Mission First, People Always

Not going to repeat the now well-worn story of Walter Reed-related issues, merely wanted to take a minute to point out a trend and offer up a lesson.

There was a time when, while serving on active duty, the Army just decided to stop paying me. Never did figure out what happened, the checks just stopped coming. I worked through the chain. I trusted it. I accepted the fact that things move slowly in the Army. I waited. I followed up. I waited some more. I exhausted every internal option available to me as I watched my savings dwindle (the chow hall was great, but I still had other bills to pay).  When loan defaults loomed I wrote my Senator who at the time was Army veteran Daniel Inouye.

Roughly 72 hours later I had a check for all my back pay and a line outside my barracks room door of members of my chain of command from battalion-level on down asking if everything was OK, and would I please work through the chain of command to resolve future problems ’cause we really get the heebie jeebies when Senator’s offices call.

The pay problems of one buck sergeant don’t compare to the woes of outpatients at Walter Reed, but this story – and many others any GI will be happy to relate to you – are indicative of the general mindset of those at the top. Nothing is their problem (“If you sloppy GI’s wouldn’t keep food in your rooms there wouldn’t be a rat problem”)  until someone makes it their problem, and that “someone” is never going to be someone they outrank. The operative phrase is “mission first, people always” until people do what people do and then it becomes “people whenever.”

Under different circumstances I’m sure everyone highest levels of Army medicine and the Department of the Army are great folks, but that they responded in typical Army fashion to this situation is beyond shameful. I hope this serves as a lesson for a wider variety of defense and national security leadership: fat lot of good your big initiatives are going to be if you are undone by the little things.

“issues with reality”

That’s how a colleague who helped me shepherd out a problem employee described said employee to HR. After the last-last-last-chance interview between management, the employee and HR took place, the HR honco had to agree. I’m reminded of the recently departed when I read stories like this:

Jack Bauer, the fictional federal agent in the
hit American TV show “24,” gets what he wants—and does whatever it
takes to get it. Whether he must beat, suffocate, electrocute, drug or
engage in psychological abuse, he will unravel whatever terror plot
imperils the United States. …

to the New York-based group Human Rights First, the vivid depiction of
these tactics in primetime shows like “24” are influencing U.S. troops
abroad—and presenting a major challenge for military training
academies. “It’s become clear that this show has unintended
consequences in that it informs young soldiers about these techniques,
and it gives the false impression that they work,” says David Danzig, a
torture expert at the nonprofit organization . . .

Pentagon told NEWSWEEK last week that it didn’t know anything about the
tactics used on “24,” nor had it heard the allegations of their impact.
“Humane treatment of detainees is and always has been the [U.S.
Department of Defense] standard,” said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros. But
former U.S. Army specialist Tony Lagouranis, who left the military with
an honorable discharge in 2005 and has since spoken out about the abuse
of Iraqi prisoners there, says the use of tactics like those featured
on TV was common during his 2004-2005 Iraqi tour. According to
Lagouranis, his unit tried out similar tactics after watching torture
scenes on television and DVD.  He has since teamed up with Human Rights
First, and recently met with the producers of “24” as part of an effort
to have them be more “responsible” in their portrayal of torture

Let me reiterate something I mentioned the other day: If the military training system cannot beat into the heads of its trainees (figuratively speaking) the right and wrong way to conduct interrogations, the problem is the military, not the producers of a fictional TV show. This is a military responsibility, not Hollywood’s. If your daughter grows up to be a stripper, that’s on you, not Vegas.

I would suspect that after four-odd years and a few scandals that training is probably adequate to the task, so what is a more appropriate step to take than asking a leopard to change its spots? How about screening future interrogators more closely? 125 on your ASVAB doesn’t mean you’re golden, it just means you’re likely to pass.

War: easy when you always win

From Inside the Army (subscription required):

The top civilian and uniformed leaders of the Army told a House committee last week that recent war games have proved the effectiveness of the Future Combat System as a counterinsurgency tool, and pushed for the continued development of the multibillion dollar program.

The committee was told the service is running modeling simulation exercises involving pre-insurgent and insurgent operations that compare actual events in battle to the likely outcome if the service had tapped a future force harnessing the latest technologies such as FCS.

The Army¹s recent exercise looked at an event called Black Sunday in which a platoon providing convoy security in Sadr City, Iraq in April 2004, was attacked by insurgents. Two soldiers were killed. Several humvees were destroyed. A battalion then embarked on a rescue mission.

“It took [the battalion] three hours and three attempts because they couldn¹t find them,” [Army Secretary] Harvey explained. “They didn¹t know where they were. They didn¹t know what streets were blocked. Six more soldiers were killed and 50 more were wounded.”

The modeling simulation involving an FCS-capable unit, however, resulted in “zero soldiers killed, zero wounded. It took one hour, not three hours.”

Wow, we ought to be increasing and not cutting the budget of a program like that, eh?

Not so fast . . .

First of all exercises &  simulations are cr@p. The math/logic behind them is fine, I’m not deriding game theory and related fields, but as they are practiced such events are worth less than nothing because the good guys never lose. The “blue” side always ends up saying that the tactics of the “red”
side are just not realistic; tactics like going insurgent or acting like a terrorist network. You don’t have to take my word for it, ask Lt. General Van Riper, USMC (Ret.)

Playing the bad guy in an exercise called Millennium Challenge Van Riper showed what Saddam a simulated Mid-East military power could do if they had had their act together. Unwilling to accept real defeat in a fake setting, the game was rebooted; the US won and everyone lived happily ever after. Van Riper blew the whistle.

The Army touting FCS – or any technology-heavy solution – as some kind of miracle system that will send US casualties to the basement and make every mission a flawless display of military prowess is something akin to irresponsible. Even if the Black Sunday simulation was an accurate reflection of how FCS might perform, it would not have stopped the ambush from occurring in the first place. Even without FCS we are the most technically advanced fighting force in the world, yet our soldiers are still being killed by weapons bought in a dime store and cooked up in a kitchen.

It is not that advanced technologies are bad, but look at what sort of technology works on the battlefield: UAVs and night vision devices. These are advancements of basic concepts that were put into use during Napoleon’s day (balloons) and Viet Nam (NVGs). The other great technology that works is GPS, which is a space-based way to do what people used to do with a compass and range finder. The defense against all this technology? “Moving through the people like fish through water.”

Enhancing our ability to fight and win against terrorists and insurgents – the more common battles of the future –  should be focused less on ridiculously expensive technological programs (which inevitably fall short of expectations and exceed cost and time estimates) and more on a well-executed communications strategy, multi-disciplined programs aimed and eroding popular support for subversive movements, and the tactile tools that smart men on the ground can use to kill.

Reality Check

The United States Military Academy at West Point yesterday confirmed that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan recently travelled to California to meet producers of the show, broadcast on the Fox channel. He told them that promoting illegal behaviour in the series – apparently hugely popular among the US military – was having a damaging effect on young troops.

Are you kidding me? ITS A TV SHOW! At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, if this is the state of military training today, we need to be worried.

I reject the idea that even the rawest recruit cannot separate the fantasy world of 24 and reality. This might be the Playstation generation, but I would bet any amount of money that every troop regardless of Service or MOS gets a block of instruction or twelve on the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, with particular attention paid to this disgrace called Abu Garhib and what is and is not acceptable behavior towards prisoners or detainees.

And if that is not the case then I am aghast that an institution with as long and historic a reputation for forging honorable warriors out of myriad malcontents considers itself so ineffectual that it has to ask the producers of a TV show to dial down the gore because they cannot exert the kind of control and demonstrate the kind of leadership necessary to prevent imaginations from getting carried away.

Somewhere my drill instructors are weeping.

Peaceful . . . Riiiight

The horror, the horror:

An antiterrorist database used by the Defense Department in an effort to prevent attacks against military installations  included intelligence tips about antiwar planning meetings held at churches,  libraries, college campuses and other locations, newly disclosed documents  show.

One tip in the database in February 2005, for instance, noted  that “a church service for peace” would be held in the New York City area the  next month. Another entry noted that antiwar protesters would be holding “nonviolence training” sessions at unidentified churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Then again:

On March 23, [2000] Circuit Judge James T. Smith, Jr. made sure Berrigan will spend at least another New Year’s Day – perhaps two – in a Maryland prison after he sentenced the former Josephite priest and three other Catholic pacifists for using hammers and blood to damage two Air National Guard A-10 Warthog warplanes last December to protest the United States’ use of depleted uranium in recent wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia.

Not every peace-supporting organization violates federal law and damages military equipment, etc., etc.

Overzealous collectors? Probably. Legitimate security concerns? Most certainly. Purposeful intent to squash dissent? Number of meetings disrupted: 0; Number of stories about Talon: dozens. Chill wind? Please.