Sunday, February 18, 2007

Eyes Opening

Yesterday evening's briefings were some of the most interesting stuff I've seen since we got here. The commander of the battalion that we fall under for training purposes is a leading authority on counterinsurgency, a published author on the subject, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. His briefing was partly on the situation in Afghanistan. He has served in the Gulf War and in Iraq. This was his first trip to Afghanistan. What he said was eye opening. What he said to expect was enlightening.

Apparently, we can expect light infantry activity in mountainous terrain. Most of the training that we've had here has centered around mounted activity... riding in up-armored humvees. There, we will apparently be carrying our stuff with us as we wander about with the Afghan light infantry for a month to six weeks at a time... or at least that's possible.

In truth, we don't know what to expect. You can tell by the questions that we ask that it is a major concern to us. This week we finally got some word on where we can expect to be, at least intitially. I can't write about that now, though. OPSEC (OPerational SECurity.) What I can say is that we are pretty lucky for the start point.

Some of what we do know is this; in Afghanistan you are more likely to be shot than in Iraq. The upside is that you are less likely to be killed by an IED. I'd rather be shot at. I can shoot back really well. God help anyone who shoots at me who doesn't hit me quickly.

We know that the enemy is most likely to be small teams of committed insurgents, and that there is often a local connection.

Counterinsurgency is the type of warfare that we were engaged in in Viet Nam, and Americans have a bad taste in their mouths for counterinsurgency operations. It's not just the public that doesn't appreciate it, either. The Army had such a distaste for any reminders of Viet Nam that for years and years it did not have a doctrine, no manual for counterinsurgency. In December of 2006, five years into a counterinsurgent war, the Army finally published FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency. It has been downloaded over 1.5 million times since then. Copies of it have been found in insurgent safe houses and training camps in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are studying our doctrine. They are not stupid. Insane? Yes. Stupid? No, clearly not.

It has been said that counterinsurgency is not just a thinking man's warfare, but PhD level warfare. The Army has been training for over 30 years to fight conventional uniformed adversaries, and for the past five years has been fighting against insurgency primarily. There was a brief conventional "nolo contendre" fight during the initial invasion of Iraq, but after that it became a counterinsurgency... a botched one at that.

This is a fight that has to be understood to be fought. No one is teaching the doctrine. No one is drilling on how to evaluate the situations we will find ourselves in. No one is defining how to map social networks to identify insurgents and understand the flow of political power in a local region run along family and tribal loyalties. We are left to educate ourselves. There is plenty of wisdom available. You have to find it and train yourself.

We are not stupid. We are ignorant.

Where we are going, ignorance kills. Ignorance loses. Ignorance makes my sons, and makes the sons and daughters of our generation responsible for securing their own peace. We will have failed to provide it for them.

The Lieutenant Colonel who has written excellent documents on counterinsurgency is what our Army needs to promote. This guy needs to be leading our Army into this effort which will last for at least the first quarter of this century. This is not a quick, cheap fight. We need to have lots and lots of teams like the one I'm part of. We cobble them together, like the one I'm part of, and we don't retain the experience and knowledge needed to continue the fight year after year.

Sometimes I think we're going to lose this out of ignorance. We need to be flexible, not stodgy, and we are a stodgy Army. Not what we need to be.

We will do the best we can with what we have, though. We are well-trained in our basic soldier tasks and will find our way through all of this. The guys I'm with are smart, for the most part motivated, and they bring a wealth of military experience to the fight.

A lot of the mistakes that have been made in both countries are largely due to the lack of training and awareness in counterinsurgency, though. Many of the tenets of counterinsurgency have been violated time and again in Iraq in particular. We are a fat Army, prone to occupy large FOB's (Forward Operating Bases,) which prevent us from being flexible. The safety we seek in large, well, protected bases makes us more prone to meeting violence outside of the bases. We shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly. It all boils down to using conventional troops to do an unconventional job in a conventional manner. All of the lessons are there for us to learn from... and we learn slowly as an institution.

Somehow or other, we will get it to work. At least they have published doctrine now. That's a step in the right direction. Now all we need is to teach it, learn it, and practice it. We are not stupid, but we are ignorant and quite resistant to change.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Getting Closer, A Kick in the Head

The end is in sight... just four more weeks to go after this one. Then there is likely to be leave for a few days and then off to the wild wild west.

Last night, getting ready to go to sleep, the thought struck like a slap to the head, "I can't believe that I'm doing this." I said it out loud. One of my roommates, for whose privacy I shall call 'The Highlander,' said, "Can't believe that you're doing what?"

"All of this," I replied. All of this. It was a reality kick. At my age, doing all of this.

Not like I don't live this reality every day... it's just that sometimes there is a sudden perspective shift and it just seems so wierd. This thing is waaaay bigger than I am. It's bigger than any of us. Thank God I don't feel like that all the time, or I'd be overwhelmed every day. It's kind of fun to have that feeling once in a while, though.

I'm not overwhelmed this morning. I'm waiting for our classes to begin. Classes for the next three days, then next week it's live fire exercises on the range from moving vehicles. The week after that is "shoot house." We will practice clearing buildings with live ammunition. The most dangerous thing we will do here. Someone could shoot someone else so easily.

We may get enough leave at the end of all of this to go home for a few days. Perhaps as much as a week.

I can't wait to see my kids again.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

The South Has Arrived

The boys from South Carolina have arrived. They got here yesterday, and they seem like a good bunch of guys... but they take up waaaay too much space in the chow hall. They are the group that I thought that I was volunteering to go with when I sent in my application to do the ETT mission. Surprise! I wound up with these guys. I'm glad, really.

We got to fire the foreign weapons on Saturday. AK's, RPK's, and SVD. Fun. The AK is an amazingly primitive weapon. I was in the last group to fire and we got tagged with helping to clean them. I go to work to do my usual cleaning job on an AK and the instructor said, "You're cleaning it too much, you're going to mess it up." What?

We are trained to clean our weapons. With the AK, they said to just spray it down with Powder Blast (an excellent product from the good people at Break Free,) and wipe it, then spray it with WD-40. Insane. The AK is a bullet processor, plain and simple. It will knock the crap out of you, but it is simple as a hammer and pretty much as effective. It's not the most accurate thing in the world, but at 200 meters, you can hit what you shoot at. The M-4, on the other hand, is very accurate and very nicely made. It is also simple, but not crude. The AK is just plain crude. But it works every time you squeeze the trigger. It is made to be operated by cavemen.

Kalashnikov was a freakin genius. Right up until you look at his other designs. He got lucky the the AK-47 family. It is simple, crude, and incredibly reliable. The Russians understood from experience that most combat takes place at ranges of less than 300 meters. So they made a rifle that is useless beyond 300 meters and fairly effective below that range. You can't pick your spot with the AK, but all you have to do is touch someone with it and they have a new project to work on.

I still like my M-4. I can pick my spot at ranges less than 200 meters. I can hit small targets with it. People very rarely show you much when you are shooting at them. Usually just their head, perhaps their head and shoulders. I know that I can hit that at 150 meters, no problem. The M-4 has to be kept clean, though. You can't just spray it down and wipe it and be done. You have to take it apart and clean it. I've never had a major problem with it. This one is brand new.

Today we will shoot the Mk (Mark) 19 automatic grenade launcher. It fires the same warheads as my M-203, but it fires them much, much farther. More powerful charge to the cartridge. It will rain grenades down on your foe at 1800 meters (one and one eighth miles.) It was designed for the navy during Viet Nam for the riverine patrol boats. It was so effective that the Army bought it. We mount it on humvees. I probably won't have one in Afghanistan. But today will be fun. And if I ever need to use one, I will know how.

Other than that boring weapons stuff, I am healthy and relatively emotionally stable. I really miss my kids, and I miss my friends a lot. Sometimes I feel really lonely and like there is nobody other than my kids who really gives a crap... but I can't share those types of feelings with my kids. That would be emotional incest. It would be nice to have someone to share the feelings with. It's okay, though. That type of thing is a luxury. My life is simple, and it's a good thing. It keeps me from feeling like I have too much to live for to be doing what I'm doing. It keeps me humble, and like I'm not so precious that I am too important to be put in harm's way.

The simple reality is that I am expendible. We are expendible. We are the expendibles of society. This war is so wierd. You have a huge sector of society... it seems to be about 90%... that is just about completely unaffected by the war. It's not like there's rationing going on or anything. It's not like there's a draft. They just have to watch it on TV. Mostly that's about Iraq. I was literally asked, "Is there still a war in Afghanistan?"

No. There is no war in Afghanistan. I'm on vacation.

It's these guys that I'm spending every day with... hundreds of them... and there are thousands more just like them... that are the expendibles. It's not that we want parades or anything, and there are people out there that feel that they are supporting us by demanding that we "come home." We feel very disrespected by all of that. The protestors do not honor us, they disrespect us. We are grown men who believe in what we are doing.

Cindy Sheehan does her son no honor at all. She disrespects him in the extreme by claiming that he was duped, that he was abused, that he was unwittingly thrown into a blender by some conspiratorial power beyond his control, that he was caught completely unawares by some giant vacuum cleaner, siphoned out of his comfortable and promising young civilian life and spit into a lethal dustbag by an evil cabal. She is delusional, but she shames her son. He was a grown, if young, man. He made a choice. This country exists because of the hundreds of thousands of (for the most part) young men who have made the same type of decision that Casey Sheehan did and paid the ultimate price.

Or... he was an idiot; a simpleton who had no idea what comes out of the end of the gun with the little round hole in it. A moron who thought an IED was something that was used as a particularly dangerous method of birth control.

Idealistic, perhaps. But the real shame is that Cindy uses his memory as a pawn in her own particular game of Munchhausen's by Proxy. Poor me, I lost my son. Look at how it hurts. Poor Casey.

Nobody makes the choice to do their part with the idea in mind that they are going to be one of those who pay that price. They know that it is a possiblity, though. Paraphrasing Patton, it has been said that wars are not won by giving one's life for their country but rather by forcing the other guy to give his life.

If anything happens to me, please please please do not shame me in such a manner. Do not parade me as part of some cause to stop, or halt, or withdraw, or appease. I do not believe in those things. I believe that this nation will suffer more as we attempt to withdraw. I believe that if we do not begin to prevail that my sons will be fed into this effort piecemeal.

We are a nation of Short Attention Span Theater. We want quick, we want not to be bothered by having to watch this night after night on the news. We are easily bored. We are our own worst enemies. Before I left, one of my co-workers expressed, "I am just so tired of this war!"

Tired? Of what? Are you tired of the fuel rationing? Is it the meat rationing? The blackouts? Shoe rationing? Scrap metal drives? Saving fat to make explosives? No... it's tired of watching the evening news. Bored with seeing the ongoing story of what goes on in (mostly) Iraq. We are a nation with no stamina. We easily tire of any effort. We are just like what the enemy says we are... weak, weak-willed, fat, lazy, prideful, and ignorant.

Yes, Cindy... it is quite possible that your son's life was wasted; not because he wasted it, but because you are wasting it with every speech you make.

My life, and the lives of these hundreds I see and the thousands I don't are on the line so that you have the right to waste your son's life with your free speech. We are here so that you are free to dishonor his sacrifice and ours.

It's okay... I'm on vacation.
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Monday, February 5, 2007

Training Continues

It's been awhile since I've been able to post. The computers that the Army provided for internet access will not allow the browser to go to blogging sites. There are a few military bloggers out there who tell their stories in such a way that they give away our TTP's (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) and give our enemies intelligence. The biggest mistake anyone in our situation can make is to assume that his enemy is stupid. They are not. They use what they find to be useful, and the internet is one of those things.

Anway, the Army doesn't really want to encourage blogging for that reason. They actively discourage it by preventing the use of Army networks to even go to the websites, so it's hard to get a chance to update the blog.

Everything is going fine. The team has settled into more of a routine, although no one day is just like any other at this point, so there is no "groundhog day" thing quite yet. I know that will happen at some point during the year overseas, but it hasn't happened yet. Some minor personality issues have surfaced between some of the strong personalities (we all have strong personalities... you don't usually see senior leaders who don't) on the team, but things are finding an equilibrium, and the maturity levels involved usually help mellow any friction.

Sometime soon perhaps I will detail the personalities we have on the team. For now, we have finally become a complete team. The last of the additions is also the only non-volunteer on the team. He was in the IRR (Inactive Ready Reserve) and was reactivated to fill in the position. We were worried that he may come with a less than satisfactory attitude due to his untimely removal from civilian life, but he seems to be fine. He was in his first year of law school. He's a West Point grad who has already done a tour in Kuwait and a tour in Iraq.

My Lieutenant is a trip. He's one of the smartest people you're likely to meet, but a bit introverted. Sometimes he is in "I'm just living through this part to get to that part" mode and he doesn't look like there is a thought in his head. That is not the case... but whatever it is that he's really thinking about isn't necessarilly what we're doing. He's an eccentric, and quite capable of entertaining himself mentally. He's a great guy with all the best intentions. Most of the other guys on the team don't "get" him, though. The other junior officers, the two captains, verbally shoot at him a lot. Some of the NCO's direct a bit of fire his way, too.

I think he'll be just fine. He's wierd, but so what? I've been referred to the same way. My biggest advantage is knowing that I am. He made it through a tour in Iraq and I'm sure he'll be fine this time. He's started to focus on some mission-essential tasks such as learning language and learning about the geography and history of Afghanistan. He learns very quickly, and I think that he'll be just fine.

Really, I think a person could have his head completely covered in cheesecloth and if it is God's will, he'll survive this thing. It's not that one shouldn't try very hard and put a lot of effort into being aware, proficient, and outwardly focused... but hey, if the Big Guy wants you to come home, you're going home. If not, you'll blunder through whatever and not be physically harmed. The Lieutenant does not have his head wrapped in cheesecloth, but I think he's managed to convince some of the others that he does.

Time will tell how any of us fare. There are a lot of things you don't know about yourself until they happen and you have to respond.

The body armor is getting lighter, or at least it feels that way. It is something that one has to get used to. It doesn't matter how strong you are, when you strap 40 plus pounds of weight around you, it makes a difference. We're getting used to it. I am beginning to forget that I have the pistol strapped to my leg all the time. It's becoming a part of my leg.

It's been really cold. Running before the sun comes up when the temperature is four degrees is not something that one would think of doing normally. It's really hard to motivate yourself to do that when you're given the option to do calisthenic type exercises indoors in lieu of running. But the running is the part I need the most. Much of Afghanistan is over 6,000 feet of elevation, including the part that we will be in. I need every bit of aerobic capacity that I can get. What I really need is to quit smoking. That's another story. Anyway, this week I actually had my lips go completely numb while running in the morning before dawn. Novocaine numb. It was wierd.

The details of training aren't important right now, but since the last post we've been Combat Lifesaver certified, including starting IV's with a saline lock, we've continued with combatives, more language classes and labs, had a briefing from a bird Colonel who just got back from Afghanistan (part really interesting and part waste of time) and gotten certified to drive the M-1114 up-armored humvee. That part was fun, especially driving at night with the NVG's (night vision goggles) on. The M-1114 handles completely differently than a standard humvee. It's tons heavier. Actually, the most interesting part of that training was the rollover simulator. It actually rolls over the passenger compartment of a cut-up humvee on a rotating "spit." Then you have to egress from the inverted cab while in full "battle rattle." It's not easy. You get hung up on everthing, the seat belt doesn't want to release... it was fun. So far it's the best E-ticket ride at this amusement park.
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