President Takes Decisive Action in Iraq

In a stunning reversal of his previous equivocation regarding US involvement in the worsening security situation in Iraq, President Obama stated that the US is prepared to act with strength and decisiveness to help defeat the ISIS radical jihadist forces that have engulfed several major cities and killed many thousands of Iraqis.

MIchelle hashtag iraq

There.  That’ll show ’em.  Worked like a charm with Boko Haram in Nigeria, too.   They certainly have mended their ways.    Administration officials speculate that the Islamic Extremist fighters that have invaded Iraq have little chance of resisting the pressure of tweets and re-tweets that show support for the Iraqi people, and will be forced to withdraw.  On the outside chance that somehow ISIS can withstand such an onslaught of social media, the President is prepared to conjure his best “I’m not kidding” expression and talk about “consequences”, possibly even “dire consequences”.   No word yet on whether or not Secretary of State Kerry will scold ISIS for “behaving in a 7th Century fashion”.   New White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was quoted as saying, “The President is making the best of a situation left him by the previous Administration, which is responsible for declaring the war over and abandoning Iraq to its fate.  Wait, ….what?  That was us?  You sure?  No more questions!”

Gawd, we are so screwed.

"Fighting Joe" Dunford is the Next Commandant of the Marine Corps

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Congratulations to General Joseph Dunford, nominated by Secretary of Defense Hagel to be the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Marine Corps Times has the story. 

I have known General Dunford a long time, since he was the MOI at Holy Cross in the late 80s.  I had the distinct honor to serve with then-Colonel Dunford in Al Anbar in 2004, when he was MajGen Mattis’ Chief of Staff.  BGen John Kelly was the ADC, and LtGen James Conway had the MEF (and the MEF SgtMaj was the incomparable Carlton Kent).  What a team!    Joe Dunford also skipped a pay grade.  He was nominated for his second star, and before he pinned on his new rank, picked up his third star!  Nearly unheard of in today’s day and age.

Lord knows, the Marine Corps needs a warrior, and an INFANTRY OFFICER at its helm.   The infantryman is the very soul of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant should be someone who knows him and his comrades intimately.   Besides, the Amos years have not been good.

Congratulations, General Joe Dunford.   Our Marine Corps is in your capable hands.  Right where it should be.   Godspeed.

(I am willing to overlook that he went to BC High.)

H/T to LTCOL P

 

 

DaveO at Op-For has Questions

They should be everyone’s questions.  The true answers to which may cement the Obama Administration as an outlaw regime that makes Richard Nixon on his worst day look like honesty itself.

Who is America’s negotiator with the Taliban?

Are we also negotiating with AQ?

Are we negotiating with terrorist groups in the Philippines and/or Thailand? What are they getting from the White House?

Why won’t the White House negotiate with Congress? Not enough beards?

Why these particular 5 Taliban? Who read their dossiers and agreed that lesser capable detainees in Gitmo would not suffice?

“Curiosities” indeed.  Perhaps it is time for a “revolt of the Generals”.  Though those in senior positions seem to have been placed there with careful consideration to their political pliability/reliability and their distinct lack of spinal column.  The pattern of military and foreign policy of this Administration, if laid out chronologically and without the spin of the lap-dog MSM co-conspirators, can only be described as an active effort to erode America’s security and military capability.  The time for calling such “miscalculation” and “blunder” has long passed.

The only thing that seems right are 2 words, "Thank you."

I did attend the Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s exhibit opening of SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice.  Again the exhibit features photographs from Stephanie Freid-Perenchio’s book SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice.

The exhibit also featured artifacts from the Navy SEAL Museum. These ranged from patches to uniforms to equipment used by the Teams throughout it’s rich history.

The exhbit opening was one of the most well attended event I’ve been to. A lot of the Library’s members were in attendance. There were also quite a few active duty and retired SEAL Team members there who were kind enough to answer questions about the Teams.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the exhibit was the offical U.S. Navy photo exhibit of Team members killed in action of training since 9/11/01.

I spent time looking at the photos and noticied a woman taking photographs of a few of the photographs. I asked her if she knew them and she said yes. Her husband (who was in attendance) served with them. There really isn’t anything you can say. I’m an outsider and as they say “for those who know, no explantion is necessary. In moments like these you feel insignifcant and everything else falls away and is trite by comparison. The best you can do is attempt to live by their example:

I always remember the story about the guy in BUDs who died in the pool during an excerise and was resuscitated.

And they passed him, even though he’d failed the excersie, because he was willing to take it to the absolute limit.

They can train around failure – you can’t train that sort of devotion to cause.

The only thing that seems right are the 2 words, “Thank you.”

SEALs killed in action or training since 9/11/01 (as of today):

ABH1 Roberts Neil C 3/4/2002

HMC Bourgeois Matthew J. 3/28/2002

IC1 Retzer Thomas E. 6/26/2003

PH1 Tapper David M. 8/20/2003

BM1 Ouellette Brian J. 5/29/2004

SO1 Harris Joshua T. 8/30/2008

SOC Freiwald Jason R. 9/11/2008

SOCS Marcum John W. 9/11/2008

SOC Brown Adam L. 3/17/2010

SOC Thomas Collin T. 8/18/2010

SO1 Nelson Caleb A. 10/1/2011

SO2 Kantor Matthew G. 11/1/2012

SO1 Ebbert Kevin R. 11/24/2012

SO1 Checque Nicholas D. 12/8/2012

SO1 Leathers Matthew J. 2/19/2013

LT Murphy Michael P. 6/28/2005

STG2 Axelson Matthew G. 6/28/2005

GM2 Dietz Danny P. 6/28/2005

FCC Fontan Jacques J. 6/28/2005

ITCS Healy Daniel R. 6/28/2005

LCDR Kristensen Erik S. 6/28/2005

ET1 Lucas Jeffrey A. 6/28/2005

LT McGreevy Michael M., Jr. 6/28/2005

MM1 Patton Shane E. 6/28/2005

QM2 Suh James E. 6/28/2005

HM1 Taylor Jeffrey S. 6/28/2005

SO2 Smith Adam O. 9/21/2010

LT Looney Brendan J. 9/21/2010

SO3 Miranda Denis 9/21/2010

SO1 Benson Darrik C. 8/6/2011

SOC Bill Brian R. 8/6/2011

SOC Campbell Christopher G. 8/6/2011

SOC Faas John W. 8/6/2011

SOC Houston Kevin A. 8/6/2011

LCDR Kelsall Jonas B. 8/6/2011

SOCM Langlais Louis J. 8/6/2011

SOC Mason Matthew D. 8/6/2011

SOC Mills Stephen M. 8/6/2011

SO1 Pittman Jesse D. 8/6/2011

SOCS Ratzlaff Thomas A. 8/6/2011

SOC Reeves Robert J. 8/6/2011

SOCS Robinson Heath M. 8/6/2011

SO2 Spehar Nicholas P. 8/6/2011

SO1 Tumilson Jon T. 8/6/2011

SOC Vaughn Aaron C. 8/6/2011

SOC Workman Jason R. 8/6/2011

SO1 Feeks Patrick D. 8/16/2012

SO2 Warsen David J. 8/16/2012

AO2 Lee Marc A. 8/2/2006

MA2 Monsoor Michael A. 9/29/2006

SO2 Schwedler Joseph C. 4/6/2007

SO1 Lewis Jason D. 7/6/2007

SOC Carter Mark T. 12/11/2007

SOC Hardy Nathan H. 2/4/2008

SOC Koch Michael E. 2/4/2008

CDR Oswald Peter G. 8/27/2002

ENS Pope Jerry O., II 10/16/2002

IT2 Maestas Mario G. 7/3/2003

HMCS Fitzhenry Theodore D. 6/15/2004

SO2 Ghane Shapoor A., Jr. 1/30/2008

SOCS Valentine Thomas J. 2/13/2008

SOC Vaccaro Lance M. 3/6/2008

SOC Shellenberger Erik F. 5/7/2009

SO2 Job Ryan C. 9/24/2009

SO2 Woodle Ronald T. 2/16/2010

SOC Shadle Brett D. 3/28/2013

SO3 Kaloust Jonathan H. 5/15/2013

Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s Citizen Soldier: The Big Red One on D-Day

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First Infantry Division Badge.

The 1st Infantry Division has a long and storied unit history in the US Army that begins just before the US involvement in World War 1 and continues to this day with periodic deployments to Afghanistan. “The Big Red One,” as it’s perhaps more commonly known is the oldest division in the US Army.

On 13 March 2014 at 6pm, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, in conjunction with the First Division Museum, is hosting a live televised Citizen Soldier event featuring Paul Herbert, Joseph Balkoski, John C. McManus, and Steven Zaloga. These distinguished military historians will be discussing the 1st ID’s service on D-Day.

Here’s a glimpse of what the 1ID’s experienced on D-Day courtesy of Wikipedia:

When that campaign was over, the division returned to England 5 November 1943[11]:622 to prepare for the eventual Normandy invasion.[2]The First Infantry Division and one regimental combat team from the 29th Infantry Division comprised the first wave of troops that assaulted German Army defenses on Omaha Beach on D-Day[2][13] with some of the division’s units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault,[14] and secured Formigny and Caumont in the beachhead by the end of the day.

Learn more about the event and it’s participants here.

The event cost is $10.00 for non-members and free for members. If you’ll be in the area and would like to attend, purchase tickets now, or if you know someone in the Chicagoland area that would be interested in attending, please pass this along. If you attend, please let them know you heard about the event here.

It should be an interesting event and I’ll be in attendance.

The Big Red One on D-Day will be televised live and available for future viewing on the Museum’s website.

Ten Years Ago Today

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We flew in to Habbaniyah on a C-130 out of Kuwait, and the pilot juked on the way in, just in case.   Once on the deck, we were dispatched into an Army-Marine Corps convoy headed to Ramadi.  On the way out the gate of the laager, a VBIED detonated next to one of the lead security vehicles, killing two soldiers.  It would be an interesting eight months in Iraq.   The First Marine Division, led by MajGen James N. Mattis, whose ADC was John Kelly and Chief of Staff Colonel Joe Dunford, was one hell of a team (that included the Army’s excellent 1-16th Infantry).

The 1st Marine Division (not including Army casualties) suffered 118 killed and more than 1,400 wounded in those eight months in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Haditah, and a lot of other dusty villages and towns nobody could find on a map except the men who fought there.   A high price was paid to hold the line in Anbar, to hold elections, and cultivate conditions for the Awakening.   For the Marines and soldiers who did so, recent events with AQ flying flags in Anbar’s cities and towns are particularly maddening.  It was clear that the “cut and run” philosophy of the White House was an exceedingly poor one, and subsequent events show that the so-called “zero option” is as descriptive of the President’s credibility as force levels in Iraq.  And we are set, with the same litany of excuses, to do it again in Afghanistan.

I wondered then what all this would be like, ten years on, should I be fortunate enough to survive.  Some things remain very vivid, the sights and smells, and the faces of comrades.  Others I am sure I would have to be reminded of.  And a few memories, thankfully few, are seared into the memory for the rest of my time on this earth.

Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

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Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, provides a very cogent summary of the weakness of our Defense Department leadership and its inability or unwillingness to discuss the 2015 DoD budget meaningfully.

At the simplest level of budgetary planning, the Secretary’s budget statements ignore the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department’s failure to manage the real-world crises in personnel, modernization, and readiness costs will have as negative an overall budget impact over time as Sequestration will. Ignoring the Department’s long history of undercosting its budget, its cost overruns, and the resulting cuts in forces, modernization, and readiness means one more year of failing to cope with reality.  Presenting an unaffordable plan is as bad as failing to budget enough money.

Cordesman gets to the real meat of our failure of strategic (dare I say “national strategic”?) thinking, as well.

He talks about cuts in personnel, equipment, and force strength in case-specific terms, but does not address readiness and does not address any plan or provide any serious details as to what the United States is seeking in in terms of changes in its alliances and partnerships,  and its specific goals in force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness.

He holds nothing back in his contempt for the process of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), either.

Worse, we are going to leave these issues to be addressed in the future by another mindless waste of time like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). All the past QDRs have been set so far in the future to be practical or relevant. Each successive QDR has proved to be one more colostomy bag after another of half-digested concepts and vague strategic priorities filled with noise and futility and signifying nothing.

Cordesman saves his best for last, however.

Like all of his recent predecessors, Secretary Hagel has failed dismally to show the U.S. has any real plans for the future and to provide any meaningful sense of direction and real justification for defense spending. The best that can be said of his speech on the FY2015 defense budget is that U.S. strategy and forces will go hollow in a kinder and gentler manner than simply enforcing sequestration.

We do need to avoid cutting our forces, military capabilities, and defense spending to the levels called for in sequestration. But this is no substitute for the total lack of any clear goals for the future, for showing that the Department of Defense has serious plans to shape a viable mix of alliances and partnerships, force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness over the coming Future Year Defense Plan.

I don’t always agree with Cordesman’s assertions, but he is just about always a thoughtful if provocative commenter on Defense and National Security issues, and his analysis of SECDEF Hagel’s remarks are spot-on.  We are headed for a hollow force, despite its smaller size, as many of us have feared all along.  This, despite all the promises and admonitions of this Administration and our Pentagon leadership.  Go have a read.

 

 

Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?

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Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.

This is what happens to you when you are killed in Afghanistan*

It’s actually an article about the stress that Mortuary Affairs soldiers in Afghanistan face, but also contains an excellent description of the grim duty they perform, a duty faced with Dignity, Reverence, Respect.

The process starts when the phone rings. An officer tracking flights into the base calls the mortuary affairs unit with an alert that in 30 minutes to an hour an aircraft will touch down carrying a servicemember’s remains.

The team in the hangar responds with practiced urgency. One member of the “clean hands” crew contacts the unit of the deceased to gather details for a case file that will travel with the body to the United States. Two members iron an American flag to drape over the top half of an aluminum transfer case that will hold the remains.

If their team receives the call, Siverand and Valdivia climb into a box truck parked in the mortuary compound and drive to the flight line. In their downtime, while playing “Call of Duty” or poker, a relaxed repartee flows between them. In the vehicle, silence prevails.

The two pull up close to the plane or helicopter. They enter the aircraft and salute the dead servicemember and the military escorts accompanying the remains. The escorts help load the black body bag into the back of the truck. The body rides feet first. Siverand and Valdivia salute again, close the door and return to the compound.

In the hangar, under the cold glow of fluorescent lights, they wheel the remains on a gurney and stop beside a steel table. They move to opposite sides of the bag’s bottom end. Each pauses to steady his thoughts, to brace for a moment that never feels ordinary.

Valdivia unzips the bag. “I don’t like doing it, so he does it,” Siverand says. “But once it’s open, you scan what’s there and get to work.”

Mortuary Affairs is, thankfully, a terribly small community in the Army.

Incidentally, friend of the blog Jennifer Holik has written a two part piece on the Graves Registration Service in World War II. Part I. Part II.

Finally, an update on yesterday’s post on the Honor Guard social media incident. The soldier at the the heart of the incident has been suspended from participation in funerals, and the incident is under investigation.

*The title of this post is pretty blatantly ripped off from the opening sentence of a chapter in Geoffrey Perret’s excellent There’s a War to be Won. I prefer the term “homage” to “plagiarism.”