Prev | List | Random | Next
"I had the ironic fortune to meet Michael Hastings, the author, on the military side of Kabul International Airport last week on my way to Helmand," writes Bill Ardolino.
We were both cooling our heels waiting for MilAir flights to other parts of the country, and had a couple of hours to chat. Nice guy, and interestingly, he told me about a story he'd just researched on McChrystal and his staff, mentioning that he was "surprised at some of the things they said" to him. He soon caught his flight to Kandahar, and I hopped on mine hours later. After a few days of travel during which I had almost no Internet access, I discovered the story had been published and blown up, and in retrospect I marveled at his understatement.
Bill's just embedded in Afghanistan for Long War Journal, and along with some comments about/from Hastings he reports a bit of the reaction from the troops re: McChrystal's departure at that link.
He gets down to business in another post:
I'm currently embedded with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, in Musa Qala, Helmand province, Afghanistan. After traveling through JFK, Frankfurt, Kabul, Camp Leatherneck, and Delaram, I've finally settled in. Several pieces are in the works, but here are some first impressions of Musa Qala...
Bill's a multi-tour embed, and I'm looking forward to more.
"The Disenchanted Corporal" - a thought-provoking piece from Sosotris:
...The perception among many soldiers out on patrol, particularly those in areas that see action on a consistent basis, is that the bureaucratic authorizations now required to use force against certain targets cost soldiers' lives. As LT Wompum can attest, it is in the DNA of infantrymen to seek out the fight; convincing them that restraint is often the better part of valor - especially in a COIN campaign - is not an easy task.
But it begs the question: is the Army, at the tactical level, convinced that COIN is the correct strategy to practice. Few would argue that the officer corps has embraced COIN wholeheartedly on a theoretical and operational level but convincing the corporals out on patrol and taking the majority of casualties that it is the right practice is another thing altogether...
That's an issue to address swiftly (and I believe it's 'doable') once this other problem confronting corporals is resolved. But I'm actually optimistic about clearing the first hurdle. I don't think for a minute everything will be easy after that (see above) but at least it won't be impossible - or pointless.
And I'm looking forward to more from A Handful of Dust, with two new infantry LTs "on board." If they can overcome the numerous in-country obstacles to blogging they should have no problem winning the war.*
Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman: "Is Obama's 2011 Afghanistan Deadline a Mistake?"
Here's a one-word answer from me that might surprise: "no."
But here's a question I'd answer differently: "Is publicly announcing a deadline a mistake?" My answer: "yes."
The question, [Gates] said, comes down to "How do we signal resolve, and at the same time, signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?"
Which is a good and eternal question - the sort that should be asked and answered when it rises (as it seems to in every generation) and then revealed and explained in the memoirs of those who took it on, as a caution to future generations.
There are no good answers to the great questions of history. Had I made the decision to take on the challenge of Afghanistan 2009 in the first place, I would clearly define the goal and it's necessity - then I would turn to the people who had placed their trust in me (and my pledge that I intended to take up that very challenge) at the voting booths just one year prior with something to the effect of "confronted with an enormous and difficult task, we are resolved to make the best of it, and are confident we have the finest people possible committed to that purpose. Don't bet against them, rather prepare to welcome them home."
But then, I'm not a politician, and have an incomplete appreciation of their plight. Perhaps expressing such simple sentiments while sending America's youth to war would open me to ridicule beyond my capacity to bear.
And that's a hypothetical response, to which I'd add that we live in topsy-turvy times indeed when we are satisfied with questions posed by those from whom we should expect answers. But turning away from generalizations, at about the same time that particular question was posed to the American body politic, Robert Haddick offered more specific reasons why it wasn't good in the first place:
The very fact that the administration is still trying to figure out an elegant solution to this insoluble dilemma sends a strong signal, a signal that explains and motivates the behavior of various actors in ways unpleasant to the administration. Examples include:
1. Pakistan hedging its bets by continuing to protect the Afghan Taliban,
2. Providing the Afghan Taliban with an excellent recruiting and motivational tool, and guidance on how to adjust the tempo of their operations,
3. President Hamid Karzai hedging his bets by cutting side deals with Afghanistan's power players,
4. Local Afghans accepting U.S. assistance but also hedging by not resisting the Taliban (as reported by Bing West in his trip report),
5. U.S. conventional combat units doing their own form of hedging by getting passive and increasingly just going through the motions (also reported by West),
6. Anonymous leakers inside the administration attempting to preemptively cripple policy options they don't like.
Each of those is a critical component of success - thus as described they're signposts on the road to failure. Unfortunately, months later we're well along that road - those signs zip by whether anyone counts them or not. And bad enough if those were discrete results - but what's worse is they can also be viewed as acceleration points along a downward spiral, each acting in turn on all the others.
Like it or not, the resurgence of the notion (hope, to some) that America is a nation lacking strength, resolve, and commitment can be traced to the election of a president with little in his background to refute it. Its subsequent growth can be charted side by side with the development of what ultimately became policy (a few weeks after that list above was published) with the President's announcement of the planned construction of a July, 2011 exit ramp from that land of unpaved roads. Though its ultimate form remains undefined, all the major players started work early and with gusto.
Testimony from our friend Greta:Marine Stands for Angels & Heroes
Former Marine Mark Dolfini won't be celebrating Independence Day with a parade, picnic, BBQ or fireworks. Instead, he'll be standing at attention for 24 hours straight.
From midnight on July 3 to midnight on July 4, Doflini will stand in his dress blue uniform between an American and a Marine Corps flag in Lafayette, IN, encouraging people to donate funds and comfort items to Soldiers' Angels for wounded veterans. He calls it "Standing for the Fallen." With the support of his local Marine Corps League, Dolfini has been raising funds and items this way every Sunday since Memorial Day, resulting in several thousand dollars already. This will be his first and only 24-hour "stand."
Supporters across the country can participate in Dolfini's "Stand for the Fallen" by emailing mark-at-junepalms-dot-com for info on item donations or how to give financially through the Marine Corps League. The League has promised to cover the postage for all items Dolfini collects.
Soldiers' Angels salutes Mark Dolfini for his continued service and his creative dedication!
While traveling through Europe this month, I had the privilege to spend some time with MaryAnn and she is truly impressed with Mark's efforts and was anxiously awaiting his first shipment (which has since arrived). Crucial to Soldiers' Angels Germany mission, is keeping a storage room full of goods to distribute to those who are there in need of medical care. Often wounded heroes arrive at the hospital after being airlifted from the battlefield. MaryAnn said to me, "What a wonderful act of love it is, to hand a hero a backpack full of comfort items, clothing and blankets that were donated by Americans back home who truly care about them."
Coverage of the McChrystal-Petraeus swap in Afghanistan:
The papers in Kabul see the reasons for the general's sacking to be more than just his inflammatory comments in the Rolling Stone article, which they consider only a tipping point. In fact, many of the editorials and articles spare no more than a line or two to the Rolling Stone piece; the rest is dedicated to speculating about other possible factors that could have brought this abrupt end to the general's service.Meanwhile, NY Times Kabul bureau chief Alissa Rubin on the challenges confronting General Petraeus:
General Petraeus will almost certainly underscore that view. He knows from the hard days in Iraq that firm deadlines don't work, both because insurgencies are inherently unpredictable, and because people are smart.I will never forget walking into an Iraqi money changer's office on the edge of Baghdad at the end of 2005 and having him remind me that the midterm elections in The United States were within sight, and that no one running in Washington would want to admit that there was no end in sight.
(Quick aside - well, this is very different from some of the General's previous experiences before this august body... serious people talking serious business here. Unfortunately, the cynical Greyhawk thinks that should ensure it won't appear on page one of any newspapers...)
Josh Rogin - Petraeus: Withdrawal timeline does not mean "switching off the lights". Aye - there's the rub.
Click here. Or for a quick reminder, here's the conclusion:
..until that over-arching problem is resolved (and three years is too long to wait), those who debate or argue over who's in charge, rules of engagement, the appropriate use of FM 3-24, or a host of other issues critical to effectively conducting war in the Central Front of What We Used to Call the War on Terror might as well be arguing over proper flower arrangements in the Kandahar Airfield Burger King.
Prepared opening statement here. Excerpt:
From the answers to the advance questions
As I also explained to this Committee two weeks ago, I specifically agreed with the messages of greater commitment and greater urgency that the President expressed in his address at West Point in December when he announced the new policy. As you'll recall, the greater commitment was explained in terms of the additional 30,000 US forces, the tripling of the number of US civilians, and the funding for an additional 100,000 Afghan security forces. The greater urgency was highlighted by the President announcing the intent to begin a process in July 2011 of transitioning tasks to Afghan forces and officials, and of beginning what the President termed a "responsible drawdown" of the US surge forces - with the pace of both the transition of tasks and the drawdown of forces to be based on conditions on the ground.
It is important to note the President's reminder in recent days that July 2011 will mark the beginning of a process, not the date when the US heads for the exits and turns out the lights. As he explained this past Sunday, in fact, "we'll need to provide assistance to Afghanistan for a long time to come."
Do you agree with the President's decision that the pace of reductions beginning in July 2011 will be conditions based?
Why or why not?
The pace of the drawdown of our forces in Afghanistan should, as the President has stated, be a responsible one, based on conditions on the ground beginning in July 2011, in order to ensure that Afghanistan can build the capacity to take full responsibility for its own security.
And the President did indeed say it - just so. The question is - as always - will that message be vigorously countered by the White House once again.
The New York Times offers a glimmer of hope:
WASHINGTON -- When he ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan last December, President Obama stressed that they would not stay forever. "After 18 months," he said, "our troops will begin to come home."
Last weekend, though, he scorned the "obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave," saying he was focused on making sure the troops were successful. The July 2011 deadline he set was intended to "begin a process of transition," he said, but "that doesn't mean we suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us."
[Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser] noted that the president had not decided how quickly the drawdown would take place. "There's clearly going to be an enduring commitment to Afghanistan past 2011, whatever the slope," he said.
In the recent past, whenever the military has attempted to emphasize the "conditions-based" strategy unvelied by President Obama in his West Point speech announcing his surge ("Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground") the White House has been quick to respond.
In December - within days of the West Point speech, Joe Biden: "You're going to see [troop numbers] coming down as rapidly [as we build them up] over the next two years. The President made it absolutely clear..."
Apparently, Vice President Biden has emphasized that point in a recent book (In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it," Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, "Bet. On. It." - more on that later), but more recently Rahm Emanuel (responding to what General Petraeus "explained to this Committee two weeks ago") weighed in:
The Obama administration has reaffirmed its promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, distancing itself from recent Pentagon comments that the move could take longer.
"There's a firm date," said White House Chief of State Rahm Emanuel on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "The July  date, as stated by the president, that's not moving, that's not changing. Everybody agreed on that date."
Mr. Emanuel's remarks were in contrast to comments by Gen. David H. Petraeus, who told a congressional committee last week that any withdrawal would be "based on conditions" and that "July 2011 is not the date where we race for the exits."
That news was quickly overwhelmed by the release of the Runaway General story. Obviously, that was one of many challenges confronting General McChrystal - less obviously it was the one from which all others flowed. Any "clarification" of the withdrawal timeline from the White House post-McChrystal will obviously be critical to our future there.
For those who need it, back to the New York Times for a great illustration of why it matters:
But that part of the message has not transmitted to many in the rural reaches of Afghanistan, where American troops regularly encounter Afghans who assume they are all leaving next year.
In the village of Abdul Ghayas in Helmand Province last month, for example, a local resident exasperated two Marines when he told them that he was nervous about helping with their plans for a new school out of fear that the Taliban would retaliate after the Americans went home next year.
"That's why they won't work with us," Cpl. Lisa Gardner, one of the Marines, told a reporter traveling with the unit. "They say you'll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off. It's so frustrating."
Later in the day, Corporal Gardner and the other Marine, Cpl. Diana Amaya, reported the villager's reaction back at the base. Lance Cpl. Caleb Quessenberry advised them on how to deal with similar comments in the future. "Roll it off as, 'That's what somebody's saying,' " he told them. "As far as we know, we're here."
A senior American intelligence official said the Taliban had effectively used the deadline to their advantage...
It's obviously dangerous for generals to refute the Vice President of the United States - for young corporals it's impossible.
So - how the hell did we get here? More on that later, too.
Postscript: the most interesting tidbit from this session might be the General's announcement that he's going to have the Vice President over for dinner. A good idea, I hope it goes better than this one. Here's to good table manners.
...and new Danger Room author Spencer Ackerman. (Who, in supporting President Obama, apparently hasn't noticed he does so in opposition to President Obama.)
And make of this what you will: [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein said that if Petraeus asks for more time, "I would say give it to him." I say in conditions-based timelines, "more time" isn't an issue.
Has everybody gotten all the trivial issues raised by the Rolling Stone article out of their system yet? (Those would be the the ones re-reported endlessly by various "news" agencies, and what you might have seen on T.V.) Done with all the conspiracy theory angles? (Mostly blogs here, but probably "news" agencies, too.)
Yes? Good. Because here's an actual paragraph from "The Runaway General" worth talking about:
Even in his new role as America's leading evangelist for counterinsurgency, McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. "You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight," McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he'll add, "I'm going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though." In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009 - a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. "We've shot an amazing number of people," McChrystal recently conceded.
I'd say that brief excerpt contains more food for thought than the rest of the article. (But then again, I'm not a fan of Burger King - or other junk food.)
Most of what I'd say about any of that includes the words "perception" and "reality." In the above passage, sez I, there's a heavy glimpse of reality.
Another lesson reaffirmed last week: it's perception that matters.
...is nothing for herself. Take it away, Boston Maggie:
My fav BMCS has found a particular problem in Khandahar. His unit has come across a group of wounded Marines who have slipped through the cracks so to speak. They come in straight from the field with the clothes on their back. In most cases, these Marines have suffered a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). They are in this location to see the doctors at the nearby facility, which is top-notch, before being shipped out to other facilities.
Turns out they could use a few things - but as Maggie says, "It's a specific list and as much as you might want to embellish, should you decide to help....and I hope you do, stick with the list please."
For those who can help, the list is here. (And no, it doesn't include Burger King gift certificates. In spite of what you may have heard, there really are other priorities.)
BEIJING (AFP) - China has issued regulations banning its 2.3 million soldiers from creating web sites or writing web blogs, adding to the nation's existing Internet curbs, state press said Saturday.
"Soldiers cannot open blogs on the Internet no matter (whether) he or she does it in the capacity of a soldier or not," Xinhua news agency quoted Wan Long, a political commissar of the People's Liberation Army, as saying.
"The Internet is complicated and we should guard against online traps," it said, citing concerns about military "confidentiality".
The new rules are laid out in revised PLA Internal Administration Regulations and went into effect on June 15, the report said. They ban soldiers of the PLA, the world's largest standing army, from creating homepages, web sites or blogging.
Okay, my headline is intended as a joke. They're nothing like us at all - China has a State-run media, and anyone who veers from that government-approved narrative is subject to bad fortune.
Here in our country, milbloggers are free to criticize the media to their hearts' content, without fear of a "purge."
A vibrant milblogging community in the People's Republic of China, where all manners of speech are closely monitored and controlled, may seem unlikely. Chinese milbloggers, however, have closely followed major defense and security developments both within China as well as abroad, from last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah to China's anti-satellite missile test in January.
We must demand US Government money to keep ahead of the yellow peril!
Translations of Chinese MilBlogger names into English include Chinese Sword, Door of Green Dragon, Flying Flower Pursues Moon, Flying Fish, and Commanding Feather Eagle Wolf.
Never did get that government money...
Rajiv Srinivasan demonstrates the best way for a milblogger end his from the frontlines blogging "career": The Last Patrol:
26 June was my final combat patrol as a platoon leader forward deployed to Afghanistan... Four infantry companies will now cover the same sector we owned with four maneuver platoons.
On the morning of the 26th, I stood on my platoon's motor pool line watching the COP's profile against the Afghan sunrise. I shook my head in disbelief, "How did this baseball diamond sized outpost turn into this massive battalion FOB practically overnight?!"
...I called up my REDCON1 status before I led the convoy out the gate and onto the Highway. Like a tour guide, I pointed out areas of attraction over the net...
We drove to a village north of the highway. I wanted to show them a well I had built for them as a development project. This war isn't all "shoot, move, and communicate." I wasn't about to leave our discussion to just the kinetic stuff. As we approached the well, a dire voice came on the net, "Hey D6, we got six FAMs with RPKs and man dresses down south!" With nervous tension, the soldiers of the new infantry unit all turned their weapons in one direction hoping for a taste of the action. They wanted blood...
Read the whole thing, of course. "This post drags on. I almost want to apologize for being so long winded. I guess I'm trying to savor the moment even in my writing," he concludes. Personally I thought I got to that line all too soon.
But when you're deployed, end of tour and home always seem to be an eternity away. Congratulations, safe travels, and countless thanks to Rajiv & Company - and our thoughts and prayers to those greater numbers of troops who've taken up where they've left off.
The most offensive comments appearing in the Rolling Stone article -- by what I believe were a few people of relatively low rank and limited experience with reporters -- were inappropriate and deserved rebuke. They should not have been made in the presence of a reporter, regardless of the ground rules in place. But no extended exposure to staffs at any level of government could have failed to produce the kinds of comments reported in the piece: comments made not out of ingrained malice toward the Constitution, but out of a kind of sour humor that emerges under conditions of intense work and constant scrutiny. That doesn't justify the remarks, but it puts them squarely in the realm of the forgivably human -- which is to say, somewhere below the level at which senior military and civilian leaders must keep up appearances.
In the end, no unanswered questions about the quality of the article or the nature of the offense impeded a rush to judgment everywhere at once, which is fairly damning evidence of how much media have conditioned us to react before we think. The article that prompted General McChrystal's resignation did not even hit the stands before media personalities arriving on scene with promo copies of the piece in hand decided that he had to go. It did not need to happen this way. With the rapid rise of Rolling Stone and the sudden fall of General McChrystal, journalists and public servants who consider their positions a sacred trust have made it harder for themselves to hold out against the barbarians of secrecy, superficiality or sleaze. Once we stop to breathe on this story, we need to ask ourselves why.
If you're interested in what someone from the staff has to say about events of the past week, (and there's none more qualified to weigh in) there's much more at the link.
I'm reminded of what it was like to be in Iraq in 2007 (something I'm increasingly reminded of these days...) living in a tent with 40 other people, working 16+ hour days (sometimes 24+ hour days) sometimes having four hours of sleep interrupted by loud explosions... and occasionally - if I had time to eat in the DFAC - catching a CNN snippet of a sound bite from a politician back home declaring the surge had failed. The things I said in between bites of food in those instances wouldn't surprise anyone - and wouldn't need interpretation.
Of course, the war in Afghanistan is different from the war in Iraq. For example, one thing we knew with certainty in those uncertain times was that the big decisions wouldn't be made in the offices of Rolling Stone.
Update: Quatto Zone has disappeared (not the first milblog that ever happened to... but I've got to hope that Too Rolling Stoned two doesn't now have a second meaning) so I'll add one more quote from that now-vanished post here:
Sometimes you can be too close to something to write about it well, so I'll encourage you to continue reading better pieces about the resignation of General McChrystal from pros who have a good grasp of the basic situation, like David Brooks or the BBC's John Simpson.
Previously: Too Rolling Stoned
Moving forward, more important: Last Man Standing
Important things happened on this date in
Unfortunately, none of the choices are "good" - all are worth remembering.
Not into learning from history? There's always current events. (Often shaped by others not interested in history...)
It had been a long week - but at last Saturday night had arrived...
...Only now, as darkness fell on Saturday, 24 June, could Lee Hak Ku allow the hard lines of his square young face to relax, and to permit himself leisurely to enjoy a cigarette. In a people's republic Saturday night meant nothing, but every unit of the Inmun Gun had been in position since midnight 23 June, and for a few hours there was really nothing more to do.
And that was good staff work.
Standing relaxed in his somewhat shoddy Russian-style blue uniform with its flaring breeches and polished high boots, Senior Colonel Lee could review the turmoil and ferment of the last few days. Eighty thousand men had been moved, some divisions coming down from the high and distant Yalu, and it had all been done smoothly. Beyond a doubt, the running dogs of the American imperialists, the South Koreans, suspected nothing.
The bright lights were coming on in Seoul... as evening fell, among the teeming, raucus hordes of white-clad people thronging the streets and alleyways from North Gate to the massive railway station to the odorous reaches of Yongdungp'o, the talk was of rice and of rain...
Even now a great black cloud was forming over North Mountain, and toilers, shopkeepers, and even yangbon - those who did not work - watched it hopefully. There was a prayer that a storm was brewing... but as the dark clouds soaked up the last of the fading daylight, the current of Seoul's night life quickened...
Slowly, the American colony came to life. The largest American mission in the world was based in Seoul, two thousand strong, and they had had a busy week.
Foster Dulles had been in town. He'd got the usual tour, in VIP fashion: up to Uijongbu on the parallel, to be snapped staring across no man's land, surrounded by grinning ROK officials. The usual press release had been handled smoothly, something about continued American interest in South Korea, and the pride in its progress toward Democracy and a vitalized economy. After that, Dulles got back on his plane at Kimpo, to his own and the American Mission's relief...
As the bars filled in Seoul, Brigadier General William L Roberts, lately commanding KMAG, the Korean Military Advocacy Group, was on a States-bound ship. His time was in; he was going home. And his tour had been capped by an interview by Time.
Time had quoted him correctly: "The South Koreans have the best damn army outside the United States!"
The ROK's had eight divisions. Except those fighting guerrillas in the South, they were armed with American M-1 rifles. The guerrilla fighters had to make do with old Jap Model 99's. The ROK's had machine guns, of course., and some mortars, mostly small. They had five battalions of field artillery to back up the infantry divisions, all with the old, short-range model M-3 105mm howitzer, which the United States had junked.
Thje best damn army outside the United States had no tanks, no medium artillery, no 4.2-inch mortars, no recoilless rifles. They had no spare parts for their transport. They had not even one combat aircraft.
They didn't have those things because the American embassy didn't want them to have them. KMAG was not under the United States Army, or even responsible to the aloof and powerful satrap in Tokyo, MacArthur. Because the United States was determined to show the world that its intentions in Korea were non-aggressive, KMAG was under State Department.
Most KMAG officers recognized this policy was nonaggressive. But as they told their Korean colleagues, who asked plaintively about guns and jets, "You can't fight city hall."
...Lynn Roberts had told Time that while the troops were excellent, the Korean officers' corps was not so hot. After all, in only eleven months staffs and commanders could not be made and trained, starting from scratch. Lynn Roberts, a professional soldier, also knew that soldiers are only as good as their officers make them. But that kind of attitude sounded un-American and was not popular in Washington, and there was no point in playing it up...
Now, sailing home on Saturday night, 24 June 1950, Lynn Roberts' sense of timing, at least, was perfect.
He had missed the parties - but then, he had missed the hangovers, too. Early the next morning, still June 24th in America...
- T.R. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History
Senior Colonel Lee Hak Ku looked once again at his watch.
He looked up, met the eyes of the booted and blue-breeched officers standing about him in the Operations Post. They were all young, and hard, and most of their adult lives had been spent at war, with the Chinese, with the Soviets. They had fought Japanese; they had fought Nationalists. Now they would fight the running dogs of the American Imperialists, or whoever else got in their way...
Back along the valley, where two divisions awaited the order to slash southward, officers raised their right arms. Section chiefs filed their lungs for shouting. The heavy guns had been trained and loaded long before.
Then men shouted, and dark cannon spat flame into the lowering sky. From the cold Eastern Sea to the foggy sandbanks of the Yellow Sea to the west, along every corridor that led to the South, night ended in a continuous flare of light and noise.
The low-slung, sleek tanks attached to the 7th Division spurted forward, throwing mud from their tracks. Designed for the bogs of Russia, they rolled easily over the hard-packed earth. Behind them poured hordes of shrieking small men in yellow-brown shirts.
"Manzai!" Senior Colonel Lee Huk Ku said, and, eyes gleaming, his staff repeated it.
It was 4:00 A.M., Sunday, 25 June 1950. The world, whether it would admit it or not, was at war.
"For legions have no ideological or spiritual home in the liberal society. The liberal society has no use or need for legions - as its prophets have long proclaimed," Fehrenbach wrote in 1963.
"Except in this world there are tigers."
Or: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Michael Hastings, from Afghanistan, in Rolling Stone: "Petraeus makes sense. He's considered the hero of Iraq, and he has the public's trust. He won't be caught dead calling the offensive in Marja a "bleeding ulcer," as McChrystal did. His appointment neutralizes him as a potential (though highly unlikely) political rival for 2012. He literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency, drafting the Army field manual on the U.S. strategy that is being pursued in Afghanistan." I agree with that. And no, it's not from his Runaway General story. (And yes, he's still embedded with US troops.)
Bing West (via SWJ): Gen. David Petraeus' 3 keys to victory: How to win in Afghanistan after Gen. Stanley McChrystal. I'm not sure General Petraeus has those "keys" - but I am sure he's confronted with locked doors.
Read the whole thing - but here's the key graf:
Ultimately, whether the mission succeeds or fails will rest upon the relationship Petraeus establishes with Obama, who has been standoffish about the war. The President has to become more involved; he has to act as the commander in chief who is determined to prevail, as President George W. Bush was in Iraq. Petraeus will be a great asset to the President. But in the end, it is Obama's war, and so far, no one knows how committed he is.
Meanwhile, at the New York Times: "Obama Says Afghan Policy Won't Change After Dismissal"...
In a typical response from other military officials, one Army officer with multiple tours in Afghanistan expressed anger at the lack of discipline displayed by General McChrystal and his inner circle. But he warned that it was symptomatic of wider problems with Mr. Obama's strategy and among his national security advisers.
"They brought this upon themselves and embarrassed the entire military as an institution," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid any punishment for criticizing his chain of command.
"Hopefully, the president uses this as an opportunity to refine his policy and objectives, and also to shuffle the rest of his Af-Pak team, as well," he said, using the abbreviation for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. "McChrystal isn't the only one who probably needs to move elsewhere."
There's one lesson among many in the events of the past few days - "the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity" gets to continue his career. Whether they accomplish anything worthwhile seems less certain, perhaps the two are mutually exclusive ends. This isn't the first example of that.
The problem area with the Obama strategy isn't counterinsurgency (it's still the best way to counter an insurgency), ROEs, or the other two keys suggested by West. Those are indeed problems to solve on the lower levels, but there will be no solution to any of them until this presidential-level issue is resolved:
The latter half of that was designed to appeal to Democrat voters in America - but they've been less impressed with that message than others elsewhere have been. Some might have thought I was joking when I first pointed out the problem with that approach last March: "Why must Americans be forced to choose sides, as those who've decided to support President Obama will soon be forced to confront those who are equally determined to support President Obama instead?" I was deadly serious, as I was in posing a different version of the same question last December: "Why must Americans be forced to choose sides, as those who've decided to oppose President Obama will soon be forced to confront those who are equally determined to oppose President Obama instead?"
General McChrystal's ultimate "mistake" may have been to be the last man standing to have bought into that commitment/important angle. With the Taliban, Karzai, the government and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, most of the US State Department, and an increasingly large number of US troops of all ranks ("Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force...") lining up solidly along the president's exit ramp his position was increasingly untenable.
I know there's no one more qualified than General Petraeus to unlock the many doors his predecessor tried to kick down, and I certainly wish him well. And I know "success" in Afghanistan is possible. But until that over-arching problem is resolved (and three years is too long to wait), those who debate or argue over who's in charge, rules of engagement, the appropriate use of FM 3-24, or a host of other issues critical to effectively conducting war in the Central Front of What We Used to Call the War on Terror might as well be arguing over proper flower arrangements in the Kandahar Airfield Burger King.
Mar 28 2009: The Plan Unveiled (III)
Jul 13 2009: The (unpaved) road from hard to hopeless
Sep 27 2009: Moving parts (2): in the Wiggle Room
Oct 12, 2009: The other side of the mountain (part one)
Nov 13, 2009: Hey Rube!
Dec 3, 2009: FIFY
Dec 17, 2009: Business as Usual
Kudos to the President - hard to imagine a better choice than General Petraeus to lead the effort in Afghanistan. Expect no changes in direction there, continuity is assured. (At least, the president has not sent any signals that a major strategic "reset" is coming.)
But do expect great changes in perception of the war in the US. As noted repeatedly here, General McChrystal was a whipping boy for the political left and right. General Petraeus, not so much. (And just think how his stature will improve if he can somehow "turn things around" over there... really, think about it.)
Now, about that civilian side...
A message (released before the announcement) from Soldiers' Angels founder (and our friend) Patti Patton-Bader:
Our thoughts and prayers go out for General McChrystal, the brave leader of our troops in Afghanistan who probably needs some friends right now. He has served his country during a very difficult time, with an unimaginable weight of responsibility for lives both civilian and military resting on his shoulders.
Like his great predecessor with whom I share a name, he has found that the intersection of war and politics has its own challenges.
The Soldiers' Angels spirit is to have the backs of all our soldiers, from the lowliest private right up through the generals. We don't take a stand on politics/policy or on conflicts up or down the chain of command, but we always remember that these are real people fighting a really hard war.
The General has done what he believed needed to be done in leading that war and we support him for that. Our support is not about politics. It's about a Soldier who has served to the best of his abilities and who has our appreciation and love for having done so.
I can only Imagine what General Patton would be saying during these times, and how many times he would be called to the Big Office himself.
I'll echo that, and add thoughts, prayers, and best wishes to the McChrystal and Petraeus families.
Noah Shachtman at Danger Room on possible "ROE" changes. (A few of my thoughts on why Afghanistan isn't Iraq are in comments below.)
Small Wars Journal round-up here (expect updates).
Fred Kaplan in Slate - read the whole thing.
Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone: "Petraeus makes sense. He's considered the hero of Iraq, and he has the public's trust. He won't be caught dead calling the offensive in Marja a "bleeding ulcer," as McChrystal did. His appointment neutralizes him as a potential (though highly unlikely) political rival for 2012. He literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency, drafting the Army field manual on the U.S. strategy that is being pursued in Afghanistan." The rest is garbage, from the same guy who wrote the "Runaway General" story. Read it for some insight into the author's motivation, if you need it.
Next: Last man Standing
Reasonable people can conclude, and many have, that the comments in the article are just not at the level where a dismissal is warranted. Everyone can read them, and no one can point to any line uttered by the general that challenges the president's strategy or undermines confidence in McChrystal's willingness to implement it.Schmedlap sounds angry:
Seriously? This is a big deal? I am no McChrystal cheerleader and I consider myself to be a lot more concerned about civil-military relations than most (examples here, here, and here). But this is just a whole lot of nothingAnd he's right, too. He's also offered up this challenge at Small Wars Journal:
To those of you genuinely upset over this: Unless there is a ton of information that I have somehow overlooked here, this is yet another example of the masses - in this case even the more sophisticated crust of the masses - being played like puppets.
I've been trying to find a quote - confirmed or alleged - from McChrystal that is insubordinate. If someone can identify it, please post it. Thus far, I've only seen McChrystal quoted as being disappointed with a meeting with the President because he thought the President was unprepared for it.
It's as yet unanswered. Having read the article, I don't see an answer.
There's irony in the fact that a discussion of how to avoid answering questions on Biden - more to the point, how to avoid a repeat of an event last year where answering a question that didn't even include the word "Biden" led to an epically wrong series of events - has now led to an even more absurd series of events. "Who?" and "bite me" were suggested responses - suggestions made in jest - to reporters, not assaults on the Vice President of the United States. Not much there there, but if you've spent a month with a group of people, need an angle that translates to sales, and your deadline looms - you gotta go with what you got. (And hope others in the business will help - which certainly happened here.)
But in a world where perceptions matter, the truth doesn't. And General McChrystal apologized for the article (which he's rumored to have reviewed and approved - though that task may have actually fallen to another...) at the same speed he does for errant rocket attacks in Afghanistan. (How fast is that? Sometimes too fast... but that's another story...) Certainly that apology doesn't aid the General's defenders (or people who notice the actual truth in the matter) in their cause.
What's left in the Rolling Stone story to get folks riled up? Nothing in the way of news for anyone tracking the war or the direction of the Department of Defense. One - military folks aren't happy with the performance and behavior of their civilian counterparts (not superiors) in Afghanistan. If you want to measure the accomplishments of the leadership of that group, by virtually any standard it's marginally above dysfunctional. A small detail that really surprised me was that Holbrooke phoned McChrystal (maybe he just sent him a picture of himself on a beach somewhere) - I thought the guy was thoroughly disengaged - but that, too, is another story... Two: lots of folks don't think counterinsurgency is a good idea - the same inside baseball national defense story that's been largely ignored for a year, spiced up with an angle that Rolling Stone (or People or countless other publications) can sell. (Unfortunately, that angle is the part that's not true. Though no doubt "anti-COIN" people are shocked, shocked I tell you, at the constitutional crisis precipitated by this profile.) Those two items are issues of paramount importance to our national defense today, obscured by a sideshow of alleged Biden-bashing, to the detriment of all involved.
So, a prediction (really, just a hunch at this point, and the "X" factors in what happens next are Gates and Petraeus...): He's well within his rights to do so (in fact, he doesn't need any excuse whatsoever - this ain't the civil effing service we're discussing here) but unless General McChrystal demands it, the president will not fire his general. But nothing mentioned above will play into that decision. Nothing I've seen written elsewhere, either. And the stated reasons - and the media spin on those reasons - won't address it either. Sorry to throw that spoke in the wheel this late in a post, but that's another story, too - and there are other posts to follow.
Some might see the above as a defense of General McChrystal - it's not. Those who understand the nature of the professional warrior should neither attack or defend them reflexively, and generals are critical (which is why we have spares) and replaceable cogs - I've made that point previously.
While we await the outcome, here's a post from earlier this month, to help pass the time...
Update: McChrystal out - Petraeus in (or down). There's a game-changer... (though not to be confused with a change of direction in Afghanistan).
Next: The Done Deal
Re: General McChrystal:
"I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of 'Rolling Stone' magazine. I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world. Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions. Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well. I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person."Speaking of ordering people around, lots of folks were surprised at this recent news.
Amos, 64, was a unexpected choice to become the Marine Corps' 35th commandant.
Most military observers believed that former Camp Pendleton Gen. James Mattis or Dunford had the inside track to replace Gen. James Conway, whose four-year tenure as commandant ends in September.
Mattis, who led Marines in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is very popular throughout the Marine Corps for his devotion to the troops and a blunt, no-nonsense style.
"I could not be more pleased with Gen. Amos and Lt. Gen. Dunford's nominations," Mattis told the North County Times. "Great men, great leaders, great Marines. The Corps will be in fine hands with these experienced war fighters at the helm."
Mattis is winding up a two-year tenure as head of Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., and has no pending assignment.
Hopefully they'll eventually find something useful for him to do.
Rumor has it, however, that it was the White House that blocked his appointment to Commandant. Depending on the motive (or truth behind the rumor) his job search may continue.
And while generals are indeed important, while historical examples abound of several who needed replacing (and even more who excelled at their task), I've never known of one who couldn't be replaced. It's something of a strength within the system.
Next: On the Carpet
Rolling Stone will probably get around to publishing their piece on General Stanley McChrystal sooner rather than later - for now the powers that be there are probably reveling in the advance publicity.
Appropriately enough, the article has already been leaked in full. (And I've read the whole thing.) While we wait for their release, here's an already much-misquoted excerpt:
The next morning, McChrystal and his team gather to prepare for a speech he is giving at the École Militaire, a French military academy. The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict. Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan." The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile.
Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. "I never know what's going to pop out until I'm up there, that's the problem," he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.
"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"
"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"
Having been once bitten on the topic, they're prepping to deflect possible questions about the vice president - and clearly joking. But such insider humor is best not shared with reporters, and is most definitely best left to non-military members of the administration:
Less than a month into the Obama presidency, Biden forthrightly, if unwisely, declared that the new administration's economic plan had a "30 percent chance" of failure. Asked about this at a press conference, Obama smiled thinly and answered, "You know, I don't remember what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly." Obama's staffers, who were lined up along the back wall at the presser, snickered along with the press.
Biden felt insulted. Through staffers, Obama apologized, protesting that he had meant no disrespect. But at one of their regularly scheduled weekly lunches, Biden directly raised the incident with the president. The veep said he was trying to be more disciplined about his own remarks, but he asked that in return the president refrain from making fun (and require his staff to do likewise). He made the point that even the impression that the president was dissing him was not only bad for Biden, but bad for the administration. The conversation cleared the air, according to White House aides who did not want to be identified discussing a private -conversation.
To demonstrate their palship (and dampen the rumors of disaffection between them), the president and vice president were photographed at one point, sleeves rolled up, eating hamburgers together.
But with the Rolling Stone story - and even with several stories already reporting (with varying degrees of accuracy) the Rolling Stone story, the president is confronted with multiple challenges - not the least of which is to what degree a magazine more focused on shaping opinion on Lady GaGa or the Jonas Brothers will determine the future course of American efforts in Afghanistan. If the answer is "a lot," or if Team Obama views Rolling Stone as a critical ally that must be kept at all costs, well, there's always room under the Obama bus for one more.
But while the bulk of the article is designed to stoke the fears of the anti-war left (and really, there's no denying that description can be applied to the bulk of the RS demographic), it also contains a strong appeal to the growing "anti-war right." Pre-publication descriptions of the article include mention of a growing number of troops dissatisfied with the rules of engagement in Afghanistan. That's true, but those who would advance that argument will have to overlook key graf from the actual story (though doing so will be easy enough):
The rules handed out here are not what McChrystal intended - they've been distorted as they passed through the chain of command - but knowing that does nothing to lessen the anger of troops on the ground. "Fuck, when I came over here and heard that McChrystal was in charge, I thought we would get our fucking gun on," says Hicks, who has served three tours of combat. "I get COIN. I get all that. McChrystal comes here, explains it, it makes sense. But then he goes away on his bird, and by the time his directives get passed down to us through Big Army, they're all fucked up - either because somebody is trying to cover their ass, or because they just don't understand it themselves. But we're fucking losing this thing."
To the political left General McChrystal is a pariah, a guy who usurps the authority of the president; to the right he's a pariah, a guy who does the president's bidding in Afghanistan. The truth doesn't much matter at this point - in the end (and we seem to be moving ever closer to the end) the anti-war right and the anti-war left combined are an irresistible force, whether either side acknowledges the other as fellow travelers is immaterial to the outcome they'll inevitably achieve.
(Update: Rolling Stone has now published the full article online here.)
There's no denying the Rolling Stone story is one of a train wreck - or at least one of a train so far off the tracks that something horrific is seemingly moments away. What's missing - in spite of the length of the article and the considerable time the author spent with the subjects - is any real insight to the cause of that disaster.
That's a story still to be told. Having tracked it here in progress, it shouldn't take too long to tell...
To you dads who aren't home this year, here's to better days to come.
Father's Day, 2007 was a busy time for me - two weeks would pass before I could complete and publish the post I'd written for that day. But while it had a Father's Day theme, the insightful reader - and I believe most readers here are - will note that among other things I was writing about the difficulty of predicting the future, and the eternal public fascination with predictions of a bleak future. "There's a market for such things," I observed. "There are people who thrive on imagining a future hell."
...imagining a future different from the now is the actual distinction. While it's reliable, predicting that outcome which is easiest to achieve - or that tomorrow will be like today - is hardly the definitive output of a boundless imagination.
And while sacrifice and effort don't guarantee success, failure is always the easiest outcome to achieve.
But had you asked me to make my own prediction of the future at that time, I wouldn't have come close to forecasting something as remarkable as this (source here, or click images for larger versions)...
The shaded areas in the charts above represent my time in Eden - with the left edge at about the time of that Fathers' Day post. My contribution to those remarkable trends to the right was small - but it was all I had. And while some folks might believe all that was inevitable, I can only say that from my vantage point in space and time on Father's Day, 2007, in Baghdad it was anything but. Years have passed, it's become fashionable in some circles to argue the whys, hows, significance and worth, and cause and effect or who to credit for the trends so obvious to anyone now in those lifeless gray charts above. But what's more intriguing to me - a guy who towards the end of the time frame was able to explain it all quite effectively, thanks, is that while it was happening there was universal denial that it was happening at all. (Though that, on the other hand, was entirely predictable.)
Onward, then. The future holds more Father's Days.
One Sunday in March this year, MaryAnn Phillips was nearing the end of a typically busy weekend. Like most other days off, she'd spent these at the US military's Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, supporting wounded coalition troops as a representative of the group Soldiers' Angels. Before starting her five-hour drive home, she stopped to check her email.
Among countless other messages was one from proud reporter Peter Almond, pointing her to his newly-published story about her in the London Daily Mail.
Contacted by a quick-thinking British doctor at Camp Bastion, Mr Yon sent an urgent email to a group of American civilian volunteers called Soldiers' Angels near Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where most American casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are initially sent.
The volunteers, founded by the great-niece of General George S. Patton, alerted the US Army's nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's Acute Lung Rescue Team, which specialises in going straight to the aid of soldiers with severe lung problems.
He had portrayed her as heroic - and in truth, she is - but unfortunately the example he used was not true - and the error was far from a minor one. She responded swiftly with a request for a correction: "Love the graphic," she began. "Makes it easy to understand a very complex series of events."
But yes, there are a couple of errors... including the fact that SA had nothing to do with getting the Lung Team into action! That all happens automatically, no matter what the nationality of the patient - which is the point of the whole story! We have nowhere near that type of influence...MaryAnn thought correcting the story was no big deal, and a simple thing to do. But shortly afterward she received this reply from Almond:
Very disappointed that your reaction - with the exception of the graphic - is so negative, and asking for a correction.
I have sent a link with my story to Michael Yon and he has not made any mention of this 'error' in his reply. At least he seems to appreciate it."
(And PS - if she felt it necessary to correct the record, "the comments under the story were open.")
Michael Yon was also a "hero" in the story. In fact, it was reprinted in full on his website, too. "I never even considered at that point that Mike Yon may have republished at his site," recalls MaryAnn. "Peter Almond emailed him separately and then pulled him in to our discussion."
While they were discussing it, the story was going viral. Even though it described events that had occurred months previously, at first read it had all the elements of a great story - a British soldier who would have been left to die on the battlefield had not Mike Yon quickly contacted MaryAnn from Afghanistan. Upon his notification, we are led to believe, she then alerted a medical team with a state-of-the-art rescue aircraft in Germany, who in turn launched a heroic effort involving hundreds of people to save one life that otherwise would have ended on that remote battlefield. But if the idea of two concerned civilians getting it done where the military couldn't (or wouldn't) seems too good to be true, it's because it was.
And for organizations that rely on charity, that sort of falsehood is dangerous. "I received an email from a retired AF Captain asking about making a donation because he read about "what I did" on Michael Yon's site," MaryAnn says. She took the time to respond to him and explain the truth.
But comments were flowing in to the story on Mike Yon's site, too.
Nice work Michael. Without your involvement, the solider surely would have died. When you are done with all of your travels, you will look back on your life and know you truly made a difference. That's what is important. To all the hundreds of participants who helped make this happen. Thank you.
T Parsons , March 07, 2010
This soldier would likely have died without the Michael Yon-Soldiers' Angels connection.The story at Mike's site had been linked by several major blogs, was spreading through chat rooms and via a flurry of emails praising the heroic duo. But in spite of MaryAnn's efforts, there was no correction appended to the story there - only this:
Scott Dudley , March 07, 2010
This is a team effort: Your CASH is required to keep these dispatches coming. Please donate NOW.
Your support is crucial and appreciated.
What she first thought would be a "no problem" fix was going to make for a very long couple of days...
I discovered the story when one of those countless emails landed in my inbox, I was one of several who received it from someone who knew it was the sort of story I'd like to share. And I would have - but fortunately it was addressed to MaryAnn, too.
At that point I didn't realize she'd already spent considerable time trying to set the record straight - the time difference between Europe and the States had allowed her a significant head start. Again, she responded quickly - warning us the story was bogus - and introduced another concern beyond potential donations from those deceived. "Making it look like the LRMC Lung Team, the US medical people downrange, and the hundreds of US airmen involved wouldn't have saved "Soldier X's" life unless SA intervened is a slap in the face to each and every one of them," she wrote us (she had sent that same message to the author, too). "Hopefully the Brits and LRMC PAO will just laugh, but I kinda doubt it." She told us she was working with Almond and Yon to fix the problem - all she asked of them was a simple correction appended to the stories.
However, they were dragging their feet. Thinking it might help speed things along, I told her if she'd send me her correction, I'd post it. Time was passing, the falsehood was spreading, and neither individual was inclined to make any effort to stop it. As thousands more readers were deceived by the story each hour, Yon and Almond were arguing about "fault" and "blame."
"My understanding is that you contacted US medical officials at the Landstuhl center, which then set other wheels turning with the Lung Team," Almond emailed MaryAnn.
"I don't know where that idea came from. I'm very sorry, but it's just not the case," she replied. "The patient had already been medevaced by the US team before I even knew anything about him or the incident."
Almond responded with a detailed explanation of how he felt he'd been misled by an earlier account of the story written by Mike Yon. After listing his reasons point by point, he summarized:
From what you say Michael appears to have over-egged your involvement - or at least the impression of your involvement - if it was just to inform people of what was going on.
I accept now that I should have asked you exactly what you did when you got Michael's email, then I would not have had the idea that Soldiers Angels got the ball rolling - even via officials at the medical center - with the Lung Rescue team at Landstuhl. But perhaps you now recognize how I got that impression. My article is also quite clear that this was a major US military effort.
Anyway, the bottom line from what you say is that I got it wrong about your involvement, no matter what others might have been saying, and for that I apologise.
"I'll talk to the deputy editor on Tuesday..." he explained, "but I don't think the Mail does corrections identified as such." He suggested she write a letter to the editor.
"I'll make your concerns clear to Michael," he concluded before signing off.
For his part, Mike was in full denial. "Since after I emailed to you last year about the injured soldier," he wrote MaryAnn, "I didn't know what happened on the back end."
That may be true - but MaryAnn had actually written the true story at the time it happened - in July, 2009, with more details in a follow-up here. And with her permission Mike had reproduced her story in full (with his own added introduction) not only on his site, but at Breitbart's Big Hollywood as well. In fact, the "new" Daily Mail story was basically a re-write of that one, with the added (and wrong) embellishment that Yon's notification of MaryAnn was the critical first step in saving the soldier's life.
But regardless of who knew what and when, clearly both parties acknowledged the falsehood in the story early on. For her part, MaryAnn wasn't interested in blame or fault - stories get 'mixed up' all the time, that's hardly earth-shattering - she just wanted a simple correction added to the stories telling the truth about what she had actually done.
MaryAnn reports that ultimately the two authors ceased their squabbling (at least in emails that included her). "I'm assuming they took it outside, so to speak, and lastly came the "Correction" email I sent you."
She sent me the text of the correction she wanted them to run, and expressed her frustration over the pissing match between the two individuals clearly responsible for the published uncorrected versions. She had to start that (now-delayed) long drive home, the stories were still spreading through the internet, and time was of the essence. I published the correction, and notified as many of the major bloggers I could identify who had linked the false story that her statement was available, and obviously shouldn't be ignored.
Michael Yon contacted Soldiers' Angels to improve communications about Soldier X's status after he was moved from British to US and German medical care. Soldiers' Angels did not directly contact the Acute Lung Rescue Team. Soldiers' Angels role is to support soldiers and soldiers' families, not to initiate or intervene in medical care.
100% of the credit goes to the coalition military medical teams, who pulled together across the world to save a human life - no matter what nationality. They would have done it for anyone. That is the spirit of the original story, "The needs of the one."
Meanwhile, the Soldiers' Angels organization acted quickly to reject the false story. Founder Patti Patton-Bader sent messages via Facebook and email alerting the thousands of members of the group. They, in turn, began adding comments to the stories setting the record straight. Bloggers, once made aware of the problem, updated their posts diligently. Here's a version of the story at Hot Air, where Ed Morrissey promptly included Patti's statement, and another at Jawa Report, updated with a link to MaryAnn's otherwise unpublished correction here.
Before hitting the road home MaryAnn asked Michael one last time to correct his post, too: "Michael, on behalf of all of our medical warriors, I'd be most grateful if you could run this..." and she got a positive reply: "Will do right now."
At any point, of course, MaryAnn could have told the whole story of what she was putting up with behind the scenes. She didn't - her goal wasn't to damage the reputations of anyone involved, it was merely to get the true story out there before more people were deceived. Even I didn't know then the full details I've shared above - just that she had a correction, asked them to post it, they were delaying and bickering, and (obviously) at least on their sites there was no correction to be seen. Almond, it should be noted, can't control what appears on the Daily Mail's pages. But after Mike's "right now" pledge, more hours passed, and more readers were duped. Before I called it a night, I checked to see if any corrections had been added to the original stories - they hadn't. So I added a parenthetical line following this one in my own post: "MaryAnn assures me that as of 2PM ET both Mike and the Daily Mail reporter have agreed to add that correction to their stories. (Although as of five hours later, they haven't done it.)"
In fact, that evening (unknown to MaryAnn or me at the time) Michael Yon posted the uncorrected (and then known to be untrue) story at Breitbart's Big Journalism site, too.
The next morning I checked to see if the story on Mike's site had been corrected yet - it hadn't. But I had an email from MaryAnn, she'd sent it the night before.
From: MaryAnn Phillips
Sent: Sunday, March 07, 2010 7:53 PM
Subject: Revealed !!!!1111 eleventy111!!!
Your post is awesome.
After getting home and reading everything, I emailed Yon asking about the correction.
He replied, saying he put it on Facebook. He also said he would link (presumably from FB) to any page I put up about it.
And I said, "Facebook. Uh huh. Well, I think Greyhawk has it exactly right here... " and put in your link.
No need to draw any more attention to this. I think you're right about that, too.
Neither of us wanted the story to be a big deal - we just wanted it fixed. But also in my inbox was a newer, shorter email from her that arrived that morning: "I wake up to find I've drug you into this, I'm so sorry."
I had no idea what she was talking about - then I found I also had an email from Mike:
From: Michael Yon
To: SA Greyhawk - Mudville Gazette ; MaryAnn Phillips
Sent: Sunday, March 07, 2010 9:42 PM
According to MaryAnn, the Daily Mail story is incorrect.
My knowledge of the entire event was as follows:
British officer asked if I could help (was not a doctor as story describes): I emailed to Soldiers' Angels and went back to work and forgot about. Later, it kept popping up on the radar due to the incredible efforts of the Air Force et al.
I had no knowledge about what went on behind the scenes as I was just a conduit for the email.
Your post insinuates that I was part of this inaccuracy by Daily Mail. Your post also directly states that I did not post correction. This is flatly wrong on both counts.
Would greatly appreciate your fixing this to save me the trouble.
Frankly, I wasn't sure what he was talking about, since the story on his site was still uncorrected and mine consisted of quotes from MaryAnn. As I was to discover, rather than take a minute to simply append MaryAnn's correction to the story on his site, Mike had launched some sort of Facebook jihad. This was my first introduction to his Facebook page (I'm just not much of a "Facebooker") but whatever was going on over there (apparently he had started some sort of "the Mudville Gazette is a big fat liar out to get me" thread...), I didn't much care. This wasn't a matter of differing opinions, and like MaryAnn I wasn't concerned at all with fault, blame, who knew what and when did they know it, or anything else other than correcting a known falsehood (however 'positive' that falsehood may seem).
"I should have never sent him your link," she wrote me.
I responded: "Being in the right I'm not worried about being dragged into anything." I had my own suspicions of Mike's motives, but I wasn't going to let him turn this into some sort of petty "blog fight" - so I ignored whatever else he was doing. Like MaryAnn I appreciated that he had publicly acknowledged on Facebook that he knew the story wasn't true, but all I wanted was what MaryAnn wanted - the truth actually appended to the story. "I don't want a "Greyhawk vs Yon" story. Or a "Yon vs Soldiers Angels" story for that matter," I wrote MaryAnn. "A "Yon vs anybody" story is not helpful, but a "You can't trust what you read at Mike Yon's" story might be called for if he refuses to correct it."
By then the story had been out for a full day at Mike's site and the Daily Mail, and half a day at Big Journalism - and the initial flood of readers was probably tapering off. MaryAnn was offering to drop the whole effort to spare me from whatever additional assaults might come from Mike Yon. But without knowing that she had already expressed the following concerns herself in her various email discussions (only much later, in preparation of this story, did she share the full emails from Almond and Yon with me) I advised her why halting her efforts was a bad idea - and it wasn't about Mike Yon:
If Mike's okay with a fraudulent story on his site there's nothing more you or I or anyone can do - except to ensure that the truth is out there, too. An erroneous story is no big deal - it happens. An uncorrected "erroneous story" is a lie.
Not to go altruistic here, but in addition to potential damage to your relationship with the good folks at Landstuhl there's the angle of donations on false pretenses for both Mike and SA to consider. I certainly don't think anyone's going to attack SA over it, but it's important that the true story is out there and endorsed by you. I think the next step is to put something up on your site correcting the record, there's a due diligence issue here. The story doesn't need to be a shitstorm, but it needs to be told. Maybe with a "Mike has acknowledged this in comments, via email with me, and on Facebook - but gosh I sure wish he would append something directly to that unfortunately erroneous story" angle.
Honestly I don't think he's capable of it at this point. I hope he proves me wrong.
She wrote an awesome post of her own - like me, MaryAnn doesn't like to write about herself. Her Soldiers' Angels Germany site is a tribute to warriors and healers - many of whom she knows, and her post on this topic was a forced response to that regrettable 'slap in their face' delivered from elsewhere - but in her name. I linked her account in my own second post on the topic here. Others who read her message began responding, too.
Old Blue, a soldier in Afghanistan, wrote his own incredible account of how he spent his all-too-brief time off while on a trip to Germany from there - a day with MaryAnn at Landstuhl.
"She may actually kill me for writing this," he noted. "Personally, I am awed. MaryAnn and the Angels of Landstuhl do things that I could never do on an ongoing basis. To me, they are legend. Truly amazing. Volunteers all. You do not need to embellish their amazing work..."
And blogger extraordinaire "Some Soldiers Mom" - who once spent some time with her own wounded soldier son at Landstuhl - spoke up, too. "MaryAnn is as selfless and as caring an individual anywhere on God's Earth, and our soldiers -- especially our wounded -- and their families have no greater an ally and friend than she." Given the behind-the-scenes circumstances, all the posts seem rather polite and measured to me.
But on that Monday afternoon (US time), though he credited it to "Soldiers Angels" instead of MaryAnn, Mike finally posted her correction. She and I added an acknowledgment of that to our own posts on the topic. Although I knew he'd spent well over a day in petty defiance of MaryAnn's wishes to tell the truth (coincidentally, until the rush of visits to his site had subsided), I then replied to Mike's "irresponsible" email to me - with a note I'd hoped he'd understand was both encouragement and caution.
Mike replied the next day - by continuing to argue against accusations no one was making:
Mike I'll always have your back, brother.
Watching the election returns from Iraq yesterday I was reminded of when I first found your web site, and your coverage of the elections there in January '05. A great story about the guy who got hustled out by the ISF for taking liberties with a female CNN reporter... damn its been a while.
Your reputation is built on truth, on years of truth, and that Daily Mail story was a threat to your reputation. As it stands corrected by you your reputation is enhanced. This is a good thing. So, sometimes your real friends tell you stuff you don't want to hear. In fact, your real friends will ALWAYS have the courage to tell you stuff you don't want to hear.
MaryAnn's ability to do what she does is based on confidence (on the part of lots of folks) in her motives, including her lack of desire for any sort of personal spotlight or credit, even when deserved. That too has been established over years. And that story was also an enormous threat to her ability to do what she does. I know more about that than most because when we lived in Germany my own lovely bride was the other half of Soldiers' Angels Germany, and there are many great stories that don't get much attention... One of these days you'll have to make it to a milblogger event in person, share a few rounds at the bar with some of us, along with the stories that go with all that.
Anyhow, while it isn't anything like the danger of a stray bullet or mortar round, you were both in danger over that particular story. As a third party - and one who has more personal interest in and understanding of the importance of what you guys do than most, one who very much wants you guys to succeed more than most, I could see that danger. Sorry if you think I shoved you, but if I did so I shoved you out from in front of a bus.
Mike, keep fighting the good fight. There are fewer folks doing what you do than ever, that makes what you do more important than ever.
J.R. (greyhawk) Michael
----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Yon
Cc: MaryAnn Phillips
Sent: Tuesday, March 09, 2010 1:00 AM
Subject: Re: Irresponsible
I didn't know the story was wrong until pointed out by MaryAnn. My involvement was simply to send an email one day. The writer -- with zero help from me other than answering some questions -- simply made assumptions. When I linked over it was not an endorsement (and in fact, before MaryAnn emailed, I had already posted on my FaceBook that I had only sent an email and nothing more.) What got my attention is that people were giving me credit for saving his life, and I was thinking...??? Where did that come from? So I posted that it was Soldiers' Angels and the military who did that. And then MaryAnn emailed that it was not SA and the military, but the military solely.
To MaryAnn he added: "It's important to note that I didn't write that article and had nothing to do with it. In fact, I did not know his article was inaccurate until you pointed it out. For some reason, it was coming across like I was part of the authorship of that article. I only reprinted it as is."
But MaryAnn, who had been cc'd on all that correspondence, had already sent me her own reply.
Great mail, I hope he will look into his heart. He has lost his way.
There is another disturbing aspect to this we haven't even discussed.
Yon may think he can distance himself as a writer from the story by saying he only republished it. However, he has not denied the role he played as a person as described in the story.
In other words, he published the SA correction about our involvement, but never made one of his own about his involvement.
He continues to allow comments to appear unchallenged at his web site, saying things like "Michael, without you that Soldier would have died."
Now, if it was you, wouldn't you feel a little uncomfortable with that?
I'm convinced he's gone off the deep end, or maybe he always was and we never knew.
I've seen his public fights and bullying before, and I view them all in a new light now.
Unfortunately, I now view everything he writes in a new light, and it's not flattering.
For her the experience was a first. For me, it was just the (then) latest example of someone turning to me with behind-the-scenes trouble with Mike Yon.
It wouldn't be the last.
Postscript: The Daily Mail version of the story, and the version posted by Mike Yon at Big Journalism (long after he had acknowledged its inaccuracies and pledged to correct it on his own site), remain uncorrected to this day.
"Where are you flying today?" the Delta Arlines agent asked.
"Kansas City to Atlanta, Atlanta to Paris, Paris to Dubai. Then I take a small regional airline to Kabul, Afghanistan."
"Sounds like the trip of a lifetime!"
I've made the trip of a lifetime several times. This will be my seventh trip to the wars in five years. One trip may be an outlandish mid-life crisis. Seven surely qualifies me for some type of clincal diagnosis.
I am certain that multiple trips to wars have changed me, but I am not sure what those changes are.
"On this trip I'm going to try something different," he explains... but all that's at the link.
Last week, six seniors who are going into the military received plaques at an assembly at Dennis Yarmouth Regional High School - but two teachers used the event to stage an "anti-war" protest. Over the weekend, using Facebook, the students of the Cape Cod, Massachusetts high school planned their response.
[D-Y principal Ken] Jenks is conducting an investigation of the incident and says the teachers could face disciplinary action.
Sounds like a school where some teachers could learn a few lessons about free speech, civics, responsibility, pride, and protest from their students. The kids are all right.
UPDATE: Video added
...some thoughts to make you think, from Lex.
His look at a story from Bill Roggio is a thought-provoking read, too.
"More than 170 media representatives are expected to be embedded with military units in southern Afghanistan this summer," says Tadd (Quatto) Sholtis, "a statistic that is at best a mixed blessing for public understanding of the war."
Check out this email I got from Mike Yon:
"Greyhawk -- please go away with CJ and your buddies. Just go away and never come back."
So, here's another usage: "Wow, what a whiny little bitch."
Added next day: I used to get frequent emails from Mike of the sort bloggers call "link begs" - "here's my latest post, please share" etc. I always welcome those - it helps me identify milbloggers who really want their voices shared. But those communications (and most others) from Mike seemed to taper off as his audience grew, something I always enjoy seeing happen to those most deserving.
But not long ago I received this:
---- Original Message -----
From: Michael Yon
To: SA Greyhawk - Mudville Gazette
Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2010 10:18 PM
Who are the best active duty milbloggers now?
Like anyone else familiar with the topic, he knew who to ask. I didn't invent the word 'milblog' but I did define it, and Mike was one of many I've helped launch from obscurity to various levels of fame or notoriety over the years. Their own talents make or break them, of course - but since 2003 those in the know check with me on the topic.
But it's Mrs G who really kept track of them, so I responded with her list of those who were at that time blogging from the front (we guessed he meant front-line bloggers - the list would be far too long otherwise). Mike wrote back:
----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Yon
Sent: Friday, January 29, 2010 12:59 AM
Subject: Re: Milbloggers...
But who is YOUR favorite? (Not attributable...I just want to know because someone is asking me, and I want second opinions because I normally actually stay focused on what's in front of me...)
You'd have to be a fairly regular, long-time reader here to understand my thoughts on "favorite" milbloggers, "best milblogger contests," etc. I don't join in, though I've got no problem with those who do.
Mike, for example, proudly displays a "Best Military Weblog 2008" banner on his blog. Obviously he's proud of the legion of fans who voted him that honor. Mrs G, on the other hand, can provide you a list of milbloggers who were killed in action in 2008 - beginning in January, if you want them chronologically. In fact, she did so at the milblog conference the following year, at the close of the sessions. Not just for 2008, but going back all the years...
It was a moment no one who was there will forget. But for a response to his second email request, Mike got a pared down list of those who were updating most frequently, and whose posts appeared aimed at a more public/less family and friends-type audience. "It's hard to pick a favorite, Mike, depends what you're looking for..." I told him. And "A few years ago there were milbloggers all over the place. Now, not so much. That's another topic altogether..." I concluded (and to be clear, death was not the main reason for that.)
"Thanks," he replied. "Seems like the pool really has dried up. I believe there was a crack down a while back, also, but I wasn't tracking that." Then he concluded: "Heading back into Astan now so pretty busy. Going to be a long year."
Perhaps it will. I never knew to what use he put that information, or who he might have declared his own "favorite." The next time I ever heard him mention milbloggers (maybe the first time I ever knew him to mention milbloggers) was a few weeks later, in conjunction with another story altogether (no - not one of his "milkook" rants - this was even before all that began).
This was going to be a good one: whenever the mainstream media disapproves, they call me a "blogger." (Incorrectly; I don't have a blog and only ran one for some months back in 2005.)
I wonder what gave them that kookie idea?
My poor title spelling is intentional. But why the hell someone is trying to foist old news off as new news is anyone's guess.
Update: more from Knights of Afghanistan.
...to the Army - and "happy Flag Day" to all. (Do they make flag day cards yet?)
As Matt Burden would say, someone you should know.
"Mike doesn't fact check, he spell checks." Ouch. Keeps the actual fact checkers busy, though.
Emails continue to come from Afghanistan.
Example:... "Mike I can't thank you enough for being the voice of the troops. We been getting shit on w/ all these pussified directives from McChrystal and the rest of them and at least somebody is standing up to them..."
Mike's correspondent goes on to detail various outrages he claims are perpetrated on the troops from on high, the sort of statements that from such a questionable source can only be called baseless claims.
Consider this a public email from me, Mike - the guy who introduced you to the blogosphere over five years ago. As a guy who's been there and done that in Iraq, as a guy who served in uniform for a quarter century, and as a guy who's concern for his brothers who are still in uniform or in combat zones is exceeded by no one's, I ask you to stop publishing whatever drops into your email inbox as if it were something more significant than Nigerian spam.
Whatever led you to this point doesn't matter. What does matter is you're at a point where your lack of any sort of filter leaves you open to being used by people with an agenda, whose motives you can't possibly understand. And take a look at the comment thread that follows your post linked above. There are people there who trust you without question when you claim to be posting information by the troops, for the troops. Here's an example from "Scott Klimczak": "Mike wouldn't publish ANYTHING if he hadn't seen multiple futile attempts to notify up the line. These posts ain't just willy-nilly! They're directed fire, short bursts, to wake the staff up and spotlight the drool on the chins of those not paying attention." Or this brief and even more frightened comment from Glenda Hunn-Felando that follows it: "God help my son....." (Glenda, for the record, and for all mothers of troops who've written me about Mike's recent behavior: you're looking for truth in all the wrong places - Mike doesn't give a damn for you or your son.) Mike, these people think they're getting light from you, when in reality it's just heat. Maybe heat brings in the donations, I don't know, I've never tried it. But whatever your motive, when you operate without a filter the end result is at best a jumbled mess that no one on earth could have time to sort, certainly the guys who are fighting a war don't.
In the future, If you get more emails like this one you claim is from Afghanistan (and I suspect you will) it might be a good idea to check with the folks on scene who know the answers before you publish them. Give them a chance to verify accuracy and correct problems before you publish something that may or may not be true, may or may not include OPSEC violations, and may get troops killed. If for some reason you can't do that, forward them to someone like Jeff Shogol at Stars and Stripes. He's not in Afghanistan, but his journalistic insight and contacts are obviously useful at separating fact from fiction. His efforts at running down the truth about an earlier email are exemplary - think how much better it would have been for all involved in that case if you had turned to him first. Or me, whose experience at this sort of thing is exceeded only by my concern for the lives of troops. Either of us can provide you with that much needed filter, do a bit of fact checking, get problems solved with no risk to the troops (I'd be perfectly happy to credit you with that result), and save you from potential embarrassment. We're just two examples, there are countless other folks with a combination of knowledge, experience, insight, and interest who are capable of doing the same.
Again, I'm convinced that whether through misguided rage, confusion, or lack of knowledge and experience you've allowed yourself to be used by people with an agenda that you believe matches yours. I'm not so sure it does, and I'm certain you yourself have no idea when you're being so used. And as so many of your readers reveal in their comments, your posting of material like this lends it false credibility. Your remaining readers trust you, and I've warned you before that you run great risks when you run roughshod over that trust. They deserve better.
More importantly, the men and women in harm's way deserve better. They deserve light, and they're getting heat. You're vulnerable and you're being used. It's time to man up, admit your failure, and stop.
Next day update: Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sam Thistle.
Stormy 01 flew out Route 9 toward the Laotian border, looking for artillery and armor. They flew an erratic path at 450 knots, 4 Gs and remained above 4,000' to avoid small arms and light anti-aircraft fire. The roads were wet deeply rutted, but they could find neither 130 MM guns nor tanks. Working toward the DMZ, there was no trace of the enemy until they surveyed the DMZ road south of the old USMC firebase at Con Thien.
Parked within its perimeter were five tracked vehicles with twin 57 MM guns firing at them. They recognized the ZSU-57-2 by its muzzle flash - a 25' long tongue of flame which looks more lethal than it is. With a low cyclic rate of fire, lack of radar and visible projectiles, 57 MM was easy to avoid. Arch marked the location on the inertial. John and Arch asked themselves same question, "What's up there that they don't want us to see?"
"These guys are the bravest people on Earth.
"If the para rescue forces did not exist, our military (especially the aviators) would not hang it out the way they do.
"At 0645 on the 28th of April 1972, I should have been killed. The men of the 33 ARRS risked their lives to save mine. It was the bravest act I have ever seen. Details at the link."
There's a hellofa good story at that link (and accompanying photos, including the "real heroes," here) compliments of Arch and another fellow USAF vet Bill Faith (who slipped the surly bonds of earth all too soon - you're missed here, Bill).
Arch knew something was wrong with the warning indications. There was a light on that should not have been. As he looked at the panel there was a sudden impact that lifted the aircraft's tail. In his center mirror, he watched the rotating beacon disappear in the fireball. Looking north, he saw a second SA-2 a few hundred meters away pulling lead. The missile entered pitch oscillation and passed in front of and below the aircraft and detonated. The NVA weren't using radar; it had to have been a visual shot.
Startled by the second missile, John asked, "What was that?"
"An SA-2," Arch answered and noting some 12.7 MM rounds passing his canopy added, "take it down, we're getting hosed!"
"We're at 50 feet," replied the pilot, "and I've got a fire light on the left engine."
"Fuck it!" Arch replied, "We're in North Vietnam!"
...and other atrocities. One of those things you hope isn't true - but there are too many other stories that are.
I'll take sides with the guys in the story below.
"That Others May Live" - the motto of USAF Pararescue, the PJs. And this week, four paid the ultimate price for living up to that motto.
The helicopter was providing support to British troops at the time of the attack, according to The New York Times. The newspaper, quoting a Taliban spokesman, said insurgents shot down the helicopter over the Sangin district bazaar with a rocket-propelled grenade.The Washington Post:
A rocket-propelled grenade appears to have downed the craft, said Brig. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, one of the top U.S. commanders in southern Afghanistan, who cited the findings of a preliminary investigation.The Las Vegas Sun, on the fallen airmen:
"It's a big deal every time we lose someone," he said. "But this is more of a jolt. The medevac crews are some of the bravest people in the world. Just by the nature of what they do, they're always moving into danger."
1st Lt. Joel C. Gentz, 25, of Grass Lake, Mich., assigned to the 58th Rescue Squadron, and Staff Sgt. David C. Smith, 26, of Eight Mile, Ala., assigned to the 66th Rescue Squadron.
Gentz was on his first deployment with more than 50 hours of combat time. Smith had seen numerous deployments in support of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lt. Col. James McElhenney said in releasing a statement from Nellis.
Tech. Sgt. Michael P. Flores, 31, of San Antonio, Texas, and Senior Airman Benjamin D. White, 24, of Erwin, Tenn., assigned to the 48th Rescue Squad at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Flores was on his eighth deployment as a pararescueman and had previously been stationed at Nellis. White served in the Air Force for almost four years and was on his first deployment.
The wounded airmen are assigned to the 66th RQS from Nellis Air Force Base. They are being treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The extent of their injuries isn't known.
Sergeant Flores is survived by his wife, Tech. Sgt. Marisa Flores, also assigned here, his three-year-old daughter Eliana, and his one-year-old son Michael. Sergeant Flores entered the Air Force June 10, 1998, and was serving on his eighth deployment. He had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and 12 Air Medals.
Airman White is survived by his father, Anthony White, mother, Brenda Logozo, and step-father, Frank Logozo. Airman White entered the Air Force July 25, 2006, and was serving on his first deployment.
Vis Fox, you can watch a pre-deployment video story on the 66th here.
Flores, a father of two, and White were pararescuemen, or PJs, highly trained to perform lifesaving missions - when necessary by using daring techniques such as rappelling from helicopters or parachuting from high altitude.
Training for the elite field is so strenuous it's known as "Superman school." About 85 percent of hopefuls wash out during the rigors, which can take two years.
PJs are highly regarded in Air Force culture for their skills and willingness to risk their lives to save others.
Both airmen were assigned to D-M's 48th Rescue Squadron, part of the 563rd Rescue Group, which conducts combat search- and-rescue missions using HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
They were on a rescue mission at the time of the crash, said their squadron commander, Maj. Jason Pifer. Details of the mission were not immediately available.
Besides saving U.S. troops and allied casualties, combat rescuers often are called upon to aid wounded Afghan police, military personnel or civilians - sometimes even insurgents, Pifer said.
Even as we mourn their loss, USAF Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos offers us a look at how these men lived.
Squadron Highlights Capabilities During Afghan Rescue Mission
Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos
CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan -- A soldier is wounded during a joint British and Afghanistan national army patrol in Helmand province. Shot through both legs, his condition worsens while being cared for by the medics. It is time to call in the professionals to get him off the battlefield and to the hospital. The radios erupt with words the crews had been standing by for:
Rushing from their squadron tents and huts, located close to the flight line and their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, the crews run to the waiting aircraft, strap in, fire up the engines and within minutes they are airborne on their way to the patient.
Time is of the essence and these Airmen from the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron take it very seriously.
On board the helicopter, racing back to the base, the pararescue jumpers, or PJs, work as a team, tending to the patient. One handles all injuries below the waist, while the other takes care of any concerns above. They work quickly to bandage the wound on the left leg, preventing any further blood loss and verifying no nerve damage occurred.
The goal for the crews is getting the patient from the battlefield to the nearest medical care in minimal time. If they can do that during the first hour after being wounded, the chances for survival are excellent. After that "Golden Hour," those chances diminish quickly.
"Time is always critical, so our ability to get to the patient quickly, have our PJs stabilize him, and then return the survivor to a medical facility is vital," said Capt. Stephen Homan, 66th ERQS flight surgeon. "In our world, having those faster transport and response times helps us give the wounded warriors the best chance possible, and in the end we can ultimately increase his quality of life."
Since the first of September, the squadron has been very successful in saving lives and assisting patients across Southern Afghanistan. According to 1st Lt. Caitlin Cima, 66th ERQS intelligence officer, the unit has recorded 253 saves and 580 assists while flying 620 missions, a blistering operations tempo for the crews flying out of the British-run Camp Bastion.
"Sometimes we may have five missions during a twelve-hour alert period, with 2-3 of those being 'scrambles,' or highest priority, which means someone's life is on the line," said Capt. Mark Uberuaga, 66th ERQS mission pilot.
"Needless to say, before the temperatures started to drop, we were extremely busy," he added.
The high operations tempo is mainly due to the changes in their mission.
Combat Search and Rescue, or CSAR, is the primary focus for the crews. They diligently train in penetrating deep into enemy-held territory to rescue downed fliers and have been conducting these types of missions since the Korean War in 1950.
During the Vietnam War, rescue crews recovered 4,120 personnel, including 2,780 in combat situations. Their dedication to the mission continues even today, with 470 U.S. or Allied personnel rescued since Sept. 11, 2001.
However, over time, the mission changed from simply CSAR, and now includes casualty evacuation and humanitarian disaster relief missions. Their ability to adapt to the ever-changing combat and political environment further solidifies their reputation as the ones to call when lives are on the line.
"With the exception of the last few years, AF Rescue as a whole in the deployed arena has remained niche-based with the CSAR mission focus," said Maj. Joseph Alkire, 66th ERQS detachment commander. "Although always capable of full-spectrum personnel recovery options, the last few years have seen an increase and expansion across the board in PR mission set; most notably Casualty Evacuation, or CASEVAC in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."
According to Alkire, although other assets are able to perform certain functions under the "PR umbrella," the Air Force is the "only service to organize, train and equip a dedicated rescue force capable of full-spectrum PR across a wide range of threat and environmental operating conditions."
"The HH-60G and Guardian Angel pararescue forces are prepared for all PR missions, from CSAR to CASEVAC, along with humanitarian disaster relief and non-combatant evacuation operations," said Alkire.
The dual role tasking, for both theater PR and CASEVAC in Southern Afghanistan has AF rescue forces gainfully employed. The rescue squadron regularly employs with Army, Marine and British Rescue Forces responding to missions. The ranges of mission requests are often diverse, from ridgeline extractions to dive operations, casualty evacuations to CSAR recoveries. Alkire feels "the highly maneuverable Pave Hawk helicopter and the PJs are uniquely suited to accomplish them all in support of sister services and international partners."
"The rescue squadron has been very successful in taking on the broader roles in support of the medical evacuation mission in Afghanistan, while maintaining the constant alert required by the CSAR mission," said Alkire. "The aircrews and the pararescue teams continue to maintain the highest level of response and care in a highly professional manner day in and day out, whenever or wherever they are tasked.
"I can't ask more than that," he added.
While the number of alert calls is diminishing with the cold weather, the crew's willingness to fly into harm's way is not. And no matter who the patient is, the sense of urgency is still the same, something for which the wounded soldier is grateful.
Safely recovered at Camp Bastion, the soldier is quickly transported from the helicopter to the waiting medical facility, where he is given all the treatment necessary to return him to his unit.
It is another save and another successful mission completed by these Airmen. They return to their rooms to wait for the next call, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get to those in need, risking their lives, "So that others may live."
Some previous/related posts:
The Boo Radleys VII (A1C William Pitsenbarger)
Elsewhere: Don't miss Noah Shachtman's account of his mission with the PJs here. Mike Yon has more PJ mission photos here.
You'll find copies of the IG report from Arlington National Cemetery here and here. "This will not look good on your performance report" is right. And talk about going public - here's the official reprimand, including this line: "I regret that public disclosure of the DAIG inspection will bring disgrace and embarrassment on you and the Department of the Army."
If you've read any of the associated news stories, you'll know the name that's blanked out in the IG report.
If you missed the news, here's a glimpse:
The Army has stripped its top two managers overseeing Arlington National Cemetery of their authority and created a new executive position after an internal report found mismanagement of the gravesites.
Army Secretary John McHugh, who released the results of the report Thursday, announced that the cemetery's superintendent, John Metzler, will be under supervision until he retires next month, and Metzler's deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, has been placed on administrative leave.
McHugh, who ordered the investigation in November, called the report "deeply troubling" and "unacceptable.he investigation found 211 graves where there were problems of misidentification or improper record keeping.
"McHugh ordered an investigation by the Army inspector general in November after revelations that cemetery workers inadvertently buried cremated remains at a grave site already in use." What the inspectors found when they started digging is not pretty.
...but remember that while bigger isn't always better, it's nearly always harder. Here's one reason why.
From Red Bull Rising:
A Change in Command: Dust-up or Sandstorm?
There was lots of rumor and innuendo in the bull pen this past week, as the commander and top non-commissioned officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division were abruptly reassigned. This is only days before the unit moves out to three weeks of Annual Training in Camp Ripley, Minn., and only a few months prior to deployment of approximately the unit's 3,000 soldiers to Afghanistan.
Read the rest here. (Author "Callsign Sherpa" is a member of the unit.)
CNAS Fourth Annual Conference "Shaping the Agenda" June 10th, 2010 beginning at 1:30pm.
Live webcast here.
This Marine fought for his right to work, now a teacher's union wants to dun him in exchange for ... nothing. Marine ROTC instructor Maj. Stephen Godin says he won't pay union dues, and they're trying to fire him. Boston Herald:A retired U.S. Marine who runs a high school ROTC program in Worcester says he faces the boot for refusing to pay local union dues, leaving the 58-year-old father of two crying foul and school administrators bewildered...Figures. Serve your nation, come back, keep serving, get chiseled by stay-at-homes. Worcester is the kind of blue-collar place where you'd expect a lot of support for the military, a little more common sense and less tolerance for this kind of nonsense. Teachers' unions on the other hand, like much of academia, aren't....
(In his followup, Jules - a Massachusetts resident - suggests JROTC guy for governor. Sounds good to me!)
Or can more bullshit save Afghanistan?
Americans tend to think big, and Afghanistan needs more little things. In Afghanistan we need more thinking small.
One less blog
Canada's own "milblog", The Torch (aka, toyoufromfailinghands.blogspot.com) has shut its doors, suddenly and apparently permanently. Correspondence with the authors confirms it's over. I'd give a link, but obviously there's no point now. They'll be missed. Best of luck to the contributors in their future endeavours.
One of a handful of non-US blogs genuinely focused on military issues, they will be missed is an understatement.
Or surge books, at least. And here are two more:
A Chance in Hell: The Men Who Triumphed Over Iraq's Deadliest City and Turned the Tide of War - USA Today reporter Jim Michael's account of the Ready First Brigade in Ramadi. I shouldn't call them a surge brigade - their tour immediately preceded the increase in troops in Iraq, but they are one of the units that set the stage (in more ways than one) for the successes of the surge. See here, here and here for real-time coverage of those events. A more in-depth review from 2008 begins here. (Or, just watch the movie.)
A Chance in Hell will be released June 22, but can be pre-ordered now.
Already on the shelves (or via Amazon): They Fought for Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq. Author Kelly Kennedy's career took her from the Army to journalism school - she joined Army Times staff in 2005, and in 2007 was in Baghdad, covering Charlie Company, 1/26 Infantry Regiment in the Adhamiya district during the surge.
In December 2006, 19-year-old Ross McGinnis threw himself on a grenade to save four friends. He received the Medal of Honor.A Humvee rolled over a roadside bomb, killing two soldiers and severely burning the others. In June, a Bradley hit another bomb, and it killed five soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter.Soon after, a well-loved first sergeant in the battalion, 1SG Jeff McKinney, killed himself in front of his men after not sleeping, eating or drinking for several days. Then, a second Bradley hit a bomb, instantly killing four soldiers. The platoon I embedded with was accused of mutiny after they refused to go out after the second Bradley was hit. They said they feared they would kill everyone they saw if they went out because they were so full of rage. Charlie Company lost 14 men, and Second Platoon came home without nine of their friends.
But the book also details their good days...
The customer reviews at Amazon include several from members of the unit and members of their families, who express their thanks to the author for telling their story. For me, those are all the reviews I need. (Though I trust the one from "N Webster," too.)
Federal officials have arrested an Army intelligence analyst who boasted of giving classified U.S. combat video and hundreds of thousands of classified State Department records to whistleblower site Wikileaks, Wired.com has learned.
Read the whole thing - there's no "upside" to what this punk was doing, and the guy who exposed him is the hero in this story. (One who had even donated to Wikileaks in the past.)
The snuff porn videos SPC Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Maryland (allegedly!) provided for world wide enjoyment (and wikileaks fundraising) are different only in length from the sort of stuff that's been available on Youtube and LiveLeak for years. The additional (and fraudulent) commentary and editing provided by Wikileaks, along with a massive PR campaign, turned that video into a brief sensation - though any hopes for a repeat of the abu Ghraib photos media extravaganza fizzled rapidly. I think Jules is exactly right in his comments here. (But to be clear - while the wikileaks video won't result in the thousands - if not tens of thousands - of deaths the release of the abu Ghraib photos did, it could inspire at least a handful of suicide bombers - I'm not calling it 'harmless.')
But apparently Manning also leaked "260,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables that Manning described as exposing "almost criminal political back dealings."" I'm not sure if he understands the difference between "criminal" (example: 'leaking classified' - which is) and "stuff I don't like" - or "embarrassing," but I'm fairly certain most DoS folks do....
"Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public," Manning wrote.
The words "Hillary Clinton" might temper the support from some folks who'd otherwise be inclined to rush to the defense of the guy who leaked the snuff porn vids - time will tell.
And forget anything about "lax security measures" - this is someone who had achieved a position of trust, who had cleared a background check (at least, he better have) that (along with 'need to know') gained him access to information classified at a specific level. You don't need to strip search and body scan folks like that every day. However, if you're their supervisor, you do need to know them.
The real question is one of clearance (and I've been a security manager for a large unit - I know how this stuff works). Specifically, why did this guy still have one? (Or at least, access to SIPR.) If this is true:
He discussed personal issues that got him into trouble with his superiors and left him socially isolated, and said he had been demoted and was headed for an early discharge from the Army.
...his clearance should have been yanked long before - as in step one. "Manpower shortage" isn't the answer - as this case demonstrates all too clearly, not everyone is "better than nothing" - sometimes you're infinitely better off being a man down. (I've made those sorts of decisions before, too - with an eye towards deploying to a war zone and otherwise.)
In spite of the length of the linked article there's certainly not enough information available to draw the conclusions that would answer the questions I'm raising above, those may or may not come out in time. (Just like those quarter million State Department emails. Which, by the way, if they really are that damning, the net, secure or not, is not compartmentalized enough. See 'need to know' reference above. There are lots of potential lessons learned here...)
As for probable outcomes, these seem likely:
Update - Stars and Stripes:
Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange said his group does not have 260,000 classified cables. He added that Wikileaks does "not keep personally identifying information" on its sources.
"If Mr. Manning is indeed the source for the 'Collateral Murder' video, which depicts a gratuitous attack by an Apache helicopter on a van [carrying] unarmed people helping a wounded Reuters reporter, among other slayings, and which were the subject of a Pentagon coverup, no praise can be too high for this brave soldier," Assange said in an e-mail.
Per Karaka's comment below, chances of 1 and 2 above were slim, and it looks like they're getting slimmer. As for 3, does the Army have a case? Is there evidence beyond "he bragged online that he had done it?"
Karaka Pend - Hammer meet nail
Previously: War Porn (part three - for the children)
Mitch ("Taco") Bell:
Below is a link to a neat story that my mom (who I am very proud of!) wrote about Sgt Owen whose plane went down on D-Day over France. This project was started by Mark Seavey over at The Burn Pit and a great read on this special day. Thanks to my Mom and Dad for all their effort in tweaking this PDF below and all the volunteers who helped put this together so that you could enjoy it. Also thanks to Marcus, my website Guru for helping me out!!!
The story began in January, 2010, in a Salvation Army thrift store in Massena, New York. Sheila Gladding was sorting through a box of donations. She found a framed photograph of Sgt. Richard E. Owen in his dress uniform [fig.1]3 along with a framed citation for his Purple Heart awarded after his C-47, known as plane 66, was shot down by German antiaircraft fire on D-Day, 6 June 1944, over the beaches of Normandy, France...
(Bumped, 2010-05-31 16:20:45)
Mullah Zergay, who led the Taliban in Kandahar City, as well as in the vital districts of Zhari and Arghandab, Taliban strongholds to the west and north of the provincial capital, was killed...
It's hard out there for a milblog (part 9,000): in which another long-silent milblogger in Afghanistan takes a break - from being silent:
The long break in the blog has been the result of the practical application of the Department of Defense's social media policy in the Afghanistan theater. Ostensibly designed to expand government transparency, improve information sharing, boost morale and cure cancer, the real local impact of the policy has been to allow military communications specialists to exercise their basest bureaucratic instincts. By declaring that government systems should permit access to social media except in cases where operational security, bandwidth or other considerations require local limitations, the policy has served mainly to identify exemptions that can justify widespread restrictions on access. The exceptions have become the rule, with the result that unofficial bloggers in Afghanistan are forced to turn to a limited number of clogged commercial lines. Where blogs once could be knocked out around 15-minute mental breaks from the daily grind, they're now published in the wee small hours of the morning after 18-hour work days. Or, in the case of those who prefer to spend the off-hours catching up with their families, their friends and their sleep -- including yours truly -- they're not published at all.
On a generic level, such is the fate of guidance left for interpretation at lower levels. As a supporter of lowest-level decision making, in that regard I can't complain. And if you're wondering what "McChrystal's PAO" has to say about it - that's his (unofficial) blog I'm quoting from above.
"...15-minute mental breaks from the daily grind ... published in the wee small hours of the morning after 18-hour work days..." Been there, done that. As one of the world's more experienced milbloggers - and one who in his non-blogging career did (or received smartly) plenty of interpretation of the scriptures on a wide variety of topics (and honestly, 'access to social media' was not a high priority example) I saw this coming when I first read the new policy not long ago. I hoped it wouldn't be like that, but it's a world I know too well. Bottom line is a point I've said or written repeatedly - there are few combat zone milbloggers now, but scarcity hardly equates to lack of worth. Behind the scenes or publicly I'll continue to be the advocate of free speech from those who help make it possible, while maintaining a purpose my own site has had since 2003 - being the place to find them.
Added: a good point from Small Wars Journal. Put that guy in a uniform in a TOC and it isn't funny.
Actually, support Small Wars Journal:
When we reflect back on where we are now, damn, we're thankful. We are where we are now, first and foremost, because of the quality of thought and writing by our content contributors (all volunteers), the substantive participation of commenters on the Journal and SWJ Blog, and the richness of discussion in the Small Wars Council. We have benefitted immensely from the early endorsement and continued participation of some of the greats in the field. We have received some individual contributions and we have efforts underway enabled by some generous grants. We are humbled by the way the community has embraced Small Wars Journal.
Even more humbling is the amount of work we need to do to keep up with your interest and continue to be worthy of the value you seem to place in us. We have a criminal backlog of good content submissions that we need to be able to work through faster, since timeliness in so important to our dialog. We have a lot to do to update and expand the site's other content, particularly to exploit the potential of an upcoming platform and usability upgrade made possible by a grant. We are doing a lot, we can do a lot more, and we need some resources help to close the gap. Call it capacity building.
So to better serve you, the small wars community of interest, we are in the unpleasant but necessary position of coming to you, hat in hand, in an NPR-like scenario. We are counting on your contributions, coupled with support from grants and foundations, collateral income (advertising and referrals), and volunteer contributions of effort and content, to help us do more of what you seem to value and want us to do.
On topic, there is no finer community on the web, contribute if you can.
And if somehow SWJ has escaped your notice until now, go get acquainted.
(Read this part in Grandpa Simpson voice.) It's another Mudville anniversary re-run, this from the 3rd a' June, way back in aught ten. (/Grandpa Simpson)
What would Patton do?
By early June last year it was tough for me to write about Afghanistan. So instead I put together this tale of the ultra high-tech, state-of-the-art (with aeroplanes, even) US Army operating against terrorists who'd attacked US soil. It's a story of combat in a foreign desert land with no roads, little water, and a people so savage and ignorant that the idea they could ever form a Republic was a joke. ("A despot is all they know.")
Sure - if you want to believe this story of young Lieutenant George Patton in Mexico is really about George Patton in Mexico that's your right.
I mean, read it and you'll also learn what General Pershing thought of the whole thing.
(Publishing history: just a couple weeks after this, Rolling Stone unleashed their Runaway General on the world.)
Friends, we'll return our attention to more recent news in good time, but our reading today comes from the Book of Patton, an early chapter, in which our young hero, though restricted by onerous rules of engagement, sets out to lead a spontaneous raid while serving as part of a military counterinsurgency effort in a foreign, desert land...
And it came to pass in those days that VILLA rode forth from MEXICO into these lands, and did burn and loot and pillage and kill.
Then scribes and pundits did rend their clothing so that a hue and cry was raised among the people throughout the nation, and there was much lamenting. WILSON looked upon these acts, and saw that it was not good, and was sorely vexed.
Then did WILSON summon unto him PERSHING the champion, and to him spake: "Now shalt thou take thine Army and set forth to seek retribution, and pursue this evil-doer even unto the ends of the earth. Thou shall not rest until thine mission be accomplished."
"Sir, yes sir!"
"And along with sufficient men and horses for thy task, unto thee I bequeath these many other great and wonderful things, heretofore never used in such an endeavor. Thou shalt have at thy disposal self-propelled vehicles that move without horses...
"...and wondrous aeroplanes to bear men aloft as an eagle, to see all things from afar and aid thee greatly in thy quest to seek mine enemy and smite him."
"Thank you sir. Truly the advantage is ours!"
"Verily. In thy quest to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat this base villainy there is nothing for which thou shalt lack. All that we have is at thy disposal, not least among these things the great and true support and thanks of all who treasure justice, freedom, and liberty. We are behind thee all the way. Hast thou any questions for me, or art thou ready even now to carry out this most important task?"
"No questions, sir!" And the scribes were dismissed, and then did PERSHING salute smartly, and prepared to take his leave.
"Oh," added WILSON, "I almost forgot. Here's a list of various restrictions and limitations and agreements governing your actions and behaviors that must not be violated at any time. Really, old boy, it's a delicate situation, and we aren't interested in appearing to be anything other than a progressive and peaceful, isolationist peoples with no interest in entanglements beyond our borders - and what with all this war going on in Europe that we're staying out of (except for reasonable material support to our British cousins) and the Germans getting involved in Mexico... well, it's delicate, as I'm sure you understand and appreciate. Thanks for taking it on, you have my utmost confidence, and really, let me know if there's anything at all you need."
Amidst the knowing nods of the congregation I see some nodding off... so let's skip forward a few verses...
And it came to pass that the mighty host went forth unto MEXICO, and after much wandering in the desert knew hunger. Then did PERSHING call forth PATTON, and he said unto him: "Lieutenant, take these men and those cars and drive into town and get us some food."
Now there was in those days a man CARDENAS, who was under VILLA a mighty leader, a High Value Target, men would call him today. His home was near that place where PATTON sought food, but each time before when they had launched a no-knock raid in hopes of nailing that sumbitch it had come to naught.
The story as told by Patton:
Accompanied by ten soldiers and four civilians - two scouts and two drivers - in all a party of fifteen traveling in three automobiles, Patton obtained corn at the villages of Coyote and Salsito. He drove to Rubio and found a number of rough-looking men in the town. Whether their presence made him suspicious or whether he acted on impulse or a hunch, he decided to go to Saltillo, about six miles to the north.
Once out of sight of the town, he stopped his party and explained what he wanted to do. He knew the house because he had been there before. It stood about 200 yards east and and to the right of the road running north from Rubio. It was built in a rough square about an interior courtyard. The main entrance to the house was away from the road and looked toward a stream running parallel with the road.
As soon as the driver of the first car, Patton's, saw the house, he was to go at full speed, pass the structure, and stop just beyond. Patton and two others were to sprint across the northern end of the building. The second and third cars were to halt just short of the house, and three men from each vehicle were to race across the southern end of the house. These nine men were to converge on the main gate and search the interior. The six men remaining with the cars were to cover the road.
It was a simple plan, very clear to the men, and they carried it out at Saltillo. The uncle was there, and he sold some corn and promised delivery. Something in the uncle's face or behavior led Patton to wonder whether Cardenas was home at San Miguelito.
The house there resembled the one at Saltillo, and Patton and his men repeated their performance. The only thing different was the sight of three old men and a boy skinning a cow. As the cars appeared, one of them ran inside for a moment, then returned. The four Mexicans paid no attention to the Americans and continued their work.
Carrying a pistol and a rifle, Patton reached the eastern side first and started to walk toward the gate, a large arched door leading to the patio. Three armed men on horseback dashed out. When they saw Patton, they wheeled to the southern corner. With several of Patton's men running toward them, they turned back to Patton, who was standing with his pistol drawn. They fired at him, and he discharged five rounds. Two of his bullets found their mark, one entering the belly of a horse, the other breaking the arm of the rider.
Because his soldiers were shooting and he was in their line of fire, Patton retired around the corner and reloaded his pistol...(2)
"I rounded the corner and walked about half way to the gate. When I was fifteen yards from the gate three armed men dashed out on horseback, and started around the northeast corner.
"So schooled was I not to shoot, that I merely drew my pistol and waited to see what would happen... When they got to the corner they saw my men coming that way and turned back and all three shot at me. One bullet threw gravel on me. I fired back with my new pistol five times. Then my men came around the corner and started to shoot. I did not know who was in the house. There were a lot of windows only a few feet from our right side. Just as I got around the corner three bullets hit about seven feet from the ground and put adobe [chips] all over me."(3)
"So schooled was I not to shoot..." - as Patton biographer Martin Blumenson explained the comment(3), "Pershing's orders prohibited Americans from firing against Mexicans until their hostile intentions were certain." But "Pershing's orders" were based less on tactical expediency than political reality. The situation in Mexico, where civil war and revolution had brought Venustiano Carranza to the presidency, was volatile. In Mexico Villa was viewed as an insurgent (one who employed brutal tactics, including rape and murder) by many (including the Caranza government), but to others (in part due to his own extensive and favorable press coverage) he was seen as a modern-day Robin Hood. Still, official Mexican government support - or acquiescence - to the American expedition was reluctant and fragile. Individual or group loyalty to competing leaders and their causes in Mexico were subject to rapid change, and for the most part armed supporters of various factions did not wear distinguishing uniforms. Obviously making that distinction would be even more difficult for American soldiers - viewed by many on all sides as the enemy (if not outright despised) regardless of alliances or other temporarily expedient considerations. A bit of the cautious thinking behind Patton's decision is revealed in his own explanation (or the obvious fact that he felt the need to explain in the first place) for not taking a "shoot first" approach to the confrontation: "I thought they might be Caranza men." Lt Patton's concern is one shared by American soldiers through history, and his politically critical point would not be overlooked in the subsequent coverage of the action in the American media.
But Patton's thoughts on Wilson, the president who had ordered and restricted Pershing's mission, would most certainly not appear in the newspapers. They are revealed in numerous letters home to his family at the time. Compounding the many political difficulties regarding the expedition, it was conducted during a U.S. election year. Among the candidates for office, President Wilson was seeking re-election. Also on the Democratic ticket in California was Senate candidate George Smith Patton, Sr, father of young Lt. George. While many of Patton's private observations of the president appear brutally frank and candid - the sort that would end the career of a young officer (or his father the same-party candidate) were they stated publicly (ranging from "Wilson ought to take iron or something to stiffen his back..." to "I would like to go to hell so that I might be able to shovel a few extra coals on that unspeakable ass...") this complaint from a later note sent from Mexico to his wife Beatrice likely reflected its writer's sense of humor: "I wish Pa was out of politics so I could say what I think about Wilson." (1)
Pershing, too, would keep his opinions out of the public fora, but confide in his (also politically-connected) family:
"When the true history of the Expedition, especially the diplomatic side of it, is written," he wrote to his father-in-law, Senator Warren, "it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turn back at the very first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover like a whipped cur with his tail between his legs." (4)
The expedition would actually consume most of a long year, during which many hard lessons were learned, even as - for a mostly reluctant America - a war in Europe loomed.
But while Patton's actions, like those of soldiers today, were restricted by guidance from on high, his decision to have only five rounds loaded in his six-shooter was a safety measure of his own.
Returning to the action:
When Patton came around the corner again, he was almost run down by a horseman. Patton fired at the animal, broke its hip, and brought it down. When the rider disentangled himself and rose with pistol in hand, Patton and several other Americans who were now with him cut the man down at a range of about ten yards. The second was a hundred yards away and escaping until the fire of several soldiers and Patton, who discharged three rifle rounds, brought him down.
The third man, who had reentered the inner patio, dismounted from his wounded and bleeding horse, dropped out of a window, and was running along a wall when shots fired from soldiers felled him. One of the scouts went to him, and the downed man made what seemed like a motion to surrender. Instead, he raised his pistol and fired, but missed. The scout killed him. (2)
...Still uncertain how many Villistas were present, Patton "thought there were some men in the patio and as the flat roof had a parapet I was afraid they would climb up there and shoot us. I hated to climb up but hated worse not to, so took two men and told two others to watch the roof." Two soldiers propped a dead tree against the wall while Patton climbed onto the dirt roof of the hacienda. Suddenly it gave way under his feet, plunging him through up to his armpits. He might have been cut in half if there had been anyone inside the house with a saber, and with considerable urgency he quickly managed to pull himself back atop the roof. (3)
"All this time," Patton wrote, "there had been four men out in front skinning a cow. They never looked at us at all."
The New York Times report does not include the bit about Patton falling through the roof - but does emphasize the soldiers' efforts to observe the rules of engagement, withhold fire and protect the innocent... "As yet the ranch house had not been searched," wrote correspondent Frank Elser. "How many Villistas were there Lieutenant Patton did not know..."
He got a long ladder and with four enlisted men scaled the flat 'dobe roof. No one was there. But from that vantage point he saw a strange and curious sight. The four Mexicans who were skinning a beef when the Army cars first came up were still engaged in that occupation. With rare cool-headedness they had reasoned that if they kept busy with heads bent they would not be shot at. And so they had worked on during all the shooting. If any of them had broken and run he would have been killed. That none of them was shot at by the enlisted men speaks well for the discipline maintained by the expedition.
Such support for the troops is admirable, but while emphasis on (and praise for) their courageous restraint is welcome it's difficult to imagine the rest of the story reported without criticism in the New York Times today.
Feeling it necessary to search the house in case other Villistas were hiding, Patton called over the four men skinning the cow. He and three others used them as shields and entered the building. They found several old men and women, who revealed the identities of the three dead men. One was indeed Cardenas. While Patton's men tied the bodies to the hoods of the cars, Patton put Cardenas silver-studded saddle and swords into his vehicle.
They noticed about forty horsemen in the distance and coming at a gallop. They fired a few shots at them, then cleared out. Beyond Saltillo, remembering the tough hombres in Rubio, Patton had one of his men cut the wires along the road to prevent the word of his skirmish from reaching the town before they arrived. The appearance of the three cars and bodies in Rubio caused great commotion, but Patton and his party sped through and reached headquarters without further incident. (2)
"Mr Elser New York Times wrote a good article about me," Patton wrote his wife. "He thinks that it is published today." Numerous reporters accompanied the expedition, and Patton's exploit, early in the mission, gave them a welcome opportunity to provide readers - already losing interest just weeks into the larger effort - a glimpse of something other than the utter boredom of camp life.
He hadn't revealed the nature of the forthcoming report to Bea, but to his father he wrote "I have at last succeeded in getting into a fight..." a proud note to which he appended this advice: "Run for the Senate."
Patton's raid would be one of the few such "good" news stories from the expedition. But while historians still debate the "success" of the mission (here's a recent example ) the outcome of the American elections was clear: though Wilson prevailed in California (and the nation as a whole), his party's candidate for senate there, even though bolstered on the campaign trail by appearances with his heroic son at his side, was defeated.
But on that earlier day Lt Patton was triumphant, though his letter to his Aunt Nannie revealed his reception on returning to camp from his routine supply run with an enemy corpse strapped to the hood of each car: "People have been teasing me about not using the saber on them," he wrote - a bit of good-natured ribbing explained here.
1. Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, Vol 1
2. Martin Blumenson, Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885-1945
3. Carlo D'Este, Patton: A Genius for War
4. Stanley Hirshson, General Patton: A Soldier's Life
Over on Facebook, our old friend Mike Yon links a piece by Chris Carter at Human Events. That piece is an unqualified endorsement of Mike Yon, so no surprise there.
And unfortunately, this comment Mike added later doesn't surprise me either:
Michael Yon: James -- some of the milkookery is catching up to them. They will be left with no responsible readership. These days I don't take anyone seriously who links to Blackfive, Mudville Gazette, and some of the others. Notice that none have admitted just how badly they messed up. More likely to want to compare service records, which is like grown men talking about their high school football days. Sad but also darkly funny. None of them had the guts to take on Menard. None are taking on McChrystal. Some of the milkooks are blogbullies who did not expect to be called out.
So, like yesterday, I asked Mike for clarification.
Mike, Chris Carter, the guy you link above, writes at Blackfive.
But what's Mudville got to do with it?
I got no answer yesterday, so I don't expect one today, either. It could be he just wants me join in the fun, it could be he's bitter about me helping MaryAnn fight back against this fraudulent story.
Mike Yon's world is an increasingly odd place. In a previous comment thread I pointed out to him that the only thing I'd written about his war with Canada was here. Within moments he linked that old story as a separate Facebook entry, without even a "thanks Greyhawk for the reminder." :)
Which, honestly, doesn't surprise me or bother me. I'm not one to inject emotion into a discussion, and my recall of details (at least, the ones that matter) is well recognized among my peers. When I do turn my attention to a topic, the result will be a balanced study presenting all sides - see above.
Added: here's an example of a link without balance or editorializing - it's merely an acknowledgment of an issue I could have ignored or commented upon, but did neither. I'll update now: still waiting.
NATO's rules of engagement govern when, where and how force can be used, and in what forms, from a pistol shot to an airstrike. They also guide decisions on when and how Afghan homes can be entered. Rules of eligibility help shape when an Afghan can be given access to the military's medical system. Other rules determine when an Afghan can be detained, and by whom, and for how long, and where, and under what conditions. Over the years, the rules have shifted repeatedly. No doubt they will continue to change. And whenever a change is made, soldiers and Marines often joke that it seems that the Afghans they fight know the new rules as surely as American troops do, and adjust to them immediately.
This seemed to be the case on May 29 -- when, if the soldiers had it right, two Afghans fighting the Americans took a break when they got shot, tossed aside their rifles or machine guns, and chose the wounded civilian option to hitch a ride from their enemy to their enemy's top-shelf gunshot-trauma care.
How the case ends is anyone's guess. The medic who checked on the patients said they were being fingerprinted and undergoing iris scans.
Guess the International Committee of the Red Cross training hasn't been good enough - the bad guys need our level of care. Read the whole thing (from C.J. Chivers) - and note the subtle "if the soldiers had it right" disclaimer. If they do, hopefully rules will change a bit more, until then it seems these guys will at least need a lengthy recovery under American care and observation.
(Or change the motto to no better friend, no better enemy.)
Michael Yon The Atlantic
Completed numerous interviews over last days. One interview for The Atlantic in which I answer some questions on thoughts re General Stanley McChrystal. It's important to go with what I say, not what irresponsible milbloggers such as Mudville Gazette might interpret and spin. The Atlantic likely will not... run the entire lengthy interview. After the Atlantic story runs, I might publish the entire piece. I do not know when The Atlantic will publish.
(Interesting note: To my knowledge, none of the milbloggers have come forward with retractions regarding the case of Brigadier General Daniel Menard or other egregious mistakes. J.R. Michael, aka "Greyhawk" at Mudville Gazette, remains conspicuously silent on various matters.)
Mike's right to be concerned that I might write something on the topic - I'm more familiar with it than most. But after "is this worth my time?" the question of responsibility and accountability is always my first consideration - e.g. "can action/inaction get someone killed?"
But those words have different meaning to different people, so I asked him for further clarification re: "irresponsible," etc., in his comment thread on that post. He's correct that I haven't written anything about Menard, if that's what's bothering him. But hell, I've written poems about stuff I don't write about.
Next day update/bump - here they are:
The project begins May 10 and in exchange for a letter, participants will receive a "Breaking Southern Ground" CD featuring three all-new songs from Zac Brown Band and songs from artists signed to the Southern Ground label. Visit your local Dodge or Ram Truck Dealer to write a card and get your CD, or join the Band at one of their concerts this summer.
As the organization that will deliver the 1,000,000 postcards to from Americans across the country to our servicemen and women around the world, Soldiers' Angels is honored to be part of this exciting endeavor. For video of today's event and for more info on the Letters for Lyrics program, including the latest official news, please visit Chrysler's Blog and ZacBrownBand.com.
Even though they were multiple nominees, the band didn't attend the Country Music Awards in Vegas this year - they were doing a USO tour instead.
And in honor of Memorial Day, the Zac Brown Band's new video 'Free'.
Encore, sez I.
Letters for Lyrics: more details here.