31 August 2010

The Army and Memes

There's a popular saying that here's "no plagiarism in the Army". And in many cases, this works to our advantage.

Various networks within the Army allow documents such as planning checklists, mission briefings, and standard operating procedures to spread far and wide, thanks to modern information technology. Much like any successful meme, the most useful documents—say, a planning checklist—will often be copied and transmitted from unit to unit. Also, like cultural memes, such documents are generally altered by their hosts according to their own particular needs, resulting in a mutation, and overall evolution of the document.

For example, let's say an assault helicopter battalion (We'll call it the 1st Battalion) writes down many of the pre-mission planning requirements for an air assault—such as communications plans, landing zone diagrams and load plans—in a planning checklist. Over months and years, pilots will depart the unit for other assignments, with some taking the planning checklist—typically written in a Word document—with them to their next unit (Say, 2nd Battalion). The planning checklist might then be adopted into 2nd Battalion's standard operating procedures, but with some changes. Perhaps 1st Battalion habitually worked with AH-64 Apache gunships as escorts, while 2nd Battalion was paired with smaller OH-58D helicopters. Thus, the planning checklist mutates and evolves as it's passed from unit to unit.

The same thing happens in the military's professional military educational programs, with PowerPoint classes spreading from unit to unit. Unfortunately, PowerPoint's emphasis on short bullet-points and graphics make for poor memes, as the underlying talk—the real crux of the presentation—does not accompany the slides.

Major Neil Smith—"Cavguy" to the crew at Small Wars Journal—and I noted that one presentation that makes its way through the gambit gamut of professional military educational courses is a PowerPoint slideshow on "Battle Command". Presumably, the original instructor intended to link key discussion points on Battle Command with scenes from war movies, such as Gettysburg or A Bridge too Far. Unfortunately, much of the underlying context was lost as the PowerPoint slides were e-mailed among the various institutions within the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Thus, as Maj. Smith and I noted, most instructors attempt—unsuccessfully—to link the various embedded movie clips with bullet-point statements in the presentation. Unless the instructor carefully researches Battle Command—and I would wager few actually read the entire chapter in FM 3-0—students are left baffled.

Indeed, while military memes—coupled with careful analysis, research and editing—can improve an organization, blindly selecting "Right-Click>Paste" doesn't.

Focus: What's the most egregious case of plagiarism or misuse of copy/paste you've seen within the military? 

The only IT system that makes AKO look good

A tip of the hat to Noah Shachtman of Wired.com for his excellent expose on the excesses of the Navy/Marine Corps Internet system.  If you thought AKO's paltry 100 MB e-mail serverlaughably bad security questions and general uselessness were bad, wait till you see NMCI (appropriately dubbed the "Non-Mission Capable Internet"), developed by Hewlett-Packard:

HP — which acquired Electronic Data Systems and its Navy contract in 2008 — still operates under performance metrics set a decade ago. A typical workstation on the network costs the Navy $2,490.72 per year. That includes an e-mail inbox with a 50-MB capacity (Gmail’s: 7,500 MB), and 700 MB of network storage (compared to Evernote’s unlimited, free plan). Anything above that is extra.

A year’s use of a “high-end graphics” workstation sets the Navy back $4,085.64. Extra applications on a laptop or desktop computer can run anywhere from $1,006.68 to $4,026.72 annually. A classified Ethernet port — $9,300 to $28,800 per year, depending on where it’s located.

What’s more, HP isn’t required to take security measures like hard disk encryption, threat heuristics, and network access control that are common today, but were exotic in 2000. “Anti-spam services” runs the Navy $2.7 million per year under the contract. Cleaning up a “data spillage” – classified information that got placed an unclassified network – costs $11,800 per incident. In 2008, the Navy paid about $5 million to wipe the data from 432 compromised computers. That’s “almost 10 times the cost of simply destroying the affected machines and replacing them with new ones,” the Washington Times reported.

30 August 2010


Women have proven themselves time and time again, not just in the US military, but in the Canadian Forces as well.  (H/T to Ian Elliot for the link)

The story of Gen./Dr. Wendy Clay reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons from PowerPoint Ranger:

Tweet for Troops ( #salutetroops )

We often use social media sites, such as Twitter, to share pictures of cats, videos of bloggers dancing to Rick Astley, and dramatic prairie dogs.

But we can also use these outlets to show our support for American service members overseas. The White House has sponsored a new social media program which allows ordinary Americans to voice their appreciation for troops serving abroad.

Here's how you can share a message for America's servicemen and women. (Excuse the bullet-point format)

Want to do more? Head over to Serve.gov for information on volunteering with organizations such as the USO.

29 August 2010

Al-Qaeda: Franchise or Conglomerate? (Redux)

Counter-terrorism experts have long debated the relationship between al-Qaeda headquarters in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region and its numerous "spin-off" groups: al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, et

Some of the best work on the subject comes from US Army Captain Josh McLaughlin, a field artillery officer who blogs at al-Sahwa (Arabic for "The Awakening"). McLaughlin has written a series of articles examining two popular theories on the nature of al-Qaeda: the "franchise" model and the "conglomerate" model. In an article posted to Small Wars Journal in January, McLaughlin discussed the relationship between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, a Somali-based terrorist network.

According to McLaughlin, franchises—the usual term applied to al-Qaeda affiliates all over the world--operate with a high degree of central control, generally taking marching orders from a corporate headquarters. Conglomerates, on the other hand, allow subsidiaries to receive support and guidance from a higher headquarters, yet retain a high degree of autonomy.

McLaughlin argued that the "conglomerate" model was the appropriate context through which to view al-Qaeda's "spin-offs".

Another article published at Small Wars Journal would seem to confirm the conglomerate model. According to Deane-Paul Baker of the US Naval Academy, al-Qaeda had sought to achieve a spectacular terrorist act during the World Cup in South Africa, the largest sporting event in the world, with the final game watched by over 700 million people. Al-Qaeda's regional affiliate, al-Shabaab, has a considerable presence in South Africa, and could have reasonably conducted a spectacular event during the series. Yet, al-Shabaab bombed an Ethiopian restaurant in Uganda during the final game.

Why? Baker notes that Uganda is the largest contributor of forces to the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Somalia, backing al-Shabaab's enemy, the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government. By scoffing at al-Qaeda's insistence on acting in South Africa and attacking its regional enemies, al-Shabaab would seem to pay scant attention to al-Qaeda's central leadership in Pakistan.

Baker, like many commentators, believes that al-Qaeda's diversification—the conglomerate model, if you will—is further evidence of al-Qaeda greatly weakened by constant drone strikes and years of war.

Mission accomplished or mission changed?

The Most Dangerous Weekend

I was a little perturbed that the gang at Wired.com's Danger Room didn't post its weekly "Most Dangerous Week Ever" update. Fortunately, Adam Weinstein from Mother Jones picked up the slack with his "This Week in National Insecurity".

Yet, I think Adam missed out on some of the important highlights. Therefore, without further ado, I'm posting my own link compilation entitled "The Most Dangerous Weekend". (Totally original title. Don't sue me, Spencer.) Furthermore, I've compiled the thing in bullet-point format because we all like bullet-points, right?

  • In PowerPoint news this week, Army Lt. Col. Lawrence Sellin, a regular contributor to the news outlet UPI, was sent home from Afghanistan after posting a hard-hitting—albeit hilarious--rant against the all-too familiar excesses of PowerPoint in the US military. Lt. Col. Seelin, PhD, has a number of great articles on the state of the military, many of which are as critical—and bitingly prescient--as Lt. Col. Paul Yingling's infamous 2007 "A Failure in Generalship". Despite the Pentagon's attitude towards him, Lt. Col. Seelin has a number of supporters, too, judging by the reaction in the blogosphere. Seelin infamous post also rails against the endless creep of bureaucracy in Afghanistan, reminiscent of the same phenomena in Iraq. (If four Multi-National Divisions compose a Multi-National Corps Iraq, why was there only one corps in Multi-National Force-Iraq? Why not eliminate the corps headquarters?)
  • Adam Elkus and Jason Fritz provide some much needed background and context for the COIN v. COINtra debate which is rocking the milblogosphere. I'd say it's required reading for those of you who might be arriving from The Atlantic to check out this article.
  • While Weinstein linked to Elisabeth Bumiller's article on a US Navy Fire Scout drone which accidentally happened to travel through DC airspace, I have to mention that the Great Satan's Girlfriend also delved into similar territory. Reporting on the latest "Drone Gone Wild"—the US Army's portable Raven system—Courtney had a few choice quotes from a certain milblogger that might have spent an entire night walking through a German forest like Hansel and Gretel looking for a missing Raven drone. Though I asked her to take out the specifics, I did like that she mentioned that the, uh, certain milblogger made "good drones go bad". (In my defense, the Raven appears to fly off on its own quite often, with one even winding up in the hands of Shia insurgents)
  • This week also gave us sarcasm from Schmedlap, strategy from Snooki, and, well, I can't think of an alliterative term to describe this, but suffice to say, more asinine IT policies from the DoD.  Don't forget the great commentary on the new Medal of Honor game.  And on the topic of games, can you believe that the crew at CNAS plays the game Risk?  I think the gang at PaxSims can come up with a much better board game for them.

Now, here it is: your moment of Zen.


27 August 2010

Transformers 3: Revenge of the COINtras

It was only a matter of time before the COINdinista vs. COINtra debate—which has become increasingly emotional and irrational as of late--would move on to the realm of science fiction.  

And if there's anyone who understands the problems of using science fiction for the purposes of military futurism, it's yours truly.

Col. Gian Gentile's latest piece at ChicagoBoyz sounds as if it's ripe for parody by a certain milblogger.  If only we could find one…

Update:  For those of you who are arriving from The Atlantic and need a quick primer on the COIN/COINtra debate, check out Rethinking Security and Ink Spots.  

The View from 2025:  The Battle of Aqaba
Transformers 3:  Revenge of the COINtras

The United States Army emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of failure in the mountains of Northern Iraq in 2016, defeating an insidious foe at the Battle of Aqaba in 2025.  Once an Army steeped in the principles of counterinsurgency, promising minds dedicated themselves to re-learning the principles of fire and maneuver at the corps level, allowing America to vanquish its most difficult enemy to date:

The Decepticons

President Andrew Exum, in a speech upon the hallowed battlegrounds, proclaimed:

"There was once a time when we sought to practice soft power, and taught our military leaders to negotiate over cups of chai.  But that time is past.  We can never negotiate with Decepticons!"

(From "The Aqaba Address", memorized by schoolchildren for years afterwards)

Former Secretary of Defense John Nagl, who served during the previous administration, similarly noted that "The enemy could not be persuaded, nor bought off, nor swayed to see our point of view.  The Decepticons are just more god-damned one-dimensional and plain evil than even the Krasnovians at NTC".

Secretary of State Courtney Messerschmidt was one of the more colorful characters in the lead-up to the battle.  A Pulitzer-prize winning author and former President of the Center for a New American Security, her term as Secretary of State was rocked with scandal after salacious pictures of a Spring Break trip to Magdeburg, Germany (the home of noted Prussian author Carl von Clausewitz) surfaced during her confirmation hearings.  Even more shocking were the activities of her nubile twenty-something interns, nicknamed by the media, "Great Satan's Hoochies".

Said Secretary Messerschmidt of the Battle of Aqaba:

"Great Satan totally unleashed her panzerfaust at the Decepticons at the Battle of Aqaba, bitchslapping the enemy in a Jominian-style decisive battle."  Added Messerschmidt, "Great Satan's Teufel Hunden ripped through the tender parts of the Decepticon defenses like the University of Georgia football team through the Chi Omega house".

Messerschmidt made further references to American military theorist John Boyd.  Unfortunately, much of these comments were ignored, with attention directed towards two of her female interns, who relentlessly spanked one another for the duration of Messerschmidt's press conference.

Following that, "Great Satan's Hoochies" then conducted open-mouth kissing operations.

Said General Jack D. Ripper of the battle, "The Army had lost its ability to coordinate fire and maneuver at the corps level sometime during the early 2000s.  I used to think this was because of an emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare, but really, it had more to do with Army Transformation—placing artillery units at the brigade level,and offering more autonomy to brigade combat teams."

"In an earlier era, we might have allowed brigade commanders to employ their own fires.  But why do that when you can mass fires at the corps level?  Sure, it's a pain in the ass to call through two layers of bureaucracy for artillery support, but hey, there's no management like micro-management!"

"We also purged much of the knowledge and ink wasted on nation-building efforts left over from twenty years ago.  I mean, really, there's not a whole lot of nation-building or population control going on here, as Megatron's plasma cannon seems to have neutralized all life within a three hundred kilometer radius"

Secretary of Defense Adam Elkus, propelled into his position following a stint as the Undersecretary for Giant Fucking Robot Affairs, has a different view of the battle.

"There is a popular narrative which tells us that our victory over the Decepticons was a triumph of the conventional form of warfare over the counterinsurgency school. However, it would seem the new doctrine mattered little.  The reduction in Decepticon capabilities was a result of a civil war which was tearing them apart from the inside"

As proof, Elkus offered the fact that Decepticon leader Megatron was thrown into the vacuum of space by his second-in-command, Starscream.

"We also benefitted from a faction of killer robots who were willing to side with us against the Decepticons"

Elkus gave us contact information for one member of the faction known as the "Autobots", who agreed to speak only under strict anonymity.

Said the anonymous "Autobot": "Me Grimlock no bozo, me king!"

Elkus believes that the political interplay among the Decepticons was the greatest contributor to their defeat.  War, says Elkus, is primarily a political endeavor.

According to Elkus, missions such as stability and support will always play as large a role in America's military activities as major combat operations. As proof, Elkus points to an Army officer, Lieutenant (several times demoted) Crispin Burke, currently the de facto ruler of Libya following the death of dictator Moammar Qadaffi.

"I found that stability operations in Libya were quite simple once I finally understood the fundamental underpinnings of Libyan society", says Burke. 

"Libyans demand two very important attributes in their leaders.  First, they demand a leader who is completely balling out of control", said Burke, referring to the recently-deceased Libyan tyrant who was known to keep a harem of beautiful female bodyguards.  

"Fortunately, I was able to rise to the challenge, due to a totally baller lifestyle.  Yet, this is not a quality which is often cultivated in our Army's organizational culture."

"Therefore, I have recommended that Fort Leavenworth create a 'Balling Out Of Control Center of Excellence', or BOO-CCE". 

Burke pronounced BOO-CCE as if it were "bukkake". 

"Secondly, Libyans also demand a leader who wears outrageous outfits. That is why I have developed a timeline to transfer government authority to Lady Gaga within three years".

Still, others urged the need for balance. 

Said General Jack D. Ripper, "We must not let our conventional warfighting skills atrophy. There are still plenty of conventional forces out there:  China, Iran, Russia, and most importantly, Unicron".

26 August 2010

Updated Blogroll

Every so often, I update the blogroll here at Wings Over Iraq.  Here are a few blogs that I've began following over the course of the past few months:

6th Generation Warfare
Conflict Health
Father Muskrat
Lyonnesse Libre
Schaefer's Blog


Adam Weinstein penned an excellent piece in Current Intelligence regarding the inability of the US military's rigid organizational culture to effectively manage unconventional "hackers", as well as the general backwardness of the Defense Department's IT policies.

It is, of course, banned on US Army Europe's network.

25 August 2010

The Phantoms are a Menace

There's more than one reason to treat the unveiling of Iran's new killer drone with a bit of skepticism.  No fewer than three of Iran's super-scary drones have been shot down over the course of the past week.

By vintage F-4 Phantom fighters.

Iran's F-4 Phantom fighters.  The ones we sold them before the 1978 Revolution.

According to the Wall Street Journal (with a H/T to the Great Satan's Girlfriend):

While some have expressed concern over a confrontation with the Iranian Navy in the Persian Gulf, it seems increasingly possible that the US could instead face a collapsing Iran.
The Iranian regime loves to boast of its military strength, international clout and hold on domestic power. Much of this is accepted by outside experts, but in fact the regime is in trouble. Iran's leaders have lost legitimacy in the eyes of the people, are unable to manage the country's many problems, face a growing opposition, and are openly fighting with one another.

A few weeks ago, according to official and private reports, the Iranian air force shot down three drones near the southwestern city of Bushehr, where a Russian-supplied nuclear reactor has just started up. When the Revolutionary Guards inspected the debris, they expected to find proof of high-altitude spying. Instead, the Guards had to report to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the air force had blasted Iran's own unmanned aircraft out of the sky.

Apparently, according to official Iranian press accounts, the Iranian military had created a special unit to deploy the drones—some for surveillance and others, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bragged on Sunday, to carry bombs—but hadn't informed the air force.  [Ed. note:  Learn about the Air Tasking Order, Luke]

These incidents have taken place against a general backdrop of internal conflict within the regime. In late July, Mohammad Ali Jaffari, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime's Praetorian Guard, admitted publicly that many top officers were supporters of the opposition Green Movement. Shortly thereafter, according to official government announcements, some 250 officers suddenly resigned. In the past weeks, several journalists from the Guards' FARS news agency have defected, some to France and others to the United States.


24 August 2010

I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

Dexter Filkins reports that Pakistan's ISI apprehended Mullah Baradar, the Taliban's second-in-command, in an attempt to quell secret peace talks with Hamid Karzai's government which did not include the Pakistani government.

When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.

But the arrest of Mr. Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar, came with a beguiling twist: both American and Pakistani officials claimed that Mr. Baradar’s capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.

Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.

Certainly, no one could have forseen this.

23 August 2010

Measures of Performance in Iraq

You can fly UAVs over a country all you want, but according to counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, raw footage from a drone won't give you a good sense of progress in counterinsurgency.  For that, you need to look at raw footage of a different kind, judging by this article from CBS News.

The nude women on the DVD cover in a Baghdad street stall say it all: Change, whether you like it or not, is afoot in Iraq.

Hundreds of porn DVDs are stacked elbow-deep on a wooden table in Jassim Hanoun's ramshackle stall on a downtown sidewalk. His other tables have Hollywood blockbusters, like "King Kong." But not surprisingly, it's the sex that sells best.

"I've got everything," Hanoun says of his sex selection, flashing the kind of impish grin only a 22-year-old in tight jeans and slicked-back hair can pull off with any real conviction. "What do you want? I've got foreign films, Arab, Iraqi, Indian, celebrities - whatever you like."

The porn, in an odd way, has told the story of Iraq's security and political situation since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003. It emerged in the anything-goes atmosphere that erupted in the vacuum immediately following the U.S. invasion - then went back into hiding amid the anarchy when armed militias roamed the capital through 2008, targeting those they saw as immoral.

Its reemergence since then reflects how security has improved but also how the fragile government is busy with more pressing issues than spicy videos.

With politicians deadlocked the past five month trying to form a new government, whether Hanoun stays in business depends less on customer demand than on who takes the reins of power and if security is maintained...

...But after the 2003 invasion, it appeared freely on Baghdad's sidewalks - a sign of how all rules were suddenly sidelined with the toppling of Saddam.

Gone were the all-seeing security services that brutally ensured law and order under the former regime. In their place came a degree of jubilation and hope, even if short-lived, about the new Iraq.

For a few months after the invasion, restaurants did brisk business, nightclubs pulsated with the beat of Arabic music. And with the Western troops and their supporting army of foreign security contractors came the porn - once strictly forbidden under Saddam's regime.

Children touted it in the Green Zone, the fortified Baghdad district where the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy are housed. Vendors sold it outside hotels where international media were based. "Girls of the Interior Ministry" was the title one jokester put on a collection.

But the postwar hardcore boom was short-lived.

After 2004, Iraq seemed to be breaking apart into militias and armed groups. Extremist Sunni groups like al-Qaida in Iraq were at their peak, carrying out kidnappings, beheadings, suicide bombings and gun attacks.

Shiite militias dominated entire districts of the capital, and the country tipped into anarchy with a wave of sectarian violence. At the same time, Shiite militias launched a campaign of intimidation and violence targeting those selling alcohol, racy videos and any other items they considered forbidden by Islam...

But since 2007, violence has fallen dramatically around Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, backed by U.S. troops, cracked down on militias, helping bring about some semblance of order in the capital.

Authorities currently have bigger challenges than cracking down on porn vendors or even brothels, said an Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

So Hanoun and others are back on the streets, even though he says it's still not entirely safe.

"They still threaten to kill me," Hanoun said. He shrugged his shoulders with indifference when asked who "they" are. The militias, the police, "it doesn't matter if you're dead."

It's the best job he can find, he explained, in a country where unemployment is officially pegged at slightly over 20 percent, but believed to be much higher.

And the demand is there. Hanoun unloads scores of adult movies a day - at nearly $3 each.

His stock ranges from the mundane to the startlingly extreme, including bestiality.

But the worst part?

In a nod to the politically elusive dream of Arab unity, Hanoun carries a collection entitled "Cheap Meat."

"It's got Syrian, Egyptian, Lebanese girls," he says. "All the Arabs."

But, in an ironic symbol of the difficulty with which Arabs have had coming together, the DVD gets stuck in a loop in the first five minutes.
War is hell.

($10 says that this thread at the Small Wars Council produces the SWJ Quote of the Week)

Update: Iranian Karrar Drone

All kidding aside, here's an actual picture of Iran's new ground-attack Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, named the Karrar.  I've seen more than one commentator remark that this thing bears an uncanny resemblance to the German V-1 "Buzz Bomb" from the Second World War. 

Update to the Update:  It looks as if Noah Shachtman of Wired.com covered this topic far more awesomely at Danger Room last night.  He even has video of the Karrar's unveiling. 

Venezuela more dangerous than Iraq?

According to an article in today's New York Times, the murder rate in Venezuela is over three times greater than that in Iraq.  Indeed, Venezuela's capital city, Caracas, has a murder rate nearly ten times greater than Bogata, Colombia. 

I give the blogosphere three hours before some idiot proposes a troop surge in Venezuela. 

22 August 2010

Wounded Soldier needs your help

Want to help a wounded veteran?  Head over to Woodhouse Auto Family and vote for Candidate #2

Should he receive enough votes, he will receive a new car; one he badly needs, as it's difficult for him to get into his old car in his current condition. 

Here is his story:

This candidate was at Fort Hood, TX Army Base Soldier Readiness Center checking in after returning from a second tour in Iraq. He was 5 days away from going to Officer Candidate School and pursuing a long time dream of becoming an Officer in the army. That all changed that day when one man that this candidate had never met, came in and started shooting. The gunman's goal was to kill as many Americans as he could and then take his own life.

This candidate saw the laser pointed at his head and was shot 4 times.

This candidate's fiancé was an undergraduate senior at Boston University, one semester away from graduating with a degree in Psychology. She had just been on the phone with him an hour before and knew what area of the base he was on. She later found out that her fiancé had been shot in the head and was in critical condition and probably wouldn't make it through the night.

When she got to the hospital he was alive, but in very serious condition. Most of his skull on the right side had been shattered and a part of his brain had to be removed from bullet and bone fragment damage. Later the next day, he awoke and asked her how she got there so fast. His next sentence was, "Will you still marry me even though I got shot?" Without hesitation she replied with a kiss and a, "I most definitely will."

It was truly a miracle he survived. His left side was completely paralyzed, leaving him unable to walk or use his left arm. After just a few short weeks he was able to be moved to the Neuro Rehab Center in Austin. After hours of extremely painful therapy every day, he was beginning to walk.

January 8th was his next surgery, to reconstruct his skull and fill in the missing piece. Immediately after the surgery he had a bad reaction to the material used and his condition worsened. Because of many serious complications, the piece put in 10 days earlier had to be removed. A week later a shunt was put in because of fluid building on his brain. All of the progress he had made was lost. This candidate was unable to eat and had lost about 50 lbs. His kidneys were starting to shut down. He had problems with his liver function; and because of several other complications, he was hospitalized for over a month.

On February 24, this candidate was able to go back to the Rehab Center in Austin and start over with his therapy. He was unable to walk, his muscles had wasted away, and he was weak from not being able to eat. But his determination was stronger than ever and within a few days he was beginning to walk again.

There have been many challenges and setbacks for the both of them in the past 5 months. His fiancé has been there day and night, by his side, since the shooting. They gain strength from each other and have overcome many difficult obstacles. In reality, they will have a lifetime of obstacles, but I have never seen two people so committed, so determined and in love

He was shot that day because of his decision to put on that uniform and fight for his country, a decision he made without doubt or regret. This candidate will never be the same, his life - their lives, have taken a much different path than they had originally planned. But they don't dwell on that; they just simply have agreed to take a different path, knowing together they can accomplish anything.

He will have at least one more surgery to reconstruct his skull and will probably be hospitalized for an additional 2-3 months after that and then have several months or years of outpatient therapy.

Because this candidate wasn't injured in Iraq, and because he was shot on a US Army base by another soldier, the Army doesn't recognize his injuries as combat related, so the army/government doesn't offer the support or help for them that a soldier injured in Iraq or Afghanistan would have received.

The vehicle they have is a small car that she has to cram and twist and push his wheelchair into the backseat. It sits down low to the ground so it is hard for him, being 6-1 to get in and out of. They wanted to get something bigger but know that they can't afford to get anything right now. A bigger vehicle would make life a bit easier; it would be very much appreciated.

They are both excited and optimistic about what the future holds for them. While they cannot control every aspect of his recovery and they don't know what the future has in store for them, they do know that the strength and bond they are building through this experience will prepare them for whatever lies ahead.
Please take the time to assist this veteran. 

Thanks to Paul for the link

Iran announces new drone

According to CNN, Iran's Press TV announced the launch of a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).  The aircraft is reported to be able to travel long distances at great speed and perform ground attack missions.

The report was met with some skepticism.  After all, the recent unveiling of a new Iranian missile was wrought with scandal after a picture of four missiles launching was found to be photoshopped.

Forget a Twitter Revolution in Iran.  We need a LOLcat Revolution.

Fortunately, CJ Schaefer notes that the Iranian government has fired their Photoshop artist, providing us with this exclusive, non-Photoshopped image of the new Iranian robot fighter.

What?  It's not Photoshopped if you steal it directly from Wookieepedia! 

21 August 2010

That's one way of looking at it

Recently, I started Michael Horowitz' book, "The Diffusion of Military Power:  Causes and Consequences for International Politics".  During a free moment, I pulled it out, highlighter in hand, and plowed through a few pages.

A sergeant took note.  "What are you reading, Sir?"

"Well, it's a book about military innovation.  It talks about spread of ideas throughout an organization".

"So, basically, you're trying to be the Good Idea Fairy?"

Well, that's one way of looking at it. 

I guess I should expect to see some enterprising warrant officer NOTAM out my desk.

20 August 2010

UAVs: More hope than hype

Ask a helicopter pilot about his experience with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and more than likely, you'll be treated to a story of a near mid-air collision somwhere over the deserts of Iraq.

It's a sentiment echoed in an article from National Defense Magazine, which examines some of the promises--and problems--of UAVs.  (H/T Adam Elkus)

The author chides the military's recent fascination with UAVs, noting that remotely-piloted vehicles are nothing new.  This is, of course, true; target drones have been in existence since the 1920s.  In fact, the US Army Air Corps' Radioplane OQ-2 drone, constructed during the Second World War, was produced in factories manned mainly by women, including a young lady by the name of Norma Jeane Baker (who would later change her name to none other than "Marilyn Monroe").

In essence, unmanned aerial vehicles are simple devices.  In fact, the US Army's portable RQ-11B Raven system is little different than the model aircraft that have been used by hobbyists for decades.

However, improvements in communications technology have led to greater ranges and more widespread proliferation of such vechicles.  UAVs can be found in the arsenals of most nations, with Iran posessing UAVs which can reportedly overfly nearly every US installation in the Middle East.  Even non-state actors, such as Hezbollah, have employed such vehicles against the IDF

The article notes that interest in unmanned systems seems to wax and wane over the years; after all, most nations are wary of unmanned aerial vehicles buzzing through through congested airspece.  Nevertheless, with recent improvements in communications technology, it's a safe bet that all sorts of organizations will be employing these systems in the future.  And I doubt pesky airspace regulations will matter much to them. 

Stay Tuned

NATO's official Youtube channel just released the first of a series of amazing videos featuring the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade's Medevac detachment in action in Afghanistan.  Check it out.

19 August 2010

COIN or Nation-Building?

Small Wars Journal linked to a number of great articles coming out of the Council on Foreign Relations regarding the War in Afghanistan.  Of note was an interview with Colonel Gian Gentile, in which he discusses Afghanistan in a strategic context, and stresses the need for the military to match resources to policy objectives.  While that's certainly an agreeable notion, I took issue with one aspect of the interview:

The problem in terms of strategy is that we have a mismatch. The president's political objectives are actually quite limited, but his military has offered up really a maximalist operational method of nation-building to achieve those very limited political objectives. That's the stalemated nature of the situation in Afghanistan.
Certainly, this was the Obama-McChrystal dynamic, with General McChrystal seeking a far larger troop commitment, and President Obama attempting to extricate himself from the conflict.  Yet, others have their say as well.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has, at times, preferred a grander approach (though not as large as General McChrystal's vision), while General David Petraeus has been offering minimal strategic goals for the past year and a half.  In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, General Petraeus said:

It might be more effective if we just, out loud, said, "We're not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland; we're not trying to make it into an advanced, Western, industrialized democracy in the next few years." What the president is trying to convey is, again, limitations on our aspirations, and what it is we're trying to accomplish. I think that's reasonable. One of the outcomes of this presidential review was a pretty realistic appraisal of what is possible, what is doable; and that should be an important element that informs one's strategy.
For more on the "Tell me how this ends" plan for Afghanistan, check out Spencer Ackerman's interview with General Petraeus at Wired.com.  And don't miss the awesome Afghanistan timeline slideshow at CFR. 

For those that don't hang with the cool cats on Twitter

Yesterday, a number of us in the milblogging/journalism/think-tank community passed the time on Twitter reacting to the following quote from Ralph Peters: 

Think tanks are simply welfare agencies for intellectuals who can’t survive in the marketplace as well as holding pens for political creatures briefly out of office. The Sierra Club should be picketing them over all the innocent trees they’ve killed.
Now, my anger management counselor recommended that I stop blogging about Ralph Peters, if for no other reason than to keep my blood pressure at a reasonable level.  Thus, I'll just direct you to the Reader's Digest version, provided by Abu Muqawama and Ink Spots.

NOTE:  I really don't have an anger management counselor.  Jedi like me don't get angry.

18 August 2010

Well, I'll be damned

I never thought I'd see the day when US Air Force personnel would re-enlist while flying aboard a Russian-made Mi-17 Hip.

Much to my surprise, the Army even published an aircrew training manual for the Mi-17 as well, TC 3-04.35.  (Of course, you need AKO credentials ro read it).

Contrary to popular belief, I was not in Miami this weekend

Fellow blogger Boss Mongo has sent provided me with some excellent Star Wars-related links recently.  This weekend, there was the hilarious "Blackstar Warrior" parody film. 

Today, he treats the world to this gem:

America's ex next top model Adrianne Curry has taken to the social networks to detail her alleged molestation at a Star Wars convention in Miami over the weekend.

The 28 year old, who won the first series of America's Next Top Model and has since appeared in Playboy, had visited the show wearing a Princess Leia "slave" outfit and was en route to an after-party.

However, while waiting for a taxi and chatting with other "Ladies in Slave Leia costumes" she was unsettled by what she initially thought was a "breeze lifting up my skirt" which turned out to be what she described as a "drunken pervert".

Curry related: "As I tried to push down my skirt I felt an arm underneath it. Then I was grabbed, hard, downstairs."

She adds: "I whirled around and elbowed whoever was behind me to find myself looking eye to eye with a glassy eyed very stocky mexican man. He spoke NO english and was NOT a Star wars fan , nerd, or con goer."

Luckily for Curry after she gave the intruder a good shouting at, other convention goers, including assorted Imperial Stormtroopers and Sith Lords interdicted the non-Star Wars fan.

"He was shoved a few times and hopped into his car. He then almost ran a few people over and hit the car in front of him. At this time i was seeing red, it was all a blur. I know someone reached in and took his keys handing them to hotel staff."...

...Curry thanks "all of you who stood by me, defended me with force, and wiped away my tears...For all our talk of being on The Dark Side of The Force....I believe we all acted like True Jedi Masters!"
Hells yeah:

17 August 2010

If you build a user-friendly website, they will come.

The Army's a little surprised that only 27.5 percent of troops actually took the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" survey.  What might account for the low turnout?  I know what I'd blame:

Sunday was the deadline for troops to complete the Defense Department's "don't ask, don't tell" attitudes survey, and officials at the Pentagon said the final tally on completed responses was 109,883 -- a response rate of only about 27.5 percent.

That's below the 30 to 40 percent response rate researchers from the University of Texas at Austin say an average email or online surveys should pull in, and well below the 52 percent participation rate officials at the Office of Personnel Management got in their similarly-structured 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The Pentagon's survey was designed to help military leaders "assess the impacts, if any, repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell" might have on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention," according to Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.
Full disclosure:  I wasn't one of the 400,000 service members who took the actual survey.  I did, however, receive a link to the Comprehensive Working Group's online feedback form.  And, once again, I was frustrated with yet another DoD's IT program. 

The link led to a form where I had 1,000 characters to share my thoughts on DADT.  After clicking "submit", I received a password, and a link to another site where I would allow me to participate in a "dialogue" on DADT. 

Unfortunately, the first time I clicked on the link without copying down the passcode, and thus, I couldn't do anything.  So I had to go back and enter my 1,000 characters of text again, copying down the passcode this time. 

After entering the passcode, I received an error message informing me that I could only proceed to the dialogue during regular work hours on the East Coast.  Thus, I waited until the next day.  The only way to proceed to the dialogue was to, once again, enter another 1,000 characters of text, and enter my passcode, whereupon I finally entered the chat room.

Hi, would you like to chat about DADT?

Uh, sure.

What are your thoughts?

Uh...I put on my robe and wizard hat?
Sadly, there really wasn't anything to say in the chat room that I hadn't said in the 1,000 characters of text that I entered three times before, so I left. 

Did anyone else have a similar experience or should I chalk this one up to my tendency to find myself in bizarre and outrageous circumstances?

15 August 2010

Save us, Doctrine Man!!

The US military's Operations Order (OPORD) can be traced to the simple, five-section combat orders written by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, the 17th Century general who founded the Swedish Empire. British historian B.H. Liddell Hart writes in "Great Captains Unveiled":

Gustavus' orders are a model of which a modern staff officer might be proud, the paragraphs numbered, each short, crisp, and ebmodying one specific point; the whole in a logical sequence that is reminiscent of modern practice--information as to the enemy, intention of the commander, and method of execution first, then administrative arrangements, and finally inter-communication.
Though Adolphus issued such orders to fight set-piece battles in the 17th Century, modern armies have used the OPORD to plan all sorts of events--from air assaults to picnics.

Recently, invoking doctrine, military organizations the world over have taken to issuing a daily or weekly "fragmentary order", or "FRAGO", to disseminate routine administrative information. Thus, Gustavus Adolphus' simple orders for conducting linear battles have evolved into, well, this:


Purpose.To expedite customer service of [redacted] Burger King Eatery during lunch hours.
Task to Subordinate Units: See Coordinating Instructions.

Coordinating Instructions.
Please know what menu item or value meal number being purchased as soon as possible. 
Have money ready. 
Please have one person speak at a time. 
Know what size value meal (if applicable).
Know what kind of drink you desire. 
Be courteous to eatery staff. 
The POC for this information is the restaurant manager, [redacted].
Wait a second, this isn't in the FM 3-0.

Doctrine Man, please help us!

A movie I need to see

George Lucas should have just distributed this movie instead of The Phantom Menace:

Baddest cat since General James Mattis.

14 August 2010

There's no management like micromanagement

A number of milbloggers and COINdinistas are big fans of strategy games.  In fact, there's an entire website dedicated to the use of strategy games--both traditional board games and computer simulations--which replicate counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, and disaster relief. 

Thus, it should come as no surprise that blogger Adam Elus has used the recent release of Starcraft II as a vehicle to discuss strategy. 

As Elkus notes, modern real-time strategy games allow the player--the "general", so to speak--to view and control individual units.  According to Elkus, this contrasts with developments which took place since the Napoleonic levee en masse, which led to larger, more complex armies.  Napoleon's Grand Armee underwent a 19th Century-style transformation, reorganizing into self-contained army corps. 

In Napoleon's earlier, more successful campaigns, these independent army corps were granted a high degree of autonomy.  In fact, this model was so successful that the Prussian, and later, German army copied this command style.  Indeed, the Wehrmacht's blitzkreig tactics greatly emphasized initiative among commanders, as long as all understood and acted in accordance with the mission focus--or auftgrastaktik--of the organization. 

However, our modern command, control, and intelligence systems--designed to emulate the blitzkrieg armies of the past--have allowed us to reverse this trend.  As many have noted before, these systems now allow modern-day generals, like their fictional counterparts in Starcraft, to micromanage down to the individual soldier level.  According to P.W. Singer of "Wired for War":

The ripple effects of robotics on leadership even affects the strategic level. Many have discussed the idea of "strategic corporals," younger and younger troops who are being given greater and greater power and responsibility. But the rise of robots has created an opposite phenomenon - a dirty little secret that people in the service are somewhat afraid to talk about for risk of their own careers. I call it the rise of the "tactical generals."

Our technologies are making it very easy, perhaps too easy, for leaders at the highest level of command not only to peer into, but even to take control of, the lowest level operations. One four-star general, for example, talked about how he once spent a full two hours watching drone footage of an enemy target and then personally decided what size bomb to drop on it.

Similarly, a Special Operations Forces captain talked about a one-star, watching a raid on a terrorist hideout via a Predator, radioing in to tell him where to move not merely his unit in the midst of battle, but where to position an individual soldier...

...We have to ponder the long-term consequences. What happens when the young officers now being cut out of the chain, or micromanaged in the midst of battle, advance up the ranks, but without the experience of making the tough calls? This leadership issue is not just one for the troops, though. Civilian leaders equally now have a new ability not only to watch at the tactical level but even decide what should be done.
An article at Small Wars Journal only echoed this concern, citing a command sergeant major's admission that he used surveillence assets to monitor the uniforms of soldiers at a remote outpost. 

How can military leaders resist the temptation to micromanage through technology?  P.W. Singer gives us a leadership lesson from none other than General George Marshall:

In [Marshall's] day, new inventions like the radio and teletype gave him what certainly seemed like a nearly science fiction-like ability to instruct his officers from afar. Marshall's approach, however, was to set the broad goals and agenda, have smart staff officers write up the details of the plan, and ensure that everything remained simple enough that a lieutenant in the field could understand and carry out everything on his own. Just as the bedrock values of good politics, ethics and law remain the same, regardless of the technology or century, so do the tenets of good leadership.

13 August 2010

Most Awesome Week Ever?

My friends back in the United States are probably fast asleep, content with posting the obligatory "Most Dangerous Week Ever" post late in the afternoon. Little do they know that I have a six-hour head-start on them, and that I can prove, definitively, that this was, indeed, the most awesome week ever. 

So what makes this week the most awesome week ever?  How about a tour of the super-secret MC-12 reconaissance plane, in-depth plans for a potential Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program, and commentary on US Army Chinooks providing aid to flooded regions of Pakistan?  Not awesome enough for you? What about the sordid details of Wikileaker Bradley Manning's personal life, swoopy robot helicopters, and some sharp security talk

But I'm really stretching for ideas.  This was just your typical week of massive defense cuts, outrage at Wikileaks, and relief workers murdered in Afghanistan.  And, as is par for the course, this week was also frought with the DoD's asinine information management policies.  In lighter news, we had some awesome Fark headlines, Hezbollah hotties, and a street sign that's just straight-up OODA-Loopy

So there you have it, the week in review.  Most awesome week ever?  You decide.

12 August 2010

US Army: Been there, done that

Aitor, an Irishman who writes a fascinating blog, keeps us abreast of the RAF's latest hijinks over the Welsh countryside:

RAF Tornado Gr4 fighter jet poses for the camera

Of course, US Army crew chiefs--renowned for their own unique sense of humor--have one-upped the renowned RAF, using the stabilator of the UH-60 Black Hawk to ridicule "Chalk Two",  (That's Army-speak for the "wingman".)

11 August 2010


So, basically, the left-wing media is upset that the US is not diverting more Chinook helicopters from Afghanistan to Pakistan to assist with flood relief efforts, because the aforementioned US military is busy fighting an insurgency that Pakistan itself funds?

The Internet surprises me once again

I always assumed that internet discussion on Hezbollah's activities in Lebanon nearly always digressed into users simply posting pictures of ridiculously hot women

That was until this morning, when I saw that my entry concerning the strategic placement of unveiled women in Hezbollah rallies made its way to Fark.com

Rather, the complete opposite happened, the thread at Fark provided some interesting debate on the social and political role of Hezbollah in Lebanon, spurred by the aforementioned pictures of ridiculously hot women.  (Though, it should be noted that one of the few pictures of women in the thread was the now-infamous "HPOA" chick.)

Maybe Adam Elkus is right--the Internet is about  far much more than LOLcats and porn. 

Sorry there's nothing quite so astute recently.  I'm in the middle of a big exercise.  Better posts should follow in a week or two. 

09 August 2010

The man behind the leak

Adam Weinstein, filling in for Spencer Ackerman, has some insightful analysis of the New York Times' expose on Specialist Bradley Manning, the 10th Mountain Division soldier suspected of leaking tens of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. 

(Of course, I can't actually provide a link to Wikileaks because of asinine DoD IT policies.) 

The article describes a loner who struggled to adjust to the organizational culture of the military.  Manning was a computer hacker who felt more at home with computer geeks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology than he did with his fellow soldiers at Fort Drum.  Indeed, military lifestyle can be difficult to adapt to, and many can sympathize with him on that level.  Moreover, his difficulties were undoubtedly magnified due to his sexual orientation.  (A story that's actually been floating around for quite some time)

But as Manning entered the Army as an intelligence analyst, typically granted Top-Secret clearances after an exhaustive background check, other aspects of his life should have thrown up red flags.   In high school, Manning would frequently argue with fellow students and teachers, often slamming his books and shouting at fellow students.  A teacher recalls kicking him out of class after one such outburst.  He was also, as the New York Times describes, "hired and quickly fired" from a job at an software company; his previous employer claimed that he had the personality of a "bull in a china shop". 

The process for obtaining a top secret clearance, as Adam Weinstein notes, is quite intensive, with investigators interviewing friends, acquaintances, employers, teachers, and neighbors.  The process often takes months and costs thousands of dollars, mostly as a result of man-hours.  Were any of these issues were identified in the investigation?

After joining the Army, Manning's behavior only became more questionable.  According to the New York Times, he was "reprimanded" twice (likely Article 15s), once for assaulting an officer. 

Milblogger Godfather Greyhawk said it best two months ago--his security clearance should have been pulled after the official reprimands.   

The Manning incident is embarassing, for reasons other than his love of Lady Gaga or the screen name "BradAss87".  It simply amazes me that our national security apparatus is so large, that (presumably) Top Secret security clearances are being given away as if they're candy.  I'm even more astonished that simply throwing money at at the intelligence community still isn't solving simple issues, like proper background checks. 

08 August 2010

Black Swans and Butterflies

Both Robert Haddick and Adam Elkus have recognized the recent twenty-year anniversary of Operation Desert Shield, the American-led Coalition's response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.  Elkus and Haddick astutely noted that our current operations in Iraq are, in many ways, an extension of the twenty-year-old war.

But while most commentators link the First Gulf War to the current Iraq War, there is also a very distinct link between Desert Storm and the War in Afghanistan as well, made possible by yet another of those odd twists and turns one finds throughout history. 

(As an aside, I find it necessary to use this angle because Elkus and Haddick cover their topics incredibly well, so I really can't add to anything they've written.  Well, except for in Adam Elkus' blog, where I posted a picture of a LOLcat.)

Certainly, ejecting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait was a just decision in 1991.  Yet, in another example of how chaos theory seems to influence our foreign policy, the American presence in Saudi Arabia helped to sow the seeds of the September 11th attacks.  After the Iraqi invasion, a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, fresh from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, begged the royal family not to let non-Muslim troops into Saudi Arabia.  Bin Laden offered to defend the Arabian peninsula with hjis Mujahadeen fighters. 

When questioned how his Mujahadeen would stand up against tanks in the open deserts of Saudi Arabia--the optimal environment for such vehicles--bin Laden was reported to have claimed that he would fight the Iraqi tanks "with faith".  Unfortunately, faith doesn't really hold up well against T-72s (though it is, admittedly, difficult to clean off the treads.)

His offer was rebuffed, and Western forces comprised the bulk of the military force during Operation Desert Storm.  Bin Laden eventually traveled to Pakistan, where he began to focus his ire towards the West, and America in particular.  And he continues to this day.

Critics of counterinsurgency doctrine often claim that a well-conceived foreign policy at the strategic level would preclude the use of American forces in counterinsurgency-style conflicts.  Yet, as a wise man once said, "Always in motion, the future is".  Few could have predicted that the defence of Saudi Arabia would kick-start a chain of events which would eventually give rise to a figure like Osama bin Laden. 

Indeed, Black Swans and Butterflies are everywhere.