30 December 2008

Israel and Gaza

It looks as if Israel has turned its attention to its southern menace, that of Hamas.  Hamas represents yet another terrorist-turned-legit agencies which we've experienced on more than one occasion.  It bears repeating that in areas where central government is weak, corrupt, ineffective, or averse to the needs of local minority groups, terrorist groups--particularly those that can provide essential social services to the local populace--will continue to thrive.  This only further demonstrates the need for our military and civil leaders to be skilled in all forms of conflict as well as statesmanship in order to combat these hybrid terror organizations.  I think I'm going to save that to my Windows clipboard and  paste it into my web browser whenever another group of this nature starts to flex its muscles.  

Now, the unfortunate part of this is that I've been unable to watch any news stories on this because, here in Iraq, the only TVs that I can regularly get to are the ones in the dining facility, which need to cater to the masses.  And today, the masses wanted to watch Stand By Me.  While I am proud to be around such cultured individuals (indeed, this movie, which stars that Wesley Crusher kid, is awesome), I have to have my news sometimes, and by God, I need something other than Faux News.  How else am I supposed to provide astute social criticism?

Fortunately, I have been able to get on the Internet a little more recently, and have noticed a good post on Abu Aardvark which discusses the reactions from the Arab world.  For those of you who think that there's a monolithic "Arab World" out there, you'll find that you're sorely mistaken, as there's been not only condemnation but also support (yes, support from Saudi Arabia.  Unfortunately, I can only load it in Arabic) for the recent Israeli actions in Gaza.  

I actually learned much about the divides within the various actors in the Arab World when I, as a college senior, partook in the Model Arab League.  I did this not only to get information on the Middle East, which I viewed as a brewing battleground for which I would need all the cultural and political information that I could amass, but also because it was being held at an all-girls' private college.  Sometimes, my intellect and my desire for debauchery coincide.  But I digress.

With that said, this latest round of actions in the Gaza strip will get my full attention.  It also gives me a chance to mention the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), which then causes me to mention my fellow blogger Charlotte, who, every Monday, posts her IDF girl of the week.  Yes, I can make light of serious situations...

29 December 2008

So with Christmas over...

The packages have only been trickling in.  At this point, it's probably for the best, as I don't think I can look at another cookie again.  If anyone wants to send over some healthy snacks (fruit snacks, jerkey, almonds, health bars, etc), I'd gladly appreciate those.

I'd also like to thank Sarah in Syracuse for her Christmas package.  Now, to add background to this package, I have to admit that I have this strange compulsion to wear bizarre, humorous and at times offensive t-shirts to bars and clubs.  What's even more sad for the fate of humanity is that these t-shirts have, at times, fueled my encounters with the fairer sex.   Sarah is one of those individuals whom I met at the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company this past summer, whileI was wearing a t-shirt made popular in Dinosaur Comics.  

At any rate, she knows my love of "Rick Rolling" various message boards, and got me a t-shirt with none other than Rick Astley and the text "You've just been Rick Rolled".  Plus she got me about 200GB of music.  And an Under Armor shirt.  She rules.

Latest writing project--I'm looking at publishing another article for Small Wars Journal regarding upgrading our captains' career courses in order to actually create the "Pentathlete Soldiers" that will be so valuable to 21st Century conflict.  So just in case you were afraid that I concentrated too much on Internet memes and not to serious studies into the art of conflict.

27 December 2008

Around the Web in 60 Seconds. Or however long it takes to read this...

First up, I got a little free publicity with my Podcast Interview at The Kindle Chronicles, where I talk about everything I'm reading on my Amazon Kindle electronic book reader. I can't even count the number of times I've been stopped and asked about my Kindle in the past week--it's been that popular a Christmas present (in fact, it's sold out until February). The only problem I had was when I had to hitch a ride back in another battalion's UH-60 Black Hawk a few days ago--it's so light that I can't read it while sitting behind the crew chief's door for fear of it blowing away (there would go a hard-earned $350).

Next, Small Wars Journal linked to an interesting article on Counterinsurgency Warfare in the Phillipines, a forgotten counterinsurgency that's been going on for some time.   

SWJ also brought up a book that I might pick up called "In a Time of War:  The Proud and Perilous Journey of the West Point Class of 2002" (Hey!  It's in Kindle format!)  I'm not a West Pointer, but I graduated from ROTC in 2002, and that year group represents a fascinating turning point in the development of our Army, so much so that I noticed a marked difference between captains from the 2001 year group and the 2002 year group.  I will probably turn this into a full-blown article one day, but the Army's graduating class of 2002 (regardless of where they graduated from) was the first year group that effectively joined an Army at war.  

The class of 2002 was trained by an Army which was still doctrinally determined to fight massive battles against fixed militaries, and believed that the solution to victory on the battlefield was more robust, high-tech equipment (e.g., the RAH-66 Comanche).  When the class of 2002 graduated from their service schools and deployed to fight counterinsurgencies, they noticed a massive disconnect between what they were taught in their schooling and their actual combat experience.  They were further confused when, after one or two deployments, they went to their respective captains' career courses, which focused mainly on--once again--fighting massive fixed battles against large armies, as if the schools hadn't changed a bit in the last six years.  Clearly, I'm not the only person that's had this experience (page 3 in particular).  

And finally, I'd always heard rumors that, in the late '80s, George Lucas was considering a Star Wars Broadway Musical, due to the fact that he thought he'd tapped out the Star Wars franchise.  Most of us look back on this event and thank God that Timothy Zahn published a series of novels that started pulling in revenue for Lucasfilm, thus cancelling this project.  Well, with the Star Wars movies finished, it's time for George Lucas to officially destroy our childhoods (as if Jar Jar Binks weren't bad enough) with the official Star Wars Musical.  

25 December 2008


So Christmas was a little unexpected, but interesting.  I woke up and went for a run, and much to my surprise, I saw a few Soldiers dressed as Santa, Elves and Reindeer being pulled along in a sleigh down the street, all the while dancing in the sleigh.  It was also a further surprise to find out that they were some of our own Soldiers, and that they were making a visit to our very own dining facility.

Turns out that in order to be pulled in a sleigh and dance, you need something other than Christmas music to dance to.  Imagine my amusement when I found out that Santa Claus and his elves did, in fact, have techno dance music playing as they went down the street dancing and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. I swear, the only reason I carry a camera with me is so that I can prove to people that I don't make this stuff up.

As I went to get my camera, I found out that I would be flying today.  In 40 minutes, no less.  I got dressed and pretended that I knew what I was doing (which actually sums up most of what I do in life anyways).  

Turns out that we'd be hopping from Forward Operating Base (FOB) to Forward Operating Base today.  After completing pre-flight, I went to get myself a "to-go" plate for lunch and set it, along with my Diet Coke, next to my seat.  After a few stops at a few bases, I indulged a little in Christmas lunch.  In the cockpit.  

Merry Christmas to me. Diet Coke, as always, remains upright and unspilled.

We hit up a number of bases on our trip today.  I need to be the first to say that I really have no right to complain about my living conditions.  For us, life sucks because the Internet is too slow to really browse Youtube effectively looking for videos of World of Warcraft characters dancing (don't judge).  For the thousands of Soldiers who live in Combat Outposts on the outskirts of cities, built during the height of the Surge of 2007, life sucks because they don't have anywhere near the luxuries we have (i.e., coffee shop, large post exchange), nor the essentials, like toilets that actually work.  As ghetto-fabulous as my living conditions might seem, they're a five-star hotel in comparison to how the conditions the Soldiers may live in as they work among the Iraqi people.

One of the crew chiefs poses for the camera.

Taking off from the Combat Outpost, we landed at another FOB and indulged in a huge dinner, complete with turkey, ham, and pretty much everything that you could think of for dinner.  Oh, and fake wine as well, so that I wouldn't have to stoop to drinking fake beer.  I have taste, you know...

What was really neat about this particular FOB's dining facility was that they had taken pains to construct a real-life nativity scene, complete with goats and a turkey.  

I made sure to get some coffee for myself, so that the turkey wouldn't put me to sleep on the trip home.  And, of course, I didn't miss my opportunity to have my picture taken with Santa. I have no idea why he somehow thought I was on his "nice" list for this year. That guy's getting senile.

And if that weren't enough for today, I had to open my presents, make a few Skype calls, and finally update my Blog.  Being an Internet celebrity is harder than it looks...  

23 December 2008

Even Our Enemies Need Their Facebook...

A few articles from around the Blogosphere talk about the need for trans-national entities, such as al-Qaeda, to communicate and recruit across large distances, which they do using the Internet.  To maintain a large network like al-Qaeda, say experts, you would need to use a large number of features commonly found in Web 2.0.

I actually read the article in amazement, but apparently, the author is suggesting that to communicate effectively, terror organizations would need (and may already use) features similar to Facebook (to organize, network, poke each other and tag one another in drinking pictures), Wikipedia (to capture lessons learned), Advertising (I can only imagine the ads), and perhaps even a sort of Virtual World used for training simulations and seminars, similar to Second Life or World of Warcraft.  I guess Osama Bin Laden might actually be in a cave somewhere screaming "Leeroy Jenkins!!!!!!"  

As much as I joke about a terrorweb, it brings up a lot of issues.  Most are unaware of the "Deep Web", "Darknet", and the "Dark Web"--portions of the Internet where Google and other conventional search engines haven't tapped into, that may comprise a vast porton of the Internet.  How would one combat an organization that communicates on the Dark Internet?  Could these networks be attacked through kinetic means (hacking), or could they be brought down through social engineering and infiltration? 

I want to be a junkie when I grow up?

News of pirate attacks and the Taliban's latest activities in Afghanistan have overshadowed an insurgency growing in America's back yard.  In Mexico, gangs of narco-terrorists have made massive gains in the country.  What we might be seeing in Mexico is an effect that is common among similar terror/insurgent organizations that slowly gain legitimacy.  

Terror organizations thrive in areas where central government is weak, ineffective or corrupt.  Organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and even LET (from the Mumbai attacks) gain a certain degree of political legitimacy due to the fact that they are often the only organizations which can provide essential social services to people within their sphere of influence.

A similar phenomenon is now found in Mexico, where drug cartels are now seen as a romantic organization.  An article in Global Guerillas (which is based on an article from the Christian Science Monitor) noted that due to the rampant corruption of police and government officials in Mexico (those who are often in the pockets of drug cartels), the narco-traffickers are actually seen as a noble entity, with children as young as eight telling their teachers that they would like to work for drug cartels.

Additional Christmas Links (Still Stuck)

Okay, I'm still stuck in my current location.  This might be bad for me, but it's good for you, as you get to see all the funny links I drag up, as well as astute social-political-strategic commentary.  Or at least I like to advertise it as astute.

Anyway, a few links this morning from my various RSS feeds.  The first is from TheBachelorGuy.com and it talks about the actual house that "A Christmas Story" was filmed in.  Turns out, the house has now been turned into a museum,
 complete with the leg lamp, a bar of Life Buoy soap (with teeth marks), a Christmas turkey about to get eaten by dogs.  The works.

Not surprisingly, the second link for the day comes from Youtube.  You know you've got issues when your Soldiers refer to you as "the ultimate Youtube Junkie, but I digress.  It goes over some aspects of that lovable "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" movie we all loved as a kid, and exposes the fact that, in the movie, Santa is a colossal jackass.

22 December 2008

Santa, is it too late?

Dear Santa:

I know I'm probably on your bad list for claiming you don't exist. Not to mention, I'm certain you have a large folder in your "My Pictures" directory entitled "Starbuck at the Sackets Harbor Brew Pub" which probably puts me well into the negative for this year in terms of "nice" points (Hey, admit it, deep down you got a little chuckle at them).

But if you could find it in your heart to send me one of these, I would be eternally thankful. I might even consider being nice, and you have to admit, that's a huge improvement.

And the Boeing Employees Respond

I remarked earlier that Chinooks can get cold.  SunJun, a Boeing employee, remarked that this was so that the pilots don't go to sleep in a nice warm Chinook.  I also got a nice e-mail from Lauren from Boeing, who stated:

Anyway, sorry about the Chinook coldness...maybe from the aerospace sector we could design some sort of light weight mobile self-contained warming suits modeled after the space suits that actually cool the 'nauts during space walks..i'll make sure to put that one in the suggestion box...

 While I thank Lauren for putting this one in the box, it might be a moot point.  Soon enough, it'll be nice and warm and 130F out here, so in a few months, you'll hear me complaining that it's too hot here instead of too cold.  

Thoughts while stuck

So, um, I'm kind of stuck in place for the time being, so I decided to weigh in one of the most pressing stories in the news...the Iraqi shoe-throwing guy.

You know, if someone had told me last week that Iraq was starting to become a minature America, I'd have to say I'd be skeptical.  Now I realize that maybe there is a small amount of truth to this.  You see, in Iraq, much like in the US, a person can get an insane amount of publicity and fame through the magic of Youtube (and the many Youtubers that love to edit videos).  So step aside, Star Wars Kid, Chocolate Rain Guy, Dramatic Chimpunk, Dancing Stormtrooper and Leeroy Jenkins--Iraqi Shoe Throwing Guy is now the reigning Youtube King of the Week.   

Hey, at least the big story in Iraq is someone throwing shoes and not someone throwing improvised bombs.  I guess people in all nations long to care about stupid stuff.  So, off I go to get my Britney Spears news for the day.  After I read Small Wars Journal, that is.  

21 December 2008

So, obviously, a bit of a slow day...

So it's Facebook profile picture time...

Okay, aside from that, I had the opportunity to go to another FOB and meet up with some fellow Soldiers from another company.  Turns out that they've actually taken to building quite a few things in their area, to include a full-up jacuzzi and BBQ grill pit area.  Okay, at least it's a fairly good attempt at building a jacuzzi.  But really, that's not bad for a place made out of plywood (and, for some strange reason, also made of...water skis?  I swear, I really can't make this stuff up).

Eating Soup with a Knife. And a Fork. And one of those things you whip eggs with. What the hell is that called, anyway?

Two articles from Small Wars Journal today talk about asymetric threats to our national security, and they're well worth the read.  One's an Op-ed piece about Somalian pirates, and the other is a historical piece regarding America's love-hate relationship with fighting "small wars".

The historical piece first.  After the Vietnam War, the US military largely turned its back on combatting counter-insurgencies.  Many military historians, including retired Lt. Col. John Nagl (whose doctoral thesis, Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife:  Counterinsurgencies Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, provided some of the groundwork for the Counterinsurgency Field Manual) noted that after the Vietnam War, the US military completely purged itself of counter-insurgency doctrine, attempting to push aside its bad memories of that conflict.  Instead, the US military, save for small organized pockets of resistance, focused on the "Fulda Gap" battle that never happened.  Many in the US military simply believed that they would never fight another insurgency, with several policy aspects backing this shift in doctrine.  But unfortunately, throughout the history of the US, small wars have been the rule, not the exception.

Despite the fact that small wars are so prevalent in the US military's history (a nation born of insurgency, no less), the impetus to wipe out counter-insurgency theory was so strong, that instructors at the Command and General Staff Course started to throw away counter-insurgency theory documents, even as the US was dealing with insurgencies in Latin America.  Thanks to the efforts of a small, but dedicated team of individuals, these lessons were saved, and they have since been applied to the current conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and all over the world.  You can read about them in the Sword Model of counterinsurgency at the SWJ Blog.

Additionally, there has been much written recently about the emergency of piracy off the coast of Somalia.  One retired Marine discusses the threat and advocates seizure of the ports from which the pirates operate, denying them a safe haven.  He also advocates a multi-national approach to a threat that affects globalized trade.  Check it out.  

And finally, the editors at Small Wars Journal are having a contest to see who can best describe "irregular warfare"--with the prize being a bottle of Scotch.  I'd enter this, but they can't ship Scotch to Iraq.  

Edit:  Last minute add-on--thinking of reporting from Somalia?  If so, use this flowchart from the London Times.  The security situation in that country has deteriorated drastically in the past year.  (If that were possible)

1) Have you been to Somalia before? If yes proceed to 2. If noproceed to 3

2) Were you kidnapped on that occasion? If yes proceed to 4. If noproceed to 5

3) Have you been to Iraq or Afghanistan? If yes proceed to 7. If noproceed to 6

4) Then you should know better. Don’t go

5) Then your luck is probably about to run out. Don’t go

6) Then what are you thinking of? Don’t go

7) Then you are probably under the impression that you can hide in the green zone and wait for an embed to go somewhere interesting. In Somalia there’s no green zone, and the only embeds are with Ethiopian or African Union soldiers who are being blown to smithereens on a daily basis. There’s no-one you can trust. And no-one who can guarantee your safety. Don’t go

This sums up the school systems

I've often realized that the best lessons I learned in high school were the ones I learned reading on my own, and not in the classroom.  Looks like the guys at xkcd.com realized the same thing as well.

Regarding how a Prince should employ Chinooks

(I love stealing titles from Machiavelli.  He's my hero)

Anyway, I had to do some traveling recently, so the next available ride was hopping aboard a CH-47D Chinook helicopter.  The CH-47D helicopter varies vastly from the Black Hawk.  It's been in service since before the Vietnam War (in fact, some Army Chinooks are certified re-built Vietnam veterans), and even though it still flies well to this day, it definitely shows its age.  Whereas a Black Hawk would be grounded if it had a hydraulic leak, a Chinook would actually be deemed fliable--after all, if fluid is leaking, there must have been fluid present in the first place, thus, it's perfectly fine!

But the thing that struck me the most about the Chinook is how friggin' cold it is.  Iraq may get down to about 30F at night, but with the doors open on the Chinook, you get over a hurricane-force wind blowing through the thing.  God only knows how they manage to stay warm in the mountains of Afghanistan during the winter.  Actually, they probably don't stay warm.  

So, all my Boeing employee friends who read this blog:  Please install a better heater in this thing.  Seriously...

Christmas Humor of the Day

The first is from Collegehumor.com, and it involves Santa's complaint box.  I can imagine the elves sitting around, discussing Santa's business model:

1.) Make toys
2.) ?
3.) Profit

Apparently, I'm not the only one that thinks of this.

Additionally, check out this video.  I know many of you dream of a White Christmas, and for those of you in Upstate NY, that's pretty much a given.  Nevertheless, don't be so desperate for a White Christmas that you need to grab a fire extinguisher and spray it all over your sorority house because you "just wanted to make it snow". This will probably result in you not getting into your sorority of choice.

Really, don't do it.

I'm serious.

Lastly, I totally hear you, T-Rex

20 December 2008

Me in the news (sort of)

On 26 December, if you're not returning your presents to the store, please check out a podcast that I conducted with Len Edgerly, host of The Kindle Chronicles.  I basically talk about what I'm reading and all the places I've taken my Amazon Kindle. 

To include a picture of me during a looooong maintenance delay.  That's one of the best times to get in some good reading...

Mail Bag

I may be short a lot of things out here, but after the efforts of Adopt a US Soldier (et al), I'm not short on cookies.  I think there's a popular misconception that Soldiers are starving out here, because I've gotten a lot of canned goods and Ramen noodles.  I'm not even certain where I'd even cook Ramen noodles.  

So with the surplus of cookies, I have to get on everyone to make certain they burn off all that holiday food.  How might you burn off a cookie, you ask?  How about 33 minutes of snowball fighting.  

The Bachelor Guy.com has some great ways to work off some holiday eating (although it's not Crossfit, it still works).  Who knew you would have to snowblow your driveway for 40 minutes to burn off a fruitcake?

And in other news, Fort Drum actually closed due to snow today.  Yes, some place in Upstate NY actually closed due to snow.  So I ought to have lots of posts from Sackets Harbor today (AHEM).

18 December 2008

Another Flight, another Flag

Save for the cold, the other night was a perfect night for flying.  It was a relatively uneventful flight under goggles.  To pass the time, the crew chiefs and I had a long in-flight discussion about the works of Joseph Campbell, a professor of mythology who wrote a number of books on the subject, including The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth.  We also got an incredible view (under night vision goggles) of the Gemenid meteor shower, which has been one of the most spectacular meteor showers in recent times. 

If you were looking for a long in-depth story about people blowing one another up, you missed it--we had a quiet night.

17 December 2008

Something called "Near Beer"

I used to think that products like Busch N/A and O'Douls Non-Alcoholic Beer were fads from the 1990s.  After all, who would buy non-alcoholic beer?  It has the same amount of calories as beer, tastes worse, and doesn't get you drunk.  I see no possible benefit.  I thought that with the disappearance of the ads for these products from TV within a few weeks meant that non-alcoholic beer (oxymoron?) had gone the way of Crystal Pepsi and New Coke.

I was to find out that, apparently, the US Army has been keeping these "Near Beer" companies in business all these years.  We had the chance to partake in not only "Near Beer", but also cigars when we promoted one of our lieutenants the other day.  

The cigars came from a humidor left over by the previous unit.  Although the bands said "Macanudo", I have the sneaky suspicion that, like most tourist traps, the local bazaars simply use 25-cent cigars and simply slip on bands from expensive brands.  I was also a little dismayed when I saw that many of the labels were made to look like expensive brands--e.g., the design for one band looked like the distinctive Montecristo brand, but was really a cheap knock-off.  War is hell.  

16 December 2008

Secretary Gates Gets It

It's good to see that someone as enlightened as Secretary Gates is remaining in place for the next presidential administration.  Check out what he had to say about some of the shortcomings of the US military in the next few years.  (If you'll note in a number of his interviews, he bestows high praise upon the greatest military strategist of the last few years, Air Force Colonel John R. Boyd).

The secretary expressed frustration over the Defense Department’s budget and bureaucracy, calling them overly committed to conventional modernization programs. He urged balance, as spelled out in the new National Defense Strategy, which gives equal focus to nonconventional capabilities and know-how.

“My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support … for the capabilities needed to win today’s wars and some of their likely successors,” he wrote. Gates extended blame to the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress and the defense industry.

Direct military force will continue to play a role in the prolonged, worldwide, irregular campaign against terrorists and other extremists, Gates acknowledged.

“But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory,” he said. “Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit.”

Like the late Colonel Boyd, Secretary Gates is also challenging many of the high-dollar items in the military's budget, instead relying on promoting a more efficient and strategically-minded military leadership, capable of fighting 4th Generation Warfare.  Like Boyd, he reminds us all that there is not always a direct correlation between defense spending and success on the ground.  

With the decline in the power of nation-states and the rise of globalization (and with it, trans-national organizations like most terror organizations), no wonder most nations are finding themselves at their wits' ends trying to combat irregular warfare--be it terrorism, insurgency or piracy.  

"The record of the past quarter century is clear. The Soviets in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon, the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Smaller, irregular forces -  insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists - will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries," Gates said. "And even nation-states will try to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities in an asymmetric way." 

Defense analyst Sam Brannen at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Gates has ordered the Pentagon to stop fighting the Cold War. 

"Despite lessons from Vietnam and elsewhere, our military has been almost singularly obsessed across-the-board with fighting another conventional military that would line up on the battlefield and face us and fight us that way," Brannen said. 

No, I didn't die

Looks like I haven't posted in forever (a few days).

After the outpouring of support from organizations like Adopt a US Soldier (their efforts have extended to a number of elementary schools, who have been sending care packages), I felt like I should be sending something in return.  So I did this--Every time I fly, I take along two flags so that I can send them back to the US for those who send us care packages.  We put them in a little wooden case, along with a picture and a certificate and say that "this flag was flown on a UH-60 helicopter in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom".  

One of the first flags is definitely going to the VP of Adopt a US Soldier, Lauren Janning, who has been responsible for literally dozens of care packages.  I'm not kidding, I'm soon going to have about ten boxes of sheets and blankets for Soldiers within a week or so.  It's a small token of appreciation for someone who did so much for us.   

11 December 2008

Ah, if only I were back at Fort Bragg

Yes, Fort Bragg (actually Fayetteville, NC) was the host of a most marvelous event:  the advanced screening of Tucker Max's semi-autobiographical film, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.  He showed it to about 40 people at the local bar, Huske Hardware, and it was universally loved.  

Although, as Tucker points out, it figures military guys would like this movie.  Woe be it to those who expect nothing but virtue, stars and stripes to spew forth from my mouth and instead are treated to dialogue which should have wound up in the movie Waiting


So yesterday, my parents were able to get me my Christmas package early-

A Nintendo Wii with Star Wars:  The Force Unleashed

I can't even begin to count the number of calories I've burned swinging my Wii controller around in attempts to fight off armies of Jedi and Stormtroopers.  Finally, I can wield the Force...in a video game, at least.  I already have modest success attempting the Jedi Mind Trick in real life.  

Anthropologists at War (Link of the Day)

Over 2500 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote "Know your enemy, Know yourself, and in a thousand battles, you will have a thousand victories".  Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese Samurai who wrote "A Book of Five Rings", said that "warriors should be trained in all arts, not just the killing arts".  In our recent memory, President John F. Kennedy wrote about the pressing need for military leaders to not only master arts of war, but also the arts of politics, economics and sociology in order to be effective wartime leaders.

Where am I going with this?  The more one understands the basics of anthropology and evolutionary psychology, the more one understands people, and ultimately war itself.  It's small wonder that the greatest military strategist of our time, Colonel John Boyd, was an avid reader of biologist Richard Dawkins, particularly "The Selfish Gene".

Nowhere is the need to understand human behavior more important than in counterinsurgency, where, as experience has shown, the simple application of more money and firepower often doesn't work, and in many cases, actually makes matters worse.  Certainly, antropolgists are invaluable resource in areas like Afghanistan--a region with over 400 different tribes and ethnic groups, each with their own motivations.

Today's news story comes from USA Today and discusses the role that cultural anthropologists have in 4th Generation Warfare and the ethics of using scientists in a role that potentially subjects tribes to military action.  

It also speaks about Robert Gates trying to mend the notoriously strained relationship that the military and academia (particularly in the liberal arts) have with one another, which is an exciting new development in the outlook of the military's organizational culture.  After all, as Thucydides said, "Those that draw a distinction between warriors and scholars would have thinking done by cowards and fighting done by fools".

Focus:  Discuss the article--how does the input from anthropoligists change the outlook one might have on war?  What ethical implications might you see?  

09 December 2008

My Diabolical Plan

I was in Google Reader the other day and noticed that Stars and Stripes only has 300 subscribers to their RSS feed.  Iraq's Multi-National Corps has only about 200 subscribers.

How many people subscribe to the RSS feed for Internet celebrity Tucker Max? Over 1,000.  

Folks, I want to be able to beat Stars and Stripes by the time I return home.  Who's with me?

Finally, someone gets it!

About a year and a half ago, I read T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and was captivated by it--the book gives amazing insight into the modern-day Iraq War and its participants--which I've already noted in an article I submitted to Small Wars Journal. From Lawrence and General Allenby's unconventional views on war, to the overly-conventional views of the mainstream British leadership, to the inability of the Turks to deal with an Arab insurgency, to Lawrence's planting of IEDs along the railways of Hejaz, the book is describes a situation eerily similar to our current conflict.

Unfortunately, like many great works, some have been guilty of taking Lawrence's views on war well out of context. Most notably is a line he uses in one of his works advising British service members on how to advise the Arabs during their insurgency, which Lawrence says:

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.

In The War Within, written by journalist Bob Woodward, General George Casey misattributes this quote to Seven Pillars of Wisdom. He also takes the quote out of context and completely misapplies it--the Iraqi government was not operating tolerably in the days prior to the Surge.

Fortunately, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman assists us in placing the story in context, and even provides a little humor on the subject of the book. If you've ever wondered why "Lawrence of Arabia" goes on for four hours and includes several hours' worth of epic shots of Lawrence simply riding through the desert on a camel, you'll find it amusing that the book is little different at times. Only Lawrence could describe himself riding along on a camel through a featureless desert for pages on end.

But with that said, I highly recommend reading the entire book, as it's probably one of the best books I've read not simply for the military strategy involved, but also as a historical framework for the Middle East. Plus, it's a marvelous adventure.

07 December 2008

Term of the Day: Maintenance Test Flight

One of the realities of modern aviation is that aircraft need a lot of maintenance. Some would say that the crew chiefs are the unsung heroes of the aviation world, as they toil in the 130F heat day in and day out, leaving at the end of an exhausting day covered in grease.

But there is a group of people even more unsung, unsunger, or something than the crew chiefs. You see, after the crew chief fixes the aircraft, someone has to be the first to fly it.

Enter: the maintenance test pilot.

Of course, the maintenance test pilot has been to school and is highly specialized in performing the checks and tests required to fully validate that an aicraft is ready for flight. Nay, the really brave person is the maintenance test pilot's assistant, the test pilot of the day--the person who wakes up in the morning, sees that he's scheduled to fly an aircraft that was just fully taken apart and put back together again that past week.

And, just my luck, I've been the maintenance test pilot of the day a couple of times this past week or so. At least it makes for interesting flying...I particularly like how I found out that none of the audio warning tones worked. But that's another story for another time.

Something called "Cyberwar"

The Economist released an interesting piece the other day regarding a concept known as “Cyberwar”. With radical advancements in technology in the Information Age, individuals now posess a sort of superempowerment. In the modern era, individuals and trans-national groups throughout the world can pose a credible threat to the security of nation-states.

Cyberwarfare is difficult to categorize and describe, as hacking and other attacks of this nature may be politically motivated, or they may be simple acts of vandalism. Cyberwarfare requires no well-thought-out ideology, simply a challenge for individuals to take on the power of large corporations or governments.

When I was a student at North Carolina State University, I witnessed some of the effects of early Cyberwarfare. In 2001, following an incident in which an American EP-3 aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island, hackers were able to change Red Hat Software’s home page and post pro-China propaganda. The attack was crude and only served to disrupt Red Hat for a few hours, but it demonstrates the effect a small number of individuals might have on the information mainframes of the United States.

America’s technology is its strength, but our over-reliance on technology is our Achilles Heel. Any Generation Y-er can attest to what happens to their workplace (be it military, government or commercial) when the networks shut down—it’s time to go to Starbucks.

And many of our competitors in the 21st Century realize this. China, likely the emerging superpower in this century, has little means of force projection either by sea or air, giving her little ability to confront the US via symmetrical means. However, China does pose a significant technological risk to the United States via the development of anti-satellite missiles and pursuit of cyberwarfare capabilities. According to a report published by McAffee, the Internet security company, China leads the world in cyberwar programs, and cyber attacks have been traced to China.

Cyberwar groups may not be part of an organized government organization—governments can recruit individual hackers, even criminals, and pay them to attack the computer systems of other countries. This not eliminates the need for the overwhelming bureaucracy that would stifle the creative hacking process, but it also gives legitimate governments an air of plausible deniability when executing cyberwar attacks.

Cyber warfare has been witnessed throughout Europe and Asia, most recently during the South Ossetia War of 2008, in which Russian hackers attacked Georgian computers. While not effective, the attacks do show promise. Thousands of years before computers were even invented, Sun Tzu advocated winning the battle before it was even fought by sowing confusion in the minds of the enemy. With governments and militaries increasingly relying on computers for command and control, the potential for disaster looms large.

Cyberwar organizations are a highly evolved form of 4th Generation Warfare, and exhibit characteristics unique from traditional guerilla or insurgent groups. Hacker organizations require a safe haven (the un-policed portions of the Internet), much like terror organizations. However, this safe haven is virtual, not physical--hacker organizations can unite from all corners of the globe, even within the targeted nation itself. Unlike traditional terrorism, which tends to originate in areas where economic opportunities are limited and central government is weak or corrupt, cyberwarfare can originate simply among bored teenagers looking for a quick thrill, those with no real political motivation, simply young adults looking for a challenge. Unlike military organizations, which have a command structure and unity of command, hacker organizations may revolve around “swarming” attacks, largely de-centralized and difficult for traditional military organizations to fight.

The solution is not easy. Just recently, the US military came up with a Cyberwarfare division, aimed at ways of preventing attacks on the US. However, one wonders how a large government organization will remain adaptive in the constantly-changing world of cyberwarfare. For the time being however, it is an important first step for a military realizing the full implications of what a handful of people with a network of computers might wreak on our electronic infrastructure.

You know how you can tell these guys aren't American?

How can you tell these guys aren't American?

No reflector belts in the whole video!

Seriously, though, this video is a re-make of a British comedy sketch acted out by actual British troops in Iraq.  The video was so popular, that repeated download attempts crashed the Ministry of Defence's computer systems.  And the DoD thought my use of Youtube was bad...

General Eric Shinseki Nominated as VA Secretary

It’s nice to see that some good karma has come back to General Shinseki.  You may remember General Shinseki as the father of Army Transformation—having the foresight to re-organize the Army into a rapidly-deployable force capable of fighting in the 4th Generation battlefield.  He was also the man that suggested to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the US would need several hundred thousand more troops in order to effectively secure and pacify Iraq, contrary to Rumsfeld’s original plans.  

Years later, Shinseki has been vindicated in his decisions, and it looks as if Obama is giving Shinseki, a wounded warrior from the Vietnam War, a new lease on life as the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.  

05 December 2008

Is this the same army that invented the Blitzkrieg?

Well, this is what happens to an army--possibly only a brigade of a few thousand soldiers--that consumed some 1,700,000 pints of beer and 90,000 bottles of wine in 2007, and consumed over 800,000 pints of beer in the first six months of 2008.

German forces have come under intense scrutiny after several reports had indicated that they largely failed to train the Afghan police as they were originally intended to. Wonder if this has anything to do with it:

The physical condition of [German] soldiers [in Afghanistan] was already in question after a German armed forces report found that 40 per cent of its soldiers aged 18-29 were overweight, compared to 35 per cent of the civilian population of the same age.

The report, published in March, concluded that the Bundeswehr lived on beer and sausages while shunning fruit and vegetables. It said that an overdeveloped bureaucracy was also contributing to a “passive lifestyle” on the part of the soldiers.

Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the German armed forces, concluded: “Plainly put, the soldiers are too fat, exercise too little and take little care of their diet.”

So, for once, there's an article pointing to a significant portion of the population being overweight that doesn't involve us Americans. Globalization at work, my friends!

Mail Bag

One of my soldiers got a care package the other day consisting of beanie babies and toys. Now, you might question the logic of giving toys to Soldiers. Interestingly enough, in many cases, toys can be an effective "weapon", as it may be, in the War on Terror--give one to a local Iraqi man to give to his children, or give one to a kid and hey, maybe he or she might regret blowing you up just a tad.

In some cases, however, I get to keep the toys. My Soldiers earmarked this Lego Yoda pen for me:

Time to go indulge in some Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones...

04 December 2008

An informal poll

So I conducted an informal poll of the local population the other day while flying. Flying over the local area, I tried to count how many people waved and how many people jeered at us. Results: one wave, and one kid that tried to throw a rock at us.

Now, a lot of news articles have been written about the local attitudes towards the US based on how many kids throw rocks at Americans. I advocate the point of view that you really can't draw a whole lot of political opinions out of kids throwing rocks at trucks, helicopters, etc. Most kids really aren't expressing profound geopolitical views when they throw rocks at things...they just like to throw rocks at things.

Now, you may ask what my evidence is for my bold claim that kids just like to throw rocks at objects with no obvious political message. Let's just say that I probably still owe my parents a few hundred dollars for broken stuff from throwing rocks, baseballs, etc at things...

It's all relative

Coming from Upstate New York, cold weather is nothing. This is a place that receives more snow than any other place in the continental United States...an area where you deal with temperatures of 45F in the morning...in August.

Now, the Middle Eastern deserts can get somewhat cold as well. For example, T.E. Lawrence holed himself up in a crusader castle somewhere in either Syria or Jordan (one that he had studied as a college student years prior) during his campaigns in the winter of 1917-1918, as the winter was that cold. Additionally, just last year, Baghdad received snow for Christmas.

But by Upstate NY standards, it really isn't that cold in the mornings...maybe around 45F. Certainly not 5 feet of snow cold. But everything is relative.

I run marathons, so obviously, I run in the mornings. Today was my rest day, so instead of running, I hopped on a bus to get a cup of coffee at base local coffee shop. I was clad in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, and I even brought along my Amazon Kindle to read a bit of Ovid's Metamorphoses at the bus stop.

I hopped on the bus to meet some soldiers from the California Reserves who were mortified that I'd be wearing shorts in this weather, as they were clad in heavy fleece jackets and gloves. I explained to them that this is typical summer weather for Upstate NY.

Plus I pointed to an excessive amount of hair on my arms and legs. After all, you always see Luke Skywalker and Han Solo bundled up on the planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, but Chewbacca just runs around in the snow as if nothing bothers him. Maybe this is a case against manscaping, who knows.

Iraq on its feet for now?

Christian Science Monitor ran an interesting article a few days back chronicling the security situation in Iraq. While the title rings optimistic, it is important to heed some of the warnings in the article regarding the delicate balance of power which could easily shift come 2009:

"I think there is wide recognition that the role of the United States – the leverage of the United States – has diminished and will diminish further," says a senior Iraqi official. "Some will welcome this but, ironically, those who were so opposed to the Americans before are alarmed by it."

"I want to kiss you," jokes Abu Ibrahim, a jovial Sunni security official to US Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Dalton. Abu Ibrahim, formally known as Mohammad Abu Alaa, heads 300 Sons of Iraq, a neighborhood security force, in Baghdad's Amariyah neighborhood.

His mother, three sisters, and his grandmother were killed when a US cruise missile hit a shelter in Amariyah in 1991, but like many of the other almost 90,000, largely Sunni Sons of Iraq, he has aligned himself with the Americans.

As always, good news, but the reason for the Sunni enthusiasm is a bit disturbing, as the article mentions that the Sunni locals want the American protection from the Shia majority, headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which is currently in control of the Iraqi government. The long-running fissures in Iraqi society need to be patched if any long-standing peace is to be achieved. The article concludes:

Concern over Iraq's stability has turned from threats from extremists to more complicated political fissures.

"Politics is partly show but it is also a reflection of the struggles going on within society," says a senior Iraqi official. "If we don't address the underlying political issues the security gains could unravel. If we don't address the political issues we risk a confrontation among the mainstreams as opposed to the extremists."

The SOFA has also sparked fears among counterterrorism analysts and some Iraqi officials that gains made against Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups could be significantly set back as American forces withdraw and are replaced by Iraqi security forces that are still disproportionately Shiite.

"I'm worried," says one senior Iraqi official. "This is one area the Sunnis had major, major concerns about – they say we trust the Americans more than we trust the Iraqi security forces – this is not a statement of confidence in the present state of affairs of Iraq."


Looks like I got a brand-new Amazon Kindle to replace my old one free of charge from Amazon.com!

For those of you that read a lot of books and newspapers (and I'm one of them), the Kindle really is the device for you. Particularly back in the US where you can get books and newspapers delivered to you automatically over the Kindle's wireless transfer feature. Now I don't have to surf around to buy a copy of the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal...I just get it on my Kindle, along with hundreds of other books.

While the book selection is limited for now, I think I can really see this being the way of the future. Nothing can quite beat the feel of a paperback, but for carrying around a book collection on the go, you'll want the Kindle.

Performance in the desert is still under scrutiny, though. I had a screen issue with my old Kindle (although I suspect it wasn't related to being in Kuwait), but Amazon replaced it for free, so the warranty is definitely a plus on this device.

Only in...Britain?

The other day, I saw a headline stating that holiday sales were actually up despite the recent economic downturn.

I was beginning to think, "Only in America", until I saw an article that said that sales of lap dances jumped some 469% or so since the recent economic downturn.

03 December 2008

My day has come...

Madness in Mumbai

As is the norm in the 21st Century, the entire world has watched the crisis in India unfold in real-time. The first question on everyone’s mind is, of course, who could have pulled off such a coordinated attack? Recent sources have suggested that an organization in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region known as Lashkar-e-Taiba might be responsible for these attacks.

The rise of this organization represents an interesting pattern in the development of terrorist organizations. Unlike Al Qaeda, which is a “pure” terror organization, LeT is an organization much like Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon. Organizations such as these may be classified as “terror” organizations, but their military wing is just one aspect of their power. Their true popularity stems from the fact that they, unlike the legitimate central governments in their respective regions, are able to provide essential social services to areas to the local population, typically a minority ethnic community within a nation-state. Their ability to effectively govern their areas has led to “terror” organizations actually becoming an elected body in some countries, as is the case of Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The advent of these hybrid terror groups only further demonstrates the US miltary’s need to support nation-building efforts as simply one arm of national power, combined with economic, diplomatic and cultural power. Unless the US is able to fully complete with these groups in all areas of power, the US will find itself grossly outmaneuvered in the sort of warfare which has dominated the early portion of this century, the type of warfare that we often call "4th Generation Warfare".

The link of the day comes from the New Yorker and it regards the nature of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

02 December 2008

Mail Bag

All right, I got two separate packages in just recently.

The first is from Lauren at Adopt A US Soldier. My first meeting with Lauren is an interesting story. It begins like most of my stories--on the Internet. At the time, I was in college and posting on what is now the largest (and certainly most mischievous) college message board in the US. Lauren was what you might call an "internet troll", often making fun of people. But she was so rip-roaringly hilarious (and anonymous) that I had to meet her in person.

As it turns out, she had just turned 22 and was celebrating her birthday at a local bar near our college. It was quite a remarkable party, as it seems that half the people on the website came out and literally packed the bar to see who had been making fun of them for so long.

Lauren now volunteers at Adopt A US Soldier, and just sent a care package. Let's see what she sent:

Also in this box were several packs of chocolate bars (which got snatched up by a lot of people).

This is an example of a good care package for a few reasons:

  1. Toothpaste and floss are always good, but the Gold Bond medicated powder is a must, especially when the hot season rolls around. It's not only good for preventing blisters and athlete's foot, but also a few other moisture-related issues men get in the warm months. Sadly enough, it seems that the local PX is almost always sold out of Gold Bond and other foot care products, but will always have plenty of Crock Pots for sale. I have no idea who buys a Crock Pot in Iraq, especially because no one can cook in the housing units, but they sell Crock Pots.
  2. Flavored drink mix (sugar free). This is also a must when the summer months come around, as we drink lots of water, and having a powdered drink mix makes the water a little more palatable, plus it provides some electrolytes.
It seems that Lauren, always the one for a good joke, decided to put in a little humor for the people at US Customs with the packing list:

"Package Contains: Snacks, Lipstick, Nail Polish, Duct Tape"

Also arriving in the mail was a care package from Sarah in Syracuse (hey, that almost rhymes). Let's take a look:

Aha! Looks like Sarah remembered my penchant for healthy snacks and added some jerkey snacks, cliff bars and fruit snacks--these I horded for myself. She also added in a pair of decent flip-flops, as my $.99 flip-flops performed like, well, $.99 flip-flops, adding the note "Do you know how hard it was to find flip-flops in Syracuse, NY in November?!"

This package was just as good as Lauren's, but there was one thing that put it ahead of Lauren's package. That was this:

All in all, I reveled in everyone's jealousy over the Darth Vader figurine. Or at least I humored myself and pretended to revel in everyone's jealousy. Don't judge me.