26 January 2010

I f*cking told them so! (ISF and fake bomb-sniffers)

Wired's Danger Room is running an article about the fake bomb-sniffing devices currently being used by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). My unit saw these things in-person: they were in use at a number of checkpoints in Kirkuk.

We always knew the devices were fake, but were unable to convince the Iraqis of the fallacy of relying on these things to detect explosives. At some point during the tour, we received a report that Americans had taken X-rays and taken apart one of the devices to reveal that there was no power source inside the device, and that none of the "detecting" components connected to anything.

My patrol stopped at a checkpoint in the northern part of the city initially to chastise the Iraqi Police (IPs) for not wearing their bulletproof vests ("It's too hot and the vests are too heavy" was the Iraqi response to our line of questioning).

Among the IPs manning the checkpoint was a commissioner (IP equivalent to a senior NCO in the U.S. military) who was so obese that his vest could not be closed. I asked him what his procedures were for checking vehicles for explosives. He waved an IP over with a small black pelican case. The IP opened the case and the commissioner rather triumphantly pulled out the fake bomb-sniffing device.

We proceeded to explain to him that the machines were fake and had zero ability to detect anything, much less explosives. The IP commissioner was adamant that the machines worked.

"How many vehicles have you stopped and detected explosives inside using this machine?" I asked, pointing at the flimsy piece of black plastic.

"None," he answered. Still, he insisted that the device worked.

"How does it work?" I asked. "Explain to me exactly how this thing detects bombs."

The commissioner pulls out these little things that looked like calling cards. "Each card detects a different chemical: RMX, TNT, etc.," he said. "Insert the desired card into the machine, and if there are explosives, the antenna will move."

By this point, we were all fairly incredulous that this Iraqi Police officer had fully placed the safety of himself as well as those of his men in the hands of a piece of plastic with a car antenna sticking out of it.

Further pleas with the IPs to stop using the machines and go back to old school police work -- random vehicle stops, getting the driver out of the vehicle, methodical vehicle, search, etc. -- were unsuccessful.

"I am telling you -- I'm not guessing, I am telling you -- that this shit doesn't work. If you guys want to get yourself killed, go ahead. I'm not going to be anywhere near you guys when you use this garbage." Disgusted, we mounted back up and got the hell out of there.

25 January 2010

Small Wars Journal: Today's Junior Army Officers

An interesting article posted on SWJ regarding the Army's current ability (or lack thereof) to retain quality junior officers.  The author, CPT Tim Hsia (I recognize the name, so he is a fairly prolific contributor in the defense academic circles) takes a look at why so many company-grade officers are getting the hell out of the Army.

I know this inevitably leads people to ask me about my own intentions, signaled by the leading question of, "So when's your commitment up?" or "Ever think about using your law degree?"

And my answer is always the same: I don't know yet.  For the short term, the Army is a good place to be.  I got another deployment in me, so the Army is the answer for the next few years.  Beyond that, I just don't know: there are a lot of variables, a lot of things that can or may or may not happen to me between now and x number of years from now.

I do know that CPT Hsia points out some concerns among junior officers that I share, concerns that are both professional and personal in nature.

I also know that there is a fear out there (at least a fear that I feel: not sure how many of my peers feel the same way, or are even cognizant of it) that the Army is going to suffer down the road.  We're talking five, ten years down.  When shitty lieutenants and captains who have been able to fly under the radar because of OPTEMPO and retention and attrition, become shitty majors and lieutenant colonels.

I don't want to sound alarmist: I am not saying that battalion staff officers and battalion commanders of the near future are going to all suck.  Not at all: there will be plenty of good officers that stay in that will undoubtedly bring some balance to the mess.  But, there will most certainly be a rough patch that the Army officer corps will have to endure.  I imagine it will be akin to the turbulence the Army sailed through in the post-Vietnam era.  Probably not to the depths or extremes as the late 1970s and early '80s -- but perhaps in a similar vein, albeit less severe/substantial.

Only time will tell, I suppose.  Maybe I'll still be in a uniform to tell y'all about it...

An exercise in academics

Okay, I've decided to resurrect this thing.  Hopefully, I'll have better luck keeping up with it than before.  Now that the tour in Iraq is over, my focus is going to shift more towards defense topics.  It's really an academic exercise, intended to keep my mind sharp and motivate me to educate myself before the next inevitable deployment (can anyone say "Afghanistan"?)

I also plan on slowly updating entries from the Kirkuk deployment: that will take some time, though.  I've also imported some older entries from a different, now-defunct blog that I used to keep: some of them still relevant today.  They are posted under their original dates of publication, so you'll have to do some scrolling and clicking to reach them (mostly 2008 entries).