Category Archives: Afghanistan

Bergdahl to report for duty.

SGT Bowe Bergdahl, since his return to US control after years of captivity in Afghanistan, has been a patient in a military treatment facility, undergoing reintegration. Apparently, that reintegration process is near completion, and Bergdahl will soon be reporting for duty with a troop unit.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has finished undergoing medical care and counseling at an Army hospital in San Antonio and could return to an Army unit on a Texas post as early as Monday, a defense official tells CNN.

Bergdahl was held captive by militants for five years before he was released in May in exchange for five senior Taliban members held by the U.S. military. He has always maintained his active duty status. He cannot retire from the service or be discharged until the investigation concerning his disappearance and captivity in Afghanistan is complete.

For about three weeks, Bergdahl has been an outpatient at the San Antonio hospital, and military officials have interviewed him about his time in captivity.

Bergdahl is set to take a job at Fort Sam Houston, the Army post in San Antonio, according to an Army statement Monday. He will return to “regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission,” the statement said.

Since Bergdahl was an infantryman, and there are no Infantry units at Ft. Sam, I suspect he’s going to be placed at a desk in a headquarters unit somewhere on post, with the primary duty of answering the phone. That’s actually fairly common for people who are otherwise not capable of performing a full range of military duties.  I’m curious about the two troops assigned to be his minders. I’m sure they’re just thrilled to be given that chance to excel.

Aggiesprite suspects there might just be  a whiff of politics involved with the ongoing investigation surrounding the circumstances of Bergdahl’s departure from his post in Afghanistan. I don’t know anything about MG Dahl, the investigating officer. I do know that to date, none of the other soldiers that were there have been reinterviewed.  And as I said in the comments at Aggie’s, I strongly suspect Big Army hopes this will fade from the headlines, and the Army can quietly discharge Bergdahl into obscurity.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army

An interview with LTG H. R. McMaster

Just prior to departing Ft. Benning, H.R.  McMaster gave an interview with the local newspaper, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. A lot of it is geared to the local community, but quite a bit of it is applicable across the board, and worth a few minutes.

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster is a combination of warrior, intellectual and leader. He was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

McMaster earned a reputation for his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which questioned political and military leadership during Vietnam.

Dave Barno, a retired lieutenant general, described McMaster this way: “I watched senior Army generals argue over ways to end his career. But he dodged those bullets and will soon take over command of the Army’s ‘futures’ center. After years as an outspoken critic, McMaster soon will be in the right place to help build the right Army for the nation.”

McMaster has spent two years as commander of Fort Benning. He has been selected for promotion to lieutenant general, and has been reassigned to Fort Monroe, Va., where he will serve as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Training and Doctrine Command. He has been in charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning for two years. McMaster recently sat down with Ledger-Enquirer reporter Chuck Williams.

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One of the key strengths of our Army is what we call the “philosophy of mission command,” which is basically decentralized operations based on mission orders. It means, “Hey, I’m going to ask you to accomplish a mission, but I’m not going to tell you how to do it. You can figure it out.” That’s the strength of the American Army. It’s that kind of initiative and the ability to apply your imagination to solve problems. What I’ve found here at Fort Benning and across my career is if you give people the freedom to take initiative and help give them the resources they need to accomplish the mission, they’re always going to exceed your expectations.

When you’re a company commander or platoon leader at a remote Combat Outpost in Afghanistan, it’s hard for your commander to micromanage. There are some that are sure to try, but sheer distance has imposed Mission Command philosophy to some extent. Harking back to the WaPo piece on the challenges the Army will face in peacetime, one thing I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of is junior officers, used to operated well away from their chain of command, will increasingly chafe under the daily stress of the battalion commander being right across the street, and the multitude of taskings his staff generates that, to our hard charging officer, have no correlation to success in combat. These officers, who are just as capable of being successful as entrepreneurs as they were combat leaders, will walk out the door. The ones left behind, by and large, will be the ones that need more supervision. And the higher echelons of the unit will give it to them in ever increasing doses.  This “brightsizing” happens to every army in the transition to peacetime. And frankly, I don’t know how to mitigate it. And the worst part is, eventually those micromanaged leaders become senior leaders who, while fully capable of mouthing the philosophy of Mission Command, have internalized the lessons of oversupervision and micromanagement. Let’s hope enough of the cream of the crop can tolerate the avian excrement long enough to rise to senior leadership.

 

In the comments on a recent post, Byron asked about McMaster being passed over for Lieutenant General the first time.

While then COL McMaster was passed over for promotion to Brigadier General by the first promotion board, there is no promotion board for Lieutenant General. LTG is a nominative rank, and a rank of office. That is, only those positions authorized and required to be filled by a three star general, all of which require the advise and consent of the Senate. If you aren’t serving in one of those positions, you don’t get the three stars.

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Filed under Afghanistan, ARMY TRAINING

Fighting on the Fourth of July

This Ain’t Hell brings us this intense 15 minute documentary showcasing the fight of A Co., 3rd Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry on July 4, 2009.

 

If the VBIED doesn’t give you chills…

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President Takes Decisive Action in Iraq

In a stunning reversal of his previous equivocation regarding US involvement in the worsening security situation in Iraq, President Obama stated that the US is prepared to act with strength and decisiveness to help defeat the ISIS radical jihadist forces that have engulfed several major cities and killed many thousands of Iraqis.

MIchelle hashtag iraq

There.  That’ll show ‘em.  Worked like a charm with Boko Haram in Nigeria, too.   They certainly have mended their ways.    Administration officials speculate that the Islamic Extremist fighters that have invaded Iraq have little chance of resisting the pressure of tweets and re-tweets that show support for the Iraqi people, and will be forced to withdraw.  On the outside chance that somehow ISIS can withstand such an onslaught of social media, the President is prepared to conjure his best “I’m not kidding” expression and talk about “consequences”, possibly even “dire consequences”.   No word yet on whether or not Secretary of State Kerry will scold ISIS for “behaving in a 7th Century fashion”.   New White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was quoted as saying, “The President is making the best of a situation left him by the previous Administration, which is responsible for declaring the war over and abandoning Iraq to its fate.  Wait, ….what?  That was us?  You sure?  No more questions!”

Gawd, we are so screwed.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Defense, girls, guns, history, Humor, Iran, iraq, islam, Libya, obama, Politics, stupid, Uncategorized, veterans, war, weapons

“Fighting Joe” Dunford is the Next Commandant of the Marine Corps

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Congratulations to General Joseph Dunford, nominated by Secretary of Defense Hagel to be the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Marine Corps Times has the story. 

I have known General Dunford a long time, since he was the MOI at Holy Cross in the late 80s.  I had the distinct honor to serve with then-Colonel Dunford in Al Anbar in 2004, when he was MajGen Mattis’ Chief of Staff.  BGen John Kelly was the ADC, and LtGen James Conway had the MEF (and the MEF SgtMaj was the incomparable Carlton Kent).  What a team!    Joe Dunford also skipped a pay grade.  He was nominated for his second star, and before he pinned on his new rank, picked up his third star!  Nearly unheard of in today’s day and age.

Lord knows, the Marine Corps needs a warrior, and an INFANTRY OFFICER at its helm.   The infantryman is the very soul of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant should be someone who knows him and his comrades intimately.   Besides, the Amos years have not been good.

Congratulations, General Joe Dunford.   Our Marine Corps is in your capable hands.  Right where it should be.   Godspeed.

(I am willing to overlook that he went to BC High.)

H/T to LTCOL P

 

 

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Filed under Afghanistan, Around the web, Defense, guns, history, infantry, iraq, marines, Personal, SIR!, Uncategorized, veterans, war

DaveO at Op-For has Questions

They should be everyone’s questions.  The true answers to which may cement the Obama Administration as an outlaw regime that makes Richard Nixon on his worst day look like honesty itself.

Who is America’s negotiator with the Taliban?

Are we also negotiating with AQ?

Are we negotiating with terrorist groups in the Philippines and/or Thailand? What are they getting from the White House?

Why won’t the White House negotiate with Congress? Not enough beards?

Why these particular 5 Taliban? Who read their dossiers and agreed that lesser capable detainees in Gitmo would not suffice?

“Curiosities” indeed.  Perhaps it is time for a “revolt of the Generals”.  Though those in senior positions seem to have been placed there with careful consideration to their political pliability/reliability and their distinct lack of spinal column.  The pattern of military and foreign policy of this Administration, if laid out chronologically and without the spin of the lap-dog MSM co-conspirators, can only be described as an active effort to erode America’s security and military capability.  The time for calling such “miscalculation” and “blunder” has long passed.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, Defense, history, islam, Libya, obama, Politics, Uncategorized, war

The only thing that seems right are 2 words, “Thank you.”

I did attend the Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s exhibit opening of SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice.  Again the exhibit features photographs from Stephanie Freid-Perenchio’s book SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice.

The exhibit also featured artifacts from the Navy SEAL Museum. These ranged from patches to uniforms to equipment used by the Teams throughout it’s rich history.

The exhbit opening was one of the most well attended event I’ve been to. A lot of the Library’s members were in attendance. There were also quite a few active duty and retired SEAL Team members there who were kind enough to answer questions about the Teams.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the exhibit was the offical U.S. Navy photo exhibit of Team members killed in action of training since 9/11/01.

I spent time looking at the photos and noticied a woman taking photographs of a few of the photographs. I asked her if she knew them and she said yes. Her husband (who was in attendance) served with them. There really isn’t anything you can say. I’m an outsider and as they say “for those who know, no explantion is necessary. In moments like these you feel insignifcant and everything else falls away and is trite by comparison. The best you can do is attempt to live by their example:

I always remember the story about the guy in BUDs who died in the pool during an excerise and was resuscitated.

And they passed him, even though he’d failed the excersie, because he was willing to take it to the absolute limit.

They can train around failure – you can’t train that sort of devotion to cause.

The only thing that seems right are the 2 words, “Thank you.”

SEALs killed in action or training since 9/11/01 (as of today):

ABH1 Roberts Neil C 3/4/2002

HMC Bourgeois Matthew J. 3/28/2002

IC1 Retzer Thomas E. 6/26/2003

PH1 Tapper David M. 8/20/2003

BM1 Ouellette Brian J. 5/29/2004

SO1 Harris Joshua T. 8/30/2008

SOC Freiwald Jason R. 9/11/2008

SOCS Marcum John W. 9/11/2008

SOC Brown Adam L. 3/17/2010

SOC Thomas Collin T. 8/18/2010

SO1 Nelson Caleb A. 10/1/2011

SO2 Kantor Matthew G. 11/1/2012

SO1 Ebbert Kevin R. 11/24/2012

SO1 Checque Nicholas D. 12/8/2012

SO1 Leathers Matthew J. 2/19/2013

LT Murphy Michael P. 6/28/2005

STG2 Axelson Matthew G. 6/28/2005

GM2 Dietz Danny P. 6/28/2005

FCC Fontan Jacques J. 6/28/2005

ITCS Healy Daniel R. 6/28/2005

LCDR Kristensen Erik S. 6/28/2005

ET1 Lucas Jeffrey A. 6/28/2005

LT McGreevy Michael M., Jr. 6/28/2005

MM1 Patton Shane E. 6/28/2005

QM2 Suh James E. 6/28/2005

HM1 Taylor Jeffrey S. 6/28/2005

SO2 Smith Adam O. 9/21/2010

LT Looney Brendan J. 9/21/2010

SO3 Miranda Denis 9/21/2010

SO1 Benson Darrik C. 8/6/2011

SOC Bill Brian R. 8/6/2011

SOC Campbell Christopher G. 8/6/2011

SOC Faas John W. 8/6/2011

SOC Houston Kevin A. 8/6/2011

LCDR Kelsall Jonas B. 8/6/2011

SOCM Langlais Louis J. 8/6/2011

SOC Mason Matthew D. 8/6/2011

SOC Mills Stephen M. 8/6/2011

SO1 Pittman Jesse D. 8/6/2011

SOCS Ratzlaff Thomas A. 8/6/2011

SOC Reeves Robert J. 8/6/2011

SOCS Robinson Heath M. 8/6/2011

SO2 Spehar Nicholas P. 8/6/2011

SO1 Tumilson Jon T. 8/6/2011

SOC Vaughn Aaron C. 8/6/2011

SOC Workman Jason R. 8/6/2011

SO1 Feeks Patrick D. 8/16/2012

SO2 Warsen David J. 8/16/2012

AO2 Lee Marc A. 8/2/2006

MA2 Monsoor Michael A. 9/29/2006

SO2 Schwedler Joseph C. 4/6/2007

SO1 Lewis Jason D. 7/6/2007

SOC Carter Mark T. 12/11/2007

SOC Hardy Nathan H. 2/4/2008

SOC Koch Michael E. 2/4/2008

CDR Oswald Peter G. 8/27/2002

ENS Pope Jerry O., II 10/16/2002

IT2 Maestas Mario G. 7/3/2003

HMCS Fitzhenry Theodore D. 6/15/2004

SO2 Ghane Shapoor A., Jr. 1/30/2008

SOCS Valentine Thomas J. 2/13/2008

SOC Vaccaro Lance M. 3/6/2008

SOC Shellenberger Erik F. 5/7/2009

SO2 Job Ryan C. 9/24/2009

SO2 Woodle Ronald T. 2/16/2010

SOC Shadle Brett D. 3/28/2013

SO3 Kaloust Jonathan H. 5/15/2013

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Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s Citizen Soldier: The Big Red One on D-Day

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First Infantry Division Badge.

The 1st Infantry Division has a long and storied unit history in the US Army that begins just before the US involvement in World War 1 and continues to this day with periodic deployments to Afghanistan. “The Big Red One,” as it’s perhaps more commonly known is the oldest division in the US Army.

On 13 March 2014 at 6pm, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, in conjunction with the First Division Museum, is hosting a live televised Citizen Soldier event featuring Paul Herbert, Joseph Balkoski, John C. McManus, and Steven Zaloga. These distinguished military historians will be discussing the 1st ID’s service on D-Day.

Here’s a glimpse of what the 1ID’s experienced on D-Day courtesy of Wikipedia:

When that campaign was over, the division returned to England 5 November 1943[11]:622 to prepare for the eventual Normandy invasion.[2]The First Infantry Division and one regimental combat team from the 29th Infantry Division comprised the first wave of troops that assaulted German Army defenses on Omaha Beach on D-Day[2][13] with some of the division’s units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault,[14] and secured Formigny and Caumont in the beachhead by the end of the day.

Learn more about the event and it’s participants here.

The event cost is $10.00 for non-members and free for members. If you’ll be in the area and would like to attend, purchase tickets now, or if you know someone in the Chicagoland area that would be interested in attending, please pass this along. If you attend, please let them know you heard about the event here.

It should be an interesting event and I’ll be in attendance.

The Big Red One on D-Day will be televised live and available for future viewing on the Museum’s website.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, history, infantry, veterans, war

Ten Years Ago Today

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We flew in to Habbaniyah on a C-130 out of Kuwait, and the pilot juked on the way in, just in case.   Once on the deck, we were dispatched into an Army-Marine Corps convoy headed to Ramadi.  On the way out the gate of the laager, a VBIED detonated next to one of the lead security vehicles, killing two soldiers.  It would be an interesting eight months in Iraq.   The First Marine Division, led by MajGen James N. Mattis, whose ADC was John Kelly and Chief of Staff Colonel Joe Dunford, was one hell of a team (that included the Army’s excellent 1-16th Infantry).

The 1st Marine Division (not including Army casualties) suffered 118 killed and more than 1,400 wounded in those eight months in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, Haditah, and a lot of other dusty villages and towns nobody could find on a map except the men who fought there.   A high price was paid to hold the line in Anbar, to hold elections, and cultivate conditions for the Awakening.   For the Marines and soldiers who did so, recent events with AQ flying flags in Anbar’s cities and towns are particularly maddening.  It was clear that the “cut and run” philosophy of the White House was an exceedingly poor one, and subsequent events show that the so-called “zero option” is as descriptive of the President’s credibility as force levels in Iraq.  And we are set, with the same litany of excuses, to do it again in Afghanistan.

I wondered then what all this would be like, ten years on, should I be fortunate enough to survive.  Some things remain very vivid, the sights and smells, and the faces of comrades.  Others I am sure I would have to be reminded of.  And a few memories, thankfully few, are seared into the memory for the rest of my time on this earth.

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Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

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Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, provides a very cogent summary of the weakness of our Defense Department leadership and its inability or unwillingness to discuss the 2015 DoD budget meaningfully.

At the simplest level of budgetary planning, the Secretary’s budget statements ignore the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department’s failure to manage the real-world crises in personnel, modernization, and readiness costs will have as negative an overall budget impact over time as Sequestration will. Ignoring the Department’s long history of undercosting its budget, its cost overruns, and the resulting cuts in forces, modernization, and readiness means one more year of failing to cope with reality.  Presenting an unaffordable plan is as bad as failing to budget enough money.

Cordesman gets to the real meat of our failure of strategic (dare I say “national strategic”?) thinking, as well.

He talks about cuts in personnel, equipment, and force strength in case-specific terms, but does not address readiness and does not address any plan or provide any serious details as to what the United States is seeking in in terms of changes in its alliances and partnerships,  and its specific goals in force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness.

He holds nothing back in his contempt for the process of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), either.

Worse, we are going to leave these issues to be addressed in the future by another mindless waste of time like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). All the past QDRs have been set so far in the future to be practical or relevant. Each successive QDR has proved to be one more colostomy bag after another of half-digested concepts and vague strategic priorities filled with noise and futility and signifying nothing.

Cordesman saves his best for last, however.

Like all of his recent predecessors, Secretary Hagel has failed dismally to show the U.S. has any real plans for the future and to provide any meaningful sense of direction and real justification for defense spending. The best that can be said of his speech on the FY2015 defense budget is that U.S. strategy and forces will go hollow in a kinder and gentler manner than simply enforcing sequestration.

We do need to avoid cutting our forces, military capabilities, and defense spending to the levels called for in sequestration. But this is no substitute for the total lack of any clear goals for the future, for showing that the Department of Defense has serious plans to shape a viable mix of alliances and partnerships, force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness over the coming Future Year Defense Plan.

I don’t always agree with Cordesman’s assertions, but he is just about always a thoughtful if provocative commenter on Defense and National Security issues, and his analysis of SECDEF Hagel’s remarks are spot-on.  We are headed for a hollow force, despite its smaller size, as many of us have feared all along.  This, despite all the promises and admonitions of this Administration and our Pentagon leadership.  Go have a read.

 

 

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Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?

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Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.

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This is what happens to you when you are killed in Afghanistan*

It’s actually an article about the stress that Mortuary Affairs soldiers in Afghanistan face, but also contains an excellent description of the grim duty they perform, a duty faced with Dignity, Reverence, Respect.

The process starts when the phone rings. An officer tracking flights into the base calls the mortuary affairs unit with an alert that in 30 minutes to an hour an aircraft will touch down carrying a servicemember’s remains.

The team in the hangar responds with practiced urgency. One member of the “clean hands” crew contacts the unit of the deceased to gather details for a case file that will travel with the body to the United States. Two members iron an American flag to drape over the top half of an aluminum transfer case that will hold the remains.

If their team receives the call, Siverand and Valdivia climb into a box truck parked in the mortuary compound and drive to the flight line. In their downtime, while playing “Call of Duty” or poker, a relaxed repartee flows between them. In the vehicle, silence prevails.

The two pull up close to the plane or helicopter. They enter the aircraft and salute the dead servicemember and the military escorts accompanying the remains. The escorts help load the black body bag into the back of the truck. The body rides feet first. Siverand and Valdivia salute again, close the door and return to the compound.

In the hangar, under the cold glow of fluorescent lights, they wheel the remains on a gurney and stop beside a steel table. They move to opposite sides of the bag’s bottom end. Each pauses to steady his thoughts, to brace for a moment that never feels ordinary.

Valdivia unzips the bag. “I don’t like doing it, so he does it,” Siverand says. “But once it’s open, you scan what’s there and get to work.”

Mortuary Affairs is, thankfully, a terribly small community in the Army.

Incidentally, friend of the blog Jennifer Holik has written a two part piece on the Graves Registration Service in World War II. Part I. Part II.

Finally, an update on yesterday’s post on the Honor Guard social media incident. The soldier at the the heart of the incident has been suspended from participation in funerals, and the incident is under investigation.

*The title of this post is pretty blatantly ripped off from the opening sentence of a chapter in Geoffrey Perret’s excellent There’s a War to be Won. I prefer the term “homage” to “plagiarism.”

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Douhet, Mitchell, Lambeth. All Airpower advocates, all wrong.

It must be budget battle time, as airpower advocates are coming out of the woodwork to tell us that the Air Force will win the wars, and the rest of us can just stay home.

Since the Cold War’s end, the classic roles of airpower and land power have changed places in major combat against modern mechanized opponents. In this role reversal, ground forces have come to do most of the shaping and fixing of enemy forces, while airpower now does most of the actual killing.

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 showcased, for the first time, this departure from past practice between air- and ground-delivered firepower. During the Battle of Khafji in January of that year, coalition air assets singlehandedly shredded two advancing Iraqi armored columns through precision night standoff attacks.

This role shift repeated itself with even greater effectiveness in 2003 during the three-week major combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom that ended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule.

Modern airpower’s achievements in these two high-intensity wars demonstrated that precision air attacks now offer the promise of being the swing factor for victory in an ever-widening variety of theater war scenarios. The primary role of US land power may now be increasingly to secure a win against organized enemy forces rather than to achieve it.

In organizing their response to Hussein’s forceful seizure of Kuwait in 1990, the leaders of US Central Command aimed to destroy as many of Iraq’s armored forces from the air as possible before launching any land invasion to drive out the occupying enemy troops. It remained unclear, however, how effective allied airpower would be under this approach until they actually executed the air campaign.

Three factors came together to enable allied airpower to draw down Iraqi forces to a point where allied ground troops could advance in confidence that they would be engaging a badly degraded opponent once the ground offensive began. First, allied aircraft were able to operate at will in the medium-altitude environment, unmolested by Iraqi radar guided surface-to-air missiles or fighters, thanks to an earlier US air defense suppression campaign.

Second, the introduction of the E-8C JSTARS aircraft permitted allied air planners to see and identify fixed and moving objects on the battlefield clearly enough to make informed force commitment decisions and to execute lethal attacks day or night. Third, allied planners discovered during the campaign’s initial preparation phase that aircraft equipped with infrared sensors and armed with laser guided bombs could find and destroy dug-in enemy tanks one by one in large numbers at night.

It’s a long article, but it doesn’t get any smarter. Let’s just fisk a little of what we have here.

First and foremost, let me state again that I’m not opposed to airpower. Air superiority, or at a bare minimum air parity,  is a necessary precondition for success in high intensity combat.

1. Uncontested medium altitude operations- There’s certainly no guarantee that future campaigns will allow our tactical airpower to operate freely over the battlefield, whether at medium altitudes or any other. While the Iraqi forces had a reasonably sophisticated air defense system for fixed installations, they lacked modern mobile air defenses for maneuver units. Future enemies learned a lesson about that. And Lambeth ignores the long time the Air Force had to devote to the suppression mission (SEAD-Suppression of Enemy Air Defense).  Time spent on SEAD was time and sorties not spent attriting Iraqi armor. Had the Iraqis made a large scale offense while the Air Force was still trying to achieve suppression, rather than the modest attack at Khafji, we groundpounders would have faced a much more difficult problem.*

2. JSTARS tracking and targeting- Well, that’s what it’s for, to give the commander an ability to look deep throughout the depth of the battlefield and identify and track enemy formations. But two things about that. First, few places on earth are as conducive to JSTARS tracking formations as the Iraqi desert. Second, having learned that the capability exists, any enemy can quickly devise countermeasures, which can be as simple as just having a bunch of people driving private autos around, either randomly or as spoof formations.

3. PGMs as anti-armor weapons- Tank-plinking was indeed a successful campaign. Why, a gazillion dollar F-111 could go out and in the space of a 2 hour sortie, drop its four GBU-12 500 pound LGBs, and probably kill 2 or even three tanks.  But for all the success of the campaign, vast amounts of Iraqi armor still survived, and was still capable of maneuver and engaging our forces.  As a counterpoint, I had a front row seat when my brigade engaged a Republican Guard brigade. In the space of about half an hour, we eviscerated the entire formation, destroying somewhere around 100 armored vehicles, and probably another couple hundred vehicles.

Further, the Air Force is still limited in its ability to attack armor or other moving formations in bad weather. Cloud layers will degrade laser designators quickly, leaving the attack aircraft either unable to deliver ordnance, or forcing them into the low altitude air defense environment, where they are terribly vulnerable.  Ground forces ability to engage can be degraded by foul weather, but not to nearly the extent of air power. Artillery doesn’t care if it is cloudy.

The bottom line is this- in spite of almost a century of airpower visionaries proclaiming that the days of muddy boots are over, airpower still cannot stop the enemy on the ground. It can impede it, it can attrit it, it can make movement costly. But airpower still remains a supporting fire, much as the artillery. No sane commander would attempt to fight a campaign solely with artillery.  One of the historical strengths of our armed forces since World War II has been our incredible ability to harness the synergy of combined arms, whether from the Infantry/Artillery team, or the unified application of land, sea, air and space power. Puerile arguments about the supremacy of  airpower do little credit to the Air Force Association’s flagship publication.

*Especially units like mine. We had people on the ground, but our vehicles hadn’t even reached port in Saudi Arabia yet.

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SWAT-in’ Up in The People’s Republic of Massachusetts

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I caught this little buggy on I-95 in Maryland, headed north, obviously.  (Those are MA State Police plates.)  And again, in CT, where I snapped these pictures through my windshield.

The Massachusetts State Police, it seems, have acquired at least one MRAP.  This, in a state where a law-abiding citizen is all but forbidden to own a gun, let alone carry one.  And, in many towns, if the Police Chief doesn’t feel you “need” one, then there is no “all but”, because you will not be issued a Firearms Identification Card, and denied firearm ownership.  But the State Cops?  They get armored vehicles made to stop a rocket-propelled grenade and 7.62 SLAP rounds.

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“Cadillac” Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Governor, is super-tight with President Barack Obama.  They share skin color, and the same obsession with that skin color.  They share a socialist-communist progressive political viewpoint.  They also share the philosophy that political opponents are to be treated as enemies.  And now Patrick is ensuring his State Police force now has the weapons it needs to suppress the dangerous elements of the Massachusetts electorate who dare challenge the omnipotence of the state.

It is axiomatic that whatever capabilites Law Enforcement entities acquire, they will find a way to use them, even if that use is more than a little ex post facto justification for having such capability.  Some Barney Fife somewhere will insist upon it.   Hollywood’s portrayal notwithstanding, the number of Massachusetts State Police Officers killed in the line of duty totals just 41 in the century and a half since its founding in 1865.  The vast preponderance of these deaths in the line of duty have been accidental, with motorcycle accidents (13) accounting for more than twice the number killed by gunfire (6) in those 150 years.   That’s right, just SIX Massachusetts State Police Officers have been killed by gunfire in the line of duty.  Only three in the last 31 years.

But they now have MRAPs.  At least one.  And no, I don’t care in the slightest if DoD GAVE them to the State Police.  Operation and maintenance costs aside, there is no need for such vehicles to be in the possession of law enforcement of any kind in MA.  Give them to the National Guard, or foreign military sales.  Because in the hands of cops, under the rubric of “safety”, they will surely wind up on the streets of the Commonwealth, either in a wildly overblown response to an incident, or as a means of intimidation of the population, who could do little to nothing in response to such a capability.

Cadillac Deval wants to play with MRAPs?  I’d take up a collection to ship him and his Personal Security Detail, and that MRAP, to Helmand, or South Sudan, or Northern Nigeria, or Mali, so he can tool around in a place where his new toy is more appropriate.  He might even get to see if it can stop an RPG.  Or five.   Because that MRAP sure as hell doesn’t belong on the streets of cities and towns in Massachusetts.

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The Company Landing Team

The USMC has been mulling this around for a while.  Here is an article from the Marine Gazette from Vince Goulding in 2009.   Note that the CoLT concept includes a platoon of M777 155mm howitzers, and a very robust ISR capability.   And lots of comms for calling in supporting fires should it come to that.

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CoLT pg 2

CoLT pg 3

The pages are JPEGs, so you can click on them to make them a bit easier to read.   I think we will be working with this concept for Expeditionary Warrior coming up in February.

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Dinner Last Evening

I flatter myself in thinking my recent absence here is notable, but perhaps not.  In case it is, I have a litany of excuses all prepared.  A good deal of work at client locations, and USMC duty, each necessitating more than a little windshield time.  Deadlines on projects requiring crazy workloads.  And, there is my inherent laziness.  The news, also, chock full o’ one diplomatic and economic disaster after another on the part of this malignant Administation, is hardly inspiring of anything other than typing in ALL CAPS every expletive I can think of.  All of the above.  Or a combination thereof.

Anyway, my travels took me to Brattleboro for Tuesday and today.   I stayed over last night to work into the evening and avoid 140-odd miles of driving, rather than drive home Tuesday and back in the early-early today.  So, come 1800 yesterday, me belly be growlin’, and I was looking for a place to eat.  Found it!

Kipling's Pub

Ayep!  The first name of the proprietor is actually Kipling, to boot.  A really nice little English Pub-type place, with a great selection of beers and a great bar selection.  Being in such a place, I hoisted a Guiness (for strength), and partook of the fish n’ chips.  No ketchup for me, here.  Vinegar on the “chips”.   The lovely bartender was friendly and welcoming, and it was obvious this place was a neighborhood bar with a legion of loyal elbow-benders.   I informed her I was quite a Kipling fan, but her reaction was sort of a “that’s nice”.  (I refrained from reciting “Copybook Headings” or “Mandalay”.)    The food was superb, by the way, and reasonable.   And how can I not go back to Kipling’s next time I am in town?   Because, well, a man can raise a thirst.   If’n you find yourself in the little town of Brattleboro, Vermont and looking for a good drink and a good meal,  I recommend Kipling’s Pub.  Tell them Peachy Carnahan sent you.

I should get ahold of the owner and tell him that I have the perfect slogan for his Kipling bar.  “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer…”

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Acta Non Verba

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We take care of our veterans.  We take care of your families.  Not just by saluting you on one day, once a year, but by fighting for you and your families every day of every year.

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The White House and the Department of the Interior rejected a request from Rep. Steven Palazzo’s office to have World War II veterans visit the World War II memorial in Washington, the Mississippi Republican told The Daily Caller Tuesday.

 

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Female Suicide Bomber Kills Six in Volgograd

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The BBC has the story.  Female suicide bombers from Dagestan have become increasingly common.  “Black Widows”, as the article alludes.  Volgograd was once called Tsarytsin, and beginning in 1925, Stalingrad.

There was speculation elsewhere that the woman had carried a hand grenade aboard.  The above photo is reportedly the detonation, and if so, certainly appears to show a device much larger than a hand grenade being detonated inside the bus.

Russia has its hands positively full of Islamist extremists.  At least they have the good sense to call them what they are.

Update-XBradTC: Here’s video of the attack. Concur that it’s a good deal larger than a hand grenade.

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North Vietnam Hero of Dien Bien Phu, Vo Nyugen Giap, Dead at 102

General-Giap-300x202

BBC has the news.

They called him “Red Napoleon”, and for all his brutality and callous wasteage of the lives of his forces, he was a man of considerable military genius.   He had never been formally trained in tactics, strategy, or the operational arts.  Yet, his accomplishments on the battlefield and his unmistakeable savvy in exploiting enemy weakness make him one of the great military leaders of the post-World War II 20th Century. 

He once said that the NVA and Viet Cong were never strong enough to push half a million US troops out of Vietnam.  So his objective was to break American will.  His victories, not coincidentally, remain textbook lessons for insurgents and revolutionaries the world over.  

Interestingly, it was Giap who strongly encouraged warmer relations with the United States in the mid-1990s, as the threat of a burgeoning China began to grow. 

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Negotiations, the Alternate Technique

Iranian Revolutionary Guards probe officer’s ‘horrific’ death

Another one of their “Cyber” guys ends up dead.  In an up-close and personal way.   My guess is that not every country will sit still while another country (or group) vows its destruction and pursues a nuclear arsenal.

Certainly not every country looks around for reasons to send arms and munitions to those groups in order to assist them in the overthrow a regime in a strategically important area of the world.   While vowing to take them from the citizens of its own country, despite their Constitutional guarantee to keep and bear arms.

To this point, at least, President Obama is restricted to IRS investigations and NSA surveillance as weapons against his political opponents.  Unless, of course, he can get Eric Holder’s star chamber (formerly known as “due process”) to authorize a drone strike.

Just sayin’.

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Negotiations

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They are the intentional life-blood of domestic politics.  As was intended by the Founding Fathers in their brilliance in the Separation of Powers of our three branches of government.

Barack Obama wants to negotiate.   Loves to negotiate.  Willing to negotiate with just about anyone.  Traditional adversaries and sworn national enemies?  No problemo.  Russia?  Sure.  Tell Mr. Putin about my flexibility.  Iran?  Absolutely.  No matter they still vow the destruction of an ally.  Pick up the phone.   The Taliban?  Why not.   Let’s get together and talk through our differences.  North Korea?  Red China?  He’s all ears.  (Heh.)   Obama is willing to auction off American standing and American interests like so much attic junk at a white elephant sale.

But domestically?  With Congressional Republicans?  No way, no how.  Not interested.  Don’t wanna hear it.   Not gonna budge.  Because that means HIS prestige.   And he is clinging to that no matter the damage to the country that elected him.   He will hold our national defense hostage, like a petulant schoolboy, if he is not allowed his Obamacare, and another $1 trillion annual budget deficit, while continuing profligate government spending of tax dollars.   Perhaps if for the next meeting House Republicans showed up attired in dishdasha, shouting “Death to America!” and demanding conversion to Islam, Barack would hear them out with a sympathetic ear.

Gotta say one thing, though.   Barack Obama is really getting the hang of this leading from behind.

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CPT William Swenson to be presented Medal of Honor

This is for his actions in the same engagement where SGT Dakota Meyers earned his.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 16, 2013
President Obama to Award Medal of Honor
On October 15, 2013, President Barack Obama will award William Swenson, a former active duty Army Captain, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Captain Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of the Afghan National Security Forces with Afghan Border Police Mentor Team, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
Captain Swenson will be the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.
PERSONAL BACKGROUND:
Captain William D. Swenson separated from the Army on February 1, 2011 and currently resides in Seattle, Washington. He is single.
Captain Swenson was commissioned as an Army Officer upon completing Officer Candidate School on September 6, 2002. His military training and education includes: Infantry Maneuver Captains Career Course, Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Basic, Infantry Mountain Leader Advanced Marksmanship Course, Airborne, Officer Candidate School.
At the time of the September 8, 2009 combat engagement, Captain Swenson was an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of Afghan National Security Forces. His actions were performed as part of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division.
His military decorations include: Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge

I stole this from John Donovan’s facebook feed. Thanks, John. John also mentions his suspicion that, for whatever reason, the Bush era DoD had a strong reluctance to consider any award of the MoH to surviving troops, whereas the Obama administration has not shown such reluctance.

Interestingly, this is the second small unit engagement that has seen the award of the MoH to two participants. Both here and the battle of COP Keating were desperate fights, and both came in for widespread criticism for the way Big Army handled the fight. I have a suspicion that the scrutiny of the fights has lead to greater documentation of the actions, which in turn raised the visibility of the participants, and led to greater supporting documentation for the awards process. Of course, in CPT Swenson’s case, the awards package was “lost” leading to a delay in the decision to make the award. That’s absolutely shameful.

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Kiowa Warrior Pr0n

The Brigade has quite a few high-Rez pics of the Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter.
The things crews did with this helo in OEF and OIF is legendary.
Here’s some samples of what you’ll find:

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Go ahead, go look. You know you want to. I’ll be here when you get back…promise :)

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Negotiations

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Two days ago, our highly-respected Secretary of State had told a news conference in Qatar that negotiations with the Taliban need to get “back on track”, after Afghan President Karzai furiously reacted to a sign on the Taliban offices there that read “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, the old name of Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

Well, the Taliban is certainly negotiating now.

The well-planned daylight assault in a highly fortified zone of the capital is a brazen challenge to Kabul’s authority only a week after NATO formally handed over security for the entirety of the country to Afghan forces.

The gunbattle was witnessed by a group of journalists who were waiting to enter the palace grounds for a news event on Afghan youth at which President Hamid Karzai was expected to talk about ongoing efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban.

BBC goes on to comment:

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a text message: “A number of martyrs attacked the presidential palace, defence ministry and the Ariana Hotel.”   The Ariana Hotel is known to house a CIA station.

John Kerry likely has little true understanding that the attack on the Afghan Presidential Palace is negotiation.  In dealing with the Taliban, Kerry reminds me of nothing so much as a reincarnation of Halifax, bartering faithfully  with Hitler’s regime as if they were a mirror of England’s.

Except, at least, Halifax (and Chamberlain) had some sense of history.   John Kerry, for his part, implored Russia to “respect the relationship” between the US and Russia over the Snowden affair, and demanded (!) that Russia turn him over.  More than a little irony exists in that semi-desperate plea, as it shows that the US has virtually no leverage with Russia regarding Snowden.  Also, Kerry’s admonition follows on the heels of four years of talk of a “reset button” with a Russia that has nine centuries of antagonism with the West, going back to the Viking incursions into Kiev.

What is the opinion of Russian analysts?

“If Russian special services hadn’t shown interest in Snowden, they would have been utterly unprofessional,” Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel in Russia’s top military command turned security analyst, said on state Rossiya 24 television.

Huh.  Professionals.

Our foreign policy is a shambles.  Those executing it are amateurs, and worse, ideologues.  Worse yet, they allow their political leanings to blind them into incompetence and delusion.  Meantime, the rest of the world, particularly our adversaries, take full advantage and accelerate the self-inflicted decline of our great nation.

Both the Taliban and Russia are negotiating from a position of power.   Our foreign policy team loathes power, and all but refuses to acknowledge its existence, let alone its value.   So long as such absurdity represents US diplomatic policy, our adversaries will salivate and our allies will perspire nervously.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Around the web, history, islam, obama, Politics, stupid, Uncategorized, war

James Gandolfini, “Sopranos” Star and Maker of “Alive Day Memories” Dies at 51

Paul Morigi

We know him as Tony Soprano, the somewhat neurotic patriarch of the New Jersey crime family, whose own mother once put out a hit on him.  James Gandolfini had been in a bunch of other films, his first memorable role being hit-man Virgil in True Romance.

News has come that he has died at 51, of an apparent heart attack, while vacationing in Italy.

Among the other projects Gandolfini was known for was HBO’s Alive Day Memories, a film of touching and inspirational interviews with US service members severely wounded in Iraq.   Unlike a goodly portion of the Hollywood crowd, Gandolfini was by all accounts a decent guy, and his interaction with the Veterans he interviewed for the HBO special was eminently genuine.  I viewed the film not long after its release, at a VA Scholars conference, and an attendee that was a part of making the film said Mr. Gandolfini was often in tears, and expressed unbound admiration for the Wounded Warriors he interviewed, both on and off camera.

A shame.  Far too young, and, it seems, one of the good guys.

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