23 October 2010

4 June 2009

Due to a DOD directive banning military personnel from accessing Wikileaks, I cannot post or link to the site.  However, viewing any of the reports will give you the gist of what they look like.  Take that into consideration, then juxtapose it with an account from someone who has served in Iraq.

Here is the email I sent to friends and family following the events of that day.  I am not saying that the U.S. military has never done anything wrong or bad during the 6 years of conflict in Iraq.  But to think that these Wikileaks reports mean anything when isolated from their surrounding context is naive and stupid.  I mean that: stupid.  If you have not served in Iraq or Afghanistan, then you have no idea what happens on a daily basis there.  Not even the kinetic fighting.  Just the whole experience.


5 JUN 09: Red Dragon soldier killed in action
1 message
XXXXXXXXXXX Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 2:18 PM

To: (((OMITTED)))

Will probably be another 24 to 48 hours before this hits the tiny blurbs these types of things are typically relegated to in the papers, but I figured I'd beat 'em to the punch.
Obviously, I'm okay (since I'm writing this email to y'all).  Yesterday, 4 JUN 09, our battalion lost another soldier in the line of duty.  I'll refrain from putting the name out until I see it in the papers.  The soldier was not in my battery, but was in another battery in our battalion.
The soldier had been injured about a month ago in an attack (I did the investigation on it), and had just been awarded the Purple Heart for those injuries by the battalion commander during an awards ceremony last Friday.
I'll wait a bit before I put out the play-by-play, but it basically boils down to this: my platoon was in the north when Golf Company's platoon was hit.  We responded, took command and control of the scene (basically my platoon, plus two other platoons from different batteries), and ended up conducting massive searches around the attack area.
Managing a mixed-unit cordon, while battling equipment failures, namely a dead radio and a dead Blueforce Tracker (the screen with icons overlayed on a map which shows you where all of your friendly units are at), while searching for people who just killed an American soldier in four different parts of the city (up to 5 houses in each search area) was definitely a challenge.
What would've been a routine 6-hour patrol turned into a 12-and-a-half hour marathon, but in the end, my soldiers performed magnificently.  They were able to react and respond to an unknown, rapidly changing situation, and facilitated the capture of insurgents who killed one of our brothers in arms.  They did everything I asked of them, even when shit got chaotic, and I could not be more proud to be their platoon leader.
In the end, despite the outstanding effort put out by the battalion yesterday, nothing changes the fact that another soldier is dead.  When we heard the radio transmission, "Soldier died of wounds," I found myself not paralyzed by fear, sadness or even anger.  I don't think any of us did.  Maybe it's because we already experienced tragedy closer to home -- maybe because it was a soldier from another unit.  I don't know.  I don't know if those are the "right" feelings to feel or not.  Maybe SSG Webster's death drained me (emotionally) so completely that my platoon and I were able to drive on while units around us were running around in circles.
What I do know is that we all did feel a sense of determination, and all understood the fact that each passing moment gave the enemy an opportunity to get further away.  Everyone pulled together at exactly the right moment, and got the mission done, even in the face of tragedy.
Ultimately, it's been a crazy 24 hours.  I've received a couple of packages and letters, and I will write some individual responses once I get a moment to breathe!!
As always, love and miss you all.

I don't say this to sound superior.  It's a reality check for anyone that wants to judge me or my soldiers based on internet documents released by a company who has chased sensationalism and their own political agenda.  Before you judge me or anyone else, you better answer the following questions.  Then judge all you want.

Do you know what it's like to walk down a crowded market with less than eight dismounted soldiers, days after the same market saw IEDs and VBIEDs?  Do you know what it's like to have that godawful feeling in your stomach, that something is going to happen today?  Do you know what it's like to step out of your humvee and feel that blast of 120-degree heat, and the rivulets of sweat instantly breaking out and dripping down the small of your back underneath your body armor?  Do you know what it's like to smell the remains of human beings hours after they were blown up a suicide-vest bomber -- do you know what chunks of people smells like after they've baked in the sun for several hours?  Do you know what a person looks like after he has been killed by a VBIED and his entire body is charred black except for the intermittent streaks of red and yellow (fat)?  Do you know what it's like to wonder if this time that you leave the FOB will be the last?  Will this be the last time you brush your thumb against the selector switch on your M4 before a sniper takes you out?  Will this be the last time you key the hand-mic on your radio before your truck is destroyed by a deep-buried IED or EFP?  Will last night's phone call be the last time you hear the voice on the other end before your MRAP rolls over on some shitty mud road, killing you and everyone else inside?  Do you know?

25 April 2009

Due to a DOD directive banning military personnel from accessing Wikileaks, I cannot post or link to the site.  However, viewing any of the reports will give you the gist of what they look like.  Take that into consideration, then juxtapose it with an account from someone who has served in Iraq.

Below is the email I sent to my friends and family regarding the events of that day.  I challenge you tell me how the Wikileaks document tells the full story.


26 APRIL 2009

XXXXX Sat, May 2, 2009 at 4:54 PM

To: (((OMITTED)))

I originally drafted this email on the 26th, but couldn't send it due to the communications blackout (no emails/calls in or out until next of kin notified...)  The blackout was lifted on the 27th, but we've been busy here, and I haven't had a chance to mail y'all until now...  I want to thank you all for the words of sympathy and encouragement I have received. 
It would have been easier for me to simply not write this email...to hide the raw emotions from y'all.  But the whole point of these emails was to let you in to see what it was like.  I promised you a genuine look at our side of the fight, and here it is.
I kept trying to figure out how I was going to phrase my opening remarks to this email...but nothing eloquent comes to mind.
On 25 April 2009, Thunder Battery lost a member of our family.  SGT Leroy O. Webster was killed in the line of duty.  He was a TC (truck commander) for 3rd Platoon (my sister platoon).  Both 3rd and 4th Platoons (my platoon) were part of the same artillery platoon back at Hood.  SGT Webster was one of my gun chiefs, and I consider myself blessed to have served with him.
It's been more than 24 hours since he died, but I think everyone is still in a state of shock, myself included.
It was late afternoon, and my platoon had just returned to the FOB after completing our patrol.  After refueling the trucks, we headed to the chow hall.  On our way in, we monitored radio traffic from 3rd Platoon: they had a WIA (wounded in action), and were rushing back to the FOB.
My platoon immediately staged the trucks in the parking lot to the chow hall -- not bothering to return to the CP because the FOB gate is closer to the chow hall.  "Send two guys per truck to grab to-go plates, then everyone back here and prepare to roll out."
I called up to battery, and told them that I was standing my platoon up to serve as a QRF (quick reaction force) if necessary.  As we sat there, more details came in over the radio.  SGT Webster had been hit in the shoulder by a sniper shot.  We had no other information.
My initial reactions were anger that someone out there had hurt one of our own.  None of us thought the worst.  We figured SGT Webster would quickly recover, and within a few days, be wandering around mouthing off with his usual wisecracks.
As our guys finished eating, I briefed them on what little information we had: a grid coordinate of where the sniper attack occurred, and a couple of suspect vehicle descriptions.  In the trucks, we have this thing called blueforce tracker (BFT): it's basically a map with icons showing where friendly units are.  Battalion had dropped a green icon at the scene of the attack, and I found myself sitting in my truck, door open, headset on, listening to the radio and staring at the green cone on the screen...waiting for the words "Thunder 46, you are clear to SP FOB and move to following grid..."
Those words never came.  As I was waiting for permission to take my platoon out there, my medic came up to my door.  He was sliding his cellphone into his pocket.  I turned to look at him, pulling one earpiece of my headset away from my head.  I was expecting an update.
"Webster's dead."
I didn't believe him.  I looked at Doc, and said, "You're shitting me."  He shook his head and continued to look at me through his sunglasses.  I looked forward, and put my head in my hand, in shock.
Then, Doc did something that I will always thank him for.  He leaned in, and said, "The guys don't know.  Keep it together, sir."  That was all I needed.
We were still in QRF, and there was still a possibility that we would have to roll out into sector.  I spoke to my platoon sergeant, and we agreed we would not tell the guys until we were fully stood down.  The next hour and a half was perhaps the hardest I've ever experienced: forcing myself to control my emotions, to not let them show.  Trying to focus on the possible mission at hand.  Convincing myself that keeping the knowledge of SGT Webster's death from the guys for the time being was the right decision...
The call to send my platoon out never came.  We parked the trucks back on line, and then I rounded up my platoon so that the commander and first sergeant could talk to them.  At this point, some of the guys (the veterans of previous tours) probably had an idea of what was coming.
The news hit them like a ton of bricks.  The older guys who deployed with Webster last time around broke down and sobbed openly.  All I could do was grit my teeth and clench my jaw.  All I wanted to do was drop to my knees, put my arms around each of them, and cry with them.  But I couldn't.  I had to wait.  The battle NCO (who I work with on a daily basis) came up to me later when we were alone and said, "Sir, I know this is hitting you hard.  As hard as its hitting me.  But everyone here, from the lowest joe on up sees you as the rock of the battery -- they need you to be strong.  At least right now."  Just his words nearly broke me down.  I took advantage of the private moment between both of us to let some of it out before recomposing myself and going back to be with the soldiers.
The entire battery assembled at the CP.  Soldiers were sitting on the ground out front, heads in their hands.  Others were staring off into space, trying to comprehend the loss of one of the battery's largest personalities.  Others sat against the building, heads back, looking up into the night sky, tears rolling down their cheeks.
Late that evening was the ramp ceremony.  The entire battalion, and elements from the brigade as well as the Air Force folks showed up at the airfield to say our final goodbye to SGT Webster in person.  We all assembled in a neat formation.  The guidons and flags were flapping in the wind, and we stood and watched and wept as SGT Webster's flag-draped casket was carefully walked down the aisle between formations and placed in the back of a cargo plane.  It had been hours since I learned of SGT Webster's death, and I couldn't hold it in anymore.  I let the tears flow as we stood there at attention, holding our slow salutes as he passed us and got on the bird to go home back to his family.
Later on, I sat down with my roommate and fellow platoon leader, and we talked about it.  As much as I was hurt, he was hurting even worse.  It was HIS soldier.  It was OUR soldier.  We promised we would look out for each other, watch each other, and make sure that we come out of this mended and healed.
It was 0430 by the time I went to bed.  I slept like a rock, but only for a few hours.
The next day was just as hard.  First Sergeant and I volunteered ourselves to go to the humvee that SGT Webster rode in back to the FOB.  We couldn't bring ourselves to put other soldiers on this work detail.  We cleaned it out the best we could.  Pulled out all of the personal effects of the truck crew -- the body armor, the helmets, the gloves.  We scoured everything, pulling out the items that had blood on them so that they could be cleaned before being returned to the soldiers.  When it was done, Top and I stood at the door, staring at the floor plate between the two back seats where the gunner typically stands.  Despite our best efforts, dried blood could still be seen along some of the edges.  You could still see where undoubtedly the medic worked on SGT Webster while the humvee was speeding back to the FOB.  It was heartbreaking.
My worst fear in coming here had been realized.  There was likely nothing I or anyone else could have done that would've changed anything that day.  But it doesn't change the emotions that wash through you.  I wish I had stayed out in-sector for a little bit longer.  I wish I had the opportunity to find the escaping vehicles by happenstance.  I wish I had the opportunity to be with my brothers in 3rd during their darkest time.
It's a week later, and the healing process has begun.  The mission continues.  The last six days have been the hardest my platoon has ever worked.  Physically, mentally, emotionally...we're drained.  Maybe it's because of what happened last week.  Maybe it's the toll of a non-stop OPTEMPO finally catching up to us.  Regardless, we're going to continue doing what we do.  We have to.
The guys still get edgy a little bit in-sector, but it's not as bad as I feared it would be.  I still dread the prospect of the worst happening...losing one of my guys.  Every day, when my guys assemble for the patrol brief, I look around at them.  I see their faces: from the older, seasoned veterans to the fresh-faced young kids, and I pray that I am able to keep them safe and bring them back today.  And tomorrow.  These soldiers are my life out here: they make me laugh, they put their utmost efforts into the job and the mission at hand.  I am so truly blessed to be a platoon leader for these 23 guys, and blessed to have 107 other Thunder brothers-in-arms who will do anything for each other.
We're hurting (I'm hurting).  But we're healing.  SGT Webster died doing what he loved.  It's not fair (it never is): they always seem to take the best from us.  But we will endure.
Again, I appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers for SGT Webster's family.  Love and miss you all.  Talk to y'all soon.

Wikileaks madness, Part Deux

They're at it again.  This time, a data-dump of intel reports from Operation Iraqi Freedom, from 2004 to the end of the 2009.

Al-Jazeera TV's British syndicate is running a video that "proves" that U.S. military forces ignored instances of torture committed by Iraqi Security Forces.  Their proof is references to certain FRAGOs (fragmentary orders).  What they don't tell you is that a FRAGO is a modifying order that can be put out at any echelon.  FRAGO 214 or 232 or whatever-the-fuck can be a company FRAGO or a division FRAGO or anything in between.  The takeaway is that without the context (who issued the FRAGO?  To which subordinate units?  What was the content of the remainder of the FRAGO?  What as the base OPORD the FRAGO modifies?), information can be easily spun to be sensationalist and fill whatever political agenda you choose.  A FRAGO put out by one idiot staff officer can easily be rescinded or superceded by the next day's FRAGO.

So, here is what I'm going to do: I am going to demonstrate and prove how these intel reports, taken in isolation outside of the context of what happens on the ground, don't mean anything unless you were there or know the surrounding circumstances.

I'm going to prove it to you.  I know that sounds bold, but audacity is a principle of offensive operations, so let's do this.

I did what undoubtedly a number of fellow officers did: I went to the Wikileaks website and searched for my own unit's actions.  And lo and behold, I found some.  Specifically, the reports documenting the deaths of two soldiers in my battalion.

(Due to a DOD directive banning military personnel from accessing Wikileaks, I cannot post or link to the site.  Which is fine: I understand the OPSEC considerations -- which is why all of us are so enraged by the data-dump.

However, if you, the non-military audience views any of the reports, you will get the gist of what they look like.  Take that into consideration, then juxtapose it with an account from someone who has served in Iraq.

If you are a military reader, do not visit the Wikileaks site.  It is not worth it to be fried for an OPSEC violation.  You will have to consult local directives put out by your chain of command, but better to err on the side of caution.  Just remember you are always subject to UCMJ, both on- or off-duty.)

I want you to read my next two posts: they are verbatim emails that I sent home to friends and family following two incidents.  By the time you have finished reading those emails, you will see how I just proved to you that these Wikileaks extracts mean nothing when viewed isolated from their surrounding context.  I proved it to you because I was there.  And Julian Assange was not.

Once again, I will stress: I have no problems with calling for transparency in our government.  That's a good thing.  That's how we avoid the deathtrap of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.  But there are more responsible ways to call for change than just data-dumping sensitive information.  Even despite Wikileaks' attempt to sanitize their reports (I will admit they did a better job this time around than with their Afghanistan data-dump), they missed plenty of info in just the small sample of leaks that I read that can provide the enemy valuable information on how to refine their TTPs to continue to kill Iraqi civilians and American soldiers.

11 October 2010

Women in the military

The CGSC (Command and General Staff College) Student Blog over at the CAC Blog (CAC = Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a nerve-center for senior-level Army professional education) has a post up about the role of women in the military, specifically the current prohibition against allowing women to serve in combat arms roles.

The documentary Lioness that he refers to is a film that follows a handful of female Marines in Iraq who were attached to Army units to assist during presence patrols, particularly in the sensitive area of female searches: for conservative Muslims, it is strictly taboo for a woman to be touched by a male that is not their husband.  The assembly of "Lioness teams" and attachment of these teams to combat patrols allowed units to carefully avoid inciting cultural/religious rage during search operations.  Incidentally, I met Colonel Mike Cabrey (one of the senior Army leaders featured heavily in the documentary) when he visited Fordham University's Army ROTC back in 2007.  He was in town to sit during a Q&A panel following one of the screenings of the film at the Angelika, and took the time to speak to our cadets.  I was pleased to run into him again at a formal event at Fort Sill, and he is currently in command of the 214th Fires Brigade.

During my time in Iraq, women were consistently serving in "combat" roles.  The current distinction as set forth by Congress follows the lines the Army has drawn between combat arms jobs and combat support or combat service support.  Combat arms branches are those that historically involved close or heavy combat with the enemy: infantry, tanks, artillery, etc.

The problem is that war has changed significantly, and the anachronistic view that women are incapable of serving in forward combat roles is just plain outdated.  Now, even combat support branches like MPs, engineers, etc., are all doing the same jobs as the combat arms guys: patrolling on the streets in Iraq.  Some were very capable, others were not: nothing different than what we see on the male side of the house.  I can say without a doubt that there are plenty of women in uniform that can outperform (physically and academically) plenty of male soldiers.

The Army is in a transition period (whether it likes it or not).  I believe we will see DADT repealed fairly soon in the future (the next few years), and the prohibition against women in combat arms may soon follow.  Just as with DADT, there is always going to be x percentage of the American population at-large and y percentage of the military population that will oppose change.  And that's fine.  But when Congress makes a change, the military needs to bring feet and knees together, render a smart salute, move out sharply and execute: leaders at all levels are going to have be flexible and adaptive.

04 October 2010

Pointing to the pink elephant in the room...and talking about it

This story of some 2ID soldiers out of Fort Lewis committing atrocities in Afghanistan has been floating in the news for a while now.  This is one of those instances where one would hope that in today's professional, all-volunteer force Army, that wretched acts such as those that are being related in this particular case would never happen.  One would hope that they couldn't happen.

There is absolutely no doubt that these acts committed by these soldiers are disgusting in nature.  Absolutely no doubt at all.  Even the most stubborn-headed, ignorant, prejudiced servicemember you can find in the military would have to concede that these men were wrong.

I have absolutely no doubt that these soldiers will be dealt with swiftly and extremely.  They must be punished if the Army as an institution is to retain credibility with the American people.  But the real question here is not whether the guys were guilty or how long they need to be put in jail for.

The question is, where does the Army go from here?  More importantly, how do we prevent this from happening?

This band of criminals committed acts that are far and away orders of magnitude worse than anything previously documented since 2001.  The uniqueness and singularity of this case speaks well for the professionalism of our soldiers.

But it happened.  And although we may never be able to fully eliminate the chances of this kind of thing happening again, we as an institution must do everything we can to mitigate those chances as much as possible.  The solution is not to be found in a popular Big Army course of action (have soldiers sit through a PowerPoint briefing on the Law of Land Warfare (LLW) or the Army core values).  Those lessons can be communicated to the soldier level by units on their own -- hell, LLW is mandatory pre-deployment training.

What we need is dialogue among leaders at every level: between two NCOs at chow, between lieutenants at the bar on the weekend, between colonels at the Officer Club, etc.  It is very easy to turn our heads away from this because it is so horrible and disgusting: no one wants to acknowledge that people who wear the same uniform would commit these acts.

But we need to talk about it.  Captains in the Career Course need to be talking about this.  Majors in ILE need to be talking about this.  Leaders need to discuss not necessarily the polar black-and-white issues of right or wrong (in this case, it's pretty black and white), but the mushy gray: how do we prevent this from happening?  How do we take the lessons from a dry, boring PowerPoint, and make them tangible and salient to our young soldiers?  How do we shape and foster a command climate that prevents this kind of shit from happening?  What are the warning signs that soldiers might be breaking (psychologically), or wandering off of azimuth?

Trying to look into what allowed this unit and its soldiers to sink to the depravity they did would take forever, but with all of the media attention recently being given to the American military's increasing isolation away from the remainder of society (SECDEF Gate's commencement speech, etc.), it is safe to say that nearly a decade of continuous combat operations is taking its toll on our military, and not just in the very obvious PTSD-at-the-individual-soldier level, but at the institutional levels.  Even if the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan literally ended tomorrow, the wounds in the Army's skin will take years if not decades to heal or scar over.  Leaders need to see this coming: they need to be aware it's coming, and they need to have a plan for dealing with it.

25 September 2010

Renee Ellmers = f***ing idiot

Renee Ellmers is a GOP candidate running for a Congressional seat in North Carolina. I just watched her get pwned by Anderson Cooper on CNN: she essentially said that all Muslims were terrorists and that the "Ground Zero mosque" was equivalent to al-Qaeda building a victory shrine on hallowed ground. When Cooper retorted with examples from history of religious factions building shrines on conquered territory, Ellmers retreated into some of the most nonsensical, circuitous speak I've ever heard (which means a lot, coming from a guy that went to law school).

This is going to sound harsh, but guess what: she is a dumb, ignorant bitch.

Yeah, I said it. And yeah, I know it's a mean thing to say. I don't care.

She is a woman that has somehow, in her mind, twisted the entire Muslim community (which is several billion-strong on this planet) into a clan of evil: she essentially generalized every Muslim as a radical Muslim and therefore a terrorist. Moments later, of course, when asked if she wanted Muslims' votes, she responded "Well sure, I'd like everyone's votes."

Well, NO SHIT!

I mean, if she's going to be prejudiced, can't she at least be consistent? And to watch her evade Cooper's questions about religious factions in history building shrines on conquered territories, to include Christians (a retort to her argument that the "Ground Zero mosque" is a "victory mosque" for al Qaeda) is nothing short of entertaining: much like watching a small, young child engaged in a debate with Stephen Hawking with regards to the nature of gravity or the Grand Unification Theory of Everything.

I'll tell you what: I have seen and heard some dumb shit during my short three decades of existence on this planet...but damn, this woman managed to surprise me tonight.

She knows absolutely nothing about my city or 9/11 or what is happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. How dare she try to exploit September 11th and this "Ground Zero mosque" hooplah for her own political gain. How dare she. YouTube the interview: it's quite entertaining.

23 September 2010

Added to my reading list...

Andrew Exum's got a post from about a week ago, and linked to some books recommended by Gian Gentile, who is a fairly outspoken critic of counterinsurgency (COIN), or perhaps the U.S.'s approach to it.  For those who aren't tracking, ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there has been an ongoing academic debate inside defense policy circles regarding the merits of COIN.  When it became apparent that Iraq was not going to transition to a state of stable peace in anything resembling a timely fashion, the U.S. military found itself desperately treading water.  Counterinsurgency was a dirty word, because no one wanted to admit that an insurgency existed in Iraq: too many comparisons to Vietnam, and too many painful propositions that our failure to conduct stability operations post-invasion may have been a major catalyst for the insurgency and almost-civil war.

Of course, David Petraeus and his hundred-pound-brain (along with other smart guys, like John Nagl) stepped out of the shadows and suddenly COIN lost its stigma and became the messiah of strategies.  History will determine the ultimate effectiveness of America's COIN campaign in Iraq.

In any case, today there is a huge identity crisis in the U.S. military, in the Army and Marine Corps in particular (the service branches most invested in ground combat).  While the Air Force and Navy find themselves affected by the prevalence of stability operations and irregular warfare in the modern operating environment (effects on budgets, equipment programs, etc.), the way they fight is not as profoundly impacted as it is for the grunts and mud-crawlers.  Sure: the Air Force's primary mission of air superiority doesn't get exercised too often nowadays, but an A-10 conducting a close air support (CAS) mission in a conventional high-intensity conflict (HIC) is not terribly different from an A-10 conducting a CAS mission in an irregular warfare stability ops environment.  Yes: there are differences (collateral damage estimates, etc. etc.), but the fundamentals are the same.

Not so with Army/Marine units.  An old-school attack conducted by an infantry rifle company is very different from the new-school cordon and search.  A battery volley of M26 MLRS rockets (each capable of destroying an entire 1 x 1 kilometer square on the ground) is very different from a low-yield GPS-guided rocket or Excalibur artillery round shot in Iraq most recently.

The effects of operating in a drastically changed operating environment can be seen even at the unit level: Army units will spend half a year training up for a deployment in COIN and stability tasks, and then spend a year executing those tasks.  When they come home, they unlearn everything so they can regain their competencies at fighting a conventional warfare fight (or HIC or major combat operations -- the label is not important).  Then, when a deployment appears on the horizon, gears shift back towards irregular warfare and COIN/stability ops.

But this is delving into a topic that can be its own blog post.  Let's get back to the recommended reading.

One of the books on Gentile's list is Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost its War by James H. Wilbanks.  I have not read this book (yet), but the blurb on Amazon.com indicates that it is a study of our Vietnamization policy and the argument that it was "designed to transfer full responsibility for the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese, but in a way that would buy the United States enough time to get out with appearing to run away."

The very obvious question is this: is there an analog to today's situation in Iraq?  Is Operation NEW DAWN a modern day "Iraqization"?  Right now, there is a lot of political pressure in favor of us just pulling everyone the hell out, but I would like to see if anyone has put any serious academic or analytical thought into what the projected security environment in Iraq will be when we "leave" in 2011...

17 September 2010

Assessing results in Iraq: too soon?

With the declared end to "major combat operations" in Iraq, it is only a matter of time before we start seeing more and more attempts by people to answer the question that Professor Kamena of the Air War College poses: "Did we win and was this effort worthwhile?"

Prof. Kamena's short piece (it's only a page) does not so much answer the posed question as it puts forth his hopes and expectations.  But this ultimately lends itself to the question: when can we begin to usefully assess the situation in Iraq?  When can we start measuring the effects of our efforts in Iraq?

My answer: not anytime soon.  While we can certainly put our finger on easy metrics (x murders this year versus y murders last year, or economic growth by z percent), these metrics have to be tied in to a purpose or endstate in order to mean anything.  Bottom line up front: the nature of Army operations in Iraq (counterinsurgency vice major combat operations or HIC) means that desired endstates more often than not are defined internally by the host nation (not us), and tangible progress (or lack thereof) may take years or decades to manifest and become apparent.

As a student in his first weeks of small group instruction at the Captain's Career Course, I have been inundated by Army doctrine.  Field Manual (FM) 3-0, simply titled Operations, is the Army's primary doctrinal publication that discusses the Army's way of fighting.  With the latest edition being released in 2008, it is the result of the Army's having looked in the mirror after nearly a decade of continuous engagement in conflict abroad.  Understanding how the Army views itself and its way of war will help us frame the conflicts we are currently engaged in; conceptualizing and visualizing this framework will in turn help us figure out if we can even begin to discuss whether our involvement in Iraq has been a success or failure.

Let's take Prof. Kamena's question and break it down into its two elements: (1) Did we win? and (2) Was this effort worthwhile?


Typically, a pre-requisite to the assignment of a label of success or failure, win or loss, is the identification of the goals or objectives.  From there, analysis should be simple: were the goals or objectives achieved?  Yes = success.  No = failure.  The obvious question then becomes: what were/are our goals in Iraq?  For the moment, let's keep ourselves out of conspiracy theories or controversy that will simply bog us down.  Still, it's a difficult question, and the best way to answer it is to work backwards and find a way to categorize our presence in Iraq: describe our actions there, and then correlate it to doctrinal purposes or endstates.  We're going to confine ourselves to the narrower perspective of military doctrine because it's faster and easier than trying to do an all-encompassing analysis or study: after all, this is a blog, not a Ph.D. dissertation or a funded think-tank.

Everything that follows will be a no-brainer for guys that have experience at the operational levels of war and higher.  For the tactical guys like me (platoon, company), this can be a bit of an eye-opener, but more importantly, a lens that clarifies and puts into context what we accomplish at our levels.  For the non-military folks, this could end up being total gibberish, or perhaps a revealing look at how the Army thinks and operates.  To some, it may come as a surprise to know that the Army as an institution has an academic side to it that goes far beyond the popular (but flawed) "just kill more of the bad guys than they kill ours" characterization.

Figure 2-2 from FM 3-0 (above) illustrates different operational themes that characterize Army actions against the spectrum of conflict.  FM 3-0 defines the spectrum of conflict as "the backdrop for Army operations....an ascending scale of violence ranging from stable peace to general war."  Keep in mind that violence can jump around the spectrum of conflict: it is not a linear scale.   As FM 3-0 reminds us, "unstable peace may erupt into general war, or general war may end abruptly in unstable peace."  The spectrum allows us to describe the security environment.  

While the spectrum of conflict describes the environment, operational themes describe Army actions.  FM 3-0 defines operational themes as describing "the character of the dominant major operation being conducted....[it] helps convey the nature of the major operation to the force to facilitate common understanding of how the commander broadly intends to operate."

Operational themes may be further broken down into the joint military operations that are conducted in support of the over-arching operational theme.  "Grouping military operations with common characteristics under operational themes allows doctrine to be developed for each theme rather than for a multitude of joint operations." (FM 3-0)

Below you will find FM 3-0's Table 2-1 (Examples of joint military operations conducted within operational themes) overlaid onto Figure 2-2.  For example, within the framework of an Irregular Warfare operational theme, conceivable joint operations include FID (foreign internal defense), COIN (counterinsurgency), CT (counterterrorism) and UW (unconventional warfare).  It is important to remember that the array of joint operations available for each operational theme are not mutually exclusive: "[f]or example, noncombatant evacuation operations may be conducted during [irregular warfare], or support to an insurgency may occur during major combat operations."

Each type of joint military operation, whether it's counterdrug, foreign humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, counterinsurgency or an all-out conventional fight like the 2003 initial invasion named Operation IRAQI FREEDOM I (OIF I), has its own doctrinal set of purposes and objectives.

Now that we've identified ways to describe the overall environment/levels of violence (spectrum of conflict), the general categories of military operations (operational themes), and the types of actions that comprise those themes (joint military operations), we can now try to determine the current state of affairs in Iraq: both the environment on the spectrum of conflict, and the type of operations we are engaged in.  This will aid us in determining what our doctrinal operational objectives are, and maybe in turn help us figure out if our efforts have been effective.

Few will dispute that during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, we were engaged in major combat operations (MCO) in a state of General War.  Granted, the campaign was short, but the conventional nature of the fight and the organization of Coalition Forces (CF) and their assigned mission objectives support the characterization of OIF I as MCO/General War.

Post-invasion was when we saw a shift in the security environment in Iraq.  Although everyone was hoping that the conclusion of invasion operations would somehow spur a jump from a state of General War to Stable Peace, what we saw instead was a slow slide into Insurgency.  Religious sectarian violence exploded in Iraq.  In Baghdad,  entire neighborhoods of Sunnis or Shi'as were ravaged and vice versa.  Sunni-dominated al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was engaged in an all-out fight with Shi'a-dominated Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM), Moqtada al-Sadr's Shi'a militia -- while everyone else, to include CF, were caught in the middle.  

The response to this incredible spike in violence was "The Surge": the insertion of five additional brigades into Baghdad to help quell violence and re-establish security in the capital.  All of this fell within the 2004-2008 time-frame, and although there were large operations conducted (like the battles of Fallujah), by this point Iraq had slid into a state of insurgency on the spectrum of conflict.  Likewise, we shifted operational themes from MCO to irregular warfare, and counterinsurgency (COIN) became the predominant joint operation.

With the end of the Surge in 2008, execution of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in 2009 and the transfers of authority and sovereignty to the host nation in 2010, we are trying to push or slide things to the left.  "Advise and assist" has become the catchphrase in the media, but we need to examine things in the framework that we have already established.

Arguably, Iraq is probably in a state somewhere between insurgency and unstable peace.  Violence dropped dramatically in 2009, but we are now seeing spikes again as U.S. forces begin to reduce their footprint in Iraq.  Our operational theme probably remains irregular warfare: however the dominating joint operation will probably shift from COIN to foreign internal defense (FID).  As time moves on, I think one goal is to see our residual force of advisors shift to an operational theme of peace operations -- but whether that transition can be made anytime soon is up in the air.

But let's back up for a moment.  We spent several years engaged in COIN operations.  FM 3-0 defines counterinsurgency as those "actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency."  Here, the "government" is the host nation (HN), specifically the government of Iraq (GOI).  FM 3-0 goes on to say that "in COIN, HN forces and their partners [the U.S. and CF] operate to defeat armed resistance, reduce passive opposition, and establish or reestablish the HN government's legitimacy."  Finally, we have stumbled across the reason why it is so difficult (and perhaps too soon) to usefully assess the results of our efforts in Iraq.

The defeat of armed resistance may be quantifiable in terms of number of enemy killed or metrics illustrating lesser and lesser levels of violence.  And on a macro scale, perhaps that goal has been achieved: violence in Iraq today is nowhere near the levels seen in 2006 or 2007, the height of the insurgency.  However, as aforementioned, we are in a transition phase now, and with our withdrawal of forces may come a spike in violence, or in the worst case scenario, a return to civil war.

It is similarly difficult to say whether the goal of establishing the HN government's legitimacy has been achieved.  The elections process in Iraq has been an ongoing nightmare.  Additionally, corruption is rampant at all levels of politics: from the municipal all the way up to national.  Perhaps more striking is the populace's awareness of the corruption, which causes the varying levels of distrust in their government and security forces.  The never-ending struggle to repair the infrastructure and bring some kind of consistency to the delivery of essential services to the populace is another hit against government legitimacy.  

Finally, the most tangible, and perhaps simplest indicator, is violence.  Although we no longer see entire Sunni or Shi'a neighborhoods getting wiped out or cleansed, we are still seeing markets being blown up and acts of violence committed by terrorists and insurgents that will cause the populace to doubt the GOI's ability to provide security for them.

So it is now easy to see why it is so difficult to begin discussing whether we "won" in Iraq.  Keep this in mind the next time you see a talking head on the TV drawing bold conclusions.  We still have a lot of soldiers in Iraq, and we will continue to have soldiers there for a long time.  It may very well be ten or 20 years before we can definitively say, "Yes, we made Iraq a better place," or "No, it was a waste of time that made the global security environment worse: the country tore itself apart five years after we left, and now we have the Middle East version of Somalia."

The importance of using the correct words to say what you mean and mean what you say.  The reason I have led you on this meandering journey to simply find a way to correctly label or characterize the nature of the conflict is because of the confusion that exists in the media, in the government and even within the military.  In all three arenas, terms are thrown around and used too often without regard to their doctrinal meanings or definitions.  The ensuing confusion not only has a disruptive effect on the military's ability to see itself, but also on the public's ability to see what's going on and formulate an informed opinion.

I will be honest and admit that until I came to the Career Course and actually sat down with Army doctrine, I was also guilty of the carelessly-throw-words-around crime.  I was guilty because I was ignorant of Army doctrine: I figured I was a smart guy that knew a lot of fancy terms, but my ignorance only contributed to the problem of this institutional fog concerning our role in the contemporary operating environment.

I used to use the terms counterinsurgency and stability operations interchangeably because I didn't know any better.  Now, I understand that COIN is a type of joint operation, and stability ops is an element of full spectrum ops (along with offensive and defensive operations).  Each type of joint operation, including COIN, is a combination of all three elements in varying ratios.  A raid or a major combat operation might be heavier on offensive elements, while humanitarian assistance or COIN might be heavier on stability elements.


I hate to disappoint, but there is no military metric for this.  All military action is a means to political ends.  Public opinion and society (and ultimately history) will determine whether our efforts in Iraq were worthwhile.

16 September 2010

Beating CNN to the punch: J. Breyer on the 1st Amendment

Supreme Court Justice Breyer weighs in on the Quran-burning scandal and the Constitutional 1st Amendment Right to freedom of expression here on CNN...about three hours after I did so myself.

15 September 2010

Holy dogshit: someone who actually might have read and/or studied the Quran

Saw this in the New York Times today.

Agree or disagree, at least this guy did SOME homework, making him infinitely better qualified to speak than the endless talking heads who ignore the opinions of actual Muslims (I'm talking about the normal people: your son's friend at school, your daughter's math teacher, your neighbor's doctor...not the radical terrorists that make up less than one percent of the world's Muslim population) or never got past the front (or rather back) cover (for those that don't understand that last bit, you need to go ahead and Wikipedia "Arabic language").

Not-in-chronological-order Suras, reference to Judaism and Christianity to include Moses and Jesus (and not in bad ways)...I'm just going to go ahead and say "I told you so."  Thank-you Professor Reza (the prof who taught my Islamic Law class in law school) for saving me from being an ignorant asshole.  I can still be an asshole, but I try to at least be a well-read asshole.

Forgive my fervor: I just really hate dumb people.  It's a character flaw that I fully disclaim.

And of course, due to the political nature of this topic, I also fully disclaim the fact that this opinion is mine alone, and not representative of the people I work for.  If you didn't understand that, please go to the very top of this page, or the right side of this page: it's on here twice to make sure there is no misunderstanding.

Fuck it, that brings up another point.  As part of our FACCC small group setup, our instructor makes one of us brief the day's news at the beginning of each day (yeah, it's essentially Current Events for grown-ups).  Obviously the crazy I-want-to-burn-Qurans guy in Florida has been a headliner for the last couple weeks, and much has been  made about General Petraeus' decision to speak publicly on the topic.

Traditionally, it has been considered a faux pas for uniformed military personnel to speak out on political issues.  As a military, we are considered to be a military means to a political end: an extension of political will at the nation-state level.  Consequently, there is a perceived conflict of interest: an attitude that is fundamentally rooted in our rock-steady belief in military subordination to civilian authority.  No one will ever contest that.

Soldiers talk about politics all the time: within the confines of the barracks or in their homes.  To think otherwise is naive.  To demand otherwise is foolish.  Rigorous intellectual discourse and debate is what stimulates or catalyzes learning and discovery.  The words I commit to this page might not be sanctioned or approved by the institution I volunteer my life for, but any debate or thought it stimulates is a positive contribution.

Since the military is an instrument of national policy, it is critical that our military leaders be in tune and in touch with the pulse of America.  This is now encroaching on another blog topic that I've been piecing together ever since I had a drunken conversation at a Buffalo Wild Wings with two fellow Army officers a couple weeks ago, but the basic premise is such: as American society's moral values/ideals/goals shift over time, our military institution must be flexible and shift with society.  This is one of the greatest challenges facing senior leadership in the modern, technologically rich and information-saturated, flatter global environment.  A directly related challenge is whether we should recognize the emergence of a warrior class in today's America (also another blog topic for another day).

But I digress.  GEN Petraeus decided to speak out on the Quran-burning affair.  Outwardly, it was justified by an undoubtedly genuine concern for the welfare of our servicemembers currently in-theater.  And nearly every government official (with half a brain) has been careful to underscore the fact that crazy-Florida-guy does have a Constitutional right to burn Qurans if he wants to (remember, the 1st Amendment doesn't protect only the speech we like, it protects all speech: even unpopular or loathsome forms of expression).

But perhaps this has also been a signal of a shift.  Not only a shift in senior leader's TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) regarding interaction with the media, but maybe a signal to America of a different United States military.  All of this comes amidst a sea of debate and national turmoil over salient political issues: burning Qurans, mosques near Ground Zero, Don't Ask Don't Tell.  And now we have a four-star general pleading against the burning of holy books, senior Pentagon leadership saying maybe it's okay for gays to serve in the military...all in the public arena.

Maybe I'm jumping at nothing, but we are a professional Army that has been engaged in continuous combat  for nearly a decade: no Army sans conscripts/draftees has ever done that before in American history.  Today's military institution is profoundly different, and has undergone more change and transformation in the last ten years than it did in the preceding half-century.  So maybe this is the flip-side to the arguments that denounce the evolution of a warrior class.  Who knows.  I'm rambling, so I'm going to stop now.

11 September 2010

After the fall

I can't remember how long it took to see my father in person.  Days, maybe weeks.

The day of, it took me hours to get a hold of my dad on the phone.  He worked on John St, just a few blocks away.  I would find out much later on that he was scheduled to attend a meeting in the towers that day: he was an engineer who dealt with the Port Authority routinely (and the PANYNJ had its main offices in the WTC on the high floors of one of the towers: sixty- or seventy-something).  He was running late that morning, and his tardiness likely saved his life.

It was early afternoon -- maybe.  The towers had been gone for hours now.

I watched as people passed me on the street, heading north.  Some covered in the ashy white dust.  The cellphones had been jammed since ten o'clock that morning.  Landlines were worse: calls to my dad's office didn't go to his message box, but rather to an automated message that seemed to imply the nonexistence of the number I was trying to dial.

I remember seeing live footage on the news: street scene from somewhere in the city.  Showed a guy on a Nextel, talking.  It woke me from my daze.  I stopped every guy in a suit.  "Do you have a Nextel phone?  Do you have a Nextel?  I need to make a call."

Finally one guy actually stopped.  Maybe he was talking to his wife or girlfriend.  "I gotta go, honey.  Yeah, I'm okay.  I gotta let someone use my phone for a second.  I love you.  Bye."  He handed the phone over to me, and I don't think we even said anything to each other.  He held my cigarette for me as I struggled to dial the numbers: my hands were shaking.

It took a couple of rings, but finally I heard my dad's voice.  I can't remember the first words we exchanged.  Maybe "Are you okay?" or "Thank god you're alive."  I don't know.  I remember cursing a lot.  "Jesus fucking Christ!  It's like a war zone down there!"  I remember my dad admonishing me for cursing, telling me to calm down.  "How the fuck am I supposed to calm down?!  They're trying to kill us!"  It irritated me.

I asked him where he was.  Chinatown, he told me.  He was walking north.  He heard someone say that there were buses that would take people off the island above 34th Street, so that's where he was walking.  He asked me where I was.  "Fourteenth Street," I told him, standing outside of an NYU dorm that had become a rally point for displaced NYU students who were living further south, below 14th Street.  He wanted me to get off the island -- find a way to mom's house on Staten Island.  I told him I was staying in the city.

It was a while before they re-opened lower Manhattan to civilians.  At least a week.  Maybe two.  My dad called and told me he was coming into the city to see if he could get to his office.  He wanted to know if I was interested in doing lunch.  He picked a seafood place in midtown: Dock's.

I was sitting on the train, headed to Grand Central.  We rumbled to a stop and sat there.  Nothing out-of-the-ordinary: just another train delay, and there were lots of those as of late.  The PA system in my car was jacked up: the conductor's voice came over garbled.  Suddenly people from the car behind us started coming into our car, pushing their way to the front.

Whoa whoa whoa.  What's going on?  They're saying we gotta evacuate.  What?  Go to the front of the train!  We hustled forward, and following the herd, gingerly made our way down onto the tracks, following a loose string of bobbing flashlights that were being wielded by subway workers.  We were just a couple hundred feet from the platform, but there was another train in front of ours.  I wondered if the third rail was electrified or if the emergency workers somehow disable it during evacuation scenarios.

As we approached the stairs at the end of the platform, we were greeted by cops, frantically waving their arms at the shoulder in a big circle, telling us to get the hell out.  Get up to street level now!  Oh my God, it's a bomb!  Go topside!

As I emerged from Grand Central onto the street, I had that feeling again.  That sensation of not being able to control anything; not being able to influence my fate.  We could all die at any given instant, and that wasn't rhetoric.  The threat was tangible, something that no one had ever felt before.  How many times was this going to happen?  How many times were we going to have to endure the singular feeling of someone trying to kill us?

I finally made my way into the restaurant probably 30 minutes late, and my dad was showing impatience.  "Dad, I just walked out of a fucking bomb scare in Grand Central."  Lunch was awkward.

I was never close to my father growing up.  He was not the good job, I'm proud of you, let's go in the backyard and play catch type of father.  He threw himself at his work to provide for me, and while I never went hungry, I also never really got to know my father.  I'm not sure which is the worse option.

Even today, I don't speak much with him.  In the nine years since, I graduated college and I graduated law school. My parents felt that I should be doing certain things with my life, and I deviated from their desired path for me by joining the Army.  I went to war and came back.  I came back hoping that I could finally bridge the gap with my parents -- that maybe the stress of having a son overseas in combat would allow them to drop the shields and just accept me and the choices I have made.

Instead I came back to a lot of dinner-table arguments, poorly informed by 20-second sound bites and the media.  Opinions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the president.  Doubts about our ability to accomplish the mission, and insensitive and ignorant generalizations of an entire culture and religion.

"Dad: I spent a year there.  I lived it every single day.  I think I might know what I'm talking about.  I think I might be more of a subject matter expert than some talking head on Channel 5 news or Newsweek magazine."  My parents could not accept my four-year-old decision to join the Army, and understood less about what I did in Iraq than my friends.  Hell, my friends were more family to me than my family.

So that's where it stands.  A lot of things can happen in nine years.  But a lot of things can stay the same.

If you have a good thing going, cherish it.  I look back and sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision.  I gave up a prosperous livelihood and any chance to sustain a normal relationship or start a family or just be a normal fucking person in order to serve this country and take care of soldiers.  Sometimes it drives me crazy.  But in the end, if I had to do anything differently, it would have been to sign on the dotted line earlier.

Facebook says I should never forget; let me tell you why I choose not to forget

Three thousand people were killed in our backyard, and everyone says it's a good thing to move on, but you know what, I don't want to move on. I want that hurt and that pain to stay with me, because if I ever forget even a small piece, then I start feeling guilty.  Hell, I am stuck in the middle of Oklahoma right now, and I feel guilty that I am unable to be home in my city to grieve in my concrete jungle.

People throw up a Facebook status, then go back to watching their college football or mall shopping or whatever the fuck it is that they are doing. They have no understanding of what happened to our city that morning, and will never understand the magnitude of the tangible assault on the senses (I say that literally: the sights, the smells, the sounds).

If you weren't there, people, then don't patronize me with some empty patriotic saying in between your Saturday errands. Come sit down with me, buy me a beer and listen to what I have to say, and learn about what it was like to be a New Yorker on that day. But don't ever think that a couple keystrokes on your smartphone will ever be enough to give back what so many people lost that day. If you don't understand, then just accept that you are not part of our fraternity, and stop pretending.  

Here is the reality, as much as it hurts, you have to accept it: if you were in a position of safety where your life was not physically threatened, then you haven't earned the right to have your voice heard over those that died or those that lost something.  If you didn't spend your entire life living and breathing in the greatest city, then you will never understand.  If you were sitting in some class in junior high or high school two thousand miles away, watching it on TV, you may take solace in the fact that you can participate in the shared national shock suffered by all across the nation, but you will never be one of us -- we who were there.  

Yes, you're right: it is a shallow, elitist and exclusive view, and I should be bigger than that.  I should be better than that.  

But you do not know what it was like to have a brigade-sized element murdered in your backyard.  I do.

You can say what you want, you can feel you want, and that's fine: my soldiers and I risk our lives so you can enjoy that right.  But I don't have to like what you have to say, and I don't have to listen or care.  Not on this day.  Be deferential today and be sensitive, because it's not your day.  It's mine.  And it's the only day of the year that I deserve to be as small or shallow or insensitive to your feelings as I want.  Tomorrow, the status quo returns, and the emotional and physical and security needs of America will once again go before mine.  

But let me have today.

If I don't care about the "Ground Zero Mosque", why should you?

This was written a few days ago, before the crazy Florida guy backed off from his plan to publicly burn Qurans...

I'm gonna lay it out there: I really don't give a shit about who practices what religion in whatever location.

Here are my credentials: I'm from NYC; I was in NYC on the island of Manhattan on 11 SEP 2001; I'm in the military; I served in Iraq; we lost soldiers.

An Islamic Center downtown really doesn't bother me (assuming they are not being funded by al Qaeda, the boogeyman or the Devil).  So somebody explain to me why people who aren't from MY goddamn town who weren't there on THAT day and who think Sharia is representative of everything radical and crazy (newsflash: it's not; it's just overarching classical Islamic law -- there's even a book or two out there on this stuff: I read 'em, I recommend everyone else do so as well) are making such a big f*cking deal out of this "Ground Zero mosque" nonsense???

I'm serious, I actually need some convincing.  If it was all 9/11 families, that would be one thing: I can understand the difficulty in separating the traumatic emotional hearbreak of losing someone from other issues.  But I do NOT understand these random people from all over the country weighing in on this shit.

And now some church in Florida is going to burn Qurans on 9/11 because they think Islam is evil??  Seriously??  Do those idiots really think that the proper way to "remember the 9/11 victims" is to fucking burn Qurans???  Are they even aware that some of the victims were Muslim (and I'm not talking about the hijackers -- I'm talking about regular people)?  Shit, do you think they even plan on looking inside these Qurans before burning them?  Do you think they know what a Surah is?  Do you think they know that the Surahs are ordered not in chronological order, but by length (because it was originally an oral text passed down from generation to generation, and the ordering facilitated memorization).  Who are we joking: of course not.  Even without doing any research, I think I can safely assume that that church of idiots is completely ignorant of everything that is outside of their little bubble.

It's all right I guess, I'm sure there won't be any images or video of this retardation and I'm sure it won't make it onto the Internet and I'm sure it won't be manipulated for God-knows-what kind of purposes.

Does anyone else see the absurdity in all of this, or am I the only one?  If I am the crazy one, someone please set me straight.

That morning, the sky was blue: not a single cloud in sight

The sky was a perfect kind of blue without a single cloud in sight; it was still t-shirt and shorts weather. Nine years later and I can still remember what it smelled like, the way my skin was numb, the mass exodus to go north or just get the fuck off the island, and the strangeness of hearing total silence that night: no cars, no planes, not a goddamn thing except for a fighter jet that screamed overhead every now and then that freaked us the fuck out. 

Everybody was in shock. It was so offensive and so personal, like getting punched right in the mouth...nobody knew what to think or what to feel.  Am I supposed to be a an ignorant gung-ho idiot and say I hate all Muslims?  Am I supposed to preach peace, love and tolerance, so the terrorists don't win?  Somebody tell us what the fuck we're supposed to feel, because right now nobody fucking knows.

For days afterward, people walking around like zombies in the middle of 5th Avenue and Broadway because everything below 14th St was in the lockdown zone (no cars except emergency vehicles), making crazy shadows in the dust (which hung around for a solid 3 weeks) especially when the sun was low -- like out of a horror movie.

The Cortlandt Street stop

I remember the mall that was underneath the towers: Cortlandt Street stop on the 1-9.  Or the N-R stop a couple blocks away.  MetroCards were blue and tokens had that pentagon-shaped silver thing in the middle (after they replaced the ones with the hole in the middle and the ones with the big cutout Y of N-Y-C).  Hell, just walk it -- just a few blocks.  Go the back way through Battery Park: go into that other mall with all of the glass and metal, take the bridge across the West Side Highway; forget about trying to cross it at street level: you'll die.  

I used to go into the Sam Goody in the basement mall underneath the towers as a kid, trying to figure out which CD I was going to waste my money on to stick into my bright yellow Sony discman.  I remember the greasy and overpriced slices at the Sbarro.  I remember snickering at all the poor Jersey fucks who had to take the friggin' PATH train to come into my city.  I remember the bigass escalators in the lobbies, with all of the international flags on the second floor.  

Suits on Motorolas and Nextels, and tourists all over the place, waiting for the elevators.  Shoeshine guys buffing away on Italian leather wingtips that cost more than your parents made in a month.  Express elevators that skipped whole bunches of floors -- different ones for different sky lobbies.  I remember the home video my dad took of me on the roof when I was little, and how the audio on the VHS was all fucked up from the interference from the gigantic antenna and how absurdly small the city's huge buildings looked, with little yellow matchbox cars sliding up and down the pencil-thin streets with little tiny dots playing Frogger in between them.  

I remember eating lunch in the plaza at the base of the towers: sitting at the fountain thing with the big metal globe, surrounded by businessmen taking drags off of their cigarettes in between bites of a $1 hotdog and a Poland Spring or Snapple, their suit jackets folded neatly beside them, company badges and ID cards hanging from belt loops or shirt pockets or coat lapels.  Tourists, arched backwards aiming their cameras straight up, trying to get both towers in the frame, pointing towards infinity.  I remember exiting any subway station within sight of the WTC and automatically looking for the towers to orient myself: our compass.

What do you remember?

27 July 2010

Media misrepresents substance of Wikileaks documents

CNN is running a story on TF 373, what is apparently a Special Operations Force (SOF) unit in Afghanistan.  CNN cites to one of the Wikileaks documents to imply that during an aborted operation, TF 373 killed seven Afghan National Police officers.

I'll let you read it for yourself here.  The way that paragraph is written, you come away from it thinking there was foul play -- that maybe this SOF unit maliciously killed Afghan police officers.

But if you click through to the document itself, the data paints a completely different picture.  I'm not going to dissect it and explain every single acronymn, because I still believe that the OPSEC violation committed by Wikileaks is outrageous, and although the data is out and the damage is done, I refuse to exacerbate it by helping the layman decipher some of the cryptic terms and verbage.

Here is the bottom line as to what happened in this particular instance: SOF was conducting a night-time  operation.  They were accidentally engaged by Afghan police forces.  SOF conducted a battle drill along with air support, which resulted in the deaths of some of the Afghan police officers who accidentally attacked the SOF unit.

The remainder of the rollup goes into the fallout and second- and third-order effects of the incident.  That's the bottom line: it was an accident.  Does this kind of shit happen in combat?  Absolutely.  You've got a special ops unit (which obviously does not coordinate with everyone for security reasons -- even regular U.S. military forces are not privy to what these guys do for a multitude of legitimate reasons), operating at night, that gets engaged by an Afghan unit that can't communicate directly with the American unit (again for security reasons).  Both elements did what they thought was the right thing: the Afghans thought they were shooting at bad guys.  The Americans thought they were shooting at bad guys.

Once again, I will not dissect the rollup, and I don't have to prove my credentials to read these reports by doing so.  I am a United States Army officer with a secret-level security clearance, and I know how to read these documents because I dealt with this kind of information on a daily basis for an entire year.

I realize I am rambling.  What I'm trying to get at is that it is not fair for the media to imply (by omission or mischaracterization of data through ignorance) things that are simply not true or cannot be corroborated  without additional evidence or information.  This is only the tip of the iceberg: media outlets and pundits are going to read what they want to read, and will feed a willing audience what both parties (media and information consumer) want to read/watch/hear.  It's ridiculous, because we're talking about CNN: a reputable news source.  If it was just some guy's random blog (like this one), it would be a different story.  But CNN and any other major news outlet all possess a unique ability to tangibly and substantially shape and effect public opinion.  Opinion informed by knowledge or information that isn't quite 100% does not equate to informed opinion: it equates to being hoodwinked.  Congrats: you got spun.

I only ask that when you get bombarded with some of the sensational stuff, take it with a grain of salt.  Wait for it to be vetted by people with experience and knowledge before swallowing it completely.

25 July 2010

Wikileaks madness

This Wikileaks drama is fucking bullshit: there is a difference between lobbying for government transparency and just irresponsibly dumping info on the web.  We still have thousands of soldiers over there: they don't deserve to have fucking grid coordinates and BDAs and goddamn unit callsigns published on the goddamn internet.  A sophisticated enemy can cull plenty of data from this shit and use it against coalition forces.  And believe me, the enemy is sophisticated -- we are not talking about some kind of primitive monsters running around with towels on their heads.  We are talking about an agile, adaptive, tech-savvy enemy that has managed to avoid destruction at our hands for the past decade.

Unfortunately, it's too late: the damage is done.  Every single fucking byte of data has no doubt been burned onto CDs or DVDs for study.  The guys at Wikileaks need to be put in jail: OPSEC violation of this magnitude should be criminal.

20 July 2010

More of a reminder

This is more a reminder to myself, and not really a proper post.  Lots of ideas and fragments; can't guarantee all of them will see fruition as fully-developed posts...

Global Assessment Tool and the Soldier Fitness Test: the U.S. Army's online mental health survey -- quantify your psychic well-being with a number between 1 and 10...your answers will determine how fucked up you are (based on some kind of algorithm), and you will be required to view some online PowerPoints and videos.  Upon completion, you will be all better.

Fort Sill historian attempts to teach us how to think by telling us what to think: when academia violently collides with a room full of reality.

FACCC Chaplain: PTSD; moral and ethical decision-making; how do leaders give their soldiers the context they need within which to frame the death of a comrade?

Mission first, people always: hard rights, easy wrongs and the Twilight Zone in between.

Taking on the Ivy League: an intellectual joust and why I hate answering the same damned questions every time I meet people at a party

U.S. Army officer/leader development: why is the system broken and WTF do we do about it?  Also: the coming leadership gap -- today's company-grade officer exodus is fucking over tomorrow's field grade leaders.

Semi-fiction: fucked up dream (9 bullets)

Book Review: The Strongest Tribe by Bing West.

New York Times: rise of the warrior class? (and hazing in today's military)

Full Spectrum Operations, Stability, Counterinsurgency and Core Competencies: when Redlegs turn blue

Killing the Myth: recent Army doctrinal/training reform did not arise from 9/11.  As evidenced by a question posed to my FACCC class, "Did 9/11 change the Army for better or for worse?"  I was shocked at how many hands went up in an attempt to link the Army's adoption of counterinsurgency as a strategy in Iraq to the events of September 11, 2001.  Same for the sudden push for the development of smart, agile and adaptive leaders at the company level.  I was shocked because the premise that these changes or reforms arose directly out of 9/11 or even the beginning of the GWOT is wrong.  The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was strictly a conventional affair.  By the fall of 2001, the Army was already in the midst of "Transformation," a key Defense buzzword.  Starting with Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki in the 1990s, the Army was moving towards a more rapidly-deployable, expeditionary force: away from the gargantuan, monolithic Army that enabled us to win the Gulf War back in 1991.  The division-centric Army trained to fight AirLand Battle (fight the Soviets at the Fulda Gap!) was transforming into the modular brigade-centric Army trained to fight across the full spectrum of operations...

12 July 2010

Back on the net

Apologize for the long hiatus.  To sum up the previous six months (during which time my posting was rather sporadic): wrapped up a tour as a headquarters battery XO at Fort Hood, TX.  I will refrain from delving into the details at this time, but suffice to say the culture and environment in the battalion changed dramatically after certain personnel were changed out.  What used to be a collaborative environment, dedicated to supporting the line batteries and ensuring that our soldiers each received quality training and a legitimate chance to survive in combat...was transformed into a hot mess.  Again: I'll spare you the details, because I don't want to bore you with my bitching.  I'll just say that my timing in leaving Fort Hood was fairly excellent.

So what now?  Took some PCS leave (permanent change of station: when you get transferred from one base to another for whatever the Army considers to be a long(ish) period of time, then it is classified as a PCS move vice a TDY, or temporary duty assignment, move) and went back to NYC.  As opposed to every other time I go home to the East Coast, this time I spent most of my time relaxing and NOT trying to visit every person I knew out there.  Spent a solid week growing my hair out, not shaving, putting a dent in the book I'm reading (An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson), eating non-chain-restaurant food, and remembering why I miss living in the borough of Brooklyn so damned much.

Outside of my little vacation, I have completed moving myself and all of my belongings back to Lawton, Oklahoma, where I am scheduled to attend the Field Artillery Captain's Career Course (FACCC) here at Fort Sill.  For the non-Army audience: the title FACCC sounds a lot fancier than what it really is -- standardized PME (professional military education) at the put-forth-by-doctrine time of the career.  The utopian goal is to educate junior officers and prepare them to serve on battalion staffs and ultimately as battery commanders.  In reality, it will likely be another Big Army lowest-common-denominator everyone-is-a-go course.  Of course, I will let you know where reality lies as I lean forward in the foxhole during the coming weeks and months.

Although I haven't posted anything substantive in a while, I wasn't on complete hiatus: I've amassed a list of articles and interwebs snippets that I told myself to comment on.  I'll be reviewing the list, seeing what might still be timely or interesting (even if we are weeks or months removed from initial headline publishing).  Hopefully I can get back on the saddle and start pumping out entries again.