Monday, August 4, 2008

Argghhh! And The Red-Headed Stepchildren

I'm going to use a post that originated at Argghhh! posted by Kat. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, having experienced firsthand the effects of this phenomena. Argghhh! used one of my comments as a separate post on the site. I am only using the original post and my comments to form the basis of this post.

Here is the original post:

A report recently about the military adviser training school at Ft Riley says that military advisers can't get no respect:

FORT RILEY, Kan. — Standing next to a screen illuminating a long list of tips, Maj. Anthony Nichols looked out at the classroom of neophyte military trainers and began a lecture about the ways that fellow soldiers will look down at them while they serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other soldiers will call them "undesirables," sent in because they had no other place on the battlefield, the instructor said. Some units will kick military advisers out of security briefings. One recommendation: to "patch swap," carry alternative military insignia for their uniforms so they can pretend to be members of other units. It will help them get supplies and equipment more easily. Or at least more respect.

"I came armed with a stack of patches. . . . Who am I going to be today?" Nichols said about his time in Iraq.

Actually, I think I've read that last "patch" comment somewhere else, but it wasn't from an MA. I think it was from an FOB dweller, but his reason was the same: no respect.

Gates recently talked about insuring that military personnel with unconventional resumes would be given as much attention and room for promotion as any who followed the conventional career paths. Gates was not just talking out the side of his face, he actually put it in motion by bringing Petraeus back to over see the promotion board for the next set of generals. He's quoted retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl who wrote about a permanent Army Advisor Corps (complete with tab) of about 20,000 for America's future "wars" where, as Gates and Nagl puts it, we will augment our security, not by fighting every war ourselves or by ourselves, but with the assistance of allies in the country or region.

But, as Kaplan noted in this piece last year, it was tantamount to declaring war on the military brass. Not just the brass, though, it will be military culture that will have to change. It isn't just about inter-service rivalry. Every unit promotes the idea that it is the best in order to push their personnel to be the best. That typically goes towards general harassment and feelings of superiority as well as a sense of privilege among some.

Part of the issue is about "chain of command" concepts. The military operates on a strict adherence to command structures. This is ostensibly to maintain control and eliminate, as much as possible, any confusion in orders, priorities and expectations. In a complex battle situation, with war raging all around, the simpler the command structure, the less confusion and the more likely an operation will come off successfully.

This can also cause a somewhat stagnated and moribund adherence to old structures and ideas that can lead to disasters. Think of it as the "Charge of the Light Brigade" in the face of massed artillery behind a redoubt or massed infantry charging out of trenches across wide spaces covered by machine guns, artillery and snipers of the enemy in World War I. Or, the Maginot Line fortress defenses being built as Germany created the machinery and doctrine of "blitzkrieg".

Or, as John Gates (no relation to Secretary of Defense Gates) wrote in a paper on the US Army and Unconventional Warfare, the conventional warfare methods of the US army in Vietnam against a guerrilla force. J. Gates notes that the army had gravitated away from 18th century "Captains of War" to the managerial, careerist "professional" military of the 20th century where promotion was set in concrete steps and often had little time or patience for "unconventional"; neither in personnel or in function.

Gates also noted two other complementary ideas. First, that the command structure in Vietnam was confusing and more representative of an inverted pyramid with more decisions being made from offices and officers (or, in some cases Pentagon and Oval office) far away from the battlefield. The type of autonomy officers get in their areas today was unheard of fifty years ago. The second issue was that such decision making cycles and chains stifled creative thinking and resolution. In the case of Vietnam, Marines who were conducting CAP (civil affairs patrols), living within villages and doing what is now associated with COIN, were eventually redirected to active, mass operations, abandoning the villages and the likely most successful strategy.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, the idea of counter-insurgency was a dead subject by most commanders who preferred the Powell Doctrine: get in, smash the enemy and get out. It had to go the long way around to get to where it is today. And, the same thing nearly happened in Iraq: we nearly lost the war for want of a unified counter-insurgency strategy.

Also in Iraq and Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, military advisers occupy a nebulous "tween". They are attached to one command, but reliant on many to do their jobs. They have to fight for the things they need because the Army, right or wrong, focuses first on supplying their own needs and supporting their own operations. Transition teams with advisers to allied units don't always have the support, supplies or money necessary to do what they believe is necessary to develop their AOs.

In terms of being "chased out" of briefings, it is about a myriad of things that include command structure, operational necessity, a fear of disruption, a fear of lost security and, finally, sometimes about hoarding control. The power of an adviser truly comes down to "how to influence people and make friends". This concept and nebulous position of the military adviser does not necessarily win him or her accolades among those who live, and die, by the command structure.

Nagl's idea about an advisor corps might have some merit, but that corp will still have to learn to live and operate with the rest of the army when both types of operations are being conducted. Nagl suggested a "combat advisor" tab to designate these men from others, much like special forces or other specialized units. This may go someway towards mitigating the lack of respect or appreciation among the rank and file, but, what is most likely to earn these service members respect will be the successful build up and transition to the Iraq government and its armed forces. Along with the concurrent reduction in other military "combat" personnel from the country.

Some of that will only occur while "combat advisers" are actually out in the field getting shot at along with their indigenous forces (which is happening now). The rest of that respect may only come when the military comes to grip with its dual role as a peace breaker and a peace maker.

Maybe it will only come when they accept "unconventional warfare" as an actual doctrine of war instead of an aberration.

Here is my first comment:

"The article is on target. During my time at Ft Riley, we were told that we were the main effort; that everyone on that fort wished they were us.

I volunteered for the ETT mission in Afghanistan through Guard Bureau after seeking a conventional rotation to Iraq with anybody who was going. My unit had nothing projected and I felt the need to contribute. The SGM at Guard Bureau’s deployment desk recommended that I look into the ETT mission in Afghanistan. My response: “Huh?” I, like the rest of the Army, was clueless.

At Ft Riley we were, if not the main effort, a very significant effort of that installation and the 1ID. It wasn’t until we got in country and downrange that the problems began. To top that off, after rumors of some of the ETT’s who had law enforcement experience being assigned to the developing ANP mission. I had no fear of that, having been only the subject of law enforcement, but having never carried a badge myself.

I was assigned to the ANP mission shortly after my arrival in Afghanistan because I am an Infantry NCO. Go figure.

The problems started with the team from the 7th SF Group whose firebase we were sent to without a vehicle, crew-served weapon, SECFOR team, or any long-range communications ability other than the cell phones that we had acquired privately in Kabul. We were not provided minutes for these phones, as they were not government phones. They were our only link to the our support structure.

TF Phoenix exists to support the ETT’s and PMT’s downrange. We did not see our UAH, crew-served weapons, radios, or SECFOR team for six weeks. There’s lots more to that story, but after we fought in a big operation with our ANP, took fire and casualties with them, and got a few cool things done, it was a different story. The 82nd guys were telling us that we were crazy. They saw how we hung it out there and how exposed we were a lot of the time and they respected that.

Really, nobody knew what we were about. We had to earn our respect. The 82nd gave us their patch. They wanted to give us medals, but our own chain of command asserted themselves at that point. We were OPCON to the 82nd, but not ADCON. The OPCON thing made a difference.

Someday, people will wish that they could say that they were an ETT or a PMT. As the stories come out and people become more aware, like they did about some of the things that happened in Viet Nam. For now, we are the red-headed stepchildren. My little crew called ourselves the Bastard Children. It all worked out. Great mission, lasting memories, and a lot to be proud of. Very small reunions."

And here is my second:

"Counterinsurgency is not acting like an insurgency. It is using the position of strength in such a way that you are able to separate the insurgent from the people. First, you have to be there, on the ground. Big Army thinks that means going to where the insurgents are massed and attacking them with weapons. While that is certainly part of it, it's actually a small percentage of the real work.

Insurgents, including the Afghan insurgents, do try to goad the bigger force into attacking civilian targets. When the government forces oblige, that helps to separate the people from the government and lean towards the insurgents.

Galula likened insurgents to fish, and the people to the water that they swim in. Big Army likes to go after schools of fish, but is lost on how to handle the smaller groups that blend into the population. The wily guerilla, on the other hand, knows better than to mass unless they believe that there is a direct benefit, like actually being able to defeat a unit of government forces.

Galula also explained that the Army tends to move into areas that are troubled and step on them. The insurgents squirt away from the pressure, leaving only token forces to harrass and let the people know that they haven't abandoned them... remember, the insurgent has an appeal to the people; "we are the good guys, and we are in need of your help. We care about you, but the big guys don't understand or care about you."

That's simplistic, but it gets the gist of it. Part of the counterinsurgent's job is to understand the enemy's message and coopt it; take away the significance of the message. If the message is, "you want jelly beans, and our insurgency will get you jelly beans," then the COIN forces need to start working on getting some jelly beans. Again, simplistic.

That part is particularly difficult when fighting an Islamic "religiously-based" insurgency. How do Kafirs such as ourselves take that high ground? Obviously, we can't. However, there are elements that are perfectly suited to dealing with the other problem that results from stepping on an area.

While that area calms down while the Army is there, the Army's attention is then drawn elsewhere. Insurgents go and become strong where you ain't. So the Army goes there, and then the area you just left descends once again firmly into the sphere of the insurgent.

That's where the police come in. However, if the police had been doing a good job and had the respect of the people, the area wouldn't have been under the sway of the insurgents in the first place. They need to be fixed or replaced. There can be no consistent security on the ground without them.

If Big Army goes after the schools of fish with tuna boats, the local police use the smaller nets constantly in their local areas, then they occasionally need a speargun when they learn of or find where a big fish is lurking. Big Army's SOF are great spearguns... but you even want to leave the indigenous forces with that capability, too.

When the host nation can do all of these things and develop the ability to provide other governmental services throughout their country, the insurgents become irrelevant; as long as you have addressed the concerns of the people that made them support the insurgents in the first place.

Galula pointed out that, while you may have some forces that act insurgent-like (SOF,) that by and large the government needs to act like the government and cannot reduce themselves to the level of the insurgents.

The government needs to basically criminalize the insurgents. "Freedom fighters" are sexy. Mafia thugs are not.

Okay, here's where Big Army has a problem; counterinsurgency is not sexy Audie Murphy stuff, and does not feed the elitism. Killing one or two insurgents once in awhile doesn't add to the unit's legend or prestige, and arresting them counts for even less... in their minds.

The Army doesn't want an advisor corps for the same reason that the Navy resisted submarines. Most naval officers weren't submariners. Most naval officers... especially the ranking ones weren't carrier pilots, either. First, they didn't understand it; second, it threatened what they did know; third, it changed everything.

Giving manuever units a small internal advisor team is like putting a submarine on the deck of a battleship. It sounds neat, but the battleship commander will rarely know what to do with it. He'll use it as a garbage skow or a grocery-getter. The maneuver force commander will do the same thing. The advisors will wind up staffing his TOC at night like the internal red-headed stepchildren.

The DSTB, 82nd Airborne, did a pretty good job of supporting us. They did, on occasion, use it as a hammer to get things done the way that they wanted them done, though.

There needs to be an established mechanism to support the teams in the field. Basic stuff like fuel, food, bullets, maintenance, and housing became big problems fast when our jobs ran counter to the battlespace owner's ideas/taskings/job.

There was one other major issue, but this is long enough and the thread may be dead anyway."

Actually, there are a number of other issues. The Army recently addressed how being an advisor affected an officer's career, for instance. There is now a mechanism in place designed to prevent time spent as a mentor from actually damaging an officer's career. The Army is not sure how to recognize time spent as a mentor.

One other issue that we dealt with was during my time in Nuristan, the final couple of months of my deployment. There, the battlespace commander decided that MP's would be a good way to train the ANP.

It was a good idea, but there was a disconnect. The MP's found themselves working in conjunction with PMT's, but not in any way answerable to them. An MP SSG in charge of the equivalent of a reinforced squad of MP's could find himself working in conjunction with a Captain who had no real authority over him, other than by general authority. The Staff Sergeant may find that he doesn't like the way that the Captain wants things done, and decide that he wasn't going to follow that guidance.

That's exactly what happened. Not only that, but the Staff Sergeant tried to use his access to the local battlspace commander to poison the Captain's reputation. He also tried to poison the Captain's relationship with his own chain of command. While the Staff Sergeant wasn't entirely successful, it was a great waste of time and energy and the military strength that stems from unity of command was completely absent.

In that zone, tasks that were normally the realm of the PMT's, such as district assessments, were delegated to the MP's. This minimalization of the role of the Police Mentor Teams resulted in a lack of unity of effort that impaired the effectiveness of the work done by both factions in the effort and damaged the command relationship with the host Task Force.

In Kapisa Province, the only contact that we had with the MP's was when they were being used to escort the Task Force commander in the battlespace. In Nuristan, we were thrown into situations where the MP's had similar objectives, but there was no unity of command and sometimes little unity of effort. This relationship was left entirely to the overall Task Force commander.

Of course, many of the issues that we ran into in country were related to tactical and supply issues that impacted us on the ground level; sometimes down to the housing level. The ETT's shared in that experience. Sometimes it worked out well, sometimes it worked out horribly for the embedded trainers/mentors.

Battlespace commanders, who are commanders of maneuver units, sometimes come to distrust the PMT/ETT members, accusing them of "going native." Abu Muqawama addresses some of the aspects of the maneuver unit relationship here.


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/04/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. It's hard enough when people go to war to fight the enemy, but when they have to fight their own chain of command? This is a problem that needs some more attention. Would you mind if I wrote about it over at the Talon? I'll send you the link to the article once it is posted. (I'm going to write it. That was just a formality. lol)

    You have, once again, produced a very well written article. Easily read, easily understood (for the most part), and very tactful. Sometimes I believe you are holding back just to make your point less personal.

    I know if that were me, I might have written a different article. Say, one that started off like, "The jackarses don't know what they're doing, and here's a few examples..." lol. Then again, that is one more thing that I admire about you. You always consider the good for the whole unit instead of just yourself. Bravo for you! God bless your family and you.

  3. What's up Ol'Blue! Hakuna Matatta Kusmatta!

    Yes it sucked. For a while the Bastard Children ruled the roost mind you. We had the autonomy to conduct operations seperate from the BSZ Commander. We were told we were crazy. In retrospect WE WERE. We got the job done and If I may boast a pretty damn good job at that.

    After our phonecon the other night I could tell you were fired up over this issue.

    We were the soldiers with no "home" but aleays had a place to stay. Remember in the worst of it, our counterparts would sacrifice everything for our assistance. Sometimes the everything played out. We stayed focused on OUR mission and battled the internal stuff as it came by. I feel no regret in our decision making process, save a select few, during our deployment. Your subtleness and my not so subtle approach achieved results far above our paygrades should have yielded.

    Good on ya mate.

    Talk soon




  5. Have you seen A Ragtag Pursuit of the Taliban?

    U.S. Effort to Train Afghans as Counterinsurgency Force Is Far From Finished

    WAPO, so caveat emptor, but I can't detect much MSM bias in it.

  6. Now I'm beginning to understand the resistance to Petraeus' COIN plan from above and below his pay grade.

    Thanks again.

  7. Think of a rectangle with a diagonal divider from about 1/3 along the top edge to 2/3 along the bottom edge. To the left, kinetic; to the right, non-kinetic. What starts out with pure fighting ends as pure civil support and stabilization and development shading to full handoff to central government control. It's not a sudden transition -- it's a gradient. The angle of the slope and the transfer mechanisms need to be planned, but then managed flexibly depending on circumstance. The slope may have angle changes from time to time.

    Very tricky stuff, but doing it well is the only way to "get there".

  8. I missed your comments on this. That was a really great explanation of the issues. They don't know how to use it. Excellent explanation.

    I'm looking for your post on the French LT in the convoy with his pointing gun in the "wrong" direction vis-a-vis the very large (bizarrely?) and "successful" attack.

    thoughts on French convoy security?


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