Saturday, April 30, 2005

Wires and water and trees, oh my . . .

Ever since World War II, the Army's method of getting troops out of an airplane and into combat is by static line parachute. In a static line jump, the parachute is deployed automatically on exit from the aircraft, by a static line attached to the top of the parachute at one end, and to a cable in the aircraft at the other. In modern freefall parachuting, the parachutist can track (fly) towards a desired landing point before opening his parachute, and has a highly steerable parachute with a lot of manueverability after the chute is opened. In static line parachuting, with an immediate opening after exiting the aircraft, not very far to fall, and with only a semisteerable parachute, you're basically going to land where you're going to land. But that's not a bug, that's a feature: Static line parachuting is designed to get a bunch of people out of an airplane flying at a low altitude and onto the ground quickly with a minimum of dispersion.

You do have some control over the direction of flight - when jumping static line, US special forces jump a round chute that has steering toggles and holes cut in the back to give it some forward momentum (about 9.5 knots worth) and steerability. Even conventional forces like the 82nd Airborne, that jump the venerable T-10 round parachute with no steering toggles, can influence their direction a little bit by "slipping:" pulling on the riser (the nylon strap that holds the parachute to the parachute harness) in the direction they want to go. But you don't have a lot of control over where you end up. If the people planning the jump miscalculate the release point, or the winds at altitude, you may find yourself heading for an uncomfortable landing.

There are three major hazards you can find yourself heading for - water, trees and wires. (Sometimes a jump is deliberately planned for trees or water - that's a different situation calling for special equipment and planning.) I've never accidentally hit water, and never gone through wires, but I do have my share of tree landings - plus one near miss with a three story building.

The first time I hit the woods was many years ago, making a night combat equipment jump (a jump with a rucksack and weapon) from a Chinook helicopter. It's hard to hit the woods from a helicopter, but my entire chalk managed it that night (a chalk is all the parachutists put out in a single pass over the drop zone - if you're jumping from a high performance aircraft like the C-130, the same group is called a stick - I should know why, but I don't. Maybe the Air Force could afford sticks to line up behind, and the Army had to make do with chalk marks on the tarmac.)

Like I said, it's hard not to hit the DZ from a chopper, so it took a lot of work and cooperation from the jumpmaster and the pilots to get us into the woods. Fortunately, this was the first time the aircrew had dropped parachutist since it got certified to do so, and the jumpmaster was fresh from jumpmaster school and his requisite one safety before being allowed to jumpmaster on his own. It was just our team jumping into an exercise, and we wanted to put the entire team out, so we grabbed two jumpmasters from another team to run things (In a helicopter jump, the jumpmaster doesn't jump - instead of wearing a parachute, he's strapped into a harness - known affectionately as a "monkey harness" to keep from falling out the back.) One of the jumpmasters we's planned for, the more experienced one, got sick at the last minute, so we didn't have a lot of depth. Our company sergeant major, who was an excellent jumpmaster and was running the drop zone from the ground was having his own set of problems communicating with the aircraft, so there was every opportunity for things to go wrong.

It started with the blackout lights inside the Chinook - the Chinook was equipped with a row of red lights that wouldn't ruin your night vision, but the one right before the back had a cracked cover with a good bit of white light escaping - it was the last thing you'd see before stepping off the ramp.

The way we were jumping required the jumpmaster to spot a set of lights set up in an L shape - called a NATO L. The idea was that their was a reception party (a la the French Resistance, but in this case our sergeant major) on the ground. As soon as they saw the aircraft was coming in on the right heading, they would light the lights, the jumpmaster would see them, and we'd jump.
Under the jumpmasters direction, we went through the ritual of standing up, hooking up and checking equipment, and the crew chief opened the rear door and lowered the ramp. The red light beside the ramp came on, and our jumpmaster crawled out onto the ramp to spot for the panels.

We made three passes over the drop zone without the green light coming on. There's a special kind of agony that starts to build up when you stand up in a parachute harness and combat equipment for any length of time. The harness is pulled tight to minimize the snap from the opening shock of the parachute, and that, combined with the weight of the parachute, weapon and equipment, starts digging in and cutting of circulation. There's not a lot you can do to alleviate the pain - you don't have the option of sitting back down, and between having the keep the static line from getting looped around anything and having to keep the reserve ripcord grip from getting hung on anything, there's even a limited amount of squirming around that's possible. The last thing you want is to have to make multiple passes (called racetracks) over the DZ while people try to figure out whether to let you jump or not.

Finally, on the fourth pass, the jumpmaster stood up and gave us the command "Stand By!" Great, he had seen the lights, and we were getting off the bird. We shuffled closer to each other, and closer to the exit ramp. He knelt and peered over the edge of the ramp again, and stood back up. The jump light snapped from red to green. "GO!" The first man walked towards the ramp. I was the number two man, right behind him. As we headed for the ramp, it felt like the helicopter was changing direction, but it had to be an illusion - we wouldn't change direction once the pass had begun. I had carefully kept one eye closed because of the cracked light cover, but opened it walking down the ramp - and dammit, there went my night vision. I stepped off the ramp and started counting to make sure my parachute deployed in a reasonable length of time "One thousand! Two thousand! Three - ooof." It was a great exit - no twists and only a minimal opening shock. I reached up, grabbed the steering toggles, and started looking around to figure out where I was. I should have been able to look down and line up on the lights (they should have been set up in an L-shape and easy to spot) and figure out where the team was going to link up once we were all on the ground. I was a bit hampered by the afterimages of the Chinook light still floating in front of my eyes, but I didn't see any lights. I pulled one of the steering toggles and turned in a circle to take a look around - way, way off to my right, I saw a suspiciously L shaped glow. OK, if the DZ was over there - where was I? I looked down again and noticed my night vision had come back a bit. Below in the gloom, the ground had a suspiciously rounded and leafy appearance. Damn it. Looking down, I saw the road that ran off of the north of the drop zone - and the wind was blowing a bit in that direction. If I "ran" with the wind, I might be able to make the road instead of hitting the trees. Of course, if I didn't make the road, I was going to have a fair amount of speed built up. Oh well. At about 100' off of the ground, it became obvious that I wasn't going quite make the road. I turned to face into the wind to slow down a bit and saw the woods drifting up under me. Great.

I narrowly missed going straight into a big tree, and instead started pinballing down through its outer branches. I had expected that it would be like falling out of a tree and plunging through the branches to the ground, but it was a much more slow motion kind of crash than that: since my parachute was still inflated above me, I got to deal with one branch at a time instead of falling through them all at once - so it was WHAP - pause - THWACK - pause - WHAP - pause, until my parachute finally caught on the top branches of the tree and deflated. I hung there, thirty or forty feet off of the ground, for maybe 5 or 10 seconds, and had just started considering how I was going to get down when a CRACK! from above me jarred me and dropped me a few feet. I had just enough time to look up and consider that maybe the ride wasn't over yet when, with another CRACK!, I dropped through the branches, breaking them as I went - this time, it was like falling out of a tree. Fortunately, the parachute caught again with my feet a few feet off the ground. I popped my rucksack loose and undid my chest and leg straps, wriggling out of the harness. I gave the parachute a few tentative tugs and decided I wasn't getting it out of the tree by myself - at least without a chainsaw or a bucket truck - so I broke a chemlight and tied it to the harness so I could find it later. I picked up my rucksack and weapon and started towards the road - I had only missed it by about 20'. I had planned to head down the road back to the DZ and find out what was going on, but once I got onto the road, my attention was drawn to the sound of struggling and cursing coming from the woods on the other side. I plunged into the woods towards the commotion.

A few feet into the woods, I found the team commander trying to get down. One of the things they teach you about tree landings is not to lower your equipment - under normal circumstances, you drop your rucksack and weapon carrier a few hundred feet off the ground - they're attached to an 18' long coiled nylon line, called a lowering line. The lowering line uncoils and your rucksack dangles underneath you for the rest of the ride. If you think you're going to hit the trees, you leave the ruck where it is for additional protection. If you've already lowered to ruck, you jettison it before you hit the trees, for reasons that will become obvious.

So there he was, struggling to get to the quick release on his lowering line, which, because he was folded up like a card table, was hung under his reserve. His parachute was hung in one tree, and his rucksack was hung in the other one. His rucksack was higher than his parachute, so he was doubled over and mostly upside down, trying to get his hand under his weapons carrier and reserve to get rid of the rucksack. He told me later he thought he was going to make the road and he didn't want to smash up his rucksack, so he rode it in.

Since he was the boss, I didn't laugh as hard as I might have - well, alright, I did. He snapped at me, "Hey, give me a hand here - if you can push up on me, I can probably get to the quick release."

Well, if our beloved leader had a fault, it was that he always wanted a picture whenever he did cool guy stuff - if we were fast-roping, or doing a live fire, or he was jumpmastering, he was constantly pestering people to get a picture of him - and he always carried a camera for the purpose. "Hey" I had to ask, "are you sure you don't want me to get a picture before you get down?" "No, dammit," he replied, then he started laughing, "besides, my camera is in my rucksack." After a few minutes, we got him down. I narrowly missed getting beaned by his rucksack when it let loose. We walked in, picking up a few stragglers on the road as we headed in. One of them was new to the team, and was bitching like mad: "I've got over seventy jumps with the 82nd, and never hit the trees once." he complained, "My first jump on a team . . ." "Yeah, well," one of the other guys interjected, "Welcome to Special Forces."

When we got back to the DZ, we found out what probably happened. The chopper pilot was flying with NVGs (night vision devices) and the light they were using to guide him in was a really big 5 D-Cell flashlight with an infrared filter on it. The pilot had a lot of trouble seeing it using the night vision goggles, so finally he agreed to try to spot it without the NVGs. The sergeant major took off the infrared cover off the flashlight and told the pilot, "You should see a white light. Do you have the white light?" The pilot said he did, and began another pass. He was off a little bit to the north, but still over the DZ, so the ground party lit the DZ's NATO L and cleared him to drop, figuring he would correct over the lights.

The new jumpmaster had trouble spotting the lights, and mistook the flanker light for the release point - so he was already way too far north. As soon as the pass started, the helicopter pilot - still following the white light that he thought was the ground party - turned north to follow the white headlight coming from the road at the far end of the DZ. The sergeant major was screaming "Abort, Abort!" over the radio, but it was too late. Some guys got banged up on the way down, but we only had one real injury - one of our guys had a compound fracture of his femur - bone sticking out of his leg. In one of those moves that happened in SF from time to time, and made me wonder what the hell I thought I was doing, hanging out among the Army's real men, he managed to rig up a splint to keep the bone from moving around, and made it about 100' out to the road so somebody could pick him up - and he brought his weapon out with him. When the medic on the drop zone got to him, he immediately asked if he wanted something for the pain. I'd have been screaming for morphine at that point, but this guy looks at him and says, "Well, yeah, it does hurt a bit. Do you have any Tylenol with you?"

All in all, a painful night, although we did get to go back and get some sleep instead of continuing the exercise. We spent the next day with tree spikes, trucks and chainsaws getting our parachutes mostly out of the trees, although in a couple of cases all that came back was the harness - short of cutting the tree down, the parachute wasn't coming out.

The experience did give us a team motto, though: "Never trust a jumpmaster in a monkey harness."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What is Justice -and for whom?

There are a couple of recent military law cases that concern me a good bit. It worries me that the split-second, judgment calls men make in combat now seem to be subject to being second-guessed by others whose duty station is far behind the lines.

Ilario Pantano is in the middle of an Article 32 investigation (the military equivalent of a Grand Jury hearing) for shooting two Iraqis during a search for terrorists. And Capt. Rogelio Maynulet is being dismissed from the Army for killing a wounded Iraqi in what has been described as a "mercy killing." There are excellent accounts of both cases on the net, and I'm not going to rehash them here - My issue here is that I see these cases as symptomatic of a disturbing trend in military justice, and not as abberations.

I've seen a lot of commentary in the media and on the web from both supporters and detractors of the two men, and I find much to disagree with on both sides. I certainly don't endorse the position that some defenders of Pantano and Maynulet take when they argue that anything goes in war, that the people who were killed were the enemy, so screw them. There are rules in warfare - about not targeting civilians (which is not the same thing as not killing civilians - an important distinction the left is apparently incapable of understanding), and about caring for the wounded - even wounded enemies. I firmly believe that, even when, as is the case with the Iraqi insurgency, our enemy doesn't obey the law of land warfare, we should. The Geneva Convention is largely founded on a pragmatic, "quid pro quo" approach to minimizing unnecessary suffering in war (You don't shoot our civilian population, and we won't attack you wearing civilian clothes. You take care of our wounded and we'll take care of yours. And so on . . .) However, I think that the United States has a moral obligation to do the right thing, and to expect its soldiers to do the right thing, even when the enemy manifestly doesn't.

However, there's a huge difference between a deliberate or malicious act that deserves punishment, and a decision - made in good faith at the time - that turns out to, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been wrong.

My perception, and the perception of many serving soldiers that I've discussed this with, is that, in these cases, the military is bowing to pressure from the media and the left (that is, by the way, a distinction without a difference) and is trying to draw a bright and shining line that excludes any possible grey areas. By doing so, they're changing the relationship between the combat soldier and the military justice system - and doing so to the detriment of combat effectiveness.

There are always grey areas in combat. I understand the argument that mercy killing is a slippery slope, but the reality is that it happens in war - sometimes even to a comrade instead of an enemy. More than one medic from previous wars will - maybe only around men who understand, and after a few drinks - admit to an extra injection of morphine to end a suffering comrades life. More than one soldier has been shot to end his suffering. Is it the legal thing to do - no. Is it the moral thing to do - sometimes. Did Captain Maynulet deserve the benefit of the doubt instead of dismissal from the service. From everything that I've seen - yes.

And, in the case of Pantano, from what I've seen reported so far, the Iraqis could have been bad guys. That doesn't give him the right to execute them, if they've surrendered, but it does give him the absolute right to kill them if he perceives a threat from them. (And, the insurgents don't always "bear arms openly." A hidden grenade, or a remotely detonated bomb in the SUV, could have killed Pantano and his men that day. The fact that one wasn't found makes the event a misjudgment, perhaps even tragic, but not criminal.) A uniformed enemy doesn't cease to be a valid target because he's running away - and it's simply wrong to extend that protection to insurgents.

The Pantano case is made worse by how it was brought - a disgruntled junior NCO, whose performance in combat, by all accounts, indicated that he should not have been an NCO in the first place.

My concern is not only for the injustice being done these men, but also for the effect it has on other soldiers still in combat. The message that is being sent is to them is this: "Your actions, your split second decisions, are subject to being picked apart and second-guessed by people who aren't scared and dirty and tired, with the benefit of perfect hindsight of reflection, with all the Predator feeds, radio traffic, personnel records and everything else you didn't have with you. God help you if you get even one of them wrong. God help you if one of them even looks wrong in the New York Times."

One of our most famous jurists once observed, "Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife." But it seems that we're now demanding just that from our warriors in the heat of battle. Will it get to the point that every infantry squad will require a JAG lawyer assigned to it, to rule on legality of every move? Maybe in both the Maynulet and Pantano decisions were mistakes, but do they really rise to the level of crimes? Is that the message we want to be sending our troops?

Now, please understand, I'm not advocating an "anything goes" view of combat. There are clear delineations of right and wrong. I don't think that a deliberate massacre, or the calculated execution of prisoners, should ever be tolerated. But that's not what happened here. What happened here was combat, and judgment calls made in combat for the right reasons - just because the outcome isn't what we would have hoped is no reason to turn those judgment calls into indictments.

Back in the Reagan presidency, JTF-6 was the task force that assisted civil authorities with drug interdiction along the border. The military couldn't actually search for or arrest smugglers, but we could provide surveillance and alert the authorities if we saw anything. It was good training for us for our real-world mission - what is now known as strategic reconaissance, but was called SIGTA at the time - strategic intelligence gathering and target acquisition. Thanks to the Army's affectation of the southern drawl, it got pronounced sikta, and was reputed to stand for "sitting in communist territory again."

I remember, many years ago, doing a JTF-6 mission. As part of the preparation for the mission, we got a RoE (rules of engagement) brief from the JTF-6 JAG officer, a Marine lieutenant colonel. (The JAG is the Judge Advocate General's office, for all intents, the military's law firm.) Our RoE was basically that we could protect ourselves or others, but we weren't there to arrest anybody. At some point in the briefing, the possibility of involvement with state law came up. What if somebody got shot out there - would we find ourselves in state court? No way, the JAG officer told us - he explained that, as military members, we were considered federal employees acting under the scope of our employment, and that the Army would refuse to give state courts jurisdiction if something happened.

Right after he left, our own JAG officer jumped up, clearly agitated, and gave us his interpretation. He told us something a little different than the Marine JAG officer said. Yes, he agreed, the Department of Defense could deny the state jurisdiction. But his take was that, if something went wrong, we'd be pretty much on our own. "Don't think for a second," he said, "that the Army won't throw you under the bus if they need to to take the heat off. You might be in the right," he continued, "but if you embarrass big Army, they'll cut you away like a screaming bag-lock."

At the time, I thought he was being overly cynical. Some time after that, though, well after our rotation was over, a Marine Lance Corporal stood trial, in state court, on charges of killing an illegal immigrant. The Marine thought that his life, and the lives of his fellow Marines, were in jeopardy. He was ultimately aquitted, but the DoD "threw him under the bus" by allowing him to be tried in state court in the first place.

At the time, I thought it was an anomaly. Now, though, it looks like standard operating procedure. From where I stand, the "crimes" of both Pantano and Maynulet were all about embarrassing the military and not about right and wrong.

I don't know what the right answer is - how we make the point that killing civilians is wrong, and that killing wounded prisoners is wrong, and still recognize that sometimes there are exceptions - that sometimes those things will happen for the right reasons. I do know, though, that what has happened in these two cases isn't it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Whatever you do, do it with style

Like most people, I admire exceptional achievement - the Olympic athlete, the world-renowned composer, the prize-winning novelist. Only a few people manage the to combine dedication and drive with the gift of innate talent to produce truly spectacular results, and I respect that. I even respect it when the achievement isn't one that might meet universal social approval.

A little background might be in order here. The main base and headquarters for US and coalition forces is Bagram Airfield,a bit less than an hour to the north of Kabul. When I was there, Bagram consisted of the airfield proper, with supporting hangers, buildings, fuel tanks and whatnot, and a cantonment area where most of the troops lived and worked. The cantonment area was a long narrow area laid out to the rear of the airfield, paralleling the airstrip. There were a few permananent buildings built of cheap concrete that were left over from the days when it was a Soviet airbase, and a few more permanent buildings that the US had constructed (the Bagram PX, for instance, seemed to be fairly well built), but most of the buildings there were either temporary construction - plywood and 2x4 shacks - or tents.

The main road through the cantonment portion of Bagram ran parallel to the airstrip as well, and the cantonment buildings (and tents) were off to either side of it. This road was Disney Drive, named after one of our fallen heroes, Jason Disney (and not, as I thought the first time I heard it, a reference to the Mickey Mouse nature of Bagram.) It ran several miles down the length of Bagram and was paved. Portions of it even had a sidewalk.

Being in a war zone didn't (and shouldn't) excuse the units stationed on Bagram from staying in shape, and most units assigned there ran organized PT (physical training) in the mornings. In the Army, unit PT usually consists of stretches and calesthenics followed by a run. Since Disney Drive was the only long straight paved surface except the airfield, that was the normal "running track." In the morning, hundreds to thousands of soldiers took to Disney Drive in formation for their daily jog.

Disney was a well traveled road and for safety reasons, it was closed to vehicular traffic for an hour in the mornings to keep the running formations from having to dodge the assortment of cargo trucks, military vehicles and Land Rovers that normally traversed it. MPs were stationed at the major crossroads coming off the airfield to enforce the ban. There were always a few vehicles on Disney during the restricted hour, either because they had special permission to violate the ban (missions, for example, took priority - if you had to move to the airfield during that period, you could get a special pass), or because they were driven by people who had just gotten to Bagram and didn't know about the ban: it was possible to pull out of a parking lot or small road without an MP barrier, but the MPs pretty quickly flagged these vehicles down and directed them off of the road.

No military unit operates completely independently. All units require support from other units for food or fuel or transportation or other assistance. That was true of us in Afghanistan, and we had people supporting us who's job it was to coordinate with other units or functions to get things done for us. That job is known as LNO (it stands for liasion officer, I think.) Early in the rotation, soldiers out of support company either got LNO as an additional duty, or in some cases, if the coordination workload was high enough, got assigned as a full-time LNO. At Bagram, that wasn't a good or a bad thing - you were still on Bagram - but some people really got over by drawing LNO duty. We had a steady stream of soldiers and equipment going to and from the States to Bagram all the way through the deployment. Some soldiers were in military schools or otherwise undeployable at the beginning of the rotation, so they joined us later. Some soldiers got hurt, went to Germany or the US for treatment, and were able to return to duty. Some soldiers got the dreaded red cross message, and had to return home, either on leave or permanently. Equipment broke and had to be returned to the States for repair. Repaired or backordered equipment had to be shipped to us via Bagram.

So, like every other major unit in theater, the CJSOTF had rear echelon LNOs. SF guys didn't draw LNO duty - they were earmarked for fighting the war - but there were a number of support personnel assigned to the CJSOTF (cooks, clerks, truckdrivers, repair people, and the like) to choose from for the job. One of the LNOs was located at Fort Bragg, and there were two at Rhein-Main Air Force Base just outside of Frankfurt. The Frankfurt LNO position was particularly nice - the work wasn't terribly onerous (it mostly consisted of figuring out Air Force flight schedules - not particularly easy to do - and meeting people and equipment to make sure they got off and on the right airplanes. Frankfurt was almost always the midway stop for people and equipment, and scheduling could be tricky, since onward travel to Bagram could be direct, or through one or more airbases in central asia or the middle east. Figuring out that the best way to get a person or a box to Bagram was through Kuwait /Qatar/Manas required some knowledge of the arcana of the Air Mobility Command's scheduling system.) The job required some expertise and knowledge, but long hours weren't part of the deal.

Also, Rhein-Main was the hub for everything moving to Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was full-up. No room at all for transient LNOs, so they were living on the economy, drawing full per diem - which, in Frankfurt, was substantial.

And the job was substantially unsupervised - the senior LNO was a Staff Sergeant, and his boss was in Baghram. No formations, no oversight, no scheduled hours - just keep the supply line moving and be available by cell phone. And, unlike Afghanistan, there was no regulation against consumption of alcoholic beverages.

So, the Frankfurt LNOs had it made compared to living in Baghram - and, better still, they all found an excuse to accompany a shipment to Baghram every so often, so they drew combat pay and the tax exemption for the month - and they got their combat patch out of the deal.

Unfortunately, the abundance of free time and the lack of supervision led one of the pair to screw up spectacularly. He got pulled over by Die Polizei, very late at night, for driving erratically - and of course the reason he was driving erratically was that he was drunk off his ass, on his way back from a club in Frankfurt. That was bad enough - both the Germans and the US Army are death on DUI - but the car he was driving was the BMW that the Army had rented for him to get around in. In the view of the Army's lawyers, this made it a military vehicle.

Of course, the CJSOTF reaction to this was immediate - get him out of Europe and back to Baghram. He would certainly face an Article 15 (a non-judicial punishment that can include fines, extra duty or detention), if not court martial, but the first step was to get him out of Frankfurt before he embarrassed the CJSOTF further. And that's where he passed from being a run-of-the-mill miscreant to being a legend. He got there in the afternoon and after the requisite chewing out, was assigned to a tent.

With punishment for the Germany incident still up in the air, most people would have tried to maintain a low profile and stay out of trouble. Not our hero, though. I happened to be on Baghram dealing with money the day after he arrived.

I went in to talk to the finance officer, and she filled me in on the latest gossip. "Did you hear about Sergeant ________?" I didn't even know who he was, so she told me about him arriving in Baghram the day before after getting yanked out of Germany in disgrace. "Yeah," I agreed, "He's screwed himself pretty bad right now." "No, that's not the big thing." she replied. "He got a DUI this morning on Disney Drive." I asked, "How do you get a DUI on Disney Drive?"

It turned out that, the day he arrived on Baghram, our hero conned somebody out of a vehicle, found a supply of booze, picked up a girl from another unit, and spent the night in a drunken dalliance with her. When they woke up the next morning, the girl was horrified - she was late for PT. "No problem," Sir Galahad told her, "I'll drive you over to the PT formation." It was, after all, the least he could do for her.

So, still a bit woozy from the night before, and both throwing on clothes as they went, the two of them set out for the PT formation. Unfortunately for our boy, the PT formation was on the other side of Disney Drive. It may have been the challenge of trying to dress and drive at the same time, or it may have been the effects of the alcohol lingering in his system, but he failed to notice the MP checkpoint closing Disney Drive to vehicular traffic. He came to a stop only after the MPs had dodged out of the way and he hit the traffic sawhorse. The female leapt out of the vehicle and made a run for it, still holding on to the rest of her PT uniform - the MP's, too stunned to intervene, let her go, but grabbed him. Even after some recovery time, he still had enough alcohol in his system to be DUI. Searching the vehicle, they found bottles, some empty and some still full, and some girlie magazines. The girl eventually got busted, too, of course: it was easy enough to find the only female soldier who had missed PT.

Now, our hero was really in trouble at this point - there's a regulation in Afghanistan, known as General Order Number One, that prescribes the conduct of deployed troops: No possession of alcohol, no drinking at all, no pornography, no extramarital sex. About the only part of General Order #1 he didn't touch on was the one that prohibited proselytizing the natives - although, I'm sure that, after everything else, given time, he would have found religion and hit this one too.

But I'll admit that I was seriously impressed by this guy's ability to get into trouble. I'd always suspected that it was possible to procure alcoholic beverages there, but I would have thought it would take a few weeks to figure out the supply line and would take the ability to drive to Kabul to actually buy them. (I'm just saying . . .) And, the ratio of men to women on Baghram was about 9 to 1. Being able to pick up a woman at all was an impressive feat, much less picking one up the first night there.

OK, yeah, no doubt that he screwed up - but you have to admire the man: when he did screw up, he screwed up big. Lots of people got into trouble over there in one way or another, but usually over small things. This guy, on the other hand, became a legend: "Well, at least I didn't get a DUI on Disney Drive" became the battle cry of anyone getting chewed out for anything. And, if he ever has children and they ask him the question "What did you do in the war on terror, daddy?" he can proudly reply: "Son, I was the only man in the war to ever get a DUI on Disney Drive -and I did it with my pants off."

Monday, April 25, 2005

And the worst retailer in the world is . . .

Nothing to do with the military or Afghanistan here - just a reaction to another blog entry that reminded me of one of my own worst shopping experiences.

I used to shop at Best Buy a lot, but I don't anymore, and I wouldn't if they were giving away a free top-end laptop with every box of blank CD-Rs they sell. It's not something I think about a lot, it's just a fact of my existence. The only time it comes up is when people ask for my help doing something with their home electronics. Because I'm a computer geek, I'll end up helping someone out with a home network, or upgrading a PC, or hooking up a stereo system from time to time, and sometimes the people I'm helping will suggest buying parts or software from Best Buy. Invariably, I steer them to CompUSA or Staples or Fry's to buy whatever it is they need. (By the way, I have nothing but good things to say about Fry's, except that they need to put a store closer to my house.) Since I'm a "computer expert", people I know take my advice when I tell them that Best Buy has terrible customer service and to take their business elsewhere.

Just in the last few weeks, though, a couple of Best Buy customer service horror stories have popped up on the web that reminded me of why I don't shop there anymore. Best Buy recently had one man arrested for trying to pay with $2 bills (he was pissed with them for first telling him they would cover installation of his car stereo, since they had screwed something up, and then later calling him at home and threatening to have him arrested unless he came in an paid his installation - he did come in to pay, and they had him arrested anyway.) Just this morning, I read Geek with a .45's account of his own run-in with Best Buy's unique brand of customer relations.

From his account, it's obvious that Best Buy still subscribes to the psychopathic homeless bum school of customer service. And, just like a homeless person screaming at you and pissing on your shoes, the natural reaction to any interaction with Best Buy management is to want to hit someone (please don't misunderstand me - I don't mean to imply that dealing with Best Buy is anywhere near as pleasant as having a psychotic wingnut screaming at you because you won't pay him to wash your windshield.) As a civilized society, we have evolved a web of social and legal obligation that allow us to interact pleasantly and appropriately with each other. An unfortunate side-effect of that web of obligations is that there really isn't an appropropriate response to a sociopath following you around and screaming obscenities - or to the customer abuse that appears to be corporate policy at Best Buy. And Best Buy takes advantage of that, in spades . . .

I can only imagine that Best Buy has looked at the cost of customer retention in light of its policies, and simply decided that keeping customers satisfied is a low priority for them. The thinking in Best Buy corporate offices must be: "If our sales, or data mining, or loss prevention policies, alienate our customers, we can always just run a sale and attract new ones, right? And, just because they handle cash every day for a living, why should we expect our managers to know that the $2 bill is legal tender, hmm?"

My own break with Best Buy happened one afternoon when I had gone to pick up some software and parts for a project I was working on. I found what I needed, and picked up a couple of DVDs I had been looking for, checked out and started to leave. As I was walking out, something triggered the anti-theft alarm. The assistant manager type (fat, bad skin, short hair but overdue for a haircut, khaki pants that needed pressing, and a Best Buy polo shirt) at the door called me over: "Excuse me sir, I need to take a look at your receipt."

Actually, he needed to do more than that - what we did was, we emptied my bags out and went through each item on the receipt and matched it up with what I had bought. OK, it was annoying - especially since the cryptic abbreviations on the tape make it hard to figure out what some of the items were - but it didn't bother me too much. I knew that loss prevention is a big deal in retail, and there's always a lot of money walking out of stores all the time, so I was irritated at the waste of time, but basically OK with things up to that point, and still being polite. It's what happened next that convinced me that Best Buy could give a rat's ass about their customers, and also convinced me to shop elsewhere from that point on.

After we had finished reconciling the receipt with the purchases, the guy at the door said "Hey, it looks like one of the DVDs must not have gotten deactivated. You'll have to go back to the cashier and get her to run it through again." I looked back at the cashier, and at the line of three or four people waiting to check out, and told Mr. Assistant Security Manager guy , "Hey, we just went through all my stuff. Why do I need to have the things deactivated?" "I'm sorry sir", he told me,"It's Best Buy policy that all security devices have to be deactivated before you leave the store." "And you can't just do that here?" "No," he replied, "our policy is that security devices have to be deactivated by the cashier."

It occured to me that, if I had to go back and get all the security devices deactivated anyway, we could have done without the little cash register receipt audit I had just gone through - unless he really thought I had dropped a few extra goodies in my bag as well as shoplifting a DVD or two. Of course, I should have told him to screw off and walked out right then, but like the docile little consumer I am, I repacked my bags (without Mr. Security Manager's help, by the way) and walked back over to the twelve year old or so cashier I had just bought everything from. "Excuse me." I said,gesturing with one of my Best Buy bags. "The guy over there says I need to have the security devices in here deactivated." The cashier glared at me: Excuse me, sir", she said snippily. "I have a line here. You can go to customer service if you need to." I looked across the front of the store at the customer service desk - they had a longer line over there than the cashier had. Now I knew that I was being screwed. I'd already spent more than 15 minutes with Mr. Security Guy going through my bag and trying to figure out what the part number for a memory stick was. Now I was supposed to stand in the cashier's line again, just to meet with Best Buy's internal policy about deactivating a security device that she should have deactivated the first time around.

I should have said "I don't think so", and walked out of the store. Or I could have said "Yes, I see you have a line - I've already stood in it once to purchase these items." But, of course, what I did, was to say nothing. I got back in line - after another ten plus minutes, I finally got back to the cashier. "Now, what can I do for you, sir?" she says, with an artificial retail smile. "Bitch" I thought, but didn't say, even though I'm seething by this time. I also considered telling her that I needed a refund on all these items, but since that would have cost me even more time than Best Buy has already wasted in the middle of a busy day, I discarded that option, too. Instead, I explained, nicely, that I needed to have the security devices deactivated so I can get out the door. "Oh, no problem." she tells me, running the DVDs back over the magnetic whateveritis until they dong. "No problem for you" I thought to myself, "I had to wait for the security guy to go through everything I bought, whether or not it had a security device, and match it my receipt. Then I had to wait in line a second time so you could do what you should have done the first time. And, if you had done it the first time, I wouldn't have gotten jacked up on my way out the door." But, of course, being the gentleman (sheep) that I am, I said "Thank you." She, at least, put the stuff back in the bag when she was done.

I collected my bags, started out of the store, and nodded at Mr. Assistant Security Manager, fuming all the while. As I started out the door, the security alarm went off again. "Screw this," I thought to myself, and kept walking. I heard Mr. Security Guy saying, "Excuse me, sir," and I decided that there was no way that I was going through this crap one more time. So I kept walking, not looking back. The guy repeated "Excuse me" and I heard him coming out from behind his little desk / cubicle station at the door, and now I was well and truly pissed. At that point, if he had grabbed me, it would not have been be pretty. (I suspect that he would have slipped and fallen hard to the pavement behind me as I continued walking to my car.) Apparently, he decided the same thing, because as I continued to ignore him and walked briskly into the parking lot, with one last "Sir, Excuse me, SIR!" he gave up and retreated into the store.

And that was the last time I've been in a Best Buy.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A couple more snakeaters for the blogroll

Found a couple more SF guys with blogs - this is way cool. Before long, we're going to need a SOFBlog ring.

jbrookins was in the 'Stan, literally in some of the same places I was. He's got a great shot of the Logar pass on his website - if I recognize it correctly, it's heading down on the Kabul side pretty much right after the checkpoint at the top of the pass? Also a great picture of Gardez and Orgun-e. Been there, too . . . Maybe I need to figure out how to post pictures on here, if anyone wants to see? Anyway, his blog, JB's Sanctuary, is a great read.

snakeater was in, too, back in the day - plus he likes baseball. He was at Ft. Devens, and I imagine if I dig back through his archives, I'll find a story or two about the Wagon Wheel . . . Check out his blog, Mistakes Were Made.

Since I'm redoing the template, I'm also moving Blackfive into the SOF list, where he belongs . . .

Friday, April 22, 2005

Welcome to your new home, neighbors

Dan, Jack and I had gone up to Asadabad to "help out" with some operations near the Paki border. Coming up from our A-camp, where an A-team and a few support personnel were the only Americans living with some Afghan security guards we hired and about a company and a half of the Afghan National Army, A'bad was a pleasant surprise. This was a by-God firebase, with a battalion or so of the 10th Mountain, a Special Forces ODB and five or so A-teams, a FAST (forward area surgical team - kind of a baby MASH), a battery of 120mm mortars, some other, more specialized units, and a lot of supporting personnel. After the A-camp, it was incredibly luxurious - both the 10th Mountain and the SF unit there ran a mess-hall, and both of them had hot showers!

In Asadabad, I did figure out exactly what people mean when they say the Army is like a family: just like growing up with sisters, living with hundreds of soldiers meant that you had to time your showers carefully. Fortunately the 10th Mountain was running a tight ship. They'd get up early, shower and shave before breakfast, and then be off working or training for the rest of the day. That was fine with us, since we could fit our showers in after breakfast - no lines, no waiting, and not enough hot water for a battalion of soldiers was more than enough hot water for three SF'ers. And, best of all, the showers were actually indoors. It was a welcome change from trying to stay out of the wind by huddling behind a plywood partition, while showering in a tepid trickle from a solar shower - and usually running out of water before running out of dirt.

The toilets weren't any better than we had at our A-camp, but there were more of them - plastic Port-a-Pottys, wooden outhouses, and a row of traditional Afghan squat crappers that had been remodeled with the addition of a plywood box over the hole with an appropriate seat bolted to it.

The only problem we had was with the neighbors to our rear . . .

As soon as we got off of the chopper, we let the ODB sergeant major know we'd arrived. He gave us a rundown on who was there, what was supposed to be going on, what to do if the firebase were attacked, and even threw in a quick tour of the camp (taking care to point out the showers and mess halls - I suppose he could guess what sort of place we'd come from), and then told us he ran a nightly brief at 1930 hours, and one of us should show up so we'd know what was going on.

We found ourselves sleeping in the old aid-station tent. It had become too small for the camp's medical team, and they had moved to more expansive headquarters, but it made a perfect transient quarters, with a plywwod floor and walls, and a diesel stove for warmth. Plus it had plywood counters and a plywood desk, so we felt like we had it made. Plenty of room for us, our gear, and for some specialized equipment we'd brought with us. And it had a hesco wall behind it and in front of it, so unless a bad guy dropped a round right on our tent, we were pretty safe.

We were still getting oriented and set up - and still recovering from the after effects of second helpings at the surprisingly good 10th Mountain messhall, and from the first hot showers we'd had in two months - and it was coming up on 1930. Jack and I were trying to get our equipment ready and get comms with the rest of our team set up, so Dan went over to take the brief. He came back, pretty disgruntled, at about 2100. After I'd been to one too, I figured out the problem with the nightly briefing: it was pretty much the same problem I'd seen in attending departmental meetings in the civilian world. Anything that was of interest to anyone came up at the meeting, whether everybody needed to be involved or not. As a result, Dan had just gone through ninety minutes to give us a sixty second briefing on what we actually needed to know, and wasn't particularly happy about it.

After he finished putting the word out, we dropped by the chow-hall for an evening coffee and snack (no, really, you could drop by and get coffee and munchies anytime - it was like having a poor soldier's Starbucks down the street), and then went back to our new home and slipped into our sleeping bags, and drifted off to sleep . . . no guard duty, no radio watch, no duty in the morning. There was nothing to keep us from getting a solid eight or more hours of sleep for the first time in a long while.

KA-BWHOOOM! In the middle of the night, an explosion rocked the tent. Whatever it was, it had gone off right behind us. I jerked awake, yelling "Holy fucking shit!" Of course, as a trained and combat hardened green beret, I reacted calmly and professionally to the sudden crisis. Thanks to my unerring instincts, I knew that I needed to get out of the sleeping bag, get off the cot and on the floor, grab my body armor and helmet and get them on, get my boots on, grab my weapon, check on everybody else, and assess the situation. The only problem was that I tried to do them all at once - I rolled out of bed, still in the sleeping bag, and whacked against the floor, feeling around for my headlamp and body armour. "What the fuck was that?" My only consolation was that Jack's reaction was, if possible, even less graceful than mine was. From the sounds in the cot next to mine, somebody had thrown an alley cat into Jack's sleeping bag with him, and one of them was going to come out. He was desperately trying to get the quick-release zipper on his sleeping bag to function under high stress and it just wasn't working out for him.

Dan, on the other hand, was strangely calm about the whole thing. His headlamp snapped on from the head of his bunk just as a second explosion went off, again from right behind us. "Oh yeah," he said, lifting his head up from the pillow and opening one eye, "One more thing I needed to tell you from the briefing tonight. The 120mm mortars have a middle of the night fire mission - they should start firing at 0320." I let go of my helmet and hit the light on my watch - the mortars were right on time.

I also found out the hard way that they were right behind us. Dan didn't seem to have any trouble dropping back off to sleep, but oddly enough, it took me and Jack a while longer before we could relax.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A few more random comments, and then back to the blog . . .

In my last post, I mentioned, in passing, my misgivings about the military's transformation in general, and the Stryker brigades in particular. There were a couple of interesting comments that got made in response, and I wanted to take a few minutes and discuss them a bit (I'll get back to the war stories in a second, I promise.)

Uncle Jimbo points out that we have many other options to fight tanks other than going head to head with them. He mentions our air superiority, UAVs, and smart munitions - and there are other options he doesn't go into, on top of that.

Tim Thumb notes -and he's correct, although I think the reasons are more systemic than he suggests - that the US has only a fraction of the manufacturing base that it had during WWII, and would thus be incapable of mounting an industrial campaign as it did in the Second World War.

To Tim's point, I think that it's pretty clear that the United States is now a post-industrial economy, and if we are going to maintain a distinct military advantage, it will be based on superior technology, and superior integration of technology with the war-fighting process (not the same thing, by the way.) We couldn't, even if we wanted to, win a future war through superior production of roughly equivalent products or even vastly superior production of inferior products (say, the Sherman vs. the Tiger.)

One of the primary reasons we were able to win the Second World War was that the military recognized, in the 1930s, the importance of our industrial advantage and took steps to prepare to use it if necessary (for example, through the creation of the Army Industrial War College.) While nothing that unified and formal has been done today (that I'm aware of), Rumsfeld's vision about transformation is based on the potential of technology overcoming mass - and the services are working on it apace. Smart munitions are a terrific example of that - the bombing philosophy of WWII was based on mass - "round the clock" bombing, "bombing waves", and so on. Today, a handful of JDAMs launched from a single aircraft can accomplish, through precision, the same effect that an entire bomber wing from the Second World War might have had - and with much less collateral damage.

On the other hand, relying on technology instead of industrial superiority carries with it a distinct risk: the barriers to replicating a technological success are much smaller than they are to creating an industrial base. I think we see that in the relative speed with which intellectual outsourcing took place in the software industry versus the relatively slow pace of outsourcing of our industrial base. You can, in retrospect, track the history of industrial outsourcing over a forty year plus period - from the sixties until now - before it became a significant issue. In the software industry, it happened in a matter of a few years. It can be argued that part of that difference is because the model for outsourcing already existed, but I think what's more important is that technology requires a much smaller capital outlay, and enabling components can typically be bought off the shelf. The only other requirement for high technology is a smart, educated workforce. Smart people occur in roughly the same distribution worldwide, and technical education isn't that hard for a country to provide (either through building a system like India, or simply sending the best and brightest to the US for training, like China.)

Right now, the US has a distinct and probably insurmountable technological advantage in war-fighting over the rest of the world. My concern is that that advantage might not exist, or might not exist to the degree it does now, in 2020 or 2025, and we should be prepared for that. Our potential adversaries have seen the incredible advantage that our technology confers on our war-fighting capability, and you can be sure they're working to incorporate that advantage into their own equipment and doctrine. And, while developing technology might be hard, duplicating it becomes relatively simple. The US may classify a specific weapons system, but the underlying and enabling technologies are usually widely available and shared in technical journals, papers, and the Internet. In 1980, a cruise missile was an incredible technological undertaking - today, using off the shelf parts (an embedded computer, a GPS receiver, some servos, and some piping) you could build one cheaply and easily (although I'd advise against it, by the way. Putting a guidance system on a rocket is illegal in the US, unless you're the government, or they say it's OK.) We'll probably always be one or two generations ahead, but if we de-emphasize all the other elements of weapons design, I think it will eventually mean trouble - for example, creating a relatively lightly armoured, wheeled vehicle and thinking of it as a tank. It would be one thing for a Stryker brigade to go up against a heavy tank force based on the paradigm of an industrial army - as Uncle Jimbo points out, with out advantages in air power, sensors, smart munitions, and network-centric warfare, we'd clean their clocks. But it will be another thing for a Stryker force with access to, say, third generation "transformational" sensor and C4I technology to go up against a heavy tank force with first gen technology of the same sort.

For instance, let's say, as in Uncle Jimbo's example, we field smart munitions with pattern recognition technology capable of loitering over the battlefield and killing threat tanks as they maneuver to engage. That represents a huge advantage conferred by technology. But let's take it further - given the current state of the art, it's not impossible to imagine a threat buying an off-the-shelf doppler radar, combining it with a minigun mounted on a high speed motorized gimbal, and bolting the whole thing to the back deck of a tank. Instant, relatively cheap, Aegis system for the bad guy's tanks, and a huge technological advantage negated.

And while we lead the world in UAVs right now, I think that we have more to fear from them than we realize. Right now, we can pretty much be assured of establishing air supremacy within a few days of hostilities starting in pretty much any situation we might find ourselves in. In fact, the Army doesn't even have a doctrine for fighting a war without the ability to at least establish local air superiority. UAVs are cheap and relatively easy to build - in many cases, they're not much more than an oversized model airplane. "Smartness," in the sense of sensors and the ability to filter and act on sensor data, is a pretty straightforward computer science project these days, as well. A country like China may not be able to match us fighter for fighter, but how hard will it be for them to create UAV "swarms" that overwhelm our fighter and air defense capabilities?

And sometimes technological advantage can be negated through extremely low-tech means, as we've learned in training and in Kosovo.

I would agree with Uncle Jimbo that tanks aren't necessarily needed to fight tanks. On the other hand, I don't want to sound like a 1980s submariner after a few drinks talking about the obsolescence of the aircraft carrier. If you need heavy armor, especially in an urban environment where a lot of sensor capabilities may be degraded, you need heavy armor. In short, I think that technological transformation is an essential component of maintaining and enhancing our warfighting edge - but I don't think it's a good idea for us to end up with a force that is, weapon for weapon, inferior except for technological edge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

And the correct answer is . . .

Who knows - that's what makes military history interesting: Everybody approaches it with a different viewpoint.

A lot of support for Kursk and the Normandy breakout as the pivotal moments in the European theater. That was pretty much where most of the people I was talking this over came down as well (although at least one felt like D-Day was the important battle on the Western Front - his take was that the Normandy breakout was a given once the beachheads were secure.) But I was talking to a bunch of ground-pounders, of course.

I felt like a class traitor for thinking this way, but I took the position that the key campaign in the European theater was the Battle of the Atlantic, and that the inflection point in the war was Donitz's May 43 withdrawl of subs from the Northern Atlantic. Even though we still took some shipping and escort losses after that, the security of the supply lines from North America to England (and to the Soviets via Archangel and Murmansk) was never in doubt after that point.

Once our logistical pipeline was assured, Germany was caught between Russian manpower reserves and the industrial base of the United States. Even if Hitler hadn't interfered with the German Army's conduct of the war, I don't think there was anything that they could have done (short of developing atomic weapons before we did) to have won the thing. (By the way, Big D, I'm going to have to read Black May - thanks for letting me know about it.)

I've always agreed with the conventional wisdom about Midway, by the way - if you make the reasonable assumption that taking Midway would have led to the fall of Hawaii (or,at least made it untenable as a base for the Pacific fleet), it would have allowed the Japanese to cut our supply lines to SE Asia and Australia, and, worse, would have gone a long way towards securing their supply lines (how much less effective would our submarine campaign against Japanese merchant shipping have been if the submarines had to base out of San Diego or San Francisco?) That, in turn, could have allowed them - in addition to the immense strategic advantage Hawaii would give them - to, if not keep pace with US ship-building, at least do a much better job of matching our numbers. As it was, Midway closed out the Japanese offensive on the short side of Yamamoto's prediction.

I did think that Code Wizard's and MKL's suggestion that the Allied codebreaking effort represented the tipping point was a good one. I finished a book recently (Codebreakers' Victory: How the Allied Cryptographers Won World War II, by Hervie Haufler) that makes a very good case for that point of view.

I also thought that Major Mike's point about Tarawa was interesting. It's interesting to speculate how our tactics and strategy might have changed if it had turned out to be a disaster.

Thanks everybody, for the fascinating discussion.

But then, I always tend to think that logistics trumps pretty much everything else, at least in the long run. That's the rationale behind the Stryker brigades today - trading some top end combat capability for quickness of deployment and depth of logistical support. I see Stryker as an intermediate force between quick reaction forces (like the Marines or Army Airborne) and heavy combat follow-on echelons. The lesson of Gulf War I was pretty clear - it took too long to get a credible combat force on the ground after we deployed the 82nd. There was a period of several months where we were sitting there with our butt's flapping in the breeze - had the Republican Guard come screaming towards Riyadh, we would have been in a world of hurt. (We might have one anyway - even though it would have been light infantry vs. heavy armor, I imagine that the Marines and 82nd would have given a good account (the morale is to the material as . . .) and our airpower might have turned the tide. No doubt, though, that it would have been extremely bloody.

So, given that we're no longer sure where the bad guys will attack (see Fulda Gap) and we can't depend on prepositioned heavy forces, Stryker is a good idea. The thing that concerns me is, as a computer / systems geek who's heard this kind of talk about transformation before, that I don't believe some of the hype about Stryker being able to go up against heavy conventional forces because of sensor integration, network-centric warfare, technology advantage, and the like. If we ever have to fight a determined nation-state with a significant industrial base (say, China, just for instance) we neglect our ability to project heavy armored forces at our peril. That's the core of my concern about Stryker - if it comes to be seen as a substitute for armor, instead of a intermediate force positioned between light and heavy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Soldier, it's time to soldier

Warning: Intemperate language follows:

I was going through my blog list while eating lunch today, and I found this post concerning the IRR in the Mudville Gazette's open links forum. The author equates activation of IRR soldiers beyond their originally scheduled ETS (Expiration Term of Service - the day you're out of the military) date with a new draft. The first comment to the article refers to it as an "injustice." And Paul Conner, of DefenseWatch, weighs in with an article discussing the "drafting" of Sgt. Emiliano Santiago, who's ETS date was adjusted so that he could deploy to Afghanistan with his Oregon National Guard unit. Paul Conner notes that the 9th Circuit refused to grant relief to Sgt. Santiago, thus requiring him to deploy as scheduled. Mr. Conner feels that this decision represents "egregious violations of contractual terms and conditions."

Well, bullshit - these people are simply wrong. Getting tapped on the way out the door for combat service may be a flaming pain in the ass, but it's not an injustice, and it's not a draft. And it certainly doesn't violate the terms of the voluntary enlistment contract.

When you initially sign up, you sign up for an obligated period of service of eight years. For part of that eight years, you may sign up for an active duty obligation (two, three, four or six years, depending on the specialty, the branch of service, and the benefits you get.) You may choose to go directly into the reserves or guard, and have a six year initial drilling obligation. Either way, you're in the military for the whole eight years. If you complete your active duty or organized reserve obligation, and you choose not to re-enlist, you don't get out. You're transferred to the IRR (the individual ready reserve) for the remainder of your eight year commitment - you don't have to show up for work, and you don't get paid, but you're still in the military. You're not out until the eight years is up.

And, like anyone else in the military, you're subject to involuntary extension in a time of war or national emergency, for the duration plus six months. That rule extends back before we got into the Second World War, so it's not like its been sprung on us suddenly during the GWOT. It's embedded in the US code (Title 10 USC 671(a)):

Members: service extension during war

Unless terminated at an earlier date by the Secretary concerned, the period of active service of any member of an armed force is extended for the duration of any war in which the United States may be engaged and for six months thereafter."

And it's not like service members don't know this going in. Enlistees, who have to meet minimum education and intelligence requirements, and who can thus be presumed to be able to read and understand their enlistment contract, have all this explained to them in the document - and not tucked away in some small font size addendum either. The enlistment contract clearly spells out, in about 14 point type:


a. FOR ALL ENLISTEES: If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component unless I am sooner discharged.

b. If I am a member of a Reserve Component of an Armed Force at the beginning of a period of war or national emergency declared by Congress, or if I become a member during that period, my military service may be extended without my consent until six (6) months after the end of that period of war.

c. As a member of a Reserve Component, in time of war or national emergency declared by the Congress, I may be required to serve on active duty (other than for training) for the entire period of the war or emergency and for six (6) months after its end.

So, again, legally and contractually (in case you missed it the first time), the rules are pretty simple, and they're spelled out for you before you sign up: when you join, you accept an eight year obligation. You're not out until the eight years is up. If you accept a commission (as an officer or as a commissioned warrant), you're not out until your initial obligated period of service is up, and you resign your commission (it goes back to the whole officer and a gentleman thing - gentlemen are expected to know enough to send regrets if they don't want to go to the party.)

At any time during that eight years, if Congress declares a war or national emergency, you can be extended for the duration plus six months. The Pentagon would be well within the limits of the law and its "contractual obligation" to service members to tell the entire force (including the IRR) that they can't get out until the whole thing's over. They haven't done that - they have called people up out of the IRR, including some people who have been extended beyond their original ETS date to go. Those people all knew that possibility existed when they signed up. The IRR exists to provide a pool of trained manpower available in a war or emergency - the benefits you get when you sign up aren't just for the period of active or "drilling" reserve service you accept. They're also in exchange for you being a part of that pool if you get out. If you don't like that, don't sign the paper.

The fact that even the egregiously anti-military 9th Circuit didn't find the counter-arguments to that position to be compelling seems to be a fair indicator that the arguments against involuntary extension lack any merit.

Yeah, of course it would suck to get tapped on the way out the door - and I'm sure it doesn't seem fair to somebody who's been in the IRR for several years, and who thinks of themselves as out of the army, to get pulled back in at the last minute. But it's not an injustice - it's what they signed up for. If there are individual circumstances that would make it an injustice to call a service member back to active duty (a medical condition or an extreme hardship - single parenthood, a sick spouse or parent, etc.), there is a process to apply for and receive an exemption. I know that people and circumstances change in eight years - but there are some commitments you make that you're not allowed to break just because they seem inconvenient later. The military is one of those commitments.

Now, you can argue that calling up IRR soldiers indicates that the system is broken, that we should enlarge the size of our active army beyond 10 divisions, that our officer procurement system is inadequate, etc. I tend to not to give those arguments much credence (the IRR exists to give the military surge capacity beyond its peacetime active levels, and I think that we should give restructuring a chance - even though I'm dubious about some of its particulars - before increasing the size of the military), but they are arguable points. What I think is disingenious is the conflation of concerns about how we manage personnel strength in the ground forces with the argument that it's somehow "unjust" to expect somebody who has signed a contract and taken an oath to honor their commitments.

Bitching about things that seem unfair or burdensome - from KP to guard duty to getting involuntarily recalled - is the ancient and honored right of the soldier. I'm not going to think less of anyone for complaining about how they're getting screwed as they get on the bird - as long as they get on the bird. And this post isn't directed at the IRR soldiers who get called up, make their arrangements, and go, however reluctantly. But the IRR soldiers who do get called up and start looking for ways to get out of it, or seeking support for not going, need to re-read their contracts, honor their commitments, get their heads screwed on straight, and cowboy the fuck up.

UPDATE: Based on some news articles and some commentary in the blogosphere, it appeared that Sgt Santiago might have been screwed by the paperwork - that is, his eight year enlistment had already expired, but his unit hadn't outprocessed him, when the stop-loss was imposed on his unit. If you read the government's appelate brief, though, Santiago's unit was notified for Afghan service on April 17th, 2004, and Sgt Santiago's enlistment wasn't up until June 2004. Had the sequence been reversed, I probably would have supported Santiago's efforts to get out - but the stop-loss was imposed while his enlistment was current.

UPDATE 2: Also according to the brief, the government is depending on the President's authority under 10 USC 12302, 10 USC 12305 and his declaration of national emergency, and not under the declaration of national emergency found in Senate Joint Resolution 23. In that case, his statutory authority is limited to 24 months of active duty instead of the duration plus six months. That reads in the enlistment contract, as follows:

(1) In time of national emergency declared by the President of the United States I may be ordered to active duty (other than for training) for not more than 24 consecutive months.

Slightly off-topic topic for discussion

Something I had a discussion about recently, and since I appear to have some visitors who follow military history, I thought I'd pose the question that came up here and see what people think about it. We were talking about Edwin Creasy's book (Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo), and the idea of decisive battle as it applied to World War II came up.

What we were arguing, and what my question for the group is, is what was the decisive battle (or campaign) in the European Theater in World War II? At what point, in retrospect, could you say that the Allies were nearly certain to win; or could at least be thought of as past the "tipping point" of the war? Was it the Battle of Britain, The Battle of the Atlantic, Stalingrad, D-Day, or something else? Was there, in fact, a single inflection point in the Atlantic as there was in the Pacific?

(Actually, you could argue that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's suicidal declaration of war a few days later was the politically decisive moment for both theaters, but that's cheating: what was the strategically decisive moment or campaign?)

Monday, April 18, 2005

A question about wanna-be's

As I mentioned earlier, I was on Jack Army's site and read his post about this guy who had some pretty outrageous things to say about his supposed wartime experiences. (The original is reproduced here, if you're interested.)

(By the way, did anyone notice that, not only is he apparently lying about his service, but he's ripping off the Three Bears? Stan thought, "Papa Bear's green beret is too big, but Baby Bear's is just right . . .")

Here's what I don't understand - why do the poseurs always seem to take it so far over the top? This guy claims to have HALOed from a B-52, and to have resorted to cannabilism to stay alive in Vietnam. Why isn't enough to just pretend to have been a "green beret" in the war there? That's not enough pretended glory for them?

I mean, I didn't HALO from a B-52, I didn't fight off a legion of flesh-eating Al-Qaeda with a laser improvised from a .50 cal casing, a watch crystal and a Bic lighter, I wasn't awarded the Medal of Honor (in point of fact, I didn't do anything that was particularly valorous), and I didn't resort to eating human flesh (as far as I know - some of the dishes served up by the Afghans were somewhat mysterious.) Nonetheless, I "lived the myth" of the Green Beret, and I suspect that my war stories would get a respectful hearing at the VFW, and from a local paper, if I chose to go that route.

So why does the guy who's just pretending have to pretend to so much, expecially since it makes him so much more likely to be caught? I think that I need to add a point to my post on how to pretend to be a Green Beret:

Remember, it's a small community, and if you really have HALOed from a B-52, or escaped and evaded across Iran through Turkey, or have been awarded the Medal of Honor, people will know about it. Better to pretend to have been an ordinary, run of the mill Green Beret from an unspecified group, so that the real operators will be less inclined to check your stories.

But I do want to know when I get to learn how to kill goats by wishing them dead, so I can prove I'm a real "Green Beret."

(How do we know that particular Green Beret story is fiction, by the way? If SF guys really could stop someone's heart by thinking about it, there wouldn't be a Sergeant Major on Fort Bragg left alive.)

Oh yeah? Well, I've fast-roped from a C-5!

This post from Jack Army, by way of Jennifer, discusses somebody who claims, among other things, to have done a HALO jump from a B-52 (and to have eaten a human being sometime shortly thereafter - sadly for posterity, the recipe wasn't included in the article. I mean, enquiring minds want to know, what is the best way to prepare human: do you broil it over an open fire, make a stew, braise it with some wild onions and thyme, have the liver with some fava beans from your MRE and a nice Chianti you happen to have in your canteen? What?)

Jennifer finds that to be as likely as her being a door gunner on the space shuttle. The whole thing reminded me that I know somebody who has fast-roped out of a C-5. Whenever wild tales of derring-do (usually only slightly exaggerated) came up, he could trot that out and top anybody - especially, since, after he explained it, it made sense.

Some background: The C-5 Galaxy is the largest plane in the Air Force inventory. It's a monstrous aircraft capable of carrying two M1-A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks.

Fast-roping (also known as FRIES: Fast Rope Insertion / Extraction System) is a method of getting out of a hovering helicopter quickly. Basically, a 120' long thick squishy rope hangs out of the top of the door, and the fast-roper reaches out, grabs the rope, and slides down Batpole style. Fast-roping is always fraught with excitement, since if you miss the rope, or slip, or let go, you get to fall up to 100'. Unlike rappelling, you're not attached to the rope or the helicopter by anything other than your grip. You can also come to grief it the helicopter pilot screws up the hover and gets up more than 120' (more likely to happen at night) or if you're hovering over a building or the like and the helicopter slips sideways while you're on the rope. Sliding off the bottom of a fast-rope and still having 20-30' or more to go isn't any fun.

Fast roping, however, is much faster than rappelling (or landing the chopper, for that matter), so it's become the preferred insertion method out of a helicopter. It's completely unsuitable, of course, for getting out of a fixed wing aircraft with a stall speed of 136 knots (be prepared to do a vigorous PLF - parachute landing fall - at the bottom of the rope!)

But it's true that one of the guys on my team has done a fast-rope from a C-5. Back when he was there, one of the primary missions of the Ranger Battalions was airfield seizure - jumping onto an airfield and taking control of it so that other troops, equipment and supplies could be air-landed. As part of that mission, the powers-that-be were experimenting with having Rangers fly in on C-5s, both so that they could provide security for the aircraft, and so that they could get the maximum amount of equipment onto the airfield in the shortest time. The problem was, how to get the Rangers out of the C-5 after it landed. Because the plane is so big, the troop door is way off the ground - too high to jump out off (especially with 100 lbs+ of gear) without risking a broken ankle. And the cargo ramp takes longer to lower than the Rangers could wait to get in the fight.

So, the solution was to come up with an I-bar that went above the troop door. The aircraft would land, the troop doors would be opened, the I-bars would be put into place, the ropes would be dropped, and the Rangers would fast rope the 10' or so to the ground. An elegant solution, and the best part was that those who had participated in the test could say, with absolute accuracy "Well, yeah, I've fast-roped out of a C-5A Galaxy."

Friday, April 15, 2005

The night that nothing much went right, but nothing much went wrong, either . . .

I deliberately stay away from stories that might illuminate our or the enemy's TTP's (tactice, techniques, and procedures.) In this case, though, I'm sure the bad guys have already figured out what we were doing with this one, so with some blurring of the sharp edges of the details, here we go:

One of the things we figured out eventually is that, in the rural areas of Southeast Afghanistan, initiating a raid by driving up to a compound almost never worked. The bad guys almost always had a watcher on the roof if they were in the compound, and they'd spot the incoming vehicles. Given that the terrain we were working in was generally flat (high desert valleys bordered by mountains), you could see for miles from the roof of a compound. Unless the compound was on the main road, the only time you'd see the headlights of three or four vehicles moving together late at night was if we were inbound. If we drove under NODs (night vision goggles) without headlights, the bad guys would figure out that the noise of vehicles with no headlights had to be us. And, of course, if we chose the daring daylight raid, they'd see the military vehicles coming from miles away. During our first raids, it wasn't unusual to see several motorcycles stream past us, and hear later that one of them had been driven by the object of our raid.

Finally, we hit on a tactic that worked pretty well - before the raid kicked off, we'd sneak in a force on foot to surround the perimeter of the compound and keep people from fleeing once the vehicles were inbound. Late at night, we'd take two or three US soldiers and a force of ANA (Afghan National Army) troops, and patrol up to the compound we planned to bounce. Once we had the cordon in place, we'd radio the assault force and they'd come in on vehicles and make the hit.

Leading the cordon force was a both a lot of fun and a pain in the ass - it was a lot of fun because you actually got to patrol on foot, if not through indian country, then through what might turn into indian country. SF soldiers never really get over their infantry roots, and walking through a potentially hostile environment leading foreign troops was what we had spent most of our careers training for - it was just like Robin Sage, except in an arid semi-desert environment instead of North Carolina pine forests. (Oh yeah, there were a couple of other differences between Afghanistan and "Pineland." In Afghanistan, the bullets were real, the "g's" were a lot more motivated, and the American dollar went a lot further than it did in Pineland.)

On the other hand, it was a pain because you had to patrol in from far enough away not to alert the bad guys - usually 10km or more from the drop-off point to the coumpound. That doesn't seem like a lot, but by the time you factor in 100 pounds or more of gear, ammo, body armor and the like, and take into account the broken terrain, it was a long walk. In the southeast, the Afghan countryside was criss-crossed with irrigation ditches and dikes that had to be clambered over and through, and the fields between them were usually rutted and uneven. Plus, even in the arid environment, there was the occasional patch of thick vegetation (usually following the streams and riverbeds) that had to be pushed through.

Our senior weapons sergeant, Mike, was a alumnus of 3rd Ranger Battalion, and had a reputation for finding the wettest, messiest route possible whenever he walked point. He was a fervent believer that a) conventional soldiers don't like to get their feet wet, so they won't patrol the creekbeds looking for you and b) the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, even if it's through the middle of a swamp. Back before we got deployed, it was a truism that if he walked point, we were going to get wet - but that was in temperate forests in the states. Maybe the only good thing about being in Afghanistan was the certainty that for once, we could patrol with him and not get soaked.

One of the earliest things we did was institute regular foot patrols around the A-camp. Eventually, we farmed those out to our ANA, but in the beginning, we did it ourselves. On one of my first patrols, I was out with Dan and Mike looping south to take a look at some fields where the bad guys had set up mortars a few days before.

We were walking through some open fields when we came to a fairly thick treeline with a path running beside it. Mike, taking the straightest line to where we wanted to go, began working his way through the treeline. Dan followed him in. Since I was in back, I turned around to pull security in the direction we had come from - it wouldn't have been good for all of us to get hung up in the trees at once if someone had been following us. From behind me, I heard the signature rustling and snapping sounds of someone breaking brush as Mike and Dan worked their way through. Suddenly, there was the unmistakeable sound of someone hitting water - this wasn't the splash of someone going ankle deep, either. This was a deep, full-throated sploosh! that indicated somebody had just gone at least up to their waist. It turned out that the treeline had grown up around the main irrigation stream / canal / ditch that serviced all of the fields in the area. Forewarned, Dan and I managed to only go into the water to mid-thigh - Mike was soaked up to the chest.

On the way back to camp, we had to cross the creek in the other direction. Dan was on point then, and skirted the treeline until he found a litle bridge where the path crossed over the ditch - not more than 30' from where we had pushed our way through in the first place. We were all suitably impressed that Mike had managed to find water, even in the desert, and suggested hiring him out as a human dowsing rod. If you wanted to find water someplace, we figured, all we had to was have Mike lead a patrol across it, and it would be bound to turn up.

Anyway, we had gotten word from a pretty reliable source that a 19 year old boy was hiding rockets in his family compound, and letting the Taliban use the surrounding fields as a launch site to fire the rockets at our camp. Our source told us that he didn't think the kid was really bad - but his father had died, his uncle was angling to take over the family compound and fields and add it to his own, and the local Talibs not only provided the boy and his family with much needed cash, they had also promised to help him in dealing with his uncle.

Dan and I were leading an ANA platoon in to set up the cordon around the compound. We walked the platoon into within about 800 meters of the compound, halted them, and had them set up a secure perimeter (military readers will recognize this as the ORP - Objective Rally Point.) We had driven by a few days earlier on one of our routine mounted patrols of the area, so we had a pretty good idea of how we wanted to do things, but there's nothing like taking a look around before you commit everybody. So, Dan and I took the ANA platoon leader, one of his squad leaders, and a terp, off on a leader's recon of the objective, so we could figure out how we were going to set everybody in. There were two compounds, side by side - one belonged to the boy's family, and the other was his uncle's. We weren't 100% sure which was which, so we planned to surround and search them both. We found a good route to the target, and figured out which squad would go where to surround the compounds. The ANA platoon leader took his soldier and the terp back to pick up the platoon and bring them forward. Dan and I settled in to wait for them to come back.

The ANA lieutenant had only been gone a few minutes when Dan and I saw a light, like a flashlight, snap on and off a few times in the field behind us. Since the light was off behind us, I'm ashamed to admit that we immediately jumped to the conclusion that our lieutenant had gotten lost and was trying to figure out where he was. But, the light kept snapping on, moving over the same ground, and then turning off. Dan and I decided to move down and take a look. We radioed the camp, and had them call the ANA patrol and let them know what we were doing, and to have them wait for us at the release point where we were supposed to link up.

We crept through a field of some sort of waist-high grass towards the light. We weren't making a lot of noise, and what noise we did make was somewhat covered by the sound of a diesel irrigation pump running nearby. As we got closer to the light source, we could make out a man moving around in one corner of the field. Even closer, and we saw that what we thought might have been a rifle or RPG launcher was actually a shovel. From the field, we heard the sound of digging.

Now, this was exciting stuff. I glanced at my watch - it was around 2:30am locally, and here we were, not more than half a kilometer from a compound we knew had been used to fire rockets at us. We were convinced that this was a bad guy servicing a weapons cache - digging up buried rockets to shoot at us. What other reason would someone have to be digging at this time of night? And we were going to catch him in the act!

Dan stayed there to keep an eye on him while I scurried back to link up with the ANA. I got about halfway back, and saw that, instead of doing what we had asked and waiting for us, the entire ANA platoon was making its way down towards where we were. Great. Now, instead of one moving element (me) making its way from a known direction into a static position, we had two moving elements wandering around trying to bump into each other, and not bump into any bad guys. That's how accidents happen. I stopped and waited for them to get reasonably close, then, trying to look as American as possible, stood up and called out softly to the terp: "I'm over here."

As soon as they knew I was there, I walked over to the ANA, and resisting the urge to ask what the hell they were doing there, talked to the ANA lieutenant about sending most of his men back to wait and only taking a squad forward. Even moving quietly, there was no way that the guy in the field wouldn't hear a platoon of men tromping around. He agreed, and we started back towards the digging with a squad of soldiers. We crept back up to where Dan was keeping an eye on things, and he told us that it looked like an old man to him, and that he had been digging steadily the whole time. The ANA lieutenant sent two of his men forward to grab the old man and bring him back to us. They got within maybe 10' when the old guy picked up on them. As nearly as I could follow the conversation (and confirmed later by the terp) the old man calls out "Who's there?" "Get over here now! "replied the two shadowy figures with guns. So the old man screams the Afghan equivalent of "Oh shit, oh fuck, oh no!" and takes off running. The two soldiers take off after him, and probably would have caught him in a dozen steps or so - but at this point the PKM* gunner gets into the act and rips off a burst of about a dozen rounds, which inspires the guy next to him to open up with his AK. Just freaking terrific.

Dan and I leap up, yelling "Don't shoot" in Dari at the top of our lungs (believe me, "Don't shoot" is one of the first phrases you learn), the ANA lieutenant is yelling at his squad, and the old man is screaming at the top of his lungs. So much for surprise.

They dragged the old guy over to where we were, and let him go. He fell to his hands and knees, gasping for breathe with this keening sort of staccato breathing going on. I get him rocked up on his knees, and he's panting, shaking uncontrollably, eyes frozen wide - he looks about one step away from shocking out. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out if he's been hit or not - running my hands over him looking for an entrance wound while I'm snapping at the terp: "Ask him if he's hurt. Ask him if he's been shot." I hate to admit it, but I was less concerned with the human dimension at that point than I was with all the statements and paperwork this incident would generate if the man was to die or turn out to be seriously injured. I was already mentally rehearsing the conversation that I would be having with my chain of command if it turned out we shot an old man armed with a shovel. ("Hey, sir, it was an Afghan soldier in the Afghan National Army firing an Afghan weapon at an Afghan civilian in Afghanistan. I don't see why you're yelling at me.")

After a few minutes of not finding a bullet hole and of listening to the man's keening, I switched my instructions to the terp: "Tell him, if he's not shot, he needs to shut the fuck up, now!" It turned out, after we spent a few minutes getting the old man calmed down, that despite the gunfire, he was uninjured. Not one of the rounds had hit him, either because the PK gunner was firing a warning shot (his claim), or he just couldn't shoot worth a damn (my suspicion.) Either way, we finally got the old man calmed down to the point that he could talk to us (Not that I mean any disrespect to the Muslim religion, but the process probably would have been helped along immensely if we could have given him a few shots of brandy.)

It also turned out that the old man was the uncle of the boy we had come to collect. He and the boy's family were embroiled in a water dispute over who had the rights to the output from a particular irrigation ditch. Just like in the American Old West, water disputes were a major source of conflict - and, in the absence of any effective court and law enforcement system, often became the basis of a shooting feud. The digging had nothing to do with servicing a weapons cache: that night, at 2am or so, the old man was out there with a shovel diverting the flow of the irrigation ditch back onto his fields. That had been going on every night for the last few nights, and every morning, the 19 year old discovered the diversion and re-diverted the water back onto his land. So far, the bonds of family kept them from shooting each other, but it was only a matter of time.

One of the reasons the uncle was so scared was that he didn't expect Americans and ANA to be out running around in the middle of the night. When he saw and heard the shadowy figures with guns coming out of the dark towards him, he figured that they were Taliban friends of his nephew come to deal with the water issue once and for all. So, when the PK rounds started whizzing past his ears, he was pretty sure he was on his way to a little one on one meeting with Allah.

After he figured out that he wasn't going to die, the uncle was all too willing to make sure that we knew which compound belonged to the boy, and to tell us the best way to get in. Fortunately, the kid had decided to stay put when he heard the weapons fire. He didn't figure that the Americans would come in shooting, so he thought it must be a private dispute he needed to stay out of. He stayed where he was, and we were able to hit the compound and capture him without further incident. I actually ended up feeling a little sorry for him - he was one of those guys that you knew had always been picked on as a kid. He was no good at standing up to his uncle or his mother, who were on different sides of the whole land and water dispute, and I suspect that a lot of the reason he hooked up with the bad guys was to get a little respect as a badass Taliban - and to give him some leverage with his uncle. I also suspect - but couldn't prove - that his mom was involved with the whole rocket thing up to her neck. Hell, it was probably her idea that he become a terrorist in the first place.

Anyway, we held him for a few days, and ended up "paroling" him to the local shura of his tribe instead of shipping him off to Bagram. (A shura is a council of tribal elders who make decisions for the tribe and speak on their behalf.) That worked well for us, since it demonstrated to the community that we were willing to work within their framework, and it saved us the embarrassment of sending a crying kid up there with the real bad guys.

*PKM: Pulemyot Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy - a Soviet built light machine gun.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Warning - coffee spray alert

I got a mention by BlackFive, and in the same post, he talked about another SF soldier - name of Uncle Jimbo. I took a look at his homepage, and he's got some great stories of his own, so he's going to become a regular read for me - you'll find his blog over to the right, with the rest of the SOFBlogs.

He's also got this on his page - purportedly written by a PsyOps soldier name of Specialist Schwarz. WARNING: Put the coffee down before you follow the link - good way to ruin a keyboard, otherwise.

(Guy's definitely a soldier, almost certainly a PsyOps soldier, but I suspect that Schwarz may be a pseudonym - if it were me, I'd wait 'til the statute of limitations ran out before copping to some of these.) PsyOps soldiers are the guys who design information campaigns - propaganda, we used to call it before that became a bad thing - and they tend to be smart, clever, smartass, shoot from the hip guys. Some of that spills over in their relationship with the Army. In the case of SPC Schwarz, it looks like the spill was more like a dam bursting. Schwarz spent some time in Bosnia, where he learned there are a number of things you can't do in the Army - 213 of them, to be exact. Some of them include:

6. Not allowed to play 'Pulp Fiction' with a suction-cup dart pistol and any officer.

29. The Irish MPs are not after 'Me frosted lucky charms'.

47. I am not a citizen of Texas, and those other, forty-nine, lesser states.

56. An order to 'Make my Boots black and shiny' does not involve electrical tape.

83. Must not start any SITREP (Situation Report) with "I recently had an experience I just had to write you about...."

94. Crucifixes do not ward off officers, and I should not test that.

148. Putting red 'Mike and Ike's'® into a prescription medicine bottle, and then eating them all in a formation is not funny.

181. Pokémon® trainer is not an MOS.

205. Don't write up false gigs on a HMMWV PMCS. ("Broken clutch pedal", "Number three turbine has frequent flame-outs", "flux capacitor emits loud whine when engaged")

Go read the whole thing - but don't forget what I told you about the coffee.

Also found a blog from Consul-at-Arms that's a fascinating read - he's former military who's currently an FSO (foreign service officer) with the State Department. Interesting spin on a lot of subjects, plus he's got got a Scots ancestry (or at least a healthy interest), and he reads Keith Laumer. I'm absolutely in favor of anyone from DoS who reads Laumer - it should be required reading for everyone over there. He's also to be found over to the right.