Dave Dilegge, 1956-2020

The founder of Small Wars Journal passed Saturday.

Sad news for those in the defense and national security community, as one of the pioneers of milblogging has left us far too soon.

Military Times (“Dave Dilegge, the ‘grandfather of urban warfare studies,’ has died“):

For Dave Dilegge, the days usually started at 3 a.m. as he began to scour the internet for the latest military and national security news he’d compile for Small Wars Journal.

The website was a must-read for anyone interested in urban warfare, counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense, support and stability operations, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and “many flavors of intervention.”

Over the years, Dilegge and publisher Bill Nagle, “put in thousands of dollars and thousands of hours” to the journal,” he told me back in 2012 when I wrote a story about him for the late, great Tampa Tribune. He told me they rarely make much — if any — money.

“It is a labor of love,” he said at the time.

Dilegge may not have struck it rich, but Small Wars Journal helped change the way future military leaders are taught.

“The Small Wars Journal has been an invaluable resource as the U.S. military struggled to understand and prevail in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an expert on counterinsurgency who helped write the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual used in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in an interview at the time.

Sadly, Dilegge’s long days are now are over.

On Saturday, Dilegge, 63, died at his home in Largo, Florida. The cause is yet undetermined, said his family, but coronavirus is not suspected.

“His loss is already being felt by many but his legacy will live on and will surely inspire so many to think critically, write, and share their ideas and experiences, which I think is all Dave would ever ask for,” said Dave Maxwell, a retired Special Forces colonel, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Small Wars Journal board member.

“He was certainly a thought leader,” retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former defense secretary, said in an email Wednesday morning.


Shortly after graduating Frostburg with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology, Dilegge joined the United States Marine Corps “marking the start of a prominent career that brought him much recognition, fulfillment and pride.”

During his time with the Marines, Dilegge served with the 1st Marine Division during Operation Desert Storm and earned the Combat Action Ribbon during an Iraqi counterattack in the Burgan Oil Field. He was a retired USMCR Intelligence and Counterintelligence / HUMINT officer, as well as a Marine civilian intelligence analyst who worked several years in the private sector.

He retired from the Marine Reserve as a major in 1998 and in 1999 he was the recipient of the National Military Intelligence Association’s Colonel Donald G. Cook Award for his work in supporting the Marine Corps and the Defense Department’s urban operations analysis, wargaming and experimentation.

In the mid-’90s, as the Marine Corps began looking at the way war was fought in urban environments, Dilegge volunteered to help lead its efforts on the intelligence side. There was so much interest in what he was finding out that Dilegge created a homepage for something called Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain.

That led him to create the Urban Operations Journal, which morphed in 2005 into the Small Wars Journal, a nod to the Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual for fighting local insurgencies.

SWJ quickly gained traction as a must-read source for daily news and commentary and Dilegge gained wide recognition as not only a font of knowledge, but someone who cultivated and nurtured some of the best minds in the business.

Friends and acquaintances have been reporting on his passing via social media the last couple of days but this is the first confirmation in the press. An obituary page is now available at the funeral home and a brief announcement has been posted at SWJ.

I don’t believe I ever met Dave but was a regular reader of the site for a number of years. As noted in the Military Times report and by many I follow on Twitter, SWJ gave a lot of now-prominent defense intellectuals their start, publishing their writing when they were too junior or too far afield from currrent thinking in their community to get published elsewhere.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:


  2. Kingdaddy says:

    As a former regular reader of SWJ, I’m very sad to hear about his passing.

  3. Tim says:

    I’m sorry to hear about his passing. I have certainly been a fan of his work at SWJ and, until reading the article, I was unaware we were the same age and that he was a graduate of Frostburg State. I grew up just down the road from Frostburg and many of my high school friends attended school there during the same time frame. I’ve already heard from a few who knew him then, but were unaware of his accomplishments.