Two articles show just about everything wrong with the US approach to warfare.

First up, the easy one. Angry Staff Officer addresses the despised Reflective Belt.


As much as anything can go viral, the reflective belt went viral, not unlike a disease. Each branch of service came out with their own specific belt. Different colors began to appear besides the normal fluorescent yellow: pink, blue, and green. Its rise coincided with the Global War on Terror, and as advancing American troops swarmed into Iraq and Afghanistan, they brought the reflective belt with them. First only used at night on large operating bases for safety, reflective belts were rarely seen in war zones from 2001–2004. Then, around 2005, something broke down. That something was common sense.

Reflective belts began to be required everywhere in Iraq and Afghanistan. During physical training, walking anywhere at night, when operating all terrain vehicles, or even to get into the chow hall. Granted, this was restricted to major forward operating bases rather than small outposts whose residents still realized that a shiny object made little tactical sense. Because it was a uniform item, reflective belts became the purview of the senior enlisted soldier, the first sergeant. As the sergeant major protects his grass, so the first sergeant would bawl you out for not wearing a reflective belt. It quickly became a thing of mockery and derision by troops. 

There really are times and places when a reflective belt makes a lot of sense. But the Army, being the Army, simply took a good idea to its illogical conclusion, and removed from leaders the authority to use common sense to determine where and when it was a good idea. The service constantly tells its troops it wants them to think, then promptly removes that option and demands rote compliance.

Pinging troops on uniform standards is easy. We’re all for maintaining the standard, but for many weak senior enlisted “leaders” the easy path of seeking out the guy without a reflective belt takes the place of mentoring subordinate NCOs, conducting leadership development, ensuring other standards, such as proficiency in individual and small team skills, and ensuring the welfare of troops.

But those tasks are hard, and take effort, but the superficial is easy.

On the other end of the scale, there’s this story.

Weeks before President Obama ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, four administration lawyers developed rationales intended to overcome any legal obstacles — and made it all but inevitable that Navy SEALs would kill the fugitive Qaeda leader, not capture him.

Stretching sparse precedents, the lawyers worked in intense secrecy. Fearing leaks, the White House would not let them consult aides or even the administration’s top lawyer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. They did their own research, wrote memos on highly secure laptops and traded drafts hand-delivered by trusted couriers.

Really? Over a decade into the hunt for Osama, and they finally got around to writing up some justification? I don’t have that big a heartburn about the role of the JAG in war, nor even at this level, except that is it a reflection on our own imposition of Rules of Engagement that are all too often so bogged down in minutia as to be virtually incomprehensible.

Did anyone think the general public opinion about a mission to kill Osama bin Laden would hinge on whatever secret memos lawyers came up with to justify it?

Really, here’s the thing about international law. Who is going to enforce it? Nobody. The nice thing about being the biggest force is that if say it is legal, it is.

But for so many in government, the process is the product, not a tool to ensure an end result.  

3 thoughts on “Two articles show just about everything wrong with the US approach to warfare.”

  1. As I have said/written many times before: If you can’t enforce it, is it a law?


  2. JAG needs to be relegated to the sidelines for the most part. They should have no part in the decision making when it comes to tactical decisions. Period. That’s not their place.

    I have other gripes about JAG, but I’ll hold them for now. Suffice t to say, they’ve gotten out of their place, and someone needs to put them back in it. Hard.

  3. Reflective belts were always just a way for a total asshole to pretend that he or she “cared” for their people while treating them with utter contempt. Case in point, we wore them on the flight line after sunset for decades before the GWOT, because it made complete sense. I always wore one when running on base roads after sunset, just seemed like the prudent thing to do.

    Then during my 2005 deployment, I watched grown men get yelled at for not wearing one for walking the 40 feet at night between a barracks and a latrine…and without crossing a road or sidewalk! Thank god I was living in the SOF compound at Al-Udeid at the time and didn’t have to put up with that shit….

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