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May 25, 2010
Rules of Engagement in the Age of ObamaBy Greyhawk
Rules of engagement: Are the lives of American soldiers being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness in the age of Obama? Stories implying (or outright stating) as much are certainly appearing with increasing frequency these days. You're about to read two examples that I think will answer the question - if not settle the debate. I've redacted some identifying information, but can assure you these people are who they claim to be, and both can be considered expert witnesses on the topic. I expect a lot of people will be pissed at what they're about to read, or ignore the truth, or eagerly dismiss them as 'isolated incidents.' They are not - they are typical, and these aren't the only examples I can provide.
The first comes from a soldier who found himself confronted with a potential 'troops in contact' situation and had to make a quick decision - even though he was back in headquarters, and not on the scene. "I have recently been temporarily assigned to the post of battalion 'battle captain,'" he reports. "For nonmilitary readers, that means from 0100 to 1300 hours every day I am the battalion commander's representative in the TOC, and basically run all routine operations in the absence of the battalion commander or executive officer. If this were Star Trek, I'd 'have the conn.'"
I guess that makes the guys who were about to call him for help the "redshirts" - the ones when you see them beam down to the planet with Kirk and Spock, you know they ain't coming back. Except this wasn't TV - they were someone's kids - and here's what the real life 'recently assigned, temporary battle captain' did in response to a request from an outnumbered combat team operating outside the wire:
He adds that the crowd threatening the soldiers was chanting "By our lives, by our souls, we will preserve Islam!"
If you were in that situation and had time to check the Tactical Directive issued by General McChrystal last summer you'd find this guidance: "This is different from conventional combat, and how we operate will determine the outcome more than traditional measures, like capture of terrain or attrition of enemy forces. We must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories - but suffering strategic defeats - by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating the people."
You might be shocked to hear that a unit in the field had to ask permission just to fire a warning shot - but to make a long story short, the young battle captain back at the TOC didn't authorize it anyway, citing concerns for the locals among his reasons. Instead he advised them to abandon their position! Fortunately they did so with just a couple of local policemen sustaining "minor injuries from the rocks" as the only acknowledged casualties. "Everyone on both sides made it home alive," he claims, "as far as I know." It could have turned out differently.
But here's more guidance from General McChrystal:
Here's what our narrator (a bit more blunt than the General, to be sure) reports as a 'lesson learned' from his experience: "You're not a dog," he explained. "Firing your weapon isn't like licking your balls. It's not one of those things you want to do just because you can."
Okay - if you're getting hot about it take a deep breath before proceeding, this next story won't help you cool down. Again, it takes place in a TOC, and once again we'll see troops denied support. But there are significant differences - this time they weren't requesting permission to fire a simple 'warning shot' to scare the bad guys away - they'd already come under fire! They needed air support - and time was of the essence, as you'll see.
This account comes to us from a reporter, not a soldier. "A Tactical Operations Center (TOC) is the headquarters for a unit," he explains, "packed with communications and monitoring equipment, radios, and video screens." Obviously it's a chaotic environment, with multiple actors adding to the potential confusion. "The radios are for communication between the different companies, as well as helicopters and jets. Battalion-level TOCs also communicate laterally with other battalions and vertically up to the brigade. Usually some ten soldiers will sit in front of the screens. One soldier will be the S-2, or intelligence. Another will monitor counter-battery radar. Another will communicate with those who operate the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)..."
And so on. Here's his report - again, identifying details are redacted, but in my mind, it's a perfect example of many others I've seen like it, usually explaining why we're going to lose in Afghanistan:
Once again, General McChrystal's Tactical Directive:
I expect leaders at all levels to scrutinize and limit the use of force like close air support (CAS) against residential compounds and other locations likely to produce civilian casualties in accordance with this guidance. Commanders must weigh the gain of using CAS against the cost of civilian casualties, which in the long run make mission success more difficult and turn the Afghan people against us.
So - if you're like me, you aren't surprised by claims that radical changes implemented by our military leadership demonstrate the "politically correct" mindset forced on them by President Obama, that those changes are putting troops at needless risk, and might even cost us the war. Are they right? As noted at the outset, you've just read two examples that I think answer the question.
And the answer is "No."
Shocked? Take another deep breath - and read on.
You see, both examples are from Iraq. The first happened in 2003, a few months after the ground invasion. The second is from 2007, the summer of the surge. Sorry if showing how they fit in with General McChrystal's current Tactical Directive made you think I was citing recent events in Afghanistan, but the real point is that the guidance isn't quite as new or different or radical as many would like you to believe.
I used only selected quotes from Jason Van Steenwyk's December, 2003 blog post from Ramadi, and added my commentary designed only to piss you off - just as anyone wanting to influence your opinion would regarding any issue today. His full account explains his actions in detail, I simply cut it down to the point where it appeared thoughtless, knee-jerk, and inconsiderate of the lives of the team outside the wire - it was anything but. (For instance, he sent a QRF out to support them. And here's his full list of Leadership Lessons from Iraq prompted by that event - "you're not a dog..." is just the one I ripped from context for effect.) I chose his post because he was the first long-term, frequently updated milblog from Iraq, there is no better way to demonstrate how not new this issue is. Read the whole thing - what he describes is exactly the right response to the situation confronting him, and in it he also describes another event from a few months before:
Emphasis added to that bottom line. Wicked hard problems requiring wicked hard decisions - but many of the same folks who would have applauded the courage of Americans to do the right thing back then - who would have expressed admiration for their courageous restraint - are screaming the loudest about ROE today.
The second event was from Baqubah, in 2007, and can be found in Mike Yon's Moment of Truth in Iraq. Here's a non-edited version of one of the paragraphs I quoted:
Sounds simple. Question is, bomb it with what? The commanders had myriad options. Some weapons were within their direct authority to use, while other weapons required higher permission. Rules of Engagement (ROE) changed constantly. For the early days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the ROE were relaxed, giving robust options further down the chain, with the caveat to mitigate civilian deaths. In all, there were seven known fatalities. A number that low - and five of those deaths were from a single explosion that locals had said had come from a U.S. bomb - is almost unbelievable, considering the amount of firepower that had been used. Our commanders made avoiding civilian casualties a primary part of the battle plan.And here's the full conclusion:
I walked to breakfast while they were still plotting their next move. I have no idea if they killed the enemy and if they did what method they finally settled on. But I know there was careful deliberation in the TOC, combined with excellent combat soldiers on the streets. That was how civilian casualties, as well as our own losses, were kept so astonishingly low.
Shocker - "civilian casualties, as well as our own losses, were kept so astonishingly low." There's that pride in our boys again - which for many people is what really changed in January, 2009. Now, of course, Obama and his generals are turning them into pussies - and getting them killed.
One more quote from the Tactical Directive:
This directive does not prevent commanders from protecting the lives of their men and women as a matter of self-defense where it is determined no other options (specific options deleted due to operational security) are available to effectively counter the threat.
Rules of engagement: Are the lives of American soldiers being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness in the age of Obama? Stories implying (or outright stating) as much are certainly appearing with increasing frequency these days. You've just read two examples that answered the question - no. But while that won't settle the debate, at least the next time someone tries to convince you otherwise, you can wonder how stupid they think you are.
Posted by Greyhawk / May 25, 2010 4:02 PM | Permalink
Last month I commented on what many have dubbed "The Yon Flap". Unlike most Milbloggers, I've never been a huge Yon fan so I don't really have a dog in this fight. I have no opinion on his mental state.... 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...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com