dad tell me what it was. Because I didn’t know, you know? I mean, that’s been the hardest thing about all of this, is like, you got families that are being beaten and their kids are being trampled. But they asked you, they’re like, Mr. Scott, what are we supposed to do? What do we do? And you’re like, I’m not equipped for this. I’m not the right person for this.
But my dad reminded me that I was. He reminded me that I was, and nobody else was coming. And that, for me, was probably one of the most special things, was that I was so grateful, because I know so many people listening to this, their dads are not around anymore, their mom’s not around anymore. I just said a silent prayer and I was so grateful that my dad was there to guide me in that moment. Because it was a moment of weakness, I’m not going to lie. And he had my back in that moment and I never looked back after that. I was super clear.
Pete Danielson: Yeah. I felt like that was a real important moment. Even though it wasn’t a big part of the book, I thought it was very important. And I thought, God, what if your dad didn’t support you? What would’ve that done? And I can’t speak for your dad, but I can only assume that he just is oozing with pride of his son. So I wanted to give you that compliment and give you that congratulations.
Scott Mann: He’s been my ranger buddy all the way through the book writing and all of it. You know, he’s unbelievable.
Pete Danielson: I was going to ask you that. Upon reflection, what lessons have you learned that would apply not only to that operation, but kind of bringing it back, what lessons did you learn for business, for our families, for us being citizens?
Scott Mann: I would say there’s a couple of things that I learned, is first of all, in this day and age, if we’re waiting for somebody from the top to come fix it, they aren’t coming. You know, self-reliant leadership has never been more important than it is today. And that’s not to say that we’re in anarchy, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the reality is, when’s the last time, honestly, that you woke up in the morning and said, man, thank God for Washington, DC. My life is so much better. For the most part, that’s just not our reality. The fact of the matter is the things that we are facing in our life, in our business, in our families, nobody’s coming. We have to step into the arena and lead. That’s number one. I would say the second thing is, we need to remember that when it gets hard, our kids are watching this.
Our kids are watching us to see what we do. And, you know, I didn’t put this in the book, but someone asked me like, why did you decide to get involved the way that you did? What was it, really? And honestly, I remember having this conversation with my wife, Monty. I said, our boys are watching me right now. Our boys are watching exactly to see what I do. That, for me, was everything. I was at a moment where I’ve told them what to do all their lives, now I have a chance to show them. So that’s, I think, to remember that when we are behaving the way we behave in the world these days, our kids are watching this. They’re taking a page from what we do. And then the final thing I would say is you don’t need a title to lead.
You don’t need a title, you don’t need permission. Most people are rudderless these days. They’re disappointed with what’s in front of them. They’re disengaged, they’re distracted, and they’re looking and they’re hungry for someone who’s authentic, who just is relatable to their pain and relevant to their goals, and who is willing to step into the arena and lead and be accountable for what’s going on and just own it. I mean, I never knew what the hell I was doing and I still don’t. I felt like I was out over my skis every single day, I still do. I just don’t think that’s part of leadership. Vulnerability is being okay with not knowing what’s going to happen and just still moving forward. We don’t need titles to lead. We can be very, very effective without a title if we are inwardly sound and others focused, as Tim Spiker says.
Pete Danielson: Well, I am super excited to see you in Tampa next month. And I think, you know, you’re going to have so much perspective, so much depth in delivering the keynote to the audience, to be able to talk about lessons learned, applications for being a better father, as you just outlined, a better person, a better citizen, better leader, building connections post pandemic when we were all isolated, and now, how do you come back together with trust and connection? I’m just really looking forward to the keynote in Tampa. And again, I’ll do a reminder for everyone, it’s October 18th to the 21st in Tampa. If you want to come see Scott, he’s going to be doing a great keynote and he’s going to be signing the book “Operation Pineapple Express.” So please buy the book. Please come. I will have books there if you don’t already have your own copy. So we look forward to seeing people. One kind of final question, where is Nazam now?
Scott Mann: He’s like two miles down the road from me. The promise that I made him in that moment was, you’re going to be my neighbor if you’ll just stay alive. So he is. He moved just down the road over here in FishHawk. I see him all the time. His kids are in school, they’re all under the age of 11. He has his GED now, he has his driver’s license. Just had a great job interview, it’s looking really good. Yeah. He’s still got a long way to go. They’ve been through a lot of trauma. But he’s an amazing, amazing young man. He’s going to be a great citizen, he’s going to be a great leader. I’m really glad he’s here.
Pete Danielson: Well, I am too. And you did it. You kept your promise and you got him to be your neighbor just like you said. I know he’s eternally grateful. We’re eternally grateful for you, for what you do for the country, what you do for our show and our keynote and our businesses. I’m proud of you. And I’m proud to call you my friend. Humphey Scott at Service World next month, I can tell you it will change your life. I’ve seen him a few times, it’s changed my life. So Scott, if you would just stay on for a second, I’m going to say goodbye to our audience. And I want to say I appreciate you so much and thanks again and congratulations on the book, much success.
Scott Mann: Thanks so much. We’ll see everybody there.
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