By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
What dog lover wouldn't smile at this photo of ecstatic Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD) Alex diving with unfettered joy into a sea of neon tennis balls? The balls were donated to the TEDD teams, stationed at FOB Pasab in Kandahar, by a family member. This generous individual sent nearly 3,000 tennis balls. While Alex is clearly off the clock, tennis balls and kongs are not only used for play, but are a pivotal part of the work these dogs do -- functioning as their driving reward for a job well done in training and in the field.
And though this photo was taken in May 2012 and, yes, the U.S. military is downsizing its fighting force in Afghanistan, rest assured there are still many MWD teams not only stationed in conflict areas, but who are still being deployed to war zones. I'm still seeing calls for donations and care packages to be sent out to handlers and their dogs. Ron Aiello, president of the U.S. War Dogs Association, who has been sending these care packages since 2002, hasn't slowed the steady stream of work he does ensuring these dogs and their handlers are outfitted with whatever they might need on deployment. Including treats, chew toys, and doggie beds, these boxes also include more practical items like cooling mats, K-9 grooming products, and doggles. You can see a list of needed items here.
War-Dog Update: As recently as Nov. 5, Ron Aiello posted this call:
OK! I am waiting for more names and addresses to come in.
Again, US War Dogs Association is reaching out to MWD Teams who are deployed.
If you are deployed or if you know of someone deployed please contact us with a name and address that we may send them a care package too. Also if you are deployed and need anything in particular items , just let us know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a personal message through facebook. Stay Safe. Ron Aiello
He's already received requests for 60 dog teams and is hoping for more...
Photo by Capt. Allie Scott
By "SF Guy"
Best Defense guest columnist
Interesting post by Mr. Russell yesterday and glad to see that people are looking critically at SOF and its role in the future. However, Mr. Russell's post is not really contributing to the dialogue that much.
Saying that SOF is a unique, niche military capability sounds great -- but really means nothing. What particular service, unit, or capability is not a unique, niche military capability? Need overwhelming armored force? Call 3rd ID. Vertical envelopment to capture key terrain? 82nd. Massive rotary wing lift capability? 101st. Submarines a problem? The silent service is here! Each of these forces has a unique role to play in warfare, and SOF simply is no different. It's a tool in the toolbox for policymakers to wield, nothing more and nothing less. SOF has gotten attention and funding over the past decade because of the unique nature of the wars we've been fighting. And policymakers have learned that fighting terrorists and insurgents may require a scalpel rather than a tank division. Of course one wouldn't attempt to defend Taiwan with SOF only; anyone who says otherwise is a ninny.
Full disclosure: I am an SF guy, with experience in both active and reserve SF units, as well as a background in the conventional infantry. I believe strongly in the ability of SOF, both white and black sides, to affect global conflict. But both the public and the policymakers must understand that we are a tool with specific uses and limitations, and even when we are used correctly things will not always go as envisioned. I think the SOF effort in Africa is going to be largely successful, and is an excellent COA by our national security establishment. Mali, however, shows that things will not always go as planned, and even the best SOF effort may not solve issues in place like Libya. A little humility, or recognition of the limits of power, by our military leaders and elected officials may be in order
At the same time, I believe that what's going to hurt SOF in the future are these:
By John T. Kuehn
Best Defense guest columnist
The recent passing of former Congressman Ike Skelton brings light upon a man who had a profound impact on those around him, including and perhaps especially those in the halls of the Congress and the Pentagon.
Ike Skelton represented a type of politician more suited to former times, a statesman, a moderate Democrat, and someone willing to compromise in order to achieve the greater good. In politics he had two overriding passions, the national security of the United States and the reform of the systems in place to provide for that security. It is the second passion I wish to address because Ike did not intend for his desires and passions vis-à-vis national security reform to diminish with his passing. But I and many others out there -- those who knew how fierce Ike was about implementing and protecting the reforms he helped legislate into law -- are concerned that with Ike gone, there is no similar politician in Washington ready to step up and continue the "good fight." I hope I am wrong.
Let me explain. Ike believed in the idea that the uniformed services served best when they acted as a team, what we today call "jointness," the joint action of the services to support national policies and objectives. Skelton believed that the best path to this end was through something known as joint professional military education (JPME), specifically professional military education for the various uniformed officer corps -- Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard. To this end, Ike was personally involved in drafting those parts of the famous Goldwater-Nichols defense reform legislation that implemented the JPME system that is in place today. Among its provisions, Ike stressed the importance of officers' study of military history as reflected in the following:
Another area that our panel report stressed was the study of military history, especially in helping to develop strategists. In our visit to Fort Leavenworth in 1988, the study of military history was confined to 51 hours and limited to the American experience of war in the 20th century. Army officers, especially those who will rise to command at the corps or theater level, need a thorough understanding of military history that reaches back over the ages.
Ike believed, as have many before him, that military history was the foundation for a well-rounded education for officers. After his visit to Fort Leavenworth mentioned above, the Command and General Staff College upped its history instruction to two hours of history a week for the entire academic year at the Army Command and General Staff Officer Course. This equated to 72 hours of total history instruction. Since 9/11 this program has been under constant pressure to decrease the number of history hours, resulting in a decrease to 60 hours from 2004-2007 as part of an overall decrease in student contact hours. At one point, while serving as the military history department curriculum developer, this author was pressured (unsuccessfully) to decrease the military history hours to pre-Skelton levels. Another blow to Skelton's legacy has been the removal of sister service joint-coded faculty billets at the nations' joint staff and war colleges in 2007 to support other "more important" new billets created since 9/11. Ike knew about these threats to his vision for JPME and was actively working, even though no longer in Congress, to correct them.
I met Ike Skelton in 2010, at the Harry Truman Library where he was the keynote speaker for the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Korean War. He was a kind, gracious, and thoughtful man. At the time, he was one of the most powerful congressmen on "the Hill," serving as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and holding another round of hearings to examine and improve professional military education. However, he also seemed fragile, to have grown physically weaker in his long years in the service to his nation. Tragically, he was swept from office that fall, a casualty as politics moved more to the right in places like his home district in Missouri. Evidently, there was no room for a moderate reformer from Missouri in Congress.
Ike Skelton believed in moving forward, not backward. He will be missed and the best thing we can do to honor his memory is to continue to support and improve upon his reforms that served, and should continue to serve, this country so well. Farewell to a great American and patriot.
John T. Kuehn is the Major General William A. Stofft chair of historical research at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College. He retired from the Navy as a commander in 2004 and earned his Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University in 2007. He graduated with distinction from Naval Postgraduate School in 1988. He won the Society of Military History Moncado Prize in 2010 and is the author of Agents of Innovation (2008), Eyewitness Pacific Theater (with D.M. Giangreco, 2008), and numerous articles and editorials.
Best Defense guest columnist
Over two years after the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, a confluence of federal legislation promises to test the military's commitment to upholding the rights of LGBT servicemembers. In highlighting a growing tension between the obligation of employers to accommodate religious needs and a parallel mandate to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) together present a useful capsule of the emerging debate around how to balance competing civil rights visions.
Currently headed for the Senate after a series of committee reviews in the House, ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most American workplaces. The bill is modeled after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and, as such, contains parallel language regarding the distinct needs of religiously affiliated organizations. However, while Title VII simply permits religious organizations to give employment preference to members of their own religion, ENDA would exempt these organizations altogether from its purview, allowing religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Proponents of the exemption argue that in its absence, they would be required to violate their religious beliefs by condoning homosexuality.
In addition to animating policy debate, this tension between identity groups has also given rise to disputes on the ground. At Hewlett Packard, for example, an employee alleged that he was improperly terminated for failing to comply with the company's anti-harassment policy when he refused to remove from his cubicle a series of posters condemning homosexuality. The case reached a federal appeals court, which found that he was not discharged due to his religious beliefs but, rather, because he created a hostile and intolerant work environment for his colleagues.
This distinction between belief and conduct also informed a lower court decision concerning an AT&T employee's refusal to sign an agreement obligating all personnel to "recognize, respect and value" the differences among them. While the employee in question was willing to certify that he would not discriminate against or harass anyone, he maintained he could not "value" certain behavior without compromising his own religious beliefs. The court agreed with his premise, finding that the company could regulate the conduct, but not the beliefs, of its employees.
A similar tone has characterized discussions about how to reconcile the religious beliefs and equality rights of military personnel. Following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum outlining the impact of this development on specific policies within the military. In addressing anti-discrimination policy, the Pentagon indicated that, unlike race and gender, sexual orientation would not be deemed a protected class for purposes of diversity programming, tracking initiatives, and the Military Equal Opportunity program complaint resolution process. Instead, grievances would be processed through individual commanders or inspector general channels.
Almost three years later, this informal approach to addressing discrimination may well be further eroded by an NDAA amendment on religious accommodation for military personnel. A provision in the House-passed act, authored by Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), would amend an existing requirement to accommodate "the beliefs of a member of the armed forces reflecting ... conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs," and instead mandate the accommodation of "beliefs, actions, and speech." In prohibiting commanders from regulating even offensive speech or conduct purportedly rooted in religious convictions, this provision is at odds with the repeal memo's assertions that "[h]arassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is unacceptable" and that servicemembers must "respect and serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs."
Apart from potentially sanctioning abusive conduct towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers, the Fleming amendment could also provide cover for discrimination against other minorities in the military, including women seeking access to reproductive care. At a moment when the Pentagon promises to ease access to abortion care for rape victims, not to mention curtail the underlying sexual violence giving rise to this need, the military can ill afford to foster discrimination within its ranks. By regulating offensive speech and conduct, as other employers have done, it can balance the rights of religious members to maintain their beliefs with an equally compelling interest in respecting the dignity of others.
Rachel Natelson is an attorney specializing in the rights of military women. She has provided legal service to military personnel for several years. She formerly served as the legal director of the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), where she managed the legal service helpline. She is an active member of the National Lawyers Guild's Military Law Task Force.
Sgt. Anthony Cruz/DVIDS
By Richard L. Russell
Best Defense guest columnist
We need to take a breath and see Special Operations Forces in context with the history and uses and limitations of the threat, use, and management of force in American national security. Lest we forget, Special Operations Forces are just that -- special. They provide unique, niche military capabilities that place a premium on stealth and clandestine operations. Yet many, if not most, demands for the threat and use of American military might require that they be used openly and publicly. As former head of Joint Special Operations Command Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned, "That's the danger of special operating forces. You get this sense that it is satisfying, it's clean, it's low risk, it's the cure for most ills. That's the way many new presidents are initially enamored with the Central Intelligence Agency, because they are offered a covert fix for a complex problem. But if you go back in history, I can't find a covert fix that solved a problem long term."
These traditional military capabilities, moreover, often are the foundations upon which clandestine Special Operations Forces must launch their high-risk assaults. Delta or SEAL teams might be dispatched into a building, for example, to kill or capture a high value target. But the building's neighborhood would be secured by larger, more traditional forces such as the Army Rangers. A SEAL team might be dispatched across an international border to capture or kill a high value target, but the base the team might be launched from and supported with communications, command, control, and intelligence would come from more traditional military forces.
The United States must guard against gutting its traditional and foundational military capabilities out of love of the glamour for Special Operations Forces. The world today has a fair share of countries with very capable niche or boutique-type military forces for special operations. The Germans, for example, are known to have very capable hostage rescue forces, while the Australians and the British have impressive special operations forces that have been put to hard work in the Afghanistan and Iraq military theaters. Yet the United States, with its global security interests, could hardly afford to have its military mirror that of Germany, Australia, or Britain.
The United States, moreover, will have to avoid the pitfall of growing its Special Operations Forces too large. The Special Operations Forces community prides itself on taking the most physically fit and intellectually nimble of the military duty pool. But the faster and larger it grows, the lower the physical and intellectual standards will go to bring down the overall quality of Special Operations Forces.
Above all, Americans must remember that our chief enemy -- al Qaeda -- for the past decade has been one uniquely teed-up to be attacked by Special Operations Forces, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa. Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Taliban, like most terrorist organizations and insurgent groups, generally recruit, train, organize, and plan operations in tight-knit cells and small groups making them attractive targets for small Special Operations Forces. One would prefer to dispatch a SEAL or Delta team against al Qaeda or Taliban cells to try to capture individuals and to gather intelligence rather than to drop payloads on them from a B-52 to destroy both individuals and documentation and computers.
Notwithstanding common wisdom today, our enemies of the future are likely to be nation-states as well as traditional ideological insurgent movements like al Qaeda. For all of the grave threats that al Qaeda has posed to the United States, we have to remember that while its Islamic ideology has powerful appeal in the world today, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, it still lacks the power of a nation-state. Nation-states in contemporary international security remain the pinnacle of power, and that's why al Qaeda has off and on wanted to gain control in a nation-state -- whether Egypt in the 1990s or Saudi Arabia after 2003 and arguably Pakistan today. The United States needs to prudently guard against al Qaeda remnants and successors, all the while mindful of the ebbing and flowing of the international distribution of power among nation-states.
Because Special Operations Forces typically are small and lightly armed and protected they require stealth and clandestine operations for their protection. If they are behind enemy lines and detected by regular forces they will be in a "world of hurt." Special Operations Forces have ably gone behind enemy lines in Iraq to knock-out critical Iraqi radars to create blind spots for the Army invasion of Kuwait in the 1990-91 war. But Kuwait was liberated by traditional military forces, not Special Operations Forces in 1991, just as Saddam Hussein's regime was ousted by the 3rd Infantry Division in 2003, not by a SEAL or Delta team.
In sharp contrast, a great many types of operations require that forces be seen and heard. Overt military capabilities of traditional air, land, and sea power are required to deter nation-states from launching open warfare. The United States, for example, to deter any future Chinese military moves against Taiwan, has to have its air, naval, and land forces seen in and around the Taiwan Strait and Asian theater to have any deterrent effect. Should Chinese forces one day not be deterred by American forces in Asia from taking Taiwan, Special Operations Forces certainly would not be able all by [themselves] to dislodge Peoples' Liberation Army forces from occupation of the island. For that type of mission, the United States would have to call in the Marines for amphibious operations, whether against Taiwan directly or elsewhere in Asia as diversionary or retaliatory operations against the Chinese, or call on the Army Rangers to retake and secure Taiwanese airbases in order to hustle in larger army forces on board U.S. Air Force combat flights.
Special Operations Forces wonderfully augment naval capabilities for protecting sea lanes of communications. They have performed admirably, for example, over decades battling Iran's irregular Revolutionary Guard Forces harassing maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf or with sniper operations to kill Somalia-based pirates before they could execute their civilian captives on the high seas. But these Special Operations Forces in and of themselves could not protect and keep open the sea lines of communication in critical choke-points, whether in the Middle East at the Red Sea or the Strait of Hormuz, or in Asia at the Strait of Malacca.
Traditional naval forces will carry out the lion's share of the burden for these critically important defense missions. If, one future day, the Chinese tap their growing submarine capabilities to wage a campaign to cut American sea lanes of communication with security partners in Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan, U.S. Special Operations Forces would be no substitute for American attack submarine capabilities to escort shipping convoys -- much like was done in the Atlantic during both the world wars -- as well as for hunting Chinese predatory submarines.
The United States, too, will need an overt and modern nuclear triad of aircraft, ballistic missiles, and submarine based nuclear weapons to maintain a deterrent posture against growing Chinese strategic nuclear forces. A robust American nuclear posture will be needed to deter China's growing nuclear forces. The United States reluctantly will be sliding toward a mutual-assured-destruction posture with China reminiscent of the one it had and still has, even if not as pronounced with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and with Russia today. China could be deterred by American nuclear forces from using its own nuclear forces, but not from the threat of Special Operations Forces retaliatory strikes against Chinese assets.
Likewise, to compel or coerce a nation-state adversary to change his behavior requires the overt threat or application of military power. That military power is to be exerted until the enemy changes the offending behavior or he will risk receiving additional military strikes. The United States and allies applied coercive military power to Serbia in 1999, for example. The United States applied airpower to Serbia and Serb forces in Kosovo and, with the pushing of the British, was on the cusp of escalating to the insertion of ground forces to compel Slobodan Milosevic to stand down his ruthless military and paramilitary campaign in Kosovo.
The bottom line is that Special Operations Forces in the American military arsenal have been and will continue to be unique and niche "force multipliers." But as we enter an era of increasing budgetary demands to make trade-offs and make ends and means match in our defense strategy, we have to remember that Special Operations Forces, as important as they are, are often more akin to dessert than to a main course. If we load up too much on the dessert in our future defense posture, we will wind up fat in the wrong places, and without the military muscle needed to wage future war.
Richard L. Russell is a professor of national security affairs at the National Defense University's Near East and South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. He received his doctorate in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and previously served as a political-military analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. The views expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect the policy or position of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the National Defense University.
In David Fromkin's very interesting Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?, I was struck by this aphoristic observation: "Before the nineteenth century began men had looked backward to a golden age. Now they looked forward to it."
It made me think somehow of Michael Howard, who in War in European History makes the point that around the beginning of the 20th century, two non-European powers (the United States in 1898 and Japan in 1904) defeated European powers (Spain and Russia).
A third jump: Howard also says in that book that the first modern army, which he defines as combining infantry, artillery, and cavalry, appeared in 1494. That would mean we are just past 500 years into "modern military history."
I am not sure what all this means. But I do like writers who are not afraid to make bold, sweeping assertions that almost have the quality of aphorisms. It seems to me the opposite of the academic fashion of making points as small and tentative as possible. "Initial research indicates that Confederate brass buttons may have declined in quality with the passage of time midway during the Civil War, at least in the eastern theaters of operations, but the evidence from west of the Mississippi is less conclusive. More study is needed."
So suggested "Outlaw9" in a recent comment. Very interesting. I hadn't heard of this before. I knew SF trainers were active, but did that become SF shooters? Anyone got more?
Lately I've been dipping into parts of Moment of Battle: The 20 Clashes that Changed the World, by James Lacey and Williamson Murray, who is co-author of one of my favorite books about World War II.
It's an old school approach -- decisive battles and great men. But it is even more anachronistic than that, because it really is about the battles that shaped the modern West. Of the 20 globe-molding clashes, eight involve the English, and five involve the Americans. Apparently, China, South America, and Africa never had a decisive battle worth including (except for Romans fighting in Mediterranean Africa). South Asia, too, except for Dien Bien Phu.
That aside, it is fun to read, partly for battles about which I know nothing (Yarmuk, Zama), and partly for new takes on familiar fights. Things I didn't know about the Battle of Britain include that pilots flying for the U.K. did up to five combat sorties a day. Also, the leading ace of the battle was not British, but a Czech named Josef Frantisek. He shot down a total of 40 German aircraft before being killed on Oct. 8, 1940. Other foreigners flying for the RAF included 141 Poles, 129 New Zealanders, 90 Canadians, 87 other Czechs, and 7 Americans, only one of whom survived World War II.
Still, this book makes me think there is a good follow-up book to be done: Twenty Non-Western Battles that Helped Shape the World. What battles would such a book cover? Bonus points for clashes that don't include Western powers.
Bonus oddity: The jacket cover was designed by one Carlos Beltran. Busy guy!
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.