My God, it’s full of stars!

Our favorite ‘phibian, CDR Salamander, has post up today featuring Jim Webb, the junior senator from Virginia, about his current unhappiness with the number of Generals and Admirals in the services. GO/FOs, as they are know, keep increasing in numbers, regardless of the fluctuation in the numbers of troops. It’s a version of grade inflation, if you will.

We are somewhat conflicted about Webb. He was an effective Secretary of the Navy, and he’s written some very good books. But his decision to run as a Democrat, and his stance on the Iraq war diminished him in our eyes. Still, it is nice to see a member of the Democrat party that is serious about defense issues.

Some of the numbers he cites are disturbing:

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., is pressing the Defense Department for justification of why the military has so many flag and general officers, … In the case of flag and general officers, Webb said he wants an explanation why the number of senior officers continues to grow. He has not concluded there are too many, but is asking why there are so many, and what exactly they are all doing. Those kinds of questions began Glenn’s multi-year push to reduce the number of admirals and generals, which he based on the officer-to-enlisted ratio and termed “brass creep.”

Defense Department statistics show there were 38 four-stars, 149 three-stars, 299 two-stars and 464 one-stars on active duty at the end of March.

Let’s assume the Army has roughly one third of the two star officers, call it one hundred. Two stars, or Major General, is the nominal rank of a division commander. There are only 10 division headquarters in the Army. Now, there are some jobs outside of division commander that realistically call for a Major General (such as the Chief of Staff for a 4-star command), but if you’ve ever looked at a list of the jobs that most Major Generals hold, you’d be hard pressed to figure out what the purpose is beyond creating a billet and a staff.

A more realistic ratio of MGs to division command slots would probably be somewhere in the vicinity of 3-1 or maybe even 4-1.

In the Navy, it is even worse. The Navy has more flag officers than ships.


Down in the comments of this post, there’s some love for the M-14. Hey, I’m on board with that. I liked the M-16, particularly once I got my hands on the M-16A2.

But from the very first time I fired an M-14, I was in love.

M-14. Looks good, shoots good.

Interestingly, it was here at NAS Whidbey that I first fired one. I was in high school Navy JROTC (yes, dear reader, your host was, and is, a dork). Our instructor managed to wrangle an invite for a select few of us to head out to the base’s small arms range and pop off a few rounds from various weapons.

As I recall, we fired the M-16A1, the M-14, the M1911A1 (that’s a .45 for you non-technical types) and an M-60 machine gun. To this day, I still think it was pretty cool that, as a high school student, I got to crank off some automatic weapons fire.

Later that year, a community organization asked if the NJROTC drill team could provide a firing party to fire a salute for a Memorial Day event. Well, we were more than willing, but us high school types weren’t really allowed real weapons. So our instructor finagled a deal with the base again. He borrowed seven M-14s (and a Master-at-Arms to keep an eye on them) and a little blank ammo. We had about 3 minutes of practice with them, and then did our thing. It went well. The only thing that annoyed me was that I was the commander, so I got to give orders, but I didn’t get to shoot one.

I think the trip to the range, and the Memorial Day salute were the only times in my life that I ever got to fire a weapon without having to clean it. Some poor sailor got that task. Thanks, anonymous guy.

NAS Whidbey

I’m visiting friends just outside the gate of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA. It’s pretty cool being just along the eastern approach of the station, watching the jets shoot approaches.

NAS Whidbey is the home to the Navy’s EA-6B Prowler  squadrons, which are transitioning to the EA-18 Growler. Whidbey is also home to the West Coast squadrons of the P-3 Orion.

EA-6B Prowler
EA-18 Growler
P-3C Orion

I grew up around here, so I’m fairly used to seeing  jets in the pattern, but I’d certainly forgotten just how much louder the turbojets are compared to civilian high-bypass turbofans.

Death by PowerPoint

via sid, in the comments at CDR Salamander’s place, the NYT actually has a great article.

I was pretty fortunate that my Army job rarely had any PowerPoint presentations. In fact, the first time I saw PPT was during my tour as a recruiter. This was in the mid-90s. Our recruiting battalion was the first to be issued laptop computers to assist in our sales presentations. We had proprietary videos and such. We also had Microsoft Office, but there were no prepackaged PPT presentations. I put together a few to back up the information I wanted to present.

I was far more likely to get this tab, than a real Ranger tab

In my civilian job, making presentations was a huge part of my daily duties. My boss very rarely did a slideshow, however. Mostly we used printed and bound slides as a leave-behind to reinforce what his sales pitch was.

I think that is the key to using PPT effectively. Many people use PPT as a replacement for a proper presentation, rather than a tool to reinforce the main points they want to make. One of the reasons this is so frustrating is that over many years, the services have developed ways to effectively communicate complex plans quickly through a format that is universally understood (such as the 5-paragraph operations order) and then promptly sets these methods aside for a slideshow.

Operation Eagle Claw

Thirty years ago today, the attempt to rescue the hostages held by Iran failed at Desert One, ending in tragedy and farce. The failed attempt also effectively ended the hopes for reelection of Jimmy Carter.

The failed operation was a wake-up call and a catalyst for change. The formation of the US Special Operations Command can be directly tied to lessons learned from Operation Eagle Claw. In effect, the USSOCOM acts as a separate armed service, even though all of the personnel assigned to it are members of the various branches.

Operation Eagle Claw was also the impetus behind the Army’s creation of Task Force 160, the first Army aviation unit dedicated to supporting special operations forces. It later evolved into the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Finally, Operation Eagle Claw, and the less than stellar performance of the services in Operation Urgent Fury (the invasion of Grenada) was a major influence in the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 which fundamentally changed the way forces were trained and commanded in the field.


The Army in Afghanistan is pulling out of the Korengal Valley. We’ve been there for pretty much the whole time we’ve been in Afghanistan, and had very little success in pacifying the area.

Writer and journalist Sebastian Junger, who spent much of 2007 and 2008 embedded with Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne in the Korengal, pens a farewell to the embattled six mile long valley in eastern Afghanistan. He worries about the emotional repercussions of the pullout on the many soldiers who fought there and saw their companions killed and maimed over a valley of “dubious strategic value.”

COP Restrepo

Of course, the Taliban are moving in right behind us, and claiming a major propaganda victory. And it IS a real propaganda victory. And propaganda is a real weapon in this war.

But the Korengal valley is a tiny, isolated area, and not one of the strategic keys to the kingdom. And the Army has done little there but suffer casualties out of proportion to the effort employed, and for no return. One presumes that McChrystal has decided that it is better to just excise this festering wound and employ those resources elsewhere, instead of just trying to prove a point.

But we should certainly not forget the incredibly valor of the many troops who fought so hard, and well, over the years, especially those of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.