While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on November 18, 2011.
By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs
Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr.com
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on July 29,2011.
By Eric Hammel
Best Defense guest columnist
Over the past year, I've worked the vast security implications of global climate change into a few comments on The Best Defense, but they haven't taken hold. I cannot fathom the prevailing so-what attitude as the FEMA-grade weather disasters mount toward becoming serial and routine occurrences. It's here now, for all to see.
Tens -- perhaps hundreds -- of millions of heat, drought, flood, and famine refugees are probably going to be shaken loose within a decade. (Some estimates say half of humanity -- 3,000,000,000 people -- will have to move or die just from heat-related causes.) Thanks to topsoil erosion via drought and helped along by deadly, unstoppable tornado clusters and unlivable ambient temperatures, the bulk of farming in North America will shift northward and most likely will become restricted to a narrower band in the upper Midwest and on into higher Canadian latitudes-assuming there is sufficient rainfall there. Sea-level rise from melting glaciers on land will soon be poised to shake loose uncountable refugees from drowned coastal regions, where most of the world's people live. If the warm North Atlantic conveyor current is halted or recedes southward due to desalinization via the Greenland freshwater ice melt, the Canadian Maritimes, New England, and northwestern Europe will probably experience unbelievable winters and might (this is counterintuitive) freeze over.
Global famine is going to force the use of our military as a police force organized to feed unknowable masses of people (until cold reality sets in as reserve food stocks evaporate). I believe that North America's first up-close brush with famine-motivated mass migration will take place in northern Mexico and on into the U.S. border states. (Refugees fleeing in the wake of the collapse of Mexico's central government could precede drought- and heat-related dislocations. Are we prepared to handle such a dress rehearsal?)
The only force on Earth with the inherent capability to police, process, house, feed, and move refugees on a mass scale is the U.S. military, but, though its reach is global, its capacity and stamina are nonetheless limited, probably to one or two major disasters at a time, not the overlapping rolling meta-disaster climatologists predict. (Remember, the only components of the Katrina effort that worked at all were the military responses, beginning with Coast Guard helicopters.)
The implications for military use alone in the looming weather-related crises are mind-boggling, but no one appears to want to face up to them with an action plan, a doctrine, a list of precepts. I find it worrying to the nth degree that there is absolutely no public discussion. Have the relevant agencies studied it all already-and thrown up their hands? I already know from a series of phone calls to relevant local and state agencies that there is no actual integrated plan in place to respond to high-impact earthquakes in major California population centers. The "plan" is to play it as it lays. And I sincerely doubt that a repeat of Katrina would be met with an effective plan based on lessons learned.
Can we bring this out of the shadows, and least in this venue?
Eric Hammel has written more books about the U.S. military in Vietnam, Korea and World War II than most people have read.
TalAtlas via Flickr
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on June 21,2011.
On a morning when news comes of more bombings in south-central Iraq, here is an overview from Lady Emma Sky, who knows as much about Iraqi politics as a foreigner can. Her comments on Turkey balancing Iran in Iraq especially interested me, as did the speculation about whether an overthrow of the jerks running Syria might lead to further fragmentation in Iraq. And keep in mind that Iran remains mighty interesting.
By Emma Sky
Best Defense roving Middle East correspondent
The taxi driver to Beirut airport tells me that yom al-qiyama (the day of judgment) is approaching. There will be a big explosion soon -- a very big explosion. The revolutions sweeping the Arab World are not good. Islamic parties will come to power everywhere. There will be no more Christians left in the Middle East. Believe me, believe me, he insists. In anticipation, he will make the Hajj to Mecca this year, inshallah. I tell him that I am traveling to Iraq as a tourist. The look he gives me in the rear view mirror says it all: He thinks I am crazy.
I am heading back to Iraq nine months after I left my job as Political Advisor to the Commanding General of U.S. Forces Iraq. Earlier this year, a Sheikh emailed me from his iPad, "Miss Emma we miss you. You must come visit us as a guest. You will stay with me. And you will have no power!" I am excited and nervous. The plane is about a third full. I am the only foreigner. I look around at my fellow passengers. I wonder who they are and whether they bear a grudge for something we might have done.
The flight is one and a half hours long. I read and doze. As we approach Iraq, I look out of the window. The sky is full of sand and visibility is poor. But I can make out the Euphrates below. Land of the two rivers, I am coming back.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on June 14, 2011.
By Garry Trudeau
Best Defense guest columnist
As I'm old enough to recall the stereotypes that formed around Vietnam veterans, I'm well aware of this danger. The purpose of my stories has been to participate in the national conversation about the costs of war. JPWREL and VICTOR are correct that the majority of warriors return home without invisible wounds, but it is by no means an "overwhelming" majority. There are an estimated 600,000 veterans (out of 2.2 million who've served in OEF and OIF) who are suffering from either stress disorders, MST, or the effects of TBI. The proportion is considerably higher than in previous wars because of multiple deployments and the aggregate number of consecutive days that participants are in a high-conflict environment, thus in a rolling state of stress and hyper-vigilance.
This is a substantial cohort whose continuing care represents a major challenge to our country. I have tried to represent the sacrifices of the wounded -- both physically and mentally -- across a broad continuum of affliction and recovery: B.D., the amputee, who learns to manage his PTSD well enough to reach out to Melissa, the helicopter mechanic, who recovers from her MST enough to actually re-enlist; Leo, whose TBI leaves him with Broca's Aphasia, but whose resilience propels him into community college, a job at a studio, and a healthy romantic relationship; Ray, who recovered from physical injuries in the Gulf War, led a normal life at home, only to endure multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to the collapse that recently sent him home. All different journeys, all different outcomes.
War changes everyone, and most veterans can manage that change without become impaired or dysfunctional. Their stories are important, too, but by focusing on their less fortunate brothers and sisters, I mean to keep front and center the sacrifices they have all made in our names.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on April 18, 2011.
Here's a thoughtful response to the post I had last week about where the post-2011 U.S. military presence in Iraq might be based.
Meanwhile, on the Southern Iraq watch: Someone bombed a U.S. convoy near Hilla the other day.
By Adam L. Silverman, Ph.D.
Best Defense guest Iraqi affairs analyst
While I appreciate both Ambassador Ryan Crocker's remarks and forethought on this, as well as Mr. Ricks' commentary, and keeping in mind that I've not been in Iraq since the end of 2008, I think that any meaningful attempt to renegotiate the security agreement, or parts of it, are very unlikely.
I do think that you're going to see an ongoing, but comparatively small U.S. presence of trainers covered under the Security Force Advising concept, but we're talking relatively small footprint here. The Iraqis, and here I'm referring to every major faction, have made it very, very clear beginning with our Sawha allies out in Anbar starting back in 2007, that they are waiting for us to leave. They are waiting for us to leave in order to settle scores. The Sunnis and non-expatriate Shiite that make up the Sawha and primary opposition that composed the Iraqiyya Party (which was disenfranchised from forming the most recent Iraqi government after winning the largest plurality due to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's directing the power of the state at them in a successful attempt to reverse the electoral outcome) know they can't really win a head on confrontation, but they've made it repeatedly clear that they are ready to fight (back). Maliki is waiting for us to go so that he can cut his forces loose on these folks once and for all and put an end to them. The Sadrists want us gone -- badly! The Kurds want their own state and are just waiting for us to stop paying attention long enough so that they can find an opportune moment to declare independence. Moreover, given past and/or ongoing Iranian support for the bulk of the parties in the governing coalition (Dawa, Sadrists, the Kurds, ISCI/Badr) they won't allow their proxies to agree to anything that significantly prolongs any significant U.S. presence. They'll tolerate training of security forces as a large number of the Arab portion of the Iraqi Army (IA) are Badr Corps, which is tied directly to the Quds Force. So whatever we teach the IA, we're teaching the Iranians. No need for subterfuge at all.
The New York Times came across some Haditha documents dumped in Iraq. I read the article but I didn't see anything new. My Washington Post colleague Josh White covered all that stuff pretty thoroughly several years ago.
More thoughtful are the comments below from Col. Teddy Spain. I knew him back in Baghdad in 2003, when he commanded the MPs in the capital, and I wrote about his experience in my book Fiasco. He's a good soul. Recently he and I have been talking about the end of the war in Iraq. Here are his thoughts these days.
By Col. Teddy Spain, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
Americans will be debating for many years to come the wisdom of the political decision that took us to war with Iraq in March, 2003. I served as the Commander of the U. S. Army's 18th Military Police Brigade during the ground war and first year of the occupation of Iraq. I am deeply concerned about what happens after America departs. I don't think we have achieved what we set out to achieve. I'm concerned Iraq cannot secure itself and we will see an increase in Iranian influence. The soldiers of my brigade understood the importance of a credible Iraqi police force and worked heroically to stand up a functioning Iraqi policing system. Not enough emphasis was placed on the development of the Iraqi police and rule of law during the first year of the war. From my past experiences, I don't feel the Iraqi police will be ready by the end of this month to assume the burden of protecting Iraqis from the variety of influences who will be trying to undermine Iraq's recovery and pursuit of democracy. The Iraqi police will be the target of their wrath in an effort to send a clear message to frightened Iraqis that even the police cannot protect them. I find it hard to believe we will not have to return at some point in the future, and perhaps lose even more soldiers, than if we were to keep a larger presence there now.
Being a commander in combat is a heavy burden. Parents, brothers, sisters, and countless others entrust you with the care of their loved one. As a commander you constantly balance mission accomplishment, with the welfare of your soldiers. You understand soldiers will die, and you do everything in your power to ensure it makes a difference when they do. When we pull out of Iraq in a couple of weeks, will that undermine everything my soldiers fought and died for? Not to mention the ones sitting at home without all of their arms and legs? I've been asked many times since I've retired what my biggest concern about Iraq is. I always answer without hesitation that I'm concerned that my 13 soldiers died in vain. That concern will grow at the end of this month. Many politicians talk about the cost of war in dollars. I had millions of dollars worth of equipment destroyed in Iraq and never lost one minute of sleep over it. However, every day of my life I think of those 13 soldiers and ask myself if there is anything I could have done differently to have brought them back home alive. I come up empty for an answer every day. If I ever conclude they died in vain, I hope it's not because yet another politician pulled us out of Iraq before we finished the job we were sent there to do.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
My old friend Marine Col. (ret.) Gary Anderson writes from somewhere overseas that, "No poor dumb son of a bitch ever won a counterinsurgency by sitting on his FOB. He won it by making the other poor dumb son of a bitch sit on his FOB."
Meanwhile, here is a guest column on COIN issues:
By "Ford Prefect"
Best Defense asylum for COIN bitter-enders
I know and respect Col. Gian Gentile from our years teaching at USMA and afterwards. I think he's off on this -- just like the uber-COIN pundits of the 2004-2007 era were as well. There were a few people (John Nagl and some others come to mind) that were thinking about COIN in the decade prior to 9/11 -- they were very few, and very far between. Others piled on the COIN train as it left the station, and tend to be the first to jump off as soon as it stops. Just an observation.
COIN should not be an organizational "design tool" to build the U.S. armed forces around. It is a method of conflict -- with its own doctrine, tactics and strategy -- that is applied when it is needed. Conventional, armored ground warfare is much the same. As is sub-surface, surface, cyber, and so on. The key point is to maintain a cadre of competent NCOs and Officers capable of doing those missions when needed. How many Coast Guardsmen are competent in ASW? My bet is less than 10. But if the Coasties ever get the mission, those 10 guys/gals will be worth their weight in gold.
is not "dead" -- it isn't something that can die. It will exist
as long as you send your armed forces to deal with populations outside of
fighting their organized armies. COIN isn't counter-terrorism; the former
is a military mission, the latter at its core a law enforcement mission.
CT will continue on as long as terrorism is a tool of a weak adversary; the
same with COIN.
The real question, I think, is how to we keep enough folks around to serve as a cadre for those 'esoteric' missions (like COIN, but also including tactical nuclear warfare, amphibious operations, mass airborne operations and so on) while doing what the Nation expects the armed forces to do -- provide the 'common defense' of the Republic. Smart reorganization, with a clear understanding of possible future missions, is the key, not dancing on the grave of COIN.
"Ford Prefect" is hitchhiking around Afghanistan. Or sitting in the cubicle to your right. Feeling lucky, punk? Well do ya?
Best Defense guest columnist
A few years ago, two friends took me out for a boat ride in the waters off Karachi. We worked our way around a coastal peninsula, all of which was controlled by a single real estate developer. That developer was the Pakistani army.
A row of McMansions lined the water. Several upscale apartment towers clustered together, near a club that advertised "six-star" facilities, and a golf course equipped with stadium lights so that players could avoid the heat of the day and play in the evening in the ocean breeze. And most of the land was still awaiting development.
This stretch of prime real estate, roughly the size of midtown Manhattan, was just one of many sections of property throughout the city to be developed by the local Defence Housing Authority. It's so closely linked with the army that the commander of V Corps, which is headquartered in Karachi, is also the president of the housing authority. This would be the rough equivalent of, say, placing the current commander of the U.S. Army troops at Fort Hood, Texas in charge of downtown development in Houston.
That peninsula illustrates the way that Pakistan's army has taken many of the country's prime economic opportunities for itself. Military involvement in economic activity started in understandable ways -- for example, soldiers had a chance to obtain plots of land upon retirement, following a practice with precedents back to ancient Roman times -- but has grown until the military operates factories and construction companies as well as developing real estate in partnership with multinational corporations. When the army, in the face of protests, allowed free elections and surrendered control of the president's office in 2008, it held onto its economic power, just as it maintained its grip on foreign policy.
The military has, in other words, kept many privileges that it would be unlikely to have in a fully democratic state. And when I try to understand the disturbing news from Pakistan in recent months, the army's privileges come to mind.
The army, one of the world's largest with well over half a million troops, maintains its pre-eminence less through violence than through public opinion. It remains the nation's most trusted institution, and also influences a great deal of the media coverage that Pakistanis consume. But this past spring, after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the army's prestige was tarnished. The army faced rare public criticism -- if not for somehow allowing bin Laden to hide near a military academy, then at least for allowing U.S. Navy Seals to fly in and out undetected. Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who was the army's darling long ago, repeatedly criticized the army and demanded inquiries. Some of the pressure even came from within the army itself: Najam Sethi, a distinguished Pakistani journalist, spoke of unrest among junior army officers.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
By Capt. John Byron (U.S. Navy, Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
CNN December 8: "Backtracking on initial information about how it handled the remains of American service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force now says the cremated body parts of hundreds of the fallen were burned and dumped in the landfill." The cremated remains of at least 274 fallen service-members and those of 1,762 other unidentified body parts were unceremoniously thrown into a county landfill as waste.
Two aspects of this mess bother me greatly. The first, obviously, is the
desecration of our warriors. Were an enemy to do this, we'd carpet-bomb them
into oblivion. But this is the U.S. Air Force, the practice may go back as far as
1996, and the only accounting so far has been administrative action against
three minor Air Force officials.
The second is that the Air Force is treating this primarily as a public relations problem, dribbling out the information only after three whistle-blowers brought it public, minimizing the scope until the facts ran them over, slow-rolling families seeking information, bemoaning and refusing to do the work to account for the individuals dumped in with last week's garbage, and perhaps, according to one report, even fudging the truth on when the practice ended.
Astonishingly, Air Force now says, "I don't think there is another federal agency in this town, I don't think there is another institution in this country," that understands more about how to properly treat the remains of fallen troops.
My view: this callous incompetence in the treatment of fallen warriors is
shameful, dishonorable, and unacceptable. It calls for the resignation of
either the Air Force Secretary, its Chief of Staff, or both. It's not a
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Chief Canine Correspondent
The first time I spoke to former Marine dog handler Mike Dowling I asked him about his working dog, Rex. He chuckled and declined; explaining the brief time we had on the phone that day just wasn't enough to do Rex justice.
Next week the seasoned and still-working German Shepherd will officially be given his due tribute in Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Working Dog. The forthcoming book, written by Dowling, chronicles the team's tour in Iraq in 2004, most of which they spent in Mahmoudiyah, better known as the Triangle of Death.
Dowling was one of the first of the initial 12 Marine handlers sent with their dogs to Iraq in 2004. Prior to their deployment there hadn't been a U.S. dog team on the front lines in a combat zone since Vietnam. They were, as Dowling tells me, the guinea pigs. Neither Dowling nor Rex had seen combat before. "I didn't know how unprepared I was until I got there."
While Dowling was confident in his and Rex's strong working dynamic he had doubts about how quickly they would adapt to the unforgiving working conditions and the chaotic violence churning around them. "I didn't know how effective we would be in a combat environment, specifically in an environment with 125 degree heat, with strays and shit and trash everywhere. I didn't know what to expect so I didn't know if I was prepared or not."
Prepared or not, the pair was thrust into the thick of it almost immediately. Dowling and Rex's first mission - which makes for one of the most gripping scenes in the book -- was a veritable gauntlet through hell, replete with a pack of wild dogs, razor-edged barbed wire (that would slice through Rex's underbelly), and a Shawshankian ditch of human waste.
Despite the unknowns of IED detection and patrol work in Iraq and the aversion Rex had shown to firefights in training, that night was a success. "Rex knew that it was training when it was training," Dowling told me. "But when we were in combat, he knew we were in combat because he could read it in my eyes and was very obedient. It gave me this incredible sense of calm and confidence in us as a dog team to preform well."
By Mark Hammel
Best Defense guest columnist
As in all human endeavors, knowledge is power. Therefore, in treating an
individual unfortunate enough to be suffering from Posttraumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD), I begin by explaining that PTSD is neither an illness nor a
weakness, but rather, an injury. As with all injuries, it is due to exposure to
a force that undermines the integrity of a biologically adaptive system of the
body. In the case of an injury to the musculoskeletal system, the force is
typically of a kinetic nature, such as with a badly sprained ankle. In the case
of PTSD, the force is initiated by the perception of mortal danger giving rise
to a wave of neurological activity so great that the stress response system of
the brain is damaged. Think of this as a power surge.
The stress response system is one and the same as the system that responds to the perception of danger with the fight-freeze-or-flight response. I've found it useful over the years to refer to this system as the danger-monitoring-and-response system of the brain. It is the malfunctioning of this injured system that gives rise to the symptoms that we have come to know in the aggregate as PTSD.
Under normal conditions, our five senses work tirelessly in the background, monitoring the environment for any change in ambient conditions that might represent danger, such as a novel sound or smell, or perhaps movement on the periphery of our visual field. When such a change occurs the system initiates an immediate IFF, consulting its own knowledge base of previous experience, i.e. memory, and at the same time readies itself to unleash the fight-freeze-or-flight response should our memory turn up a match for something that could do us harm.
When the system is impaired, as in the case of PTSD, it enters a sort of safe mode, where the danger-monitoring-and-response function supersedes all other normal functioning. The victim becomes preoccupied with danger, accompanied by an impaired ability to muster the attention and motivation to engage in the myriad of biopsychosocially adaptive activities that uninjured humans accomplish with relative ease.
I hope this explanation makes it easier to grasp the source of two major groups of PTSD symptoms: hyperarousal (e.g. hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, sleep disturbance, etc.), and avoidance and numbing.
A third group, reexperiencing symptoms, among them so-called flashbacks, is perhaps less easy to grasp, but surely the most salient to victim and clinicians. Normally, when we experience something it brings about a change in the brain that results in the formation of a memory. When we recall it, it is clearly in the realm of having occurred in the past, the there-and-then. In the case of a traumatic experience, the transformation into a memory is incomplete. It exists in a kind of limbo where it is maddeningly reexperienced as occurring in the here-and-now.
By David Palkki
Best Defense department of dictatorial archives
I'm grateful to Tom for inviting me to present a few highlights from The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant's Regime, 1978-2001, which Cambridge University Press just published. I had the good fortune to co-edit this study, with Kevin Woods and Mark Stout, at the Institute for Defense Analyses for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy). Our book is based on a review of several thousand audio files (and a smaller number of video files) that U.S.-led forces captured from Saddam Hussein's regime. The recordings cover several decades' worth of Saddam's meetings with his cabinet, Revolutionary Command Council, generals, tribal sheikhs, visiting dignitaries and others.
The book is intended more as an invitation to scholars to conduct research using digital copies of the original records (and translations) at the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) than as an effort to compile definitive conclusions or policy recommendations, yet certain patterns and insights have surfaced as a result of our efforts. In this blog I'll touch on three.
--First, Saddam was not in America's hip pocket during the 1980s. In fact, he was far more antagonistic toward and skeptical of the United States, even at the height of U.S. support for Iraq during the 1980s, than scholars have acknowledged. The United States was behind the Iranian Revolution, Saddam privately asserted, "to scare the Gulf people so they can have a [military] presence and arrange the situation in the region." After Iran-Contra revelations made clear that the United States had clandestinely armed Iran and provided it with military intelligence on Iraq, Saddam complained to his inner circle that the Americans were still "conspiring bastards." From Saddam's perspective, the entire episode was intended to harm Iraq (not to help the Contras or free U.S. hostages). He referred to the incident as "Irangate," held at least seven meetings to analyze the significance of the revelations, and described U.S. behavior as a "stab in the back." In May 1988, Saddam instructed his advisors, "We have to be aware of America more than the Iranians" because "they are now the police for Iran, they will turn anything they find over to Iran." In September 1988, just after the war had ended, Saddam expressed conviction to his advisers that the United States was behind a recent attempt on his life.
There was some loose talk in the comments last week about women in combat. Here's some factual background.
Take it away, Donna.
By Donna McAleer
Best Defense giant slalom correspondent
Retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles, commission chair, said the recommendation is one way the congressionally mandated body suggests the military can get more qualified women into its more-senior leadership ranks. "We know that [the exclusion] hinders women from promotion," Lyles said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. "We want to take away all the hindrances and cultural biases" in promotions.
Written in 1994 combat exclusion policy, precludes women from being "assigned" to ground combat units, but women have for years served in ground combat situations by serving in units deemed "attached" to ground units, Lyles said. That distinction keeps them from being recognized for their ground combat experience -- recognition that would enhance their chances for promotion, he said.
In mid-November Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times reported that top defense officials are wrestling to find a collective position on whether to allow women in direct ground combat. This seems to be a never-ending, perpetually debated and continually unresolved issue.
Earlier this year, Australia lifted all gender-based restrictions on its servicewomen. Other nations where women are able to serve in active combat roles include Holland, Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden and Israel. The Dutch repealed formal restrictions on women in combat roles in 1979.
The United States has been engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq longer than in any previous war. More than 230,000 American women have engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Women make up nearly 15% of the active-duty force.
In 2011, National Defense Authorization Act Congress required the defense and service secretaries to review policies "to determine whether changes are needed to ensure that female members have an equitable opportunity to compete and excel in the Armed Forces." That report was due to Congress on April 15. The Pentagon requested an extension through October. As of Nov. 16, 2011, that reported had not been submitted.
Given the perpetual debate, perhaps it is not surprising that the Department of Defense failed to meet an October deadline.
Marine Corps General James Conway was quoted, "I don't think you will see a change because I don't think our women want it to change. There are certain demands of officers in a combat arms environment that our women see, recognize, appreciate and say, ‘I couldn't do that.' "
Israel Defense Forces/Flickr
The U.S. Embassy just tightened restrictions on movements of American personnel inside the Green Zone.
Meanwhile, when someone is right, I listen. Adam Silverman called Iraq right this year. Here are his thoughts now.
By Adam L. Silverman, PhD
Best Defense guest columnist
A little over a month ago Tom wrote a column dealing with the US's rapidly approaching deadline to leave Iraq. At the time I sent him some remarks, which he asked me to pull together for a guest column. I agreed on the condition that I would have the time to tone down the tenor, if not the content, as this topic hits close to home for me - as I'm sure it does for many Best Defense readers, as well as many other Americans (and our coalition partners as well).
As we are within final month in Iraq, we are once again beginning to see reports of new violence. As I have written here at Best Defense, as well as other sites, I think this is likely to become the Iraqi reality once we draw down to just the military personnel assigned to the Embassy. Part of the reason for my take is that the Iraqis have been communicating to us - in words and in deeds -- for several years that this is what is going to happen. Even as the Sawha/Awakenings was first gathering press, it was clear in what little reporting there originally was on the movement, its leaders, and its goals that their long term intention was to strike at the Shi'a, specifically the exile Shi'a that we had empowered, once they were able to do so (as in once we were gone). I interviewed dozens of tribal and religious leaders, (local) elites, notables, non-elites, and internally displaced Iraqis. The vast majority of them, both Sunni and Shi'a, had grave concerns over the government we helped to empower, as well as the members of that government and their ties to Iran and how this all related to the average Iraqi.
The Shi'a exile dominated government of Iraq, especially Prime Minister Maliki, has made no pretense of indicating it wanted to roll up the Awakenings' members. From a very heavy handed Sons of Iraq (SOI) transition that failed to foster and promote societal reconciliation and civil society reformation to cracking down on both the Awakenings and the SOI, Maliki has demonstrated that his goal is consolidation of power. One of the three Iraqis elected to parliament on the Iraqiyya list earlier in the year, then suddenly faced with an arrest warrant by Maliki's government in order to change the electoral outcome was an Awakenings and SOI leader (full disclosure -- he was also the subject of one of my social history/tribal study interviews, which you can read at the link). Add to this the fact that the Kurds still have plans of their own for Kirkuk, let alone an independent Kurdistan, and post U.S. presence Iraq looks to be unsettled and unpleasant for a long time to come.
When it comes down to it, and what I think has so many so upset, anxious, and out of sorts regarding the looming US departure from Iraq, is that it did not necessarily have to be this way. To paraphrase the Best Defense reader and commenter who asked about accountability in regards to Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- at what point do journalists, let alone the American people, hold those who made wildly inaccurate assessments, predictions, estimations, and gave absolutely horrid, hugely uninformed, gigantically incorrect policy advice responsible for the strategic failure that is Iraq?
I'm ending the "Fixing the Army" series with this installment. The rest of the 66 steps to enlightenment were about uniforms and I didn't care about blousing this and eyelets that, so Petronius summarized all that back in the last item of his second installment. But if you enough of you want, I can plead with him to do another installment on that stuff.
My thanks to Petronius (USA, ret.) for his series, which provoked a series of interesting discussions.
By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs
By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs
Tom says: In the personnel area, I'd make an entirely different series of recommendations, focussing on rewarding success, punishing failure, and holding people accountable while still encouraging flexibility and adaptiveness.
But this is his guest column, not mine.
Best Defense department of Army affairs
By Stacy Bare
Best Defense high altitude columnist
I have one of the greatest jobs in the world. As the Sierra Club's military family and veterans' representative, my job is to ensure that military families and veterans are getting outside to explore and enjoy the land they helped to defend through their service in the Armed Forces.
Since 2006, the Club has provided over $50 million dollars to ensure that military service members, their families, and veterans have had an opportunity to get outside. Through programs and partnerships with organizations like the National Military Family Association's Operation Purple Camps ©, Outward Bound, YMCA-USA, and the Armed Forces YMCA, close to 50,000 participants have had multi-day experiences outside. This level of support helped to create a significant upswell nationwide in the number of other programs and organizations focused on providing an outdoor or wilderness experience to the military and veteran communities.
While it is true that outdoor recreation has been shown to greatly reduce stress and allows for renewed opportunities of camaraderie, a sense of mission, and physicality that may mirror many of the positive aspects of military service and can help tackle many of the issues associated with reintegration, post-traumatic stress, and depression. There's a great community of outdoor men and women eagerly awaiting the opportunity to share their loves and passions with our fighting men and women. Often times, we as veterans and service members simply need to just show up.
It is also true that America's Great Outdoors need the leadership, experience, and skill sets service members, veterans, and their families possess to make sure our public lands remain open and pristine to provide recreation and respite for all of America and to help pave the way for a healthier, more physically fit nation. There are many opportunities for leadership and employment, as well as recreation outside. Who better to fill those roles than the men and women who defended the land?
By Crispin Burke
Best Defense department of civil-military affairs
For my first few years in the military, I used to tell strangers the complete truth about my chosen profession. But after a few discomfiting conversations, I decided to hide my military service from strangers. When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes claim that I'm unemployed, or even that I'm a reporter. There are times I'll claim to be an accountant. Admittedly, the ruse is difficult to keep up at times. Not many accountants can console fellow air travelers during a foul-weather approach into the Syracuse airport by noting that the ILS Runway 10 approach can bring an aircraft down to two hundred feet above ground level before the pilot can proceed visually.
It's a little white lie, sure, but it staves off a lot of awkward situations. In fact, I wish I'd used it more often.
While veterans generally appreciate not being treated as poorly as their Vietnam-era predecessors, today's hero-worship can make many service members uneasy. Without a personal connection to the military, many Americans base their perceptions of military service a stoic figure in a recruiting commercial, or a valiant hero in a Hollywood movie. But no service member could ever measure up to a Hollywood concoction. We're all just as fallible as anyone else. Even the greatest heroes -- Salvatore Giunta, Leroy Petry, and Dakota Meyer -- have accepted our nation's highest honor with candor and humility.
And while a kind word or a smile is certainly welcome, the lavish praise and generosity heaped on to service members may be breeding an unwarranted side effect among younger vets: self-righteous entitlement.
Still another segment of the public looks upon service members as hapless victims, and unfortunately for many, this is all too true. But some erroneously believe that all veterans invariably suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; while others presume that we've all been subjected to years' worth of brainwashing. To some, a young man or woman shipping off to Basic Training might as well be going to the Gulag. I once visited my old high school and revealed that I had just been commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army. One woman gasped, covering her mouth, "How much longer do you have left?" Responding, "As long as I like," probably did little to ease her mind. (And, in truth, my blog will probably get me fired long before that.)
The fact of the matter is that I've become a better person for my service in the military. And even though the job is not without its bouts of frustration, it still has its enjoyable moments. Plus, it pays the bills. How many people can do that these days?
Best Defense department of Army affairs
I asked frequent commenter Tyrtaios if he'd be interested in reviewing the new book on Lawrence. The game was not rigged -- I told him he could write anything he wanted. But to my relief, he liked it.
Best Defense guest book reviewer
A noted fellow soldier and countryman of T.E. Lawrence, Sir William Francis Butler, wrote: "The nation that will insist on drawing a broad demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards."
Thus starts in part, the preface of James J. Schneider's Guerrilla Leader: T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt, along with a crisp and pithy forward by Tom Ricks, which will start the reader to understand that Lawrence's strength wasn't his ability to fight a guerrilla campaign, but more importantly, to lead one and how the man came to accomplish that, and a chronicle of events in doing so.
Once I picked the book up, I had to force myself to put it down and savor it. I found the book flowed very easily and quickly from describing Lawrence as a child prodigy, to his early characteristic of standing out from the crowd with a higher purpose, his education at Oxford that reinforced, interestingly to be sure, learning over solving the problem, to his early adventure in the pre-WWI Middle East, along with his gathering notoriety as a most remarkable individual.
The reader will further be provided with a concise description of the regional geo-political-military back-drop of the period that Lawrence would find himself operating in, and quickly move to Lawrence's most notable observations that would form his ideas, and vision of organizing the Bedouin in the north into a cohesive unconventional force, along with developing and lending to it, what I would categorize as a combined arms dimension.
Having read extensively about T.E. Lawrence prior, did I learn anything new reading Guerrilla Leader? Indeed, I was reminded by Schneider in his closing pages, something I wished had been explained to me many years ago as a younger man, something that vaguely nagged at me then, which caused Lawrence to betray his values, but he must have later grasped. I will leave that part undisclosed for the curious of you to find out, perhaps among those curious, that one "dangerous man who dreams by day with open eyes and makes it possible," as Lawrence tells us he did.
Schneider's Guerrilla Leader could easily replace several books all at once that I've seen on the recommended military reading lists for NCOs and commissioned officers alike, as well as those in mufti that work beside the military or cover it.
In closing, although I own other works on Lawrence of Arabia, I have decided that Guerrilla Leader will take a position next to the man's own words written in Seven Pillars of Wisdom on my book shelf ... too late for me now, but for some ... perhaps not?
"Tyrtaios" is a retired infantry Marine whose career spanned 28 years of both enlisted and commissioned service, and included several tours of duty in the Middle East and Africa.
Our "tired old soldier" now turns to his recommendations for how to improve the operational Army. I've been enjoying the comments he has provoked, especially in his Friday post.
By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs
By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs
Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr.com
I've bashed West Point and the rest of the professional military educational establishment quite a bit in this blog, so I welcomed this chance to let a CNAS colleague say a few nice words about the USMA.
Best Defense guest columnist
Last week the program Parks and Recreation showcased one of the nerdiest extracurricular activities of all: Model United Nations. This activity, known for its geeky high school and college students and its focus on international affairs, offers some surprising insights into the state of civil-military relations and international affairs education in this country. I know -- I spent three years in college competing as a delegate.
At the college level, some of the best teams for Model UN are from our military academies. West Point's team is consistently rated as one of the best programs in the country; the other service academies that field teams, the Air Force and Naval Academies, always put up solid teams and delegates. In part, these delegates excel because they are instructed in leadership in the classroom and on the parade field. Nice uniforms, including the renowned cadet gray, also help make a good first impression. But most of all, these delegates excel because they know just that much more about the military-aspect of international affairs than the average college student. Civilian delegates understand the bare minimum of military culture and tactics: civilians will illustrate their basic grasp by making arguments in committee amounting to "bomb this, not that" or "move X troops here." Service academy delegates, meanwhile, will explain complex military and diplomatic operations to committees ranging from 30 to 300. Routinely, this means that civilian students fail to question any military-related policies of West Point or Naval Academy delegates. As a testament to this, most committees will give a military delegate a portfolio related to the military, such as Secretary of Defense or a military commander.
It's not hard to see why this happens: civilian students simply do not learn anything about this facet of our society. Foreign policy classes focus more on flighty theory than actual practice. History classes barely focus on hard military or diplomatic history. When I led delegates as an undergraduate, one of the things that I struggled with was teaching freshmen straight out of high school about general military capabilities simply because they knew so little about the topic.
The service academies, specifically West Point, are trying to correct this educational imbalance: West Point's Model UN team set up its own conference, dedicated primarily to educating civilians about the military. I had the privilege of attending the conference in April: the Cadets made a great effort to create realistic committees and instruct civilian students about the military. From panels and speakers to eating alongside cadets and learning about military culture and doctrine, the conference was, by the accounts of my teammates, both "fantastic" and "eye-opening."
West Point has hopefully set a precedent that will follow: directly engaging civilians, in an era when few ever interact at length with members of our military, may be the only way to get them educated about military affairs.
By "Petronius Arbiter"
Best Defense department of Army affairs
A few small things, some annoyances, and some big fixes that could make a good Army better:
Here's a response to yesterday's query from a Marine staff sergeant about what today's job market it like. It is written by a Marine officer who recently made the leap to the civilian workplace.
By Sydney Farrar
Best Defense guest advice columnist
1. Learn to market yourself in the language of the business world. Many Marines and veterans struggle with transposing their experiences, i.e. billet accomplishment, into the language of corporate America. The military may not like to call officers and SNCOs "managers" but in the eyes of many in the business world that is exactly what we are. I know we are "leaders," but don't be afraid to use the "m word." As an example, for grunts it often takes some creative thinking to turn a range you planned and coordinated into business verbiage but it's more than likely that you overcame multiple "budgetary, resource, and manpower issues" just to pull off a single live-fire exercise. It matters. When you are writing your resume it might be worth the time to tailor a resume for each job you want to apply for. Don't just use a generic resume. Take the extra time to carefully read each job description, responsibilities, etc. and then tailor your resume for that job based on your experiences, deployments, and billets.
2. Do research and find out what companies are actively recruiting veterans. Most companies have recruiters and H.R. specialists devoted entirely to veterans. Reach out to them and find out about recruiting events. For officers MOAA has events that might be worth looking into. For junior officers membership is free. If you are thinking about a federal job remember you must use a federal resume. If you aren't familiar with federal resumes and/or job descriptions reach out to someone. USAJOBS.gov is still a cumbersome website but it is getting better.
3. Having a clearance is huge. It means a company spending less money than someone without one and the fact you can get to work faster is a strong selling point. Get a JPAS letter from your S-2 and be sure to include your security clearance level and dates on your resume. It is a must if you want to transition to the contracting or government consulting world.
4. While you are still in uniform use tuition assistance to take self-paced Microsoft Office certifications. It would look a lot better on a resume if you had a certification with Excel and PowerPoint that just listing you are "proficient." The business world revolves around Excel and PowerPoint and no matter how many rosters and live-fire confirmation briefs you made you probably aren't anywhere near as skilled as you think you are. Completing the certifications while still on active-duty can save you a lot of money. Also, look into courses for SharePoint, Photoshop, etc.
5. Try and get strong letters of recommendations from someone who can truly speak to your ability. Your company commander or battalion commander might not be the best person despite their rank. Also, if you list someone as a reference please make sure they are aware of it. Sounds obvious but you would be surprised. Companies do call your references so make sure anyone you list has your most up-to-date resume, billet, etc. information handy.
For personal reasons, I've been thinking a lot this week about the families of those who deploy. So I was especially grateful to General Barno for sharing this.
By Lt. Gen. David Barno,
Best Defense guest columnist
Last month, I attended the funeral of Captain John "Dave" Hortman, age 30, at Arlington National Cemetery. Dave was an Army aviator, a decorated helicopter pilot with three combat tours in Iraq. He was killed in a training crash at Fort Benning, Georgia on Aug. 8, scarcely 48 hours after the headline-grabbing crash of a CH47 helicopter in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 30 Americans. Dave's death and that of his co-pilot, CW3 Steve Redd, garnered few headlines.
Dave and Steve were members of the Army's most secretive helicopter unit, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), the "Night Stalkers". Both were AH6M "Little Bird" pilots, flying the Army's smallest and most nimble helicopter. They died flying in a routine training event -- a fact that in some ways only adds to the anguish of their deaths at a very young age.
Steve Redd, from Lancaster, CA was an experienced special ops attack helicopter pilot, 19-year Army veteran, and fully mission qualified aviator with thousands of flying hours. He had just remarried the week prior to the crash. The photos accompanying his obituary -- of a laughing, youthful 37-year old in Army Dress Blue uniform -- were taken at his wedding. He left behind six children and stepchildren, and an amazing history over the past decade that included nine deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I accompanied my son and his fiancé to the funeral. My son was in Afghanistan when his friend Dave died. As a fellow Little Bird platoon leader, he led the memorial service in Afghanistan for Dave with the deployed members of their unit -- a very tough experience for him. He had redeployed back to the United States just in time to attend his friend's funeral at Arlington. His fiancé -- herself a former Army scout helicopter pilot, with two combat tours -- joined him. Both of them were very close to Dave and his girlfriend.
Waiting around before the funeral's start with members of Dave's and my son's unit provided me a brief glimpse into the parallel universe occupied by so many in our military today -- particularly our special operators. Dave's young fellow special ops pilots were gathered in their formal dress blue uniforms, chests covered with ribbons, with gold-trimmed rank epaulets dating from the Civil War on their shoulders.
There's a memorable line here: "I was able to graduate college not despite being a combat veteran, but exactly because I am one."
By Edgar Rodriguez
Best Defense guest columnist
Every year, Veterans' Day stirs up mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I am proud that our country takes a day out to honor those that have served in uniform. On the other hand, I am dismayed that too often praise for veterans feels empty and insincere. It is insincere because most Americans only have a vague idea of the struggles that veterans go through. This lack of understanding is particularly true in regards to combat veterans, a group that I am a part of. I fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 as a Navy Corpsman attached to a Marine Corps unit. (Corpsman is Navy terminology for medic.)
In meeting people I often find that they cling to two stereotypes about combat veterans. One is of a broken-down drunk and the other is of the post-military Rambo-like figure that is inches away from losing control because he cannot readjust to American society. Often, they are surprised that I do not fit into these stereotypes making comments like "You don't look like a combat vet." Sometimes, people also ask strange questions ranging from the highly inappropriate "Have you ever killed anyone?" to the downright idiotic "What did you guys do on the weekends over there?" (Military personnel typically work everyday when deployed to combat zones).
But most of all, I have found that people are often genuinely perplexed that I have been able to be successful after leaving the military "despite" being a combat veteran. It is almost as if I am obligated to be doomed because of my combat service. I first encountered this attitude during the final months of my enlistment. After informing my Chief of my decision to leave the military he did everything he could to convince me it would be a mistake. He even went as far as making me see our Command Master Chief and speaking with him about my decision.
In my meeting with the Master Chief, he spoke of sailors that he knew that had gotten out with intentions of becoming successful but had their hopes dashed because they did not know how to function outside of the military, emphasizing that as a combat veteran I would be especially prone to failure. After sharing these sad stories with me he then went about offering me pretty much anything I could have wanted as long as I reenlisted, at the end saying, "Don't throw your career away Rodriguez. You could be a Master Chief!" I thanked the Master Chief for meeting with me, but I told him that I still intended to leave the military, leaving him noticeably disappointed. While I know that the Master Chief only had the best of intentions, I found it unusual and disheartening that he thought I could accomplish amazing things in uniform but at the same time accomplish nothing worthwhile out of uniform.
As disheartening as the meeting with the Master Chief was, I would later be grateful for it. The meeting prepared me for the array of uncomfortable situations I encountered after leaving the military. Once, during a doctor's appointment, the physician was surprised that I was a combat veteran and at the same time had no prescriptions for Zoloft or Prozac, saying, "Are you sure you were there?" Last year, during a research program at the University of Maryland, I attended a group lunch with two professors that I was working with. At one point one of them told me that if I had any issues that I should talk to his assistant. I told him that the program administrators handled all the administrative issues. To which he replied, "No, I mean if you have any veteran issues. Like if you go crazy or something."
In speaking with fellow veterans I have found that these sort of situations are not unique. These misunderstandings occur because the gap between veterans and nonveterans has grown to the extent that most Americans view veterans as an abstract idea instead of fellow citizens. Currently, veterans are 2.6 percent more likely to be unemployed than nonveterans and every day an average of 18 veterans commits suicide. I don't believe that a society that truly understands and does right by its veterans would have these sort of issues.
Society's lack of understanding makes the trauma of combat worse for veterans. As a combat veteran, I understand this intimately. Before Fallujah, I had intended to make the military a career. After Fallujah, I decided to leave. I left because while I was always proud to be a Corpsman, after Fallujah, I found that I had stopped enjoying it. Like many veterans, I signed up for the GI Bill upon entering the military, although I doubted I would ever use it. However, unsatisfied with the options left for me after the military I decided to use it and give college a shot. It didn't look like I had much of a chance of succeeding. There weren't any college graduates in my family and I myself barely graduated high school.
I started off at my hometown community college and while I did well, I found it academically unchallenging. I wanted something better so I transferred to another community college eventually transferring to the University of Florida. At the University of Florida I accomplished my goal of getting a degree, graduating with high honors with majors in Political Science and Linguistics. And I am proud to say that I was able to graduate college not despite being a combat veteran, but exactly because I am one. Combat is one of the most intense experiences a person can go though and it changes a person forever. But while combat is an intense and negative experience, it does not have to be destructive, it can it be constructive. If anything good can be taken from war, then that must surely be it.
In the past, when speaking to people about the struggles veterans face, I would sometimes say, "People are all about supporting the troops, so long as they don't actually have to care." And while that statement may seem mean and cynical, I thought it held a great deal of truth. I still do.
In my opinion, what veterans need are not acts of empty gratitude, holidays, or memorials. What veterans need more then anything is to know that they still have a stake in their own country after they've served. It is something simple, but it is also something profoundly important.
Edgar Rodriguez is a Iraq War veteran and a University of Florida graduate. He fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 while attached to the ground combat element of the 31st Expeditionary Unit. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.
By Tori Lyon
Best Defense guest columnist
As our troops come back from Iraq, one measure of our integrity as a nation is how effectively we welcome them home. Beyond a chorus of respect from business, government and citizens for our troops, they are coming back to grim economic and social realities leaving them more likely to be unemployed and homeless than average Americans.
The vast irony is that many service members who heeded the call to action post 9/11 are suffering from the effects of an 11.7 percent unemployment rate, physical and mental injuries, and terrible difficulties reengaging in the social and familial rhythms of civilian life.
The result: a disproportionate number of homeless veterans between the ages of 18-30. A new study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs noted that while young veterans make up only about 5 percent of the nation's veteran population, they constitute nearly 9 percent of all former service members who are homeless. This doesn't count those who "couch surf" with friends and family.
The problem will not abate as another 50,000 troops stream home from Iraq and Afghanistan over the next two years. How can we rise to the occasion to serve our veterans with the same honor and dignity that they have shown us?
Based on Jericho Project's 28-year experience in helping formerly homeless individuals transform their lives -- and our work in providing permanent supportive housing and comprehensive counseling to over 200 veterans -- we believe that today's young veterans do not have to experience the chronic homelessness that shamefully plagues those from the Vietnam era.
Instead, speedy and intensive support can steer our homeless and at-risk veterans through the challenges of transition and ensure that they do not settle into a permanent state of homelessness. To accomplish this, start with the stabilizing foundation of supportive housing within a community of veterans. Then, give veterans access to the expertise needed to successfully tackle complex issues such as substance abuse, mental health, and family isolation. And finally, provide real-world counseling to fast-track veterans to jobs, internships, and education where they can regain their confidence and get back on their feet.
Overall our young veterans are known for their discipline, leadership, and courage. While otherwise stressful, life in the military is also extremely structured. It provides housing, training, employment, and community. So when a serviceperson comes home it is an icy plunge into the relative chaos of finding affordable housing, attainable jobs, and even coping with the anxiety of a crowd or loud noise.
For those returning to troubled homes or neighborhoods that were under-resourced to begin with, the journey can be fraught with additional threats. While these veterans have become accomplished, skilled teammates and leaders in the military, often their home lives and neighborhoods now have even less margin for coping with joblessness, addictions, and inadequate education.
What can be done? The military can better prepare veterans for their return. Admirably the Department of Defense is considering revamping its exit process to better connect returning veterans to services and resources they need. We can also do a better job of identifying those people who are at risk of homelessness and introducing them to services early in the re-entry process. This can go far in helping them to avert a condition that no veteran should bear.
At the same time, employers can bring veterans' resumes to the top of the pile. Today's young veterans make great hires, bringing maturity, crisis management skills and loyalty to the table.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has called for zero homeless veterans by 2015. With 75,000 veterans still on the streets on any one night, it is a tall order, but together with the strategic support of the government, businesses, social services and private citizens, it is one that we must deliver.
Tori Lyon is Executive Director of Jericho Project, a New York-based nonprofit ending homelessness at its roots.
Mary Taylor, Jericho Project
By Jim Gourley
Best Defense directorate of civil-military relations
Several recent posts on this blog have dealt with the financial exigencies of the defense establishment, the operations and resourcing of its component services, success of its attendant contractors and the consequences to its individual members in the context of America's worsening economic milieu. Adjacent to this discussion is the emergent trend of greater numbers of military veterans joining the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. In the background of these complimentary events stand troubling statistics. Military veterans are currently 2.6 percent more likely to be unemployed than civilians. As discussed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff before Congress last week, if budget cuts move forward as planned, more than 57,000 active duty personnel will be added to the ranks of the jobless. Despite recent action by the Obama administration to catalyze hiring of veterans, there is evidence that the private sector is less interested than ever in hiring people with military experience. And that favorite parachute of separated military members, civilian government service, is too tattered to provide any guarantee of safety. Even that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the twenty-year retirement payout, has been drawn precariously close to the chopping block.
So it is with great shock that I observe the proliferation of so much anti-OWS media among military members and veterans, and the especially vitriolic tone expressed in their discourse. I have listened to many friends and acquaintances deride the protestors as college punks, effete snobs, and even "commie liberals" who are simply whining when they should be getting to work and actually doing something with their lives -- like military members. Some have even gone so far to point out that those protestors dissatisfied with their "safe cubicle jobs" should join the overstretched and undermanned military; a puzzling recommendation in light of the aforementioned looming personnel cuts. When I have mentioned the involvement of veterans in the OWS movement to these acquaintances, they have responded by devaluing the service of these veterans (as has been attempted even on this blog, regarding Scott Olsen) and claiming that the groups to which they belong and political causes they advocate are radical, unworthy, or otherwise invalid. This inconsistency in recognizing common ground with fellow veterans, the apparent disregard for just how little security exists in military service, and the extreme degree of self-righteousness demonstrated by military members in the conduct of this dialogue has led me to conclude that there exists a definitive financial metric in the often discussed gap between military and civilian society.
To put it succinctly, Howard Metzenbaum was right when he questioned John Glenn's work history.
Metzenbaum ran against Glenn in the 1974 campaign for one of Ohio's Senate seats. During one of their debates, Glenn issued his now famous "Gold Star Mother" speech, in which he challenged Metzenbaum to tell injured service members, the families of dead astronauts and mothers of fallen troops that military members had never "held a real job." However, the voting public missed a cleverly subtle misquote by Glenn amidst his soaring oratory filled with the language of freedom and patriotism. What Metzenbaum actually said was that Glenn had never "made a payroll." He believed that, for all Glenn's courage and dignified service, he was not in touch with the plight of the average working class American citizen. That Metzenbaum lost the election largely on the basis of this debate is especially ironic in the context of his long record of fighting for workers' rights.
To be sure, the military member endures great personal risk and hardship. There is no disputing that too many are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, and the sacrifices of countless others are priceless. But the hard truth of the matter is that our entire country faces extraordinary economic hardship, and service members and veterans must be included in the discussion of dollars and sense. To that end, a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office finds that military members are paid considerably well -- and in some cases better -- compared to their civilian counterparts. Even the authors of the paper admit that it is hard to compare the value of military members' service against civilians, though, due to separation from family, harsh working conditions, and health consequences. Service in time of war is the flag around which derisive military members rally. They respond to the OWS movement's "I am the 99 percent" motto by citing that only one percent of the American population "makes the sacrifice to defend freedom." Tired recitations of Orwell and Father Dennis O'Brien seem to follow as surely and rhythmically as Jill came tumbling after. But if the combat tour is the hill this argument stands on, it breaks its crown before it even starts. The club of hallowed warriors whose financial security should remain indemnified is much more exclusive than 1 percent. Since the Korean War, fewer than 35 percent of all active duty service members have ever been deployed outside the United States. Less than half of all uniformed service members deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq between 2001 and 2004.
This is to say nothing of how military employment compares to circumstances in the civilian market, and this is where Metzenbaum's observations become more relevant. While the combat troop must contend with enemy fire and IEDs, they have never had to worry about health insurance. Only recently were they given a scare as to whether their next paycheck would hit on time. The emotionally overwrought news and social media campaign about the dire straits our troops would be left in if the "government failed them, even as they fight for us" ought to be illuminating, but the military community seems to have failed to hold the mirror up to face facts. They have lost perspective of their place in the world amidst the constant drumbeat of patriotism, long march of military discounts and society's constant refrain to "support our troops." On the financial level, the truth is that they live on no different terms than the rest of Americans. In the civilian world, they stand a higher chance to live on much worse terms.
Military members are quick to grouse these days that support for the wars has dried up since the national dialogue has turned to Wall Street. It's the "we're already being forgotten" tune. But in actuality it's the military that's forgetting. For nearly a decade, the armed forces have enjoyed the support of American solidarity on a near-unprecedented level. There can be no doubt that many of the people attending 'Occupy' movements around the country at one time or another found a way to express their support of service members. It is certain that, not so long ago, the veterans in the crowd stood next to those who remain in uniform. Whether military members support the movement or its beliefs is a matter of personal choice. But the viciousness demonstrated in the commentary of many military members is contradictory to the obligations of basic human compassion. The front lines of combat are difficult and dangerous. Honor and respect is owed to those who serve there. But there is also honor in every other kind of honest labor. It is unconscionable for one to demand special tribute for service to country by fighting on the front line, and then deny a person's right to fight against indignity while working on the checkout line. Military members have had to make difficult choices and regrettable sacrifices. But the majority of them have never had to make a payroll. They should not take for granted the plight of those that do.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.