The Best Defense

Free at last! Thank God almighty!

Tom's book tour is pretty much over. In the coming weeks I'll be doing one-off speeches for history buffs and such, but basically I am going home tomorrow.

On Thursday afternoon I spoke to about 900 majors at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was a good time, and I felt they appreciated the points I was out to convey-basically a summary of the book, which is that accountability is good for our military leaders because it forces them to be more adaptive. A show of hands indicated that the vast majority of the officers in the audience had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or both. They are good people.

But. But -- but at the same time I felt like I was speaking to a lost tribe. These people care, but not, I think, the American public, which thinks the wars are over, and pays more attention to the sex lives of our generals than to the real lives of our soldiers. My talk ended with some banter about whether these majors would rather be led into battle by a moral fellow or by a combat effective adulterer. Guess what? Combat effectiveness wins. But most Americans don't know what that means.

When I went outside afterward, it was late afternoon here in the late November of eastern Kansas, and the geese and ducks were crowding the flyway south above the wide Missouri. It is, I feel, time for me to do the same: Go home. Last night, as I was walking into my room in the Hoge Barracks at Leavenworth, I overheard a couple of tired-looking officers talking over a beer. "We lost two guys that day," I heard one quietly say. I thought, Yep, just enough to wound him for life, but not enough that no one out there seems to care.

I grow bitter.

Also, why do I feel, as I look at the wise, slow-flowing Missouri, that "Shenandoah" is a war song? It doesn't say it is in its words, but it sure feels like it to me. I love Bill Frisell's guitar work, but sometimes he needs a little patience. I used to listen to his versions of "Shenandoah" "Moon River" on a Walkman with scotch-taped headphones every night in Kabul in the cold spring of 2002. Dunno why but it helped me go to sleep. Even now, when I hear the first few notes of either, I feel I am back in my old blue nylon sleeping bag, looking up at the Afghan night sky still hoping I was a few inches below the window glass that would fly my way in any bomb blast. As my wife would say, this music makes my heart sing. Not convinced? Try this.

Meanwhile, I see where onetime Bill Clinton-pal Gennifer Flowers is describing herself as a "motivational speaker." Is this the new euphemism of the age? The only thing she could motivate me to do is run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.  

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The Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Handler to receive Navy Cross for acts of valor in Afghanistan

By Rebecca Frankel

Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

The Marine Corps Times announced this week that three Marines and a sailor are to receive commendation for their service during combat operations in Afghanistan. All four men are being recognized for the heroics they displayed while attached to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion. The Marine being awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest military decoration for valor, is handler Sgt. William Sutra. Also reportedly on that mission was Sutra's explosives detection dog, Posha.

The operation that began on July 10, 2010 quickly went awry when the team was ambushed and caught in the open. They were then pinned down by "heavy machine gun and small arms fire from multiple directions." The mission lasted two days, during which time the team's "element leader was killed by a makeshift bomb blast on the second day ... the survivors repeatedly braved enemy fire to retrieve him" and continued to hold their ground until the rest of the team could be evacuated from the area.

According to a spokesman quoted in a MARSOC press release about the medal recipients: "Members of the team unhesitatingly took charge, and with complete disregard for their own lives, moved across open terrain to reach their commandos' position orienting their fires on the enemy."

I haven't seen mention of whether or not the dog played a vital role during that two-day mission. But like Sutra said while the canine team was deployed together in Iraq in 2009, "[Posha] might not know it, but his job here is to save my life and the lives of others."

That tour in Iraq was the first for Sutra and Posha as an explosives detection team. Together they carried out a variety of missions-reconnaissance operations in Al Qadasiyah, patroling in Diwaniyah, meeting with a local sheik in Afak. While they were stationed in Iraq, Posha and Sutra, who hails from Worcester, Massachusetts, were featured in an article, about handlers and their dogs. Of his partner, Sutra had this to say:

Me and Posha, I feel like we're the same. I've worked with four dogs. Posha's been a rough dog to other [dog handlers] in the past, but I got the opportunity to pick him up after my last deployment, and we click like I think nobody else has. We fit well together."

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Monday where the secretary of the Navy will present the awards at Camp Pendleton in California.

Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Rodney Foliente