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March 19, 2006
Operation SwarmerBy Greyhawk
Or: "So long, and thanks for flying Air Assault"
A recent check of top internet news searches reveals Operation SWARMER has caught enough public attention to make the list. That's a rarity at this point in the Iraq saga; most such actions pass with little notice. Generally CENTCOM offers a press release, and the media yawns and mentions the coalition effort somewhere near the bottom of a long wrap up of news headlined "Bombs Kill 10 in Baghdad". But not this time.
TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Security Forces and their Coalition partners launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom I today in southern Salah Ad Din province to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra.A dramatic start, especially if you're not familiar with military jargon - but those who actually made an effort to read to the bottom of this press release might find justification for yawning this time:
The operation is expected to continue for several days as a thorough search of the objective area is conducted.Named after an exercise, practice for bigger things, searching for days, already did another area near by...
MNF-I issues press releases all the time; soldiers discover weapons cache, Marines conduct cordon-and-search operation with Iraqi troops, VBIED found on roadside, hospital refurbished, school reopened, etc, etc. If ever considered otherwise, this is now seen as the unglorious yeoman's work of Operation Iraqi Freedom - the nuts and bolts of rebuilding a nation. The press wants something headline worthy - a mosque bombing, US troops accidentally shooting an elderly grandmother, or a report that someone in an Iraqi police uniform dragged somebody else off to nowhere in the middle of the night.
But this time something in that press release caught somebody's eye: "...largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom I." If you're a military insider you hardly notice the phrase. Why? Let's take a few words at a time - starting with "air assault". To many that means bombing campaign - and the comparison to OIF-1 brings immediate visions of Shock and Awe in Baghdad. To the most ardent members of the "anti-war" faction that iconic imagery epitomizes the capitalist aggressor's vicious assault on the people. And even the most ardent supporter of regime change in Iraq can acknowledge that bombs over Baghdad make a sobering visual: Here, this is what you wanted. Happy?
Wrong vision. Shock and Awe was an assault from the air, but was not "air assault" as defined by the US military. "Air assault" means the troops were inserted via helicopter; no more, no less. And if you think the language barrier between English-speaking peoples contributed to confusion, imagine for a moment how the various translated versions of the story read in the foreign press.
Now let's think about "largest since". The 101st was in on the initial invasion. Months later they rotated home. Without air assault units in Iraq we weren't launching air assaults. But now the 101st has returned to Iraq, therefore we are launching air assaults - it's what they do. But without that crucial piece of background knowledge the choice of phrasing makes it sound like something else altogether: escalation.
So this time the press release (that probably caused yawns throughout CENTCOM) got a markedly different reaction in the rest of the world. Let's spread the blame for this a bit. When military public affairs offices issue press releases they use phraseology the military understands, as explained above. But the press isn't on the same wavelength; they read "large air assault" and they expect corpse photos, pain and suffering, death and destruction, and all those things that merit a Pulitzer Prize. With that kind of pulse punding lead you can hardly blame them for not reading the whole thing. So what we have here is a failure to communicate - and sender and receiver can both do better next time.
But this time the phrase "launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom I" apparently touched off the largest round of TV coverage since OIF-1. Even last year's operations in Tall Afar - the largest of 2005 and perhaps the most spectacularly successful of the past three years - attracted relatively scant media attention. (Disclaimer: I don't live in America - my sense of the coverage is admittedly based on what I read about the coverage.) And with no reporters along for the initial ride (seating being at a premium and mission being the focus) apparently some of that coverage was a bit dramatic. Left on the sidelines for day one, a reporter's imagination could run wild.
But on day two the first reporters are brought in. Perhaps some with visions of dead babies, crying grandmothers, leveled houses, and white phosphorous raining from the sky. Maybe others with fond desires that they may capture a few heroic photos on par with blogger Mike Yon's.
Instead they find...
And that just pisses them off.
Just another day in paradise.
Thanks for flying air assault.
Posted by Greyhawk / March 19, 2006 5:30 PM | Permalink
I'm still draggin'. I'm going to have to settle for another Read these list for now: Greyhawk: Operation Swarmer Greyhawk: The War that Wasn't John Hinderaker: Eureka, I Think Jim Lindgren: Grim Milestone Reached: US Deaths in Iraq Surpass Worst Read More
... Just an observation, folks: 99% of what you read in the paper was written by people who wouldn't know the difference between an aircraft carrier and a submarine, or between an M1A and an M-16. If your going to read the crap they write at all, read ... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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