On the road again…

I’m heading to the airport shortly to attend a family function. I’m gonna be out for a couple weeks, and don’t know how much access I’ll have.  If one of you fine readers has a guest post or two you think might be interesting, email me and I’m sure we can work something out.

Will a hot lunch be the downfall of the Republic?

Yesterday saw news stories about a new group of retired officers who’ve started an organization called Mission: Readiness that wants to address the problems of a limited pool of recruits available to the services because of failure to meet height and weight standards for entry.

National security is threatened by the sharp rise in obesity rates for young people over the last 15 years, the group Mission: Readiness contends. Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected, the group says, and thus jeopardize the military’s ability to fill its ranks.

In a report released Tuesday, the group says that 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too fat to join the military. The retired officers were on Capitol Hill advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation’s school lunches healthier.

As a recruiter, I faced this problem fairly often. Some guys (and girls, of course) were so obese, it was a waste of my time to talk to them. They would never overcome the challenge of losing enough weight to enter. Why should I try to talk them into joining when they would never be eligible?

Other cases, borderline folks, were a different matter. Some were dedicated to joining and would put in the effort to lose weight and meet the standard. Other folks, well, they liked what I was selling, but not that much.

Of course, being fat wasn’t the only disqualifier for service. There were myriad other medical conditions that would preclude entry. But I’m not a doctor, so while I would screen applicants for potential problems, I’d make the doctor justify not letting them in.  There were times when it seemed there was no rhyme or reason to which conditions were unacceptable, and others were fine. But if I knew of any issues, and had the records to explain them, I’d have a much better chance of my applicant being accepted.

As a rule of thumb, we figured that only about one third of any graduating high school class was qualified to enlist- mentally, morally, and physically. That didn’t even address their desire or propensity to enlist. So you can see what a challenge finding qualified enlistees was. As the population gets fatter and more sedentary, it will continue to become more difficult.

On a side note, while perusing the comments on this topic at Lex’s place, one of the commentariat linked this little gem.

Sniper fire

I’m not a particular fan of the New York Times. Too often their reporting is so slanted to the left, it is in grave danger of falling over.

But when they managed to keep their ideological bias to a reasonable minimum, they are capable of very good reporting.

War News Updates, a daily must read, links to a NYT article, with video, that shows the effects of sniper fire on the ground in Afghanistan. It’s an interesting article, and it is balanced enough to note that while increasing numbers of marksmen on the ground makes life more dangerous for our Marines and Soldiers in the fight, it doesn’t sensationalize them into a bigger threat than they really are.

In recent months, there have been cases of better Taliban marksmen harassing American patrols and wounding and killing American troops. The operations in and near Marja were a prominent example. The phenomenon deserves closer examination, to try to gain a richer perspective than is often possible while reporting in the midst of fighting.

Let’s look at what is known.

First, what exactly is meant by “sniper”? Like many terms used to discuss war fighting, this is a slippery word. In the context of Afghan fighting, American troops tend to talk about a sniper when they encounter an insurgent rifleman who is obviously more skilled and disciplined than the norm, someone who fires with reasonable accuracy at medium and longish ranges, usually using a rifle-and-ammunition combination that can be effective out to 400 or 500 meters or more. But while the Taliban’s “snipers” are not the usual class of Kalashnikov-carrying Afghan fighter, they typically are not what a conventional soldier might think of in relation to the term.

Back in the mid 80s, when I was still a lightfighter, we routinely practiced counter-sniper drills. Those drills, while better than nothing, have been shown by practical experience to be less than wholly effective. Basically, the point of the drill was to suppress the sniper with small arms fire and 40mm grenades, and to break contact. But if a single sniper can prevent you from maneuvering to your objective, he’s accomplished his mission, whether he hits anyone or not. And you’ve failed in your mission.

Now, what the article discusses, and the video shows, isn’t really “sniper fire” as we in America usually think of it. The term of art would actually be “accurate” or “effective” small arms fire. The kind we would hope we are placing on our enemies. You’ll notice the real challenge for the Marines in the video isn’t their marksmanship, but just getting a bead on where the rifle fire is coming from.  And at the end, you’ll see the problems we often encounter when we use heavier weapons to kill or suppress small arms fire.