25 November 2014

Don't Call Us "Nasty," or the Superiority of the National Guard

We are the “Nasty Girls.”

I don’t hear that indignity much these days, but I understand it used to be quite popular among the warrior classes.

Nasty sounds kind of like "national," you see. So the National Guard Soldiers were disparaged as "Nasty Guard," which quickly morphed into a sexualized insult.

Anyway, I really haven' heard that honorific on deployments. Why isn’t it a sentiment anymore? Probably because so many active duty types have served alongside National Guardsmen that they know we kick ass.

How much ass do we kick? Up to 400% more than an active duty Soldier, depending on which formula you use. But there are still some hard heads in the regular Army that refuse to deal with reality. And the reality is this: National Guardsmen are better Soldiers in almost every way. We are smarter, we have a broader skill set, we are more adaptable, and we are better looking, generally. That last part is pretty easy to verify by doing a few minutes of people watching at any major Army post.

Not only do some regulars not realize how superior we are, but they still think they are better!

This post is a big dose of tough love for my active duty friends. Just the other day I heard a colleague in the public affairs world disparage the National Guard. She is a perfect example of the truth of the reality mentioned above (and, as immature as it sounds, especially with regard to the last point).

It would take a monumental effort to develop a metric to measure Soldier effectiveness, since there is no single ideal Soldier. And there are no "industry standards" with which to compare. The American military does things no other can or will do, and so the American Soldier stands alone in his own category.

So it’s kind of problematic to measure Soldier effectiveness, but here are a few metrics that could be combined in an index that we can call—and I’m just spit balling here—the Soldier Performance Index. Go ahead and consider it copyrighted:

  • Cost: what does it take in dollars and time to train a Soldier?
  • Longevity: what is the burn-out rate?
  • Value-added: what additional skills and capabilities does a Soldier bring to the military mission above what she is trained to do by the Army?

Ultimately, we want to measure a Soldier’s performance in operations. Sometimes that means combat, but most of the time it does not. In the three main domains described above, the average Guard member exceeds his active-duty counter part. Some variables would be easy to measure, like cost and longevity. The third domain is supported by plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Think for a moment what would motivate someone to join the National Guard. Think of me, for example. I was 29 when I enlisted, with a master's degree and a secure job. I certainly didn't join for employment. And though I knew I was volunteering during war time, I wasn't eager to go to combat. Nevertheless, I brought my whole background of teaching and learning experience to the fight.

I am not extraordinary for a Guardsman.

Of course the regulars would say that they, as full-timers, have much more training and operational experience thatn we do.

Yes, they might be more familiar with Army organization and paperwork, but we train regularly, and we deploy nearly as much as they do. Besides, operations and battlefield requirements change quickly and frequently, and Guard members are more flexible.

We can do everything an active Soldier can do, plus more, and do it more cheaply and efficiently. This is because we have jobs and lives that don’t foster a reliance on Big Brother, jobs that often enhance our warrior skills. We undergo the same training that active Soldiers do, but we cram it into several weekends a year. We go on the same deployments.

In fact, the main difference between us and the regulars is that we don’t get paid for sitting around between overseas tours.

We might be nasty, to be sure, but we all know that Soldiers love nasty girls. 

21 November 2014

POTUS Censured for Violating OpSec

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2014— The commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces was informally reprimanded today for giving away details about troop movements.

On his personal Facebook page (different from the White House page) the president posted the following status update early this morning:


The status read, "By the end of the year, U.S. strength will be reduced to 9800 personnel. This represents the readiness of Afghanistan's native forces to take the lead on their own security." It included the hashtag "Forward."

Shortly after the status update was posted, Army Maj. Theodore Breen confronted the president.

"It was a bit difficult to get through his physical security detail," Breen said. "But it was important to point out that seemingly innocent tweets and Facebook updates can give the enemy valuable information."

"I mean, we might as ell annouce to the world that we're sending home a bunch of troops next month," he added.

It was, according to the Army, a classic violation operational security, or "OpSec," as Soldiers refer to it.

The post remains on Obama's Facebook page. It currently has over 10,000 likes and more than 500 shares.

Obama is the first sitting president to have been reprimanded for an OpSec violation. Though, since there is not formal mechanism to reprimand a civilian who is not a Department of Defense employee, Breen has characterized his action as an "informal reprimand."

It is unclear whether Breen was able to personally deliver the censure. The White House has not made a comment.

Breen is an assistant program manger at the Defense Department's Safety and Security Office. He made the metro ride to the White House to confront the president shortly after he saw the Facebook post.

"They wouldn't let me see him. They were kind of rude actually," Breen said, referring to the Secret Service detail on duty at the White House. "They were like, who are you?"

Breen has been a fan of Obama on Facebook since 2011.

"I told them to tell the president that if any of my Soldiers posted about specific numbers and dates of movement, they'd be in a big hot mess," added Breen. "I don't think this Obama guy should be above sound military protocol, even if he is the commander-in-chief."

Breen then left a sticky note with the phrase, "Think Like the Wolf" printed on it. It is campaign the Safety and Security Office developed to remind service members and department civilians to always remember OpSec.

According to a Department of Defense website, "Nearly 90% of the information collected comes from "Open Sources,'" such as the president Facebook page. Obama has over 44 million fans on Facebook.

Breen hopes his superiors will remember his "act of courage" when it comes time to write his Officer Evaluation Report. 

17 November 2014

Bob Herbert Is a Moron, and the All Volunteer Army Rocks

"The all-volunteer Army isn't working."

That's how Bob Herbert, a former distinguished columnist for the New York Times, opened one of his distinguished pieces in June 2005. Herbert is now a distinguished senior fellow for the left-wing think tank, Demos. "Dinstinguished" is the kind of modifier that lacks valence. William Safire distinguished. But so is Jason Blair. 

I assume Herbert earned the title for making provably false assertions to support his ideology masked as a legitimate critique of defense policy. One of his favorite assertions is that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on a false pretense. Whatever the merits of that claim, the doozy that, "The all-volunteer Army isn't working" makes it sound laughable by comparison. 

Herbert picked the most perilous time in the Army's volunteer era to make his proclamation that it was dysfunctional. He was in lock step with the anti-Iraq War movement impugning civilians in charge of the military with an eagerness to send American kids of to die for oil.
According to him, "hawks want their wars fought with other people's children." 

Self-righteous journalists write their headlines at the expense of those children. Did Bob Herbert ever report from a combat zone? No. But he didn't mind trying to attract readers with feigned empathy for those who did. 

It's interesting how I came across his piece. Not in the habit of reading the NYT for contemporary news, I nevertheless turned to the Paper of Record to get some facts about the Second Battle of Fallujah for a series I am composing on the ten-year anniversary of that campaign. 

What I didn't find was any solid reporting about the battle. No stories of specific actions, troop deaths, progress on retaking the insurgent stronghold-- you know, things you might expect to find in a newspaper. It seems that the NYT's main contribution to that important era in our military's history was to second guess the politics and make the case that volunteers couldn't cut it.

Blasting the All-Volunteer Force has lately been a favorite past time of the Left. Ironically, it was the same anti-war factions that condemned the Vietnam-era draft as "unpatriotic"and "unfair." It took a republican president and a conservative brain trust to dismantle conscription.

Since the draft was ended in 1973, the American military has been unmatched in combat effectiveness. 

Ten years after the Second Battle of Fallujah, it is easy to see that. So what was Bob Herbert thinking? Well, six months after Fallujah, it wasn't a stretch to say the war was "going badly." But then Herbert made a dangerous logical leap:
...a backlash is developing that could cripple the nation's ability to wage war without a draft. 
That assertion has been proven totally indefensible on factual grounds. 

I've made very bad predictions, and I don't fault Herbert for getting it wrong. The mistake Herbert made was to insert his distaste for the Iraq war into a discussion about whether volunteers were up to the task. 

Fallujah was terrible. And Iraq certainly took more manpower and resources that experts planned. But those who volunteered to fight did so exceptionally, and to insist that a draft would have produced a better Army is lunacy. 

What Herbert and his ilk really wanted was the kind of outrage over the war that inspired them during Vietnam. 

But it's hard to muster a bunch of outrage on elite college campuses when students are left to study. And the Army is better without hoards of Soldiers who don't want to be there anyway. 

In other words, the all-volunteer Army is working just fine. 

11 November 2014

Remembering Fallujah Part 2: A Battle Against Evil

This is the second part in a four-part series commemorating the Second Battle of Fallujah, which took place in November, 2004. Read Remembering Fallujah Part 1: A Chaplain, an Infantryman, and the Fallen.

Chaplain Ric Brown has the most remarkable set of photos on his Facebook page. In several, he is holding hands with Soldiers perched in their armored vehicles, praying. 

One photo shows a Soldier with his head down, whether in reverence to the Almighty or fear of the scene of carnage he is about to drive into, is unclear. But Brown is there, comforting him. He says he doesn't know who took these photos, or even that anyone was taking them. Someone passed the photos along anonymously several years later.

But those boys needed the prayers.

And the fight in Fallujah had to be waged. As distant as that episode now seems, the strategic goals of the Iraq War hung in the balance in Fallujah a decade ago.

According to a report conducted by the Institute for Defense Analyses, by July of 2004, Fallujah was infested with insurgents, and U.S. officials worried that it represented the coalition‘s defeat and the insurgents’ victory. 

The city had become a symbol of the insurgency, as well as a tactical center for information operations, training, and manufacture of improvised explosive devices. It was an exporter of terror to the entire region.

Just a few months earlier, insurgents had ambushed and killed four U.S. contractors, hanging two of their charred bodies from a bridge on the west end of the city. 
During a savage demonstration, locals cheered and one Iraqi held a sign underneath one of the lynched bodies that read: "Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans." (From “The Battle for Fallujah: Al Fajr—the Myth-buster”)
Things were spinning out of control, and people were afraid. Hundreds of Iraqis deserted when they learned they’d be going there for Phantom Fury, according to the IDA report. 

Staff Sgt. David Bellavia and the men of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment (2-2) were afraid, too, but they knew they had to fight. 

Lt. Col. Peter Newell, 2-2’s commander, spoke to his troops before they went into the fight. Bellavia recalls that he had to "raise his voice so he can be heard over the distant artillery fire exploding a few miles to our south." 

"This is as pure a fight of good versus evil as we'll probably see in our lifetime," said the battalion commander. 

I asked Brown if God was on his side that day. 
I’m cautious to say yes to God being on our side. There are things that are ordained of God. On one hand, God has emplaced governments… and if the government is tuned in and doing right by the people, then, yes, He is on our side.
Whether the Americans and their Iraqi allies had God or not, they had the weaponry. The two-star general in command of the operation described the awesomeness. 
I was wandering all across the front, meeting with the units as they moved into attack positions, and it was awe-inspiring. At that moment, this was the greatest concentration of combat power on the face of the Earth, as you looked at the attack forces ready to cross and surround the city, they were a combination of Army and Marine forces with their Iraqi counterparts. (From “The Battle for Fallujah: Al Fajr—the Myth-buster”)
The array had a confidence boosting effect on the Iraqis, too. One of the Marine officers recalled,
You could see the Iraqis drive around in their trucks and it would be kind of quiet, until they got the sense of it. Look at all this stuff! Literally, they would cheer and wave and they knew, "We are on the right side." They didn't really know what was going on, but once they took a look around and saw tanks and Marines and soldiers, and guns and helicopters, you could see their calmness, "We are actually on the winning team this time." (From “The Battle for Fallujah: Al Fajr—the Myth-buster”)
At 7:00 pm local time on November 8, 2004, heavy tanks and fighting vehicles began rolling through a breach that had been punched through the north berms of the city. Forces had been divided into two regimental combat teams. Second Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment led the main attack for Regimental Combat Team-1 in the west. 

Bellavia and Brown were with their Task Force 2-2, leading RCT-7 in the east. 

When Operation Phantom Fury began the day before, coalition troops secured bridges and seized the hospital, which the insurgents had used as a command center. U.S. Special Forces had worked with Iraqis to gather intelligence and prepare the information battlefield. 

While Brown doesn't declare whether God was rooting for the coalition, he recognized evil, and agrees with Newell that the Americans were fighting against it. 

So did Bellavia, who uttered a prayer following his chaplain’s example, asking for strength to fight evil. 

"I am ready, Dear Lord," he said. "And I am coming."