31 May 2010

Canadian general sacked for hanky-panky within the rankys

(I'd like to thank Tom Ricks for that little euphemism)

A few months ago, military blogger Michael Yon leveled a number of accusations against Canadian Brigadier General Daniel Bernard, the commander of Canadian (and a contingent of American) forces in Southern Afghanistan. Among them were accusations of an improper relationship with a subordinate soldier. At the time, Yon gave no further evidence to support his claim, leading me to believe that the accusation may have simply been a rumor. Such rumors seem to always be flying about during deployments.

However, as I spent the weekend in Toronto, I just happened to open today's Globe and Mail, where, lo and behold, I discovered that Michael Yon was right. General Menard was, in fact, relieved of command in Afghanistan, pending investigation into an inappropriate relationship with a fellow soldier. This is in addition to Menard's recent reprimand for negligently discharging his C-8 rifle, resulting in a fine of $3,500.

Both incidents are serious. The case of the negligent weapons discharge is an obvious safety violation, and requires little discussion. Let's move on to the case of fraternization, and the larger issues of sex during deployments.

The Globe and Mail also ran an article describing the ubiquity of sex in combat zones. While various regulations forbid sexual contact between service members in Iraq and Afghanistan--the US Military's General Order #1 being one of the most famous--the truth of the matter is that these regulations are not always enforced. After all, GO1 (as it's frequently called) forbids pornography; God knows nearly every soldier deployed with at least 60 gigabytes of porn.

Truth be told, most commanders have accepted the fact that sex will occur during deployments, and thus, simply take steps to educate troops on the dangers of unprotected sex as well as make birth control readily available. While some might be quick to generalize this as a symptom of a "hypersexualized" culture, let's not forget that America's Greatest Generation was described as "over paid, over sexed, and over here" during their stint in England. Human beings have always been fascinated with sex.

Yet, sex in combat zones is not entirely without consequences. As I've complained before, far too many female troops are leaving combat zones pregnant (sometimes intentionally), forcing their comrades to work longer or undermanned shifts. Moreover, relationships between service members of different ranks--particularly within the same organization--can often result in coercion or conflicts of interest. While I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, these sorts of behavior do impact morale and discipline within an organization, and should be dealt with accordingly.

General Menard will be replaced, temporarily, by his predecessor, Brig. Gen. John Vance.

The Small Wars Council has some good commentary on the issue.

27 May 2010

I'll be back after the Memorial Day weekend. Enjoy.

Ft. Leavenworth COIN Symposium

Thanks to Jason Sigger, I now have an excellent roundup of the discussion which took place at this week's COIN Symposium in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I'll fill you in on the salient details sometime this weekend. You can read through it when you're not barbecuing.

Blog Drama, Part II

I can only imagine what MPRI, the contractor hired by the US government to analyze military blogging trends, will write about the drama surrounding David Axe, Michael Yon, and Blackfive which has permeated the milblogosphere this week.

In keeping with this blog's theme of snarky satire of current affairs, I challenged the Great Satan's Girlfriend to a duel in fake online drama, so as to parody the recent milblog antics. Yet, even the Great Satan's Girlfriend, the 19-year old foreign policy firecracker who wrecks cars about every other month, couldn't even begin to emulate the catty hysteria which seems to have overcome the milblogosphere recently.

I haven't seen teenage angst this outrageously sad since Nickelodeon's teen drama "Fifteen". (Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about).

26 May 2010

The Defense Industry: Committed to Excellence

America can take pride in the professionals in the defense technology industry. Our planes are made with the best materials, our ships made in the safest conditions, and our soldiers' helmets are made by the most skilled prison inmates in the nation.

Wait, what?

Last week, the Army began ordering soldiers to return over 44,000 Advanced Combat Helmets (ACHs) made by the company ArmorSource LLC (formerly Rabintex). This is in addition to another 30,000 helmets produced by Gentex, recalled last year.

ArmorSource, one of four contractors which produce the ACH, sub-contracted its work to Federal Prison Industries (FPI). FPI currently produces over half the US military's helmets.

How do you know if you have a defective helmet? Head over to Jeff Schogol's article at the Stars and Stripes for a detailed walkthrough, or just check out the picture below.

Thanks for helping get the word out, Jeff!

Britain's upgraded Lynx helicopters arrive in Afghanistan

According to
Helmand Blog, Britian's new Mk.9A Lynx helicopters just arrived in Afghanistan. While the Lynx was first fielded in the 70s, the new Mk.9A Lynx boasts more powerful engines, upgraded communications systems, and M3M machine guns. The new engines are of particular importance in Afghanistan, as the temperatures and high altitudes often limit the load-carrying capacity of helicopters. The Lynx is expected to perform convoy escort missions, aerial security, and reconnaissance in Afghanistan.

In other news, Lt. Harry Wales, known to most as Prince Harry, has been selected for helicopter training, being "pinned" by his father, Prince Charles. Some sources have indicated that Prince Harry will be in the cockpit of the Lynx, whereas others indicate that he will be flying Britain's WAH-64 Apache. Lt. Wales served as a forward air controller in Afghanistan in 2008, before being whisked back to Britain after details of his deployment were leaked on the Drudge Report. (Britain's top newspapers agreed to keep details of Prince Harry's deployment secret.)

British Forces News has the latest on the Lynx's deployment, as does ITN News.

25 May 2010

Blog Drama

Last month, we had the infamous "Yon-ichles", in which Michael Yon did battle with General McChrystal, the milblogging community, and Canada, spurring an amusing parody site in the process.

Today, we were treated to a blog war between David Axe of War is Boring and Jimbo at Blackfive. I'm never one to be one-upped, so I'm hereby starting blog drama with Great Satan's Girlfriend. She'll probably mark the beginning of our "fight" with a picture of chicks pillow fighting, so you can't lose.

Note: All blog drama between me and GSGF is purely for our own mutual amusement. We fully expect to laugh at any and all inflammatory posts our fans might make.

Hezbollah v. Israel--Governance

Rebels, especially successful rebels, were of necessity bad subjects and worse governors. Feisal's sorry duty would be to rid himself of his war-friends, and replace them by those elements which had been most useful to the...government.

T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Foreign Policy reports on the state of southern Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal nearly ten years ago. Suffice to say that, while they may be an effective fighting force in southern Lebanon, their support is tenuous at best.

24 May 2010

Well, this is interesting...

According to the Huffington Post, I've been taking part in "honest, thoughtful discussions on whether or not crimes against humanity are a good tactic" with my fellow milbloggers Gulliver and Patrick Porter.

Honestly, when the HuffPo says you're a bloodthirsty war criminal, and COINtras claim that you're a COIN-loving hippie who doesn't like to shoot the enemy, you're probably just about right.

Don't be too quick to blame Facebook

Noah Shachtman posted an article at Wired.com's Danger Room implying that word of an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper's death was leaked via Facebook.
[I]n the military community, there’s an interesting twist on the Facebook-as-privacy-sieve debate. Turns out the names of soldiers dying in Afghanistan are sometimes appearing on Facebook before they’re officially released.

This is not a small deal in military circles. U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan go into what’s called “River City” — with access to the outside Internet shut down — when one of their troops is killed in action. The idea is to give time to notify next-of-kin before word of the death leaks out.

Last Wednesday, however, King’s College of London PhD student Daniel Bennett was able to penetrate that veil of silence. With a few clicks of the social media search engine Kurrently, Bennett found Facebook chatter about the death of 20 year-old [redacted] in Afghanistan’s Badghis province. The Pentagon didn’t announce that [redacted] had been killed until two days later, on Friday the 21st.
However, a careful reading of the article and a little knowledge of the casualty notification process might indicate differently.

The military's casualty notification process emphasizes informing families of death or serious injuries through formal channels. A casualty notification officer and a chaplain are on constant standby at bases throughout the United States, ready to respond to such tragedies.

In combat situations, all Internet communications are typically cut (known as a "NIPR Blackout"), so as to prevent word of such events from reaching families through unofficial channels. Not only does this lend a degree of dignity to the casualty notification process, but it also ensures that family members are not alone when they receive such news--helping prevent family members from harming themselves in the wake of the tragedy.

Military officials have long feared troops might leak word of a fellow soldier's death through Facebook or Twitter. Recent events, unfortunately, lend credence to this belief. Nevertheless, most troops seem to understand the value in keeping the information "close-hold". In the rare instances that Internet services have not been completely severed, troops generally censor themselves; they understand the reasoning behind the casualty notification process.

Based on Noah Shachtman's research, it seems that the family likely received word of the paratrooper's death through official channels. However, it was a friend of the family who posted the news of the young trooper's death in her Facebook status, broadcasting it for the entire world a full two days before the official press release. At this point, however, it's no longer an issue of "leaking" the information--the family is fully aware of the tragedy.

This raises a few interesting questions.

First, how much time elapsed between the next-of-kin notification and the official press release, and is this a typical delay? Secondly, how did the military find out that this news had been "leaked", and what is their response? Lastly, if there was a large delay, and if this is indeed typical, does the military not expect Web 2.0 sources to beat them to the punch, so to speak?

I think George Lucas is going to sue someone...

By making allusions to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, both Tom Ricks and Spencer Ackerman tread into territory usually covered by, well, blogs like this. I don't know if I'm moving up in the world or if this is a sign of the coming Apocalypse.

I think these posts deserve a
dancing Lego Indiana Jones:

23 May 2010

Upcoming Topic?

For a few months now, I've been lamenting the Army's reluctance to enforce height/weight and physical training standards. Bob on the FOB tackled this issue in a recent entry on Facebook.

I'm curious as to when we're going to start seeing investigative articles which focus on the fact that a.) passing the Army Physical Fitness Test is no longer a requirement to pass Basic Training and b.) height/weight standards and physical training standards are largely irrelevant if they're not enforced, as is the case in many organizations.

Awards: No one will ever be happy

  • 7 October 1943: The US Army institutes the "Combat Infantryman Badge", to make the infantry a more appealing option for potential recruits. Well, it was either create a new badge or refer to all infantry privates as "Fighter". No kidding.
  • January 1945. The Army creates the Combat Field Medic Badge, in response to criticism that medics, who often braved fire to rescue wounded infantrymen from the battlefield, were not receiving combat awards.
  • 2 May 2005: During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Soldiers in non-combat specialties find themselves increasingly involved in combat duties. Thus, the US Army created the "Combat Action Badge" to recognize combat service for Soldiers of all military occupational specialties.
  • Sometime between 2005 and now: Soldiers occasionally put themselves in harm's way for the sole purpose of being fired upon, thus earning a CAB--a practice known as "CAB Hunting". It also leads to second and third order effects, as Boss Mongo points out:
Say 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Alpha Company gets in a dust up which meets the prereqs for the award of the CIB (or CAB, if A Co is an armor unit), and after sworn statements and testimony as to the particulars of their firefight are taken they are awarded their highly coveted CIBs (or CABs) on a Sunday afternoon formation with much ado and hailing of their new bona fides as no-shit warriors, certified killers of men, owners of the official combat concert T-shirt. Now, what do you think, as patrols start exiting the wire on Monday morning, the young soldiers (and officers) of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squads, 1st Platoon, A Co, not to mention 2nd and 3rd Platoons, are focused on when they roll out into the ville? They want to get their shit. Be damned if those slackers from 1st Squad are going to get one up on us. This is not, in my opinion, the way you build a band of brothers...I'm not sure that this is the mindset we're shooting for, as we battle insurgents in a highly populated urban area.

The kids that roll out into Mosul every day, day after day, should be awarded the combat device for the job they do; regardless of whether they, personally, are engaged. They are assuming a huge risk on a daily basis. In many ways, making contact with the enemy is actually desirable; for once, you get to engage the bad guys in a stand up fight, instead of worrying about exploding trash piles, push carts, 2-liter soda bottles and vehicles. Not to recognize each and every one of the troops that roll out of the wire every day, expecting to make contact or be engaged in some way, shape, or form, is a travesty.

The situation is akin to an old SF or LRRP guy in Vietnam, that spends his days snooping and pooping the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, calling in airstrikes from B-52's on lucrative targets, and who after a year of living at the tip of the spear goes home without a CIB because he was never "personally present under hostile fire." That's just crazy.
Indeed, the curious conditions of counterinsurgency have led to NATO's consideration of a "Courageous Restraint" medal, rewarding those troops who hold fire in the face of an active insurgency to save civilian lives. Naturally, anything having to do with awards seems to be met with outrage and complaining, including sources such as tactical genius Rush Limbaugh, who laments that, soon, the Taliban will be dressing like civilians in order to hide from NATO forces. (News flash: they already do, and not because "France" is instituting a "no shooting" medal)

Limbaugh goes off on one of his usual ill-informed and nonsensical rants on those "liberal" counterinsurgents, producing this gem:
We've got [a NATO spokesman] saying, "We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves." Well, that's comforting. Is that in the policy manual someplace, somebody have to take a test on that? "'We absolutely support the right of our forces to defend themselves,' [the NATO spokesman] said. 'Valuing restraint in a potentially dangerous situation is not the same thing as denying troops the right to employ lethal force when they determine that it is necessary.'
Uh, yeah, it is explained in the "policy manual". If by "policy manual" you mean FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency, written by a whole bunch of "liberals". And if by "liberals", you mean combat vets:
1-152. Often insurgents carry out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of enticing counterinsurgents to overreact, or at least to react in a way that insurgents can exploit—for example, opening fire on a crowd or executing a clearing operation that creates more enemies than it takes off the streets. If an assessment of the effects of a course of action determines that more negative than positive effects may result, an alternative should be considered—potentially including not acting.
It also wouldn't be the first time we've awarded military service members for "doing nothing". Captain William McGongale received the Medal of Honor for refusing to fire on Israeli fighter jets and torpedo boats, when they mistook the USS Liberty for an Egyptian freighter during the Six-Days War.

What do you think? Is a "courageous restraint" medal going too far? If we already give out frivolous awards, such as Bronze Stars for non-combat action, what difference does a "courageous restraint" medal make?

21 May 2010

30 Years Ago Today

Thirty years ago today, movie audiences experienced the long-awaited sequel to Star Wars, which featured what is arguably one of the most shocking plot twists of all time. I wasn't old enough to have seen the movie in theaters, and the impact of Darth Vader's revelation at the end of the movie was sullied by the fact that I knew about it before I had seen the movie.

For many fans, it's the best movie in the series. There are few slow-paced segments: no aimlessly wandering the deserts of Tatooine, negotiations with Muppets, nor votes of no confidence. Even today, the scenes are the most beautifully filmed, and vibrantly colored--the whites of the ice planet Hoth, the greens of Dagobah, and the brilliant sunsets on Bespin. My only complaint about the movie stems from the recent "upgrades" Lucas has made, breaking the pace of the climactic escape scene from Cloud City with an awkward shuttle scene, which seems like it was actually left over from Return of the Jedi.

Others have weighed in with op-eds on the impact of Empire, (H/T Adam Elkus).
The Empire Strikes Back introduced an entire generation of moviegoers to the notion of tragedy — to the concept that not every ending will be happy, that sometimes the Hero doesn't win, that sometimes you have to go through the dark before you get to the light. And Empire was the first time we walked out of a theater depressed.

Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett's screenplay was like Shakespearan screwball; it swung between the heavy father-son themes of the Luke-Vader-Yoda thread and the light, "never tell me the odds" flirtation shared by Han and Leia. So much so, at times they felt like two different movies — and, let's be honest, the Dagobah stuff is really kind of boring — united by a common soundtrack. But its masterstroke was the abject downer of an ending. Sure, today's moviegoing sophisticates might know that classic story structure dictates that the second act of your story is where the hero is at his lowest point, emotionally and physically, so that the third act can see him triumph. But try telling that to a nine year old whose entire cinematic worldview has been formed by Star Wars and Walt Disney, both of which told us, yes, that the Hero is supposed to win.

But sometimes he doesn't.

The Empire Strikes Back acted sort of an accelerated growth agent: It spurred our maturation as ingesters of popular culture. It explained to us that the twist you didn't see coming is the best kind. That despair can be a beautiful thing. And that, sometimes, the Empire striking back is exactly what's called for.
Your fun trivia for the day: Plot points from the original draft of The Empire Strikes Back. Curiously, Darth Vader was not Luke's father, nor was Princess Leia Luke's sister. Rather, Luke has a missing sister somewhere else in the galaxy. Notably absent from this article is Darth Vader's black castle floating on a pool of lava. It's a motif Lucas attempted to place in Episode VI, but later saved for the climax of Episode III. I also recall that, should the special effects gurus at Lucasarts not have been able to create the AT-AT Walkers, that Lucas was considering hiring tanks from the Norwegian Army to partake in the battle--suitably modified, of course.

Without further ado, one of the most famous scenes in movie history:

20 May 2010

And the combination is: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Thanks to Josh Foust, I came across an article
released last year on Wikileaks concerning a series of documents leaked from US Central Command. The documents, which contains ISAF's "Narrative"--the talking points for all of its public affairs units--appeared on the whistleblower site last year, although it was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

What's interesting is the ease with which Wikileaks broke CENTCOM's password. Whereas every US service member must answer ridiculous personality questions after entering a strong password (something along the lines of 12-14 characters, special characters, the Batman symbol, and so forth), the upstanding citizens in the secret lairs of US Central Command's public affairs teams can get away with the following password:
While it's not as bad as posting your social security number all over the Internet and daring someone to steal your identity, it's still pretty bad. What's sad is that I have a stronger password on my subscription to the Bang Bus than the DoD has on their For-Official-Use-Only media guidance. (By the way: Mom, Dad, I know you read this. Please don't Google search "Bang Bus"...)

Granted, the document isn't classified as secret, so it's not a huge loss, but it still represents the gross contradictions inherent in the DoD's IT policies within the last few years. On one hand, bloggers tended to carry out their business in secret, always aware that not only Big Brother was reading their daily misadventures, but also the enemy. Strangely enough, milbloggers realized the operational security risks and tended to censor themselves appropriately--providing an excellent "on-the-ground" analysis of military operations and the day-to-day life of troops abroad, but without jeopardizing security. Instead, official military sites are responsible for far more security violations than blogs. By a few orders of magnitude. But you don't have to take my word for it.

So what about that "master narrative", which was so sensitive? Well, check out this bit from the NATO Media Operations Center's guidance to subordinate public affairs units:

NATO and the Allies are aware of the volatile security situation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Baluchistan and Northwest Frontier Province. The number of cross border incursions from Pakistan to Afghanistan continues to be monitored.

Only if pressed: ISAF forces are frequently fired at from inside Pakistan, very close to the border. In some cases defensive fire is required, against specific threats. Wherever possible, such fire is pre-coordinated with the Pakistani military.
Basically, this is all information the media reports on anyway. We all know there's a drone war in Pakistan, and it's no secret that many believe that elements within Pakistan's security apparatus (specifically, the ISI and, according to some reports, the Frontier Corps) actually support the Taliban.

Let me clarify

It looks like I might have confused quite a few people with my misquoting of Thucydides last week. A few Greek and Latin scholars at the University of Kentucky seem to have read the quote here, and are trying to track down the original source. I'm basically responsible for their collective confusion (my bad).

I can't log in to the forum to answer them, as I don't have a UK login. However, if someone from that forum does read this page, please note that a US Army lieutenant colonel by the name of Christopher appropriately put me and another captain in our place. He identified the author of the quote as Sir William Francis Butler, writing in his book "Charles George Gordon" (p. 85).

I shouldn't be too hard on myself, though. Even the House Armed Services Comittee misidentified this one.

19 May 2010

Who needs imagination?

For the last few days, I've been participating as an exercise controller in a "white cell" staff exercise, replicating Afghanistan. I needed to set the scene for the day's training scenario; to use my imagination to come up with a likely enemy situation.

Unfortunately, I didn't even need to use my imagination this morning. I just read the front page of the newspaper to the participants.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents launched a brazen assault on the American base at Bagram on Wednesday morning, sparking a large and confusing gun battle that left at least five American soldiers wounded and seven guerrillas dead.

Taliban leaders claimed that seven suicide bombers had blown themselves up at the gates of the base, clearing the way for more than 20 other fighters to get inside. The Taliban reports appeared exaggerated, as they often are. But American officials confirmed that the base, one of the largest in Afghanistan, had come under an ambitious and unusual assault.

An American official said that the base had come under attack by as many as many as 30 insurgents. Another American spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said that no suicide bombs had exploded and that no insurgents had entered the base. “At no time were Bagram defenses breached,” he said.

American officials said that the attack had ended by midmorning Tuesday.

Still, details were sketchy. The main road leading to the base was sealed, and helicopters could be seen flying over the area. Local residents reported hearing gunfire around the base.

The Bagram base, located about 50 miles north of Kabul, the capital, is one of the main hubs of the American campaign in Afghanistan. Bagram serves as the headquarters for the military’s efforts in eastern Afghanistan. It is ringed by several layers of defenses.

The assault on Bagram comes on the heels of an attack Tuesday by a suicide bomber in Kabul, who rammed an explosives-laden bus into an American convoy, killing 18 people, including five American soldiers and a Canadian officer.

CV-22 Osprey crash likely operator error, USAF investigation finds

In 1936, Orville Wright flatly declared that the helicopter would never be practical. Three years later, Igor Sikorsky began proving Wright wrong. The helicopter required two decades more to come into everyday use, but it did. Perhaps the tiltrotor just needed more time to change the world.
--Richard Whittle, The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey.

The sad nature of the aviation business is that accidents happen, even to the best of pilots. Based on
Jamie McIntyre's coverage of the US Air Force's investigation of a V-22 Osprey crash last month, it's safe to say the same occurred here as well.

18 May 2010

Talk about your "strategic corporals"

These Army specialists are working well above their paygrade:

PUZA-I-ESAN, Afghanistan – Living at a remote Afghan National Army outpost in northern Afghanistan, two U.S. Army Soldiers operate autonomously to ensure construction projects for ANA and Coalition soldiers are completed correctly and on time.

Specialists Daniel Booles, contracting officer representative, and Joseph Wagner, COR assistant, who are attached to the Regional Support Team-North at Camp Mike Spann, oversee mission-essential construction at combat outposts across northern Afghanistan. They support the Afghan National Security Forces in efforts to defeat the insurgents and secure the population.

Establishing these combat outposts is critical to the success of the ANSF as they assist with sustaining a presence in the region. This is an integral part of the counterinsurgency initiative, supporting the ANSF mission with the ability to clear an area, hold with security forces, and build support while protecting Afghans.

Team members monitor contracts to build and expand ANA combat outposts to ensure that supplies used to sustain forces are received and that correct construction materials are timely delivered. The pair serves as the RST’s eyes and ears, a critical task that comes with unique obstacles and challenges.

“Being dropped off at a Forward Operating Base without a vehicle, interpreter, and limited supplies definitely made our mission a challenge,” said Spc. Daniel Booles, a Fort Worth, Tex. native assigned to the 10th Mountain 1st Brigade 2-22 Infantry Delta Company from Fort Drum, N.Y. “Making sure equipment and supplies made it to the right locations by the contractors was an interesting experience.”

Ensuring timely delivery of materials by local contractors sometimes requires eliciting the assistance of international partners in the region while they dually work to organize logistical support from other U.S. units operating in the area.

“We had to coordinate with the Germans as well as the ANA to ensure delivery to Bashir Khan,” said Spc. Joseph Wagner, a Crittenden, Ky., native also assigned to 10th Mountain 1st Brigade 2-22 Infantry Delta Company from Fort Drum, N.Y. “I’m glad we were able to get everything done and I am ready for the next mission.”

Despite the remote location and austere conditions, the modest pair managed to ensure the completion of the combat outpost at Puza-i-esan, a critical project that directly contributed to bringing stability to an area that once served as a safe haven for insurgents.

“I liked the autonomy, it was nice to get out here and put our training to work,” Booles said.

Completing the complex project together brought the duo closer during their embedded experience with the ANA soldiers, where they were often the only familiar face each other had.

“I can’t ask for a better partner,” Booles said of his cohort. “We definitely formed a big brother – little brother relationship.”

Upon returning to their home base at Camp Mike Spann, the two-man team moves on to their next assignment: a 30-day project overseeing the expansion of living space for incoming troops at a 209th Corps combat operating post in Khilagay, Afghanistan.

The Chronicles of the Bloodninja (a WOI classic)

The story you are about to read may or may not be true. I guess it has to do with how much faith you have in humanity.

During February of 2005, Fort Bragg hosted the Certification Exercise or CERTEX for the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s deployment to Afghanistan. It was the largest exercise ever conducted on Fort Bragg, involving thousands of troops, aircraft, and several hundred Afghani actors, whose job it was to role-play the tribal leaders, insurgents, and coalition forces. No expense was spared. The training exercise at Fort Bragg actually worked out well, as it would take the place of the Brigade’s usual deployment to the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana. This would not only give troops more time with their families, but for people like me, I could retire back to my own comfortable bed when my day’s work was complete. A win-win.

Among all this, I was assigned to perform as the battalion’s battle captain during the night shift. A battle captain is an officer whose job it is to run the Tactical Operations Center, or TOC, during exercises. The Tactical Operations Center is basically a 24-hour nerve cell for a battalion. In an aviation unit, the night shift was especially critical for two important reasons. For starters, most aviation missions took place at night. Secondly, most key leaders were forced to observe a day schedule, leaving little supervision on the night shift. It took someone of responsibility to man the TOC at night.

Unfortunately, they had me.

Thus I assumed responsibility as the master of the night shift, focusing on not only current, but also future operations for the battalion. However, there was one problem that had plagued us during that exercise. Fort Bragg had been experiencing quite a cloudy February, which severely restricted our aviation operations during the course of the two-week exercise. This left us with an unusual amount of free time in the Tactical Operations Center, with yours truly being the responsible one in charge.

Is this ever a good combination?

To be certain, believe it or not, I actually do quite a decent job managing an aviation battalion’s Tactical Operations Center. Constantly checking on weather, monitoring current and future flight plans and air mission requests, watching the intel officer update the tactical map, and assisting in the planning of aviation operations, it was usually an interesting and challenging assignment, and an extraordinary amount of responsibility for someone who had just passed his 25th birthday. Throw in the fact that at least two hours of each day was spent counteracting the mistakes of my day battle captain, Lt. Scooter, and it was actually quite eventful. Unfortunately, it was like 10 hours of real work interspersed among 14 hours worth of shift.

And you know what they say about an idle mind.

It started with me bringing my laptop to the TOC. Verily, it was probably the most capable computer in the battalion for handling the Aviation Mission Planning Software. A high-quality video card and a 17” screen was perfect for processing the massive amount of 3D maps and satellite imagery I kept on my computer for planning missions. Although, as you might have guessed, this same amazing technology could also be corrupted for my own purposes, as I would pop in Star Wars: Battlefront during the lull in our Op-tempo.

Star Wars: Battlefront, while satisfying in the fact that I could actually blast Ewoks when I wasn’t taking on Imperial Stormtroopers or Battle Droids, only satiated a little bit of my quest for amusement in the Tactical Operations Center. At some point, I felt it was wise to trek over to the Brigade’s Tactical Operations Center to get a feel for what the Aviation Brigade was doing.

Let me back up a second—setting is important. It is February in Fort Bragg, with temperatures averaging in the 20s at night, and creeping to just above freezing during the day. This allows for that super-cool rain to pour down almost incessantly, and provides the right conditions for a brooding layer of fog to blanket the airfield. You wouldn’t have guessed it, though, if you were inside the tactical operations center. We had just acquired brand new Base-X brand tents—the latest in tactical housing. The tents were fully shielded from the elements—many times you would be hard pressed to realize that you were in a tent. Environmental Control units pumped either heat or air conditioning inside the tent, as well as all the power one could ever want. The power was used to run a multitude of fluorescent lights, computers, printers, radios, and even a copier. This was only at the battalion level.

Journeying over to the Brigade TOC was like stepping into a science fiction movie. The interior of the tent was some fifteen feet high, allowing for three projectors to display tactical maps, situation reports, and other information gleaned from the network. In one of the naves, or annexes, of the main tent of the Brigade’s TOC was the briefing room. This darkened room, filled with chairs, was equipped with yet another projector for the Brigade Commanders twice-a-day Commander’s Update Briefing, as well as for other mission briefings.

However, at this time of the night, the Brigade Commander was probably back in bed, allowing the night TOC shift to darken the tent and, while using two or three chairs as beds, watch nearly every R-Rated movie in existence. While not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, something just seemed not quite right about seeing Angelina Jolie’s breasts projected to super-huge proportions on the wall of the Brigade’s Tactical Operations Center. That just shouldn’t be in the Brigade TOC—why the fuck aren’t they dancing on my table?

This was when I began to decide that I would have to produce my own amusement. With flights cancelled due to the fog, and no missions scheduled until the day shift took over, I labored for something more to do besides Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.

One of the great epiphanies in human history occurred 1933, when Hungarian scientist and member of the Manhattan Project Leo Szilard was waiting at traffic light in London, and suddenly, in a stroke of pure brilliance, came up with the idea of a nuclear chain reaction. A similar and ultimately equally destructive concept popped into my head as I sat in the Battalion Tactical Operations Center waiting for the weather to lift.

Racing to my computer, I tried to find a mass e-mail I had discovered in 2002—surely this e-mail would invigorate the Tactical Operations Center, I reasoned, in one of the great understatements of human history.

Enter, “The Bloodninja”. In 2002, a series of anonymous e-mails began circulating the Internet regarding the escapades of an online personality known as “
Bloodninja”. Bloodninja would frequent the local cybersex chat rooms, luring unsuspecting girls into cybersex sessions in which he would completely avoid sexually satisfying said women--instead, resorting to demeaning them. And he did it in a creative and spectacular fashion. Observe. (As an aside, Bloodninja seems to be related to the character "Lord Viper Scorpion" from the Daily Show).
bloodninja: Baby, I been havin a tough night so treat me nice aight?
BritneySpears14: Aight.
bloodninja: Slip out of those pants baby, yeah.
BritneySpears14: I slip out of my pants, just for you, bloodninja.
bloodninja: Oh yeah, aight. Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.
BritneySpears14: Oh, I like to play dress up.
bloodninja: Me too baby.
BritneySpears14: I kiss you softly on your chest.
bloodninja: I cast Lvl. 3 Eroticism. You turn into a real beautiful woman.
BritneySpears14: Hey...
bloodninja: I meditate to regain my mana, before casting Lvl. 8 Cock of the Infinite.
BritneySpears14: Funny I still don't see it.
bloodninja: I spend my mana reserves to cast Mighty F*ck of the Beyondness.
BritneySpears14: You are the worst cyber partner ever. This is ridiculous.
bloodninja: Don't f*ck with me biznitch, I'm the mightiest sorcerer of the lands.
bloodninja: I steal yo soul and cast Lightning Lvl. 1,000,000 Your body explodes into a fine bloody mist, because you are only a Lvl. 2 Druid.
BritneySpears14: Don't ever message me again you piece of ****.
bloodninja: Robots are trying to drill my brain but my lightning shield inflicts DOA attack, leaving the robots as flaming piles of metal.
bloodninja: King Arthur congratulates me for destroying Dr. Robotnik's evil army of Robot Socialist Republics. The cold war ends. Reagan steals my accomplishments and makes like it was cause of him.
bloodninja: You still there baby? I think it's getting hard now.
bloodninja: Baby?
Amused? I know I was when I first read these. Indeed, as I passed on the Chronicles of the Bloodninja to the soldiers in the TOC, I had no idea what I was unleashing. Verily, the Chronicles of the Bloodninja was a powerful force—people who had originally never picked up a book for pleasure in their life were eagerly reading the five or six pages worth of Bloodninja transcripts. Soldiers read the lines aloud, even going so far as to assign roles to the female soldiers in the TOC. As 0600 rolled around, about three hours after I had printed out the Bloodninja saga, we were already in the “after-shock” phase of the Bloodninja phenomenon, interjecting various bits and pieces of Bloodninja-speak nearly every five minutes. We conducted the daily shift briefing, and I went home at around 0700, where I would rest and prepare to go back to work at around 1700 in the evening.

After a long night…erm, day’s rest, I woke up and had breakfast (which was actually dinner in this case). Grabbing my ubiquitous Starbucks coffee, I drove to the Brigade TOC, noting that the fog had lifted throughout the day. Looks like tonight would be slightly more interesting than the previous night, I reasoned.

There’s that foreshadowing thing again…

I parked my Jeep, and grabbed my assault pack, Special-Ops-style Kevlar MICH helmet, tactical MOLLE vest, Wiley-X ballistic-resistant sunglasses and Camelback hydration system. Dressed to kill, I was clad in a flame-resistant two-piece Nomex Aircrew Battle Dress Uniform. To this I added my laptop and a Venti cup of Starbucks coffee—the quintessential PowerPoint Ranger Packing List. I strode into the TOC, ready for yet another day of planning a battalion’s worth of Aviation Operations in the fictional nation of Braggistan.

I noticed that the mood in the TOC was considerably different than the previous day. Like the previous day, there was a general sense of amateur hour permeating the Tactical Operations Center, obviously precipitated by the fact that Lt. Scooter ran the Op Center during the day shift--his incompetence mitigated only by the fact that most senior officers worked during the day shift, and that the 82nd Airborne Division preferred to take advantage of its night fighting abilities. Nevertheless, there seemed to be a general silence in the Tactical Operations Center as I walked in—indeed, many eyes seemed fixated upon me. Walking past the Flight Operations section, I noted the expression on the face of one of the Flight Operations specialists, a person whom we will refer to as Specialist Darnit. At first I was unsure as to the reason behind his mouth gaping wide open at the sight of me. Normally, I would have attributed this to this particular Tennessean’s massive overbite and buck teeth, but my Jedi senses seemed to indicate that the reason for his expression might have transcended his obvious lack of dental care.

Suddenly, a voice cried out from a corner of the TOC:

“It’s the Bloodninja!”

What the fuck?

"El Ninja del Sangre!"

“You’re the Bloodninja, aren’t you, Lieutenant [Starbuck]?”

“No,” I assured them, “I’m not the Bloodninja. That’s actually a chain e-mail that’s been going around the Internet for years.” Christ, is the entire Army is filled with Internet n00bs?

“Then why was it on your computer?” asked a trooper.

“Because, like I said, it’s been going around for like three years and I forwarded it to a buddy of mine.”

As sensible as this explanation sounded, it didn’t seem to satiate the troopers’ desire to hear more of this mysterious Bloodninja character. More troopers approached me, quoting their favorite Bloodninja lines, much like fans walk up to Dave Chappelle and give their best “I’m Rick James, Bitch” impersonation.

“I put on my robe and wizard hat!” said one giggling private as he high-fived his buddy.

“Don’t fuck with me, biznitch, I am the mightiest sorcerer in the land!” said another in his best Power-of-Greyskull voice.

“Guys, guys”, I reasoned with them, “I’m not the Bloodninja. I can’t take credit for something that genius.”

The TOC was quiet. I could see the mental gears turning inside the collective brains of the junior enlisted people of the TOC.

One junior trooper finally believed he put the entire conspiracy together:

“Maybe he’s not the Bloodninja; but he
knows the Bloodninja!”

“Yeah!” everyone in the TOC started to agree.

Oh Christ.

At that point, the legions of Internet n00bs in the 82nd Airborne Division started to refer to me as Lieutenant “Bloodninja”. I didn’t exactly dissuade them from referring to me as that, always playing off their allegations in a mysterious manner. While never acknowledging that I was The One True Bloodninja ™, I started to at least hint that there might have been a possibility that I was, in fact, The One True Bloodninja ™.

One of the biggest proponents of the Lt. [Starbuck]-is-Bloodninja Conspiracy theory was a young man from middle Tennessee. While middle Tennessee has given us great minds such as Andrew Exum and Karaka Pend, they also gave us, well, the aforementioned soldier I refer to only as"Darnit". Little did Darnit know the forces with which he was dealing with.

After the CERTEX, I moved to the Battalion’s Flight Operations Center as the officer in charge. In what was appearing to be a continuing trend, the previous occupant had been essentially fired from his job and I got put in his place to rectify a defunct organization. Hooray for what little competency I actually had.

One of my workers was Specialist Darnit. Much like Lt. Scooter, it was best to minimize his role so that he could do the least amount of damage to the organization. With that said, when he went on leave, I was all too happy to enjoy the average intelligence level of my workers increase by about 20 IQ points.

Working on finding some bit of information or another, I started typing in the URL for a military-related website. I began to type in:


It was then that Internet Explorer’s auto-complete function began to give me the list of URLs beginning with www.military that had been accessed on that computer. Lo and behold, I noticed a number of URLs that began with

What the fuck is this? Why are there dating websites in the local cache of a government computer? Already, I knew the answer to this, but out of sheer morbid curiosity, I decided to push the issue farther.

I clicked on the militarysingles.com URL and what to my wondering eyes should appear…

But a singles ad created by none other than Darnit himself!

Now, at this point, I should note that the Army would probably suggest that I record the incident, report it to my information security officer, and provide counseling for the soldier in writing, explaining to him that it the Army does not want him to surf singles websites during business hours.

But when have I actually done what I’m supposed to do?

Reading through the personal ad gave me quite a sense of elation. Others in the flight operations center gathered around as we read Darnit’s profile aloud, ensuring to read his profile in his distinctive Middle-Tenessee twang. The twang was accentuated, of course, by us attempting to mimic Darnit’s overbite and bucked teeth.

Anthropologists and sociologists will agree that women the world over have an innate urge to connect with what they perceive to be as the Alpha Male. Verily, I feel sorry for the sad state of humanity, as many women would, in fact, see Darnit’s profile as that which would have belonged to the Alpha Male of any society. Darnit made many claims to woo his potential female suitors; ladies, take note, as I believe Darnit is still single.

For starters, he is “kinda built”, in his own words . Moreover, Darnit doesn’t go by “Darnit”, at least not when he’s around the ladies. Instead, the ladies refer to him as “Will ‘The Thrill’, if ya know what I mean ;)". Again, in his own words. I have no idea who calls him "Will the Thrill", but I just chalked that one up to my suspension of disbelief.

After a round or two of laughter at his profile, I thought to myself, what kind of woman would go for an overly-cliché personal ad like that? My insatiable curiosity would actually pay off. See, although Darnit had the computer literacy to build himself a profile on militarysingles.com, he did not have the competency to learn that he should have probably logged himself out of the website and deleted the cookies. Indeed, we were now logged in to his account. People would attribute this to my so-called “hacking” abilities or, better yet, to the fact that I was some super-elite Bloodninja. While I wish I could claim that I had these abilities, the sad fact of the matter is that we merely took advantage of Darnit’s stupidity yet again.

With unrestricted access to Darnit’s profile, we now had the ability to go through his personal messages. Looking through his inbox, we discovered a number of e-mails from one particular girl. We clicked on her profile to discover something unusual about her. To put it in layman’s terms, she was a giant fat ass. No kidding, I literally expected this girl to have Han Solo’s body frozen in Carbonite and Princess Leia in a metal bikini chained to her.

Shallow? Yes, we are.

I looked at the girl’s picture in amusement and wondered how Darnit would manage to actually have sex with a girl of that magnitude. Standard Kama Sutra positions would have been about as useless on this girl as shooting a pea shooter at an M-1 tank. I deduced, based on her size, that Darnit would have to enter the girl’s vagina—I mean, actually crawled inside—and gyrated to get her off.

Of course, most reasonable people would have stopped here, but when that little angel on my shoulder told me that I should have stopped, I bitch-slapped it and charged straight ahead. After all, I reasoned, fat women needed loving, too. Right?

With this logic in mind, I decided to send some messages to Darnit’s fat girlfriend. I figured his usual witty Tennessee repartee wasn’t quite good enough. No, I needed to embellish his language so that he could properly express his love. I began to type:

My love:

It have bottled up these emotions for so long, I feel like I must now unleash them. Forever, I have wanted to ravish you---I would first put on my robe and wizard hat to put me in the mood, while I meditate on our love, allowing my Cock of the Infinite to grow into its Great Mighty Form. I have wanted to tell you so long in the form of a haiku:

Robe and Wizard Hat
Crazy Wild Anal Loving
I am Bloodninja

--Your Beloved Will the Thrill
PS-Sometimes people call me “The Bloodninja”, if ya know what I mean ;)
I felt no remorse as I hit the “send” button, sealing Darnit’s fate as the Once and Future Bloodninja. Even if Darnit wanted to press the issue with the chain of command, he first would have to let them on to the fact that he left himself logged in to a dating site on a government computer, so it would be a lose-lose situation at best for him.

The next day, rumors of my hijacking of Darnit’s militarysingles.com profile spread like wildfire. Indeed, as the rest of the battalion jokingly referred to Darnit as “The Bloodninja”, I think I might have convinced people that I was a veiled Bloodninja, looking for a scapegoat for his activities. No matter. I waited for Darnit to return from leave to ask him what he thought of this recent development.

I walked in to work one day to find him in the office—he glared at me and I glared at him.
“Sir”, came his uneducated drawl, “I know you’re the Bloodninja. I know you’re the one who got into my account.”

“I’m what?”


“If you want to start calling people names, how about I call you stupid for leaving yourself logged in to a dating site on government computers. Let that be a lesson to you.”

“Uh-uh, I didn’t leave myself logged in,” Darnall protested, “I gave Private [X] my password.”

You know, just when I think Darnit couldn’t get any more stupid, he never ceases to surprise me.

“So, instead of you being a mere idiot for not deleting the cookies on the computer, you’re a complete fucking idiot for a.) Surfing a dating site on a government computer, b.) giving out your password, and c.) for giving out your password to a dating site to someone you work with.”

From that day forth, I secretly knighted Darnit as Lord Bloodninja, much to his chagrin.

17 May 2010

In other news...

Much to my surprise, people not only lend credence to--but make social and political commentary on--beauty pageant queens.

Not that I ever took pageant queens seriously, but I took them even less seriously after, well, you know who.

On Retirement and Janowitz' "Professional Soldier"

(I love the gang at CNAS, but for some reason, I'm on a CNAS kick. I'm also drunk, so maybe that explains it.)

Recently, CNAS guru Nathan Fick, a Marine officer who served in Iraq, posted a provocative guest blog at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense:
Cliff retirement at 20 years of service, for instance, strikes me as a relic of an age when twenty years in the Army left a veteran a broken man, with blown joints, no hearing, and a limited ability to work in an agricultural or industrial economy. Advances in medicine, lengthening lifespan, and the shift to a service economy in this country (albeit with large swaths of agricultural and industrial employment across the workforce) make me wonder -- as a taxpayer -- why we're paying 38-year-olds as they embark on their second full career.
While Fick brings up a topic worth mentioning, I'm not certain it's completely accurate, after reviewing some of the literature on the subject. In fact, it's covered in an excellent work on the US military's organizational culture entitled "The Professional Soldier" by Morris Janowitz. Says Janowitz on the topic of retirement:
Consequently, the entire concept of retirement has undergone a change. No longer is retirement the final phase of a gentleman's career, a continuation of the military style of life. It is merely another step in career management. The Army no longer speaks of retirement, but of a "second" career. Traditionally, the bulk of military professionals, when they separated from service, actually did retire; civilian employment was incompatible with their self-conception.
Janowitz wrote that line in 1960. However, he was referring to a time when 30 years of service qualified an officer for retirement, not twenty years. Nevertheless, was the "old" Army (around the turn of the 20th Century) really that hard?
At one time, the military style of life was leisurely; the typical officer's work day in the inter-war years (1919-1940) ended by noon, although office routine developed after World War I. Freedom from an 8.00 AM to 4.00 PM routine, and opportunity for extensive leisure and sports, were compensations for the rigors of training exercises and frequent separations from one's family...the military occupation made it possible for the officer to have a gentleman-like routine.
Seriously? Being a commissioned officer back in the "wooden ships/iron men" days must have been a lot like being a warrant officer today! Complete with the WOMAN (Warrant Officer Mandatory Afternoon Nap).

I just gave away the secret. I need to protect myself from WOLF (the Warrant Officer Liberation Front).

Janowitz' book is a great read. I never would have guessed how many traditions and cultural quirks the Army still retains from its days on camps on the old frontier. It also sheds some light on recent discussions about the military "welfare state" and the power of wives in military organizations. Check it out at Amazon.

Nagl v. Galbraith. FIGHT!

By now, you've probably seen an article in the Economist featuring CNAS President John Nagl (Ph.D., Lt. Col. Retired) and former UN Envoy to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith. What's interesting is that Nagl focuses on the counterinsurgency campaign from an operational standpoint. Certainly, ISAF now has the resources and the momentum to clear, hold, and build on a scale they previously hadn't before. This, of course, is good news--although the most recent assessment indicates that, although the Taliban are no longer advancing throughout most of Afghanistan, ISAF is not really advancing either. Granted, this is a long-awaited shift in equilibrium, but we'd be wise not to be too optimistic yet.

Mr. Galbraith, the former UN envoy, sees the Afghanistan problem as a largely political affair, and rightly so, as counterinsurgency is largely a political issue. While military action is the vehicle through which political action is taken, the maxim from David Galula--that guerrilla war is eighty percent political and twenty percent military--still largely holds true (at least in a metaphorical sense). According to Galbraith, ISAF can clear Taliban forces from the cities, but an effective Afghan-led "hold" phase will likely fail, based on the government's past performance. (A recent article from the NY Times, reporting in Marjah, might lend credence to this claim)

Nevertheless, despite Nagl's more narrow focus on the operational aspects of counterinsurgency, I think he wins the debate with this quote:
The development of an Afghan government that is able to provide a modicum of security and governance for its people is necessary to ensure that the international community's security interests will be preserved without a continued major international troop presence. To achieve this objective, the coalition and its Afghan partners must build a state that reconciles a degree of centralised governance with the traditional tribal and religious power structures that hold sway outside Kabul.
This describes Afghanistan at its best (read: the mid-20th Century), where even then, it was rife with political corruption and coups, with failed experiments in liberal democracy. If we're expecting a nation-state that has some modicum of stability, success might be within our grasp. If we're expecting a Utopian society in Central Asia, we're guaranteed failure. (Which, fortunately, Nagl does not advocate)