I don't agree with everything he writes, but nonetheless am really pleased to see Fivecoat's article, because it is exactly the type of work I hoped my book The Generals would provoke. I thought that Gen. Brown's articles in ARMY magazine might launch such a discussion, but that magazine shied away from engaging, without explaining why. Maybe it just isn't interested in the future of the U.S. Army.
Most of all, I am fascinated by Fivecoat's finding (on p. 74) that leading a division in combat seems to have hurt one's chances of promotion. That worries me. What does it mean? That discovery of his indicates that the Army of the Iraq-Afghanistan era is out of step from the historical tradition that, for an officer, time in combat is the royal road to advancement. I can't think of other wars in which service in combat hurt an officer's chance of promotion. It is, as Fivecoat kind of (but not quite) says, worrisome evidence that the Army for close to a decade persisted in using a peacetime promotion system in wartime.
In additional to breaking new ground intellectually, it is also a courageous piece. It is one thing for me, a civilian author, to question the quality of American generalship in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is quite another thing for an active duty lieutenant colonel to do so, especially since the Army's official histories have tiptoed around the issue of the failings of senior leadership in our recent wars. (I mean, did the authors of On Point II even read the articles Military Review was publishing then?) Fivecoat writes, "I agree with Mr. Ricks's assessment that there was plenty of good and bad generalship exhibited in both theaters."
A few final observations:
Bottom line: Go read the article.
By Emile Simpson
Best Defense White House correspondent
I thought President Obama's speech at NDU on Thursday was conceptual car crash -- a collision between two incompatible desires to aggregate, or disaggregate, threats.
He spent half the speech saying he wants to end a war, not have endless conflict, and not blur boundaries. But he spent the other half of the speech veering from identifying the enemy as al Qaeda, then its franchises, then just terrorists in general, and saying these terrorists hide at the ends of the earth.
Seems to me completely muddled: If you want to target networks and disaggregate threats, fine, I agree with that, but one would be forgiven for thinking any jihadist under the sun is still the enemy here, which is plainly aggregating threats to the extent that one will never narrow an enemy down enough to defeat militarily, so cannot therefore "end" the war.
For me this wasn't a speech about drones, but about war, and despite, ironically, agreeing with what I think Obama was trying to say (i.e. disaggregate threats, move away from endless war), the way in which the concept of war here is (mis)applied seems to me to do the opposite.
The reality is that the administration is locked in to using the concept of war as a legal idea to justify the use of force in self defense, but that the legal concept of war today doesn't match the military concept.
Emile Simpson served in the British Army as an infantry officer in the Gurkhas from 2006 to 2012. He deployed to southern Afghanistan three times and is the author of War From the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics (Columbia, 2012).
Win McNamee/Getty Images
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Call of Duty -- the popular video game series featuring many, many different warzone scenarios -- has a new game on the horizon: Call of Duty: Ghosts. In the official recently released trailer, an ethereal score swells against flashes of a post-apocalyptic terrain of vivid land- and seascapes. It is the new, new world of modern warfare. Within the first few seconds a new character is revealed -- a SEAL team service dog.
Where older versions of this game may have featured dogs as bloodthirsty obstacles, this time the canine fighter is on the side of good. The dog has its own role in this game, key to the way players strategize.
There are a number of promotional videos out there providing background on the serious lengths game designers went to amp up the gamer's experience, improving the game's scale and artistry. In the "Tech Comparison" video, creators discuss how they took "high res scans" of an actual SEAL dog, showing footage of a dog outfitted in motion-capture gear as he takes down a decoy and jumps up on high platforms. Their quest for war-dog authenticity was diligent: "Every detail is replicated," the voice-over says, "right down to the scars on the [dog's] nose and that tattoo inside the ear."
And that authenticity is going to deliver in the gamer's experience, creators promise. Yahoo! Games reports that the dog in Call of Duty: Ghosts will have his "own artificial intelligence and will apparently play a notable role in the game as part of the squad, who sniffs out dangers and aids the team."
News of an elite MWD's inclusion in this upcoming version of the game, scheduled for release in November, has created an Internet stir this week. And not that we should be surprised, but this dog already has his own (fake) twitter feed. As of this morning, @CollarDuty has some 19,000 followers. Though, with a bio line that reads, "I hate cats..." and with tweets like "SQUIRREL!" I don't think we'll be seeing any SEAL dog secrets revealed via Twitter.
But the game, well, that actually looks pretty cool.
Hat Tip: The guys over at MWD on FB and DL.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
By "A. Naval Officer"
Best Defense guest columnist
I'd like to offer you my thoughts on this based on my experience in command. Not many folks know this, but as LT, I lost my deployment roommate to suicide about two weeks after we came home from our first deployment.
Years later, when I was about to take command, there was an unusual spike in the number of suicides in our wing. I remembered what happened when I was a LT, so I asked my wife to help me talk to the entire command about suicide. We had outside people come in and talk about the standard "warning signs" and all, but it personally wasn't enough. After the Q&A, I kept the entire command in place and opened up. I told them the story about my roommate, how he did it, when he did it, why he did it, who he left behind. I explained the emotions I went through, and I told them about emotions I watched my skipper go through. The second-guessing, the rage, the guilt. I told them that I never wanted anyone in the room to have to bear that pain, and I never wanted to be the one to tell a family member that their husband or wife or son or daughter took his or her own life. I explained that I felt 100 percent responsible to everyone in that room, not just because Navy regs told me so, but because it was honestly in my heart. I explained that if I was willing to open up that way to them, then I also had to be willing to follow through and that my office was open, my house was open, any time of day, for someone in need. I had a very strong CMC who felt the same way, and he helped to spread that level of commitment down, through the chief's mess. I didn't want it to become "intrusive." I simply wanted people to be willing to ask for help.
After that, I had sailors come talk to the CMC and me and open up. Not just about suicide, but about anything on their minds. We had others who we encouraged to speak with us when we went for a walk down the flight line or the across the flight deck on the ship. We also knew the "tough" guys well enough to break through their exterior when we could tell they needed help. We just felt like it was an important part of knowing our folks. I also saw it as my responsibility as "The Old Man" and as someone who had been affected by suicide earlier in my career. It was just how the CMC and I operated.
So I didn't really think about it much, until my wife brought up an old story almost five years after I was in command. A sailor came to me with some very personal issues that were obviously affecting his performance at work. They were issues that the CMC and I could not solve for him, but we helped him get help. Not just get help, but helped make sure he got the right help. Ultimately, it resulted in his separation from the Navy. I remember thinking, "He's a good kid" and that really it was in his best interest and the Navy's best interest. When my wife brought the story up again recently, it was in the context of suicide in the military. She said, "You know that you saved that kid's life, don't you?" When she replayed the scenario with me a few times, I realized she was right.
But I've found it is a different leadership challenge when it comes to preventing sexual assault, particularly during my last deployment, which was in the desert. We could try to connect with our sailors when talking about sexual assault, enforce a buddy system, explain how to watch out for each other and how alcohol can increase risk, conduct walkthroughs of spaces, and make sure exterior lights were on throughout the night. Senior executives from the Department visited us in theater and told us what steps we could take to try to prevent sexual assault and we took the advice on board. But in the end, all we could do is try because things were external to what we could influence and we lived in a dynamic, transient environment. A sexual assault could happen to any one of our folks, male or female. The criminal could be someone from outside the military, outside the command. Or far worse, inside the command. I never felt that "try" was good enough, but I also did not want to give the impression that we were already victimized by the fear of a sexual assault. I could only hope the phone didn't ring. It never did.
Even if my phone didn't ring, it didn't mean a sexual assault didn't happen on my watch. Restricted reporting, while it protects the victim, doesn't alert the unit commander. As much effort as we put into looking out for our shipmates, there may very well have been an unreported sexual assault or an assault reported using a restricted report. How would I ever know if we had failed? How would we ever know if we could have done something differently or if our own command climate was a factor? How could we position ourselves to prevent the next assault? How would I even know that a victim wasn't comfortable reporting a crime to me? Or why?
The author is a 23-year Navy captain. A former squadron commander, he has deployed to OIF and OEF aboard ship and boots on the ground. He is married to a mental health professional and is a supporter of military families.
U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Chris Hibben
Todd Greentree, who served as director of the RC-South initiatives group in Kandahar during 2010-2011, offers these recommendations in an article in the Journal of Strategic Studies:
(1) Prepare above all to assist a government through political action and economic development while helping it protect its population from security threats, without taking the job over.
(2) Commit early and decisively, but for the long-term, with clear political and military aims; trying to combat an industrial strength insurgency is much harder, takes longer, and is likely to be unsustainable.
(3) Create organizational arrangements tailored to the specific situation and scale of threat, and are capable of adapting rapidly.
(4) Establish clear lines of authority sufficient to achieve unity of effort, while maximizing unity of command the closer the situation is to war.
(5) Integrate civilian and military efforts at all levels.
(6) In pursuing campaign plans and programs maintain focus on political purpose.
(7) Educate a cadre of civilian and military officials from multiple organizations and elaborate a shared civil-military doctrine.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dayton Mitchell/Released
The hits just keep on coming. Yesterday brought news that a sergeant first class at West Point has been charged with videotaping at least a dozen female cadets, some of them while they were in the shower or in other states of undress.
Bonus fact from reporter Thom Shanker, who broke the story: "The Army made no announcement of the charges against Sergeant McClendon, but it provided details after The New York Times learned of the inquiry from people with ties to West Point who said they were alarmed by the allegations and wanted to learn of the academy's plans to investigate and prevent future violations."
Amazing how the chain of command keeps on blaming those at the bottom. Maybe it is time to issue some mirrors to the four stars and three stars?
By "A. Marine Officer"
Best Defense guest columnist
1/9 CO likely deserved to be relieved. The Div CG relieved the battalion commander, the company commander, and the battalion gunner (a chief warrant officer weapons expert). Gunners are responsible for weapons training and employment advice. I haven't heard a peep about the investigation, but it stands to reason that if the Gunner went down, it was an ammo handling issue. If it was a training issue such as safe ammo handling, the CO has to go, and I'm cool with that.
The problem is that there is ZERO fricking information coming out of HQMC explaining ANY of this stuff. Nobody knows what to make of it, so nobody knows how to tighten up their units. That feeds conspiracy theories and loss of confidence in leadership because their actions start to look random and unprincipled. Everyone is cool with a CMC when he fires a commander who screws up -- DUI, banging a sergeant, etc. Everyone knows the deal. These mystery reliefs are harder to stomach. Amos doesn't know it, but he OWES us an explanation as to why he's firing O5s and O6s and hasn't cut a general officer loose on his watch yet. That Gurganus is still drawing a paycheck makes my blood boil.
I really earnestly and truly believe Amos is losing the faith of the Marine Corps. There isn't much support for him that I've heard. People see him flailing and taking folks down with him, not being intellectually honest, not having a whole lot of good ideas or success. His resignation would be good for the service. Paxton could ascend to the service chief level, they could find some suitable aviator (Guts Robling, perhaps?) to be ACMC, and all would be right with the world again. When Dunford is done at ISAF, they can either make him the chairman or move him to an open COCOM like SOUTHCOM if the timing lined up. Dunford is the heir apparent as CMC but a COCOM job would suit him better, I think. I'd follow Dunford to hell. I'm agnostic about the rest, but both Paxton and Robling have good reputations.
"A. Marine Officer" is just that. This article does not necessarily represent the views of the commandant of the Marine Corps, the Navy Department, the Defense Department, or the U.S. government. But ask a battalion or regimental commander what they think.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.