Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Area Recon Combat Patrol

The topic of this update is going to be a Combat Patrol I took with my commander and the TAC, the element that accompanies the commander in the field.

(NOTE, The pictures from above are from an entirely different mission)

We rolled out about mid-morning to head into one of our company's sectors and conduct an Area Recon. An Area Recon is a type of Combat Patrol (Mission) designed to increase familiarity with the Area of Operations by observing the routes, towns, and local national population in a specific area. Our patrol was into one of the many Canal Zones of the Province. Diyala Province is/was the Breadbasket of Iraq. The Diyala River which runs through the province in bordered on all sides by palm groves, date trees, and farmland. The area is intersected by many canals that carry water (in theory) to farmers' fields. Diyala is actually in a middle of a drought (a multi-year drought) and as such some of the canals don't have much if any water in them. There are some areas that appear to be doing quite well, and others that just blind you with their glaring poverty and economic troubles.

Part of our Area Reconnaissance consisted of observing the many routes that ran through this particular sector of the AO. Every major road has a name that is used by the military when referencing it. The most famous route in Iraq is MSR Tampa, which is a Major Supply Route (MSR) that runs nearly the entire length of the country. There are particular themes with naming routes. It is quite common to see routes named after cars (Route Nissan, Route Ford), after cartoon characters (or series of cartoon characters like Transformers), beverages (both alcoholic and non) and at times actresses (not the serious type). It is the way the military names these routes to aid in mission planning and also understand. Anyone who saw "Team America" knows that "backalackdacka" street can get really confusing and doesn't quite roll off the tongue. RTE Pepsi on the other hand is much easier to say and eventually creates a mental image in one's mind of where you are. Obviously these are our names for the routes, the Iraqis have their own.

I spent the entirety of the mounted (in Strykers) part of our Patrol in the airguard hatch of one of our Strykers. I know I promised an actual lesson on Strykers and I promise I will get to that eventually. The Stryker has a Squad Leader hatch from which the SL or PL or other leader directs the Patrol. Next to him is the principle weapon system of the Stryker (ICV variant), the RWS .50 Cal Machine Gun. I recommend checking out “Anatomy of the Stryker” on the Military Channel or Future Weapons for details, but it definitely provides an excellent set of eyes for the vehicle. In the back are two air guard hatches that have two soldiers manning them to provide full 360 degree security. It also provides a great way to see the countryside and familiarize yourself with the terrain. It's easy to lose your bearings and miss things if one is buttoned up inside of the Stryker, the Airguard hatch is a way of having those necessary eyes and also interacting, albeit from a distance, with the local population. My partner in the other airguard hatch was a veteran of the 172nd SBCT's full 16 month deployment. He was able to pass tips on how to best do the job, but also entertaining conversation.

Driving the routes you see farmland that could be quite productive, if water was more abundant. Than you realize that this is the Middle East and perhaps that is too much to ask for. But the rainy season has now arrived here in Iraq and while it will make life uncomfortable, hopefully it will be a full and long one, because the people here deserve and need it. You always see kids running to the Strykers asking for soccer balls and giving you the thumbs up sign. It is difficult to figure out if they are insulting you when giving the thumbs up, or are doing what American children do. In Middle Eastern culture the thumbs up isn't necessarily a good thing, but after five years of close interaction, have they perhaps been Americanized a little bit. It really is hard to determine, you have to judge by the face and the tone of voice. They love soccer balls and always are asking for them. Their is a charity “Kicks for Nick” which honors an American soldier, PFC Nick Madaras, by donating soccer balls to Iraqis with his name written on them (http://cbs2.com/national/Nick.Madaras.CBS.2.288950.html, http://www.kickfornick.org/). It is definitely a worthwhile charity which brings a simple but powerful gift to these Iraqi children who love "the beautiful game". As you drive through the villages, take away the few cars and our Strykers and the maze of electrical wires and you could be transported back hundreds if not thousands of years. The place has that timeless feel to it, while at the same time, being ever so modern.

We conducted a dismounted patrol through a town with the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi Army was motivated and showed up in force to conduct the patrol. What they may lack in professionalism and equipment, they make up in enthusiasm. These joint patrols really are the future of the mission as we begin to take a back seat to the Iraqi Army and their other security Forces. During the patrol we encountered numerous children who ran up to shake hands with our BN Commander. The local Mukhtar and Sheikh also came up to discuss the issues of the town with my Commander. Security is always an important issue, but now other concerns, like schools, water, and electricity are beginning to dominate the debate. That is a sign of progress. We have to temper our expectations I think and realize that Iraq (and Afghanistan) is never going to be like Wisconsin, or even Alaska. It will always be different, it will always be a little more backwards, a little poorer, but it can be more than it was, it IS more than it was, under Saddam (or the Taliban). That is the slow story of success. There were many "Salaams, Shloneks," and other greetings as we patrolled the streets. One has to keep one's guard up, lest one become complacent patrolling in areas like this. It is so easy to become comfortable and safe in this setting, that one has to work hard to ensure to remain vigilant, while at the same time not being distant. That is the essence of Counter-Insurgency. You cannot win a COIN fight by being buttoned up in your vehicles or sitting on FOBs. You have to be out and about with the population, dismounted. It increases ones vulnerability, but it also creates a bond and connection with the population which over time can improve both their and your security.

After completing the dismounted patrol we returned to base. All in all it was an excellent mission and a great experience. I definitely look forward to many more to come (and I know the wife hates reading that).

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's A Small Army

Children who flock to Disney World in Orlando, FL are familiar with every ride and every character whom they meet. In Fantasy World (I am sure I have the sub-kingdom incorrect and thus have horribly shocked and saddened two friends of mine who are obsessed with all things Disney), there is the ride that plays: “It’s a Small World Afterall, It’s a Small World Afterall, It’s a Small, Small, World”. Besides the fact that I find that song completely insufferable and truly have horrid memories of that ride, there is nonetheless some truth to the inanity of the ride. Though as I look back, the ride sure leaves out some things about the world (though, it is easier to imagine the world as a happy place with smiling people in traditional dress, waving at you as you go by and singing that annoying song).

One place where the maxim, “It’s a Small World” holds true is the United States Military. The US Armed Forces is a small and close-knit community. The phrase used by those in the Army is “It’s a Small Army”. The phrase connotes the fact that you are quite likely to run into people with whom you have served with before. Here at FOB Warhorse I have seen the truth of that matter. The S4 for the unit we replaced was a Advance Camp (Warrior Forge) Platoon member from “Garry Owen” back in the summer of 2004. One of the S2s our BDE is replacing is an OBC classmate from Fort Huachuca in the fall of 2005 (our picture is above). When I was at NTC in the Fall of 2007 I met another Platoon member from Advance Camp. My cousin who I first met at Fort Huachuca when I was at MIOBC (Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course) in the Fall of 2005 is here in Iraq at this time. I have a number of ROTC classmates and OBC classmates who are deployed throughout Iraq. It truly is a Small Army.

Thinking of the Army as “It’s a Small Army” led my mind on a few digressions. The US Armed Forces is indeed a small and select organization. It is too small, the Peace Dividend of the 1990s (Both President Bush and President Clinton) resulted in a United States Army that today numbers around 520,000. We once had eighteen combat divisions and a large number of separate brigades, today we have ten combat divisions and a lesser number of separate brigades. Again, I digress. The Military is indeed a small and somewhat exclusive club. In a country of over 300 Million people, less than 1% wear their country’s uniform. When you include those who have separated from Active Duty and the Reserves/National Guard we are looking at maybe 3-4% of the population. Very few industrialized nations bearing such huge burdens, have had so small a segment of the population bear the burden.

It is partly a response to our All-Volunteer Military. The All-Volunteer Military is a Good. It produces a military far better than a conscript (drafted) military. The British Expeditionary Force of World War I was a small, professional, volunteer force that was worth a force at least twice the size. The British in fact did not begin drafting soldiers until after the disaster of the Somme Offensive in the summer of 1916. Britons recognized they had a duty to their country and they answered their nation’s call. The same is true of the small number of Americans who have done likewise. The All-Volunteer Military is one of the reasons we have the greatest military in the world. The sad thing is that too few Americans feel the need or have the desire to serve. There are exceptions. I have two friends from High School, who went to College, graduated and entered what we all call “The Real World”. Today one is an enlisted soldier with two volunteer tours to Iraq under his belt and the other will soon be attending OCS and serving in his State’s National Guard. They have heard their nation’s call. They have answered their nation’s call.

This by no means demeans other forms of service. Service to a Cause greater than onself is a time-honored tradition. The problem is that America is by and large a me-first society. That selfishness extends all the way from the Baby Boomer Generation (No offense to our parents) to the current college one. People may speak platitudes about service and about serving causing greater than our own, but few actually answer that call. They can talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk. It is a stining indictment of the current generations. If we want America to remain the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, the current generations must stand up. It is not Government's responsibility to do this, it is ours.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Army 101

Greetings again from Iraq. I know that many of you are not familiar
with the military and how exactly it operates and it organized. I
figure that such an explanation would prove useful. For this we'll be
looking principally at an Infantry Battalion, of which I am a part.

An Infantry Battalion is a sub-unit of a Brigade Combat Team that has
between 600 and 800 soldiers assigned to it. The battalion is
commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) who usually has around
eighteen to twenty years of military experience in the officer ranks.
The highest Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) is the Command Sergeant
Major (CSM) who assists the Battalion Commander in providing
leadership for the battalion, but also serves as the chief mentor of
soldiers on the enlisted and NCO side of the house.

An Infantry Battalion consists of three Rifle (Line) Companies and one
Headquarters & Headquarters Company (HHC). The three Rifle companies
each have between 140 and 190 soldiers assigned to it. HHC is a
larger unit because it combines the two specialty platoons (Mortars
and Recon) with a Medical Platoon, the BN Staff and Staff Sections,
and other attachments. Each company is commanded by a Senior Infantry
Captain (CPT) who has been through the Infantry Officer's Career
Course at Fort Benning. The senior NCO of each company is the First
Sergeant. He serves a similar purpose as the CSM, but at the company
level. Each company has an Executive Officer (XO) who handles most of
the administrative and logistical tasks for the company. Each company
also has three rifle platoons and one Weapons Platoon. In a Stryker
unit the three rifle platoons are equipped with ICV (Infantry Carrier
Vehicles) while the Weapons Platoon has Mortar Carriers (MC), Mobile
Gun System (MGS), and ICVs. More on the Stryker in another email.
Each Platoon is led by a Lieutenant (graduate of the Basic Course, LT)
and a Platoon Sergeant (a senior NCO, PSG). The Platoons are then
further subdivided into Squads led by, incredibly enough, Squad
Leaders. Squads are broken into teams that are led by, you guessed it,
Team Leaders. Each company has one Fire Support Officer and a Fire
support section. These field artillery soldiers assist in targeting,
fire missions, and non-lethal targeting. The Reconnaissance and
Mortar Platoons are generally led by more senior Lieutenants or junior
Captains because of their specialized mission set.

One of the larger elements in HHC is the BN Staff, the Headquarters
part of Headquarters & Headquarters Company. The BN Staff is managed
by the BN XO. The BN XO is a graduate of ILE (no idea what that
stands for) at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The other field grade officer in
the BN Staff is the S3 or Operations Officer. He is assisted by the
Operations SGM who has reached the Sergeant Major ranks and is
awaiting selection to become a Command Sergeant Major. The Staff
sections are organized so that each section has a specific purpose or
mission within the staff and the battalion. The S Shops (in
Battalions or Below) are used to designate the various functions each
one is designed to accomplish.

S1 - Personnel. The BN S1 or Adjutant handles personnel manners,
finance, mail, and other administrative matters. They have the
unenviable job of keeping track of all soldiers, where they are, where
they live, etc. The S1 in an infantry battalion is normally a junior
captain, though our unit has had a heck of a lot of turnover at the S1
position. Since it handles so much administrative paperwork, all the
previous S1's went completely insane.

S2 - Intelligence. I'm biased and think this is one of the more
important ones, other people disagree. Many believe that Military
Intelligence is an oxymoron, it all depends on who is doing the
analysis of the intelligence. There are some, where that axiom would
hold true. Just as common sense is in fact rare sense, sometimes
military intelligence is not intelligent. This is one of only two
officer positions not manned (by standards) by combat arms personnel
within the infantry battalion. The S2 Section is responsible for some
administrative functions (security clearances, etc), but is
principally concerned with analysis of intelligence to determine the
threat's MLCOA and MDCOA (Most Likely and Most Dangerous Course of
Action). Furthermore proper intelligence can by pushed to the
companies to drive Operations.

S3 - Operations. This staff section is led by the Operations Officer
(an ILE graduate like the BN XO). This section is responsible for
manning Current Ops in the TOC with the Battle Captain, Battle NCO,
Battle RTO (Radio Telephone Operator). From here the Current Ops
manages the battle and tracks the companies on the battlefield. The
Plans Section is led by a Captain who is responsible for the planning
of future operations, production of the Daily FRAGO, and sometimes
serving as Slide B----. The military is completely and wholly owned
by Bill Gates and Microsoft. We recently were forced to move to
Microsoft Office 2007 (I hate it!). Powerpoint is the bane of our
existence, but without it, we don't know how to function. The dangers
of technology writ large appear in the military. The S3 section also
mans the TAC, the vehicles that the BC, S3 and CSM use to move around
the battlefield. They serve both as PSD (Personal Security
Detachment) and as drivers and vehicle crews. Operations and
Intelligence work together in what the miltary likes to call FUSION.
The miltiary likes the word Fusion and uses it way too often.
Operations is probably the most important staff function, though
intelligence does drive operations in the COIN fight (Counter
Insurgency, more on that at another point).

FSE - Fire Support Element. It is often considered a part of
Operations. The FSE is led by the FSO (Fire Support Officer), a Field
Artillery Captain. He is assisted by a Targeting Officer, another
Fire Support Officer. The principal role of the Fire Support Section
is targeting, both lethal and non-lethal. In lethal targeting they
work in conjunction with the S2 shop. For non-lethal targeting they
work in conjunction with the S5 shop. They also plan Fire Missions
involving Indirect Fire (Fire that is fired in an arc with observers
such as mortars and howitzers). They are the link with Air Assets
like AWT (Air Weapons Team - Helicopters) and Fixed Wing (Jets).

S4 - Supply. An Army lives on its Stomach. So said the Emperor
Napoleon. The S4 shop deals with the logistical needs of the
battalion, which include chow and water. The Supply Section keeps us
stocked on office supplies (there isn't an easy button, just a at
times limiteless government credit card), orders vital parts for
vehicles and weapon systems, and helps quality of life with various
funds used to make purchases for all sorts of operations. The S4 is
usually a junior combat arms captain.

S5/9 - Civil Military Operations. This is the Hearts and Minds Guy.
His non-lethal targeting piece revolves around Civil Military
Operations. This involves assisting local nationals in standing up
business since businesses and a functioning economy reduce the need
for someone to fall into a terrorist group or an insurgency. He also
coordinates with the Local government on products that require funding
that will benefit the widest section of the population. In COIN
operations, the S5/9 is a vital component because the vast majority of
operations are non-lethal.

S6 - Signal. The Signal Officer (a Signal guy) is the chief
communications officer of the battalion. With his section he
maintains the computer, radios, and other digital systems that are
vital to the Modern warfighter. We are very reliant on computers.
When our SIPR (Secret Internet is down) we really become listless and
are prone to the "good idea fairy". The S6 is the protection against
this dangerous threat to sanity. He also keeps the NIPR (normal
internet) lines up so I can write long entries like this that put you
to sleep).

Chaplain. No unit can succeed unless its Spiritual needs are met.
This is the mission of the BN's only non-combatant. The Chaplain
oversees the spiritual and psychological health of every soldier in
the Battalion. He does not carry a weapon, but rather ministers by
presence to the soldiers. He does get a bodyguard, called a
Chaplain's Assistant.

Deployed in Combat the Battalion receives a number of other
attachments that consist of mechanics, cooks, Human Intelligence
Collectors, and other specialties.

The Counter-Insurgency fight is fought at the Battalion and below
level. I'm a little biased, but I think I've got the best Battalion
in my Brigade Combat Team.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

War on Terror and Globalization

Historically, war is an essential part of human cultural development. That is not to say it is a positive. St. Thomas Aquinas viewed war as an evil, albeit at times a necessary one. But war is an essential element of the human story. From mankind’s earliest days of civilization in Mesopotamia to our “Post-Modern” age, war is ever present.

As a result, it should come as no surprise that war in this age represents and has the trappings of the age. We live in an Age of Globalization where the nations’ economies are bound to one another, where companies transcend nations, and the trappings of one’s country can be found across the globe. Even the War in Iraq (and Afghanistan) features these examples of our new global age.

Camp Buehring is a temporary US Military Base in the Kuwait. The US Military complex in Kuwait is far away from Kuwait City (out of sight, out of mind), yet while undeniably alien, it has many of the trappings of home. I remember upon arriving being told that I had to go to Starbucks. Starbucks is an all-American brand. It is found at numerous street corners throughout the United States and increasingly the world. It has arrived in the Global War on Terror. I am not a coffee drinker, I have not yet developed that habit or vice. But I went. On the outside, it looks like any other military structure on Camp Buehring. Surrounded by Hesco barriers to protect it from indirect-fire that will never come, it is painted in the same drab colors as everything else. But then you see the marquee: it is the same Starbucks sign one would see in Seattle, Chicago or New York. you walk inside this Starbucks and you are in the same coffee shop one finds in any American city with the same interior decoration of Starbucks anywhere.

There is one notable difference, however. The negative of the global economy is out-sourcing, or so that is the conventional wisdom. The baristas at Starbucks Kuwait are not the attractive college coeds of the rest of the United States. They are third country nationals (TCN) who are contracted by Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR, the former subsidiary of “evil” Halliburton, if one buys the typical liberal rhetoric). These TCNs hail from the Philippines, India, or any other developing country. In fact, one notes the startling lack of American workers on these FOBs or Training Camps in Kuwait (the same is true for bases in Iraq). DFAC workers, PX cashiers, maintenance staff are all workers out-sourced through American companies. The global labor market, and the promise of employment and pay, results in a truly global workforce on these American military installations.

American Contracting Companies (Contractors) have been vilified for their actions and money making during the Global War on Terror. The truth is, without their work, American soldiers would not enjoy the quality life that is present here in Iraq, Kuwait, or anywhere else as part of the GWOT. Now, obviously, FOBs can differ. KBR here on FOB Warhorse is not nearly as timely and user-friendly as that found on FOB Courage or FOB Marez. That is part of any business, trans-national or trans-regional, which operates in different places. These companies contract with local nationals (LN) and TCNs to provide many of the comforts of home. They also provide and oversee the famous “Hajji” stores that are the bane of every movie studio in the United States. These Hajji stores sell rugs, jewelry, leather products, local cell phones, electronics, and of course, “Hajji” versions of the latest US movie releases and TV shows. If there is a market for the item, it can probably be found (which requires the vigilance of FOB Provosts to put a stop to anything illegal).

War is part of human culture and civilization. The wars of any period tend to acquire certain characteristics of the age of which they are a part. Wars during the industrial revolution saw the first mass use of artillery and saw increasingly advanced firearms. Wars during the Modern Age saw cars and airplanes (initially viewed as civilian tools) adapted for war. War in the global age has acquired many aspects of the global economy and society at large. Many early armies were followed into the field by camps of followers who provided for and serviced the Army. Today, the US Military deploys in support of national defense priorities and the Global War on Terror with a legion of contractors that provide many of the essential support and many comforts that allow both for the prosecution of the war at large, but also for the morale of the individual fighting soldier.