The Best Defense

How did the 9/11 wars change the Army?

That was the question a friend posed the other day. Here, slightly edited for clarity and further reflection, is what I wrote back to him:

My impression is that the Army is kind of all over the place these days. It reminds me a bit of the years in the mid-1950s before the Pentomic Army.

The looming budget cuts are the biggest thing shaping today's force. The Army may be going into what Eliot Cohen once called "the Uptonian hunker," waiting for the budget cuts to hit.

The second biggest thing is the dog that isn't barking. As far as I can see, there is very little interest in turning over the rock to figure out what the Army has learned in the last 10 years, how it has changed, what it has done well, what it hasn't. More than a Harry Summers, where is the intellectual equivalent of a self-evaluation such as the 1970 study on Army professionalism? Shouldn't the Army be asking itself how it has changed, and looking at  the state of its officer corps? We have seen some terrible leadership but very little official inclination to examine its causes. A couple of years ago, I noticed in reviewing my notes for my book Fiasco that, to an extent I hadn't noticed while writing it, it was the battalion commanders' critique of their generals.  

We have seen had huge changes in the way the Army fights. It isn't just the flirtation with conventional troops doing COIN. ( U.S. troop-intensive COIN has indeed gone out of intellectual fashion, but not I think a more FID-ish COIN.) It also is:

  • An Army that does indeed win first battles but still doesn't believe that war termination is its business. (See the Bacevich piece in the Moten volume.)
  • An Army whose generals frequently do not seem to be able to think strategically, and treats those who do as outliers.
  • An Army that cannot fight without the presence of thousands of mercenaries on the battlefield, subject to neither local law nor military justice, and so polluting American efforts.
  • An Army that has fought our first sustained overseas war (and in fact, 2 of them) without a draft. (The all-volunteer force has proven remarkably cohesive and resilient under the resulting stress.)  
  • The one area where the Army seems genuinely comfortable is the technological, with information systems rapidly advancing, especially the use of drone aircraft for reconnaissance.

What are your thoughts, grasshoppers? What am I missing?

U.S. Army

The Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Marines save one of their own

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

When it comes to the on-the-job dangers MWDs and their handlers face on the frontlines from IEDs, Taliban sniper fire, it's easy to forget that some of the most lethal hazards are not the far-away extremes of combat zones, but much closer to home. For Dingo, a five-year-old Marine Corps working dog, the lethal enemy that almost got the better of him was a snake hiding in the grass of his own backyard.

It was an unseasonably warm afternoon in early December. Handler Cpl. Stacy K. Chester and were running training drills along the edge of the woods in Cherry Point, NC when Chester noticed a red mark on the German Shepherd's leg.

"When I saw the swelling begin to rush up Dingo's leg and I knew it was a snake bite, I thought the worst," said Chester.

The veterinarian at the air station quickly determined that Dingo had suffered two punctures and the rapid swelling told him that there was a great and lethal amount of venom in Dingo's system. Chester quickly called around but no antivenin could be found -- the nearest supply that they could find was in Norfolk, VA hundreds of miles away and the window of opportunity for treatment was closing fast.

When the higher-ups at the station heard of Dingo's dire situation word from top came through: "Do whatever it takes to get that dog treatment." The search and rescue team was contacted and they transported Dingo to the Norfolk naval station, saving his life. "If we had to drive him to get the antivenin I wouldn't have Dingo here with me right now," Chester said. "They saved my best friend."

There are a few things we can takeaway from Dingo's brush with death. For the vet clinic at Cherry point, it's knowing where the locations of local antivenin (which they now do). But for the rest of us it's knowing that among these teams there is an immediate call to action - that they do rally around their working dogs. There was no hemming and hawing over resources, no measuring of value. According to the pilot who flew Dingo to Norfolk, they were just saving one of their own.

My first thoughts when briefed by our operations section was, 'Wait a dog?' After being told that it was a working dog I said, 'Hey we have a Marine bitten, let's get moving.' Those dogs are just as important to this base as the Marines. They protect us and detect bombs that could kill hundreds of Marines. I was happy to fly him."

Lance Cpl. Cory D. Polom