Sunday, May 29, 2005

. . . and the familes.

I got an email recently that took me to task for taking too lighthearted a view of war and military service. The writer seemed to feel that by not dwelling on death and fear and horror, I was leaving a false impression of how combat was. I didn't think too much about it at the time - his main point seemed to be that, by not making my experiences seem terrible, I might actually encourage someone else to join up. I've already mentioned in this blog that I wasn't one of those who paid a heavy price for my service, and I do want to encourage others to do their duty as citizens - if they decide that duty includes military service, then I want to applaud that decision and not discourage it. I thought about the email again, though, as Memorial Day approached. And everyone should know that, for all that I sometimes make light of my experiences in combat, there are people who have paid dearly for the things that we sometimes take for granted in this country.

Maybe all soldiers in combat don't pay a heavy price, but some do, and every family of a combat soldier does. The wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, spend their days living with the dread of seeing the Army staff car pull up into the yard. Every news report of casualties - a rocket attack in Ghazni, a suicide bomber in Baghdad - hangs over them, day and night, until the names are released. Was it him? Was he on the chopper, in the HMMWV, on the patrol that got ambushed? And when a soldier does go down, he pays the "last full measure of devotion" then and there. For the family, the butcher's bill is presented on the installment plan. The family pays with every missed birthday, every question from the young child, "When is Daddy coming home?", every lonely night with an empty bed serving as a perpetual memorial, every pang of loss down through the years.

In the town where I live, every Memorial Day, Main Street and the town square are lined with plain white wooden crosses about three feet high, each surmounted with a small US flag, and each with the name and war of a local son who died in one of America's foreign wars. Even though it's a small town, we have enough war dead to line both sides of several miles of road with crosses spaced 20' or so apart. Family names common in the area leap out as you drive by, reminders of sacrifices gone by and pain still remembered.

And sometimes that pain goes on for many long years. We have another Memorial Day tradition here: Every year, there's a commemorative gathering in the town square, usually in the week before Memorial Day so that the middle school can attend. There are speakers on the meaning of the day, usually military and political figures, and an invocation by one of the local preachers. Then the Honor Roll of fallen heroes is read, and it takes a while. Family members sometimes step forward and read the name of their loved one, and occasionally share a memory. I try to attend whenever I can, out of respect for the fallen and their families.

One year, not too many years ago, an old, old woman was seated behind the lectern, sitting in her weelchair, but dressed in her "Sunday best." She had been brought from the local nursing home to participate in the ceremony that day as one of the family members who came to remember their dead. She was frail, and on oxygen, and she struggled to stand when the time came to read the name of her lost soldier. She told us that when she was a little girl, her father had gone away to fight in World War I. She remembered lying in bed at night and taking comfort in hearing his footsteps, solid and heavy, as he walked down the hall to his bedroom. One night, after she had gone to bed, she heard his footsteps in the hall for the last time. He came into her room that night and told her that he was leaving for France, that he had to go away for awhile, and that he loved her very much. He never came back. He died in the Meuse-Argonne. As a little girl, she said, all the while he was gone, and even after she learned that he was dead, she would listen for his footsteps in the hall. And now, she told us, as she lived out her last days alone in a nursing home, after a lifetime of tending her family and raising her children, she would still sometimes try to catch the sound of his footsteps as she went to sleep. A long and full lifetime later, longer and richer than most, she still missed her father and, at times, wept for his loss. And she wept then, as she read his name.

Friday, May 27, 2005

More posts about tazers and food

(Pepper spray is a food product, by the way - spray some on your chicken tonight! So the title is fair, even if derivative.)

The worst part of tazer and pepper spray training was of course, getting hit with them. The best part was talking about it with the instructors over a beer afterward. The school we attended makes its instructors "re-certify" (read "re-experience") with pepper spray and tazer annually. Now, if you decided that an annual recertification was required, the logical thing to do would be to schedule a day for it and get it over with - with makeups for whoever was "out sick" (after all, you wouldn't want a headcold to get in the way of the experience.)

But nothing's ever simple when you gather a bunch of alpha wolves into an office building - all of the instructors are ex Special Forces or SEALs or Force Recon or Rangers or specialized law enforcement like SWAT. Naturally, they've developed a system that adds an element of excitement to the otherwise mundane task of an annual torture ritual.

Think of playing "Gotcha" in college, or of Inspector Clouseau and Kato in the Pink Panther movies. If you're an instructor, you will be tazed and pepper sprayed at some point during your "hire month" - the anniversary of the month in which you started your job. At some point during that month - from midnight on the first to midnight on the last day of the month - you'll get it. Actually, you'll get it twice, once with pepper spray and once with the Tazer. One of the other instructors is tasked as the assailant, and he spends the month stalking you. While work is the most common venue for the assault, it's been known to happen pretty much anywhere. There were stories of instructors doing a Die Hard and leaping sideways through an office door to nail the target before he could duck down behind his desk. One instructor agreed to a contract job overseas for his entire anniversary month just to get out of the office - the company paid another instructor to fly after him, somehow get a Tazer through customs, and track the victim down. He got hit in the elevator in his hotel.

The best story we heard was about the lengths one instructor went to to take his target completely unawares. He spent about $250 on a complete day spa package gift certificate and then approached the victim's wife. The deal was done: a day at the spa in exchange for her cooperation. One night, at about 2:30 in the morning, she slipped out of bed, her husband asleep beside her, and let the aggressor in. He took his station in the bedroom, and kicked the bed hard enough to wake the target. As soon as the victim's eyes opened and he started to sit up, he took two Tazer bolts right to the chest. None of us could figure out whether the story indicated a really strong marriage, or a really weak one, but we all thought the breakfast conversation the next morning was probably pretty animated.

Oh well, like they say in the army: it's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye - and then it's hilarious.

By the way, I went looking back through the sitemeter thingy tonight, trying to figure out if anyone was still checking in here after my extended absence. I'd never really paid attention before, but one of the things that the site meter does is to provide a list of "referring pages" - a web page with a link to this site that the visitor clicked through to come here. Most of them are pretty obvious - Jack Army, Mudville Gazette, BlackFive, and the like - but there were also a number of google searches that I ranked high on. If you get here by way of a google search, welcome, but, judging by some of the search terms, I'm not sure you'll find what you were looking for. This blog is in google's top ten for all of the following search terms.

Some of them seem to make sense:
sf halo jump
camelback hose (camelback hose??)
"small unit tactics" mackall
Union Jack + Star spangled banner (from my star spangled banner post, no doubt)
sharana paktika
mountain resolve

Some of them seem a little irrelevant:
grow a beard while bald
loss prevention compusa

And some of them just hurt:
random comments about nothing (I'm at number 3!)

Also, one more blogger for the blogroll, Jean-Paul Borda at the National Guard Experience. He's a fellow techie type who, like me, also moonlights at killing people and breaking things.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Still alive

Back again - after the driving, etc., school, I took a weekend off and then went straight into another short stint of army life. Unfortunately, that meant that I was living in army quarters which inexplicably lacked broadband Internet access, or even an easy way to dial up. So, I ended up taking a week and a half break from the 'Net, which meant no blogging for me.

I'm glad I volunteered for this one, though, even with the web withdrawl symptoms. A senior officer inexplicably had a really good idea - he has a bunch of troops who are getting ready for "overseas deployment," and he wanted to give them the best training he could. His troops are all what the army calls "service support" troops - rear echelon units like finance, maintenance, or supply. Unfortunately, on today's battlefield, there's no such thing as the rear anymore. Yeah, the infantry and SF go looking for trouble, but any soldier in any unit has a chance of being in the convoy that gets attacked, or standing gate guard when the suicide bomber makes his run. So, the senior officer in question and his entire command worked their butt's off to set up some realistic, tough tactical training for their deploying troops: a lot of ammo, vehicles, training lanes, an entire simulated base in indian country . . . and us. We were all combat leaders: infantry or SF, officers or NCOs, with recent combat experience - all members of the Combat Infantryman's Badge club's Iraq or Afghanistan chapters. Our job was to shadow the units going through the training, giving advice and supplemental training as needed, but more important, trying to instill the warrior ethos in soldiers who might need it very badly in the coming months.

(For those with military training experience, we weren't the O/C's - we were out there in addition to the lane Observer/Controllers, and worked with the unit, not with the lane or the training scenario. For those without US military experience, an O/C is a combination coach and umpire - the O/C runs the unit through the training scenario, and comes up with an evaluation of the good and bad the unit did.)

I was out there on the training lanes for about a week and a half, and the change in the unit I was working with over that time was nothing short of amazing. These were really good kids - they were motivated, hard-working, and, by the end of their training, cohesive and highly aggressive. They were even getting to the point that the Army wants to see in combat arms units, where that agression is tightly focused and controlled. On the last day, they were starting to execute their battle drills with precision and flair without losing their "stone killer" violence of action.

I hope that I had at least a little bit to do with their success, although certainly the lion's share of the credit goes to their own hard work and dedication. For me, it was fun to watch the unit blossom, to see it go from being a bunch of soldiers who were mainly technicians who's last tactical training was probably in basic training, to being a combat team, ready to take on whatever the day has in store for them.

On day one, if you had told me I had to ride in a convoy with them, I'd have been scared to death - by the time training was over, I'd have been happy to hitch a ride through bad guy land with them. I don't want to make too much of their transformation - were they at the level of the infantry at the end of the exercise? No. A few weeks of training doesn't substitute for a lifetime of it. But they're combat soldiers now, ready to execute in a bad situation. They're not crazy SF guys, who want to get into the fight, so I hope that "my guys" go their entire rotation without seeing action. But if they do, God help the poor bastard who attacks them.

Some good comments on my last post, by the way - although a few of you seemed a bit too, ummm . . . interested . . . in some of the more esoteric Tazer possibilities (you know who you are, bless you.)

A couple of questions about the gas chamber (wherein the soldier is exposed to CS (tear) gas.)Yes, I've done it a couple of times and it wasn't pleasant, but the purpose there is a bit different. The gas chamber teaches you to don and clear a protective mask under stressful conditions - the CS is there to simulate a chemical attack. Neither CS nor OC have anything like the disabling, painful effect of a Tazer, but then with a Tazer, when it's over, it's over - none of the residual suffering that chemical agents induce. I can tell you that given the choice between the three of them, I'd take the gas chamber every time - despite the painful and embarrassing running from every facial orifice. Of course, maybe that's because I haven't been in a CS chamber for a few years, while the Tazer suffering is all too recent.

Do I think that the training is applicable to conventional troops in OIF/OEF? In a word, yes. There may be some modification to technique in a HMMWV, but a lot of the principles carry right over. And the Army's qualification for HMMWV is woefully inadequate for the rigors of combat driving. (Of course, I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan riding around in a Land Rover, so you just never know.) And you're right, the Army doesn't have this training internally, so you have to go outside for it. If you can do it though, it's worth it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Shocking, just shocking

Sorry about the recent lack of posts - I just went through a great school courtesy of the US taxpayers (thanks, guys - you know who you are.) Unfortunately, the days were long, and when they were over, I was too tired to do much more than grab a beer and hit the rack.

More details on the course later - suffice it to say for now that I got to spend a full week driving like a maniac, swerving and weaving around cars, ramming my way through parked cars, and shooting out of and through car windows. The irony is that, after one memorable late night coming back to Ft. Polk from Tunk's Steak House, my team's SOP is to not let me drive. (In my defense, I'll just say that I hadn't been drinking and that I've never hit anything head on.)

One of my teammates who had been at Fort Polk and in Afghanistan with me was there at the course. On the last day, we were sitting in the front seat of a Crown Vic, right after I had driven him through a drive-by shooting course. He turned to me and told me, "You know, going through this course with you has really made me feel a lot better about your driving." That made me feel pretty good. "Oh," I said, "You really think my driving's gotten better?" "No," he replied, "It's just that I've gotten a lot more comfortable with car crashes and near misses."

Part of the class was a discussion of less-lethal options (the term less-lethal comes from the law enforcement community, and is short for "less lethal than taking a bullet between the eyes." It refers to a whole family of responses that could kill somebody but probably won't, ranging from a baton to pepper spray to the Tazar.) Thanks to this course, I'm now certified with the Tazer and with OC (oleoresin capsicum - pepper spray) which will come in handy if I ever decide on a law enforcement career.

Less lethal options seemed to be an odd fit with the rest of the class, but it was good training - I can easily envision a half dozen scenarios where I wouldn't want to kill somebody (either because they didn't need it, or because I'd rather our side get a chance to talk to them later) but wouldn't necessarily want to have to go hand to hand with them, either. I'd feel pretty comfortable counting on a Tazer to disable someone long enough to take control of them. I can personally attest that nobody's going to draw a gun or a knife while they're being Tazed.

And, by the way, I was wrong before about knowing what a Tazer felt like. When we first got there, we got a class on the Tazer that included a demonstration of its effects: The instructors got a group to stand in a horseshoe shaped line and link arms. Then, they wired one of the probes into the man at one end's shirt, and stuck the other probe into the shoe of the man at the other end. Once we were all wired up, the instructor cut the device on for a few seconds.

I'm told that a demonstration like that "checks the block" on the requirement for "live exposure to the device", which is required to become a certified Tazer operator. Unfortunately, the instructors at this course wanted to make sure we got our money's worth. During the practical exercise with the Tazer, we stripped to the waist and the instructors came by and drew a large black circle under our right shoulderblade to act as a target. Then we took turns firing the Tazer into our buddy's back and getting Tazed.

The worst part was that my buddy wasn't the first to take the shot. Once the instructor said, "GO," I heard several devices fire, heard the buzzing crackle of the Tazer operating, and heard the groans of pain from the guys around me. Then my buddy finally fired. . .

From behind, you can hear the "pop" of the barbs being launched a split-second before they hit. And then the ride begins. It lasts five seconds, and those five seconds last several hours. The Tazer is designed to disrupt muscular control, not cause pain - but dentistry is designed to fix teeth and not cause pain. In either event, the side-effect is there. The sensation is not unlike wedging your entire body inside a light socket. On the bright side, once the ride is over, it's over. There are no residual effects - it's like throwing a switch. Well, no residual effects aside from then having the barbs pulled out - they're wicked little fishhook looking things, designed to penetrate several layers of clothing and skin. When fired into bare skin, they embed all the way in. It doesn't hurt when they come out - the skin has been "desensitized" by the electricity - but they do start to ache later. Of course, by that time, we had been hit by pepper spray, so it didn't bother me as much as it might have otherwise.

Having been through "the five second ride", I can vouch for the efficacy of the device. I did come away with new concerns about its use by civilian law enforcement, though. When I was talking to him about it, a good friend of mine, who makes his living in law enforcement training, made what I thought was a good point: He said that there appears to be some danger of death or injury from the Tazer, but it's a lot less than that of getting shot. When the Tazer is used appropriately, as an intermediate step between empy-hand / restraint techniques and deadly force, it saves lives of both police and suspects. When it's used inappropriately, in situations where either restraint techniques or even forceful verbal direction are more appropriate, it's a bad thing. His take was that police officers who are overweight, or out of shape, or who lack physical or mental confidence in their training or ability, tend to resort to the device when it's not needed - and that kind of overuse is a good bit of what's creating the backlash against the Tazer. When one gets used against a verbally abusive arrestee who's already handcuffed and in a squad car (well, actually, he got shot, the officer in question confusing the Tazer with her sidearm) , or one is used against a six year old, it's clearly out of line.

The other thing I don't get about "less lethal" options is the whole insistence on exposure to their effects during training. I've heard a couple of justifications for it - that the trainee will have confidence in the effect if they're exposed to it; or that the trainee will be confident that the option is, in fact, not typically lethal if they choose to employ it. In the abstract, I can be convinced by either of those lines of thought. While I'm going through it, I tend to suspect sheer sadism. After all, I've never been to a M-4 qualification range and been told: "OK, it's 20 rounds from the foxhole supported position and 20 from the prone unsupported at targets between 50 and 300 meters away. After that, we're going to shoot you in the leg so you'll have confidence in the weapon."

Next time, just tell me how effective the Tazer or pepper spray are. I promise to believe you.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Thanks, all

Some interesting responses to the proposal - I have to admit that, while I didn't expect anyone to read my blog in the beginning, I'm very happy with the little community that has grown up here. Thanks to everyone for giving considered, reasoned, thoughtful answers here. I can't think of very many venues where controversial subjects can be discussed without one incident of name-calling or flaming.

My own contributions here are likely to be shorter than usual - I'm in a school with the Army this week, and the days are going to be pretty long. I hope to turn it into grist for the blog mill later - I can tell everyone what it feels like to get nailed by a Taser now, and in a few weeks it will probably be funny enough to make a story out of.

I am sort of surprised about the whole Taser thing. While I didn't expect to get through life without experiencing one, I always sort of suspected it would be a sordid incident outside a bar at 2am, not in a training environment.

In a few weeks, it will also probably seem funny that I waited for a C-130 for 3 hours to jump yesterday and it never showed up - the Air Force had the wrong day on their paperwork - but right now it's just annoying.

Anyway, thanks to all for reading and participating here.

Oh, by the way: I think there's a lot of overlap between my site and Jack Army's, but if you haven't seen this, you should. If the take is at all correct, this kid is being punished for a teacher's poor judgment in attempting to end a phone call between the kid and his mother deployed to Iraq. Read it, and if you live in Georgia, give the State School Superintendant a call. Or, write your congresscritter and suggest they introduce a bill cutting off DoD impact funds for Muscogee County until the school there gets its act together.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

And the correct answer is:

I've seen more than a few strong opinions on the Maynulet "mercy killing" case, some of them in the comments on this blog - and that makes me curious. What is the "right" moral stance on mercy killing in combat? Which direction should the moral compass point in that situation?

So I'll ask my readers- what would you do? Let me lay out a scenario for you - perhaps not identical in detail to the Maynulet case. I'll try to set it up with no room to equivocate about the grey areas:

You're the leader of a movement through Indian Country, and you engage a Toyota Corolla trying to penetrate your convoy at a high rate of speed. After it's stopped, you send out a patrol and they report that the inside of the Corolla is wired for detonation - you've just stopped a suicide bombing attack on your men.

The driver of the Toyota, however, is seriously wounded, aware but unable to communicate - and he is in agony. He was eviscerated by a Mk-19 round that hit his door, and has a head injury. Your medic (who is a distinguished trauma surgeon in civilian life - you trust his medical judgment completely) attempts to treat him and comes up to you a few minutes later, seriously agitated. He tells you that there is nothing that can be done: the driver will die, but he may linger for minutes or hours in great pain before he does. The tactical situation does not allow you to evacuate the casualty. What do you do? Why? Do you base your decision on your understanding of the law? On what you think is the moral thing to do regardless of the law? What is the reasoning you followed to make your decision? (I could tell you that you have 30 seconds to make the decision under conditions of great stress, but I won't - I'm not trying to generate sympathy for Cpt. Maynulet here, I want to understand what course of action people would take and how they arrive at their justification for it.) Is there ever a time when obeying "objective law" about killing is evil - or does that law exist to mark the boundaries of a slippery slope too dangerous to ever traverse?

A caveat: If your response was "I'd tell the medic to give him an overdose of morphine," what would you do if the medic gave you a straight-up "Fuck you, sir. The morphine is for us. I have a limited supply. What do I do if one of us gets hit and I need it to treat him?"

OK, now that you've answered that question, let's look at a different scenario - same deal, except instead of a suicide bomber, it's one of your own men - but the tactical situation still doesn't permit evacuation. Does that change your response? If it does, does it make you reconsider the morality of the decision you made earlier?

And another situation - back to the suicide bomber, but now you have an embedded reporter from CNN with the convoy - you know him well enough to know that whatever happens will be seen around the world - either a video of you shooting a helpless, injured man, or a long panning shot of you driving away as he writhes in the street screaming. Does that change your response? If so, is it fear of personal consequences or an appreciation of the impact the video will have?

If it makes you more comfortable, my blog is set up to accept anonymous comments. Also, if you do choose to frame a reply to the hypothetical situation, please let me know if you're a veteran of close combat, or if you've trained for a job that is oriented to close combat (infantry, Ranger, SF, etc.) (NOTE: I'm not at all trying to set up a "if you haven't been there, you aren't entitled to an opinion" line of discussion, but I'm curious to see if there's a distinctly different point of view among people who have seen, or have been in jobs that made it likely to see, close combat.)

Answers will be graded for clarity, originality of thought, grammer and spelling - no, I don't think there is a right answer, and I'll reserve my own thoughts for now. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I can feel the love.

I was browsing around on snakeater's blog a few days ago, and I noticed that he had found an entry over Daily Kos way concerning the contractors who were recently killed in the helicopter shootdown in Iraq. (I have a great deal of admiration for people who are willing to make the daily sewage swim to see what they're thinking over there - I know I couldn't stomach it.) Apparently, the contractors who have been hired to do diplomatic protection in Afghanistan and Iraq are evil, evil people - and how do we know that? Because, before they were contractors, they were . . . special forces. SF apparently are shunned and disliked by all the rest of the army, and they only become worse if they retire and take a security contract. But let's let Militarytracy tell it in her own words:

I am a family member also of a person who served in Iraq and who will most likely be doing that again soon. My husband is an officer and he makes more than most people dodging bullets over there. I also know more than a couple of people who have ditched their uniform to work for "security companies" over there and make BIG MONEY and exercise their sick sociopathic tendencies. Most were special forces. We kind of have a joke in the military about who our daughters can date, everybody but special forces. Then there is that other joke that goes on about how the housing and training facilities for special forces are kept far away from the general military population, and then there's the final joke about how if you flunk your psych testing you can always train for special forces. I get too windy sometimes, so let me try to be short and sweet. The only fucking people who need to run around Iraq with automatic weapons and working for "our side" for any reason whatsofuckingever are people who answer to our military chain of fucking command and thereby the American voter and taxpayer and thereby follow the Geneva Convention to the fucking letter. If you had any idea how much these MERCs disgust and sicken honest military folk!!! It is no accident that these guys ended up hanging from a bridge in Fallujah or that their chopper was shot down. THESE FUCKERS ARE NOT NICE PEOPLE. I have a hard time feeling sorry for their families. I have known a few of these wives and if they are in the marriage they are so high on Prozac and Xanax they will barely know he's gone. Most are so gone from the marriage, hell, they may have a SAVED BY GOD AND RELEASED FROM HELL party. These are not nice people in any way, shape, or form. They have done horrible disgusting things over there that are going to curl our hair and crisp our brains when we get the whole skinny someday. I am personally disgraced and sickened that my country has these "THINGS" running around that country making more money than God and doing things that SATAN has only dreamed of! If one of their mommas is crying I'm somewhat sorry but I really want to ask that woman why she never got any help for her son, who was obviously a potential serial killer! I lay some of what that man became on her and his father's doorstep. I have almost no tears for these people. I can barely squeeze one out.

by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 21st, 2005 at 11:34:23 PDT

(Although, frankly, she seems to have as much trouble with the contractors making more than her husband does over there than anything else. Goodness knows how she and hubby are reacting to the $150,000 retention bonuses SF guys are getting.)*

(And I don't dare ask where that rant about her daughters not dating SF comes from - I'm afraid the officer class has been having a spot of trouble with the enlisted swine again.)

Not only are SF bad people if they work for security companies (excuse me, if they become MERCS who disgust and sicken honest military folk), but they plan and carry out atrocities just this side of Genghis Khan:

According to eyewitnesses, U.S. Special Forces supervised--some say orchestrated--the systematic murder of more than 3,000 captured Taliban soldiers in November 2001. That charge is the centerpiece of a documentary film, "Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death," expected to be released in the United States within the next few weeks.

"There has been a cover-up by the Pentagon," says Scottish director Jamie Doran, a former producer for the BBC. "They're hiding behind a wall of secrecy, hoping this story will go away--but it won't." Indeed, "Massacre" has already been shown on German television and to several European parliaments. The United Nations has promised an investigation. But thanks to a virtual media blackout, few Americans are aware that, on the eve of another war, their nation's reputation as a bastion of human rights is rapidly dissipating.

Well, if a BBC producer says so, it must be true.

But it's not our fault - really it's not. It's society's fault - we're really victims here - all of us in SF are the victims of a cruel uncaring government. The evil government makes sociopathic killers out of us, just like they did with this woman (Jack Army, I'm shocked that the truth about the ASVAB is only now coming out - why didn't you tell us?):

E: You also describe how your hatred of your father for killing Baby Rose fueled your “Nikita” assassin alter that worked for the federal government. Do you suppose a similar form of abuse is used to traumatize men in Special Forces?

K: I’m convinced of it. I have talked to enough of them now, the traumas that they are put through even during their training to break them down are severe. They’re bullied unbelievably, sleep-deprived, everything possible is done to them. They’re pushed to the point beyond pain. That anger’s got to go somewhere. My husband was pretty much conditioned the same way, so I know from his own experiences, yes.

E: So I wonder how far their training goes. The bullying and pain -- do you think they’re dissociated as well by trauma?

K: Absolutely. The other thing, too is that for a long time -- I don’t know how common it is now -- it seemed like they were choosing men who were already dissociated in childhood.

E: By means of that battery of tests that new recruits take?

K: Exactly. Of course, then they can create alter states in those men that are easily controllable, based on their already having been dissociated. That was my husband’s experience.

Sheesh . . . I think I liked it better when we were just stopping goat's hearts with our minds.

*Personal disclaimer: No, in the guard, we aren't seeing any of that money . . . I guess being a part-time sociopath pays less.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Would you rather be killed once, or killed 40 times?

Fred Schoeneman left a very thoughtful comment on the Pantano case in my blog's comments below, and he has an even-handed post of his own on the affair. I disagree with his conclusions re: Pantano and Coburn, but there's no question that he's trying to throw light, and not heat, on the issue.

There is one point he makes that I do think is simply wrong, though, and it's a common meme that surfaces whenever somebody gets shot multiple times by soldiers or by the police. It's the idea that somehow shooting a dozen or forty or sixty rounds is prima facie, or at least presumptive, evidence of excessive force or brutality. It happened in the New York City case where police officers fired 41 rounds at Amadou Ahmed Diallo, and now it's being raised in the Pantano case.

Even though the legal and moral framework that soldiers and police operate under are very different, they do share one common principle: If you're justified in shooting once, you're justified in shooting as many times as you think it's necessary to end the threat. Shooting two full magazines, or shooting forty one times, is no more right or wrong than firing a single round.

When you shoot someone, you're not shooting to wound, but neither are you "shooting to kill." What you are doing is shooting to end your opponent's capability to take action - whether he lives or dies is irrelevant. If you shoot someone, you accept that the outcome will likely include their death - that's why they call it deadly force - but the outcome you want is their immediate and total incapacitation. Whether your opponent dies thirty seconds or six hours or two weeks later is meaningless if he gets the chance to return fire, or detonate the IED, and kills you or one of your comrades. On the other hand, it doesn't matter if he survives and recovers, either, as long as he's rendered incapable of action then and there.

There are a number of physiological and psychological reasons that it may take numerous rounds to incapacitate an opponent, or at least to be sure that he is incapacitated. There are examples of people taking many rounds before being "shut off" - that's especially possible in the case of drugs or, I suspect, religious fervor. In addition, an individual being shot will likely flail around, reacting to the impact, and under conditions of stress, it's difficult to distinguish that from purposeful action. Combat shooting isn't like the Sprint commercial where the guy takes a few steps between asking "Can you hear me now?" "Is he down yet?" is an immediate, binary, yes or no, black or white, question. You don't take a few shots, pause to see what's going on, and then take a few more shots - you shoot 'til the shooting's done, unless a higher priority threat comes into your sector.

Also, firing a large number of rounds in an encounter is made much more likely given the technology and training in use today. For example, the M-16 family of rifles (except for the asinine M-16A2) is capable of firing thirty rounds very quickly with a single trigger pull (that's not usually the preferred technique, mind you, but I won't second guess Pantano on that decison either.) Also, I've seen some comments that suggest that, since Pantano "took the time"to change magazines, he had time to deliberate before resuming fire. That's nonsense, too. To a well-trained, well-drilled combat marksman, changing a magazine when the gun runs dry is just as automatic and reflexive an action as aligning the sights and squeezing the trigger.

Too, the choice of round for the US military's rifle exacerbates the need to fire a large number of rounds to incapacitate an enemy. I've heard several explanations for the choice of 5.56mm NATO (Remington .223 - think a .22LR on steroids): one is that a lighter round means that more rounds can be carried for the same weight. Another is that the round is meant to wound instead of kill - the theory being a wounded man ties up more enemy troops to care for him than a dead man does. Whatever the reason, the standard military rifle round is not a decisively instantaneous man-stopper. (Hell, as I've indicated in some past posts, it's not even a reliable dog-stopper.) You simply cannot depend on one or two rounds of .223 ball delivered center mass to incapacitate an opponent. And remember, that's the name of the game - you don't want him to die later, you want him to stop trying to kill you now.

In short, while it's possible to disagree on whether 1LT Pantano was justified, how many times he shot has nothing to do with it. I will be disgusted and infuriated if that is raised as an issue by the prosecutors.

(Parenthetical Footnote: We do have more reliable rounds we could choose from, by the way: 7.62mm NATO (the tried and true .308 Winchester round) and of course, the .30-'06), both of which have proven themselves in combat; but the .30-'06 isn't used by the Army anymore, and the .308 is only used in machine guns and sniper rifles.)