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

The Best Defense

Wanna cut the force fast?: Let the FBI read all our e-mail

By Matt Pottinger

Best Defense lack of privacy correspondent

If we are to follow the policies implied by the U.S. government's handling of the Director Petraeus and General Allen cases, here's what we should do: Open up the personal email accounts of all 2.3 million U.S. military service members to the FBI and the Pentagon and let them have at it.

Just think of the benefits: We could complete the Afghanistan drawdown overnight because 99 percent of our troops would be sidelined by investigations into "potentially inappropriate" communications. We wouldn't have to keep clarifying the nuances of "rebalancing" versus "pivoting" toward Asia anymore -- all our ships would be stuck in port while sailors are queried about sending "flirtatious" messages. And we could avoid the fiscal cliff by laying off service members who, at some point in their lives, typed words that someone, somewhere, construed as "intimidating."

In all seriousness, the aspect of the Petraeus and Allen investigations that should most disturb Americans is our government's invasion of citizens' private email accounts on the thinnest of pretexts, its reading of every last message, and its sharing of the most lurid snippets -- regardless of their irrelevance -- with members of Congress and unnamed officials who, in turn, share context-free summaries with the press.

These developments give me a grudging respect for the KGB. At least it had to expend real energy gathering the information it used to embarrass, compromise, and incriminate the citizens it spied on. U.S. investigators have it much easier. They have access to dossiers every bit as juicy as anything the Stasi ever compiled, but they hardly have to lift a finger to get them. Americans now compile their own dossiers in the form of email archives, social media accounts, phone and text-message logs, online medical records, and geo-location trails left by their smartphones. The deterrence of shoe leather? Not any more. All that investigators have to do is serve a subpoena on Facebook or Google or AT&T to get minute-by-minute records of the last decade or so of our lives. (Most Americans are probably unaware that investigators usually don't need warrants to read citizens' emails. Or to access our location data.).

One wonders how America's most important general, George Washington, would have performed for the country if his private correspondences had been read and spread by government agents and press back then. In 1758, while he was engaged to marry Martha, George wrote at least two love letters to Sally Fairfax, the wife of one of his longtime friends. To this day, historians debate the nature of George and Sally's relationship. There is no evidence the two ever slept together, but the letters surely would have created a scandal if they'd come to light during the American revolution. At best, they would have caused a serious distraction for the embattled general and his underdog army at a time when distractions could have meant defeat. 

Washington understood as well as anyone the necessity of private words staying private. He knew that the fate of a new republic -- and not just his ego -- depended on his sustaining a good public image. After his retirement, he spent years censoring his letters of material that might undermine that goal. He even had his wife Martha burn their letters to one another after his death. 

That option doesn't exist today. There's no furnace to pitch our emails into, no delete key that can erase our indelible digital scribblings. Numerous backup servers don't permit it. The most we can expect and demand is a government that helps protect our privacy rather than obliterate it.

Matt Pottinger served as an active-duty Marine from 2005-2010. He runs a small business in New York.