By Capt. Nick Nethery
Best Defense guest columnist
I'm wondering if the massive increase in sexual assaults over the last few years is similar to the massive increase in suicides in the same period. And I'm wondering if the response to this problem might be similarly ineffective.
Suicides go up for a number of reasons, but rather than address those reasons, we stick a band-aid on a sucking chest wound by reducing it to a powerpoint slideshow and a video introduced by a sergeant major or general. In light of hard data showing increased suicides at the exact same time as requirements on commanders to administer these prevention classes have surged, is it possible that the classes are exacerbating the problem?
I don't mean to imply that the classes themselves cause suicides, but are leaders falling into the trap of thinking that the problem is solved because the brief has been given? That if you force your soldiers to sit through the brief, then you've "done your part" and no further action is required?
Might it be the same with sexual harassment and assault? Are leaders "checking the block" by administering these classes, choosing to believe their command is safe afterward, rather than addressing the underlying issues behind a rise in harassment and assault? I am no psychologist or sex abuse counselor, but I am a leader who tried to care about my soldiers when I had the fortune to lead them. During my time in command, I was skeptical of the Army's solution to this problem. I took a more dynamic approach. I knew all my soldiers, their families, their birthdays, their kids' names, what their goals and aspirations were, what kind of music and beer and cars they liked. I had male and female soldiers, of all ages and backgrounds. Not to be too sappy, but we were family. And you know what? We never had any of these problems.
Again, I just see my little lane. I'm no general. But I realized the limitations of the Army's answer to suicide prevention and sexual assault, and took a more active approach, one where I knew my soldiers down to the tiniest detail. I trusted them -- and showed them I did -- and they trusted me. I don't flatter myself that all my soldiers liked me. I didn't have perfect commands, and we had some other minor discipline issues, but in four years leading soldiers I never had a single incident of suicide, suicidal ideation, or sexual harassment/assault. It worked for me. My own bosses saw that my method worked, and were supportive as long as I was meeting the Army's required training guidelines.
Capt. Nick Nethery commanded the 737th and 722d EOD Companies, both at Ft. Bragg, and took 722d to Iraq from May 2011 to June 2012. This article represents his own views and are not necessarily those of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.
By Capt. Amir Abu-Akeel, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Many company grade officers approach the issue of the military through a narrowly focused, emotionally tinged lens: "It's too big for me to fix, so why should I stay," or "my civilian friends don't put up with this, why should I, and more importantly, my wife." In most cases their observations are correct. The military is indeed too big to fix singlehandedly, and it asks a lot more of people than civilian jobs, but this view lacks nuance and context.
Junior officers need to understand that they aren't going to singlehandedly right American foreign policy. Even senior officers have little individual sway over issues. It's not because the system is broken. Nowadays, most policy decisions are made on a consensus basis. Contrary to what people think, the team-first mantra of the military encourages agreement between ranks even in the presence of a clear chain of command. Leaders don't make decisions in a vacuum; they listen to the arguments made by their subordinates and peers. Commanders render judgment only after their staffs have beaten the courses of action to death. At the company level, if my first sergeant and I needed to hash something out, we closed the door and talked to each other (often yelled), until someone's opinion made more sense. Tom's book Fiasco makes the same case: President Bush didn't declare war on Iraq; the American security establishment did. JOs have not been in long enough to see this team dynamic play out frequently, and therefore tend to individualize their problems. If you try to take on the big green machine alone, it will beat you down every time.
JOs also need to stop fixating on how they alone will finish the Syrian war, or end government corruption, and instead focus on the responsibilities that really matter: the care of their soldiers. It can be as simple as giving subordinates time off on a Friday afternoon to be with loved ones, or it can be as difficult as serving as a Casualty Assistance Officer. My personal favorite has always been to fend off a random tasker from higher (usually some CSM or division staff officer with a "bright" idea). Strategy is important, and a JO will go far to comprehend the bigger picture, but the soldiers in their immediate care are the priority, and that alone will consume the majority of their time. Aesop's fable about the astronomer rings true here: "Hark ye, old fellow, why, in striving to pry into what is in heaven, do you not manage to see what is on earth?" Child's tale, but hey, it's still poignant, and relevant.
As for considering the career goals of a spouse, I have heard more gripes than solutions. HRC has always been a problem. The organization has close to a hundred-thousand officers to manage. Throw in the excessive branch parochialism and the congressional regulations that restrict officer management, and it's surprising the command hasn't suffered a meltdown. Adding the requirement to manage the careers of spouses would probably force the AG Corps to jump off a cliff en masse. That's not to say we can't improve the lot of spouses. Creating comprehensive geo-bachelor BAH schemes and offsetting professional certification costs is a good start, but the pie-in-the-sky ideas people have been bandying about are unworkable, especially in the face of a giant RIF.
I don't write this to belittle anyone's issues with the armed forces or the security establishment at large, because there are many, and they are serious. But at the end of the day, the military, for all its awesome might, is an organization run by people, and therefore subject to all their human strengths and weaknesses. Show some patience and enjoy the simple pleasures that come from caring for your Joes. You won't get that direct satisfaction in many other places.
Captain Amir Abu-Akeel is currently an operations officer with the 52d Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) in Fort Campbell, KY. CPT Abu-Akeel previously commanded the 788th OD CO (EOD) and the 202d OD CO (EOD). His bachelorhood has been ensured by two combat deployments and four PCS moves in the past six years. The views here are his own and don't represent any government agency, yet.
By Capt. Michael Carvelli, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
It is true that the U.S. Army does not follow its own doctrine, and it continues to do so even at the misfortune of soldiers. The stark lack of critical tasks degrades even the best of units as they plow through their deployments. It is not complacency, as most senior officers and NCOs consistently suggest to their commanders and first sergeants. It is laziness and the belief that "we are good." Wake up: You are not as good as you think!
This is my third deployment to Afghanistan, this time as a company commander. The lessons about being prepared have been taught to me in school and during my time as a platoon leader. They are hard remembered lessons, several times taught through my own failures or from an almost disastrous experience. However, I am determined to continually remember these experiences and ensure those under my command make every attempt to know them as well.
At this current point in time, the Army has digressed into creating a CONOP -- a unique misinterpretation of the Concept of the Operation paragraph contained within the Operation Order (OPORD). At all levels, from division down to platoon, leaders believe that a Microsoft PowerPoint slideshow containing multiple images, sketches, and a verbose explanation sufficiently replaces an OPORD. In fact, it replaces the entire planning process itself at the cost of detailed planning, war gaming, and rehearsing.
I make this request: Please go back to the basics. Set an operational endstate with respect to enemy, friendly, terrain, and civilian considerations; conduct pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections; and conduct rehearsals.
Ask these questions: Why are we here? Do we have what is needed to conduct the mission? Have we thought through the important aspects of the mission to ensure we are achieving the endstate and have the correct tools and equipment to reach it?
We, as a collective organization, have broken all tenets that are taught in our leadership schools, professional military education courses, and written in our own doctrine. First, span of control is three to five. My current battalion operates with nine companies. That is only to conduct route clearance. We are not even a real maneuver unit. Secondly, the creation of the Company Intel Support Team has replaced the entire function of the battalion intelligence section (S2). We create our own named areas of interest, layer on the various types of intelligence (human, signal, imagery, electronic, etc.) and attempt to target the enemy without a defined situational template (SITEMP). Lastly, brigade commanders have withheld the approval authority for platoon missions. There is even general officer approval for company and battalion missions. So much for ingenuity, delegation of authority, and confidence in lower level commanders.
The lack of pre-combat checks (PCCs), pre-combat inspections (PCIs), and rehearsals in forward deployed units is astounding. PCCs and PCIs are the first step in assuring that your subordinates are prepared for their mission. Are their sensitive items tied down? Extra batteries present? Optics and night vision operational? Weapons clean? Schools preach these, but I watch the leaders around me fail to apply these lessons.
Rehearsals are sessions in which a unit practices expected actions to confirm the plan, reveal unidentified coordination measures, synchronize the overall plan at key points in time and space, and update all aspects of the plan. Most units show up 20 minutes before their departure time, make sure everyone is present, tell them what they are doing today, and leave the base.
My first sergeant and I have "thumped" each of our platoons for their lack of attention to detail concerning PCCs and PCIs. They have all had to construct a Platoon Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for vehicle load plans and rehearse the reloading of ammunition to the gunner, conduct rollover and fire drills, and practice every SOP they have developed. Almost every time, each platoon has changed or enhanced their SOPs solely through their rehearsals on the base. We are actually achieving progress! Although it is quite painful and creates more gray hairs than I wish to admit.
I express this frustration in the hope that someone reads it and realizes that they, too, are not as good as they think. Above all else, this sobering idea has captured the essence of my company's issues and has put us on a path to success.
CPT Michael Carvelli is an engineer officer currently deployed in Afghanistan. He has deployed in conventional and special operations units. This article represents his own personal views and not those of the Engineer Regiment, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
Now the manager of the sexual harassment and assault program at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, has been busted for allegedly violating a protective order banning him from contact with his ex-wife, and for stalking her.
This makes me think even more that the theme of our current thread of discussion is correct: that the generals really haven't cared enough to put good people in these sexual harassment jobs.
Which means that President Obama is incorrect when he says that "there's no silver bullet to solving this problem." I bet he was just repeating what his generals told him. And that indicates that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Handler Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cooper of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Group takes a break with his dog dog, Astra, after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) patrol at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan on April 29, 2013. Over the past four months, the MWD team has swept more than 15,000 vehicles, mitigating all VBIED threats to the installation.
In other news, props to Handler Sgt. Phillip Mendoza and MWD Benga for taking first place in 2013 USAF Academy Iron Dog Competition in Colorado Springs last week.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis
A SFC who was working in sex abuse education was running a prostitution ring on Fort Hood? Someone needs to stop making this stuff up. Oh, that's right, you can't make up stuff like this.
I am surprised that SecDef Hagel isn't slugging four stars as they walk in his office, and then giving them noogies and banging their heads into the wall. This of course comes on top of the allegedly butt-grabbing AF LTC who was his service's sexual assault czar. Can you imagine the damage a guy like that could allegedly do during a year-long tour at Bagram? ("ILB because someone has enough time during their deployment to run this website.") And probably has.
Part of the problem: For years, the services have been dumping non-performers into EO and sexual harassment billets. In other words, they weren't taking this stuff that seriously. Now they are reaping what they have sowed.
Or, as Gen. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told reporters yesterday, "We're losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem. That's a crisis."
By Jason Fritz
Best Defense guest respondent
When my copy of the January-March 2013 issue of The CAVALRY & ARMOR Journal (the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association version of ARMOR Magazine) arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I was also a bit puzzled by the article titled "How to Eat Steak with a Knife and Fork!" Not only because the title motif "How to Eat X with Y" has become quite tired, but because I expected it to be the beginning of an onslaught of "Armor Rulz!" articles in future issues. Of course, reading the article you can see that it is not a paean to maneuver warfare but rather is only a plug for three schools offered by the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, written by the commander of those schools.
To me the biggest issue was not that ARMOR ran an article about "core competencies," but rather that the publishers used valuable space in a branch journal to advertise schools that officers and NCOs should be going to anyway. I do not share Tom's lament on the tactical focus of ARMOR as it is a journal for armor units, which are by definition brigades and below and therefore tactical formations. But his post brings up a prevalent problem: the demise of the branch journals.
Anyone who subscribes to their branch journal has probably noticed this decline. Articles are becoming repetitive. Issues are becoming thinner. I certainly can't think of a single article in the past two years in ARMOR from which I felt I learned something. In the case of ARMOR, which was first published in 1888, this demise is ill-timed. For the first time in over a generation our armor force has extensive and varied combat experience and we should not lose these lessons. And this is true for every branch. In an introduction to the Association version of the issue that Tom linked to earlier in the week, MG (R) Terry Tucker, former chief of Armor and current president of the U.S. Cavalry & Armor Association, wrote:
I would like to take a moment to thank all who contribute to this Magazine and participate in the important discussion of our Mounted Force. However, as important as it is for our contributors to submit articles based on history, "tactics, techniques and procedures," or personal experience, our mission challenges us to exchange critical thought among our members. I believe we too often fall short in this area in our Cavalry and Armor Journal and in ARMOR Magazine. We want discussion, differing opinions, and even heated debate when appropriate.
Branch journals may not be Foreign Affairs, Parameters, or even PRISM, but they are and have been the primary outlet for professionals at the tactical level to disseminate, discuss, and debate their tradecraft. Theirs being such a focused audience, you won't find academics rushing to get published. That leaves it to those of us who have been there and done it to keep these forums alive; you don't know who needs to know what you know or what doors writing will open for you. I wrote one article for ARMOR in 2008 while I was still in the Army. In addition to earning a free year's subscription to the magazine, this article played a significant role in my securing my first job out of the Army. The article, titled "Measuring Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare," has been the publication prospective employers have invariably asked about first because they recognize ARMOR and because they are interested in the topic. Recognizing this success, I shouldn't have stopped at one article -- something I intend to fix this year.
If you are a commander in the force, find a way to incentivize your officers and NCOs to write for their journal -- prospective writers need to know that writing is valued in their organization. Whether you are a commander or not, submit articles to your branch's journal (make sure you abide by their submission criteria). Get your good ideas and your name out there and put it in print. Branch journals provide an opportunity for you to influence your community, work on your writing skills, and maybe help someone who needs the information or idea you're holding on to.
Colin Kahl's new report on containing a nuclear Iran (done with a couple of his homies) is long, but worth it. I was asked to suggest cuts to a draft and honestly couldn't find any. It is the best thing I have read about Iran policy in a long time.
The problem is that much what he is recommending for containment is expensive stuff like forward-deployed missile defenses and conventional forces, and defense budgets are going in the other direction. He also wants us to get more involved in Syria and in attacking Iranian networks of "covert operatives, surrogates and proxies" across the region.
Military Review had a pretty good understanding of mission command back in 1986, when it ran an article by Daniel J. Hughes titled "Abuses of German Military History." (The article itself starts on p. 66 of the linked issue.)
To understand how the German military worked, Hughes writes, it is crucial to understand that "by current standards, no ‘system' actually existed. Improvisation was the key to the Prussian-German approach which regarded the conduct of war as an art -- a free, creative activity with scientific foundations."
Something else I didn't know: Use of the word auftragstaktik was "exceedingly rare" in the Germany army of World War II and before.
By Bing West
Best Defense guest commenter
Re Benghazi and the military (a matter of much lesser import than the deceptive talking points): On ABC on 12 May, George Will and retired General Cartwright excused the military by saying 10 hours was not enough time to react. The general said it takes up to "a day or two" to arm an F-16, file flight plans, arrange for refueling, etc.
Therefore the solution is to pre-stage the right kinds of forces, which requires a much larger military and a knowledge beforehand about the location and severity of the threat. By this reasoning, we do not have general purpose forces; we have special purpose forces.
Benghazi thus raises the question: Do we need more forces staged around the world or do we need senior officers who can respond to emergencies outside their normal checklists?
Last week's congressional testimony included two new revelations. First, four Special Forces soldiers en route to Benghazi to help our wounded were ordered not to go by a Special Operations officer in Stuttgart. Not only did that manifest being afraid to take a risk for your beleaguered comrades, it also raised the question of authority in the chain of command during battle. What is the authority that permits an officer thousands of miles away to override the commander on the ground?
Second, Mr. Hicks testified that Secretary Clinton approved, at about 8 p.m. Washington time, the evacuation of the embassy in Tripoli, due to terrorist threats. That was a dramatic, escalatory decision. It is unknown whether the president or the secretary of defense was notified.
In the event, the U.S. military took no new, immediate action, even though the embassy was being evacuated in addition to the chaos at Benghazi. The military has justified itself by saying the battle was over by the next morning. But no human being could predict the night before when the battle would end. That the embassy in Tripoli was not overrun was a matter of fate/luck/enemy decisions that had nothing to do with the prescience or actions of the Pentagon staff. The tardiness of U.S. forces was a failure to improvise, which in turn is a basic test of leadership in battle.
One question illustrates the inertia: Had it been President Obama who was missing in Benghazi, would the military have taken only the same actions and later offered the same rationale; to wit, "we knew the battle would be over in 10 hours, (inside our OODA loop)"?
The military at the highest level must examine its ability to improvise, and not rely on the enemy to give us "a day or two" to prepare.
I was having lunch with a smart Navy captain recently and we began talking about all the people who have served 20 or more years, left as Army or Marine lieutenant colonels and Navy captains and then gone on, in "retirement," to have a much greater impact on the shape or uses of the U.S. military than they did while in uniform. In the course of 30 seconds, these names were mentioned:
Col. Bob Work (my other new boss, by the way)
These are just the ones that came immediately to mind. I am sure there are many more. (Your nominations welcome.) Their commonality is three-fold, I think: First, they were independent thinkers. Second, they had the best interests of their services in mind, even at the expense of further promotion. (That is, they did their duty.) Third, as the Navy captain said, "they knew when to get off the merry-go-round." After all, everyone who lives gets told to leave the military eventually. Why not go when you still have ideas and the energy to develop them?
So, as a friend points out, the lesson seems to be that if you want to be a CEO, leave the military as a lieutenant or captain. But if you want to affect the shape and strategy of the U.S. military, leave as a smart, hard-working, well-read, well-educated 0-6.
I always read the Pentagon's flag officer announcements, mainly to see if someone I know has gotten an interesting job. (It is nice to see people I knew as majors are now making three and four stars. Unfortunately, it also reminds me that people who joined the military when I started covering the Pentagon are retiring.)
In this case, I don't know Rear Adm. Metts, but I sure found the move of this information warfare specialist interesting. Maybe the U.S. government is going to respond more actively to the stream of Chinese intrusions into American government and business computers:
Rear Adm. (lower half) Willie L. Metts will be assigned as director for intelligence, J2, U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. Metts is currently serving as deputy chief, tailored access operations, S32, National Security Agency, Fort Mead, Md.
And yes, that is the way the press release spelled Fort Meade.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler's story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven't seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the "urgent need" for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board -- a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done's ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the "war-dog handler" into modern day.
It's a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has -- men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that "some things never change."
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed "would use the exact same phrases" when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. "I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond."
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don't give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
By Capt. John Byron, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Best Defense department of officers and gentlemen
It's a tough competition, the contest for the military's most egregious example of conduct unbecoming. All fiction entries are likely to be rejected: You just can't make up tales as lurid and stupid as we've seen in real life.
My list of the leading entries (some not widely known) is included below, true tales that are the gold standard for abuse of privilege and sexual misconduct by military men in leadership (and missionary?) positions.
I'm sure many other like these could come to mind and that the future holds still more titillation and stupidity. But we now have before us what seems to me the winner for the ages: The worst case of conduct unbecoming an officer, of dishonorable behavior, of simple wrong behavior by an officer in authority that ever we're likely to find. And the case illustrates not only how far from honor an officer can move himself, but also how incredibly tone deaf is the military system, unable to find the correct answer in situations where an officer judged useful for professional skills is given a bye on a matter directly challenging his honesty and trustworthiness in a position of authority in our nation's military.
Here's the story. A civilian academic with a Ph.D. in physical oceanography and a distinguished career falls in love with a senior Navy officer holding command of a warship. Perhaps some naiveté involved, but clearly an affair of the heart on the woman's side. It's permanent. They get engaged. They will be married. He says his next duty station will be Guam and so at his insistence she leaves the mainland and moves there for a life together, taking an administrative post at the University of Guam.
Then, having turned her life upside down for this man, she finds out that her hero has rejected her and hung her out to dry. Her soulmate is not coming to Guam. He's dumping her. Too, it turns out: He's also got elsewhere a second girlfriend he's been deeply entangled with (and engaged to), another female he's deceived and he had just discarded her in the same disgraceful way. In short, he is an equal-opportunity cad, dishonorable in his treatment of both women and at the same time.
The first woman is devastated (the second, too, but this is not her story). Right away she goes to the officer's chain of command and to the DOD inspector general asking if this is approved conduct...and they gaff her off. She then hires an attorney and they contact both the head of this coward's warfare community and the chief of naval operations. And they gaff her off too.
And then she does something of incredible courage: She documents the tale in a lengthy letter published in the Spring 2013 issue of Naval War College Review on page 133. She and the editors take pains to avoid disclosing the miscreant's name or even his warfare community, but the use of "boat" to describe his command, the length of his command tour, and absence of any senior jobs on Guam for aviators or surface warfare officers pretty much lets the cat out of the sack: He serves in the submarine force (I have other confirmation also).
Is she credible? I've corresponded with her and find she is, a tough, smart professional paying a personal price for falling in love and trusting an officer to be a gentleman. The editors at the Review did their due diligence as well and they put their journal's reputation behind this person's truthfulness.
The wronged woman claims she's not seeking revenge and the facts bear this out. Instead, citing Captain Mark Light's great study of the topic, she wonders if in matters of sexual conduct, the Navy even cares about honor and honesty and proper ethical behavior, and if so, why does the system have an officer of such low character still on active duty and moving forward in his career.
I have the same questions, a challenge to the CNO and the secretary of the Navy to answer why such a moral midget remains a commissioned officer in good standing, and to the leaders of the submarine force on why it continues to retain and advance officers like this dirtbag.
Fairness requires opportunity for the harming party to have his say, to explain why he thinks it OK for a Navy officer to lie and cheat and devastate two innocent women...and still wear a cover with a gold chinstrap. It's open-mike time, buddy: Post here why you did what you did and why you're still a wonderful guy.
A final note. Fellows, let's not screw this up with in-blog towel-snapping that makes a joke of a sad situation. We habitués of this blog are a great group, funny, clever, and deeply interested in our nation's defense. But at times we do get a bit frisky in our comments. In this case I ask you to respect the courage and honesty of our heroine and leave off attacking her or commenting unfavorably on her conduct. Her personal and professional lives have suffered great harm at the hands of a despicable officer -- she deserves respect and praise for the classy way she found the high road to seek redress. Frankly, I find her most admirable.
And I am appalled at her treatment by a fellow submariner.
This is a rare opportunity to look hard at how the military services deal with matters of honor. It stands on its own and deserves direct answer from the system. In the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 133 proscribes conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If this ain't that, the law is meaningless.
Some goodies from the past:
- The captain of a major surface ship caught in his in-port cabin doing the deed with a junior enlisted female while underway.
- The overseas rear admiral dismissed from service for his weird and repeated stalking of an enlisted dental tech he became fixated on after she'd cleaned his teeth.
- The second admiral fired from another high visibility overseas post for cavorting with a junior officer under him (tee hee).
- The chief petty officer relieved of his duties after he drunkenly tried to grope a civilian stranger in the seat next to him all the way across the Pacific on a commercial flight.
- The flag-bound submariner of fantastic promise who got off track after telling his immediate superior that he'd ended his affair with the female lieutenant on their staff -- and then got caught by that same senior canoodling with the lieutenant on the golf course.
- The two captains stationed in the Med who got sacked because of Navy's puritanical standards finding disfavor with them for openly swapping wives.
- The admiral in charge of Navy recruiting fired when he was found boffing the wife of one of his recruiter-of-the-year finalists in the hotel parking garage as the ceremony was being held.
- The flag-bound O-6 engineering-duty officer with a Ph.D. arrested as the Burke Lake Flasher.
Moving to more recent times,
- The submarine skipper who lasted only seven days in command, fired for having a pregnant 23-year old mistress who he misled with fantastic tales of daring-do on secret assignment and then faking his own death.
- The 33 Air Force drill instructors undergoing courts martial for using their female recruits as sexual pawns.
- The Air Force general in trouble for mindlessly dismissing all charges against an officer convicted in the military justice system of raw sexual harassment of a junior.
- The other Air Force general who downgraded a likewise valid sexual misconduct conviction after magically determining on no apparent basis that the abused was less credible than the accused and to hell with the due process that said otherwise.
- Yet another submarine skipper recently relieved for inappropriate intimate relations with a junior.
- May 2013: the Air Force lieutenant colonel in charge of that service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit...until his arrest for drunkenly groping a women -- total stranger -- in a parking lot (see: you can't make this up).
- And this just in: The DOD study estimating that last year 26,000 service personnel were victims of "unwanted sexual contact" from fellow servicemembers, a 35 percent increase from the year before and a situation egregious enough to infuriate the Commander In Chief.
Winston Churchill, writing in My Early Life, mentions how wealth affected one's choice of branches in the British Army:
I qualified for a cavalry cadetship at Sandhurst. The competition for the infantry was keener, as life in the cavalry was so much more expensive. Those who were at the bottom of the list accordingly were offered the easier entry into the cavalry.
Tom again: So, by making the cavalry expensive, the wealthy aristocracy was able to reserve largely for itself job openings in part of the military -- perhaps a place to store second sons without sufficient brains for other jobs? I asked Douglas Allen, an economic historian who has studied the political economy of the British military. He wrote back, "No doubt though, it took a long time for the aristocrats to be replaced by attrition, and they probably did use a price mechanism to keep the vulgar middle class out of their preferred positions."
I was on riding the Washington, DC Metro finishing the May issue of the Marine Corps Gazette when I realized I had not read more than a paragraph or two into any of the articles. Part of the problem was that the topics of the issue were mainly aviation and cyberwar, which I know are important, but are not special interests of mine. But I also got the feeling that they simply took every boring article they had lying around and stuffed them all into one issue.
Even so, the Gazette is better off than the Army's Parameters, which doesn't seem to have put out an issue since "Autumn 2012." Maybe it's going to publish only on an annual basis. Nice work if you can get it.
My CNAS colleague Phil Carter, reacting to yesterday's item about how the experience of Iraq is affecting the Obama administration's consideration of intervening in Syria, sent me this thoughtful note:
Iraq has replaced Vietnam as the lens through which we see foreign policy decisions. However, I don't like the term "Iraq syndrome" -- in large part because it suggests there's something wrong, and that this is a condition to be ameliorated or recovered from. Instead, I prefer to think of our national sense of the Iraq war as "Iraq experience" or "Iraq wisdom." We gathered this experience and wisdom the hard way, acquiring it at a cost of trillions of dollars, and tens of thousands of killed or wounded, to say nothing of the cost to the Iraqis. We ought not casually discard this wisdom and experience, or set it aside so that we can once again go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, to use John Quincy Adams' memorable phrase.
Tom again: I think he is right, but I think there also is a generational aspect to this. I think younger people -- and to me, that means anyone under 40 -- are more affected by this than are older people.
One of the great things about CNAS is that we actually have conversations like this. In my experience, not all think tanks do. You can find out more by coming to the annual hoedown on June 12. It is, as we have noted, the Woodstock of wonkery. But with better refreshments.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
This isn't the Air Force's week. First, its sexual assault prevention czar earns a negative congressional unit citation for alleged sexual battery. Now the AP's Robert Burns reports that the service sidelined 17 nuclear launch officers essentially for sucking at their jobs.
Which raises the question in my mind: Which is the worse job, being a missile officer these days, or being a sexual harassment officer? And can you imagine being the sexual assault officer in a missile unit in North Dakota?
More seriously, the estimable Burns quotes Bruce Blair, a nuclear weapons expert, as warning that, "The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War's end over 20 years ago....Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force's culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles."
Can you imagine a nuclear attack being launched simply because a unit was so incompetent that someone hit the wrong buttons and codes? No? Well, how about a bomber crew flying across the United States without being aware it was carrying nuclear weapons? (That happened in 2007.)
Quote of the day: Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor, tells Dexter Filkins in this week's edition of the New Yorker that in considering intervening in Syria, "Here's what we wrestle with: there are huge costs and unintended consequences that go with a military intervention that could last for many years."
Another White House official tells Filkins, "The country is exhausted." I don't think that second comment is quite accurate. It is more that the country is tired of being involved on the ground in the Middle East and deeply skeptical of the efficacy of another try.
Filkins also quotes an academic expert who predicts that eventually all of Syria's Alawites will be pushed into Lebanon, with the eventual refugee flow doubling that nationette's population.
The vibe of the article is that the Obama administration increasingly is leaning toward intervention -- from the air, in aid and intelligence, but not with ground troops.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
By Robert Kozloski
Best Defense guest commenter
When talking about reducing defense budgets, metaphors involving body parts abound -- cutting the fat, giving a haircut, cutting into the muscle (even to the bone), and tooth-to-tail ratios to name a few. Here is another -- the appendectomy.
Natural evolution renders the appendix as one of those body parts humans can do without. Yet, the human body clings to it because the current model has been that way for a long time. The Marine Corps faces a similar situation.
After a decade of war and being aware that the size of the Marine Corps would be reduced from surge-level highs, the USMC Force Structure Review Group identified that the operational "sweet spot" for the Corps of the future is somewhere between traditional army units and special operations teams.
Institutionally committing to this sweet spot and focusing on smaller unit operations provide opportunities for the Marine Corps to deal with the fiscal pressure facing the entire DOD.
Some options to consider:
Eliminate Duplicative Headquarters: If divisions and wings are no longer the right size units, can they be eliminated and battalions and squadrons aligned directly to MEFs and MEBs? Could the entire 0-6 level of command in the operating forces be eliminated?
Think Naval: Consolidate and integrate with the Navy. For example, the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command was created in response to 9/11 and maintains capabilities similar to those in a MEF. Can the two naval forces be better aligned? Should a new Naval Expeditionary Combat Element become the fifth element of the MAGTF, thus creating a true Naval Expeditionary Force? Could the Marines become the naval executive agent for Irregular Warfare for the naval services, while the Navy reciprocates for cyberspace?
SOF Integration: Instead of duplicating existing SOF capabilities, SOCOM should assign missions to the MEU(SOC) while NAVSPECWARCOM could integrate all naval special warfare capabilities. To increase the Marines' SOF presence in the future, ANGLICO teams should replace Air Force personnel on the ground and free the USAF to commit resources to SOF aviation requirements.
Use the Total Force: By requiring "Civilian Marines" to deploy to the field for administrative work, entire military career fields could be eliminated. Non-sweet spot units designed primarily to fight major wars should be moved to the reserves. The Marine Corps should also close the gap between its enlisted and officers. Some of the future high-end missions being considered for the Marines require a more mature and specialized enlisted force.
Marine Aviation: The schism between Navy aviators and ground units isn't what it used to be. Could Navy tactical fixed-wing squadrons be placed in support of Marine units to get the Marine Corps out of the fixed-wing aviation business?
Initial Accessions: Close one of the two recruit training depots. If a Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq type surge is needed, build temporary facilities at 29 Palms, CA or Quantico, VA to augment the throughput.
Defenders of the status quo will resist any significant change to the organizational structure within the Marine Corps. This defense will likely involve using a flawed planning system, rich service history, and unacceptable risk to national security as elements of the defense. However, removing components that are no longer necessary because of the evolution to smaller unit operations may help preserve capacity and resolve long standing problems. Obviously, reducing force structure from the Marine Corps is a measure of last resort and should only be considered after efforts to resolve the excessive overhead problem within DOD have been exhausted.
Robert Kozloski is a program analyst for the Department of the Navy and served in the Marine Corps from 1997 to 2007. He is the author of "Marching Toward the Sweet Spot: Options for the Marine Corps in a Time of Austerity" in the new ish of the Naval War College Review. The views expressed are his alone.
"The Chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch of the U.S. Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery in Arlington over the weekend."
As several e-mailers noted yesterday, you can't make this stuff up.
U.S. Air Force/Arlington County Police
Well, there had been some warning signs: Just over a decade ago he was charged with showing his homemade porn to cadets, but got off for lack of evidence, even though his voice could be heard on the tape saying "get her while she's drunk." The camera was hidden inside a "stuffed bear," according to the Edmonton Sun.
Meanwhile, in the last refuge of scoundrels department, an Ohio woman named Cari Johnson, who raised charity money via the "First Annual Patriotic Freedom Ride" last year, was found to have used some of the donated money at liquor stores. She'll pay a $20,000 fine.
(HT to MY)
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
While watching the April 21st 60 Minutes segment on Special Ops dogs, I wasn't at all surprised to see that they ran the above photo of a U.S. Army handler with the 10th Special Forces Group and his MWD jumping off the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter into the Gulf of Mexico on March 1, 2011.
It's now been two years since we ran that photo as the opener to my FP photo essay "War Dog," after which the piece and the image went viral. At the time, people incorrectly assumed that I had taken the photo. I hadn't, of course. But the man who did was Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez, a career military photographer with the Air Force. I spoke with Martinez this week to find out what was going on behind the lens that day and to get the story of what's likely the most widely recognizable -- and most often used -- war-dog image of modern day.
As a combat photographer with flying status, Martinez, originally from a small town in New Mexico, has had a wild range of assignments -- from covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to riding along on search and rescue missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was during the Katrina mission that Martinez shot a photo of a little boy being hoisted in the arms of Tech. Sgt. Lem Torres up into a helicopter from the roof of his flooded home. For Martinez, the experience was life altering. It was, he said, the first photo he took that really mattered.
He had no idea that some six years later, while cramped in the back of a CH-47 Chinook watching Special Ops teams run through routine water-training exercises, he would be taking what would become his most famous photo. They loaded the helicopter again and again, picking up SOC teams and dropping them the roughly seven feet from the helicopter into the water. Even if it was something of a rote mission, the guys, Martinez remembers, were having fun. "Everybody was all excited, all hyped. It was the Gulf of Mexico...it was beautiful."
But when Martinez saw on one of their pick-ups that they were loading a dog into the helicopter, he thought, "Holy crap. I have to get ready for it."
The dog team was the last of the teams to take their jump that day. And when it was their turn to go, the other men, already in the water, were cheering them on -- men who are also captured in this image. As many times as I've looked at this photo, it was something I'd never noticed before. But Martinez pointed them out to me, directing my eyes over the phone. If you look at the dog's muzzle, you can see them -- small and faint in a thin, vertical line, like gray shadows in the pink water. You can even see that the man who appears closest in the frame has his arm raised in triumphant encouragement.
In the end, Martinez says, the moment was fleeting. The dog team jumped out of sight and the helicopter returned to base.
Perhaps the most incredible thing that Martinez revealed during our conversation was the answer to a question I've had since the very first time I saw this photo, and one I've heard debated ever since. Did this dog jump willingly or did he have a little...help?
According to Martinez, the dog "did hop out" on his own steam.
From his vantage point in the Chinook, Martinez could see that the handler had his hand on the dog's harness, coaxing the dog, who hesitated, even if only slightly, at the edge of the ramp. "Ultimately," Martinez said, "it was the dog's effort."
When handler and dog jumped down into the water, they jumped together.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez, U.S. Air Force. (Released)
The other day FP carried a standard carriers-are-great piece by a trio of admirals. A friend of mine, appalled at what he regarded as the ostrich-like views of the high-ranking authors, sent a corrective note to me:
Key questions to be considered would be:
- To what degree will China be able to impede our ability to freely use carriers in the Pacific in the future?
- How willing would U.S. political leadership be to commit carriers in a high-threat environment where China would view a negative outcome for them as a threat to the survival of the Party (recognizing that in that culture every defeat, even small ones, are a threat to the survival of the Party)?
- Would POTUS commit a carrier if there was a 10 percent chance it would be hit?
- How about 20 percent, or 30 percent?
- How many of the vertical launch tubes on the destroyers and cruisers are committed to defending the carrier vs. carrying Tomahawks to carry out power-projection missions?
- When does the Navy come in a la Bay of Pigs and say that it can only operate carriers forward to accomplish the mission if it is allowed to hit targets on the mainland, placing CONUS at risk to reprisal, and how does the president respond?
- When does the POTUS realize that for years we have built platforms that we cannot afford to lose, either in monetary cost or the cost of lives? That is the key question. Rule number three of war is never build a weapon that you cannot afford to lose or have defeated. We seem to proceed on an assumption that no one will ever attack our carriers. I think the Chinese will see themselves as being in a position that they cannot afford NOT to attack our carriers.
- How does this all affect our position vis a vis Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and India? All of those relationships will be at risk if we don't have an alternative.
Final thought: The Navy has already accepted that the fleet is going to shrink to 270 ships, and I am here to tell you that it will go smaller than that, probably 230 before this is all done. This is largely because all of those ships that were built by Reagan are all retiring at the same time and we are not building replacements at the same rate right now. That will be the price of maintaining 10-11 supercarriers at $12-13 billion with an annual shipbuilding budget of $15 billion. The price will decrease overall naval presence, and raise questions as to the U.S. commitment to local security concerns.
By Billy Birdzell
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 2013, Fox News aired an interview with a supposed member of U.S. Special Operations Command who said that members of "C-110," who were training in Croatia on September 11, 2012, could have both arrived at the Benghazi consulate in 4-6 hours and arrived before the second attack on the annex during which Tyronne Woods and Glen Doherty were killed. The mystery man critiques the Obama administration's decision-making, yet offers no information as to how C-110 would have influenced the battle in such a way that the outcome would have been different. Perhaps because it was actually impossible for C-110 to arrive before the attack, and if they did, they would not have been able to do anything that would have prevented our heroes, Woods and Doherty, from being killed.
"C-110" stands for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group. It is a unique company within the 10th SF Group in that it is trained as a Commander's in-Extremis Force (CIF). Each of the five active duty SF Groups has a CIF and they respond to important threats within their geographic area which are below the threshold for, or availability of, elements from the Joint Special Operations Command (like the Delta Force). A CIF has approximately 40 operators.
According to the Pentagon timeline posted by CNN, the enemy attack began at 2142 and all US personnel were out of the consulate by 2330. By 2330, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the foreign service information officer, Sean Smith, were dead. President Obama was briefed at 2300 and SOF were approved to launch from Croatia (C-110) and the United States (Delta Force) at 0239 and 0253 respectively. At 0515, the attack began against the annex. Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire shortly thereafter.
Obama gave the launch order at 0239. The mystery operator said 4-6 hours. That's 0639-0839. Woods and Doherty died at 0515. An Air Force C-17 was evacuating personnel from the Benghazi airport at 0740. Mystery man and Fox News can't add. Strike one.
For argument's sake, assume Obama gave the launch order 10 minutes after he met with General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta at 2300. Four to six hours turns into 0310-0510. Six hours, however, would have been impossible.
If the Commander of European Command coordinated with his counterpart in Africa Command as soon as the National Command Center informed General Dempsey at 2230 and they diverted a C-17 to Croatia in anticipation, it is still highly unlikely the plane would have been on the ground in Croatia before midnight; it takes an hour to fly to Croatia from Germany and a crew would have had to have gotten ready, briefed, examined contingency plans, and fueled the plane. From Zaton Military Airport in Croatia, it is over 900 miles to Benghazi, which would have taken approximately two hours in a C-17 cargo plane. Zaton is on the coast and it more likely the CIF would have flown out of Udbina Airport, but this is a best case scenario.
Assuming the Air Force was willing to land a C-17 at the Benghazi airport with an unknown security situation, once on the ground, the 40-man CIF would have then had to have moved to the annex which was 30 km away. Moving such a far distance would have required vehicles. 40 operators can move in 8 HMMWVs, which can fit into one C-17. However, did they have the vehicles with them? Did they have everything on the training mission that they needed to go into combat? If not, it would have taken more time for someone to get everything ready. Maybe the man of mystery is creative and planned on renting cars from Avis (yes, Avis has a location at the Benghazi Airport) and using stealth to get to the consulate in a move akin to the French using taxis to get to the front in order to stop the Kaiser's hordes back in 1914. Mystery man is really a cook who has never been on a deployment. Strike two.
Even if one of them had Avis First and the cars were waiting on the runway, the timing would have been iffy. Parachuting would have been another option. There is a large, open field close to the U.S. consulate at the southwest intersection of Third Ring Road and Shan Al-Andulus Road that could have accommodated the CIF. However, one is defenseless while parachuting, so it is a good idea to insert a good distance from the action to ensure one is not shot before his boots hit the ground. The Benghazi Zoo is only 3 miles from the consulate and the combination of trees and animal cages would have provided good cover, as well as entertainment, in case someone saw 40 people parachuting into the middle of the city.
Assuming magical planes were waiting for the CIF and they were somehow able to physically get to the annex before 0515, mystery man failed to mention that Doherty and Woods were killed by mortar fire. Forty operators armed with rifles and light-machine guns can neither stop mortar rounds nor determine from where the mortar is being fired. The only thing the CIF would have done had they gotten to the annex before 0515 is created more targets and overcrowded the consulate.
Even if the CIF was on ready 5 (fully armed, sitting in the aircraft with pilots at the controls) in Sigonella (the closest European base to Benghazi) with advanced warning of an attack but unsure of the time, and they launched at 2232 on only-in-Hollywood orders from someone other than the president, they would not have been able to do anything about Stevens and Smith's deaths, nor stopped the mortar rounds. Strike three.
The person in the interview is a clown and I am incredibly disappointed in the news for not using Google.
Billy Birdzell served as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer and special operations team leader from 2001 to 2009. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in security studies at Georgetown University.
Not from what I am hearing ‘round the barnyard. Here's an example, from retired Special Forces Col. David Maxwell, on the record and everything, about Fox's ‘scoop' saying SF could have responded to Benghazi in time:
Whistle blower my a**. If this guy is a real special operator (and I have my doubts) I wonder if he realizes what an embarrassment he is to the community. What he offers is pure speculation and not based on any real facts as I have heard and appears to be coming from his fourth point of contact. He comes across as just another conspiracy theorist who is taking Fox News for a ride.
By Commander H.B. Le, U.S. Navy
Best Defense guest columnist
On April 30, 1975, a 34 year-old South Vietnamese Navy commander -- the commanding officer of Nha Be Naval Support Base near Saigon -- navigated a small fishing trawler towards the South China Sea. Saigon had just fallen, and the trawler, crowded with 200 refugees, cautiously weaved its way down the Soi Rap River. In the span of just a few hours, as other refugees were plucked from smaller or sinking boats, the passengers had swelled to 400. After two uncertain days at sea and on the first birthday of the commander's youngest child, the refugees were taken on board the tank landing ship USS Barbour County (LST 1195).
On November 7, 2009, along with the U.S. 7th Fleet's flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), my ship arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam for a scheduled goodwill port visit. This visit was my first return to Vietnam since my father, mother, and three of my seven siblings and I departed in that fishing trawler. My father had navigated the trawler to sea, and, for me, navigating USS Lassen (DDG 82) into Da Nang Harbor brought me full circle to our past.
During that unforgettable port visit, I was interviewed by local and international news media. Most questions dealt with my thoughts on returning to my native country. Like my siblings who had come to America in 1975, I have always felt fortunate to grow up in the United States and to enjoy all the opportunities this great nation offers. It was a privilege for my sailors and me to represent USS Lassen and the U.S. Navy to the people of Vietnam.
It was also deeply moving for me to travel to my birthplace of Hue, joined by one of my older brothers who had graciously flown from Singapore, where he worked. Hue is just 50 miles northwest of Da Nang, and I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a few hours reuniting with two aunts, an uncle, and extended family members.
Throughout the port visit and for several days afterwards, I received heartwarming e-mails and notes from family and friends, as well as from people I did not know. Easily the most remarkable was a short letter I received in the ship's mail on November 18, eight days after USS Lassen departed Da Nang Harbor:
USS Lassen (DDG 82)
FPO AP 96671-1299
November 6, 2009
Congratulations on your command. I read with interest the press release about your visit to your homeland. I was the Executive Officer of the USS Barbour County (LST 1195) at the time of your rescue. I have wondered throughout the years what became of the myriad people we took on board and transported to the Philippines (Grandy Island). Again, congratulations and enjoy your tour.
Russ Bell CDR, USN (Retired)
I was thrilled when I read the letter and e-mailed my father right away. He wrote in response from his home in Virginia:
We finally have the opportunity to express our gratitude to one of the people who saved us and gave us a new beginning in the United States of America. Would you please send our thanks to CDR Russ Bell and his crew for helping and saving us at sea on May 2nd, 1975 and bringing us to Freedom? I still remember that on the 3rd of May, the XO was the one who gave me an envelope and then helped to send my letter from the Barbour County to Uncle Ed Rowe at his parents' address in Kansas City, MO. It comes back to my memory very clearly now, just like it happened yesterday! God bless the crew of USS Barbour County and their families. God bless the U.S.A.
Today on behalf of my family, I wish to thank Commander Russ Bell, U.S. Navy (Retired) and the crew of USS Barbour County. Also, thank you to Uncle Ed -- Colonel Ed Rowe, U.S Army (Retired) -- and his wonderful family for sponsoring us all those years ago... and happy 39th birthday to my dear brother, Phil.
Commander Hung Ba Le was the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) from April 2009 to December 2010. One of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, Lassen's namesake is Commander Clyde E. Lassen, who received the Medal of Honor for his courageous rescue of two downed aviators while commander of a search and rescue helicopter in Vietnam. Commander Le is currently serving as a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs in Cambridge, MA.
By Emma Sky
Best Defense bureau chief, Iraq
The famous Iraqi sociologist, Ali Wardi, wrote about the dual personalities of Iraqis. For many of us who served in Iraq, this is something we also seem to have developed.
I spent the weekend in Texas, staying with American friends I served with in Iraq. Although we had not seen each other in years, conversation came easily. Our shared experiences away at war had created life-long bonds. We reminisced about our time together -- the sense of purpose, the camaraderie, our small victories. We laughed. We drank. We ate unhealthy fast food. We gossiped about people we knew. Together, we visited the memorial at Fort Hood to pay our respects to the 450 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division killed in Iraq.
But all weekend I also surfed the Internet for news and chatted with Iraqi friends. Iraq is spiraling out of control. Following the arrests in December of the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, Sunnis took to the streets, revealing their widespread sense of alienation in the new Iraq and demanding the end of what they consider a government policy to marginalize them. As with other protests in the Arab world, they were initially driven by legitimate grievances. But against the backdrop of provincial elections, little was done to address the concerns of the protestors -- despite calls to do so from the top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani. Politicians instead exploited the demonstrations for electoral gains. President Maliki took the opportunity to distract attention away from the lack of services and rampant corruption, presenting himself as the defender of the Shia, in the face of Sunni regional powers intent on overthrowing Shia regimes -- Syria first, then Iraq. Sunni politicians, for their part, sought to benefit from the demonstrations to rail against government oppression to gain support for their own electoral campaigns.
Last week, the Iraqi Army entered Hawija, near Kirkuk, to arrest people accused of attacking Iraqi Security Forces. In the ensuing violence, 200 people were killed. There are reports of desertions from the Iraqi Army. Kurds have moved peshmerga into positions in the disputed territories. Tribes are forming militias to protect themselves from the Iraqi Army. Five Iraqi soldiers were killed in Anbar -- and the province has been put under curfew. Ten satellite channels, including al-Jazeera, have been banned, accused of spreading sectarianism. Bombs exploded in Shia towns. The speaker of parliament called for the government to resign and for early elections.
By seeking to eliminate his Sunni rivals, Maliki has removed the wedge that the U.S. military drove between Sunni extremists and the Sunni mainstream during the Surge, at such great cost. There is a growing sense that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are merging into one, with Shia regimes, backed by Iran, battling against Sunnis, including al Qaeda elements. We may be witnessing the breakdown of the post-WW I settlement and the nation-states established under the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Many Iraqis still cannot fathom how the United States could lose interest in Iraq and simply walk away after so much investment. They explain it in terms of conspiracy theories: a "secret agreement" between the United States and Iran; a "deal" between Biden and Maliki to divide up Iraq.
Will our legacy from the Iraq war be a regional power struggle ignited by the resurgence of Iran, the contagion of sectarianism into Syria, the horrific violence of jihadist groups? Is this in our national interest? Can we not do more to make Iraq a more positive influence in its neighborhood?
As the situation deteriorates, I wonder, will the United States proactively develop, articulate, and adopt strategies to engender a better balance of power in the region -- or reactively respond to the inevitable fallout with tactical measures.
Emma Sky is a senior fellow at Yale University's Jackson Institute. She served in Iraq 2003-2004 as the governorate coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and 2007-2010 as the political advisor to General Odierno.
Lady Emma Sky
By Col. Margaret Cope, USAF (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist
After serving 30 years in the Air Force, I am passionate about our country providing the opportunity for young men and women to serve. Since the draft ended, the American public has become disconnected from the men and women in the military.
Even our former secretary of defense Robert Gates stated that our citizens view our wars as an "abstraction" that does not affect them personally. After 9/11 our country missed an enormous opportunity to engage the citizenry, particularly folks in the 18-26 age range who are beginning their adult lives and have the ability to contribute the rest of their lives.
Our country has a democratic form of government, which by definition is a participatory government, not a spectator government. All citizens must be engaged or we risk losing our democracy. Our founding fathers believed all would participate as stated by George Washington, "It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it."
Currently less than 1 percent of Americans serve in our military. The rest of the population -- 99 percent, for the most part -- is unaware of the military. Although other forms of national service exist, with the budget constraints, now is the time to consolidate and provide more structured, safer, and meaningful opportunities.
My concept of the national service framework is comprehensive and bold; it's not for those who like small steps and fear transformative, big ideas. National Service will be voluntary and must include the military -- the most committed, professional, well-trained example of national service.
This framework is based on voluntary participation and provides a menu of opportunities for citizens between the ages of 18-26 to serve. All volunteers will serve a minimum of two years and will receive lodging, uniforms, healthcare and food allowances, stipends, and upon completion of their term of service, numerous government incentives tied to performance, to include at least an education debt reduction or an education allowance similar to the GI Bill and other options to support the national service mission, its culture. Libertarians who don't want to serve would be ineligible for some government incentives including student loans, to be given upon completion of the term of service.
National Service will be the umbrella organization for the entire enterprise with the pillars being: the military, which would include recruitment, orientation training, and upon completion of service, the same national service benefits along with military benefits; the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) organizations including Americorps, VISTA, Equal Justice Works, Teach for America, and Children's Corps; the Peace Corps; a revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps; a medical corps; a legal corps (move Equal Justice Works from CNCS); an administrative corps; a cybersecurity corps; and others. All of these functions could support our military and serve on military reservations.
As a nation, we cannot underestimate the importance in a moral democracy to serve. We must engage our greatest resource, our young citizens, to serve others and uphold our democratic principles to attain opportunity and inspire hope.
Margaret Cope, a retired U.S. Air Force logistics colonel, serves on the Executive Committee at the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), consults, and is a former senior advisor at the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR).
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.