31 July 2010

Crew Chiefs

Black Hawk crew chiefs certainly do have a...unique...sense of humor.

Have we learned nothing?

I hate to seem as if I'm poking fun at the US Army's 300-page report on suicides, but this "maze of debauchery" is, in my opinion, worse than the infamous "Afghandyland" chart.

Despite the text which accompanies the picture (see page 4 of the PDF file), and the legend in the lower left-hand corner, I have absolutely no idea what this chart is attempting to convey.  

And I've been doing mazes since I was about four years old, so I'm quite familiar with them...  

30 July 2010

Noel Koch was right about one thing...

Last month, Noel Koch, the former head of the Army's Wounded Warrior program, guest-blogged at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense.  Koch's article described, among other things, rampant drug abuse in the Army's Warrior Transition Units, exacerbated by physicians who haphazardly prescribe painkillers.

I am in a room with 35 soldiers. The one first in front of me is glassy-eyed, staring into the middle distance, and I have to raise my voice to get his attention. Wilson, what are you doing here?

"I'm schizophrenic, sir." How old are you? "Nineteen, sir." You haven't been downrange, have you, son? "No, sir."

Smith, why are you here? "I'm bi-polar, sir." How old are you? "Twenty, sir." Have you deployed? "No, sir."  Same glassy-eyed look....

...About the glassy-eyed look? Here's a snapshot from another WTU session. A visibly agitated soldier tells me, "A lot of times I run out of my meds when the dispensary is closed and I can't get a refill when I need it."

I ask him what he is taking, and he tells me Percocet. I ask him how many he takes that he can't time his refills with the dispensary schedule. He says he has a jar of the stuff that he takes when he needs it. This turns out to be a common problem, and an uncontrollable one in the WTUs.

In Vietnam the enemy turned our war fighters into drug addicts. Today, their caregivers are doing it.
Although Koch received a rebuttal from Brigadier General Gary Cheek, the Commanding General of the US Army's Warrior Transition Command, it's worth noting that Brig. Gen. Cheek actually acknowledged that drug abuse was, indeed, a problem within the WTUs (see the comment section).

The US Army's recently-released study on suicide only confirms the serious drug problems within the Warrior Tranistion Units.  (Page 64 in the PDF file)

[Soldiers in the WTUs] can be considered at-risk – almost all Soldiers in WTUs populate one or more of the outer rings in the “Army Population at Risk” maze shown in Figure 12. The prevalence of illicit drug use in WTUs is illustrative of this risk. Illicit drug use during FY 2009 within the seven WTUs surveyed for this report were 2.9 times the FY 2009 overall Army average; of the 5,385 WTU Warriors tested for drugs, 4.8% were positive, compared to the overall Army average of 1.67%.

The prescription of opiate, antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs is an important aspect of treatment provided to WTU Soldiers. The use of these medications is legitimate when they are taken in compliance with medical direction. When these drugs are used illicitly, however, Army policy requires that offenders be referred for counseling and disciplinary action as appropriate. The enforcement of these standards has been made problematic because of inadequate detection systems. The high number of WTU Soldiers on medication compounds this problem and increases the opportunities for abuse.

There are three key gaps in Army policy with regard to detecting potential prescription drug abuse. First, the Medical Review Officer (MRO) will excuse a positive urinalysis for a drug if the Soldier has a prescription for the drug, regardless of the date of prescription. Data surveyed from seven WTUs indicated that the MRO “clearance rate” (the percentage of excused positive tests) for Warriors was 90% during CY 2009.  Second, levels of drugs found by urinalysis tests do not utilize specific concentrations other than to confirm the existence of the drug. This is important because it prevents the MRO from determining if the Soldier was using the drug for therapeutic reasons, since the samples of substance abusers would reveal much higher levels. Finally, the percentage of Soldiers in WTUs that are actually tested is unknown, which prevents an accurate determination of the magnitude of the drug problem.

WTU leadership recognized these issues and took several affirmative steps to combat prescription drug abuse; including limiting the length and quantity of medication dispensed per prescription and requiring that Warriors receive their prescriptions from a single provider. While these measures serve to mitigate the problem, the gaps in detection systems “mask” the full extent of potential illicit prescription drug use in WTUs. Current data cannot show prescription drug abuse of Soldiers who have expired prescriptions for the drug or are taking the drug in excess of prescribed amounts. The effects of these detection gaps, together with the failure to test any Soldiers in a significant portion of WTUs, prevent WTU Commanders from effectively managing their at-risk populations.
Additional links:  Elisabeth Bumiller reports at the New York Times.

Our Valuable Ally?

Thanks to Spencer Ackerman for linking to this interesting tidbit:
About six-in-ten Pakistanis (59%) see the U.S. as an enemy of their country, down slightly from 64% in 2009. Only 11% now consider the U.S. a partner and 16% say it is neither a partner nor an enemy. By comparison, more than eight-in-ten Pakistanis  consider China a partner (84%) and say they have a favorable opinion of the Asian superpower (85%).

29 July 2010

The Life of a Milblogger

I trudged into the office today, lifeless, drained of all energy even after two massive cups of coffee.  I collapsed into my chair and rubbed my eyes, streaked with crimson lines.  Another officer took notice.

"Late night drinking, eh?"

The words echoed as loud as artillery shells.  I slowly turned and muttered, "It wasn't beer.  It was #wookieeleaks."

I spent much of the night coming up with new #wookieeleaks comments, much to my regret this morning.

Later today, I will treat my dear readers to a list of the best #wookieeleaks.  Until then, check out The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder's top ten compilation.  It's somewhat incomplete, as my submissions are curiously absent.

In other #wookieeleaks news, check out this raw footage of the egregious contractor fraud that has caused the Death Star to fall behind schedule.  That Death Star gap won't close itself!  Let's get it finished!

(You can skip to 30 seconds in)

28 July 2010

Newsweek has nothing on milbloggers


There's little in Newsweek's review of David Kilcullen's Counterinsurgency that hasn't been said by either Karaka Pend or me.

Over a month ago.

I need a new job.

The stamp-embossed cover and near-pocket-size trim make for ingenious packaging. With photos, diagrams, and maps throughout, this is a book for the field—you can almost see it stuck in a camouflaged backpack in Helmand province.--Newsweek
Kilcullen has taken a number of critical counterinsurgency lessons–some gained through harrowing experience–and packaged them in a handy, notebook-sized publication...I’ll certainly have it in my assault bag during my next deployment (whenever that might be).  You should, too.--Me
Early on, Kilcullen drives home the point that success comes by changing with the environment: “counterinsurgency is at heart an adaptation battle.”--Newsweek
In short, the two recurring themes are flexibility and analysis. The counterinsurgent must be prepared to change his or her actions as the situation on the ground changes; and he or she must be prepared to review and analyze that situation and all its component parts. Good advice, but more than that, essential practice for effective operation.--Karaka Pend
The final grade?  I gave it a four out of five stars.  Karaka Pend said it was a good read, but left something to be desired (METRICS, I tell you, METRICS!).  Newsweek gave it a high B.  

Just stick with us, and we'll get you the timely reviews. 

You knew it was coming...

It was only a matter of time before the comedians weighed in on Wiki-leaker Bradley Manning, better known by his super-secret online moniker, "BradAss87".

I kid you not.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Best Leak Ever
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

("AWT rpted DSHKA vic grid YE 1185 2178" made me chuckle.  I guess you have to spend a lot of time reading mil-speak to appreciate it.)

In other news, follow the #wookieeleaks tag on Twitter for more startling revelations from a counterinsurgency operation in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.  This breaking news leak includes the startling report that Senators Mon Mothma and Bail Organa are overtly supporting the Galactic Empire, but covertly supporting the Rebel insurgents.  Yes, the same Rebel terrorists who blew up the Death Star.  

27 July 2010

Wikileaks: The Big Deal

(I lie, here's a Wikileaks entry)

While many of us yawned at the latest Wikileaks scandal, a few correctly identified the real danger posed by Assange and company.  Among them are Adam Weinstein of Mother Jones, Joshua Foust of PBS, and Dr. Rex Brynen (of PaxSims).  All brought up great points, but Foust provides the greatest elaboration on the issue:

Adam Serwer, a staff writer for the American Prospect, tweeted this morning, “Former Military Intelligence Officer sez of wikileaks, ‘Its an AQ/Taliban execution team’s treasure trove.’”

This is a very real worry — despite Assange’s assurances that his organization is withholding 15,000 documents to “redact” or change any names, what assurances can we have that WikiLeaks will do a good job?

Can an organization whose sole purpose is exposing secret information really do a good job safeguarding the lives it endangers through exposure? They really cannot. The New York Times admitted as much, saying they took much greater pains not to provide readers the means to uncover the identities of anyone in the reports they mention (some of these efforts, like not linking to WikiLeaks, are almost cutesy on the Internet, but are nevertheless honest). “At the request of the White House,” the Times editors say, “[we] urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.”

Small comfort, since WikiLeaks is barely trying. The materials in question mostly consist of immediate incident reports — seemingly downloaded directly from CIDNE, a massive reporting database the military maintains in Afghanistan and Iraq. These reports are about as accurate as first reports from a crime scene: often accurate in atmosphere, but usually wrong on details.

The military is rightly accused of overclassifying material, but in this case we have some idea of why: even with the names removed from these reports, you know where they happened (many still have place names). You know when they happened. And you know an Afghan was speaking to a U.S. soldier or intelligence agent. If you have times, locations and half the participants, you don’t need names to identify who was involved in a conversation — with some very basic detective work, you can find out (and it’s much easier to do in Afghanistan, which loves gossip).

If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer — and lots of them have access to computers — I’d start searching the WikiLeaks data for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized anyone. And then I’d kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would be directly attributable to WikiLeaks.

I'll admit it, I was wrong

Military service members are subjected to public service announcements about OPSEC, or Operational Security, almost non-stop through the military's television network, AFN.  Frequently, the commercials are little more than updated "loose lips sink ships"-style rhetoric that are generally used to frighten those evil milbloggers into submission.

I've always treated anecdotes about seemingly innocuous OPSEC violations with a degree of cynicism.  One of the more persistent rumors involves the number of pizzas delivered to the Pentagon one night in August 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.  As the story goes, reporters were tipped off to late-night military planning after witnessing dozens of pizzas delivered to the Pentagon in the wee hours of the morning. 

To me, it sounded like an urban legend.  I asked Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes' Rumor Doctor, to look into it.  Much to my surprise, there's a degree of truth to it.  According to the Rumor Doctor:

[Wolf] Blitzer, who was CNN’s Pentagon correspondent in 1990, said he learned about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait from a Pentagon official, but when he saw pizzas arrive at the building, he knew that Defense officials would be burning the midnight oil to deal with the situation.
“Later, by the way, when I was CNN’s senior White House correspondent, I always knew there was some sort of crisis going on in the West Wing after hours when I saw the arrival of pizzas,” Blitzer said in an e-mail. “Bottom line for journalists: Always monitor the pizzas.”
Could it be true that the White House – which traditionally despises leaks –is inadvertently tipping its hand every time it orders a large pepperoni, sausage and onion pizza with Buffalo wings?
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor threw cold water onto this theory.
“It’s a fun premise, but I don’t think it’s at all true,” Vietor said via e-mail.
However, CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller said it is common practice for White House staffers to order out when working late.
“You can see pizza and Chinese food deliveries being made to the northwest gate of the White House,” Knoller said in an e-mail. “It's not all that convenient, because White House staffers have to be outside the gate to receive the food, pay the delivery person and then take it through security.”
THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: Forget Wikileaks. Watch Papa John’s.

(Hear that, Danger Room?)

No Wikileaks News Today...

(Except for links to Exum's op-ed in the New York Times and his mention in the Washington Post, as well as CNAS' Fred Kaplan.  The gist of all three of these articles is hardly surprising.)

I vow to not speak about Wikileaks today.  Instead, here's an in-joke resulting from a Twitter discussion I had with Canadian journalist Naheed Mustafa, Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein, and blogger Josh Mull.

26 July 2010

I need to ask the obvious...

The US Army Garrison at Grafenwoehr, Germany, is modifying its training to deal with so-called "hybrid threats".

Question:  what are hybrid threats?

I only bring this up, as one definition, from Russel Glenn's Evolution and Conflict, defines a "hybrid threat" as:

An adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs some combination of (1) political, military, economic, social, and information means, and (2) conventional, irregular, catastrophic, terrorism, and disruptive/criminal warfare methods. It may include a combination of state and non-state actors
According to this definition, hybrid threats are, well, just about damned near anything.  And I don't say this out of ignorance, either; I'm submitting an essay for an upcoming compilation on hybrid war and even I'm confused as to what the term really means.  The official definition of "hybrid threat" from US Joint Forces Command isn't much better, either:
Any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a tailored mix of conventional, irregular, terrorism and criminal means or activities in the operational battlespace. Rather than a single entity, a hybrid threat or challenger may be comprised of a combination of state and non-state actors.
Yet, both conventional armies and insurgent groups have been known to incorporate aspects of all of these forms of warfare.  Could the NVA and Viet Cong be seen as incorporating elements of both guerrilla and conventional warfare?

I'll admit that the future holds something distinctly different from contemporary counterinsurgency or conventional combat, but what exactly does it hold?

In non-Wikileaks news...

Contrary to what a certain SWJ editor has suggested, I was not the perpetrator in last week's bank robbery, in which a man clad in a Darth Vader mask made off with a bag full of cash.  It would be mildly amusing if this were the same Darth Vader that broke into the Jedi Temple in New York City and beat up a number of Jedi wanna-bes.  Life really does imitate art, I guess.

While I'm on the topic of Star Wars, check out Drezner's latest musings in Foreign Policy Online.  Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, asks the age-old question:  were the Jedi anti-big-government libertarians?  

(Remember that Drezner is the same man who provided expert analysis on the recent disagreement between Sayyid Qutb's adherents and Lady Gaga.)

"Our Valuable Ally" (Updated)

I am shocked--shocked I tell you--to learn that the US military has long suspected that elements within Pakistan's security agency, the ISI, provide support to the Taliban.*

Sarcasm aside, this should come as no surprise to anyone who's been studying the situation in Afghanistan.  In fact, a number of prominent milbloggers, including Spencer Ackerman, Andrew Exum, Kings of War's Rob Dover, and Adam Weinstein have also expressed similar mock surprise. (Milbloggers certainly are snarky bunch)  Sadly enough, even this blog has mentioned the ISI and Frontier Corps' support for the Taliban on several occasions.

(The link between the ISI and the Taliban is so well-known, that some had even speculated that the arrest of Mullah Baradar, the Taliban's second-in-command, was little more than the ISI's attempt to purge the Taliban of moderate elements seeking to strike a deal with ISAF, thus lengthening the war.)

For good analysis of the issue, check out Exum, who discusses the longer-term ramifications of the Wikileaks report, as well as Adam Weinstein, who provides a much-needed primer to reading SIGACTS, FRAGOs, and other such documents.

Also be sure to also check out Seth Jones' "In the Graveyard of Empires", which delves into the sordid history of the ISI and the Taliban.

*--I apologize to Jason Sigger for stealing his signature line.

Update #1:  I even brought up the issue of ISI support for the Taliban in my exclusive interview with the Great Satan's Girlfriend.  Yes, you heard that right, GSGF.  Apparently, she's a more timely news source than Wikileaks.

Update #2:  Wikileaks already broke the story of Pakistani support for the Taliban last year, when they posted NATO's "Master Narrative" for Afghanistan.  The document, protected with the password "progress", advises NATO Public Affairs Officials to remark, only if pressed for information regarding Pakistani support for the Taliban, to admit that ISAF troops had, on occasion, been fired upon from the Pakistani side of the border.  Of course, we all suspected the truth. 

25 July 2010


Kings of War, a magnificent blog from the gang at Kings College London, focuses on all sorts of issues regarding defense policy, grand strategy, and, well, other critical matters.  Nevertheless, I recently discovered that it's been banned by US Army Europe.

Look, I know the British burned down the White House, but really, that was nearly two hundred years ago.  Give it a rest.

Fortunately, Facebook and Great Satan's Girlfriend are still okay, according to the USAREUR firewall.  Not to mention, Google Reader is a simple workaround to issues such as these.

(Ed. Note:  If you look at the Windows toolbar, you'll see that I have six PowerPoint presentations open at once.  FML.)

Links of the Week

Not much to report.  Although there were a few outdoor festivals throughout Germany this weekend, I decided to stay inside, on account of the weather.  Lucky I did.

Anyway, since I'm still living in an empty apartment and surfing the Internet from the bowling alley, I'm a little behind in my blogging.  Fortunately, I've filled my time reading Thomas Rid's excellent essay compilation.

Unfortunately, it's been a bad week in Afghanistan.  Take a look at the roll-up:

  • DUSTWUN:  ISAF confirms two US Navy personnel missing in Afghanistan.  
  • Two killed in a US military helicopter crash in Helmand province.  Names have yet to be released.
  • Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, isn't particularly optimistic on our prospects.
  • That upcoming Kandahar offensive?  Scrapped.  Gen. Petraeus is emphasizing efforts at building local security and popular support
There's also been some great discussion on the state of counterinsurgency theory--and its shortcomings in Afghanistan--from some very prominent thinkers.

  • Kings of War's Dr. David Ucko
  • Conn Hallinan on the "myth" of counterinsurgency  
  • Dr. Tony Corn on saving the "COIN Baby" from the "COIN Bathwater"
And finally, just when I think my life can't get any worse, someone actually posts a glowing review of Mark Moyar's latest book at Small Wars Journal.  Fuck.  My.  Life

23 July 2010

You know what’s REALLY impressive? Performance Planning.

Take a look at the following video.


I watched this with some senior warrant officers yesterday, and we all instantly recognized the culprit: the rapid transition from an in-ground-effect (IGE) condition to out-of-ground-effect (OGE). (A brief aerodynamics lesson).

Certainly, it's impressive that the pilot cold pick up a firefighter while balancing the aircraft on the tips of its skids on the side of a mountain. Yet all the fancy stick-work in the world simply can't compensate for the inevitable laws of physics. This aircraft was too heavy for OGE conditions (just look at the coning of the blades). Despite the pilot's attempt to gain airspeed, he simply did not have sufficient power for the maneuver. The sad thing is, this sort of accident is preventable.

Let's take a look at what TC 1-237, the UH-60 aircrew training manual, has to say on the topic of VMC takeoffs, specifically, from pinnacles:

MOUNTAIN/PINNACLE/RIDGELINE CONSIDERATIONS: Analyze winds, obstacles, and density altitude. Perform a hover power check. Determine the best takeoff direction and path for conditions. After clearing any obstacle(s), accelerate the aircraft to the desired airspeed.

Performance planning isn't sexy, yet no one can doubt its importance. Flight school students learn performance planning before they even set foot in the cockpit. I can't help but ask whether or not the pilot filled out a performance planning card, did a hover power check, and confirmed OGE power for the mission. Those simple steps could have easily prevented this entire situation from taking place.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in this accident.

Link:  US Department of the Interior accident prevention bulletin on rotary-wing performance planning.  

22 July 2010

Let me clarify...

Yesterday, I praised the French Colonial Army for their attempts to master both politics and warfare in small wars environments, as the two are often indistinguishable from one another.

I have to caveat my remarks, though, as the Colonial Army has, on occasion, gotten a little too involved in French politics.  Ahem.

The books keep piling up...

Looks like Zenpundit and pals have released a handbook on 5th Generation Warfare.  I just downloaded it for my Kindle, but it will have to wait till I finish Thomas Rid's latest collection.

21 July 2010

Okay, CENTCOM, here's the deal

To:  GEN Mattis, James
From:  Your favorite blogger

Subject:  Kitties!



I noticed that your new blog features a lovable picture of a US service member and a kitten.  You may be new to this whole Internet thing, so I feel I should warn you:  this will inevitably result in thousands of strangely-captioned cat pictures.  

Known as LOLcats, they're, even more popular than Lady Gaga.  Some are even translating the Bible into the strange, pidgin language of the LOLcats.  That's how popular they are.  

You need to start a crazy caption contest for military LOLcats.  Seriously.  If you don't, someone will do it for you. 

Keep soldiers out of politics? But war IS politics.

The first monograph in Understanding Counterinsurgency was penned by Etiene de Durand, the director of the Security Studies Center at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris.  Durand examines the development of French counterinsurgency practice, beginning in the 1830s with the conquest of Algeria, until the modern day.  He puts forth two salient points for counterinsurgency practitioners, and the military profession at large.

First point:  In the wake of the Vietnam War, US military planners, dismayed by the expense of costly counterinsurgencies abroad, sought to craft a foreign policy which would avoid such endeavors.  Yet, in a recent discussion I had with Col. Gian Gentile on the Small Wars Journal message board, I claimed that US forces don't always have the luxury of picking and choosing their battles, to which Col. Gentile replied that a well-crafted foreign policy would give us that opportunity.

Point taken, yet crafting a flawless foreign policy is far easier said than done.  As Durand notes, even the French fell victim to "mission creep" during their initial 19th-Century conquest of Algeria, allowing a campaign against the Barbary Pirates to balloon into a massive exercise in colonialism.  As much as we like to think we have control over our battles and our foreign policy, we don't.  Thus, we need to not neglect counterinsurgency.

Second Point:  Durand mentions that the French armed forces were essentially divided into two main camps:  a large continental army dedicated to fighting conventional battles in Europe (the metro army); and a colonial army, which sought to retain and administer France's colonial holdings (including the Armee d'Afrique).  According to one of the prominent French counterinsurgency theorists, Hubert Lyautey (not David Galula), the rigorous demands of colonial administration--combining military and political action--required the best officers, as the "political and moral responsibilities" were immense.    

As Durand notes, this sort of environment made officers political out of necessity.  By insisting on unity of effort between military and civil institutions, French officers could simply not avoid being political.  

Today, I treat calls to stay out of politics altogether as grossly unrealistic, especially in light of our efforts abroad.  War--especially irregular war--is politics.  We cannot create an organizational culture in which our armed forces are ignorant of all aspects of governance and national power or we'll be certain to fail the next time we wind up in an environment like Iraq or Afghanistan.  And, as Durand mentions, it's a lot easier to blunder into those situations that we'd like to admit.  

20 July 2010

Admin Note

As the Internet has yet to be installed in my apartment, I'm doing most of my posting from the base's bowling alley.  It's hardly an environment conducive to good blogging, so expect to see a slowdown over the next few days.

Still awaiting household goods as well.  At least the beer is good.

Slow Day

I just received my copy of Understanding Counterinsurgency in the mail, featuring essays from Thomas Rid, Andrew Exum, David Kilcullen, John Nagl, and Peter Mansoor.  With the news being somewhat slow today, I think I'll retire with this book for the evening.

By the way, don't forget to check out Dr. David Ucko's latest at Kings of War.  (As an aside, I must say that my meeting with Dr. Ucko in Berlin this weekend was much like my meeting with Adam Elkus in Syracuse.  Though with less talk of LOLcats and a greater emphasis on reflector belts...)

19 July 2010

If the British had practiced better preventive medicine, we'd all be speaking, well, English...

Every commander has his or her particular pet peeves.  Mine revolved around immunizations and preventive medicine.  So much so that, to this day, I still carry around my yellow shot record in my wallet.

I used to persuade soldiers to get their regular immunizations by claiming that that wars have been lost as a result of poor preventive medicine, with infectious disease, poor sanitation, and immunizations crippling many an army.  In fact, as I read last night, it's quite possible that America might not have won its independence had the British actually took steps to ensure the health of their sailors.

Most Americans know about the American Revolution from grade-school history books, where we learned of thrilling battles at Bunker Hill, Trenton, Saratoga, and finally, at Yorktown.  Yet, like many insurgencies, the war was not won on the battlefield; Washington's Continental Army lost more military battles than they won. 

True, the Continental Army owed much of their success to the strategic posturing of France, and overextension on the part of the British armed forces.  After all, the Royal Navy in particular was far too small to cover the breadth of the British Empire.  Tasked with protecting assets stretching from the home waters of the English Channel, the Carribbean, and the Mediterranean, the Royal Navy was hard-pressed to sustain a blockade off the American coastline, while simultaneously containing the Bourbons (then the ruling power in both France and Spain). 

Although Britain successfully undertook a prodigious ship-building effort, her real difficulty lay in recruiting and retaining enough sailors to man ships-of-the-line, frigates, and corvettes.  In October 1778, over ten percent of the Royal Navy's ships-of-the-line lacked the sufficient manpower to put to sea.

These difficulties were compounded by the fact that, though the Royal Navy drafted some 170,000 sailors into service, over 40,000 deserted.  Furthermore, another 18,000 sailors--fifteen times the number which perished in battle--succumbed to disease, with scurvy being one of the primary culprits.

Europeans had known of a correlation between the consumption of citrus fruit and the prevention of scurvy since the time of the explorer Vasco de Gama in the late 15th Century.  Later, in 1747, the physician James Lind formally documented the link between citrus and scurvy, even proposing a method of preserving lemon juice for long voyages.  Indeed, in 1775, as war was breaking out in the Americas, Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy circumnavigated the globe without losing a single man to scurvy, relying on sauerkraut as a source of Vitamin C.  Yet the British were slow to adopt regular Vitamin C consumption, and their naval operations suffered greatly.  Nearly one-third of British sailors were hospitalized in 1779.

Scurvy hamstrung the Royal Navy's operation.  Upon France's entry into the war, the British Channel Fleet was thoroughly unable to venture from their home port and provide a consistent blockade of the French port of Brest, a mere 150 miles from Britain.  Scurvy caused horrendous attrition among the sailors of the Royal Navy, forcing the British to conduct their blockade from anchorage off the southern coast of England.  This permitted a convoy of French frigates and troop ships, led by Charles Hector, Comte d'Estaing, to slip past the British blockade and land a sizable force in the Colonies.

In 1795, over a decade after the British surrender at Yorktown, Sir Gilbert Blaine petitioned the Admiralty to regularly issue lemon juice to British sailors.  Within a few years, sickness in the Royal Navy dropped precipitously, with hospitalization rates dropping from one in three in 1779 to one in twenty by 1807.

A healthier force was able to leave Britain and seal off the French coast through long-standing blockades.  It was the ability to stay at sea longer, according to British historian Piers Mackesy, which allowed the British to break the naval power of Napoleon.

Which raises the question:  would we be living in a far different world had the British had simply taken their vitamins?

18 July 2010


The Defense Department announces the tragic loss of AFN icon, Squeakers the Operational Security Hamster.  Rest in peace, Squeakers.

For more Squeakers videos, check out Squeakers' very own Facebook page.

Developments from Canada

Ian Ellot, a reporter for the Kingston (Ontario) Whig-Standard and WOI fan, has let me in on some recent developments within the Canadian Armed Forces worthy of study, especially as the Canadians tend to closely mirror the US in terms of doctrine, training and equipment.

Flying the unfriendly skies

It's no secret that helicopters have become a lifeline for NATO troops in Afghanistan, rapidly ferrying cargo across rugged terrain, and incidentally, keeping troops off the increasingly dangerous roads.  Unfortunately, most NATO countries have been unable to keep up with the demand for rotary-wing aircraft.  Recently, the dearth of helicopters in the British Army has been a source of scandal for the Ministry of Defence.  Even the US military, which formed a dozen robust combat aviation brigades--each with over one hundred aircraft--within the past decade is still looking to bolster its rotary-wing fleet.  Army officials are augmenting medical evacuation units with  additional aircraft, and are attempting to form another combat aviation brigade as well.  Moreover, specialty aviation units, such as separate aviaition companies from the Army National Guard, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle units, and even the super-secret IED-hunting Task Force ODIN are frequently attached to US combat aviation brigades.

Canada has found itself in a similar conundrum, with too few rotary-wing aircraft for its mission in Afghanistan.  Fortunately, the Canadian Army was able to stand up a capable aviation task force, the 1 Wing Tactical Helicopter Squadron, consisting of CH-47 Chinooks, CH-146 Griffons (a twin-engine Huey variant), and even an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.  Shockingly, the the Chief of Defence Staff at the time, Richard Hillier, was in favor of deactivating a this squadron, which is home-based in Kingston, Ontario.  According to their commander, Lt. Col. Larry Paziuk, the unit was in search of a mission, and lacked credibility within the Canadian Armed Forces.

Yet, over the past few years, this helicopter squadron has proven itself time and time again, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the skies over Toronto.  And it's expected to stay in Afghanistan for the long-haul, being among the last of Canadian forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.

A Sherman can give you a very nice...edge

Ian also gave me some fascinating intelligence on Canada's use of Main Battle Tanks, such as the Leopard II, in Afghanistan.

A few months ago, as many readers might remember, US Army Col. Gian Gentile penned an emotional lamentation of the death of the armored corps within the US Army, spurring considerable debate.  While I concede that Col. Gentile has some decent points, I don't think his fears are completely justified.  Although we may not see the massive clashes of armored formations which epitomized the 1991 Gulf War, that doesn't mean that tanks have no place in modern, asymetric conflict.  Dozens have weighed in on the utility of tanks in counterinsurgency environments, most notably Sadr City in Iraq.

The Canadians and Danes, moreover, have used their Leopard II tanks to great effect in Afghanistan, where the Leopard II has proven more effective than the Canadian LAV, as the Leopard's main gun is able to penetrate Afghanistan's ubiquitous mud huts.  In fact, the Leopard has been so successful that the Canadian Ministry of Defence halted the procurement of Strykers and LAVs, and began to purchase additional Leopard IIs.  Ian helped to put this decision in perspective:  tanks were practically erased from the syllabus of Canadian staff colleges as early as 1999.  It's a decision almost as revolutionary as revising an old counterinsurgency manual.

The experience of the Canadians and Danes simply reinforced something one of my readers, Paul, noted:  when bullets start flying, it's far better to have tanks than to not have them.

Thanks to Ian for the news from Canada!

17 July 2010

No amusing news today

US Soldiers committed suicide at a rate of one per day throughout June:

The U.S. Army has released new statistics indicating a record number of suicides occurred in the month of June.

Military officials said Thursday that last month, 32 soldiers either killed themselves or were believed to have done so.  The figure includes 21 soldiers on active duty as well as 11 people in the Army reserves or National Guard.

The Army also says there were 88 suicides among active duty members in the first six months of last year.  In the first half of this year, the Army reported 80 suicides among active duty members.

Also Thursday, the Army released a new video that addresses the subject of suicides.  Officials say it includes testimonials from soldiers who have struggled with the urge to take their own lives.

Last year, experts said soldiers are under tremendous, unprecedented stress because of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A 2007 study found the most common triggers include failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems, and job stress 

15 July 2010

Nothing to see here, move along...

An article in yesterday's New York Times, describes the reckless and often dangreous behavior many troops fall victim to upon returning from Iraq.  It is, unfortunately, an all-too-common account of the troubles we often face during redeployment.  Well, save for one small detail.  I took the liberty of highlighting it for you:

In fact, given the brigade’s record at Fort Bliss of suicide, murder, assault, drunken driving and drug use, its troops are statistically at greater risk at home than while deployed in Iraq. During the past year, only one of the unit’s soldiers died in combat, but in 2008, the last time the brigade was home from Iraq, seven soldiers were killed and six others committed crimes in which at least four civilians and soldiers from outside the brigade died in a little more than a year.
Drugs, including heroin and a methamphetamine lab, were discovered in the barracks, as was a homemade sex tape that had been circulating among soldiers and that featured one of the brigade’s female lieutenants and five male sergeants.
“Being back in garrison is what we don’t do well, because since 9/11 it seems we’ve spent more time deployed than at home,” Lt. Col. David Wilson said.

Overlooked Insurgencies

The recent events in Belfast, Northern Ireland--which have injured scores of people--have led me to think about insurgencies, policing actions, and other "minor" conflicts often overlooked in popular military studies.

With the US military's recent emphasis on counterinsurgency and policing actions, scores of books have examined "small wars" in Malaysia, Vietnam, Algeria, and the Hejaz War of 1916.  Still, there are far more conflicts worth studying, with the actions in Northern Ireland being among the most valuable, and the narco-insurgency in Colombia being a close second.  My regular readers also know that I also draw a lot of parallels between modern counterinsurgency and the American Revolution.

(As an aside, I'd argue foremost among the lessons worth drawing from Northern Ireland is that the tensions between Protestants and Catholics have little to do with religion, per se, but with deeper-rooted, more practical motivations, such as economic factors and political power-sharing.  For example, unemployment among Catholic youths in Northern Ireland has skyrocketed in recent years, according to the New York Times.  I've long believed a similar situation exists in the Muslim world, with religion used largely as an excuse, not a motivator, for violence)

What other "minor" conflicts are often overlooked in contemporary military studies?

14 July 2010

Actions v. Words

Dear fans, as I vacation in my Alpine retreat, don't think that I've completely abandoned you.  Verily, I bring you  good tidings, a link from Small Wars Journal, and some brief commentary.

In an article in today's SWJ, Captain Jonathan Pan bemoans the dichotomy between the rhetoric of American officials and the reality on the ground, reminding me of an old Army maxim, "a little less 'hooah', and a little more 'do-ahh".  Indeed, an inability to marry actions with words can make modest success seem like dismal failures.  The Israelis made this mistake during the 2006 Lebanon War, failing to live up to their threat to wipe Hezbollah from the face of the earth.

As Captain Pan notes, we're also guilty of the same in Marjah, where the "government in a box" failed to materialize as quickly as ISAF spokespeople claimed that it would.  (Certainly, part of the blame rests with the grossly unrealistic approach by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who expected to see thriving government within three months of the Marjah offensive--a process which can take years.)

Check it out, it's a great article, and it's gotten quite a bit of attention recently.

FaST Surgeon is the new James Bond?

Just as the James Bond series spans the careers of six actors, so does FaST Surgeon in Afghanistan survive throughout the RIP/TOA.  (That's Relief-In-Place and Transfer-of-Authority for the civilians out there)

The original FaST Surgeon, Lt. Col. Joe Sucher, is now safe and sound back in the United States.  Yet the blog lives on through a new surgeon, "Captain J".  If you haven't been following FaST Surgeon, suffice to say that I think it's easily one of the best deployed milblogs I've seen in a long time.  Add it to your RSS Reader and follow it at Facebook.

11 July 2010

Whither the Strategists

I've been taking the time to catch up on some reading on the topic of strategy after  hearing a number of prominent bloggers bemoan the lack of strategic planning and theory, especially in the 21st Century, and in recent American history in particular. I'd offer that America's seemingly unlimited military resources have contributed to sloppy strategic thinking, if we're even thinking in that realm at all.

For a while, I've been heavily engaged in Piers Macksey's War for America, which delves into the strategic challenges facing Britain during the Revolutionary War.  I'd argue that it has some significant parallels for the United States, as it fights two expensive counterinsurgency campaigns abroad, with threats still lurking about from much larger powers.  I'm also reading Edward Luttwak's Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.  Strangely enough, after the first two chapters, it seems to be less about strategy than it is about operational and tactical theory, though I think grand strategy will be explored in full later in the book.  I'm also keenly cautious about the traps of "orientalism", after reading Patrick Porter's latest book.

For specific posts on the lack of strategic thinking in America, see Ink SpotsKings of WarArmchair GeneralistAndrew Krepnevich, edit:  Armchair Generalist again.  For blogs dedicated to strategy, see Adam Elkus' Rethinking Security and Red Team Journal, as well as Thinking Strategically, and Offshore Balancer.

09 July 2010

Out of the loop

I'll be out of the loop for about a week or so.  In the meantime, the big issue over the next week will be the Pentagon's ever-expanding budget.  Some good links with brief commentary:

  • Nearly ten percent of the Pentagon's budget goes to Tricare, a US government-subsidized health care program which covers over nine million beneficiaries.  There's also been a marked increase in spending on social programs within the military in the last ten years.  Throw in bloated weapons programs and two wars which cost trillions of dollars, and you have a microcosm of the classic "guns vs. butter" debate within the military itself.  
  • The current Pentagon budget is the largest since World War Two, a time when the US had nearly ten times the number of uniformed service members.  
  • Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has always advocated trimming the fat from the Pentagon budget.  It's hard to imagine someone disagreeing with Gates' common-sense approach to national security.  Once again, I completely underestimated Sarah Palin's vacuous drivel.  

08 July 2010

Civil-Media-Military Relations

Lt. General Robert Caslen, the current commander of the US Army Combined Arms Center, wants your feedback on the state of Civil-Media-Military relations in the wake of the recent incident with Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

AKO access is required to post, but anyone can read the commentary.  You can also see my accidental double-post and my pre-coffee ramblings.  (Sorry, I'm a n00b)

06 July 2010

Acknowledging the contributions of the IDF

Over the years, the IDF has received many of America's finest creations:  the Black Hawk helicopter, the F-15 Eagle, and the M-16 rifle.  They've also taken some of the worst of America; namely, Effects-Based Operations and now, Ke$ha-style dance videos.

I can guarantee this costs less than $2 billion

News flash:  unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-ship missiles, and even submarines are no longer the sole property of nation-states.  Several non-state actors employ them as well.  Take this recent discovery (H/T Commander Salamander):

A 100-foot (33-meter), twin-screw diesel submarine seized at a jungle shipyard in Ecuador marks a quantum, if anticipated, leap in drug-smuggling evasion technology, the top U.S. counter-drug official for the region said Sunday.

"It is the first fully functional, completely submersible submarine for transoceanic voyages that we have ever found," Jay Bergman, Andean regional director for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told The Associated Press.


Equipped with air intake and engine exhaust pipes, none of those craft were capable of fully submerging so they could evade radar and heat-seeking technology of drug-interdiction aircraft.

The camouflage-painted vessel seized by Ecuadorean police Friday appears by contrast to be capable of long-range underwater operation — a development U.S. analysts have long expected, Bergman said.

Acting on a DEA tip, the Ecuadoreans found it at a sophisticated shipyard with living quarters for at least 50 people on a jungle estuary several miles from the Colombian border, he said. It had yet to make a voyage.

Built of fiberglass and other composites, it has a conning tower, periscope and air conditioning system and measures about 9 feet (2.7 meters) high from the deck plates to the ceiling, the DEA said. Ecuadorean police told the DEA the vessel has the capacity for about 10 metric tons of cargo, a crew of five or six people and the ability to fully submerge, Bergman said.

Top Foreign Milblogs?

While American military blogs--or "milblogs" as they are known--are fairly prominent, I really don't see very many from non-US sources.  Among the most notable foreign Milblogs are:

  • Offiziere.ch (Switzerland)--focusing on a number of European, and Switzerland-centric defense issues.
  • Voo Tatico, which translates as "Tactical Flight" (Brazil)--focusing on issues concerning rotary-wing aviation, the military of Brazil, and military combat simulators.
  • Kings of War (UK)--run by the crew at King's College London, this focuses on matters of counterinsurgency, British defense policy, and grand strategy.
  • Helmand Blog (UK)--this official MoD blog chronicles the efforts of the British Army in southern Afghanistan.  
  • The Torch (Canada)--recently shut down, this used to be the pre-eminent Canadian military blog.
  • War Poet (Canada)--an embedded poet follows Canadian troops in Afghanistan, amassing an interesting collection of poems.  
Am I missing any prominent foreign military blogs?  It's surprising that there are very few "boots on the ground" personal blogs from troops in Afghanistan. 

The tough questions

Zenpundit should have been on the Senate's confirmation panel for General Petraeus.

05 July 2010

A Fourth of July in Deutschland?

So how does an American spend Fourth of July in Germany?  How about by watching an amazing performance by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band in Grafenwoehr.  Thanks for all you do for us, Mr. Sinise!

A belated salute...

I forgot to mention that I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Patrick Porter's recent book, Military Orientalism:  Eastern War through Western Eyes.  I really need to start posting more book reviews online.

Unity of Effort, Then and Now

The debate surrounding the relief of General Stanley McChrystal  involves the issue of unity of effort.  Noah Shachtman, of Wired.com's Danger Room, quotes from an e-mail he received:
There are very few things we control in Afghanistan. In every review of COIN best practices, ‘unity of effort’ tops the list. Every. Single, Review. And we’re totally fucking it up; fucking up the one thing that should be in our control,” the advisor says. “We can’t control Karzai, or the ANP [Afghan National Police], or the Pakistani tribes, but we should be able to get our shit in one sock and we’re not.  [This is further expanded upon by CNAS' Andrew Exum]
The controversy over unity of effort, and more importantly, the implication of a civil-military divide, was echoed in a passage I recently encountered in Piers Macksey's "The War for America", a history of the American Revolution written from a British point of view. (Thanks for the recommendation, Tom Ricks!)

Says Macksey:
Saratoga was marked by the resignation of all the Commanders-in-Chief in America, and was the beginning of what was soon to become a characteristic misfortune of the war:  bitter feuding between the Ministers and their naval and military commanders.  By the end of 1777, both Carleton and Sir William Howe had resigned; and their example was to be followed by Lord Howe in the course of the following year.  
It's interesting to note that the British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga was born, in no small part, of grudges between British commanders Burgoyne and Carlton, the latter of whom refused to lend any assistance to Burgoyne, who ultimately surrendered to a large force of Continentals and militiamen.

The lesson:  disunity of effort can cost lives, battles, and ultimately, wars.

Question for the Kings of War:  do you have any other good recommendations for historical works on the American Revolution?

And they doubted me

Some had expressed disbelief that there are a few in the Army who mistakenly idolize the infamous "Ride of the Valkyries" scene in Apocalypse Now.  I merely direct you to this weekend's New York Times:
As the soldiers were packing up the desert camp, Major Logan, who saw combat in Iraq in 2003, stood watching and quoted Robert Duvall from a movie about another American war, Vietnam, one that ended badly: “Someday this war is going to end.”

02 July 2010

About that Medal of Honor

Recently, an American soldier--as yet unnamed--was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.  Only six Americans have been awarded the medal in the last decade, all of them posthumously.  

The dearth of Medal of Honor recipients has stirred quite a bit of controversy in past years.  Some attribute the lack of awards to partisan politics during an unpopular war.  Others cite the changing nature of modern counterinsurgency warfare; a shift from large, set-piece battles to sporadic engagements and reconstruction efforts.  

Yet, the US military has been performing these sorts of missions--peacekeeping, peace enforcement, counterinsurgency, and the like--throughout its entire history.  As such, our "small wars" show no lack of Medal of Honor recipients.
Some have even received the award under less-than-valorous circumstances.  One of the most famous awardees, General Douglas MacArthur, received the award in 1942, after allowing his air force to be wiped out, and botching the defense of the island of Luzon.  Retreating to the island fortress of Corregidor, MacArthur was ordered to flee to Australia, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in charge of the beleaguered garrison.  Upon his arrival in Australia, Gen. George Marshall nominated MacArthur for the Medal of Honor.  (As an aside, Gen. MacArthur refused to nominate Gen. Wainwright for the Medal of Honor, despite his years of captivity.  Fortunately, despite MacArthur's request, Wainwright ultimately received the award).

Gen. MacArthur isn't the only questionable recipient of the Medal of Honor.  In years past, the award has been given away, in some cases, frivolously.  Charles Lindbergh received the medal for flying across the Atlantic Ocean.  Nearly thirty received the medal for serving as President Lincoln's honor guard.  In fact, an entire infantry regiment--over 800 soldiers--was awarded the medal during  the Civil War simply for re-enlisting.  (I take that back, over three hundred received the medal for re-enlisting, and an additional five hundred received the medal as a result of a bureaucratic error.  Seriously.  Read that link.)  

While I think there are certainly many living heroes who deserve the Medal of Honor, I don't think the culprit is a vast conspiracy to downplay the heroism of soldiers during an unpopular war.  I think that the information age forces a greater degree of scrutiny on those who receive the medal, ensuring that no one simply receives the medal for "a lifetime of service".  

01 July 2010

Posting slowdown

Posting should be light over the Independence Day Weekend.  A few other books and projects pushed aside Piers Mackesy's "The War for America", but I think it's appropriate to continue it this weekend.  I might also check out "American Insurgents:  American Patriots" as well, thanks to the Small Wars Council.