Reenlistment

The Instapundit writes a blurb about the largest reenlistment ceremony in history. Well over a thousand people shipping over for another 5000 man-years of service.

I’ve noticed a tendency lately to make these big productions. Same thing for people entering the service. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just wouldn’t want to do it that way.

When you join the Army, you actaully enlist twice. When you go to sign up, you enlist in the Army Reserves, without pay, and without having to go to drill. When the time comes to  go on active duty and go to Basic Training, you enlist again, this time in the Regular Army.

Way back in April of ’85, I went, took the physical, looked at the jobs they offered me, and took the oath of enlistment into the reserves. Some officer I never saw before nor after administered the oath.

But on the moring of September 11, 1985, when the time came to enlist in the Regular Army and report to active duty, things were a little different. The officer who administered the Oath? I knew him fairly well, but never as well as I had wished. See, he was my father. The law requires that the oath be administered by an officer. That officer can be retired, like my father was, but he must be in uniform. And so, my father put on his service uniform, for the first time in seven years, had me swear an oath, said goodbye and went home. To the best of my knowledge, he never wore it again.

When it comes time to reenlist, most units will give your wishes about the ceremony some consideration. If you have a particular officer that you wish to administer it, they will work to arrange it. I reenlisted twice while in Colorado. The first time, the Battalion CO led the ceremony. I’d known him well in a previous post, and greatly admired him. My last enlistment, I asked my Platoon Leader to do it. He was a young, bright idealistic officer with an uncommon dash of common sense. My Platoon Sergeant and I  reenlisted together. Nice, small, cozy ceremony, keeping it “in the family” almost.

I’m sure there’s something stirring about being in a large ceremony like the one Instapundit links. Those folks will always be able to say that GEN Petraeus swore them in. But I liked my way better.

Patriotism

One of my bugbears is that when I openly display my patriotism, by flying our nation’s flag, or by singing loudly (but poorly) our nation’s anthem, many folks on the left assume that patriotism equals militarism. Not in my book.
We tend to remember the military episodes in our nation’s history because they are easy to point to’ large, memorable events that many of our citizens took part in.
But so much of the patriotism in our nation is expressed in small, but wonderful ways. People who coach Little League because they think it is important to be involved in the lives of our youth; folks who take the time to serve with groups like Meals on Wheels because taking care of our own isn’t just a military thing, it really is the American Way.
It isn’t because we have a great military that we have a great nation.
It is because we have a great nation that we have a great military.

Recruiting and Waivers

My last job in the Army was as a recruiter. The news for the last 7 years has often looked at the recruiting numbers of the Army and the other services, parsing them to spot trends toward a broken force. Some on the left are hoping to see the numbers fall and like to scare folks by saying that we’ll soon have a draft. Um, no. That’s the last thing the Army or the other branches want. The other theme often bandied about is that the quality of the services are falling. You can expect to see this news touted to support that view.

Let me give you a little background on waivers. Every person who joins the Army must be physically, mentally and morally fit for service. Finding people willing to join the Army was never a problem. Finding people that met those three criteria was the challenge. Something as small as a patch of psoriasis could be enough to disqualify someone physically, and whether they could receive a waiver was always a big question. As a recruiter, I had no influence on the physicians who reviewed the waiver applications. The mental qualifications were a kind of complicated. Everyone who joins the Army has to pass the ASVAB test. That’s the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Many of you may have taken it in high school as a warm up for SATs. What constituted a passing grade depended on your level of education. The test is scored on a curve, and the bottom 32% of the population fail the test. For a long time, people that had only a GED needed to score in the 50 percentile or better just to qualify. Whether we would grant them a waiver depended on how many other GEDs were trying to get in. If my recruiting battalion (which covered all of Indiana and the northern half of Kentucky) had space for 3 GEDs that month, it would generally be first come, first served. The fourth guy (or gal) who showed up with a GED was out of luck. The numbers actually allocated changed from month to month, based on the needs of the Army. This has been relaxed somewhat, both because of the pressing needs of recruitment and because many people now pursue nontraditional high school education, such as home school.

Finally, morally qualified. One of the first questions we asked was “have you ever been arrested, cited, charged, held or convicted of any crime?” I don’t care if charges were dropped, of if it was just a speeding ticket. If you spoke with the police, I needed to know. If there was a criminal history, we’d check it out and go from there. But even if we couldn’t get the prospect to admit to any criminal history, if they wanted to join, we would check police records at the city, county, and state level for every place they lived, worked or went to school for the last three years. Often, applicants would have some sort of record (though they usually told us, first). Let’s take a look at a typical case.

Mike was a high school graduate when I met him. He hadn’t really thought much about the Army, but he quickly became interested in working as a cannon crewmember. He took and passed the ASVAB with no problems. He didn’t appear to have any physical problems and I didn’t think the physical would find any. He did, however admit to a misdemeanor burglary charge. I ran the police checks on Mike and got a surprise. He had been arrested on felony burglary charges. That’s a disqualification right there. The next step was to go to the court and get their records on Mike. Mike’s charge had been reduced to a misdemeanor and he plead no contest. He was “conditionally discharged”, meaning that if he didn’t get into any further trouble with the law for one year, the charge would be dropped. Mike kept his nose clean and in due course, the charge was dropped. But as far as the Army was concerned, he was still disqualified. I had to help Mike apply for a waiver for enlistment. My rule of thumb was to test how bad the guy wanted to join. I would take care of all the Army paperwork, and Mike had to go get everything else, such as letters from his neighbors, teachers, clergy (I told him if he didn’t have any clergy, now would be a good time to find some!) and writing an explanation of why he thought he should be given a second chance.

After collecting all the materials for the waiver I sent it to my company commander. He reviewed it for completeness and accuracy, and to ensure that Mike could qualify for a waiver. My CO then sent it to the Battalion Commander, who had to decide to grant or deny the waiver. In this case, the waiver was granted, Mike went on to join the Army, serve his enlistment, and return home to attend college.

One reason more people need waivers these days is that more people are being charges for crimes that in the past, the police would have given a warning or handed them off to their parents. In addition, many crimes that were formerly misdemeanors are now felonies.

When you read or hear stories about how the Army is full of felons and thugs, take that with a grain of salt.

Retro Apache Pr0n…

When I put up my post on the Apache development, I asked BillT from Castle Argghhh! to take a look and let me know if I’d made any colossal blunders. As I fired off the email, I knew in my bones he was going to come back with a word about the Apache’s daddy, the venerable AH-1 Cobra. How did I know this? Bill is a retired Army Aviator (in fact, I believe he’s a Master Aviator), with combat time in Vietnam and long experience in attack and scout aviation. My request was like asking the owner of a ’64 Mustang to give me his thoughts on the new Dodge Magnum. Sure, he’ll help, but you know he’s gonna want to talk a little Mustang.

Almost from the first helicopter, people had the bright idea to arm them. Everyone in the Army knows to seek the high ground, and how much higher can you get than in a helicopter? But the concept was easier than the implementation. Early helicopters had little power, and were only able to lift relatively small loads. Think back to the opening shots of M*A*S*H. Not a lot of room there for lifting heavy stuff. Early helicopters were powered by piston engines. You could use a bigger engine to get more power, but the weight of the engine increased faster than the improvement in power. It wasn’t until the invention of the gas turbine that lightweight, powerful helicopters became a reality.

A gas turbine is a jet engine that transfers its power to a drive shaft, instead of pushing air out the back. The first practical gas turbine powered helicopter was the UH-1B Iroquois, far better known as the Huey. Early in the Vietnam war, Huey’s began to be used to ferry troops to the battle, saving time that would otherwise be spent walking in the woods. Unfortunately, the VC learned that they could predict where the Huey’s would land, and soon began laying ambushes for them. The Huey’s were tough, capable birds, but they can only take so much damage. What was needed was an escort to keep the VC’s heads down while the Huey’s landed and offloaded their troops. The Army quickly developed an armed version of the Huey, equipping it with machine guns and 2.75” rockets, just the thing to discourage the VC from shooting at the transports.

While the new gunship escorts were a great improvement over nothing, they still weren’t perfect. The extra weight of the guns, rockets and ammunition actually left the escorts slower than the transports.

The Army and Bell Helicopter took the parts of the helicopter that they liked, such as the rotor, transmission and basic engine, and developed a specialized gunship. By using a more powerful version of the basic engine (and not many aviators will ever complain about having more power) and using the smallest possible body, they were able to introduce a chopper that was both faster than the transports and more heavily armed than previous gunships. The AH-1G would be the Army’s primary gunship in the Vietnam war. Over 1,000 were produced.

Armed with two 6-barreled 7.62mm Mini-guns and 2.75” rocket pods, the AH-1G Cobra had plenty of firepower to suppress the VC when transports were landing or taking off at an LZ. In addition, they were used to provide close support for troops on the ground. In fact, some units were used primarily for this and were designated Ariel Rocket Artillery Battalions. Many a grunt blessed the familiar “Whop-whop-whop” sound of a Cobra overhead.

After the Vietnam War, the Army turned its attention back to Western Europe. The Army was in bad shape and facing a truly massive Soviet army. With budgets tight, forces demoralized and equipment obsolete, how would the Army be able to defeat the Soviets and prevent them from conquering Western Europe. The Army had a large supply of Cobras on hand, but rockets and Mini-guns were next to useless against tanks and armored personnel carriers. The answer lay with the TOW missile. TOW stands for Tube Launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile. With a range of 3000 meters and a warhead capable of destroying any tank, the 70 pound missile gave the Cobra the firepower it needed to be useful on the battlefields of Europe. A new 20mm three barreled cannon was also added to deal with targets like trucks.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1_Tg1p5Xw0]

With this new, powerful anti-tank weapon, Army aviators began thinking beyond the front lines. By using the mobility of helicopters, they could search out and attack Soviet formations behind the front lines, before they were attacking our troops. In conjunction with the evolution of what would become AirLand Battle doctrine, the concept of “Deep Strike” came to be accepted. No longer would aviators be thought of as glorified truck drivers or simply flying artillery, but as Cavalry in the tradition of JEB Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

UPDATE:

BillT was kind enough to give me his thoughts on the subject (see comments) and better yet, send pictures!

Why you should listen to me…

Sweet! Just got touted by the fine folks at Castle Argghhh! As you read my posts, you may be wondering, “what qualifications does our author have to comment and pontificate on matters of such import?”

Well, none, really. I served twelve years in the Army. My career was not by any  means a spectacular success. But it was varied and interesting. I bounced around from one position to another quite often and had a lot of peeks into many facets of the Army life.

Let me say right now, the sum total of my combat experience consists of riding in the back of a Bradley for four days. I have absolutely no awards for valor. The longest deployment I ever made was only 5 months. I have no special training in strategy, no security clearance to look at intel, few contacts giving me the inside scoop.

What I do have is a deep, abiding love for the US Army as an institution. I am certainly not blind to it’s faults, but looking at the history of the Army, with the attendant highs and lows, I am amazed by the number of truly impressive people that have given so much to the service. I mean that in two ways. The young citizen soldier who serves on the front lines, in times of peace, and now, in time of war. People worry about the future of our nation, always bemoaning “kids these days”. I don’t. If you go back and read the letters from the Revolutionary war, they said the same things. We’ve been going downhill for 233 years now-look where its gotten us!

The other folks that have been so impressive to me are the hidden heros. They made their impact not so much on the battlefield, but toiling in relative anonymity in unglamorous staff positions, deciding things like our doctrine (that is, how we fight), how to best organize the Army (you think your business goes through a lot of re-orgs, try tracking 200+ years of re-org charts!), how we equip our forces, and how we train folks. These folks don’t get a parade, and they do get a lot of grief-everyone hates a staff weenie. But without their efforts, we don’t win on the battlefield. I’m not going to put up a lot of posts about the post housing officer, but I do want to look at the roles of people like Gen. Marshall in the pre-WWII days, and the amazing, untold story of how the Army was rebuilt after Vietnam.

A lot of my point here is to make the institution of the Army  more accessible to folks without a military background. I’ve tried to strip away most of the jargon and acronyms so people can understand concepts. By all means, if you have questions, just ask. If I goon the answer, ask again. I’ll keep trying till I get it right.

Why are we here?

More than one US Army soldier in the Cold War looked at his map of Western Europe and wondered why the US Army, the anchor of the Nato Alliance, was stationed at one of the least likely invasion routes. The geography in the north of Germany is generally flat or low rolling hills, quite suitable to armored forces attacking from Poland and East Germany, where the bulk of the Soviet army was stationed.

In the south, the terrain was far more mountainous, with numerous chokepoints where attacking forces could be blocked, trapped, and destroyed. The primary Warsaw Pact Forces there were the Czech Army.

Given the importance of this terrain, why was the vast majority of the US Army in Europe stationed in the south, rather than in the north where the heaviest attack could be expected? The answer is a historical accident from 1940, and shows the tyranny of logistics over tactics.

In the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany was triumpant. They had conquered all of Western Europe from the Baltic to the Mediterrenian Sea. The only countries not under the Nazi thumb were a compliant Spain and tiny Portugal, both neutral countries, and that defiant lion, The United Kingdom. Following the fall of France in June 1940, the British Army was forced to retreat at Dunkirk and return to England. The British evacuation there will long live in the annals of history as a magnificent feat, but it was still a defeat.

The remains of the British Army were in bad shape. Most of their equipment had been abandoned in France. Just twenty miles away lay the victorious Wehrmacht. Already the German Army was laying plans for an autumn invasion of England. The British Army quickly moved to the southeast of England to defend against this planned invasion.

The Battle of Britain, where the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force fought a desparate struggle for command of the skies, took place over that summer and fall of 1940. The Germans knew that air superiortiy was needed for a successful invasion. They failed to achieve it. Still, the British were obliged to maintain a defense in southeast England lest the Germans try. While here, they began the process of re-equipping and rebuilding.

After the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, Churchill and Franklin (and more importantly, their military staffs) both agreed that eventually, there would have to be an invasion of France across the English Channel. The US began moving forces into England. Since the southeast of England was full of British troops, most US forces were based in the west.

When the time for the invasion came, the decision was made to land in Normandy. Here is where the tyranny of logistics raised its ugly head.  Looking at the map below, we see that the US forces, stationed in the west, would be forced to land on the western side of the Cotentin Peninsula. The size of the invasion fleet was just too large to swap positions while at sea. The British would land in the east and the US to the west. When they broke out of the beachhead and wheeled to head east, that would place the British to the north and the US to the south.

After the invasion of Normandy, further US and French forces would invade southern France near Marseille, reinforcing the US position in the south.

While military planners would have preferred the heavier, larger, and more mobile US forces to attack across the north of Europe, while the smaller, less mobile British Armies made a supporting attack in the south, the delay, cost and confusion of trying to switch their positions made this impossible. Moving the forces might have been just barely possible, but there was no way to even attempt to move their huge logistical tails. The die was cast and the stage was set in stone. The disposition of forces would remain all the way across Europe to the defeat of Nazi Germany in May of 1945.

With the defeat of the Nazis, the vast majority of the Allied armies were demobilized and went home. Because so much of the German society had collapsed, however, significant occupation forces had to remain. Germany was divided into zones of occupation, with zones for the Russians, British, Americans, and French. Mostly these zones were where the forces had halted at the end of the war.

When the Iron Curtain fell across Europe in 1947, the Western Allies began to reinforce their positions in Europe, eventually forming NATO in 1949 (the Warsaw Pact wasn’t formed until 1955). By this time, it was too late to shift major forces to better suit the terrain, again primarily because of logistics. There was a political factor here though. If the US had tried to reposition major forces outside the US zone, the Soviets would have been able to protest that we were not abiding by the terms of the agreement. In fact, they could have argued that they should be able to move outside their zone as well, perhaps into the British or US zones. We certainly didn’t want that. Even after West Germany regained its sovereignity in 1955, it was logistically impossible to switch the positions of the major forces.

It is a fair guess that more than one US general, looking at the defense of Western Europe during the Cold War, cursed the fates that places the Allies in the positions they held. In fact, a large part of the development of AirLand Battle Doctrine was about flipping this geographical disadvantage on its head, and finding a way to use manuever to hide behind the terrain of southern Germany and strike into the flank of any Soviet attack to the north.