The “JV Team” is at it again

afghan-bombing

Afghan security personnel stand guard near the site of a suicide bombing at Shash Darak in Kabul on Saturday. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

Odd this sort of thing is happening when the last administration insisted ISIS was on the run, eh?

Look, I know I have a sour view on this matter given my background and the fact that my son is deploying to that hell hole in a matter of weeks for the second time, but really:  What kind of clown declares a war “ended”?  Wars are won, or they are lost – They are not simply “ended” (see: “Peace with honor” – A fancy way to say “we give up, even though we could win with 45 days focused effort”).

It’s my wife’s birthday celebration dinner at the Brazilian steakhouse tonight, I’m sure this will put a damper on things.  Hell, it’s getting to the point where I’m ashamed to wear any of my old army unit T-shirts, qualification T-Shirts, lapel pins, or baseball hats.  It isn’t the soldiers I’m losing confidence in…It’s their leadership.  I gave the army over 20 years of my life, and now I’m on the sidelines watching force effectiveness wither away and die.  That’s a horrible feeling.

Leaders take longer to train and deploy than soldiers do.  We’re in for some rough times yet to come in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria (not to mention Iran), and politicians and the brass just aren’t talking about it, easier not to mention it and chase pet projects instead.

Disgusting.

A suicide bomber killed at least two and wounded seven in an attack claimed by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the diplomatic area of Afghanistan’s capital on Saturday, and at least 18 soldiers died in an attack on a checkpoint by Taliban insurgents in the country’s west, authorities said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the Kabul attack took place in the Shash Darak area near NATO headquarters and not far from the U.S. Embassy. Danish said the initial casualty count could rise.

ISIS in a statement on its website claimed responsibility.

In western Farah province, at least 18 soldiers were killed when their checkpoint came under attack by Taliban insurgents, said Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the defence ministry. He said two other soldiers were wounded in the attack in the Bala Buluk district.

All lights green, all systems GO

What the heck happened to February?  Seems just a week ago I was filling out reams of pre-employment paperwork and spending a fortune on marksmanship gear, and as of today, I have four nights left at home before reporting to Eglin AFB for range qualification for a week, then moving my butt up to Cambridge to sit in a corporate apartment for a month while I look for listings my wife might deign to evaluate for purchase.

She, in the meantime, has to select a brokerage to handle the sale of this house we’ve lived in for sixteen years (we have a choice of two, interviewed one yesterday and another is coming on Friday), organize with an “estate sale” firm who will assist her in getting rid of all the stuff we don’t want to take with us, stage the house, and put it on the market, and deal with the movers.  She’s done all of this countless times, of course, with every PCS (Permanent Change of Station) we made while I was in the army, but she’s not looking forward to it.

Luckily her birthday is on Saturday, and I’ve made reservations at a Brazilian steakhouse for the two of us – One last indulgence before being separated for a month with little time to talk to each other.  Good grief, it feels like a deployment, or my staff time as an S-3 (Plans & Operations) when I was a Major – TDY (Temporary Duty) here, there, and anon, keeping me away from home for extended periods.

OK, perhaps not a deployment.  This time no one will be shooting back at me (unless a disgruntled MIT student busts a cap in my a** – Unlikely, since I’m not faculty, just a staff member on the ballistics and trajectory team…I won’t be grading anyone).  But TDY?  Oh yeah.  This is the civilian version of TDY.

Anyhow, I’m all packed, the flu has passed, I’m taking a break from the range today to take eldest daughter clothes shopping, and there’s Portuguese red wine to look forward  to on Saturday evening.  The only fear I have is the fear of how much I’m going to miss my bride for this upcoming month…I really am quite fond of her.

And don’t think the irony of starting a new job where I’ll be firing small arms every day at work in the midst of the latest “ban all the guns” furor escapes me – It amuses me mightily.

Here’s some morning reading for you while I suffer at the mall:

On Monday, as the news of the Virginia Tech shootings was unfolding, I went into my advanced constitutional law seminar to find one of my students upset. My student, Tara Wyllie, has a permit to carry a gun in Tennessee, but she isn’t allowed to have a weapon on campus. That left her feeling unsafe. “Why couldn’t we meet off campus today?” she asked.

Virginia Tech graduate student Bradford Wiles also has a permit to carry a gun, in Virginia. But on the day of the shootings, he would have been unarmed for the same reason: Like the University of Tennessee, where I teach, Virginia Tech bans guns on campus.

In The Roanoke Times last year – after another campus incident, when a dangerous escaped inmate was roaming the campus – Wiles wrote that, when his class was evacuated, “Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness. That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself.”

More at the link.  Out here,

Yeah, more ditto

A Date That Should Live in Infamy

In February 19, 1942 — seventy-four years ago today — Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. With the stroke of his pen, the man who had earlier snubbed Jesse Owens after the Berlin Olympics used his executive powers to order the imprisonment of over 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry (as well as thousands of German and Italian ancestry) for the duration of World War II.

internment-2

Most of the internees were natural-born American citizens, whose “crime” was having a parent or merely a grandparent with Japanese blood. It was an act of naked, aggressive racism that damaged people and families, including my own, for generations.

For those who leak tears at the thought of Gitmo, print this out and use it for tissue.  Perhaps, by osmosis, you’ll come to understand that allowing enemy intelligence / forces to roam unheeded within your borders or go back to their place of origin for more training and another deployment isn’t such a great idea.

You know, as a retired Field Grade (barely – I retired as a Major, those four years in the Guard and ten years in the USAR are the only reasons I got that gold oak leaf) Infantry officer…The lowest of the low, I feel as if I could spend a week writing a brief on why Gitmo isn’t a goat f*** and convince Congress to issue a statement that would immediately halt all of the sniffling and crying amongst those who hate Gitmo simply because they hate George W. Bush.

But why bother?  Sulu (George Takei) has formed his Brigades, our government isn’t even ready for a Twitter counteroffensive, and one wounded veteran going off about the mouth on Capitol Hill isn’t going to change anything (that’s reserved for the Cindy Sheehan’s and Beau Bergdahl’s of this world).

14 more years until I collect my pension, then I’m never looking at a newspaper again.  In the meantime, at least I’ll be employed firing small arms 9-5 for those 14 years.

God grant me the strength to make it through them.

Two weeks to re-adjust

Still not sure if I’ll be living in Cambridge or Tampa, but as I hand off my projects here and join conference calls with my new employer, there’s a sense of palpable relief in just falling back into the old jargon.

Most folks who shoot consistently well, regardless of wind direction / velocity, target movement. etc., etc., etc. have two things in common: They practice a LOT, and they are able to shut everything but the mechanics of the shot out of their heads.  So, who practices shooting a LOT, and can erase that last missed mortgage payment from their minds for the time necessary?

Steely-eyed killers (and we have a lot of them, and need even more) come from all four services – Every Marine is a rifleman, Marine Force Recon have their own snipers, every Army Infantryman is a rifleman, every Army Ranger an expert marksman (and the Rangers have snipers as well), and the fellows at SFOD-D (the Army Special Forces’ Delta Force) and the Navy SEAL teams can make shots no one would believe possible…They do it every day.

These men are often sent on long assignments away from their families, and spend time in small teams, the members of whom become very close.  We say and do things to each other that make normal people react in horror, for example, a Captain at Fort Ord who lived next to us, also branched Infantry, but assigned to the new Air Assault School the 7th ID stood up when they couldn’t get soldiers through the Army’s Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, grinned every time he saw me throwing my ruck and gear in the car.  “Goin’ out?  Field Problem or down South?  Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your wife and my kids while you’re gone.”

Well, those, in my youth, would have been fightin’ words…But things like that, and much worse, are commonly tossed around barracks, housing, barbecues, you name it.  It’s nothing but reverse psychology, really…In order to prove you trust your men to cover your back under fire, you have to prove you know they don’t really mean what they are saying.

So yeah, it’s stupid macho stuff, but it keeps morale up and increases unit cohesion, so huzzah.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve noticed on my past couple of calls with my new team that the same sort of vernacular is used…And many of us know each other from working together previously or by reputation, so one is on the hot seat right away.

I’m going to have to work on my trash talking.

A lot of worry about nothing at all – YET

Interesting set of interviews with my prospective team yesterday:

 

I had expected to be grilled by shooters – Men who have owned, operated, and maintained weapons their entire lives…But it turns out my interlocutors were technical folks who will be creating the algorithms and displays.  Interesting questions there, some I’d never have thought of on the range, good stuff to study up on.

I did get to speak with one shooter, and I have a pretty good idea who he is, having been in awe of him for six years or so now.  If it’s who I think it is he’s going to make me look like a fool on the range and in the classroom, and I’m going to be buying lots of beer for the development team.  I mean hell yes, I can shoot, but what this Ranger I’m talking about does is more like magic.

So, challenges begin to manifest…This is the fun part, risk evaluation, categorization, planning, and mitigation.

Sniff.  I feel at home again.

Once upon a time at Fort Ord…

lrsd

I was floored when a Ranger E-7 (Sergeant First Class), during a course I was instructing on setting up antenna arrays in treetops so that they couldn’t be seen, took me aside to ask a question.

“Sir”, he says, “me and Specialist Beard got a little bit of a bet going, you mind helping us out?”

Imagining the bet had something to do with the material I was teaching I readily agreed – Competition, I was taught at North Georgia College can be a powerful motivator to improve one’s skills, and when you’re in command of a team of Rangers whose job it is to insert behind the lines and report on enemy troop strength, movement, equipment, and supply without being seen, improving your soldier’s skills is crucial.

“Well Sergeant First Class”, I responded, “Since you think it’s an important enough bet to interrupt the curriculum of optimum height, least obstruction, and concealment of our primary communications with higher, by all means let me assist.”

Looking embarrassed, the Sergeant First Class said “S*** Sir, we all know how to do this, we done it on live exercises in Honduras and Nicaragua a hundred times.  No disrespect, Sir, you a tree climbing m*********** as any white officer I ever seen, and you must of done practiced assembling and testing that array a hundred nights at home when you should have been with your wife & baby…you better at that s*** than Ortiz, and he’s the commo specialist.  Sir, the bet we made was on how you’d answer a question, if you still don’t mind.”

Truthfully, I did mind a bit – This had nothing to do with the day’s training, and just as sure as Christ made little green apples this task would be one graded GO / NO-GO when selecting Rangers for the LRSD…But I was new to this command, and the Sergeant First Class would effectively be First Sergeant of one of the teams, so I needed to establish both a good relationship and confidence in my own skills and abilities with him lest he let out the word that the new LRSD Patrol Base Commander was a cool breeze.  So I responded with a half-frown “OK, you have five minutes.”

The half-frown seemed to cheer the Sergeant First Class’s trepidation a bit, realizing that I meant business, he quickly asked “Sir, you went to a ring-knocker college, taught at the LRSLC (Long Range Surveillance Leader’s Course) for four months after Ranger School, and come to us right after IOAC (Infantry Officer’s Advanced Course), so Beard and I was wondering: If someone was to ask you what the difference between a manager and a leader was, what would you say?  We trying to figure out if ring-knockers really get a better military education than a ROTC commissioned officer, and we been making this bet with our last two CO’s (Commanding Officers).  Pardon, Sir, this ain’t no test, it just a bet between me and Beard.”

I was glad he’d added that last sentence, because it gave me the opportunity to remind him he was in no f***** position to be testing me, while at the same time formulating an answer to his question – Which is not a question included in the instruction of any army school I’m aware of.  Knowing I didn’t have much time, I simply said what first came to mind: “A manager, Sergeant First Class, tries to do things right.  A leader, on the other hand, does the right things, the right way.  You have 90 seconds to get the men back in a circle around that tree I’m using to demonstrate.”

The question, and my answer, bothered me for the rest of the day, and most of the night.  Where the h*** had the two Sergeant First Class come up with it, what did they consider a satisfactory answer to it, and had I just screwed the pooch as their incoming CO?

Well, the answer came at the next morning’s PT formation, where the Sergeant First Class called the Detachment to attention and told them that he and SP4 Beard vouched 110% for their new CO, and any coc******* who had a problem with me, himself, or Beard had an open invitation to meet him at the NCO club that evening.  Relieved, I realized I had passed some sort of test, but I didn’t know whether to bust out laughing or take a swing at the Sergeant First Class when, after PT, he took me aside and said “Sir, be honest we ain’t never asked no other CO that question – Classmate of yours from that ring-knocker college told Beard we should ask you and see what you said.”

There was only one other NGC alumni from a year ahead of my class year at the 7th ID (Light), so I knew who it was right away.  Had we not both not been inducted into the same secret society at school, I’d have sought him out and had his ass – We were both Captains at the time, although he had an earlier date of rank.

The incident, though, stayed in my head so long that I had the civilian Director of the Arts & Crafts Center create a beautiful wooden sign reading: The difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager tries to do things right.  A leader, on the other hand, does the right things, the right way.

It’s been on every one of my office walls, right next to my other sign:

1. Safety of the men under your command
2. Physical Security
3. OPSEC
4. Terrorist Situation, possible Threats to your organization.
5. COOP = Cont of Operations
6. Risk Management
7. No announced visits. Check actual readiness vs. ability to get ready.
8. Have a current list of ‘Go To People / Contractors.’ Who would you call in response to
each of your Risk Management scenarios.
9. Know Chain of Command
10. Know Organization Chart
11. Know Your Personnel, Details on Direct Reports
12. Know Organization Policies, Standards and Procedures
13. Ensure Fulfillment of all your Position Description Requirements

All that came to mind as I was packing up my home office this morning and came across those signs.  There  really is a huge difference between management and leadership, either in the civilian or military worlds.

 

 

There are times I really miss the sometimes horrible sights, sounds, and smells of battle

Pictures like this don’t help:

81-mm-mortar-01-2018

U.S. soldiers fire an 81 mm mortar to support Afghan soldiers during operation Maiwand 10 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 26, 2017. The soldiers, assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, fired multiple illumination rounds to light the nearby area of Marjah, where Afghan soldiers experienced a nighttime ambush. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin T. Updegraff.