18 October 2009

The old school still applies...

While riding in a car to Syracuse a few days ago, I had the chance to read a great book called "The Defense of Jisr al-Dorea". I had heard of this book coming out, but it kind of fell to the bottom of my to-read list. However, I saw it on the home page of my Amazon Kindle and I thought I'd at least download it so that I could read it later. To my surprise, I noted that the book, which came packaged with another military classic known as "The Defence of Duffer's Drift", were surprisingly short.

I decided to go ahead and read through the book, which has risen to the top of many counterinsurgency reading lists. It's an extremely quick read, and it contains many lessons applicable to counterinsurgency.

One particularly critical lesson from the first portion of the novella regards the "priorities of work"--the first essential tasks one accomplishes when occupying a new patrol base. In the book, the Soldiers make the mistake of immediately falling asleep when they occupy their new combat outpost, setting up cots and tents in the open, with disastrous results (from which the author derives many lessons).

The "priorities of work" come out of the old infantry Field Manual # 7-8, and date back to the old conventional war days, but as the author notes, this lesson is still particularly important now.

During an exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center last year, we were attempting to set up our base defenses, living accomodations, communications, operations centers, and the like. Nevertheless, I had one Soldier consistently asking me if he could go to the post exchange to pick up some snacks. You see, in Afghanistan, every base comes equipped with shopping malls, coffee bars, video markets, massage parlors and the like. Based on his combat experience, he knew that he could always simply go to the post exchange upon arriving at a new forward operating base if he forgot anything.

I derived many lessons from this Soldier's experience. The first was that we'd allowed these forward operating bases to grow into massive cities--basically, they were massive forward-deployed garrisons. And we kept going to the same massive garrisons year after year after year--with some units coming back to their same headquarters buildings only two years after vacating them.

Whenever we deploy, we know about it well in advance--sometimes one to two years in advance. We have time to pack shipping containers filled with plasma televisions for our op centers, overhead projectors, personal belongings, bicycles, gym equipment, lawn chairs, you name it. When we arrive in theater, we will have most of our mission-essential equipment waiting for us there. Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs) remain in Iraq and Afghanistan and get swapped out between rotating units, along with much of the base infrastructure and equipment.

In many ways, I fear that we've lost our ability to rapidly deploy to hot spots around the world. I've been in light infantry divisions my entire career, and remembered when we used to pride ourselves on the ability to rapidly move ourselves anywhere in the world--be it to Panama in 1989, or to New Orleans in 2005.

Deploying repeatedly to static bases has caused this critical combat skill to wane. Although future wars may very well be some form of counterinsurgency, they may also begin with a significant conventional war as well--even the most reputable COINdinistas recognize this. Moreover, who is to say that we may not need to rapidly send troops to augment ongoing counterinsurgency operations? This capability--to deploy rapidly to sometimes Spartan conditions--is a critical one which we must not lose.


Unknown said...

As an 11 Bravo Vietnam vet, all I can say is . . . GOOD GOD! Lawn chairs?

Starbuck said...

I also forgot to mention the bicycles to ride around the massive bases.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/19/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.