30 June 2010

Gen. Petraeus' "Dream Team" assembling in Afghanistan?

The news from Spencer Ackerman isn't all bad, though.  Writing from his new post at Wired.com's Danger Room, Ackerman reports that Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster has been selected to serve as Gen. Petraeus' J-5, the lead plans officer for Afghanistan.

You might remember Brig. Gen. McMaster as a veteran of 73 Eastings during the First Gulf War, and Tal'Afar during the Second Gulf War.  Holding a PhD in History from the UNC-Chapel Hill, he's the author of a scathing criticism of US military leadership during the Vietnam War.  McMaster is also responsible for creating the new Army Capstone Concept, a guide to military leadership in the 21st Century.  Most recently, he's been quite the avowed PowerPoint basher, even going so far as to ban the software in his organization.

Finally, we're sending the brightest minds to Afghanistan, after years upon years of neglect.

Focus:  Whom would you like to see as part of an Afghanistan "dream team"?  Let's look at both civil and military leaders.  

Personally, I'd like to see Lt. Col. Paul Yingling and Lt. Col. Gian Gentile (thanks Gunslinger).  Both are exceptional, though contrary, military minds who aren't afraid to call it as they see it.  Their brand sort of intellectual honesty is something we need more of in our Army.

Focus #2:  If Gen. McChrystal's inner circle took the name "Team America", what will Gen. Petraeus' inner circle be known as?

A bad day to read Attackerman

Checking Google Reader this morning, I saw that I had eleven unread posts from Spencer Ackerman since last night.  Curious, I clicked on the feed...

...only to find out that ten of them were obituaries for US service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

29 June 2010

Time for your annual "OPSEC" PowerPoint Class...

The US Army has created an official guide to online operational security (OPSEC, for short).  Looks like they're taking some cues from the world's greatest milbloggers:

With a guest appearence from Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom, an excellent war memoir.

And, of course, featuring a quote from one of the pioneers of milblogging:  "Write as though Osama and your mama are reading".


I have recalled official Wings Over Iraq Girl Megan Fox to the WOI House to explain herself.

Meanwhile, in counterinsurgency news, check out Dr. Rex and the SWJ gang in an interesting discussion on airmobile tactics of the Rhodesian Light Infantry.


Megan Fox marries in Hawaii.

27 June 2010

The horror. The horror.

I thought Germany's mandatory "quiet Sunday" laws would protect me from the unspeakable cacophony which has been piercing my ears.  Alas, I've been subjected to the shreaking banshee-scream of vuvuzelas for the past hour or so, as Germany just beat England 4-1.

England, this was not your finest hour and a half.

26 June 2010

You realize they're mocking us, right?

One of the biggest shockers to come out of the infamous "Rolling Stan" article was the unofficial nickname of Gen. McChrystal's raucous inner circle:
There's a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority. After arriving in Kabul last summer, Team America set about changing the culture of the International Security Assistance Force, as the NATO-led mission is known.
For those of you who were hiding under a rock, "Team America: World Police" was a satire from the makers of South Park released in 2004.  Among its more memorable scenes is the "Team America" theme song:

Team America has long been a favorite movie of mine, and it's occasionally mentioned by former Army Ranger/think-tanker/blogger Andrew "Abu Muqawama" Exum.  His CNAS colleague, Tom Ricks, also admits to being a fan of the movie as well.

To Team America's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, nothing is sacred.  They revel in lampooning both the left and the right at every given opportunity.  In Team America, we see lavish ridicule heaped upon naive pacifists, politically-active-yet-uninformed actors, the gross impotence of the United Nations and action movie cliches.  Even Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's "wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs" essay is given its own special, albeit crude, rendition.

But the very name, "Team America:  World Police", often embroidered on patches velcroed to the back of pilots' helmets, is a statement on the world's sole superpower's sometimes reckless adventurism and often jingoistic view of the world.  In Team America, foreigners speak stereotypical nonsense, all major landmarks within a nation are a stone's throw away from another, and distances for exotic locales are given in the number of miles from the American shore.  Yet, for many, "Team America" is often adopted as a source of pride.

Team America isn't the only critique that's frequently misinterpreted as pro-military triumphalism.  Take the legendary "Ride of the Valkyries" scene from Apocalypse Now, an iconic scene within the Army Aviation community.  What many look at with wistful pride is a statement on how not to fight a war.

The farther Martin Sheen's character travels through Vietnam and into Cambodia, the more humanity sinks into a savage, Hobbesian state.  One soldier shows lax discipline and lights off a smoke grenade for no reason.  Others fight among themselves to be the first to bed a Playboy bunny in a squalid mud hut, the last observation post before the Cambodian border.  And then we have the nasty little issue of Colonel Kurtz during the climax of the movie.

The soldiers of the air cavalry--strutting about in stetsons and yellow neckerchiefs--show no interest in assisting in the mission to bring Col. Kurtz to justice.  Instead of selflessly fighting their way to their objective out of a sense of duty, they assist Martin Sheen's character in his mission when they discover that the infiltration route takes them along a beach that is perfect for surfing.  Mounting up in UH-1 and OH-6 helicopters, they gracefully swoop over the Vietnamese countryside towards their objective, surfboards in hand.

The battle below is sheer bedlam.  As is par for the course in many counterinsurgencies, heavily armed guerrillas mingle among women and children.  In some cases, women are insurgents, with one saboteur throwing a grenade into the cabin of a medevac Huey.  The Hueys fire rocket pods with seemingly little regard for civilian casualties in a scene which would make General Petraeus cringe and Ralph Peters squeal with glee.

It's strange, therefore, that this scene is so celebrated in our organizational culture.  True, the cinematography and choreography of the helicopters, descending like Wagner's Valkyries into Valhalla, is little short of spectacular.  Yet, when we see Lt. Col. Kilgore place "kill cards" on the bodies of dead Viet Cong troops, we should be reminded of the fact that this is precisely what not to do.

Focus:  Are there any other scenes--from movies, television or literature--that are celebrated when taken out of their original context?

24 June 2010

Jason Sigger wins the Internet today

For the handful of you who don't get the reference.  

The media is not the enemy.

It's unfortunate that the long-term ramifications of Gen. McChrystal's sacking may likely lead to reduced access to the military by the press.  In a blog entry at the US Naval Institute, Commander Salamander chastizes the vanity of senior military leaders by agreeing to interviews with outlets like Rolling Stone and Esquire, noting:
Reporters are not your fans. They are not your friends. They have a paycheck to earn. They have their own desire to see their names in front of millions of people. They don’t care about your goals, your plans, your Commander’s Intent. They care about getting a story.
All this is well known. Why then in the last three years have we seen Admiral Fallon, Admiral Mullen, and now General McChrystal fall into the media vanity trap? Simple. They forgot their place.
Vanity, definitely someone's favorite sin.

While there's a degree of truth in this post at USNI, I think that Commander Salamander is being a bit too harsh on journalists.  I'm not the only one who thinks so, either.  Embedded journalism benefits the military, as it gets our story out, just as it also benefits the the public, for it makes the military more accountable to the American people.

Until recently, the US military has been very risk-averse when it comes to media engagement, largely due to a few isolated incidents and some pervasive misconceptions which arose in the last forty years or so.  In a popular--but grossly oversimplified--narrative of the Vietnam War, the US military was winning the Vietnam War until the Tet Offensive of 1968, where televised images of war sapped America's desire to remain in Southeast Asia.  More recently, CNN was accused of setting up lights on the shores of Somalia as US Marines waded ashore, jeopardizing the safety of the mission.  There was also an infamous segment during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera sketched a map of the 101st Airborne Division's battle plan in the sand, resulting in his eviction from Iraq.

Yet, contrary to popular opinion, not all journalists like to prey on misspoken words, nor do all journalists have an anti-military agenda.  In fact, a few journalists who regularly cover the military have offered some words of advice to military leaders, as well as journalists.

Jamie McIntre, Line of Departure:

Michael Hastings, the former Baghdad correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, says he has no idea why McChrystal was so generous with sharing his innermost doubts, and invited him along to witness the irreverent and sometimes contemptuous attitude of his top aides.
Hastings speculated to ABC, among others that it might simply be a character flaw, “a sort of natural kind of recklessness.”
I have another theory based on my 16 years of traveling with senior defense officials and military officers.  Gen. McChrystal might have been under the misimpression Hastings would protect him, in return for the great access and candor.
The dirty little secret among beat reporters who routinely travel with top military officials is that there’s a unwritten code, a general understanding, that off-color jokes, irreverent banter, and casual conversations are generally off-the-record, or on the deepest of background, unless otherwise agreed upon.
Usually this is an informal understanding, especially when a group of reporters is traveling with an official, but sometimes it’s part of official ground rules, like for instance on the Defense Secretary’s official plane.  All conversations are off-the-record, and if you want something on the record, you have to ask, and get permission.  This is to allow the Secretary, and his top lieutenants to let their hair down and relax. It also gives the reporters a chance to get to know the officials and have unguarded conversations with them, information that can be very useful in providing context down the road. It makes the plane a welcome sanctuary at the end of what is often a grueling day.  The plane policy began as an informal understanding, until one reporter blogged a first-person account of what it’s like traveling on the plane, and mentioned that the flight surgeon handed out sleeping pills to anyone who felt they needed them.  This angered then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and the result was a formal policy.
In another article, McIntyre discusses the relationship between the military and the media.
[I]n many ways we in the media ARE the enemy, or at least adversaries of those in government or the military who would seek to put the best face on failing policies.   That’s our job.
Which brings me to all the handwringing about the revelations that some in the military were doing “opposition research” on reporters, trying to determine if they were hostile, friendly, or neutral when it comes to covering ongoing military operations.  
To which I say, “Bring it on.”
I’m a big believer in accountability.  That is to say, a reporter files a story, and afterward, often very soon afterward, it becomes clear how accurate and incisive the reporting is.    If there were a penalty for being demonstrably wrong, there would be a lot fewer demonstrably bad reports.   I always welcomed any review of my reporting. In fact, when I look back at it myself, I’m often amazed at how my stories hold up, since the first account of any event is often incomplete, and subject to inadvertent inaccuracies.
So if a reporter wants to embed with U.S. troops, or interview a top commander, why wouldn’t the staff want to get feel for the reporter’s reputation for integrity, fairness, and accuracy?
Now if you start granting access based on which reporters write positive stories, well, that’s a big problem.   It undermines everyone’s credibility.  (The Pentagon insists, by the way, that is NOT the case, that no reporter has been denied access because of negative ratings by the Rendon group, or anyone else.) In fact, if the Pentagon wanted to smear a reporter, the most damaging thing it could do is rate them as “friendly”.  That’s the kiss of death on the defense beat.  As soon as your editors think you’re gone native you are outta there.
The fact is when you engage with the media, there is always a risk the story won’t meet your expectations.   And that’s where good public affairs can help.   It comes down to building credibility and having a success story to tell.  And PAOs admit if a reporter gets a reputation of being unfair, or sloppy, or pursuing an agenda, it’s hard to get senior officials to talk to them.
In my 16 years of covering the Pentagon I found that most commanders aren’t expecting laudatory puff pieces, they just want a fair shake.  And most know that success breeds good coverage, not the other way around.  As I told one general who once was lamenting the negative stories about the Iraq war, “If want better coverage, conduct a better war.”

And on "off-the-record" comments:
"Just to be clear and so there is no misunderstanding," I would proclaim in a somber voice, "when we say off the record, we mean not for reporting in any form, (pause for effect).. unless it's REALLY, REALLY good."
Tom Ricks also weighs in with a few helpful hints for commanders encountering the media:

1. Know who you are talking to. Reporters have track records. A good public affairs officer will know that record and provide you with articles with highlighted quotes. 
2. Establish ground rules. If you have an embedded reporter, you need to say something like, anything you hear inside my tent is off the record until you check it with us. This goes triple for any event involving alcohol.
3. Reporters doing one-off profiles for magazines such asRolling Stone and Esquire have less invested in a continuing relationship than do beat reporters covering the war for newspapers and newsmagazines. That doesn't mean you should avoid one-off reporters, but it does mean that they have no incentive to establish and maintain a relationship of trust over weeks and months of articles.

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling also shared his thoughts about Gen. McChrystal's "cowboy talk" with Small Wars Journal and Wired.com's Danger Room.

Commanders who indulge in sloppy, tough guy, cowboy lingo – “smackdown, scumbags,” etc. tend to run sloppy, tough guy, cowboy operations. Units, and especially staffs, tend to adopt the language and demeanor of their commander.
Commanders of large formations can’t possibly police every comment by every soldier and staff officer. However, as General Petraeus often says, it’s important for senior leaders to set the right tone.
Insular backgrounds, whether in special operations or conventional forces, encourage tone-deafness. Applause lines in the testosterone driven subculture of combat units are not likely to play well on CNN. Senior commanders have to move easily between these two worlds, delivering a consistent message to very different audiences.
When I encourage young officers to go to grad school, I tell them to stay away from military people. Have lunch with the lesbian anarchists, attend the environmentalists’ weekly emergency teach-ins, and try to see the world through different eyes. That skill will come in handy later on in life.

So there you have it.  Certainly, the press is not the enemy, nor are they instruments to be manipulated.  Are there any service members or journalists out there with some more helpful hints?

23 June 2010

Stepping up by stepping down

In the hours leading up to Gen. McChrystal's sacking, various sources had mentioned a number of fine officers as potential replacements for Gen. McChrystal, such as Gen. James Mattis of US Joint Forces Command; and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the deputy commander for US Forces-Afghanistan.

Few, however, suspected the obvious choice:  General David H. Petraeus, quite possibly one of the most brilliant generals ever to don the uniform.  However, as commander of US Central Command, he's responsible for the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Thus, if he commits to managing the war in Afghanistan full-time, he will technically be accepting a demotion.

Initially, I thought the move was unprecedented, but I've seen the same thing happen earlier this month, when Canadian Brigadier General Jonathan Vance replaced Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, who was relieved of command for an inappropriate relationship with an enlisted woman (not to mention his questionable rifle-handling skills).  Brig. Gen. Vance had previously served as the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, and was uniquely qualified to step back into his old post.  Brig. Gen. Vance's experience was all the more critical with the impending offensive in Kandahar.

I think this speaks volumes about the character of these officers.  Both of these men have answered the call in Afghanistan by relinquishing more prestigious jobs in order to guide NATO forces through this turbulent period.


  • President Obama is set to address the nation from the Rose Garden any minute.
  • Multiple sources reporting that Gen. McChrystal has been relieved of command. 
  • Gen. McChrystal will not even return to Kabul to pick up his belongings, reportedly.  They will be mailed to him.
  • According to some sources, Gen. Petraeus, in an unprecedented move, will step down as head of US Central Command and oversee the war in Afghanistan personally.  

Pride goeth before the fall...

As Commander Salamander notes at USNI, pride and vanity have been the downfall of many powerful men.

Words of advice

One of my fellow captains forwarded me these words from the National Review:
Note to readers: Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you. Even though they’ll say how much they admire you, how you’re misunderstood, how they want to write a deeper piece than you get from those other lamestream-media organizations, something more revealing that will let people see the real you, and how they need behind-the-scenes access and to spend hours with you so they can really do their job and write responsibly, yada yada yada. Don’t fall for it. It’s okay to say “no.”

22 June 2010

Last thoughts on the McChrystal interview

While it will most likely be overlooked in light of General McChrystal's more inflammatory comments, I was particularly struck by this passage in the infamous Rolling Stone interview.
One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. "Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force," the laminated card reads. For a soldier who has traveled halfway around the world to fight, that's like telling a cop he should only patrol in areas where he knows he won't have to make arrests. "Does that make any fucking sense?" asks Pfc. Jared Pautsch. "We should just drop a fucking bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?"
The rules handed out here are not what McChrystal intended – they've been distorted as they passed through the chain of command...
I'm speechless.  This passage alone deserves its own facepalm.  

It was only a matter of time before I invoked the Holy Trilogy...

General McChrystal:  Get a shuttle ready.  I shall assume full responsibility and apologize.

(Interior, the White House)

President. Obama:  Apology accepted, General McChrystal.

How not to handle the press...

My fellow bloggers back in the US have already tackled this issue last night, including Abu Muqawama, Spencer Ackerman (Parts 1 and 2), Kings of War, and Karaka Pend.  I really don't have much to add, save for my disbelief that Gen. McChrystal and his entourage would grant Rolling Stone--of all media outlets--nearly unlimited access, as they get drunk, curse and swear, and trash-talk ambassadors and the Vice President.  Did Rolling Stone seem like a reputable news source with no agenda?  (Okay, except for mentioning Small Wars Journal in their "Hot List 2009")    

Michael Hastings, author of "I Lost My Love in Baghdad", records these gems:

McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.
“The dinner comes with the position, sir,” says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn.
McChrystal turns sharply in his chair. “Hey, Charlie,” he asks, “does this come with the position?”
McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

 And this:

“Who’s he going to dinner with?” I ask one of his aides.
“Some French minister,” the aide tells me. “It’s fucking gay.”
Now, granted, we all know soldiers talk this way.  Still, no one thought to be on their best behavior with the press around?

Then we have the off-the-cuff remarks about the Vice President and other officials within the Obama Administration.  You know, one of those things you know specifically not to do.  Especially not in front of the press.
Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.
“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”
“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?” 

More as the story unfolds.  I highly suggest reading the article, as McChrystal is exonerated in some areas--namely, his willingness to go on patrol with soldiers in hostile areas, and how his rules of engagement are frequently warped by risk-averse subordinate commanders.  However, I should note that the author inserts these tidbits in spite of the ill-mannered drunken rhetoric on the part of the General and his staff.

The article is simply damning on many levels.  It's mind-boggling that someone as reportedly brilliant as Gen. McChrystal blundered into this PR nightmare.

21 June 2010

Did I skip a page?

This bit from a recent ABC article has me confused:
Kilcullen's latest book titled "Counterinsurgency" lays out his plan for a stable withdrawal from Afghanistan. A former lieutenant colonel in the Australian army, he has spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan and advised General David Petraeus and the U.S. State Department on counterinsurgency strategy.
Really?  I don't quite remember that being in the book. Neither does Karaka Pend.

The simple things

In the next few days, I might be able to get a ride in the back of a UH-1 Huey.  I've never actually been inside of one, to tell the truth.  I figure that the window of opportunity for getting a ride in such a piece of Americana is quickly closing, so I might as well take advantage of it.  Pics to follow.

And while we're on the topic of older and less, shall we say, complex airframes, there is a great debate in defense circles over the procurement of Soviet-style helicopters for the fledgling Afghan Air Corps, such as the Mi-17 Hip and Mi-35 Hind.

Gulliver, Chris Albon, and I debated the issue at length on Twitter, a whopping 140 characters at a time.

One of the big selling points for Soviet-style helicopters is their relative simplicity in comparison with American-style aircraft, resulting in reduced maintenance requirements.

Although I've always heard a lot of anecdotal evidence about maintenance on the infamous Hind helicopter, I really hadn't met anyone that's worked with both Western-style and Russian helicopters that could really speak with experience on the issue.

That is, of course, until I remembered a recent post in Voo Tatico, a military blog run by Marcus, a helicopter pilot in the Brazilian military. Brazil operates a sizeable fleet of rotary-wing aircraft, which includes the UH-60 Black Hawk. Brazil also recently received a few Hind helicopters in April of this year, renaming the aircraft the AH-2 Sabre.

The question for my friends down south is threefold.  Do Russian helicopters like the Hind require less maintenance overall?   How much do maintenance requirements increase for additional equipment (GPS, extra radios, etc)?  Do some countries take shortcuts with maintenance when operating the Hind?

I'd appreciate your input.  Also, let us know how you like your new rides!

The Rumor Doctor attacks my pet peeve


You cannot mandate that all troops within your organization wear the same combat patch on their right sleeve.


Quick thinking saves "battle buddy"

From today's Stars and Stripes:

Army Spc. Joseph Sanders was despondent over the breakup of his marriage and feeling alone in the oppressive heat of an Iraqi summer when he turned his rifle on himself and pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. His buddy, Spc. Albert Godding, had disabled the rifle by removing the firing pin after Sanders told him he was thinking of killing himself.

20 June 2010

19 June 2010


What I really want to write...

Recently, I was asked whether or not I would be writing a book about my wartime experiences.  Truth be told, there's little interesting to write, save for amusing insights into Army bureaucracy, a lot of flying over immense expanses of sand and rock, and one instance where I was legitimately shot at but never got a CAB. (Yeah, not bitter)

As a result, I fear that a memoir of that nature would fall into the pitfall examined by Michael C. of "On Violence" of using a memoir as a way to carry out one's vendettas and personal grudges.  Michael brings up the examples of some of the best war memoirs of the past decade, including those of Nathaniel Fick, Andrew Exum, and Kayla Williams, who flung considerable criticism at superior officers, other soldiers, and the omnipresent "fun police".

However, I don't necessarily agree with Michael C.'s claim that this is indicative of poor writing.  Stories thrive on some form of conflict, and a war against an unseen insurgency often makes for a boring narrative.  Thus, the conflict in the memoir would need to follow the "man vs. man " paradigm (which often involves painful self-criticism), or the "man vs. man" approach (the easiest).  Certainly, it's quite easy, particularly for the more creative, "non-military" mind, to find considerable conflict with one's chain of command and military organizational culture as a whole.

Yet, although I think that I could probably write an entire novel entitled "War is Asinine", I have to admit that it would sound like petty griping, and wouldn't be to illuminating on the real struggle in Iraq.

Thus, I've toyed with the idea of creating a script for an episode of "Star Wars:  Clone Wars", which would parallel some of the complexities of Afghanistan.  Trouble is, unfortunately, that anything I write would likely fall into the realm of bad fan fiction.  (Something I've lampooned quite frequently in my youth)

Anyone have an inside track at LucasArts?

18 June 2010

Russia unveils new PAK-FA, US Air Force sends everyone into a panic

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, at a recent aerial demonstration featuring the prototype PAK-FA, was said to have remarked that the PAK-FA was more than a match for the American F-22 Raptor.

Color me skeptical.  The F-22 Raptor eats F-16s for breakfast.  

That's no exaggeration, either; in exercises off the Atlantic coast, F-22s routinely defeat F-16s, even when outnumbered more than 3:1.  Yet, that didn't stop Air Force Association President Michael Dunn from alarmist rhetoric, going so far as to quip, "Do you think the Russians will stop at building 187?"

No, sir.  They won't even get close to 187.

How many times have we seen terrifying Russian wunderwaffen displayed at air shows, only to see them later fade into obscurity?  Remember the Kamov-50 helicopter, seen as the rival to the AH-64 Apache?  Russia built just 26.  A single attack battalion, of which the US has almost a dozen, has about as many Apache helicopters.  

What about the Su-35 or Su-47 Berkut?  Where are they?

If the Air Force is going to use scare tactics to get a few more F-22s or F-35s, they're going to have to do a better job of it. 

How not to launch the Raven

Well, at least it landed on the FOB.  Otherwise, they'd have had to send a Downed Aircraft Recovery Team (DART) to retrieve it.

US State Dept. asks for an entire battalion of Black Hawk helicopters

You can file this US State Department request for twenty-four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters under "not gonna happen".
The State Department is quietly forming a small army to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq after U.S. military forces leave the country at the end of 2011, taking its firepower with them.
Department officials are asking the Pentagon to provide heavy military gear, including Black Hawk helicopters, and say they also will need substantial support from private contractors.
The shopping list demonstrates the department's reluctance to count on Iraq's army and police forces for security, despite the billions of dollars the U.S. invested to equip and train them. And it shows that President Obama is having a hard time keeping his pledge to reduce U.S. reliance on contractors, a practice that flourished under the Bush administration.
In an early April request to the Pentagon, Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, is seeking 24 Black Hawks, 50 bomb-resistant vehicles, heavy cargo trucks, fuel trailers, and high-tech surveillance systems. Mr. Kennedy asks that the equipment, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, be transferred at "no cost" from military stocks.
Contractors will be needed to maintain the gear and provide other support to diplomatic staff, according to the State Department, a potential financial boon for companies such as the Houston-based KBR Inc. that still have a sizable presence in Iraq.
It's no understatment to say that the US Army's aviation units are stretched thin.  In fact, some aviation battalions, particularly Apache units, return home station without their aircraft, leaving their helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan for their replacement battalion.  Some return home to empty hangars, waiting for another unit to give up their aircraft for training, essentially playing "musical Apaches".  
The Army has tried to rectify the situation by forming another combat aviation brigade.  However, it will take time to create it, and personnel, aircraft and equipment don't appear out of nowhere.  It will take time to "grow" another brigade, possibly by short-filling other brigades.
And the State Department is asking for almost an entire battalion's worth of Black Hawk helicopters?  Absolutely not.
If State is going to rely on contractors to fly, they ought to get the contractor (most likely Blackwater/Xe) to cough up the requisite aircraft.  After all, Blackwater/Xe already operates a fleet of rotary wing aircraft.  Certainly, someone can track down Erik Prince to see if he can work something. 
Never mind.  Looks like he has bigger problems.  Much bigger problems.   

Celebrity Day

Make sure you stop by the Great Satan's Girlfriend over the next few days to get a glimpse of some one-on-one interviews with, as GSGF puts it, "COIN rockstars".  First up is Major Mike Few.

17 June 2010

Sign of the times

Read the introduction to this article from Britain's Ministry of Defence website:
Helicopter pilot Captain Joanna Gordon, who began her Army career as a caterer, has just returned from her second tour of Afghanistan where she supported operations from the cockpit of an Apache.

Captain 'Jo' Gordon, a 39-year-old officer in the Army Air Corps, flies the most sophisticated piece of kit in the Army's arsenal, but began her career in the modest kitchen of her father's local pub in Devon where she learnt to cook.
After reading that intro, I was more amazed by the fact that Captain Gordon started out as a military caterer and worked her way into the aviation field than I was by the fact that she was a woman, though the authors seem to think differently. For me, seeing women in the cockpit of aircraft has become such a common occurence that I hardly even give it a second thought.

I promise not to use a "Battle of the Bulge" pun

I recently came across an article from the Washington Post that includes this tidbit:

Whatever you think of U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a little unnerving to read a recent report by a panel of top retired military officers on the physical fitness of military recruits.

Titled "Too Fat to Fight," the April study bluntly concludes that 9 million 17- to 24-year-olds -- 27 percent of all young adults -- "are too fat to serve in the military." The report by the nonprofit organization Mission: Readiness calls this trend "a threat to national security" and notes that "being overweight is now by far the leading medical reason for rejection." From 1995 to 2008, the study says, "the proportion of potential recruits who failed their physicals each year because they were overweight rose nearly 70 percent."

Within just 10 years, the number of states reporting that 40 percent of their 18- to 24-year-olds are obese or overweight went from one (Kentucky) to 39. In three states -- Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama -- more than 50 percent of the young adults were obese or overweight in 2008. To reach normal weight, the nation's out-of-shape young adults would have to lose a collective 390 million pounds, according to the report.

While this isn't a bad story, I think an even bigger story might be the Army's reluctance to enforce height/weight standards or physical fitness test standards in the last few years. (Hint, hint).

15 June 2010

Guest Post: Karaka Pend's Review of "Counterinsurgency"

Over the next few days, you'll see some of my work in other blogs, and you'll see others' work in this blog. Kind of like a happy flip-flop thing a few milbloggers and I have worked out.

Today, I'd like to introduce Karaka Pend, author of Permissible Arms, who will be reviewing David Kilcullen's latest book, Counterinsurgency. Take it away:
Styled as a field manual on the subject, Counterinsurgency offers much to the novice practitioner and the expert; but it struggles with keeping the thread throughout all its parts, and does not read as a manual so much as a "collected works of" Kilcullen over the last decade. That said, it should fit nicely into the corpus of "user guides" to counterinsurgency that are beginning to emerge.


The introduction largely acts as a primer for the counterinsurgency novice, defining terms and concepts in Kilcullen's trademark conversation, causal style. As this is the preface to ideas that will be fleshed out later in the book, the author leaves off some of his nuance in favor a fast-paced run-through of the practice of counterinsurgency. Even from here, however, I'm left wondering who his audience is. The novice counterinsurgent? The seasoned theorist familiar with the topic? It is not clear, and I think it suffers for that.

28 Articles

Reprinted here four years after its initial composition, where the 28 Articles gains new insight is in the copious footnotes peppered throughout the text. This is the best example of Kilcullen's conversational style: informative and anecdotal, casual yet thorough. The 28 Articles are perhaps the strongest part of this book, subject to the most outside scrutiny and probably of the most use to the practitioners of counterinsurgency.

Meant to be read alongside T.E. Lawrence's germinal "27 Articles," which gave Kilcullen his format, 28 Articles was eventually amended to FM 3-24 and is clearly valued as a teaching document. However, I think these lessons might prove even more valuable if read alongside Burgoyne and Marckwardt's "The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa." Both operational guides together do represent a glut of knowledge that must be read again and again to be effectively internalized. However, the two represent a comprehensive conceptual model that, if well followed and understood, could aid the local soldier in nearly every aspect of his or her mission.

In short, the two recurring themes are flexibility and analysis. The counterinsurgent must be prepared to change his or her actions as the situation on the ground changes; and he or she must be prepared to review and analyze that situation and all its component parts. Good advice, but more than that, essential practice for effective operation.

Measuring Progress in Afghanistan

Much of this chapter is a reiteration and expansion of casual points made in 28 Articles. Kilcullen describes an exhaustive list of potential metrics for four specific actors: the local population, the host-nation government, the security forces, and the insurgents. Kilcullen suggests that district stabilization analysis is a more effective way of analyzing situations in Afghanistan, using the three stages of assessment, triage, and audit to identify goals to which measurements can then be applied.

I think this is generally a sound policy; metrics are, in every operation either civilian or military, a necessary tool that can help to understand circumstances and trends. But they are only a tool, and they must be contextualized to be truly useful. Pairing metrics with anecdotal or observational understanding is key to making them useful and digestible.

Globalization and the Development of Indonesian Counterinsurgency Tactics

This chapter is directly related to Kilcullen's doctoral research into the Indonesian counterinsurgency operations in West Java and East Timor. From the outset Kilcullen's mode of writing is startlingly different--from casual to professional, anecdotal to research-driven. This is understandable, but jarring, like showing up for a meeting wearing jeans when everyone else is in a suit. Nevertheless it's a very interesting analysis, particularly because there is so little Western analysis of these contemporary counterinsurgency campaigns.

Kilcullen suffers a bit from being close to his subject--he was directly involved in the conflict in East Timor, and the six years he spent doing research on the subject (including much time in the field) lends a knowledgeable but biased representation of the topic. However, you can clearly see the start of many of his later more well-developed ideas in this chapter, though there is less refinement in this initial run at counterinsurgency theory.

West Java is an excellent example of the effectiveness of in-state counterinsurgency; East Timor (Timor-Leste) is an equally good example of the challenges of external state actors on a local insurgency. Kilcullen did a fine job of describing each conflict and the particulars of Indonesia's involvement in each. Worth noting is the effect of globalization in the conflict in East Timor, where the interest of much of the rest of the world was focused on the insurgent's effective perception management.

Reflections on the Engagement at Motaain Bridge

This chapter reads more like the start of a larger memoir on Kilcullen's experiences in East Timor rather than a document that fits cleanly with the other material in Counterinsurgency. But for Western readers with minimal knowledge of the conflict in East Timor, it can offer a touchstone experience for Kilcullen's discourse on Indonesian counterinsurgency. His points here are clearly the genesis for his 28 Articles.

Deiokes and the Taliban

I would sum up this chapter as: All politics are local, and all locals are swing voters.

This chapter adheres more to his conversation style revealed in The Accidental Guerilla and the 28 Articles, but would probably be better experienced as an audience member rather than a reader. It serves, again, to reiterate Kilcullen's fundamentals on counterinsurgency, but does go into more detail with a breakdown of how the Taliban have come to operate so effectively in Afghanistan despite being routed by the United States and its partners in 2001.

Countering Global Insurgency

As Kilcullen frames it, the previous chapters served as ground-level thinking; in this chapter he widens his gaze to a review of Islamic insurgency on the global stage. I am inclined to call this his "grand unifying theory of counterinsurgency." He offers bold suggests that are as compelling as they are grandiose, but this chapter should be taken with careful consideration both for the reconceptualizing he suggests and the practicalities his theory would require.

Kilcullen suggests that the takfiris have made the world their theatre of operation, with the endstate being the renewal of the Islamic caliphate and expansion of Islam to the whole of the world. Those in opposition to the takfiris--essentially everyone else in the world--are countering that effort only in a handful of places. By reconceptualizing the takfiri endstate not as terrorism, but as insurgency (an insurgency against every other state in the world) we become better equipped to counter the ever-changing and ever-expanding patronage network of the takfiris.

However, the necessary collective action is quite daunting practically--to say the least--and would require a massive interstate and interargency co-operation to even begin to act against the takfiris using holistic counterinsurgent methods. I am not certain that the rest of the world could even really come together in a way that would counter the takfiri insurgency effectively, but perhaps that is not really the point of Kilcullen's theory. The abstract idea is a forceful one, but I wonder if he gives takfiris more credit than they are worthy of. Nonetheless he presents a substantially different picture of this conflict. I hope he will expand upon and update this in future work, if only so that we might better understand what he's saying.


I went into this book thinking it would primarily be a counterpart to FM 3-24 and other teaching tools. Certainly part of it is, but Counterinsurgency acts more as a collective recording of Kilcullen's works over the last decade, loosely connected by his theory of counterinsurgency. It seems to be most helpful to the new student of counterinsurgency by relying on two or three of the chapters, saving the rest for reflection later on. For the more seasoned theorist of counterinsurgency, drawing passages from either 28 Articles or Countering Global Insurgency to support stronger points seems to be the book's best use. For the critic of counterinsurgency, questioning the fundamentals of the discipline as they are laid out and reiterated would serve the purpose well.

Kilcullen is at his best when he employs the casual, conversational style, as if he is speaking with the troops this book may educate out in the field. At its core, however, the book serves to reiterate several elementary points about counterinsurgency enumerated in the introduction. There may be different angles on the subject, but those points are a constant. Depending on the audience for this book, I would either like to see the 28 Articles published alongside The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa as a teaching tool; or the chapters on Kilcullen's experience in East Timor and Countering Global Insurgency expanded into stand-alone works.

Counterinsurgency is a quick read with much to offer, but I do not think it entirely lives up to his name. Had it been framed as a collection of David Kilcullen's recent writings rather than a pocket manual on his titular subject, I think I would have been more satisfied. Nonetheless, Counterinsurgency will likely prove a must-read for any person with interest in the discipline.
Great stuff. Don't forget to check out my review of Counterinsurgency, which you'll find in Karaka Pend's blog.

Something I've wondered...

I wonder if our new Eurocopter LUH-72s have that new helicopter smell. Might check that out tomorrow and report in...

13 June 2010

How BP deals with a coffee spill

As Exum would say: "Too soon?"

12 June 2010

Family Readiness Groups

In January, military blogs reported that the battalion commander of the 2-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Lt. Col. Frank Jenio, was relieved of command, along with his command sergeant major. (Oddly enough, Ink Spots reported that Lt. Col. Jenio's battalion was temporarily serving under the command of Canadian Brigadier General Daniel Menard in Regional Command South. Name sound familiar?)

This sparked quite a bit of controversy and curiosity; after all, it is almost unheard of to simultaneously relieve both a commander and a command sergeant major. While the Ink Spots crew speculated that a failure to adhere to counterinsurgency doctrine might have been the culprit, official sources cited racist pictures in PowerPoint slides as the true cause.

Nevertheless, several responses at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense seemed to tell a different story. In the comment section, a number of respondents, presumably spouses of paratroopers within the 4th Brigade Combat Team, spoke of ulterior motives behind Lt. Col. Jenio's sacking: undue influence from the brigade commander's wife, Dr. Leslie Drinkwine. It started with vague rumors:

If rumors and scuttlebutt have any substance, this situation has as much to do with the wives of the principles (Scaparrotti and Jenio) as it does with anything that may have happened in Afghanistan. It may be that the Army is run as much by its wives as its generals. At any rate, the place to look for answers is Fayetteville, not Kandahar.
--User "Stone"
Of course, rumors are so pervasive that Stars and Stripes has a regular section dedicated to debunking them. However, users with screen names such as "BEALLCANB" and "WITTYENOUGH" began to post, vehemently hurling insults at one another, with "BEALLCANB" making some startling accusations about the command climate within the 4th BCT, most of which revolved around Dr. Drinkwine, who served as the brigade's Family Readiness Group (FRG) Leader.

Of course, this was all chatter on a message board. Yet, there appears to have been some truth to the matter. One poster noted an impending investigation into the activities of Dr. Drinkwine, a professor at Fayetteville's Campbell University. The results have just now hit the press, and they aren't pretty at all. Suffice to say that this isn't what a Family Readiness Group should be about:

Excerpts from the Fayetteville Observer (cross-posted at Military.com):
The commander of Fort Bragg has barred the wife of an 82nd Airborne Division colonel from nearly all interaction with her husband's brigade and the unit's families after an investigation found her influence "detrimental to the morale and well-being of both."

Sworn statements from the investigation, ordered in January by Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, accuse Col. Brian Drinkwine's wife, Leslie Drinkwine, of using her husband's position as leverage to repeatedly harass and threaten soldiers and their families...

...In an interview in May, Helmick said his decision to bar Leslie Drinkwine was based on the investigator's recommendations and Helmick's own 34 years of experience in the Army.

"It was just a dysfunctional situation," Helmick said. "That is not a good thing to have when you have soldiers deployed fighting...

...[The investigator's] findings hold Col. Drinkwine partially responsible for his wife's behavior at Fort Bragg.

[The investigator] calls Col. Drinkwine the "key enabler" of his wife's actions because he failed to dispel the perception that she had a level of authority similar to his own...

...Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor said it was typical 40 or 50 years ago for commanders' wives to have tremendous power.

"You did not cross a commander's wife," he said.

Macgregor said some people still hold onto those "outdated" traditionalist values.

Col. Drinkwine appointed his wife to lead the brigade's official support organization, known as a Family Readiness Group, or FRG.

A Family Readiness Group is made up largely of soldiers' spouses; leadership positions often mirror those of the soldiers. During a unit's deployment, the FRG serves as a network of communication between the unit's families and its commanders.

Helmick said there are no expectations for spouses in the Army. Their participation is strictly voluntary, he said.

Macgregor said that's not exactly true.

"There's the expectation that the commanding officer, whether he's a captain, colonel or general, that his wife will set an example by doing things consistent with her husband's responsibilities," Macgregor said. "Wives are under enormous pressure."...

...The report shows that one morning...Dr. Drinkwine visited Lt. Col. Mike Wawrzyniak's wife, Pam, while her husband was at work. Col. Drinkwine sat outside in his car, according to a sworn statement by Pam Wawrzyniak.

Dr. Drinkwine yelled at Mrs. Wawrzyniak for about half an hour, reducing her to tears, the report says.

Eventually, Mrs. Wawrzyniak said in the report, the colonel came into the house, tried unsuccessfully to calm his wife, and they left.

The investigation also shows that the top paid staff member for the FRG resigned in December 2008, citing a hostile work environment that made it impossible for her to do her job.

In sworn interviews or written statements submitted to Spillman, one former battalion commander, two currently serving battalion commanders and the brigade's rear commander said Dr. Drinkwine told them "that either their careers, or the careers of others, could be adversely impacted by her." [emphasis added]...

...In March of last year, before the brigade deployed, all six battalion commanders serving under Col. Drinkwine's command went to his office together to talk to him about his wife.

At that meeting, according to their sworn statements, Col. Drinkwine dismissed their complaints and
told them that the relationship between his wife and their wives was a senior-to-subordinate relationship. [emphasis added] He reiterated that his wife speaks for him...

...[The investigator] said Col. Drinkwine not only failed to dispel that perception in the March meeting with his battalion commanders but he "in fact worsened it."

Col. Drinkwine refused an interview request for this report.

In his written sworn statement from Afghanistan, Col. Drinkwine attributes the problems in his FRG to "an inability of a few ladies being able to work professionally with one another."

In his report, [the investigator] calls the remark "disingenuous." [emphasis added]...

Dr. Drinkwine and Jenio's wife, Sherri, were often at odds, according to multiple statements [Ed. note: Is it possible that "BEALLCANBE" and "WITTYENOUGH" at Tom Ricks' blog are Sherri Jenio and Dr. Drinkwine? Read further and decide for yourself.]

Dr. Drinkwine sometimes used a pseudonym on the website Fortbragglife.com. She told Spillman she "lurked" on the site to get a pulse of the issues and to benefit the brigade.

Once, she became an online friend of a soldier's wife who worried that her husband was cheating on her, according to the report.

Dr. Drinkwine found out the woman's name, as well as the soldier's name and unit, which turned out to be Jenio's.

She then passed along the name to her husband. Col. Drinkwine directed Jenio to order counseling for the soldier, according to multiple sworn statements.

In the same e-mail, [a fellow battalion commander, Lt. Col.] Oclander wrote that since Jenio's dismissal, "I feel as though I have been indirectly threatened 2-3 times to keep me quiet or my command will be in jeopardy next."

[Lt. General] Helmick said Jenio's relief of command has nothing to do with Dr. Drinkwine.

"There is no link between that and this. None whatsoever. Not even close," said Helmick, whose investigation began the week after Jenio's dismissal.

Lt. Col. Kelly Ivanoff, who was the brigade's deputy commanding officer from June 2008 to June 2009, said the problems came from the bottom up, not the top down. "The resistance put forth by some of the battalions is nearly equivalent to a mutiny," Ivanoff wrote in a sworn statement.

Helmick, in a letter addressed to Dr. Drinkwine, wrote, "even though (Lt. Gen. Austin) and (Maj. Gen. Scaparrotti) have discussed the command climate within the 4th Brigade Combat Team with your husband, the actions that he took have not been sufficient."

Helmick's order bans Dr. Drinkwine from holding any leadership position, directly or indirectly, in the 4th Brigade or its FRG; participation in any activity or function of the 4th BCT or its FRG, except for attendance at memorial services; being present in any 4th BCT building, including barracks and headquarters buildings; and contacting any member of the 4th BCT leadership or FRG leadership except contact with her husband.

The order remains in effect until Col. Drinkwine no longer commands the 4th BCT or until the Drinkwines leave Fort Bragg, whichever happens later.

"Sometimes, you've got to do things that are in the best interest of the organization, not in the best interest of the person, and that's what I did," Helmick said. "As a commander, you've got to make those decisions."

When the article hit the blogosphere, reaction was little short of ecstatic. At Fortbragglife.com, where Dr. Drinkwine was said to "lurk", one poster commented:

Quite a few of you have commented on how other wives feel they have their husbands "rank and authority". Most especially connected to the FRG. I know this myself, all too well. I've been dealing with it, longer than most of you have been Army wives.

I'm sure most of you know why she was "lurking" here, and under an assumed name. It had nothing to do with benefiting the unit. She was looking for "whiners". Then looking in thier profiles to see if there was a picture of the husband in uniform, with a flash that matched her husbands.
Among the 131 comments so far posted on the article at "U.S. Army W.T.F. Moments", there is a popular sentiment that issues such as these drive soldiers and their families away from the FRGs.

FRGs grew out of informal clubs, such as officers' wives clubs. Officers' wives in the "Old Army" of the 19th Century wielded considerable power, according to Morris Janowitz' excellent book on military organizational culture, The Professional Solder. Often isolated on remote posts on the frontier, Army officers--often from a higher social class than their subordinates--reigned almost supreme. The commander's spouse, likewise, was akin to a queen, and held a "commanding" position among the spouses of the organization. Even military "brats" adhered to an informal rank structure. In fact, Janowitz notes, a young officer might improve his career prospects by marrying the daughter of a higher-ranking officer, as if the military were European royalty.

Of course, that was a far different era, when a woman's status was equivalent to that of her husband. With women increasingly entering the work force, and the changing family demographics within the Army--including Army husbands, single parents, and dual-military couples--the structure and focus of the FRG must change as well, from a social club to an information-sharing organization.

For starters, FRGs are for anyone who has an emotional interest in a soldier's well-being. The traditional "Army wife" structure sometimes overlooks parents and other family members, who often reside thousands of miles away from the base, and may have minimal knowledge of or interaction with the military. Simply identifying a soldier's unit might be a challenge for a parent or interested friend.

Since my family was often cut out of the loop in information-sharing, I started a mailing list and e-mailed all sorts of useful information to parents: what unit their soldier was assigned to, how to send a Red Cross message, how to contact their soldier in an emergency, and how casualty notification works. For me, the FRG's primary role should be that of information dissemination, and the commander and FRG leader work hand-in-hand to make sure it works.

As the security features of the Army's Virtual FRG's--the official websites for family members--often intimidate immediate family members, and restrict access to all but the closest relatives, most Army units have begun to adopt Facebook pages, and release information, pictures, and news articles through Facebook.

A contributing factor to the all-too-common complaint that FRG leaders "wear their husband's rank" is that, in most organizations, a commander's spouse serves as the FRG leader. However, this does not always need to be the case. Being a single person, I picked an amazing Army wife to serve as my FRG leader. The wife of a sergeant, she raised two children over two combat deployments, volunteered in he community, and worked part-time. I couldn't have asked for a better FRG leader.

There are several great family members throughout our ranks, and the wife of a specialist might be even better qualified than a captain's wife. I've even heard of men leading the FRGs. Who cares who the FRG leader is, so long as the families--parents, friends, spouses, and children--are well-informed? An informed family member tends to worry less, because there are fewer unknowns, and it's the unknown that's the most frightening.

In the end, it's just like Paul, one of my regular readers, noted: it's all about the types of people you have in your FRG. I was fortunate to work with outstanding soldiers and family members, and I'd like to think most of the Army is the same way.

Focus: How can we improve family readiness groups? How have they changed in the 21st Century, both as a result of changing social structures, and as a result of nearly a decade of war?

When in Rome

Since arriving in Europe, I learned something quite amazing. Apparently, there is this sport called "soccer" or "football", and I believe the US has a team. Fascinating, isn't it?

Kidding aside, I found it quite amusing when one of the foreign soldiers (Slovenian or Polish, most likely) wore an English football jersey around the base today, presumably to start some trouble.

Granted, I hadn't expected England and the US to draw such rivalry. In the long history of international sporting events, America's greatest rival has been the Soviet Union, with many Americans believing that the entire Cold War was won on a hockey rink in Lake Placid sometime in 1980. Yet, with the fall of the Soviet Union, America needs to look for new rivals, according to the sportscasters on ESPN, who noted that the US and England had a lot of "history" between them.

Wait, does that mean that if we win the game, we get to burn down Buckingham Palace?

Of course, I'm not the only one to play up the American-English rivalry. Check out this segment from the Daily Show's John Oliver, the token British correspondent.

And, of course, this interesting commercial (H/T Kelly Jones)

If they win, the gang at Kings of War will never let me live this down...