Authentic Barbie Vs. Real GI Joe

You may have seen the latest bit of silliness about wanting Barbie dolls to better reflect reality, and cease their horrific crime of fat-shaming.



A controversy is brewing over a request to remake Barbie in way contrary to the iconic image so many girls knew growing up.

Plus-Size-Modeling.com is suggesting Mattel create a plus-size Barbie. While some say more realistic curves would be a better role model for girls, others say an overly large Barbie would be an unhealthy example.

Always a stalwart supporter of equal opportunity, Craig suggested to me this morning that what we men really need is a GI Joe that more truly reflects some of the people we served alongside.

  • Intel Analyst G.I. Joe with glasses and a kick-butt World of Warcraft character.
  • Personnel Actions Clerk who loses paperwork. And “Profile” with hands formed best for 12 ounce curls.
  • Realistic Supply Sergeant that won’t issue toilet paper.
  • SPC Mafia that excel in shamming and Caspering, and Buffer Rodeo and getting arrested for minor in possession or disturbing the peace.
  • Chain smoking motor sergeant who refuses to issue repair parts, fearing depletion of PLL.
  • 77F fuel handler who loses the key to the lock on the gas pump.

What are some of your suggestions for a more realistic GI Joe?

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Filed under ARMY TRAINING, Humor


So, this week’s food thread at Ace’s place features the tasty Spanish mainstay paella.

Many, many moons ago, my Dear Sainted Mother made a wonderful dish of paella for a small dinner party. And it was wonderful. It tasted like pure joy. It was a very, very memorable evening.


And because that evening was so memorable, just about every time I managed to come home on leave from the Army, Dear Sainted Mother would carefully, and lovingly recreate that dish with the rice so richly infused with that most expensive of spices, saffron. And as a Loving Son, I would dutifully eat every bit served to me.

See, there’s a reason that first service of paella was so memorable. It turns out of all the multitudes of foods in the world, the only thing I’m apparently allergic to is saffron. Within an hour of eating paella that first time, I was laid low by the most horrific pains and gastrointestinal unpleasantness.

Dear Sainted Mother’s memory somehow managed to remember that paella was significant, but failed to recall that “significant” does not always mean “good.”

And so, being the dutiful Loving Son, I would eat what was served, and again find myself tormented by that golden spice, saffron.

Eventually, I took to writing home to remind DSM that paella, lovely and tasty as it was, would eventually overcome my considerable constitution, and kill me dead. And that if she wanted to achieve that, there were less painful, less expensive alternatives.

Too bad. As it really does taste great.


Filed under Humor, Personal


So, Fox has a new comedy debuting on January 10 titled “Enlisted.” And boy howdy, when the trailer first hit the internet, did vets let Fox know they weren’t impressed.

So the production team behind the show decided to seek constructive criticism.

Blackfive also has a portion of an interview that the producers did with Doctrine Man.

What’s my take? Glad you asked.

This isn’t a show about the Army. It’s a show about people, one that just happens to be set in the framework of people in the Army. The Army setting is simply the vehicle used to tell stories about people. And while the veterans community is large enough to be heard when complaining about the show, it isn’t large enough to carry a show on a major network. The writers have to make the show accessible to the general public, who have little or know knowledge of what the Army is like. Further, the need to tell human stories means that sometimes, creative license will have to override accuracy in depicting Army life. And I’m pretty OK with that.

Do you recall the reams of people up in arms over The Office’s faulty depiction of the reality of the paper products industry?

Was Scrubs (where the producer worked before) a true to life depiction of the lives of health care professionals?

Sometimes, the best stories take a kernel of truth and stretch it to the absurd conclusion.

As long as the majority of the cast is shown as decent people, dedicated, if not always squared away, that’s fine. It’s one thing to mock or hold up for ridicule “that guy” from time to time (and every unit has “that guy”). But if the show makes a sweeping generalization that everyone in the Army is a dolt, that would be unpardonable.

I don’t really know if the show will be good or bad, successful or cancellation bait.

But I’m not going to call for heads on pikes just because the cast isn’t fully versed on AR 670-1.


Filed under Personal


The Armorer shared this little video of Grafenwoehr Training Area, in Germany. GTA has long been the primary live fire training area for US and German units in Europe. Indeed, as the video shows, it’s been fulfilling that mission since before the First World War.

I’ve been around the track there a time or two. How about you? Any memories of GTA?



Soldiers learn pitfalls of bomb training – Fort Hood Herald: Across The Fort

Soldiers learn pitfalls of bomb training – Fort Hood Herald: Across The Fort.


3-8 Cav conducts IED training

Lt. Col. Esli Pitts, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, talks to soldiers of the battalion as they conduct a training exercise Wednesday, July 3, near battalion headquarters at Fort Hood.

While other units were jogging down Battalion Avenue in formation and singing cadences during morning physical training, “Warhorse” soldiers were in full battle gear as they prepared for confrontation with an opposing force.

Soldiers were tracking a potential bomb-making facility, and had to maneuver through enemy forces, while providing wide-area security, to find the facility and disarm the threat.

The idea behind the July 3 training scenario of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was to provide all the components of a full-scale operation with a physical training element thrown in, said Lt. Col. Esli T. Pitts, battalion commander.

“I’ve always found that you can do a lot of tactical training during PT. It’s a couple hours in the morning when everybody is dedicated to PT anyway, so it’s easy to just do tactical operations with PT,” he said.

Last week’s training incorporated the entire Warhorse battalion, as well explosive ordnance disposal soldiers from the 79th Ordnance Battalion and human intelligence collection teams.

“The entire battalion is out and it doesn’t get any better than that,” Pitts said.


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING


(Repost from 2009)

We’ve covered helicopters here before, such as the Huey, the Blackhawk, the OH-58 Kiowa and of course, Cobra and Apache gunships. Let’s talk about the big boy on the block. The Chinook. Or as it became known almost instantly in the Army, the Shithook. The CH-47 is the Army’s largest helicopter, used to transport critical logistical items, troops and artillery around the battlefield.


The Chinook has been around for a long time. It’s first flight was in 1961. But the issues surrounding its development deserve a little attention. In the late 1950s, the Army and helicopter designers began to realize that piston engines would never become a very efficient way of powering helicopters. Gas turbines (jet engines that provided power through a driveshaft, rather than thrust) were finally becoming a practical option for military use. With the advent of these new engines, the Army took a long look at what the next generation of helicopters should look like. Just how big should they be? At the same time, the concept of “air assault” or landing troops directly on the battlefied started to form. What was the best way to move troop unit? Should you use a smaller helicopter that could lift a squad? Or would the better bet be to use somewhat larger helicopters that could lift 15-20 men?  Smaller helicopters would cost more in the long run, but losing one helicopter in the assault wouldn’t result in as many casualties. The Army first decided to go with the larger helicopter, of about 20 men. The Vertol Company (later bought by Boeing) provided the Model 107. But the debate in the Army over helicopter size raged on. Some thought that the new UH-1B Huey could be scaled up to carry a full squad. That would handle most air assualt requirements, and still have a relatively cheap helicopter. The Model 107 would be larger than was needed. The other half of the problem was moving artillery and supplies. The Model 107 was just a bit too small for that job. The ideal was to move a 105mm howitzer, its crew, and a load of ammunition all in one lift by one helicopter. Boeing went back to the drawing board. The Model 114 was the result, and was soon bought by the Army as the CH-47 Chinook. And it wasn’t very long before the Chinook found itself in Vietnam, as part of the airmobile 1st Cavalry Division.  With Hueys to conduct the initial assualt, and Chinooks bringing in the follow-on elements and moving artillery, the Army’s pattern of air assault missions was set so soundly that it is relatively unchanged 40-odd years later.

But don’t feel bad for the Model 107. Even though it wasn’t selected by the Army, its development continued. Largely because the Marines didn’t have a lot of space on the Navy’s helicopter carriers, they were forced to go with  a somewhat larger helicopter. And the Model 107 fit the bill perfectly. They bought it as the CH-46 and operate it to this day.

Early Chinooks had engines of about 2,200 horsepower each. This was very quickly upgraded to about 2,600hp each. And improvements didn’t stop there. The rotor blades, rear pylon design, and transmission were all upgraded through the A, B, and C models to improve performance.  In the 1980s, the design was again refreshed, with attention focusing again on more horsepower, but also greatly improved avionics and better reliability, resulting in the CH-47D. Many “D” models were conversions from older models, but there were also quite a few new built airframes. These were delivered up until 2002.  And right about the time the last “D” model was delivered, the work on the latest model moved into high gear.

The newest model, the CH-47F is really an old model. While there will be some newbuild airframes, most will be remanufactured CH-47Ds. And since most of the “D” models were remanufactured earlier models, there will be some airframes well over 30 years old that will be expected to soldier on for another 20. Because of this, a large part of the program will be rebuilding them to make them easier to maintain, reducing vibration, making sure the components don’t have any fatigue issues, and making any issues easier to detect. Improvements in the avionics will include updating the instruments to the latest common “glass cockpit” standard, as well as building in the cabapility of operating in the Force XXI digital environment, which is the Army’s version of a battlefield internet.  Not surprisingly, the Army is going with more powerful engines as well. The latest version of the Chinook engines put out almost 4,900 hp each. The Chinook has gone from a useful load of 7,000 pounds in its early days, to over 21,000 pounds in the “F” modeland the new models are faster. Think about that. How many of us are faster and stronger now that we’re over 40?

By now, you ought to have figured out that the ‘hook is a pretty capable helicopter. Lots of other folks have reached that conclusion as well. Very few other nations have the same air assault capability that we do, but having a few heavy lift helicopters around is handy for them as well. Several other nations, notable Great Britain, the Dutch, and the Japanese have bought various versions of the Chinook. When Great Britain attacked to recapture the Falklands in 1982, they lost several Chinooks aboard the Atlantic Conveyor. Their one remaining Chinook was put to work, doing the job of several helicopters. In one instance, instead of carrying its normal load of 55 troops, the sole Chinook lifted 105 fully loaded troops. There are several tales of Chinooks in the Vietnam war carrying over 100 people (though usually lightly loaded Vietnamese civilians). I’ve been in a Chinook with about 40 other people- I can’t imagine just how crowded it was with over 100.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that without  the Chinook, the Army in Afghanistan would be crippled. Many of the smaller outposts can only be reached by helicopter. Given the high elevations and hot weather there, Blackhawks, normally very capable birds, struggle to carry a useful load. The Chinook, with its greater power, is able to support these high/hot outposts.

With the new “F’ models just beginning to come into service, we can expect this long serving veteran to serve for as much as 30 more years.

Mind you, we’ve scrimped on discussing the gunship version, or the several special operations versions. But here’s  a last look at the bird for you.

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Filed under Afghanistan, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry, iraq

Range Time

One of the things about the Army I disliked the most was its ability to take one of life’s more enjoyable activities, shooting, and suck just about every scintilla of pleasure from it.  Endless, repetitive safety briefings, rodding the barrel on the line, clearing again and again, unrealistic scenarios, uncomfortable firing positions (seriously, every range worldwide uses the same uncomfortable gravel- what’s wrong with grass?), rodding off the line, brass and ammo checks.

Life fire maneuver events were marginally better, but still less than they could have been. Sometimes because of range geography, maneuver was severely constrained. Other times, the risk aversion was so high, it led to unrealistic maneuver, reinforcing bad habits, rather than good training.

One of the big risk mitigation techniques back before the current wars was an absolute ban on any kind of fire while standing or moving. While troops did this all the time using blanks or during force on force training, it was utterly verbotten during any sort of live ammunition event.

Of course, that silly restriction has changed as the reality of warfare has led to changes in training.  But because teams often fire while moving, intense training has to take place.  The three big rules of firearms safety don’t go away just because you are headed for combat.

If you have a large enough area, it doesn’t take a lot to devise a useful close combat range, at least for small elements, from individual to team sized.

I find it interesting that the teams are composed of members from all services. I’m not knocking the other services, but defining teams by service would seem to decrease friction, and speed training. But that’s just me.



Ammo Shortage

Pinon Canyon Maneuver Training Site was (and is) a large tract of land in southern Colorado that the Army uses to train brigades in the field. A modern heavy brigade or Brigade Combat Team takes up a lot of space, and there is only so much land in the US that the Army is allowed to go charging around on with tanks and other tracked vehicles. Unlike the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, PCMTS is solely a maneuver area. There are no live fire ranges. Gunnery with live ammo has to be practiced elsewhere.

But the ecology and archeology of the area is quite fragile. As good stewards of the land it is responsible for, the Army goes out of its way to ensure as little damage is done as possible. Any fuel or oil spill calls for immediate and fairly drastic mitigation measures. Tracked vehicles can’t be moved if there is any rain or the soil is damp, to prevent rutting and soil erosion. Great care must be taken to not hit any of the pinon trees with vehicles, or otherwise damage them. Parts of the terrain are off limits because of their historical or archeological value.  Fire prevention and suppression is stressed, as grassfires can quickly spread across the dry terrain by even the slightest breeze, leading to soil erosion.

Accordingly, before any brigade actually enters the maneuver area, all troops are assembled in the cantonment area for a briefing, delivered by a nature and wildlife conservation officer.

So there we were.  One hundred Bradleys, 50 tanks, and another 400 pieces of rolling stock, and 5000 soldiers, every one of us armed to the teeth.

As we sat listening again to the caution that anyone damaging a pinon tree would be fined $500, my gunner noted the irony.

“Sergeant, did you notice that out of the five thousand and one people here, the only guy with live ammunition is the civilian park ranger?”




Believe it or not, during operations in the field, Army men don’t just run around willy-nilly doing whatever they want. They all actually are working according to a plan. It may be a good plan, or a bad one, but it is a plan nonetheless.

After 237 years, the Army has come up with a few ways of organizing the chaos of battle. Orders are one of the primary methods of doing that.

When a civilian hears the word “orders” they tend to think of an NCO telling a Private to drop and give him 20 or take out the trash or something. In an administrative sense, to “come down on orders” means to be transferred to another posting.  But in organizing and controlling operations in theater, “field orders” are the commanders method of control.  Cribbing from other armies, using its institutional knowledge, and a smidgen of common sense, the Army has set up a template for orders to ensure that units have the information needed, no important information is left out, and that errors in communication are minimized.  These templates, these field orders, control the lives of soldiers.

There are three primary types of field orders:

  1. Warning order
  2. Operations Order
  3. Fragmentary Order

Let’s take a brief look at each one.

—————————————————————————————————The Warning Order

The Warning Order (WARNO) is just that- a warning to subordinate units that an operation is forthcoming, and preparations must be made.  A brief description of the current tactical situation is given. Then the mission to be ordered is announced. For instance,  3/8 CAV attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 NLT 031545Z NOV  12  to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV. Any special preparations the unit needs to make should be listed, and the time and place where the actual operations order will be issued is given.


The Operations Order

The Operations Order is the meat and potatoes of planning in the Army. It’s the way a leader tells subordinates what is is he wants them to do.  From a squad leader planning a patrol, to Eisenhower invading France, every operation in the Army is planned using the Operations Order or OPORD. To make sure leaders hit all the high points, a standard template of the OPORD has evolved, a 5-paragraph format that the lowliest Private and the 4-star General both understand.

  1. Situation
  2. Mission
  3. Execution
  4. Sustainment
  5. Command and Control

Let’s take a slightly more in-depth look at the OPORD

1. Situation

Paragraph 1, Situation gives an overview of what the current tactical situation is. 

First off is Task Organization. For any given mission, most units will have teams or units attached or detached. Task Organization spells out just who will be attached or detached.

Next up is Enemy Situation. Who is the enemy? What is their strength? What operations do they have planned? What are they trying to accomplish?

Next is Friendly Forces- What is the mission of the next higher headquarters? For instance, 3/8 CAV, a part of the 3rd BCT of the 1st CAV Division, needs to know what brigade is up to.  What is brigade trying to accomplish? An overview of the situation of the other units of the brigade also follows (and if the units alongside are from another brigade or division, you need to know what they’re up to also, if only to avoid running into them).Lastly, what units are providing fire support? Is it just the organic mortars in the battalion, or is the Direct Support Artillery battalion available? Or are there even more artillery units available? How about close air support? We’re not talking yet about the specifics of what they’ll provide, just which players are in the game.

2. Mission

The mission paragraph of an OPORD is the 5W’s. The who, what, when, where, and why of the order. Remember this sentence above?

3/8 CAV attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 NLT 031545Z NOV 12 to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV

Let’s break that down into English for the civilians and folks like URR that struggle with jargon.

Who?  3/8 CAV -The 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

What?  attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 – The phrasing “to destroy” tells the unit that there objective isn’t Hill 781. By saying “to destroy” that says the key element is the enemy force, not the terrain. Had the order said “to seize Hill 781” that would mean the objective was to gain terrain. Here, our unit needs to key off the enemy force, rather than the terrain.

Where? Along Axis Anvil.**

When? NLT 031545Z NOV 12 . “No Later Than 3:45pm (Greenwich Mean Time) on the 3rd of November, 2012. Other units are on a timeline as well.  3/8 CAV has to launch its attack on time.

Why?  to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV-  The who, what, where, and when only tell a commander what he must do. The why tells the commander what he must accomplish.  There’s a little reading behind the lines involved here. While the commander of 3/8 CAV has been assigned the mission of destroying an enemy mech infantry company, the whole point is, the brigade commander is trying to pass the rest of the formation through an area. If 3/8 CAV destroys the company, but there is still an enemy unit or other reason that the brigade can’t pass, that tells the 3/8 commander his work isn’t done. If 3/8 CAV seizes Hill 781, but there’s no enemy company, the work isn’t done. The mission is to destroy that company. Conversely, if he can’t destroy the company, but can suppress it enough to allow passage of the brigade, well, that’s good enough.  3/8 CAV wasn’t assigned the mission of destroying the enemy company just to be bloody minded. The whole point is to allow the brigade to pass.

3.  Execution

Paragraph 3, Execution, is the “how” of the order.  The first part of paragraph three is the Commander’s Intent. The CI is unscripted, but is basically the end-state the commander desires, and explains the whole point of the operation and his vision for how the mission will be accomplished.


a. Concept of operations.

This is where the order actually describes how the mission will be conducted. The concept is detailed through each of seven providers of combat power. 
(1) Maneuver

The direct fires and  movements of a units organic and attached assets have to be synchronized in time and space. This subparagraph is often lavishly detailed via maps and graphics, to help visualize how the operation will unfold.

(2) Fires

Planning for indirect organic and supporting mortar, artillery and air support fires is a key element for any operation. Planning includes preplanned missions, prioritizing which subordinate units will get support, and listing the priority of unplanned targets. There are almost always more potential targets than tubes to  support a mission, so prioritizing helps ensure the most critical targets are hit, and support isn’t wasted on non-essential targets. URR will get around to writing in depth on the planning process one day. At my level, it was generally quite simple. At the battalion and above echelons, it becomes quite complex.

(3) Reconnaissance and Surveillance

Virtually every debacle on the battlefield the Army has ever suffered has been a result of poor reconnaissance/surveillance, and its partner intelligence. There’s an old German saying: “Time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.”  In fact, while R&S is detailed in the actual order, usually, almost as soon as the Warning Order has been received, the Scout Platoon is put to work.  The battalion may augment that effort with additional platoons from the maneuver companies, or with support from the Brigade Combat Team’s cavalry squadron, or UAV support. The most obvious goal of any R&S plan is to locate the enemy forces. But that’s only  a portion of the job. R&S also has to determine if the maps of the area are accurate. Are the roads trafficable by the unit’s vehicles? Are bridges still standing? Will they hold the weight of the unit vehicles? Are there any roads washed out? Has the enemy emplaced obstacles or minefields? The R&S effort is the reality check that the Operations Order relies on to ensure the plan is based on the real world.

(4) Intelligence

Intelligence is a two way street. Higher echelons will provide information and support (such as communications intercept teams) to our notional battalion. But our unit commander and higher echelons also use combat to generate intelligence. In addition to detailing what support the unit will receive, this sub-paragraph details the specific information units need to gather.

(5) Engineer

Engineer support is always critically short. There are always more tasks than engineers. By prioritizing which mobility, counter-mobility and force protection measures are critical, the limited engineer support can be prioritized to best support the mission. For instance, in our notional attack, engineer support would likely be focused on breaching any minefields or anti-tank ditches encountered. 

(6) Air Defense

Obviously, in the two wars of the 21st century, our troops haven’t had to focus much on AD. But if we didn’t have air superiority, this sub-paragraph would describe passive measures, such as camouflage, and active measures, such as Stinger missile teams, to limit the ability of enemy airpower to inhibit our own operations. 

(7) Information Operations

To be honest, we never had to deal with information operations in my day.

b. Tasks to maneuver units.

While the concept of operations described the overall scheme of maneuver, this tasking gives specific tasks to each of the subordinate companies and any independent maneuver platoons. For instance, Company A may be tasked to seize a hilltop short of the objective, and attack by direct fire, while Companies B and C are tasked to conduct the actual assault on  Hill 781.

c. Tasks to combat support units.
(1) Intelligence (2) Engineer (3) Fire Support (4) Air Defense (5) Signal (6) NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) (7) Provost Marshal (8) PSYOP (9) Civil military.

Similarly, specific jobs for each of these areas are detailed. Some will be routine, and addressed by the unit’s Standard Operating Procedure, but other taskings, particularly in engineering and fire support will be detailed every time.

d. Coordinating instructions.
(1) Time or condition when a plan or order becomes effective

(2) CCIR (Commander’s Critical Information Requirements)

(3) Risk reduction control measures

(4) Rules of engagement

(5) Environmental considerations

(6) Force protection

Much of this will be under the unit SOP, but for successful operations, the devil is often in the details. 


Sustainment is the term to cover all the logistical and administrative needs to keep the force in the field. Some are obvious issues, like getting fuel, food and ammo to the force. Others are less immediately obvious, like how to recover vehicles that are damaged or broken down. At the battalion level, much of this is standard operating procedure. But at higher echelons, where operations tend to be planned for a longer period of time, the plan has to be crafted in somewhat greater detail. For instance, a theater commander will have to concern himself with things like providing laundry and shower services, as well as replacement uniforms. Even providing support for payroll services has to be addressed. Troops may not have a lot of options for spending money, but they still want to be paid.

a. Support concept.

b. Materiel and services.

c. Medical evacuation and hospitalization.

d. Personnel.

e. Civil military.

5. COMMAND AND CONTROL (formerly Command and Signal)

Command is an art. Much as a painter can be taught to a certain level of competence, so to with command. But superlative command takes an innate, native ability. Fortunately, in most instances, the average level of competence is sufficient. Control is a science. It is the set of tools a commander uses to effectively conduct command.

a. Command.

Where will the commander be during the operation? Where will the other key leaders be? If there are casualties in the command group, what is the line of succession?

b. Control.

A large part of this section comes from the Signal Operating Instructions, which lists the frequencies to be used by each unit. A heavy battalion has several radio networks. The command net, the admin/logistics net, and the intel net. Further, the battalion also communicates with higher headquarters on their nets. Each subordinate company has its own radio net, as well as each platoon. This doesn’t even address the data networks that all units use now. Other control measures can also be used, such as pyrotechnic smoke and flares. Graphical control measures on the map are also, by used.

The Five Paragraph Operations order is “scaleable.” The basic format is used from the rifle squad to the highest echelons. Obviously, the higher you go, the more detailed the order. At platoon and squad level, the order is often given verbally (though every evaluator in the Army wants to see EVERY soldier write down, at a minimum, the mission statement and commanders intent).

The order is also something of a matroyshka doll. From our notional battalion operations order, each company commander will extract his mission and specific tasks, and write his own operations order for his company. His platoon leaders will then take that order, and write their own. In theory, so would each squad leader, but as a practical matter, platoon and squad orders tend to be repeats of the company order.

One great example of this series of orders coming from on high down to the lowest level is the invasion of Normandy. Every level of command, from the Allied Expeditionary Headquarters down to individual squads had their own, specific orders, with the lower orders all acting like a series of bricks to build the structure of the entire allied operation.

Since each subordinate needs to craft his own order, the rule of thumb is that a leader should use one third of the available time to craft his order, leaving two thirds of the time for his subordinate echelons to craft theirs, and prepare for the operation. Sadly, this is often honored more in the breach. But good staffs know to get as much information as possible to lower echelons as soon as possible to let them prepare as much as possible.

The final order format is the FRAGO, or Fragmentary Order.  When a change of mission occurs, or the situation on the ground changes, and the time doesn’t allow for the full order planning process, a fragmentary order is issued. It has no set format, though commanders are encouraged to use as much of the Operations Order format as feasible. It may be verbal or it may be written. At a minimum, it should contain the 5 W’s of the mission statement, and if at all possible, a commander’s intent.



*as opposed to other possible missions such as defend, or occupy, or conduct a movement to contact

**”Axis Anvil” is an example of a “graphical control measure.”  Units are given areas marked by boundaries, within which they can move. To control the movement of units, routes, axes, objectives and other arbitrary lines are drawn on the map. These measures are then given arbitrary code names. Axis Anvil might be the general flow of a valley, for instance. “Route Cinnamon” would be a specific road or pathway. They’re “graphical” in that in the age of paper maps, they were drawn on the map with grease pencils. Today, they’re computer graphics overlaid on a computer map.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, infantry

Into the Box

So, friend of the Blog Esli is headed to the National Training Center today.  Rotations to NTC were a fixture of life in stateside heavy brigades during the 80s and 90s. The missions might vary a bit from rotation to rotation, but the basic template was the same. Show up, draw equipment and prep for about half a week, spend a week and a half “in the box” fighting against the resident OpFor (Opposing Force), then spend another week and a half doing live fire maneuver on NTC’s massive range complex, then finally spend a few hectic days struggling to turn in equipment before returning to the home station.  The original paradigm for NTC was very much a reflection of the times. The mission sets very closely matched the mission of stateside heavy units to deploy to Germany, draw pre-positioned sets of equipment, and roll into battle with the Warsaw Pact.

NTC has long been the capstone maneuver exercise for brigade sized elements. To be honest, at the combat arms squad sized level, troops didn’t really get much out of it. But for battalion and brigade staffs, it was an all to rare opportunity to actually put into play the techniques of planning and executing combined arms operations. For the logistical and supporting elements of the parent division, it was often the only chance in a training cycle they had to actually conduct their missions under actual field conditions. 

The cost of moving 5000 or so soldiers, and putting them in the field for almost a month is quite high. So the Army, from Day One, strove to get as much value from the training opportunity as possible. Stealing ideas from TOPGUN and RED FLAG, they fielded a dedicated aggressor force (the aforementioned OpFor).

Further, most home station training is evaluated by that units own chain of command, with umpires and evaluators coming from sister units, but ultimately graded by that brigade’s parent division. Yes, a commander has a responsibility to evaluate the training of his subordinate units. But an outside “reality check” is also a good idea. So the NTC has a cadre know as the O/C’s, or Observer/Controllers. Every element of the brigade down to the platoon has an O/C assigned. Each O/C has successfully performed the role which he is evaluation. *

Another aspect of NTC is that the whole thing is wired for sound. And video! Long before the Army even thought of networking vehicles into an internet environment with tools like Blue Force Tracker and FB2C2, every combat vehicle “in the box” at NTC was tracked, most of the movement was videotaped, and key radio networks were recorded.

After every mission, came the AAR or After Action Review. Going out and doing a mission has training value. But the AAR was where the real lessons learned came from.  Each unit would gather with their O/C, and review what it was that was supposed to happen, and then what really happened. And because the whole mission had been recorded, trying to BS your way past your shortcomings and failures was virtually impossible.

You:“I never got the order to move to the flank!”

O/C: “Let’s roll tape!”

Tape: “Move to the flank, roger!”

You: **facepalm**

The goal isn’t to make you look stupid (though it often does) but rather to show weak spots and trends that need improvement. Occasionally, you’ll even see what you do well.

NTC also strives to sow stress and confusion. Combat is stressful and confusing, and NTC has long tried to emulate that as much as possible. The deck is almost always stacked against the visiting team. If you do well on your first missions, they’ll just make later ones harder. The yardstick isn’t so much how many times you defeat the OpFor, but how well you demonstrate the ability to plan and conduct operations under the stress of battle.

NTC isn’t static. The demise of the Warsaw pact saw changes in the way NTC structured rotations (eventually, anyway) making the threat scenario better reflect the geopolitical reality. And during the war in Iraq, as Heavy Brigade Combat Teams rotated into an insurgency torn country, the traditional model was set aside and the BCTs were faced with missions that reflected as closely as possible the operations and threats they would actually face on the ground. Iraqi villages and roadside bombs, meetings with local nationals and supporting host-nation security forces were the order of the day.

But heavy BCTs aren’t being used in Afghanistan, and the Army needs the capability to face any threat, be it an insurgency or a near-peer mechanized maneuver force. Accordingly, recent rotations, including Esli’s current one, will return to a more force-on-force paradigm, while still including the lessons learned from a decade of war.


*At the platoon level, the O/C is usually a Sergeant First Class with successful experience as a platoon sergeant, rather than an officer. After all, an SFC with 15-20 years in the Army is likely to be a better judge of tactical competence than a Lieutenant with 18-20 months of experience as  a platoon leader.



Saturday Tactics Lesson

Lot’s of M-14 goodness here.




It is officially winter. And it’s cold. Many of us* will brave bitter, freezing weather this year. And we’ll bundle up in warm clothing, and head from our heated homes to our heated cars to our heated offices.

One of the physical challenges soldiers face in the field is that the exposure to cold weather is unrelenting.  Hours, days, weeks of unceasing exposure to the cold. Warm clothing becomes far more than a matter of comfort, but an essential for mere survival, much less functionality.

Designing warm clothing that is durable and light has long been one of the greater challenges for armies. For centuries, the best insulator for clothes was wool. It was relatively lightweight. It was warm, and it was still somewhat effective when wet. In fact, right up through the mid 1980s, virtually all cold weather clothing in our Army was still woolen.  Starting on the eve of World War II, thick heavy woolen greatcoats fell out of favor, and the concept of layers of clothing came into use. The most iconic piece of cold weather clothing from World War II was the M1943 Field Jacket. It was a short jacket of a sturdy cotton duck, but could be worn with a woolen liner.


Soldiers in winter face two different threats, the cold dry environment, and the cold wet environment.  The Army designed  clothing ensembles for both environments.  While the two ensembles were distinct, both used as many common components as possible. Further, each could be tailored to the specific temperatures encountered.

The challenge of the cold dry environment is extreme low temperatures, such as in the Arctic, high in mountainous regions and glaciated regions. Ice and powdered snow abound, along with continuously below freezing temps. The cold dry ensemble started with wool long johns, then the basic combat uniform. The field jacket and matching field pants (and their respective liners) were next. Finally, a hooded, lined parka and matching lined wind pants formed the outer layer. Accessories such as mittens with woolen liners and a pile cap and face mask helped isolate the wearer from the cold. One of the most difficult things to keep warm is the soldier’s feet. The answer there was the “Mickey Mouse” boot.  These were heavy rubber boots that could be inflated. This air pocket between the foot and the cold worked much like a Thermos bottle or dewar flask. The air was a poor transmitter of heat, and thus a good insulator. Wool socks and oversocks meant that feet might not be toasty warm, but frostbite was unlikely.

The cold wet environment is actually the more challenging of the two to deal with. Nothing degrades the insulating properties of clothing like water. Once a soldier gets wet, he will be almost impossible to keep warm. The cotton of the basic combat uniform is almost worthless when wet. And even wool suffers badly when wet. Further, wool takes unusually long to dry.

Once again, layering was key to the cold-wet ensemble. Woolen long johns, the basic combat uniform and the field pants and field coat, with or without the liners, formed the insulating portions of the outfit. Over this, a rubberized cotton or nylon rain parka and rain pants provided protection from wetness. This rubberized rain suit was waterproof, to be sure. But it also trapped in a soldier’s perspiration, and even mild exertion would leave a soldier damp and clammy, and soon quite cold.

Footwear in the cold-wet environment is an especial challenge. The leather combat boot is not waterproof, and soon becomes saturated. Feet subjected to prolonged cold, wet conditions soon develop what is known as “trench foot”.  You know how if you stay in the tub or pool too long and your skin on your feet becomes soft and wrinkly? Take that a couple orders of magnitude higher. Trench foot is both painful, and debilitating, and can easily result in gangrene and even amputation of toes or the whole foot if not caught quickly. Often in the winter of 1944, casualties among US forces were far higher from trench foot than from German actions. But the troops were still casualties, and had to be pulled from the line. One attempt to minimize cases of trench foot was the Shoepack. L.L. Bean produced a boot with leather uppers, and a rubber sole and lower. It provided much better protection against cold wet conditions than the regular leather combat boot.


The Shoepack was pretty good for keeping feet dry, but was impractical for long marches. Also, it was pretty uncomfortable if the weather was warmer. In the Cold War era, the Shoepack was replaced by the standard leather combat boot, and a rubber overshoe, or, if you will, galoshes. 

As textile technology improved, so did the ensemble. Between World War II and the mid 1980s, the major change in the ensemble was the shift from woolen pile liners to nylon shells with polyester batting liners. They were much lighter, provided good insulation, and dried very quickly. This construction was similar to that of the poncho liner.  These relatively small changes still left the Army with clothing technology that would not have been too amiss during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

But the mid-1980s were a boon time for outdoor sports, and the explosive growth of companies like Nike and others led to great strides being made in textile technologies. The Army was fairly slow to adapt them, but eventually, synthetic fibers and fabrics came to play ever greater roles in field clothing.

Around this time, the Army finally took the leap and introduced an entirely new cold weather clothing system, ECWCS (pronounced “ick-wicks), or Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System).  No longer could clothing be a uniform, it had to be a system! But the ECWCS really was a system, it’s components intended to be used together as a whole. It has three layers. First was a set of long johns made from polypropylene. Lighter and quicker drying than wool, they tended to be more comfortable as well.  Next was a deep pile polyester trousers and coat undergarment known as “bearskins” from their brown color and thick, shaggy appearance. This deep pile provided great loft and insulation, and dried quickly. The outermost layer was a a shell consisting of a parka and trousers. The parka and trousers were made of a waterproof, windproof Gore-Tex fabric, with an inner nylon lining. Careful attention was paid to ventilation, so a perspiring soldier wouldn’t overheat.  With appropriate accessories for headgear, footgear and hands, the ECWCS could protect soldiers in temperatures as low as –60F.  It’s waterproof  Gore-Tex outer shell made it suitable for use in the cold-wet environment.  Variations of the ECWCS are still the primary cold weather clothing system in use today.


But despite untold millions in research dollars spent developing the system, it’s actually rarely used as intended. Look at the layers above. What’s missing? The basic combat uniform, either the BDU or today’s ACU.

In fact, most of the time, troops don’t need the full ensemble. The long johns are handy and popular** The bearskins are simply too thick and warm for most environments, and don’t fit under the combat uniform. They’re too fragile to serve as outer garments. But the parka, almost universally referred to simply as a “Gore-Tex,” is pretty much the standard jacket Army wide. But because it was designed to work in concert with the other layers, it has virtually no insulating properties itself, nor can it accept a simple button-in liner like the M-65 field jacket did.  So most troops slip either an old field jacket liner or other warm weather gear under the jacket of their uniform.

One of the nice things about the Army not generally appreciated by the civilian population is that there is a wide latitude given to troops when it comes to boots and clothing accessories. You can get by well enough on what the Army issues you, but if you want to buy something better, as long as it meets certain guidelines, that’s perfectly fine as well. And in the days when the Army still wore black boots, in cold weather regions, it was a very rare troop that didn’t own a pair of Matterhorns. *** These boots were far more water-resistant than the issue boot, had insulation, and were far warmer, suitable for the cold wet environment and still compatible with the rubber overshoe if more waterproofing was needed.  Similarly, most guys kept the D-3A leather glove and wool liner at home, and bought black insulated ski gloves.

And while I describe the Army as switching to the ECWCS in the late 1980s, in fact, it wasn’t so simple.  As Organizational Clothing, it was only issued to those units that were likely to be deployed in cold weather conditions. Further, the changover wasn’t instantaneous. Some units would still issue the older ensemble for well over a decade after the ECWCS was first introduced. In fact, I was never issued the ECWCS, despite serving in Germany and Colorado, both quite cold environments. But the parka, at least, was offered for sale, and authorized for wear, almost from day one at the Clothing Sales store on post. So I bought one right away, back in 1989. ****

The Gore-Tex pants weren’t offered for sale, but they were authorized for wear, so I ponied up an outrageous sum of money and ordered a pair from US Cavalry and had them shipped to Germany.

During peacetime, even with relatively robust budgets, the Army tends to spend its procurement dollars on big ticket items. One of the effects of a shooting war or two, however, is to show shortcomings in individual clothing and equipment. Commanders at relatively low levels have been given much greater freedom (and budgets) to get the equipment they need for their soldiers.  Virtually every piece of individual clothing or equipment worn by soldiers has been replaced or upgraded or significantly modified since 9/11. The cost is relatively minor compared to, say, buying an aircraft carrier, but the improvement to the soldier’s lot has been great.

But no matter the improvements in clothing, the infantryman will still find himself cold and wet and tired. Just  maybe not as bad as his forebears.

*Well, not me. I’m in Southern California. Bitter cold weather here is overnight lows in the 40s.

**and flammable, unfortunately. I’ve heard that troops have gone back to woolen long johns to avoid having melted polypro stuck to them.

***I see they’re now marketed under the Corcoran brand, but back in the day, they were Matterhorns.

****I bought a LOT of snivel gear. I hate the cold. And I snivel a lot.


Filed under army

Bronco Brigade

My first assignment was to the 3rd Brigade, 25th ID (now 3rd BCT, 25th ID).

We didn’t have hoo-ha videos like this.

Interesting that the very first shot is of the Army guys catching a lift from the Marines.



Decisive Action Training

DAT, Decisive Action Training, is the Army’s new moniker for a non-COIN, full spectrum warfare scenario where our units engage near-peer, professional, well equipped forces, to include mechanized forces. The “full spectrum” part means that even while engaging these capable enemy forces, our friendly forces is concurrently expected to perform the full range of missions such as stability and security operations, and provide training and support to host nation forces.

For the past decade, the needs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have dictated that the Army’s Combat Training Centers (CTCs)  have focused almost exclusively on training brigade combat teams for COIN operations, usually as a capstone exercise during a training rotation just before deployment. But with the end of operations in Iraq, and with the end of the surge of forces to Afghanistan, the CTCs have begun to shift back toward a more “force on force” regimen.

As Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy’s Best Defense blog tells us, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment * recently went through one of these first DATs. Tom is more than a little concerned that a lot of the basic warfighting skills of brigades have eroded. He links to the following report as evidence of this failure of units to train to a sufficient level:

If you read just Tom’s article, and the above report, you’ll get the impression that 2CR can’t find their asses with both hands and a map GPS. Personally, without having seen either the complete After Action Review package, nor having actually seen 2CR operate, I can make some fairly educated guesses as to what the ground truth is here.

First, I’m certain 2CR did have any number of major shortcomings in its training rotation at Hoehenfels. That’s kind of the whole point of training. Rotations at CTCs are explicitly designed to stress the entire unit, particularly the command and control elements of a brigade combat team. Some units do well at rotations, and some do poorly, but none do a rotation perfectly. There are always things a unit can do to improve. Secondly, as much as the rotation is for training the brigade in the rotation, it is also a key tool for helping Big Army identify those trends that it needs to focus on across the entire force.

For instance, the report above spends a good deal of time identifying shortcomings in 2CRs approach to Mission Command, the Army’s current doctrine for how leaders command missions. Ideally, through MC, a commander identifies those tasks that he needs his subordinate commanders to accomplish in order to accomplish his own mission. He then tasks his subordinates to do those missions within  broad guidelines, leaving the details of exactly how to do it to them. This frees the commander to focus more on the big picture, and spend his time synchronizing operations, and better able to control the overall operation. But sadly, far too often, commanders, while following the party line on MC, fail to actually implement the philosophy. The report claims MC is something of a radical departure from previous command and control doctrine, but this is a tad misleading. In fact, almost since the end of World War II, the Army has touted some form of Mission Command, under various names, as the correct approach. As always, the problem has been that many commanders at all levels are often loathe to truly allow junior leaders the authority and autonomy to plan and conduct their own operations. Proper implementation of MC is a delicate balance of granting autonomy, while still ensuring that subordinate command operations are truly oriented to supporting the overall mission and synchronized in time and space with the higher command. All the networking and battle management tools available don’t magically provide this balance. That’s why today’s doctrine correctly notes that while “control” is a science, “command” is an art.

Ironically, the report identifies units operating in a COIN environment being under closer micromanagement than under a Decisive Action environment. But in truth, given the huge geographical areas a unit might operate in during COIN, sub-units often have far more autonomy. Decisive Action against a near-peer mechanized force calls for a far more concentrated friendly force, and commanders tend to exercise far more close control over the immediate actions of subordinate units. As an example, during Desert Storm, my brigade issued its order, the subordinate battalions issued their own orders, then each company issued its order, just as they are supposed to. But during the actual operation, the entire brigade moved as a single formation, with almost every combat vehicle being within visual range of the commander at all times. The subordinate commanders were, in effect, little more than guides for the rest of the vehicles.

There are some troubling aspects to the report. The basic field skills of the troops surely need some work. On the other hand, that’s a pretty easy skill set to teach, compared to some other tasks ahead of 2CR. Relearning to integrate the full capabilities of supporting fires will take a bit more effort. Without actually going out and shooting a lot of very expensive stuff, on very scarce ranges, it’s hard to truly learn that art.

Finally, while not excusing any shortcomings that 2CR may have, allow me to offer some reasons why they may not have performed as well as might be hoped.

Imagine the Crimson Tide of Alabama. Take the entire defensive roster, one of the better lineups around. Work them hard, all season long, game after game. Then suddenly tell them they’ll be graded, not on how well they perform on game day, but on how well they perform on a practice scrimmage. Against an NFL team. And oh, yeah, instead of playing defense, you’ll be playing the offense.  And for good measure, you still have to go out next weekend, and play a real game. As defense.

You see, 2CR has been focused on COIN for a long time. As was right and proper. And not only that, they have a deployment to Afghanistan scheduled, in which they will be, again, performing COIN operations. Just how focused were they on performing DAT?  I’d wager there were some folks in the chain of command that felt DAT was a distraction rather than a real training opportunity.

After a decade in which virtually every Brigade Combat Team in the Army has deployed and fought in a COIN environment, a decade where the Army had to relearn small war operations often at great pain, it is time for the Army to return its focus to more traditional warfighting capabilities. But to think that is a skillset units will instantly master is unrealistic. It’s going to take time, effort, sweat and more than a few hurt feelings to return to the level of competency that units need to establish.

*In spite of its name and having squadrons and troops rather than battalions and companies, 2nd Cavalry Regiment is in fact just another Stryker Brigade Combat Team.


Filed under Afghanistan, ARMY TRAINING

Veterans Day


So today is Veterans Day. Today, dear friends, is not a day for mourning, but rather a day to remember the service of American veterans of all wars. Come Memorial Day we shall mourn our dead. Today, let us celebrate life instead.

Veterans Day is a relatively new observance. The holiday started out as Armistice Day, first observed in 1926 to commemorate the end of WWI. It wasn’t until 1954 that the observance was extended to veterans of all wars.  For  a brief time, 1971-1975, Veterans Day was observed on the closest Monday to November 11th, but thankfully, that foolishness went by the wayside and we now observe this day on the proper calendar date.

I don’t have any big plans for the holiday. I’ll celebrate the way I usually do, with quiet thanks for the opportunity to have served this great nation. Interestingly, while I was serving, I never did get Veterans Day off.

As you go about your day, either at work or leisure, take a moment to thank any veterans you know.

Update: As I’m currently sick as a dog, this is a repost of the first Veterans Day post on the blog, from 2008.


Filed under armor, army, ARMY TRAINING, infantry, iraq, Personal, Politics


I was born near the ocean. And spent a goodly bit of time either on it or in it while growing up. Swimming and bobbing around in the water were just part of my youth.*

In spite of my love of the ocean, I joined the Army, not the Navy. And after training, I was very pleased to be posted to Hawaii, near, you may imagine, a very nice stretch of ocean.  Unlike the Navy and the Marine Corps, there is no requirement to be able to swim in the Army. But safety concerns for certain operations did require that soldiers be able, if not to swim, at least capable of not drowning. Not surprisingly, this training is known as drownproofing.  Like most training evolutions, this one was conducted periodically, on roughly an annual basis. So early in my tour in Hawaii, it was off to the post swimming pool with the rest of my company.

At the post pool, the testing was pretty basic. In uniform, with helmet, load bearing equipment, and rifle, you had to hop into the pool, swim 10 meters, and then you could grab the side of the pool.

The second test was a lot more fun. From the three meter platform, you were blindfolded, walked to the end of the ended of the platform, and then, on order, stepped off the platform. Once you hit the water, you had to ditch your harness, rifle, and helmet, then swim to the side. That was pretty fun.

The last part of the testing consisted of learning how to use BDU pants as expedient flotation devices. Tie off the ends of the legs, use a scooping motion to fill air into them, and they’d actually work pretty well.

All in all, other than getting a uniform thoroughly soaked, it was a pretty pleasant way to spend a morning of training. Especially if the option was a 12 mile road march with a full pack.

Despite the plentitude of beautiful beaches in Hawaii, the interior is surprisingly dry, and the likelihood of drowning paled in comparison to the risk of choking to death on red dust from the pineapple fields, or choking on a guava fruit.

But as we ramped up the training cycle to prepare for deployment to Exercise Team Spirit ‘87, word came down from on high that the Wolfhounds would, among other training evolutions, enact an assault crossing of the Han river in the neighborhood of Seoul.

Assault river crossings by light infantry are conducted using the RB-15. In the complex world of military designation systems, RB-15 is refreshingly simple- Rubber Boat, 15 man. Theoretically, 15 men (about 8 of which paddle, the rest as passengers) can fit in each.

Now, you’d think that paddling a rubber boat would be a simple exercise. But as it turns out, before we could hop into the Han river, we had to qualify on the RB-15. So before we ever deployed to Korea, we took a week to visit Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. While MCAS Kaneohe Bay is indeed an air station, and home to a fair number of Marine Aviation squadrons, it was also home to some Marine Infantry. And Kaneohe Bay itself, where we would be doing our actual training.

While K-Bay is a lovely installation, with spacious, airy barracks and the full range of amenities for both Marines and their families, our stay there was a little more… spartan. The Marines, in the full spirit of interservice cooperation graciously granted us use of an open field. Our quarters were pup-tents (that is, the tent, shelter half, cotton duck, virtually unchanged the original WWI version).  I think I’d set up a pup-tent maybe once in the previous year and half. And I was hardly alone in being relatively incompetent in that. But since it was important that we Army guys look good in front of the Marines, much effort went into ensuring our pup-tents were taught and tidy, and absolutely perfectly aligned, to the extent of using a compass to align along a cardinal direction, and string to be sure the tents were all tickety-boo.  In spite of K-Bay having great mess halls, those were off limits to us. We ate as if we were actually in the field. In  fact, pretty much all of the main post was off limits to us. It struck me as more than slightly ridiculous to be camping out in a field 30 minutes from our home station.

RB-15 training was actually fairly fun, and somewhat involved. Just paddling the boat around was more challenging than you’d first think. Then learning to load the boat added to the challenge. All rucksacks and other equipment had to be lashed to the boat so it wouldn’t be lost overboard. And then there were the flips.

It’s possible that an RB-15 might flip over in rough water. So it was important to learn how to flip the boat back upright. Which meant first you had to learn to flip the boat over. It’s harder than you’d imagine. But the water in the bay was relatively warm, and flipping a boat over a few times was still better than a 12 mile road march.

I’ll save the story of the combination live fire range/bird sanctuary for another time.  Let’s just say that wasn’t the finest hour of interservice cooperation.

One other task was to build two man poncho rafts. After lugging an extremely heavy ALICE pack on my back, I was a tad astonished to learn that they could be made to float. Lay a poncho flat. Place your rucksack and your buddy’s rucksack on it. Fold the poncho nice and snug around them. Wrap that package in your buddy’s poncho. With a little judicious use of paracord, a very serviceable raft ensued in just a few minutes. Not really enough to keep the two of you afloat, but more than enough to keep your rucksacks afloat. And surprisingly, the rucksacks came out almost pristine. Now, I don’t really care if my rucksack gets wet, but my spare socks staying dry was a pearl beyond price.

Eventually, the deployment to Team Spirit came to pass. Korea was different and interesting. Our training mostly took place well south of Seoul, and often in areas that rarely saw the US Army. The locals welcomed us into their homes, and were kind. While Seoul was a bustling, modern metropolis, much of the countryside was still extremely primitive, barely removed from the Neolithic age. The incredible boom in the Korean economy was still just over the horizon.

One thing I think I and my fellow soldiers failed to grasp was that Team Spirit was as much a public relations exercise as it was a tactical training event. South Korea used publicity from the exercises both to show a domestic audience how strong the support from the US was, and to send a message to the North Koreans. Our crossing of the Han river was a case in point. Doctrinally, such a crossing would almost certainly be made at night, and with as much artillery support and other fire support as possible. In the event, the actual crossing took place in broad daylight, with film crews from Armed Forces Network Korea and several Korean news agencies recording it for posterity. In fact, rather than assaulting through after the crossing, we milled around a bit, loaded up on trucks, and crossed back over the river via a highway bridge, moving on to continue the exercise elsewhere.

And the river? It was absolutely dead calm. Not one of us had to flip a boat back over or use our BDU pants to keep from drowning.


*Oddly, as fat as I am, I don’t float worth a damn. From earliest days at summer camp, to the present day, if I try to float on my back, my legs sink. As long as my lungs are full of air, my torso will float, but if I exhale for only the briefest moment, my whole body will sink, legs first.



Gun Jump

Say, did I ever tell you about the time I almost killed my buddy with a 25mm cannon?

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle has an all-electrical turret, with power drives for both azimuth and elevation.  This is a  system with two modes: normal, slow speed for fine tracking and aiming, and “slew” mode for high speed traverse and elevation of the gun. In slew mode, the turret will move at 60 degrees per second in both traverse and elevation.  There is also a manual system of handwheels in case drive power should be lost.

The driver’s hatch at the left front of the vehicle pops up to about a 60 degree angle. Because the gun is mounted so low above the deck of the Bradley,  turret is traversed to the left while the hatch is open, the gun would strike the hatch. Well, banging a $100,000 gun against the hatch at high speed would be bad for the gun, and would also tend to cause undesirable stresses on turret drive mechanisms. Accordingly, the Army, in its wisdom, included a microswitch* into the driver’s hatch. If the switch is open, meaning the driver’s hatch is open, the turret will traverse normally throughout most of the spin around the vehicle. But as the turret drive approaches the driver’s hatch, the gun will automatically command an elevation of about 3o degrees at the highest rate. That is to say, the gun will jump over the driver’s hatch. **

It was a beautiful autumn day in the early 1990s.  My battalion was in Pinion Canyon Maneuver Training Center to provide support to another brigade. While that brigade was training, we acted as the Opposing Forces for them.  OpFor was always far more fun that being the Blue Forces. The atmosphere was a good deal more relaxed. While many good training opportunities were to be had, we also weren’t being graded by outside observers. The roles and missions we performed tended to be a bit more varied and interesting.  The platoons and companies of the OpFor would be shuffled around to tailor a force to a given scenario.

I forget what people had to be shuffled around and why, but one week I found myself on my usual Bradley, A-12, but with my regular driver and gunner replaced with two of my favorite people. SGT M was my roomate, and was a very intense, wiry young man of Greek descent from California. SPC O’C was a young, large, friendly, if somewhat  quiet Irishman from Philly. Very different people, but we’d been friends for some time. Normally, the stress of operating in the field frays nerves and can cause friendships to strain.  But as OpFor, we weren’t under any great pressure, and the conviviality was nice. Both SGT M and SPC O’C were pretty easy to lead, being quite professional themselves.

Since Uncle Sam frowned on us shooting real missiles and bullets at our fellow troops, even if it was those jerks in 1-8 Infantry, we used the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES, as a training aid. MILES is like the worlds largest game of laser tag, with lasers and harnesses not just for people, but all types of vehicles, especially tanks and Bradleys.  The laser for the Bradley’s main gun clamped onto the barrel of the gun. And just like the sights of a rifle have to be zeroed to ensure a hit, the laser had to be adjusted (at least daily) to ensure hits on distant targets.

Since all three of us on the crew took great pleasure in sticking it to the chuckleheads of the BlueFor, we took every reasonable measure to prepare for the morning round of battles. High on the list*** of chores was to zero the MILES system, so we could cause blinking lights and anguish in our victims.

Most Bradley crews were quite familiar with setting up the MILES system on their vehicles. I’d actually attended a one week course on post to become my company’s subject matter expert on the system, and had grown quite proficient at tweaking the system for  optimum performance.  Zeroing the MILES box on the gun was fairly simple. There was a cheap little telescope coaxially mounted to the laser itself on the box clamped to the gun. SGT M would look through the scope, find a discrete object roughly a mile away, and direct me to traverse and elevate the turret until the crosshairs were direct aligned with the object.**** Then, with the laser aligned exactly to the target, from the gunner’s seat, I would move the sight reticle of the Bradley’s main sight (the Integrated Sight Unit, or ISU). Much like windage and elevation knobs on a rifle sight, this would move the reticle without moving the gun itself. Once both the laser and the sight reticle were both on the same target, the system was zeroed.

Normally, to get the most precise control possible, when zeroing the system, the turret drives are switched off, and the gun is aligned using the handwheels. This morning, while I was focused on helping to zero the gun, I was also on the radio getting updates about our mission, and answering important questions like “does you crew still have all its sensitive items, have you lost anyone in the last 24 hours, how much fuel do you have onboard (which, the entire company had just topped off tanks less than an hour before, just like every morning) and just generally being pestered by the higher ups. So I cheated and was using the turret in powered mode, in the slow rate. SGT M had found a nice target to align on, and SPC O’C was up on deck lending a hand and moral support.  SGT M bent over barrel of the gun to look through the telescope, and directed me to scooch the gun a little to the left to get on target. I did so, completely forgetting the driver’s hatch was open. And sure enough, it hit the cut-out arc, instantly jumped up, and smacked SGT M right in the face. He was knocked back quite violently, tumbled into SPC O’C, and they both fell the 6 feet or so from the vehicle to the ground.

In the end, it came to nothing more than some scrapes and bruises and a fair amount of (rather legitimate) butthurt, but I was mortified that I had forgotten such a basic safety rule, and could have seriously hurt my friends.

Naturally, that was the last time I tried to zero in power drive. And of course, for the rest of that particular trip to the field, I was the one putting my face next to the gun, and SGT M got to sit safely inside.

*This mircroswitch is functionally identical to the little push switch in your refrigerator that turns the light out when you close the door.

**There is a similar “cutout” switch in the back of the vehicle for the missile loading hatch over the rear troop compartment.

***Other key parts of the Pre Combat Checklist included making sure all our thermoses were full of fresh hot coffee, and that sufficient snacks, Top Ramen, beef jerky and cigarettes were loaded, and a supply of paperback books on hand for the lull between battles.

****Any object would do. It didn’t have to be another MILES equipped vehicle. Objects with a right angle, such as a building or a chimney worked very well. Of course, if you had another vehicle to use, that was fine too. That way you could instantly test how well you’d aligned the sights to the laser by simply shooting at them. If they blinked, you were good.


Filed under Humor, Personal

The Maneuver Brigade as Unit of Action

Just had a thought pop into my noodle. In the decision to shift to a brigade based organization versus a division based one- I wonder how much of influence the maneuver training centers had.  NTC at Fort Irwin, CMTC in Hoenfels, JRTC at Ft. Polk, PCMTC south of Fort Carson, and YFC in Washington state. All are sized to provide training to brigade sized elements. In fact, I can’t think of a single site that the Army employs that can routinely accommodate units larger than brigade sized. So if the Army spent the last 20 years of the Cold War doing its major exercises at the brigade level, even when its doctrine was based on the division, is it a surprise that the field grade officers that actually write doctrine were far more used to brigade level operations?

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Jedi Knights and the Clone Wars

Upon successful completion of the Army’s Command and General Staff School, a small percentage of students are retained to attend the School of Advanced Military Studies, or SAMS. SAMS graduates are prized staff members of key commands, and form the intellectual backbone of those staffs. They are the subject matter experts on operational planning at the division, corps, and theater level of warfare. They are also informally known as “Jedi Knights.”

So what does a Jedi Knight think of the George Lucas’ Clone Wars?

Not only did the clone troopers literally wade slowly forward into battle without using any cover while firing their weapons from the hip, there was no sign whatsoever of any coordination among them. It was a vastly scaled up brawl of millions of individual fights rather than a cohesive battle. They continually inserted fresh troops directly into the middle of the battle rather than in a safe landing zone or better yet, to maneuver for the enemy flank. Even when Yoda or others give commands, they are directing individual weapons systems to fire on a particular target, not to establish the synergy of combined arms and maneuvering units. A special team of commandos linked up with Mace Windu and he led them on a charge directly into the center of the battle! Countless clone troopers marched into a the machine onslaught. Every droid they destroyed could be easily replaced on an assembly line at a comparable rate. The only attempt to break with attrition style warfare was led by Obi-Wan Kenobi by pursuing the escaping leaders, but again is attributable to the Jedi’s preferred individual role and not an attempt to guide the army.

Be sure to also see his take on the underlying flaws with the choice of the Jedi to lead the Clone Army and why the campaign was doomed to failure.



The Master Gunner

In the Army, particularly the combat arms, we expect people of all ranks, but especially NCOs, to be reasonably proficient with the full array of weapons at their disposal. For instance, while an infantry team leader may only be currently qualified on the M4 carbine, as his personal weapon, we expect him to be skilled enough to operate, and more importantly, train other to operate, the other weapons in the infantry fire team and rifle platoon, such as the M249 machine gun, the M203/320 grenade launchers, and the M240 machine gun.

But complex weapon systems such as the gun and fire control systems of the M1 tank, and the gun, missile and associated fire control systems on the M2/M3 family call for an expert not just on the simple operation of the weapons, but of the employment of them. Shooting the main gun is easy. Training a team or crew to effectively fight the vehicle in accordance with the established training methods is a lot more information than the Army can reasonably expect every NCO in a unit to possess.

Accordingly, as the linked article notes, back in the 80s, Armor started the Master Gunner program to provide each battalion (and ideally, each company) with a trained expert on maintenance, operation, and training for the M1 tank gunnery system. The program was a big success, building institutional knowledge both of the technical aspects of gunnery, but also the training aspects.  Units have a very limited amount of time and ammunition to qualify their crews, and having a Master Gunner to assist in ensuring as many crews are as qualified as possible with the fewest rounds needed was a big help to commanders.  The Master Gunner program quickly expanded from just Armor to mechanized infantry and cavalry as well.

Per Strategy Page:

The U.S. Army began its Master Gunner program in the late 1980s, as one of many post-Vietnam innovations and reforms. Army tank and mechanized infantry (equipped with M-2 Bradleys battalions) each had a “Master Gunner.” This was a senior NCO whose job was to continually improve the marksmanship training for cannon gunners (120mm guns in tanks and 25mm autocannon in M-2s). The Master Gunner conducted training courses, worked with those who had difficulty improving their skills, and sought out the best marksmen to become the next generation of Master Gunners.

Actually, while one had to be a competent marksman to be selected to attend Master Gunner School, one didn’t have to be the best marksman.  Far more important than being a good shot from a tank or Bradley was the ability to be a good instructor to other crews, and a good advisor to the commander. An NCO who shoots 90% and is a great teacher is a lot more valuable than one who shoots 100% and can’t pass on his expertise.

As the article notes, this success has lead to the Infantry instituting similar courses for other weapon systems. Back in the day, we didn’t have an M47 Dragon Master Gunner course, but we did have a fairly robust, if informal, system of identifying subject matter experts (SMEs) on the Dragon. The Dragon anti-tank missile was a “low density” weapon, in that very few people actually got to shoot them in peacetime. But it was also a very hands-on weapon system that took  a lot of finesse to operate well. And so the few folks that had fired more than one were in high demand to coach new gunners to an acceptable level of competence.

Today, other weapon systems that would need similar levels of expertise would include the Dragon’s replacement, the Javelin anti-tank missile. There are also a fair number of other systems in the infantry where it is a good idea to have an expert at hand to make sure training for the end user is up to snuff.

My only concern with the proliferation of such Master Gunner courses is that the NCOs in the trenches must still recognize that no matter how many Master Gunners, for however many weapons systems there are, it is still that the leader’s responsibility to ensure his troops are trained and qualified on the weapons assigned.  You can turn to an MG for help, but you can’t dump the responsibility for training in his lap.

Full disclosure, I flunked out of the Army’s Bradley Master Gunner course because I couldn’t draw a Surface Danger Area Diagram. I learned a lot on the course, but my inability to complete a nice, tidy diagram meant I got to go home without a diploma.  In the event, after leaving the school, my unit was scheduled for inactivation, and I never attended another Bradley gunnery.



Let me tell you why GEN McChrystal is wrong about bringing back a draft.

So, in the latest from Thomas Ricks at FP, we hear that retired General Stanley McChrystal thinks that the next time the US goes to war, it should enact a draft:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said this week that the United States should bring back the draft if it ever goes to war again.

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,” McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

I’ll stipulate that GEN McChrystal is smarter than me, and more of a warrior than I ever was. But in this instance, he’s just wrong.

The argument in favor of reinstituting a draft is the idea of “shared sacrifice” across the nation. There has been over the years a good deal of concern about a disconnect between the military and the society as a whole. And there is some validity to that concern I think. Only about 1% of the population is directly involved with the military.

But unless we as a nation are willing to vastly increase the size of our armed forces, changing the source of accessions to the services won’t affect any disconnect between the culture and the service.  And the plain fact of the matter is, we cannot greatly increase the size of our armed forces. The available pool of qualified military age manpower would allow some increase, but not as much as you’d think, without greatly changing the standards of service. And of course, unless we are willing to forego any qualitative edge in equipping our forces, we simply can’t afford to buy the equipment these new troops would need. Heck, over the years, the infrastructure of the services has sloughed off so much excess that we’d be hard pressed simply to house large new numbers of forces.

So increasing the size of the service is a non-starter. Given a relatively static size of military forces, what advantages would draftees bring to the services? While I have no doubt that much like their predecessors in other times of conscription, the vast majority of draftees would serve honorably, if reluctantly, I’m equally certain there would be a small but significant slice of the population that would adjust very poorly to the military life, and cause no end of disruption. And time spent dealing with problem children is time a commander isn’t spending on training his troops and securing the best possible quality of life for them.

As to getting every state and city to have skin in the game, that’s already the case. While there is a greater propensity in some geographic regions to enlist, that’s all it is, a propensity. It’s not like there are vast swaths of the country that have no accessions at all. And with regard to socio-economic status, the services right now are actually a fairly good reflection of the population as a whole. The average status of accessions, based on ZIP code and census data, shows that the source of manpower for the services is smack in the middle of the middle class.

Finally, if a draft is instituted, but the size of the forces is not vastly magnified, there will not be anything approaching universal military service. Accordingly, that means the draft would only induct a relative handful of the population pool. So how would the draft choose who gets picked? I guarantee you, no matter what methodology is employed, the politicians who design the system will include deferment and exclusion loopholes that could be exploited either to exempt their own families and friends, or for political gain for favored constituents.  Is that what we really want? Another lever of power over our lives in the hands of politicians or bureaucrats? You campaigned against a powerful local politician? Contributed to a campaign of an opponent? Surprise, your son just won the two-year lottery! Totally unrelated. Honest!

The age of military conscription was the age of the industrial revolution and massive conventional armies, where weight of combat power was the sole determinant of the victor in war. European nations could ill afford large standing armies, but could quickly mobilize vast forces for war. The essential strategy behind the conscript army of yesteryear was to field the largest possible army in the shortest possible time. Does anyone today think that strategy is valid? In an age where conventional war is constrained by the fear that the losing side will resort to nuclear weapons to avoid defeat, the former strategy of overwhelming an opponent is no longer viable.

Absent the need to field masses of troops, there is simply no valid justification for conscription, and any supposed social benefit from doing so would be greatly overshadowed by the harm done to the services as an institution, and by the corruption and graft that would almost certainly result.


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, history

Are you “Old Army?”

And in the spirit of the post and as a tribute to my generation of Americanische Soldaten…
You are an OLD Soldier if…
You know what GDP means and still remember where yours was and how long it took to occupy.*
You remember when we had tactical nukes and really planned to use them.*
You remember spending hours in MOPP4 and doing M256 kits.*
You remember when the M18 Claymore and M72 LAW were part of CTT.*
You remember when ARTEPs were 36 hours long and you had fun.*
You know what a Gamma Goat and Goer were and could fix an M151A2 to run off one prop shaft.*
You remember when the Israelis were bad-asses and we all wanted to be like them.*
You remember when Saddam Hussein was our loyal ally.
You remember when “Airland Battle” was a new concept, and everyone religiously read FM 100-5.*
You know what the ‘Cap Wineberger’ Doctrine was.
You remember when the M16 was a plastic carbine, and you hoped for an M14.*
You can remember going to the Club at Graf, drinking, and watching Margaret.*
You personally knew Margaret*.
You know the difference between the VRC-46, VRC-47, PRC-77 and VRC-160 and the requisite installation kits.*
You know what a CEOI is and you can encrypt grids*.
You remember when NTC was a new and cool concept.
You remember when it was real cool to go to SAMs or be an OC at NTC.
You remember when as a new LT/CPT you could go out and train your soldiers and not have an OC tell you how screwed up you were.*
You remember BN Cdrs and 1SG’s who were Vietnam Vets.*
You remember Bn Cdrs who drank, swore and mentored.*
You remember Bn Cdrs who were ruthless about tactics, but didn’t give a crap about admin BS.*
You remember when 2LTs and CPLs demanded respect from PFCs and got it.*
You can navigate at night without a GPS.*
You can remember OPDs about Clausewitz (aka dead Karl) which usually ended with beer drinking at the O’ club.
You can remember when “lane training” was a neat concept.*
You can remember when FM 25-101 was a new concept.*
You can remember when the defense budget was 7% of the GNP.*
You can remember when the “Main Battle Area was the only fight.
You can remember when every ones career track was 10 years in Germany.*
You remember when the Soviet Union was a major super power instead of being a basket case for the IMF.*
You could remember studying German concepts like “mission tactics”, and “commander’s intent” and it was cool.*
You could remember reading military history and going on staff rides because the Chief of Staff of the Army did it.*
You could become a Bn S3, Bn XO, Bn Cdr, or Bde Cdr without being Resident CGSC graduate.
You could remember BN and BDE Cdr’s who were proud of being “non-resident” CGSC guys.
You could receive a couple of “2-blocks” and it would not force you to look for employment on the outside.
You remember when privates bragged about the challenge they got in basic training, and how tough their drill sergeants were.*
You remember when “Sensitivity Training” was something your wife did.*
You remember when Values Cards meant credit cards.*
You remember when going to the Pentagon was not cool and did not help your career.
You remember when PowerPoint was what a Private did on butcher paper taped-up on a board with “hundred-mile-an-hour” tape.*
You remember when you could say hooah, because the Chief of Staff of the Army said it.*
You remember when women in combat were just a bad idea that would soon fade away.*
You remember when being “hardcore” was cherished.*
You remember that going to Ranger School was cool and not for career progression.*
You remember that more than one company command was what studs did.
You could remember that going to Korea was like going to the field for twelve straight months, and only the hard-core guys extended.
You could remember when you could maneuver anywhere you wanted in Korea and it was not a big deal.
You could remember when “maneuver damage” was paid lip-service.
You could remember when you could “Major” in ROTC.
You remember eating C-rations in the field.
You wore the “banana suit” to PT.
You wore the “pickle suit” to formation.
You remember taking the five-event APFT.
You remember when a PFC/SPC made presentations using a Leroy set instead of CPTs/MAJs using PowerPoint.
You remember when camouflage nets were made of cloth.
You remember when the Army’s vehicles ran on gas.*
You remember when cigarettes were in C-rations.
You remember how to report for pay and what a pay line was.*
You remember beer machines in the barracks/dayroom.
You remember when Clothing Sales was run by Army soldiers.
You remember when there used to be enlisted, NCO and Officer Clubs.*
You remember the Women’s Army Corps (WACs).
You remember when stripes were worn on the sleeve.
You remember when you ran PT in boots, white T-shirt and fatigue pants.
You remember when Jungle boots were green.*
You remember when Jump boots cost $16.50 a pair and you shined the whole boot instead of just the toe and heel.
You remember when cigarettes were $2.00 a carton.
You remember what an alert was.*
You remember when Sergeants ran the Army.*
You remember Disposition Forms (DF’s) instead of memorandums. (That would be DA Form 2496!)*
You remember when a one line correction on a document was sufficient, instead of correcting it on a word processor and running off 20 copies.*
You were allowed to wear foreign jump wings or a RECONDO badge on your fatigues.*
Only elite forces wore a beret*.
You carried a .45 cal pistol instead of a 9mm.*
You could shave, bathe and cook out of your helmet.*
You remember when 5 tons ran on gasoline.
You remember when F-4 Phantoms mock attacked your convoys.
You remember wearing duty uniforms that weren’t camo.
You remember painting Dragons on your 2 1/2 ton to keep the Korean slicky boys away.
You remember when Agent Orange was just a weed killer.
You carried a twenty round magazine.
You drove a 113 on more than one REFORGER.*
You are a life member of the division association.*
You remember how to set up a footlocker and wall locker display.* (Well, wall locker, not footlocker-XBrad)
You remember using coke cans to neatly roll your T-shirts and boxer shorts for your footlocker display.
You remember the only space you had in your footlocker for personal items had to fit in a space the size of a cigar box.
You remember needing a pass to leave post.
You remember getting stopped by the MP’s to check your pass.
You know what bed check is.
You know what fire watch is.
You remember being on KP in garrison.
You remember Saturday was for inspections and Monday thru Friday was for training.
You remember when an Article-15 did not end your career and all good enlisted men had at least three which were removed from your 201 file upon transfer.*
You know what Blood Stripes are.*
You remember not being thrown out of the army for fighting downtown.*
You remember when people went to prison for desertion.*
You know what a T-10 parachute is.
You remember being dragged to safety by an overweight medic.
You remember when every Post had a Stockade and used them.*
You remember being detailed to guard a work detail from the Post Stockade with a loaded shotgun.*
You remember pulling guard duty with a loaded weapon.*
You remember what the “Colonel’s Orderly” was.*
You remember being issued handkerchiefs and using them.*
You remember having a shaving stick and why you had it and not a can of shaving crème.
You know what an M-79 is.*
You know what a “Mule” is (not the four-legged type).
You remember when you didn’t have to be “somebody” to be buried in Arlington.*
You remember draftees.* (I worked for a few former ones-X)
You remember your serial number and know what the RA or US in front of a serial number means.
You remember when food was not allowed in the barracks.
You remember the back cover of Soldiers Magazine was a Playboy Bunny or someone’s girlfriend.
You remember “Turret Talk” wasn’t a friendly conversation.
You remember Connie Rod had big boobs.*
You were allowed two beers for lunch.
There were beer machines in your barracks.
You knew the difference between a “Radborro” and a “Marlborro”*
You remember The “Wall” wasn’t a movie about Nuremburg.*
You remember strippers were in the NCO clubs in Germany.*
Your Bde Cdr told stories of how he jumped into France on D-Day.
You remember the “Polish National Guard” in the training areas.
You remember Twenty Mark Strasse in K-town.*
You remember a Pig wasn’t your buddy’s girlfriend, but a weapon.*
You remember Beef and Boulders came in a can that was hell to eat cold.
You traded your 4-pack of cigarettes from your C-rats for a beer.
You didn’t stay very long in places called Leesville, Nolensville or Radcliff.
The company’s copier was carbon paper between two sheets of paper in the typewriter.*
You remember tankers jackets.
You remember John Wayne bars.
You remember what LSMFT stands for.
You remember doing a barracks search in Germany and finding a 35 mm camera film container with hash or marijuana in it.*
You remember 50% high school grad enlistees.
You remember SADMs and MADMs.*
You remember unannounced IG inspections.* (Not fun-X)
You remember a ‘C ration’ breakfast of melted cheese over scrambled eggs.
You remember Motor SGTs who could jerry rig anything to run.
You remember riding in the front seat of an M151 with no canvas and windshield down in a snow storm
You remember Khakis.*(Barely-they went away while I was in BCT-X)
You remember gas generator powered pop up targets in holes you dug.*
You remember “Grease Guns”.*
You remember “Coal Bin Willie” ordering all the 82nd Airborne Division coal bins to be whitewashed. (That’s right: coal bins.)
You remember when the American flag flew proudly over the Panama Canal Zone*
You can call old friends at 0344 and announce “Lariat Advance.”*
You can tell the story about accidentally entering the 1K zone with a full combat load during a sector alert.*
You know that a “Stovepipe” was the 90 MM Recoilless Rifles that you lugged everyday, but only got to live fire it twice a year.
You know where you could find the John Wayne bars in the B-1, B-2 or B-3 units.
You found out the hard way, that a mess kit could collect more water then food if you did not keep it under your poncho.
Everyone donated money to the Platoon Sgt when someone parents died.*
The mess sergeant would give groceries to the young Private and his wife who just got into country.
Seeing someone with an ARCOM was a rarity.
Your ARCOMs was signed by a four star general.
You remember looking for a spoon buddy with the other Shelter Half.*
You owned a P38 and wore one on your dog tag chains.*
You’ve eaten the OD Green paint shavings of a C-rat can.
You remember the SQT.*
You remember military hospitals made of wood at major installations (Ft Polk, Ft Gordon, etc).*
You remember getting promotion points for time in service and time in grade.*
You remember “Bird Sergeants” with the ranks Spec 5 and 6 & 7* (Again, barely- went away about 2 weeks after I joined-X)
You remember when the Stars and Stripes was not just a Newspaper, but also a book store.*
You remember organization days with beer.*
You used brasso and kiwi daily.*
You broke starch.*
You dressed up to go to the Club for dinner.
You remember shaving your AWOL and then escorting the dumbass to become a CCF Ranger.*
You remember “Night Acquisitions” from the PDO yard.*
Challenge coins got you a beer or cost you one.*
Caps had Ranger eyes.*
Starched fatigues rubbed your nipples raw on long runs.
You know what a “Supernumerary” is, and tried hard to get it*.
You sang cadence about the temperature of a certain part of the anatomy of a female Eskimo.*
You could change filters in your M17 mask in under a minute.*
You know what signing a Statement of Charges means, and you signed a few in your day.*
Your Sergeant put a pencil under your boot heels to see if your boots were still “serviceable”.*
You know what it’s like to ride in the back of a 2 1/2 Ton when it’s 13 degrees below zero.*
You know you got troubles when there is an alert and you are stationed in Seoul with no weapon.

I’m good to go on quite a few of these, but by no means all.

(Stolen from The Castle)

I’m scored a “GO” on those marked with an asterisk. How did YOU stack up?



Mission Command

We’ve touched a couple times in the Army’s latest capstone doctrine publication, ADP 3.0.  Mostly we’ve discussed the Army’s vision of a future hybrid battlefield that simultaneously encompasses high intensity force on force mechanized warfare, security operations in the vein of COIN, and stability operations providing assistance to host nation security forces and civic institutions.

The other half of ADP 3.0 describes HOW the Army intends to cope with that difficult environment- Mission Orders.

Mission Orders aren’t a new concept to the Army. They’ve been the doctrinal standard since long before I joined up back in the 80s. Basically, Mission Orders is the concept of telling a subordinate what to do and why, without telling him how to do it.  For instance, a battalion commander may assign one of his subordinate companies the mission to seize a hilltop to deny the enemy the chance to attack the main body of the battalion as it passes through a valley. Other than broad constraints as to timing and boundaries, the exact scheme of maneuver and plan of attack are up to the subordinate company commander.

To be honest, to a goodly extent, the concept of mission orders has also been honored more in the breach, especially in this age of high bandwidth for information. It’s extremely tempting for a commander to use that bandwidth to micromanage. That’s hardly a new problem. How many times have we read about company commanders on the ground in Vietnam being directed by the battalion commander overhead in a Huey? But as the Chairman of the JCS notes in his guidance below, the illusion of perfect clarity is just that, an illusion. Further, in a perfect world, that same battalion commander would be focusing his energies on achieving the mission his higher commander has assigned him, and endeavoring to “see the battlefield,” synchronize all his units, ensure the whole of his available combat power is being utilized,  and begin to envision the next phase of operations.

The Chairman, under the rubric of Joint Force 2020, which is the current template under which the JCS sees operations conducted in the near term future, talks in more depth about what Mission Orders are, and how to implement them across the force. I’ll say this, it’s an easy sale to the Army and the Marines, for whom this type of operating environment has long been the norm, even if imperfectly implemented. The Navy and especially the Air Force seem to have a fascination with centralized control. In the Navy’s case, that centralized control is at a fairly low level.

But the Air Force,  having some valid reasons for their centralization, is loathe to embrace the concept of allowing subordinates a whole lot of latitude. In a theater of operations, all Air Force missions are controlled by the Air Tasking Order, which is centrally planned every 24 hours  by the Air Component Commander of a theater command (typically a two or three star Air Force General). I’m not even sure it’s technically possible to break that paradigm. On the other hand, that central level of control allows the Air Force to shift emphasis from one area to another very rapidly (well, in 24 to 48 hours in a theater wide sense). For instance, in Desert Storm, when the issue of Iraqi Scuds raining down on Saudi Arabia and Israel became troublesome, the Air Force was able to mount a large number of sorties dedicated to the Great Scud Hunt (the effectiveness of that was another matter, but the point is, they reacted quickly).

Lastly, I want to examine the concept of a commander’s intent briefly. In popular culture, it’s routinely portrayed that soldiers in the Army are treated as automatons that cannot question their orders. And at certain levels, that’s somewhat true. In the squad and platoon level, in the middle of a firefight, there’s not a whole lot of spare time to devote to the philosophical questions about combat drills. But before leaving the wire, it’s expected that soldiers question orders. Not as skeptics or cynics, but to ensure they know what it is they’re striving to achieve. And a commander has an obligation to pass on his intent in the clearest possible matter. Like I said above, the commander has to tell you clearly what it is he wants you to do, and more importantly, why he needs that done.  In my hypothetical above about a company commander seizing a hilltop, let’s suppose he attacks that hilltop, and finds it unoccupied by the enemy. Technically, he’s achieved his mission. But if he notices that the enemy is on the next hilltop over, and in a position to attack the battalion in he flank, he certainly hasn’t achieved his commander’s intent, now has he? If both levels of leadership have properly embraced the philosophy of Mission Order, our intrepid company commander will at a minimum alert his superior, and ideally he would  mount a hasty attack against that second hilltop, to free up the valley for the battalion movement. That latitude to exercise the initiative to fulfill the commander’s intent is at the heart of the Mission Order concept.



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Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, history

Should the Military Enlist Deaf Soldiers?

Keith Nolan, presenting at a TED conference event, makes a strong case for it.

(video under the fold because of autoplay issues)

Continue reading


Filed under ARMY TRAINING, recruiting

Wolfhound Warrior

A repost from the past. Roamy alerted me that today is the 61st anniversary of the battle that earned COL Millett the Medal of Honor. Just one of several Wolfhounds over the years have earned.


I just found out a bit of sad news (from Neptunus Lex of all places).

COL (USA, Ret) Lewis L. Millet, Medal of Honor, passed on November 14th, 2009.  COL Millet, as a Captain, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on February 7, 1951 in Korea:

Capt. Millett, Company E, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. While personally leading his company in an attack against a strongly held position he noted that the 1st Platoon was pinned down by small-arms, automatic, and antitank fire. Capt. Millett ordered the 3d Platoon forward, placed himself at the head of the 2 platoons, and, with fixed bayonet, led the assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge Capt. Millett bayoneted 2 enemy soldiers and boldly continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement. Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill. His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder. During this fierce onslaught Capt. Millett was wounded by grenade fragments but refused evacuation until the objective was taken and firmly secured. The superb leadership, conspicuous courage, and consummate devotion to duty demonstrated by Capt. Millett were directly responsible for the successful accomplishment of a hazardous mission and reflect the highest credit on himself and the heroic traditions of the military service.

While I was stationed in Hawaii, I was privileged to be assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th US Infantry, The Wolfhounds.  The Wolfhounds are a very proud unit, considering they have a relatively short history. The regiment was only formed in 1902, but quickly acquired a reputation as a “can-do” unit. In addition to service in Siberia immediately after the Russian Revolution, the Wolfhounds, as part of the 25th Division, served with great distinction during WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and now in Iraq.

Many units in the Army pay lip service to their heritage. The Wolfhounds live it. One program we had was making sure there was a real connection from the past to the present. Several times while I was in Hawaii, we hosted COL Millet to unit functions.  There were some semi-formal events, dinners and such. But the real benefit was having “Lew” come out and just spend time with us as we went about our training. We tend to elevate our heroes up onto a pedestal. But by meeting and talking with Lew Millet, many young troops had chance to meet a real hero, and see that he was human. Each of us could, if not guarantee that we would perform to his level of valor and gallantry, at least aspire to it.

Rest in peace, COL Millet.


Filed under army, ARMY TRAINING, guns, history, infantry, iraq, Personal, war