Friday, February 13, 2009

Revenge On The Nerds (Exclusive Preview Of The New Movie Due Out Soon In A Theater Or News Show Near You)

The people that Andrew Basevich calls "The Crusaders" and COL Gentile calls "True Believers," the people who are committed to the concept that this war requires consummate counterinsurgency, are the geeks of the Army. The Army is an organization that has embraced an athletic form of elitism that has in many ways helped the organization to transform from the troubled post-Viet Nam Army of Carter to the capable and professional force of today. My whole career has been served under this transformation, from the early days of the revolution that Reagan demanded to the present day problems of embracing the geekery of COIN.

Make no mistake; the true COINdinistas are the major geeks of the Army and the supporting actors who operate with us. This is strange, because the Special Forces are the traditional home of the counterinsurgents in the Army. They are the ones who thrill to FID (Foreign Internal Defense... advising and mentoring) and those guys are never thought of as geeks. Snakeaters, voodoo practitioners, spooky types, perhaps; but not usually geeks. Those outside of the shadowy SF world who carry the sword and clown horn for COIN are geeks, though.

The geekiest of the geeks, the Nerd Mages, would have to be the Human Terrain Teams. "What," you may ask, "are Human Terrain Teams?" You know, I'd explain it to you, but it'd probably make your eyes glaze over. "What," you would ask, "do social scientists have to do with war?"

In the massive, conventional Desert Storm type warfare that our Army craves, not much. In a counterinsurgency on a complex human landscape like Afghanistan, they can help you plan your interactions and even missions and projects such as irrigation and electrical power. They help keep you from making the mistakes of the ugly American. They are civilians, very well educated, mostly all contractors. Most commanders see them as chicken bone readers and frequently ignore them. Many would rather consult a Ouji Board or an Eight Ball; but their information can be vital, and can save both blood and treasure. This is what is called an enabler. This information, shared down to the Soldier level, wields incredible power, becoming a combat multiplier.

That, of course, was an incredibly geeky thing to say.

Side note: have you ever read, The Ugly American? It makes a great impression... shows how smart people can screw up COIN from the get-go. It's more from the USAID type perspective.

There is something horrible going on in Afghanistan. The Human Terrain Teams are being gutted by a massive change in the organization that is requiring many of these social scientists mapping out the complex social networks in local areas to take up to a 70% cut in pay, obviously as part of an economic stimulus package.

Or they can quit.

Many are quitting and going home. They can now find much safer work for more money and actually be appreciated.

Who was the mastermind behind this? Does GEN Petraeus know about this? Why is that mastermind someone not being suspended by the toenails, strung from rusty chains in a musty, dripping dungeon echoing with screams?

Why, just when we should be doing our best to embrace our inner geek or overcome our inner jock in order to master geekery in the name of duty, are we chasing away the Nerd Mages?

It's almost like we are trying to screw this up.


  1. Don't ya know? They're making too much money, so to be fair Obama is taking what they earn and giving it to the welfare cheats and the unions. I am so p.o.'d. Yes, he has no idea of what he's doing, and he would not listen to Gen. Petraeus if HIS life depended on it. Grrrrrrr.

  2. Rosemary, I'm sure that Obama, or indeed the new Administration, had nothing to do with this—its entirely a self-made DoD screw up, probably because of concerns as to how Iraqi HTT members would otherwise be affected by the new Iraq SOFA (that at least is what the HTTs are being told, I believe).

    Bill-and-Bob.. have you acted much with the HTTs? Seen much of their product? I hear a lot of conflicting things about the value of their output (perhaps because in the wide variation in the quality, composition, and utilization of their products)...

  3. I see bombings on the up against Shia in Iraq also. Sounds like our new POTUS is still having amateur hour at the White House, unfortunately for the rest of us (and especially our servicemen).

  4. Hi Blue. Like Rex, above, I too would be interested in any interaction with HTTs that you might have had.

    In my quest to learn more I came upon an article for Men's Journal, by a guy called Robert Young Pelton, who seems to be his own one man show (Books, DVDs, ETC,) on "Danger Adventurism".
    He sounds like a jerk to me, but maybe he was being sincere. His trip with an HTT takes him to Kapisa province and the Tag Ab. You might find it something to comment on.

    And the Army's response to RYP, who incidentally thoughtfully brought booze with him, is here:

    Thanks again for keeping us informed.

  5. Hey Blue,

    Excellent post and great points. I have talked at great length with the HTT team covering the eastern region from the Jalalabad Airfield. Their knowledge of local tribes and the human fault lines inside Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan Provinces is impressive. Even more so given the operational constraints that they have to deal with.

    The J-bad team campaigned constantly for greater freedom of movement and better access to bad guy websites which would allow them to gather even better situational awareness at the micro (district level.) They had some success but not as much as you or I would hope.

    This change in pay and status is a disaster which does nothing to address the many identified shortcomings of the program. What it will do is drive all the talent out of the HT teams leaving behind the kind of individual who thinks working in Afghanistan for the same amount you could be easily earning in America is a good idea. One of the strengths of the HTT program prior to this change was the ability to keep quality people working the same region for years on end. The reason good contractors make the big bucks is the desire by companies to retain talent on the job for multiple tours. People who know their areas, know the people and customs, some of (at least)the local languages and the major area leaders are invaluable.

    If they had doubled the old pay scale but moved the HTT's off the FOB's and into the cities living like the UN, NGO's, or US AID contractors the program would have been enhanced, the teams even more effective, and the costs reduced substantially. By cutting the wages 70% and leaving the program firmly embedded in the military it will cost more to find, train, deploy, feed, and look after HTT members than it would if they were allowed to live outside the FOB's. More money to produce less effective human terrain teams - that is big government at work. And people wonder why I become nauseated anytime the new "Stimulus Bill" comes up in conversation.

    Tim san

  6. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/17/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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