Tag Archives: army

The Brigade Cavalry Squadron



Long ago, in the mists of time, back before the Army reorganized around the Brigade Combat Team concept, the Army was organized primarily around the Division as the primary tactical unit of deployment and employment. Each division had 9 or 10 maneuver battalions (either Infantry or Armor) organized into three Brigades.

Each Infantry or Armor battalion had a Scout Platoon, designed to provide reconnaissance, or what today would be called RSTA, for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition.

The Division also had a Cavalry Squadron, essentially an RSTA battalion, with two ground troops and two aviation troops.

Most of the Army division was organized along a fairly triangular scheme, with headquarters at each level controlling three maneuver units, and appropriate supporting elements. One glaring omission in this bygone era was the gap between battalion and division. The Brigades had no organic RSTA assets. You would expect to see a company/troop sized RSTA element at the Brigade level. Instead, there was none. The Division Commander might task his Cav squadron to focus support to one or two of the three Brigades, but usually he needed it to focus on his own RSTA priorities.

So when the Army reorganized and shifted the focus from the Division to the Brigade Combat Team (BCT), one thing they did was assign a very robust RSTA capability. Each maneuver battalion would keep its organic Scout Platoon, and the BCT would have an entire RSTA squadron (or battalion sized element, if you will).

Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan called for increasing the numbers of BCTs in the Army. And while there was some increase in the allowed end-strength of the Army, it wasn’t nearly enough to provide the manpower for all the new BCTs.

So the Army cheated. It would stand up new BCTs, each with, among other things, their own RSTA battalion (which carried the unit designations of various historical Cavalry Squadrons). But instead of each BCT having three regular maneuver battalions, they would only have two. So the prime maneuver combat power of the BCT was reduced by a third. What wasn’t reduced was the missions these BCTs were required to perform. And so, as Tripp Callaway tells us in his article, the Cavalry RSTAs in Iraq and Afghanistan were often pressed into duty as a third maneuver battalion.

This meant that, in effect, most RSTAs were usually utilized as miniature infantry battalions and were thus given corresponding direct combat and COIN tasks to perform, rather than the traditional reconnaissance and flank security tasks they were designed to accomplish.

In the COIN warfare of the War on Terror, that was an acceptable choice.

But should the Army find itself in battle with a more conventional foe, it is imperative that the RSTA should be used in its designed, traditional role.

The Army has a relatively small number of BCTs. And those BCTs are actually fairly fragile, though they have a great deal of combat power. The trick is finding exactly where and when to apply that power, and denying any enemy the opportunity to apply his combat power against us. Finding the enemy, his order of battle, his dispositions and his intentions  while denying the enemy information about our forces and dispositions is the traditional Cavalry mission.

But what about UAVs, you ask? As Callaway notes, in any conflict against a more conventional foe, UAVs will be vulnerable, both to direct measures like Air Defense, and to jamming or cyber attacks such as network intrusions. And for true, persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, there’s no substituting the man on the ground. UAVs complement, not replace, a traditional approach to ISR.

As Callaway makes the central thesis of his piece, the use of RSTA units as conventional units has meant that their traditional Cavalry skills have atrophied. Just as bad, the “end user” of their product has also forgotten how to ask for or use their “product.”

Our austere budget environment has lead to a drawdown of the number of BCTs the Army will have. But it is not all darkness. One effect of the drawdown is that the remaining BCTs will receive a third maneuver battalion. This will (hopefully) free up the RSTA to return to their traditional role.

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Some Pushback on that Lind article… and some agreement too.

URR posted about an article by William Lind. Lots of people immediately panned the article (and by my lights, rightly so), mostly about the intellectual incuriosity of junior officers.

CDR Salamander, of course, took a poke at the article. But he also gives credit where due on some parts of Lind’s piece. For my money, the biggest structural problem in the officer corps is the stupendously bloated staff sizes. Your mileage may vary.

As with so many posts at CDR Sal’s, the real fun is in the comments. That’s your reading assignment for today.


Filed under navy

SGT Kyle J. White to be awarded the Medal of Honor

On May 13, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Kyle J. White, a former active duty Army Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Sergeant White will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on November 9, 2007.

Sergeant White will be the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.


Former Sergeant Kyle J. White separated from the Army on July 8, 2011. He currently lives in Charlotte, NC, where he works as an Investment Analyst.

Sergeant White enlisted in the Army in February 2006 as an Infantryman. After completion of training at Ft Benning, he was assigned to Vicenza, Italy, with 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry “The Rock” as a grenadier and rifleman which included a combat tour to Afghanistan from May 2007 until August 2008. Following Italy, Kyle was assigned as an opposing forces Sergeant with the Ranger Training Battalion at Ft Benning.

Sergeant White deployed in support of the War on Terror with one tour to Afghanistan.

At the time of the November 9, 2007 combat engagement, then-Specialist White was a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. His heroic actions were performed during a dismounted movement in mountainous terrain in Aranas, Afghanistan.

White’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral “2” device, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Parachutists Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Valorous Unit Award.

via President Obama to Award Medal of Honor | The White House.

From the Times-Herald:


The battle for which White is being honored was a textbook ambush by an enemy that vastly outnumbered the Americans and their Afghan comrades. Between firing his rifle, scrambling to retrieve wounded comrades and having his thoughts scrambled by two close explosions, White told commanders what was happening, according to an Army account.

“All of Afghanistan was listening to his call sign, Charlie One Six Romeo,” says Col. William Ostlund, then-commander of the battalion in which White served as a specialist.

“So when his platoon leader was killed, Charlie One Six Romeo was instrumental in controlling every single thing, from the fixed-wing bombers to the helicopter attack to the indirect (mortar and artillery) fire to treating casualties,” Ostlund says.

Fourteen Americans and a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers were attacked while strung out single file along a narrow trail devoid of cover. Scores of Taliban fighters crouched on the opposite side of the valley or were concealed ahead down the trail or on the ridge above. They opened fire at 3:30 p.m. as the setting sun was in the soldiers’ eyes. Many of the attackers were in shadows, all but invisible to the Americans.

The Taliban even videoed the action so they could turn it into a propaganda film. But the battle all but escaped notice in American media.



S-300 SAMS to Crimea

Interesting. I see all the radar masts, vans, and TELs, but no rounds. Wonder how they’re being transported?

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Prior to World War II, the Army and Navy were relatively small services, and the percentages of married troops and sailors was quite small. But in the wake of World War II, and with the beginning of the Cold War, for the first time, America had a large standing Army and Navy. And the numbers of married soldiers and sailors, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the force, swelled. For the first time, housing for family members became a real issue for the force. Previously, posts had only a handful of quarters available on post for families. The rest were expected to find rental quarters off post. But the huge numbers of families overwhelmed available housing outside the gate of most posts.

In response, Congress first passed the Wherry housing program. Contractors would build quarters and lease them to the military for 40 years. But the program was considered a failure due to a lack of standard designs, cramped quarters, and poor quality control.

The next initiative was more successful. Named after its sponsor in the senate, Homer Capehart (R-IN), a series of standardized housing designs were produced. With Capehart housing, private contractors would build to the design provided by the government, and the government would retain ownership of the quarters, and provide, either through Public Works or contractor support, all maintenance and infrastructure support. In effect, the post commander would be the landlord. Before a post could receive funding for Capehart housing, the service had to assure the Congress that the installation was a permanent one, and would not be closed in the foreseeable future.

Between 1955 and 1964, nearly a quarter million Capehart housing units were built nationwide.

And if Capehart housing isn’t terribly attractive, it has been long lived.  Most installations that had Capehart housing still use it. Over the last 60 years, surely millions upon millions have called these cookie cutter houses home. Indeed, I spent five years in them.


Filed under armor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Afghanistan

Daily Dose of Splodey-Excalibur Edition

As a rule of thumb, I’ve always thought of the max range of 155mm artillery as 30,000m. Please note they’re shooting Excaliburs out to over 50,000m. And there’s room for growth there in terms of range.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Afghanistan, Air Force, ARMY TRAINING

Pointing out bias, adulation and stupidity on the part of the press is one of the easier tasks before a blogger. It’s easy because people like Murray keep saying stupid things.

On a more positive note, the only sustained, genuine applause last night was in recognition of SFC Remsburg.



by | January 29, 2014 · 8:48 am

Army Modernization Woes, The Big Five, and AirLand Battle Doctrine

Much of the Army’s critical combat systems are quite old. And Army plans for modernization have resulted in a series of bloated programs that have subsequently collapsed under their own bureaucratic weight.

But in the eight months since the equipment plan was released, so many of its programs have been called into question that a casual observer might easily conclude Army modernization is collapsing.  A new armored troop carrier that the Army Chief of Staff said “we have to have” as recently as last summer is effectively dead.  Both parts of a plan to upgrade armed scout helicopters already in the force while developing a more agile successor look doomed.  The service has begun to back away from elements of a new battlefield communications network previously described as its top modernization priority.

And that’s just what has happened in the last several months.  Since the Obama years began, the Army has dropped plans for a new family of networked combat vehicles, canceled both of its next-generation air defense systems, killed a key development effort in its artillery portfolio and starved its armored-vehicle industrial base to a point where both of the plants still assembling such vehicles look headed for shutdown later in this decade.  The other military services are trimming modernization plans too, but the Army has the worst record of bringing new programs to fruition.  Although its weapon budget is less than half the size of the Air Force’s or the Navy’s, it manages to waste more money through cancellations and restructures.

Thompson cites a couple issues the greatly influenced challenges to Army modernization. As noted, the end of the Cold War led to a procurement holiday. To be sure, some small programs went forward, but few major systems were slated for replacement. The success of the force structure and major systems in Desert Storm further argued against large sums being spent on replacing tanks and other combat vehicles. Indeed, the only major vehicle program to go forward was the decidedly unsexy Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles to replace existing 2-1/2 ton and 5 ton trucks.

The logistical challenges of moving large numbers of heavy forces to Desert Storm, combined with the profusion of networking capabilities led the Army to look to lighter, easier to deploy forces that could use information and agility to compensate for weight of metal. The (overly) ambitious Future Combat System family of vehicles and systems was to be the fruit of this plan, with the Stryker family of vehicles as the interim substitute.

The shift to Counter Insurgency (COIN) in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and operations in Afghanistan also prompted the procurement of massive numbers of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) on an (expensive) emergency basis, after the vulnerabilities of Humvees to large Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and Explosively Forged Penetrators (EFPs). Money spent on MRAPs was money not available for normal procurement program development.

Indeed, the effects of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly made the thought of lighter, more rapidly deployable vehicles far less appealing. Any lighter vehicle is more vulnerable to IEDs, mines and other low cost anti-armor systems. This had led the Army to go from looking at a 40 ton replacement for the Bradley carrying a nine-man squad, to a conceptual 70 ton behemoth infantry vehicle that carries as few at 5 or 6 infantrymen.

The repeated flailing in Army combat system procurement means that for at least the next decade, we’ll soldier on with the legacy systems of the Cold War, popularly known at the time as the Big Five.

In the immediate post-Vietnam War era, the Army faced a modernization challenge that makes our current problems look trifling. Given the austere fiscal environment, and the lack of popular public support for military spending meant that for any program to succeed, it would have to be tightly managed.

Senior leadership in the Army, with support from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and eventually the Reagan administrations, came up with a plan to focus on five procurement programs:

  1. The M1 Abrams tank
  2. The M2/M3 Bradley Infantry/Cavalry vehicle
  3. The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter
  4. The UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter
  5. The MIM-104 Patriot surface to air missile system.

All five programs, in spite of being heavily criticized during development and fielding, were successful, and serve still as the backbone of the Army’s combat systems.  Why?

With the end of the war in Vietnam, the Army faced a Soviet Union that was increasingly aggressive and the specter of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe loomed large.

That well defined threat actually gave the Army the chance to revisit its doctrine. There was simply no possibility the Army could grow to the sized needed to counter the Soviet force with conventional doctrine, nor with existing weapon systems.  The Army’s doctrinal evolution, through Active Defense into AirLand Battle, while describing the shared view of the nature of warfare universally, was tailored closely to the environment the Army faced in NATO.

That same focus allowed the Army to closely define what they wanted from the Big Five. The requirements for each program could be optimized for Western Europe, in terms of performance, and the infrastructure and logistics anticipated to be available.

That ability to focus on the largest, most capable threat, and accept less than optimal suitability for less threatening theaters. That meant the program manager could suppress calls for features on each platform that were in the “nice but not really needed” category. Keeping down the bloat of added features speeded development and kept costs down, both for development and unit costs. The programs were all built with plenty of room for growth, so those “nice” features could be added as budgets allowed.

That we never had to fight the Soviets in Western Europe didn’t mean our doctrine and procurement was flawed. As seen, both the equipment of the Big Five and the doctrine of AirLand Battle was adaptable enough to serve in Desert Storm, and serve as the kernel of further doctrine as the security environment changed.

Today, Army planners are faced with a world where we really don’t know where our next fight will be. That leads to arguments over what features are most critical in any procurement. Given the American propensity for being very bad at predicting their next fight, planners should think hard about a worst case scenario, and focus on that.

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The Jackstaff

I’m caring for my sister, who is recovering from an operation. So, it’s not that I don’t have stuff to write. I actually don’t have time to write.

Over/under on how long before I smother her will a pillow?


From the comments in the post on SWOGUN.

E:  I believe our humble host was on a certain ship one day when said certain ship hit a certain building, and it was definitely not in simulations. My only question is: was he on the bridge or in the engine room????


X:I was on the hatch cover on the main deck. If you recall, I was struck in the foot when the jackstaff snapped off and flew back toward us.


URR:Okay humble host. Out with it. Tell the story!!!


You may recall this post where we discussed the 65’ Army T-Boat, and my adventures aboard her as part of the Sea Explorers.


When Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was established in 1942, in addition to a conventional airfield with runways, a short distance south an air station for seaplanes was also established. Known colloquially as The Seaplane Base, it now serves mostly for base housing and the base exchange and commissary. But it originally had a huge tarmac, boat ramps for seaplanes to enter and exist the waters of Crescent Harbor, and hangars for maintenance.

In addition to strictly aviation facilities, a large number of small craft were required to support the seaplanes. And accordingly, a marina was build on the Seaplane Base to house and support them. After the Navy ceased seaplane operations, the marina was opened to use by rental small boats available from Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), and slips leased to various private boats of service members and retirees in the area. In addition, spaces were made available for the Sea Scouts, and a slip in which to moor our ship.


On the far right hand side of the marina, there was a very small slip, awkward and barely large enough for our vessel.

With only a single screw, and with significant sail area forward, the SES Whidby required a deft hand at the throttle and wheel to maneuver in tight spaces. And normally, our Skipper, Roger, had just that hand.

I’m a little fuzzy on the specifics of just when the incident occurred. Mushdogs or Esli may be able to recall.  If memory serves, we were returning from a long weekend competition with other Sea Scout boats, a regatta. Not an actual regatta in terms of racing, but with various nautical tasks and events, such as marlinspike seamanship, close order drill, signaling, navigation skills, and such.

And so it was upon our return, we were faced with poor weather, and unusually high tide, and a wind setting us toward the slip (and the overhanging office attached thereto). Ordinarily, the technique would be to get the bow fairly close to the floating dock and put a man over. A spring line would then be tied off to allow the ship to leverage herself in under power.

But this time, the combined wind and high tide meant Roger gooned it. The jackstaff, a small flag pole on the very stem of the ship, was normally low enough to clear under the overhand. But the high tide today meant the jackstaff actually struck the overhang, bent back as far as its tensile strength would allow, and then snapped.

If memory serves, I was serving as the ship’s Bo’sun at the time, and was supervising the linehandlers. As such, I was standing on the hatchcover just forward of the bridge. And said jackstaff came aft at a goodly velocity. And struck me in my foot. Fortunately, while painful, no real harm was done, to me at least. Some clapboard  siding of the building was cracked. And of course, the jackstaff would need to be repaired.

In fact, if you look very closely at the picture above, just forward of the anchor davit, you’ll spot the repaired jackstaff. And you’ll note it is still very slightly bent aft.

Eventually the old marina was torn down, and replaced with a modern marina for private craft.



Filed under history, Personal

Toxic Leadership-The Army begins to police its own

NPR (!) actually has an interesting piece on the Army’s recent attempts to identify and purge toxic leaders.

Whenever a soldier committed suicide, Bayer says, a team of Army investigators would essentially ask the same questions: What was wrong with the individual soldier? Did he or she have a troubled childhood or mental health problems? Did the soldier just break up with a partner or spouse? Was he or she in debt? The answer was often “yes.” But Bayer says he felt part of the puzzle was missing.

“ And I just had, like, feelings, like, that nothing’s ever going to change. I’m going to get [expletive] every day, and I just don’t want this anymore. And I just felt like I wanted to kill myself.

“We decided we were going to take a look at it from a different angle,” he says.

So Matsuda looked at the cases of eight soldiers who had recently killed themselves and interviewed friends of the victims.

“I crisscrossed Iraq and interviewed 50 soldiers,” Matusda recalls.

A more complicated story began to emerge, he says. In addition to major problems in their personal lives, the victims also had a leader who made their lives hell — sometimes a couple of leaders — Matsuda says. The officers would “smoke” them, as soldiers call it.

“Oftentimes platoon leaders will take turns seeing who can smoke this guy the worst. Seeing who can dream up the worst torture, seeing who can dream up the worst duties, seeing who can make this guy’s life the most miserable,” says Matusda.

He says the evidence did not show that the soldiers’ leaders caused them to commit suicide. But the soldiers’ friends said leaders had helped push them over the brink.

“When you’re ridden mercilessly, there’s just no letup, a lot of folks begin to fold,” Matsuda says. He submitted a report stating: “[S]uicidal behavior can be triggered by … toxic command climate.”

The Army isn’t all fun and games. It’s a deadly serious business, and often leaders have to tell people to do things they don’t want to. In an tour, you are almost certain to find yourself working for or with someone with whom you don’t particularly like.

But toxic leadership isn’t just someone you don’t enjoy spending time with. As the article notes, toxic leaders damage their units morale (and that is essentially the unit itself) and do two further wrongs. First, they drive excellent soldiers and leaders to flee from the service. Second, they wrongly teach junior leaders (those that don’t flee) that such a toxic method is acceptable, and even expected. It’s not. It’s a stupid, often criminal, misuse of the precious human talent that the nation has made available.

This confidential subordinate review system won’t be a panacea. What’s troubling is that such a review would be necessary. Every toxic leader has a senior. And that senior leader has a responsibility to know just what the climate is like in his sub-units.

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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

Not quite up to CGSC standards- But not bad, either.

We wrote a while back about the standard format 5-paragraph operations order used to plan operations throughout the Army, from the squad level to the highest echelons.

Craig, our resident expert on the American Civil War thought we (and you) might be interested in a look at what a written field order looked like in that war. As he notes, it’s not in today’s format, but still hits all the high points.

Charleston, S.C., December 17, 1863.
I. Lieut. Col. Del. Kemper will take command of and organize an
expedition for the destruction of the U.S. steamers Pawnee and
Marblehead in the Stono River, near Legateville, to which end
First. Brigadier-General Wise will place at his disposition at least
500 infantry, under competent field officers junior to
Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper, as well as one company of his reserve
cavalry from Adams Run, and the following batteries:
1. Schulz’s battery as temporarily organized.
2. Charles’ battery.
3. One section (two 12-pounder Napoleon guns) of Marion Artillery,
Captain Smith’s company of siege train (four 8-inch howitzers), and
Captain Webb’s company, siege train (two 30-pounder Parrotts), will
also report to Lieutenant-Colonel Kemper forthwith at Church Flats,
with one week’s rations and forage.
Second. General Wise will also direct Major Jenkins with his command
to report to Colonel Kemper, temporarily, at or about Legareville, to
be employed to the best advantage in guarding the approaches to his
position near that point.
II. The verbal instructions already given by the commanding general
must be carried out with the utmost secrecy and with dispatch.
III. The labor of throwing up the three batteries near Legareville
will be executed by the troops at night only where exposed to view,
care being taken to conceal the work done, with bushes, from
observation of the enemy during the day.
IV. Special precaution will be observed not to expose the troops to
the view of the enemy’s lookouts while marching toward Legareville or
to and from their work.
V. The three batteries thrown up for this operation will be armed each
with four pieces, as follows, to wit:
1. Upper Battery: One section of Marion Artillery, one 8-inch siege
howitzer, and one rifled gun of Schulz’s battery.
2. Middle Battery: Two 30-pounder Parrott guns and two 8-inch
howitzers of siege train.
3. Lower Battery: Three 10-pounder Parrotts (Schulz’s battery) and one
8-inch siege howitzer.
VI. The guns of these batteries will be placed in position at night,
and must open at daylight Christmas morning, if practicable, and will
endeavor to destroy or capture the two steamers in the Stono.
VII. The reserve infantry with Charles’ battery will be stationed
behind the hedge running across the peninsula of Legareville, and will
open fire upon that place simultaneously with the batteries, and, if
possible, must capture the enemy’s force stationed there, after which,
will burn what is left of that village.
VIII. After the accomplishment of these objects, as far as
practicable, the troops under Colonel Kemper will return,
respectively, to their present position.
IX. A sufficient number of ambulances will accompany the expedition.
X. Chiefs of staff, corps, or departments, will give all necessary aid
required for the prompt execution of these important orders.
By command of General Beauregard:
Chief of Staff.


Filed under history

The SL-1 Reactor Accident

This is a pretty narrow-cast post. I figure frequent commenter Jeff Gauch and one or two other nucs read the blog, and might find it of interest.

In the late 1950s, the Army was looking to small nuclear reactors to provide power to certain remote locations, such as DEW Line sights, where resupply of fuel for conventional generators was problematical at best.

And so the Atomic Energy Commission commissioned the design and construction of a prototype small powerplant know as the Argonne Low Power Reactor. Later known as the SL-1, the reactor was built in Idaho, and training of Army personnel to operate it began under the supervision of the operating contractor, Combustion Engineering.

On January 3rd, 1961, the reactor was shut down for routine maintenance. Three Army personnel were conducting that maintenance. An error in manually withdrawing one of the control blades too far allowed a “prompt critical” incident. For us non-nucs, basically a the reactor not only achieved a criticality, it reacted at a far, far greater rate than normal power generation. Not an explosion, per se, but the criticality formed a steam bubble instantly inside the pressure vessel. The steam formed so rapidly that rather than rising to the top of the vessel, it instead pushed the cold water above it up like a slug, displacing the vessel itself, and blasting the control rod mechanisms free from their fittings at the top of the vessel. Two of the three Army personnel were killed instantly. The third was found alive by first responders, but died during transport to medical facilities.

The reactor pressure vessel was breached, and considerable nuclear materiel and other radioactive contamination was released into the reactor building, with small amounts released to the outside environment. It would take eighteen months to dismantle the reactor building, decontaminate the site, and determine the cause of the accident.

This was the first, and to date, worst, reactor accident in US history.

Jeff and the other nucs have almost certainly heard of the incident. They may appreciate this AEC report on it.

The latter parts of the film show the actual reactor, fuel plates and control blades and associated fittings.



The Medals of Honor on Letterman

I gave up watching Letterman pretty much about the time I gave up keggers in college. So I guess I missed these two (separate) interviews Dave did with Medal of Honor recipients SSG Ty Carter and SSG Clinton Romesha.


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Filed under army


The “3 M’s” of morale  every commander needs to pay close attention to are:

  1. Mail
  2. Money
  3. Meals

Especially during Thanksgiving, a good hot meal is the least a commander can provide to his troops.

Imagine yourself stationed at a platoon or company sized outpost in the hinterlands of Afghanistan. In my era, most of my meals would have been MREs, with maybe one hot meal delivered in Mermite cans daily from the battalion trains in the Brigade Support Area.

But the Army in the past decade, with Brigade Combat Teams covering enormous geographical regions, centralized cooking simply isn’t practical. And for many outposts, the delivery options are either a risky ground convoy, or an expensive aerial resupply by helicopter. So many units at outposts have been augmented with a mess team to provide hot prepared meals on site. Larger outposts that have power generation may have a Containerized Kitchen as well as adequate refrigeration. Smaller, platoon sized outposts are unlikely to have such luxuries, but still often have a cook assigned.

The normal ration for these outposts is the Unitized Group Ration, or UGR. In fact, the UGR is really three separate rations.

UGR-A has perishable and semi-perishable foods, and requires an actual kitchen to prepare.

The UGR-H&S (Heat & Serve) is canned foods that simply need to be warmed prior to serving.  The Company Level Field Feeding Kitchen is well suited for this ration.


The UGR-E is designed for even more austere environments. It contains everything for a hot meal, and the ration trays are self heating! Not only that, but a special turkey holiday meal menu is available.

Here’s a little bit on how the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) assembles UGRs.

As you sit down with friends and family today to give thanks for all the blessings in your life, take a moment to remember those Americans deployed world wide, and especially in Afghanistan, who will not be surrounded by family, but by their brothers in arms.



Close Quarters Marksmanship

From Think Defence

Back in my day, close quarters shooting simply wasn’t done. The safety issues meant absolutely nothing like realistic short range combat shooting could be done. All firing had to be from the prone position. Which, if you’re in a field with thigh high grass is pretty difficult.

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Paladin PIM

Of all the combat arms in the Army in the Iraq War, and to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan, the least utilized, and thus least likely to be feted, and least likely to garner attention at budget time, was the Field Artillery. Now, from a parochial point of view, few things warm my heart more than mocking the gun-bunnies. But the professional warrior knows that not every fight will be like Iraq, and that against a near peer enemy, massed volumes of indirect fires will be critical to success.

Most of the technical advances in Field Artillery in recent years have been related to precision guided munitions, such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) and the Excalibur GPS guided 155mm artillery round.

On the towed artillery side, the Army and Marines have replaced their heavy M198 guns with the much lighter, digitally compatible M777 155mm howitzer.

But the backbone of Army field artillery has been, for about 50 years, the M109 155mm Self Propelled Howitzer. Mind you, the fleet has been greatly improved from the first iterations, but significant upgrades to the current M109A6 fleet haven’t happened in almost 20 years.

The basic tube and the digital fire control system are currently sufficient. What the fleet really needs is an upgrade to the mechanical side. And that’s what they’ll be getting. The legacy powertrain is being replaced with a kit that will use the same engine, transmission and final drives as the M2 Bradley fleet. This will not only give the Artillery much better power and reliability, it will also greatly simplify the spare parts and logistics challenges for the Armored Brigade Combat Team. It will also simplify training for mechanics.

The much more powerful engine also means greater generator capacity, and finally the M109 will receive an all electric turret drive system, to replace the current hydraulic system. Electric turret drives tend to be more reliable, and far easier to repair when they do break.

Modest improvements to the communications and fire control system (and today, that almost means the same thing) will also be added.




How the sequester is crippling the Army

As a dyed-in-the-wool fiscal conservative, we fully support the sequester. A line in the sand must be drawn against the ever increasing levels of federal spending. And if that impacts the budget of the armed forces, so be it. Even in a world with multiple and complex security challenges, the stupendous levels of federal debt are our greatest national security threat.

But the problems the sequester foists upon the services are real, and are having real, immediate impacts upon the services.

The actual monetary cuts the sequester imposes on the services are fairly modest. Under FY13 (last year) the main cause of pain was that the full dollar amount of savings had to be realized in only half the fiscal year.  The Obama administration fully expected a deal to avoid the cuts to be inked, and so steadfastly prohibited DoD and the services from even planning for the possibility of the cuts until the very last moment.  The way monies are allocated to the DoD meant that most funds for the FY were already allocated or obligated. In short, the only places it was even possible to make any cuts were in Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and Personnel funds. Some O&M funds simply had to be spent, merely to continue operations (like, say, Afghanistan) already underway. So the training budget for units not tagged to deploy were slashed.

And the passage of a Continuing Resolution, while providing somewhat reasonable levels of funding for the Army, is still disastrous in the long term. Why? Because the CR is just that, a continuation of previous funding authority. In effect, the Army cannot move funding levels from one account to another, and are locked into the spending priorities set well over three years ago.

I’m not the only one who sees things this way:

When I first joined the military the United States Army alone had some 780,000 troops in 18 divisions. It was near the end of the Cold War, the inter-German border still represented a very real potential combat zone and — if one was looking only at the numbers — this was probably about the high-point of the “peacetime” Army. We had the manpower we needed. The “Big Five” combat systems were coming into the field* and most of the detritus from the post-Vietnam period had been flushed from the system. Plus, in the past several years the Army had well and truly taken to the philosophy of honest and hard free-for-all training as a means of evening the gap by developing quality whereas our potential opponents had the quantity. This was best exemplified by the National Training Center (in the Mojave Desert of California) and the Combat Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany.

We trained hard and in all environments across the planet, and at any given moment we had at least a dozen “combat ready” divisions. (A division was, at that time, anywhere from 17-23,000 men.) And because good equipment and hard training costs money, it cost a lot of money. But in the wake of nearly perpetual poor performances of the US Army in the first battles of every war, our late-70s leadership decided “Never Again.” American units would train to the highest levels, with exacting but realistic standards, and we would do it so comprehensively that we would win, the first time, every time. In the process we would be saving innumerable lives, not only our own, but all sides because we would be able to fight so fast that the wars would be shorter. Only when a unit was fully trained would it be certified as “combat ready,” and that status would only last so long before it had to be trained again.

According to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, as of yesterday, the entire US Army currently has only two combat brigades ready for combat.

Why? Well, we are not that much smaller than we were a few months or years ago. Though the drawdown has begun, it is only just starting and it should last four years. Oh, wait, that was the plan… until yesterday. Now we are cutting 80,000 in just two years. Perfect. (Hyperlinks in original)

You’ve probably seen where the Army Chief of Staff announced that only two Brigade Combat Teams are fully trained right now.

WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Two years of budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty have forced the U.S. Army to greatly curtail spending on training, leaving it with only two combat brigades fully prepared to go to war, the Army’s top officer said on Monday.
“Right now, we have in the Army two brigades that are trained. That’s it. Two,” General Ray Odierno told a news conference at the annual conference of the Association of the U.S. Army.
Odierno’s comments came as he and Army Secretary John McHugh discussed the impact of the recent U.S. government shutdown as well as across-the-board budget cuts that forced the military to slash spending in March, nearly halfway through its fiscal year.
McHugh and Odierno both appealed to Congress to find a way to give the military more financial predictability so it can plan effectively. McHugh said that with the way the military is currently funded, budgets that are approved today are based on planning that occurred three years earlier.
“You can’t run the most important military on the face of the Earth locked into three-year-old budgets,” McHugh said.
The Army was hit particularly hard by the cuts in March, known as sequestration, because of higher-than-projected Afghanistan war costs and the need to make up those funds from its operations accounts, which include money for training.
“We had to stop training, basically, in the last six months of the year,” Odierno said.

That doesn’t mean all training has ceased, but virtually all training above the individual, squad and platoon level has been curtailed. It costs a lot of money to send a company of tanks to the field for a week or two. Fuel, food, spare parts, ammunition, batteries and all sorts of sundries add up quickly. Even more expensive is sending an entire Brigade Combat Team to the field. Few posts actually have sufficient real estate to conduct quality training for an entire BCT so there’s the added expense of shipping the BCT’s people and equipment to a training area large enough to handle that size unit. And since that’s money the Army doesn’t have, they just aren’t doing it.

But units that haven’t trained together for their wartime mission, as integrated units, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully complete those wartime missions. As friend-of-the-blog Esli has often noted, so many troops have had multiple wartime deployments, but virtually no experience in maneuver warfare combined-arms operations at the company level, let alone at the BCT or division level.

If a crisis comes (and sooner or later, they always do), the Army will deploy troops as needed. And those troops will pay a price in blood to learn lessons they were supposed to pay for in sweat.



Scenes from a Gunnery

Ah, the culmination of a couple of weeks downrange. Pics and commentary courtesy LTC Esli Pitts,  AR, USA, 3/8 CAV

Formerly a lost art, with the end of the war in Iraq and drawdown of heavy forces in Afghanistan, heavy brigades are getting back to tank and Bradley gunnery. It was a rough start, given that many of the tankers had never fired gunnery, or certainly not in their current positions. Having shot our second gunnery within the year, we saw some pretty good results.

Even with the Texas heat, there are few things more satisfying than taking an M1A2 through its paces on a live-fire range. Sure, it is blindingly hot, but face it; there is something cool about things that go boom. The idea that I can put the reticle on a moving plywood target 2200 meters (yeah that is 1.4 miles) away and kill it about a second later is mind-boggling. And fun.

A unit goes to the field for about 2-3 weeks, and at the end, they are lethal tankers. It’s hard work and long hours, but in the end, it is fun. I like to say that we get paid year-round, but the only time we actually earn the check is on the range.

Before you can fire, there are prerequisites. They include a certain level of proficiency in the Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS) (way better than the old UCOFT). Additionally, you have to pass Gun Table I and the Gunner’s Skill Test, which include hands-on testing in loading and firing machine guns, loading the main gun (seven seconds to pass, but the real standard is under four seconds), conducting mis-fire procedures, rollover drills, boresighting the tank, etc. There are also a lot of maintenance checks required to get the tanks ready.

Once you meet the pre-reqs, you go to the field and fire the following day and night tables:
-Screening: a lot like zeroing the tank, this is a test to make sure that the tank hits where the computer says it is supposed to hit.
-Gun Table II: Crew Proficiency: This is a dry (or sub-caliber training device) run to make sure the crew can perform their crew duties properly
-Gun Table III / IV: Basic Machine Gun and main gun tables combined.
-GT V: Practice crew qualification. Usually with smaller targets and longer ranges, this is a hard table.
-GT VI: Crew Qualification. (For all of you old guys, yes, this used to be Tank Table VIII, but the HBCT gunnery manual published in 2009 revised all of them.)
Generally every other gunnery, you will progress to tactical tables including:
-GT IX: Section Qualification (two tanks)
-GT XII: Platoon Qualification (four tanks under the control of a Platoon Leader. I generally make GT XII a 72-hour event with tactical tasks as well as gunnery. These are fun, but high-stress for the PL.)

During GT II through GT VI, the crew fires ten engagements, each of which requires the crew to perform different tasks (called Minimum Proficiency Levels) from an offensive or defensive tank during either day or night. Some examples:
-Tank Commander’s engagement with main gun
-“Simo” including TC’s .50 cal, the loader’s M240 and the gunner’s coaxial M240.
-Change of ammunition: Tank target with sabot, then light armor with HEAT
-Change of weapons-system: tank target with main gun then troops with coax machine gun
-Use the Gunner’s Auxiliary Sight
-NBC conditions.

Target ranges vary, with machine gun targets up to 800 meters, and main gun targets out to about 2200 meters (training ammunition is not ballistically matched to service ammunition, so is not accurate much farther than this). The hardest target on my last gunnery was the commander’s engagement of a flank moving tank (about 10 mph) at 2200 meters.

A target is presented for 50 seconds. The crew is scored on how quickly it can kill that target. In the defense, the time to kill does not start until the tank pulls up to fire (i.e. could be hit by the enemy). For example, a target could be exposed for 40 seconds before the tank comes up in the battle position and kills it. If your tank was only up for 5 seconds or so, it would be 100 points. On the other hand, if the target came up and the tank crew immediately came up to fire, but did not fire for 10-15 seconds, the crew loses points with every second they are exposed to the enemy’s fire. In the offense, when you are already exposed, time starts immediately and you must be quick. In 50 seconds, you may have two targets. A third may be presented on a 15 or 20 second delay. This might seem like a long time, but sometimes it takes a lot of time just to find the targets. It takes 70 points to qualify each engagement.

If a crew qualifies seven of ten engagements and scores 700 points or greater, than he is “qualified” as Q1. If he qualifies eight of ten engagements with a score of 800 points or more, than he qualified with a “Superior” rating. And for those that qualify nine (or ten) engagements and score 900 points or more, they have qualified with a “Distinguished” rating. A crew that fails to qualify “Q1” will re-fire engagements until he has qualified 7 of them with 70 points, and is qualified as a “Q2.” This is not good. But it happens.

A change with the M1A2, which is hard for older tankers to get used to, is the extremely abbreviated nature of fire commands now which literally saves seconds with each engagement.

There are lots of traditions associated with tank gunnery. Some good. Some not so good.
-Not changing whatever worked. One former PSG shot every gunnery wearing the same red long underwear regardless of temperatures, and always included his stuffed teddy bear, even after his angry wife once ripped its arm off. I’ve shot every gunnery but my most recent with the same pair of gloves.
-Blessing the tanks. Some units used to to put the tanks on line and have the chaplain bless them.
-No peaches are allowed on the tanks. No one knows why, but that is good enough reason.
-Firing a HEAT round with a roll of toilet paper soaked in flammable fluids placed over the spike. Frowned upon but spectacular.
-Loading a lieutenant’s hat in the breech and firing it. Dumb. Having witnessed this result in a sabot round stuck in the chamber and hours spent freeing it, this is not worth it by any means.
-The earning of the right to wear tanker boots after qualifying.
-Steak and eggs on the range after qualifying.
-Kill rings on the main gun of the tank. One ring for a Q1, two rings for Superior, and 3 rings for Distinguished. Tan tanks get black rings; green tanks get white rings. The top tank gets gold rings.

On the way!

P9250086 _DSC8090 _DSC8092 _DSC8111 _DSC8226 _DSC8247 _DSC8283 _DSC8307 130924-A-WZ642-944 130924-A-WZ642-945 P9140011 P9180054 P9210059 P9240064

This is the office on my home-away-from home…


That’s brand new track on the tank. Considering my tank rolls more and farther than any other in the BN, we deserve it! Yes, the fender is damaged from taking the tank into a wooded environment for crew training. Hey, that’s why they are cheap.

New paint job on the CIPs panels: 8th CAV crests. WARHORSE!!!

My crew after I had the distinct honor and privilege of pinning Army Achievement Medals on them for shooting Distinguished. Then, into the tents behind for steak and eggs, and watch some of “The Beast.” Great night.

Just hanging out after the final night run AAR. The paint is barely dry on the crests.

Showing off the kill rings the next morning. Three means we qualified Distinguished. Gold rings would be for the top tank. We weren’t even close to D34 with a 1000 point run.

I am looking at a job in art one day; all of the new artwork was mine… Kill rings and 8th CAV crests.

Gunnery was always a lot of hard work and late nights (and early mornings, as always) but it was also a lot of fun. And shooting stuff was the whole point of being in the combat arms.



Brace Yourself- Garrison is Coming

With the end of the war in Iraq, and with combat operations in Afghanistan slated to wind down, and especially with the impending drawdown, life in the Army is starting to change. 

More and more, troops will find themselves at home station, and with less money for training, they’ll find themselves focusing on the more mundane aspects of soldiering. And increasingly, the Army is turning its focus in discipline and good order. That’s not to say that soldiers haven’t performed magnificently for the last decade plus of war. But new soldiers joining units aren’t going to be immediately deployed to a combat zone. And to achieve unit cohesion and effectiveness, many of the peacetime garrison aspects of soldiering will regain emphasis. Attention to detail is a key skill of soldiering, and unit chains of command, especially Sergeants Major, tend to look to things like uniform standards, and the cleanliness and orderliness of unit areas as key indicators of such.  That link focuses on the Marines, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the Army is going to follow a similar path.

One example is the recently approved revisions to AR670-1, the regulation governing uniforms and appearance. For some reason, the Army has suddenly decided that tattoos on the forearms and lower legs will no longer be permitted. Until recently, the standard was as long as the tats were covered while wearing the dress uniform, and not an extremist tattoo, it was acceptable.

In the Old Army, we referred to these petty inconveniences as “chickenshit.” While every soldier (Marine/Sailor/Airman/Coastie) has their own experiences, things are in some ways not as bad as they used to be. Let me share some of my experiences.

My first unit was a light infantry battalion in Hawaii. It was a unit with very high standards, which, for the most part, was a good thing.

Every morning started with First Call at 0600, when the Charge of Quarters runner would pound on doors waking you up. By 0605, I could expect to  see my Team Leader standing in my door ensuring that I was dressed in PT uniform, and busy making my bed, and that my room was tidy and neat. First formation was at 0630, followed by an hour to 75 minutes of PT and a run. After that, we had until 0900 to shower, change into uniform, clean our rooms and the common areas such as the bathrooms and showers, and with luck, run to the mess hall and enjoy breakfast.

Every day, rooms were expected to be swept, mopped, and buffed. Every day, my Team Leader and Squad Leader were expected to inspect my wall locker. All uniforms were to be neatly hung, with all buttons buttoned, and zippers zipped, hung in a precise order. Undergarments were to be folded or rolled in a specified manner and stored according to a published template. What little space was left could be used for civilian clothing, but it too had to be stored in a (specified) neat and orderly manner.

No members of the opposite sex were allowed into the barracks spaces. Nor was hard alcohol permitted in the barracks, regardless of the age of the drinker. Indeed, while beer was permitted for those of us of legal drinking age (at the time, 18 in Hawaii) no more than one six-pack of beer per person was permitted.

Time has faded some of my  other memories of the inconveniences of living the barracks life and the ravages of a garrison mentality. But rest assured, there are First Sergeants and Sergeants Major aplenty in the force that are eager to embrace every opportunity to bring back as much as possible those prewar artifacts. Indeed, they are eager to impose the strictest possible interpretation of AR670-1 with one curious exception. The strict prohibition upon pressing and starching the Army Combat Uniform will somehow be overlooked. And if they could figure out a way to demand a spit shine on rawhide boots, they’d do that too.

Brace Yourself Garrison is Coming | Sean Bean Game Of Thrones



Should the US merge its ground combat forces?

Of course not. But Jeong Lee, writing at the USNI Blog argues that they should be.

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad”  in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.

Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter. (Hyperlinks in original-XBrad)

Many defense experts may be debating what the future holds, but damn few think merging the Army, Marines and the SOF community is the way to go.

The argument that ground components must fight leaner and smarter certainly hails back to the Rumseldian Revolution in Military Affairs and the Transformationalists. How’d that work out for us?

Not to knock the Marines in any way, but the fact that they have been serving as a second army in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan strikes me as silly. Sure, some units being blooded is probably a good thing, but the main mission of the Marines should be to serve as  a rapid reaction and forced entry force, not a reserve of manpower for a leaner, smarter Army.

And since Mr. Lee brings up consolidation of duplicative forces, why not give the Air Force all the Navy’s aircraft?*

And here’s the thing about leaner landpower. It’s a strategic risk.  While I’d argue that the average Army Brigade Combat Team is more than a match for a comparable enemy force, the ideal is to have overwhelming combat power, both to quickly achieve objectives, and minimize losses to our force. The more closely matched in combat power, the more likely heavy losses will occur. Further, don’t fall into the amateur’s trap of thinking strictly in terms of a single component. The US great strength in warfare has long been its ability to fight combined arms and services. We can find dozens, hundreds of examples where we did so poorly, but the fact is, we’re head and shoulders above anyone else at it.  The CoComs, the Unified Combatant Commanders, were designed specifically to be in such a position that their parochial attachments to the service the grew up in is mitigated by understanding the need to effectively synergize the efforts of all the service components under their command.  It’s imperfect, but again, it’s better than anyone else’s system.

What are you thoughts on why this is a bad idea. Conversely, what (realistically) can we do to streamline the duplication of effort? What changes can and should we make?

*no, not really. I’d rather see the Navy take over the air mission, but I’m trying to make a point here…



Mortar Monday (I meant to post this yesterday)

So, 5/20IN hosted the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force to a mortar live fire at Yakima Firing Center recently. Lots of 120mm goodness going on.

Here’s the short PAO take.

And here’s the extended version. I love that piiiiiing! that 120mm mortars make when firing. Gives me a warm fuzzy.

And while I tend to think of the 120mm as a big mortar, the Soviets and the Israelis have used 160mm mortars. And then… there’s this:


Filed under 120mm, ARMY TRAINING

CPT William Swenson to be presented Medal of Honor

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

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

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

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


Filed under Afghanistan, army, history