Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Transformation, Nation Building, and the Federal Government

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allision, the volunteer community prepared and disturbed over one million meals to people impacted by the disaster. Trained volunteers from throughout the country converged on Houston to render aid in a time of great need. What does that have to do with anything? Keep reading.

I am currently working on a magazine article (that’s my opening salvo of shameless self-promotion, more to follow) that touches on re-construction issues in the GWOT. I’ve done several interviews and a ton of research. I’ve started noticing some patterns and trends in terms of reconstruction. Basically, we’re not very good at it. The political clamoring about “no nation building” wasn’t just rhetoric. It’s a fact. We “don’t do nation building” by design. And that’s a problem if we’re serious about winning the GWOT.

Our government and military is still very much stuck in the Cold War model. Like it or not, the Army is engaged in “transformation”, an attempt to break from the Cold War model and be a force more appropriate for the post-Cold War world. So far, it’s been a mixed bag, but it’s a start.

One of the things that I’ve noticed about the Cold War was that we paid a great deal of attention to defeating Soviet Tank Armies, but not much attention to what happened afterward. You’ve crushed the Russian hordes, what next? It might be too simple to label the apparent inadequacy of Phase IV planning in Iraq as bad political leadership. Instead, it may the culmination point of generations of bad policy. Our government is just not set up to “own” and govern a foreign country of 25 million people. Imperialists we ain’t.

But, we own two large countries right now, and there is the potential for more. Let’s say that we end up in a military show-down with North Korean, and we, along with our allies, now “own” that country. If we can all agree that our reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hit or miss. How do we get better for next time? And sooner or later there will be a next time.

In my research, I’ve noticed the recurring theme that reconstruction tasks have not been accomplished because of security. The folks in the government with the knowledge and expertise weren’t willing or able to get into dicey situations that they didn’t sign up for. That’s left unfilled positions in our reconstruction efforts. That’s also caused much of the work to migrate to private firms and private security companies. And again, that’s been a mixed bag.

So how does the government fix the problem? We may already have a model in our emergency management and homeland security communities.

Texas Task Force One is Texas’ Urban Search and Rescue Team. They deployed to ground zero after Sept 11th, and are a state as well as national resource. The team is not a standing team. Folks aren’t waiting around for buildings to collapse. Instead, its members are essentially “reservists” who pull together in a disaster.

Team members come from a variety of backgrounds mostly in Fire and EMS. In order to be on the team you have a certain level of proficiency and training. You also have to keep your skills up-to-date and participate in training and exercises. Team members also have the approval/understanding of their employers that they can be called away for a response. To me it sounds a lot like the military reserves.

There are several other types of teams that follow this model. Ranging from disaster medical, mortuary, and logistics teams these groups of people are trained professionals who skills are only occasionally needed like say when a tornado rips through Jarell, TX …or when you invade a country in serious need of an extreme home make over.

The government should use this model to establish a standing reserve civil affairs task force (RCATF) that is not part of the military, but instead made up of civilians with critical skills and models along the lines of Texas Task Force 1. The RCATF would draw from both government and non-government employees in skill areas such as agriculture, medicine, government, commerce, emergency services, and law enforcement.

Volunteers would receive training in force protection and interaction with the military. They would sign up with the implicit knowledge that they might be put in harm’s way. They would participate in exercises with the military, and get continuous training one a monthly and annual basis. And they’d be paid for their time.

A good example of how to use them is annual Cobra Gold Exercise in Thailand. I went last year and found it an extremely enriching experience. I got to work with soldiers from several countries, and learned a bunch. During the exercise, the Sergeant Majors from the various units got together and took up a collection for a local school. They bought supplies and did some reconstruction work. It was an informal process. Why not make it formal?

Why not bring deploy a package of cops, firefighters, EMTs, veterinarians, and other government-types along with the military element? This group could be sent into the areas near where the exercise was taking place and help train the host nation. They would be practicing the skills of nation building while helping build goodwill to our country. Our Civil Affairs soldiers do this all the time, but there is never enough of them to go around.

Or take for instance a city manger in a medium sized town. He’s forgotten more about governance than you and I will ever know. Maybe he’s a veteran too old for the reserves, but instilled with a burning desire for public service. He won’t quit his job to sign on with Halliburton, and he’s not an Ivy Leaguer so the State Department won’t hire him. So he’s left out, and our country doesn’t tap into a valuable resource.

Right now the bulk of this type of work rests in the hands of the military and agencies like USAID. The problem is that the military and the government only have limited capacity and have problems generating more. You go to war with the government that you have, not the one that you wish you had.

So let’s go back to our volunteer effort in response to Tropical Storm Allison. What does that have to do with this? For me it’s all the proof you need that a program like this will work. The desire to serve the greater good runs deep in our country. I’ve seen it over and over again in my interaction with the volunteer community. But military service isn’t for everyone so why don’t we create another way to contribute while exapanding our capacity to conduct nation building? If you build it, the volunteers will come.

Postscript: There are three categories of professionals that I should have mentioned. First, we should include engineers (my engineer wife as an example of brain power). I've worked with the Army Corps of Engineers on disaster recoveries, and they are second to none. But, they don't have folks like industrial engineers who might help with commmerce.

Second, we should include educators, like my dad. We spend a lot time building schools, but how much effort do we put into helping improve education?

Third, utilty workers. I'm talking about the guys who actually get out and make things like the power and electric work. There is an invisible army at work to make sure that the lights come on when you flip the switch. These folks could probably go a long way to improving the situation in Iraq.

Congrats Noah and God Speed Phil

There some big news in my circle of blog buddies.

Noah over at Defensetech is engaged. Congrats!

Marriage, like Texas A&M, is a great institution...if you feel like you need to be institutionalized. I kid. I've been married for +7 years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The two best things that I ever did were join the Army and marry Julie both of which made me a better, more complete human being. And, of course, marriage led to the third best thing that I ever did: Zane.

And Phil over at Intel Dump has a "rendevous with destiny". He's now officially part of the Human Spackle club. He's getting mobilized to the 101st ABN (ASSLT), the most power division on God's green earth, to deploy to Iraq. Phil have you memorized the Screaming Eagle Fight Song yet?

Phil has asked me to be part of a caretaker team on his blog. I'm going to help keep it going while he's gone. I'll do my best to help continue his excellent work. But, I'm hoping he has time to write because I look forward to hearing what he has to say about Iraq.

Anyway, good luck to both you guys.


PS. For those of you who don't get the Texas A&M joke, I went to Texas Tech. Get yer guns up.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Are We There Yet? Creating a Roadmap to Victory in Iraq

When can we leave?

Recently, in a highly visible move, several politicians have called for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq or tried to force the Bush administration to set criteria for withdrawal:

A conservative, a moderate, a liberal and a libertarian teamed up in the House yesterday to prod President Bush to set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq, striking a rare tone of unity on a day when tensions about national security provoked marathon brawling on the floor.

The resolution was sponsored by Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Tex.). It calls for Bush to begin drawing down troops in Iraq by Oct. 1, 2006, but does not set a date for complete withdrawal.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) tried to introduce an amendment to a military spending bill that would have given the president 30 days to show Congress criteria for determining when U.S. forces could withdraw from Iraq -- but GOP leaders blocked it, saying such additions are not allowed to appropriations bills.

Read more here. The resolution is here.

And Senator Biden has been in the news recently with his proclamations on Iraq:

Biden, a Delaware senator who announced on Sunday that he expects to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, rejected proposals by some of his colleagues to pull troops out of Iraq immediately or on a specific timetable, saying such moves would embolden insurgents and ultimately lead to a civil war. Instead, he said the United States needs to enlist the support of allied nations to train Iraqi troops and police, speed up reconstruction work, and help the nascent Iraqi government fight corruption.

Biden also called on President Bush to explain his plans for Iraq to the American people. The administration should report on the situation in Iraq to Congress monthly and in public testimony, the senator said in remarks at the Brookings Institution.

Rumsfeld fired back:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected calls by some congressional Democrats on Thursday that the Bush administration set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. “That would be a mistake,” he told a Senate panel.

“Timing in war is never predictable. There are never guarantees,” Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Those who say we are losing this war are wrong. We are not.”

The Vice President thinks we’re on the track to victory:

“The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

But, in recent Senate testimony GEN John Abizaid said:

“I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.”

That clearly isn’t good news, and our own government doesn’t seem “common operating picture” of what’s going on in Iraq much less the media. Plus, none of the talk about defeating the insurgency sheds any light on the other challenges that face victory in Iraq.

So who is right?

Regardless of whether or not you support the war, I agree with Senator Biden’s assessment. It is clear that immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be reckless policy and result in a disaster that might suck the entire region down with it—the Afghanistan failed state model on a grand scale with global repercussions. Remember the “pottery barn rule”. We broke it, we bought it. And I’m going to side with GEN Abizaid. I don’t think the insurgency is in its death throes.

So what they hell is going to happen? As a person with a very personal interest in the apparent open-ended nature of the Iraq conflict, I agree that we need to start setting criteria for “victory” and subsequent withdrawal from Iraq. I respect the members of congress who are force the administration to establish some kind of framework for ending the conflict.

But, this is where things get hard. What does right look like for leaving Iraq? What conditions for success do we need to set for the Iraqis before we begin to leave? And how long does it take?

In April, I posted about effects based operations (EBO) and setting criteria and “metrics” to measure success in Iraq. With this post, I’ll want to take the discussion a step further.
The following slides and notes are my attempt at analyzing the current situation in Iraq and establishing a “roadmap” to Victory that the average citizen can understand. Note that all these slides are labeled as “drafts”. I am hoping that my reader(s) will give me their input in the comments section which will allow me to establish a baseline evaluation of the situation. Then, I’ll post periodic updates.

EBO treats the enemy as a "system of systems". This is the
pre-invasion Iraq system with the Regime being the center of
gravity. The relative importance of a sub-system is mapped by
its size and proximity to the center of gravity.

This is the traditional military model that we are best

prepared to fight. Decapitate the Regime, and destroy the
high value military units.

***Note 1: Civilian Population. In the pre-war planning the

biggest consideration was averting a humanitarian crisis
and minimizing collateral damage. We expected to be greeted
as liberators, but the reality on the ground turned more
***Note 2: Religious and Tribal Power. I think we underestimated

the impact and importance of this element and were left
playing catch up.

This is the current system of systems. Note how the center
of gravity is now the Iraqi population itself, an element we
didn't have a clear understanding of going into Iraq.
Note the convoluted nature of the insurgency, and how
convoluted web of sub-systems impacts the civilian population.
The emergence of many of these systems was unexpected or
their impact underestimated.

These are the four key tasks that need to be accomplished in
order to secure "victory" in Iraq. Subsequent slides
expand on the tasks.

This is a break down of Task 1. The "rainbow" slide bars
indicate the status of the task. Red is bad. Green is good.
Below the slide bars are arrows to indicate which directions
the tasks are trending. All of the bars are parked in neutral,
and will be adjusted after the readers assessment.

Task 1 (con't)

Task 2

Task 3

Task 4

Task breakdown by region.

So when can we withdrawal from Iraq? My assessment is that first we have to get all of these tasks and regions are assessed in the “green”. Then they have to stay that way for at least a year, and only then we can start leaving. As things trend towards the “green” we may be able to draw down our troops, but, until all these criteria are met, we will stay in Iraq in one form or another.

I will post the task list in the comments section so you can cut and paste. Feel free to add and subtract. Tell me I’m wrong. In a couple weeks, I’ll republish the slides with the task bars actually measuring an assessment. Then I’ll do periodic updates.

Update: The Brookings Institution has some good metrics in their Iraq Index. Worth a look.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Zarqawi, Media Critic

DUBAI - Al-Qaida's wing in Iraq slammed Al Jazeera television on Sunday, saying the satellite channel often criticized by Washington was siding with the United States in its reporting on the violence in the Arab country.

Al Jazeera spokesman rejected the criticism of its coverage, saying it was balanced.

“Where are you heading, Jazeera? Why this hostility toward the mujahideen (holy warriors)?” the group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said, according to a statement posted on an Islamist Web site.

More here.

Now that's some funny stuff. Maybe Zarqawi needs to start cross-posting on some of the anti-media blogs out there. Apparently nobody is capable of getting anything right, anywhere, in any language or country. Damn reporters.***

***Note: My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Human Spackle, Part 2

"Sometimes you have to take the time out of your day to be an asshole."

Those were sage words of wisdom imparted to me by my platoon sergeant, SFC Davis, when I was a young, dumb 2LT back in my 101st days. Now I'm an older, less dumb senior captain, but I still follow his advice. Everything is not sunshine. Or as another wise platoon sergeant in our company, SFC Allison, once told me after pointing out how bad I had screwed something up: "Its called candor. Get used to it." I got used to it, and Davis, Allison, and I got along just fine. Eventually.

So what does this have to do with human spackle? Well, it seems that 2LT B's tasking got cancelled (for now). And this is a good thing. I was happy when I found out the news, but not everything is not sunshine.

2LT B remains a qualified officer who has not been mobilized and deployed. He's on the hook for the next tasking. He has a rendezvous with destiny in either Iraq of Afghanistan. Of this I have no doubt. And this is what I reminded him of when I spoke to him today.

"You're off the hook...for now," I told him. The worst part about these things is that about 25% of the time these taskings get cancelled. The soldier gets all spun up. The get themselves and their families mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared for what is about to happen, and then nothing does. It’s a grand mind-fuck, Army style.

And so I have to be the one who rains on 2LT B's parade reminding him of the reality that he faces. It's called candor. Get used to it.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Light Weekend Reading

Military Cultural Education
Over the past decade the Army has increasingly engaged in lengthy overseas deployments in which mission performance demanded significant interface with indigenous populations. Such interaction and how it affects military operations is important. In fact, engagement with local populaces has become so crucial that mission success is often significantly affected by soldiers' ability to interact with local individuals and communities. Learning to interact with local populaces presents a major challenge for soldiers, leaders, and civilians.

Comment: I don't think the Army, as a whole, is very culturally literate, and it impacts our operations. One of the big problems is that the quality of the training is so hit or miss. Some units get great training, and their mission readiness exercises include cultural training. Some don't. We had a large slice of our unit mobilized and deployed last year, and they didn't get any formal Iraqi/Muslim cultural training from the Army. It was all stuff that they came up with on their own.

I'm experiencing that in my own unit. I can't really get the type of cultural training that I want. So, I'm looking to outside resources. College professors. Local religious leaders. So far, I haven't been all that successful.

I'm Trying To Learn Arabic
When I walked into Arabic class last week, Karam, my teacher, cheerily asked me how I was doing. I said, "Tamaam, hamdulillah," which means, "Fine, thanks be to God." But I was lying. I'd just spent a full day at work and was sitting down at a desk for two hours of mind-bending grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. I knew it would be a long night.
I am not one of those people who dreads the thought of learning a foreign language. While everyone else was partying in high school, I was learning the Spanish past subjunctive and loving it. I studied German, French, and Portuguese in college. I speak decent Russian and have taught myself some half-decent rudimentary Japanese. Languages are usually fun. But Arabic is really killing me.

Comment: Language and Cultural proficiency is a long term commitment--a multi-generational effort. Why? Because its so damn hard.

Soldier Rap, The Pulse of War
June 13 issue - It took only a few ambushes, roadside bombs and corpses for Neal Saunders to know what he had to do: turn the streets of Baghdad into rap music. So the First Cavalry sergeant, then newly arrived for a year of duty in Sadr City, began hoarding his monthly paychecks and seeking out a U.S. supplier willing to ship a keyboard, digital mixer, cable, microphones and headphones to an overseas military address. He hammered together a plywood shack, tacked up some cheap mattress pads for soundproofing and invited other Task Force 112 members to join him in his jerry-built studio. They call themselves "4th25" --pronounced fourth quarter, like the final do-or-die minutes of a game--and their album is "Live From Iraq." The sound may be raw, even by rap standards, but it expresses things that soldiers usually keep bottled up. "You can't call home and tell your mom your door got blown off by an IED," says Saunders. "No one talks about what we're going through. Sure, there are generals on the TV, but they're not speaking for us. We're venting for everybody."

Comment: I'm an uptight white guy with, as my fellow company commader 1LT K like to point out, a terminal case of "white-itis". Bsscally I'm a honky so I'm sure that can't really understand this completely. But, I find it very interesting. I've asked 1LT K to guest blog on this topic. So more to follow. BTW, 1LT K does not suffer from white-itis.

Far from media focus: steady democratic progress in Iraq
Recent international reporting on Iraq has focused on the wave of violence and the spike in insurgent activity. Yet only a few weeks ago, press reports were trumpeting a lull in attacks as the end of the insurgency.

The political process in Iraq - as covered by the few reports that do not focus exclusively on the number of bombs and shootings - appears similarly erratic: elation over the elections rapidly deteriorated into cynicism and despair over parliamentary wrangling. The press has painted a picture of political chaos in which inflexible politicians are squandering the momentum created by brave Iraqi voters.

Comment: If you don't read the CS Monitor, you should start.

Panel: Interagency confusion hampers intelligence reform
WASHINGTON - Overlapping responsibilities among U.S. intelligence agencies could lead to failures in assessing terrorism threats, experts said Monday in examining changes at the CIA and FBI since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Comment: Its the intelligence, stupid.

Outside Iraq but Deep in the Fight
ALEPPO, Syria -- When the Americans led the invasion of Iraq, the men of Abu Ibrahim's family gathered in the courtyard of their shared home in the far north of Syria. Ten slips of paper were folded into a plastic bag, and they drew lots. The five who opened a paper marked with ink would go to Iraq and fight. The other five would stay behind.

Abu Ibrahim drew a blank. But remaining in Syria did not mean staying clear of the war. For more than two years, by his own detailed account, the slightly built, shabbily dressed 32-year-old father of four has worked diligently to shuttle other young Arab men into Iraq, stocking the insurgency that has killed hundreds of U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis.

Comment: This article was making the rounds last week. Its a good piece of journalism, and I think an important read. How do we get better at this? I think one technique may be use the US Border Patrol to help train our soldiers and intel guys on how cross border smuggling works. I'm putting that on my to-do list for the next training year. Any border patrol agents out there want to help? Former SGT L are you reading this?

Social Commentary:
Leaving the left I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity
Nightfall, Jan. 30. Eight-million Iraqi voters have finished risking their lives to endorse freedom and defy fascism. Three things happen in rapid succession. The right cheers. The left demurs. I walk away from a long-term intimate relationship. I'm separating not from a person but a cause: the political philosophy that for more than three decades has shaped my character and consciousness, my sense of self and community, even my sense of cosmos.

Comment: I don't agree with all of what this guy has to say, but it's a good read. Even though I'mleftytie, his thought certainly mirror my own reservations. I'm working on a piece about "National Security Democrats" right now. Not sure what I'm going to do with it, but it articulates my thoughts on the left regarding chosensen profession(s).

Flashback Friday:
Afghanistan: Crossroads of Conflict
The Soviets, both in their Afghan encampments and back home in the Kremlin, were surprised by the bitterness they provoked when they marched into Afghanistan last December–at least as surprised as Jimmy Carter says he was when they did so. Why are the Soviets in Afghanistan and what can the United States do about it?

From all available evidence, the Soviets came to Afghanistan not to conduct a Marxist revolution but to stop one or, more precisely, to postpone it for a number of years. The real Marxist zealots came to power in Kabul in April 1978. The Soviets helped them do it because the opportunity was there and because it is more desirable to have puppets on a nation's border than truly neutral countries. At the time, Afghan Communists represented one or two percent of Afghanistan's population.

Comment: This is a reprint from the May 1980 issue of the Atlantic. Great perspective.

Vacancy Announcement: Social Worker - Homeless Program Coordinator
The incumbent in this position functions as the Medical Center’s Liaison/Case Manager for VA's Health Care for Homeless Veterans Programs, Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program. The incumbent is responsible for monitoring and coordination of services provided by community-based programs funded under VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program and is supervised by Social Work Service Homeless Program Coordinator.

Comment: I just wish there wasn't a need for this type of position.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

It's the Big One

"Score a direct hit." Exercise Material.
Note my chicken scratch.

It has been a busy couple weeks here in sunny Central Texas, and it shows in my lack of blogging. We've been preparing for an exercise where we practice receiving evacuees from the coast in the event of a "direct hit" hurricane.

Yesterday, we did the exercise. Basically, we had to figure out what to do with 40K-50K people fleeing from a CAT4-5 hurricane named Gregg (that dirty bastard is always headed for our coastline). This is an extremely hard event to plan for because human and weather behaviors are so variable. There are so many unknowns.

How many people will make it to your area?

Will they seek housing in shelters or hotels?

How long will they be in your location?

How do you plan for traffic? Austin's traffic is bad enough without adding fifty thousand lost South Texans into the mix.

How bad will the storm impact us? A CAT 5 on the coast will still retain much of its punch as it heads inland.

Overall, the exercise was a success. I worked the traffic and security piece which isn't usually my gig, but we wear lots of hats in my business. As usual, I was very impressed with what the state and local governments brought to the fight. There are a great many highly competent professionals out there working to keep you safe. And I'm not just talking about cops and firefighters.

I should be able to return to my normal blogging schedule next week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia 2.0?

Excellent Article from the Christian Science Monitor:

US blocked NATO call for probe of Uzbek 'massacre'?

A report that US defense officials helped block a NATO demand for an international probe into last month's killing of protesters in Uzbekistan is proving an air base there to be one of the more diplomatically costly "lily pads" in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's new lean, mean restructuring of the US global military presence.


The Uzbek government has admitted that 173 people were killed on May 13 in Andijan but independent witnesses and human rights organizations put the number of victims at between 500 and 1,000. Human Rights Watch, for instance, has called the incident a "massacre." Karimov has portrayed the killings as a necessary response to a revolt by Islamic extremists.

Comments: Freedom is on the march, right?

There are, of course, no easy solutions to these problems. We need Uzbekistan to fight the GWOT. It's key to our current operations in the region. However, are we sacrificing long term gains in order to achieve short-term goals?

One of the biggest complaints that the Muslims have against us is that we prop up the Saudi regime without demanding much reform. And any actual reforms that have been implemented have moved at glacial speeds. And now we are supporting another repressive regime--Saudi 2.0.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but it seems to me that the Uzbek government needs us as much as we need them. We're there on the ground in a good position to influence things. Are we doing enough to ratchet up the pressure on them? Or do we have blinders on? The Cold War was a multi-generational effort. The GWOT will be the same. Are we laying the groundwork for victory 10 and 20 years from now. Or did the next UBL watch his brother or father die in the massacre while the US stood idly by?

Monday, June 13, 2005

BBQ and Simple Patriotism

I had drill…err...I mean…. Unit Battle Assembly this weekend. It was 2LT B's last weekend with us before he ships to Iraq so all my officers and warrant officers took him to the original Rudy's on the North side of San Antonio. We usually swing by Rudy’s at least once on drill weekends. They give a nice military discount, and they’ve done lots to support the troops. The original location is by far the best of the chain, but in my opinion, about mid-grade BBQ. (I’m a beer and BBQ snob.)

Anyway, we had an APFT on Sunday morning. I thought I had everyone beat on sit ups at 80, but 2LT B did 84. Bastard. But, we’d earned our monthly BBQ, and we all rolled to Rudy’s at lunch to have some fellowship with 2LT B.

The seven of us get in line. There’s a big lunch crowd so there is a little bit of a wait. I take up the company commander position at the rear, but since we’re not eating out of mermites, there is no chance of getting that burnt piece of shit that used to be chicken. Most of my officers have already been to the sandbox so we’re all pumping 2LT B up with war stories. CPT S, new to my company and a Arab/French linguist, had a funny story about being the only guy who dismounts a Striker in the middle of a bunch of Iraqis. “I get out and those fuckers close the ramp behind me…”

We get through the line and the staff is directing us to one cash register. I figured it was so they could ring up the discount at one register. I reach for my wallet and the cashier says that it’s taken care of.

“Taken care of?” I asked.

“Yes, sir,” She replies. “Your bill is paid.”

Now, I know something is up. We’re a bunch of cheap bastards. I’ve witnessed CW3 S haggle over a bar tab in Thailand where the actual difference in price would have been about two bucks so I know damn well that none of my guys is going to pick up the tab on $100 worth of BBQ.

“Who picked up the bill?” I ask.

The cashier points out a older woman standing in the corner.

“You weren’t supposed to tell,” she cries.

Too late. I go thank her, and when my guys see what’s going on, they bum rush her to thank her for lunch. She thanks us for our service, embarrassed that her cover is blown.

We eat lunch and wish 2LT B good luck. The shock has worn off and 2LT B is starting to get mentally ready for what lies ahead. Knowing that he has the love and support of total strangers is going to help.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Human Spackle

Do you want to know how people’s lives get tossed around and they end up in harm’s way in Iraq? Conversations like this:

“Hey dude, we got a tasking.” It’s my BN XO and good friend on the phone. Active Guard and Reserve officer. West Pointer and all around great guy.

“Oh shit, what for?” That’s my normal reaction. The last time we had this conversation, I lost twelve soldiers to Iraq. I’m still waiting for my turn to come around again.

“Just one. 35 Delta. Lieutenant.” A 35D is a standard Army military intelligence officer, one each.

“I got one left who hasn’t already been mob’d.” Mob’d, Army slang for mobilized. If you’ve been called up for over a year, like me, you can’t be called back up under the current rules. If you haven’t been called up, then it’s just a matter of time.

“2LT B, right?” my BN XO asks. (I won’t use 2LT B’s full name here.)

“Yeah, and I’d prefer not to use him right now.”

“He’s good? You like him right?”

“Yeah. I want to keep him. If we get hit with another big tasker for teams, I want to send him with soldiers so he can lead them. Fuck, I’m running out of troops. You know how empty my manning is.”

“Hmmm. Okay. I’ll talk to the other commanders and see what I can do.”

“What’s the tasking for?” I ask. “Who with? We need to find out. That might help drive our decision. Don’t want to stick the wrong kid in an infantry battalion.”

“Unknown,” the XO replies. “We tried to find out, but you know how it goes.”

So, I call 2LT B, and give him a heads up-- a WARNO to let him get ready.

A couple days pass and we have our monthly conference call with all the commanders. We’re running out of soldiers and officers who haven’t been called up. We go down the list of who’s left.

“We can’t send him, he’s a company commander.”

“Does he want to go?”

“Volunteer? Uh, no.” We all laugh. We’re all way beyond volunteering now.

“Okay, how about Lieutenant so and so?”

“Uh, shit. She’s in Dental School, right?” the XO observes. “New rule came out saying medical students can’t get mob’d. I think dental school counts.

“Shit,” I say. “You sure?”

“I’ll check,” the XO says. “But it’s looking like 2LT B.”

“Yeah. Great.”

So we check. Dental school counts.

So I get to make another phone call. The good news is that he’s got until late July until he’s called up. He’ll have time to spend with his family. Some soldiers don’t get that luxury. The bad news is that he’s a newlywed, and this is going to make for a tough first year of marriage.

And I have another empty slot in my unit. I’m down to three officers counting myself. I have positions for several more.

And that’s my big problem with how this war is being fought. This isn’t a political blog, and I’m probably out of line for complaining this much. But, shit like this pisses me off. I just gave up a good junior officer to God knows what or where or how long. He’s going to fill an empty slot somewhere out there. Human spackle.

I’ve already been tasked several times like this. The last round of troops got scattered around Iraq, and it has been hit or miss on how well they are taken care of. Frankly, some are being abused by the units that they got stuck with. Don’t even get me started on issues like pay and promotions.

So how am I supposed to train my unit when it has essentially become an individual replacement pool for the Army? My mission still remains the same, but with 50% of my strength gone, it’s hard to train. There is also a profound impact on retention.

And the problem runs deeper. My battalion had two soldiers get caught up in the Abu Ghraib mess. One spent time in jail. They were both individual replacements to another MI unit. I believe that Abu Ghraib is one of the biggest meltdowns in junior leadership that the Army has ever experienced. But, then again, how can you effectively lead a group of cobbled together strangers?

This is not how it’s supposed to be. Units are supposed to train and fight together as one coherent team. On active duty this bond is forged by hard training and living in a close knit community. In the reserves, it’s often our local and regional bonds that tie us together. We’re Texans damn it. Stand up and fight. Those bonds are broken by a system of individual replacements.

I’d proudly go if I got called up again. After already having done two years, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I’d do my duty. I’ve been home for a year and half, and I know the war isn’t ending any time soon. As a soldier, I accept sacrifice.

I’d especially be proud to lead my soldiers into battle. I’ve been in my battalion for about five years now, and this is my second command here. I’m an old hand. I helped get this unit through its first terrible year of mobilization. I know everyone. I’m trusted and respected by most, hated by some. But, I can guarantee Lyndie England and Charles Grainer wouldn’t last a second under my command.

I wish that as a country we would own up to the fact that we’re going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time. This would be so much easier if the Army told my battalion that we’d be called up in six months or a year, re-set everyone’s mobilization clocks to zero, gave us a mission, and then told us to prepare. If we were short soldiers, you could plug in soldiers from other units long before the mobilization happened.

In return, you would get a cohesive unit with intact leadership. You would get a unit that had time to prepare for its mission and understood its strengths and weaknesses. You’d have guys like me and my BN XO who would bust their asses to make sure that we did things right. Plus, you’d have the benefit of veterans, like me, who have already been in the fight.

Is a second mobilization what I want? Hell no. But, if you did it right, in the end it would be the best thing for the soldiers and the war effort. Anything beats death by a thousand taskers. None of us signed up to be human spackle.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Light Weekend Reading

North Korea, Facing Food Shortages, Mobilizes Millions From the Cities to Help Rice Farmers
TOKYO, Wednesday, June 1 - To combat growing food shortages, the North Korean government is sending millions of city dwellers to work on farms each weekend, largely to transplant rice, according to foreign aid workers.

"The staff that work for us, the staff that work in the ministries, are going out to help farmers," said Richard Ragan, director of World Food Program operations in Pyongyang, referring to North Koreans who work for the program. Speaking by telephone on Wednesday, he said that in terms of food supplies North Koreans "are inching back to the precipice."

Comment: All this makes me wonder how long we have until this whole situation really gets out of control.

The Homeland Security Bubble
If you wanted to invent a bogus-sounding Washington company, the kind of ominous corporation that belongs in a subplot for next year's 24, you couldn't come up with a name or a business plan better than that of Fortress America Acquisition Corp. Fortress America is a scheme by a bipartisan group of Washington insiders, including a Rhodes scholar turned professional basketball player turned congressman, a former senator, and an offshore investment company with ties to the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, to capitalize on the nation's fear of terror. Fortress America Acquisition Corp. is striving to be a kind of mini-Carlyle Group.

Comment: You can't imagine how much money is flowing through the homeland security/emergency management community right now. Part of my job is to chase grant money for equipment and training, and I've spent a bundle of tax dolars. But, as a citizen and a tax payer, things like this make me uncomfortable. Beware the homeland security complex...

At least 20 killed in Afghan mosque blast
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A bomb from a suicide attacker tore through a mosque during Wednesday's funeral for a Muslim cleric opposed to the Taliban, killing at least 20 people, and the local governor said an al-Qaida-linked militant was responsible.

Comment: Overall, I think this a stupid tactic for the bad guys. In the summer of 2003, the insurgents didsimilariar thing in Kandahar and went after some clerics who had come out in support of the Karzai gov't. It backfired. Funny how bad ideas have a way of coming back around.

One item in the article make me pause:

The attack which came on the heels of a major upsurge in rebel violence in recent months including assassinations, near-daily clashes with rebels and the kidnapping of an Italian aid worker further raised fears that militants here were copying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq.
What constitutes a "major upsurge"? Emergency management types have an expression "how big is big and how bad is bad?"

Unique hero missing from V-E Day ceremony
MOSCOW - As thousands of Russian war heroes and a handful of invited American veterans marked the anniversary of World War II's end in Moscow, there was a notable absence in the crowd: Joseph Beyrle, the only U.S. soldier to fight for the Americans and the Soviets.

advertisementBeyrle died in December on a visit to Toccoa, Georgia, the legendary training ground of his celebrated 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. At 81, he was planning to attend the V-E Day celebrations on Monday in the Russian capital.

For Beyrle, known as "Jumpin Joe", Russia was a country that took him into its heart and celebrated him as its own hero.

Comment: The truth is just stranger and more fun than fiction, isn't it?

Just For Fun:

Should GIs be allowed to drink at 19?
MADISON, Wis. - One Wisconsin lawmaker figures if the U.S. military trusts 19-year-olds with a $10 million tank, then the state should trust them with a beer.

State Rep. Mark Pettis, a Republican who served in the Navy, is pushing a bill that would drop the drinking age to 19 for Wisconsin soldiers but only if the federal government agrees it will not yank an estimated $50 million a year in highway aid.

Comment: Oh, hell yeah! That's the way to solve all our recruiting problems.

Flashback Friday:
The other night I caught some old-school "liberal" media at work. The 1960 documentary Harvest of Shame about the unfair treatment of migrant farm workers aired on the Discovery Times channel (which has some good stuff BTW). I watched this in junior high or high school, but had not seen it since. What an amazing piece of journalism. I wonder how the blogosphere would react to Edward R. Murrow today?

What really struck me was how Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell (a Republican) spoke out against the farm industry's unfair treatment of migrant laborers. There is no way in hell thatcabinantn cabinent official (GOP or DEM) would do that today. It would be political suicide. I was also struck by what Mitchell had to say about the garment industry in the US. Fair union wages. Quality products at good prices. What happened in this country? Right now, I'm dressed from head to toe in clothing manufactured in 3rd countries. Fair wages? I doubt it.

I grew up in South Texas, and we had our share of migrant worker kids in school. They would be there part of the year, and then disappear only to show up the next year. They were poor, and most of them worked in the fields at one point or another. My interactions with them and my experience growing up on the border shaped many of my political viewpoints.

Are we still bringing in a "harvest of shame"? I wonder.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Houston, We Have a Problem: Exploring the Impact of Nuclear Terrorism (Part 2)

This is Part 2 in our exploration of the impact of nuclear terrorism.

Ground Zero

What Happens After the Nuke Goes Off?

Note: I’m no scientist so all the of the stuff that I’ll use in the scenario is estimates and SWAGs. Also, my scenario may be a little “Tom Clancy”, but it’ll do in a pinch. So, we’ll assume that my science is more or less accurate (maybe), and that the bad guys can get away with what I’ve had them do. Since I’m familiar with Houston, we’ll use it for our nightmare scenario. Here goes.


It’s a hot Friday afternoon in June 2006. The Astros are at home and 30,000 fans are in Minute Maid Park watching the game. Rush hour will begin in a couple hours as downtown empties out for the weekend. Unknown to everyone, a group of Al Qaeda terrorists has smuggled a small 15-20 kiloton nuclear bomb through a container in the Houston ship channel. The bomb was rigged to blow if it was discovered, but the bad guys got lucky and the bomb is “in play”. Posing as utility workers, they have smuggled it to the top floor of the nearby JP Morgan Chase building—the tallest in Houston. They’ve done their homework and know that this elevation will cause more destruction.

Bottom of the sixth. Bases loaded. And a flash of blinding white light.

Houston drops off the face of the earth. The broadcast of the game goes blank. In those first moments, as the fireball consumes thousands of souls, the world is unaware of what just happened. The blast and EMP knock down several commercial aircraft. One of them crashes into a large refinery near the ship channel ignighting a huge chemical fire. A massive surge of water rushes through the Houston Ship Channel. This combined with blinding light from the blast causes a barge to veer off course sending it smashing into the 610 bridge. It collapses cutting a major evacuation artery. A mushroom cloud rises over downtown and the industrial areas nearest to downtown catch fire. It's hell on earth.

Minutes pass, and then phones begin to ring throughout the country. Reports come into the Texas State Operation Center about a mushroom cloud over Houston, and the first shaky video begins to come in over the TV networks. Now the chaos truly begins.

Effects Estimate (Revised)

The First Hour

I was working in the Texas State Operations Center on Sept 11th. (Lucky me. I get to have all the fun.). Like everyone else, I remember it as a weird, surreal day. In the first hours after it became clear that our country was under attack, we felt helpless. What was going to happen next? What was the next target? Was Texas going to get hit? Once we had made the initial decision to stand up the operations center to its full capacity, all we could do was sit and wait for things to happen—and pray that we weren’t next.

The world seemed to stand still as the towers crumbled, but it didn’t. People were in motion. Telephone networks went down as the country collectively went “oh shit” and picked up the phone. Downtown Houston began to empty out as people made their own decisions as to what was the next target. DFW airport gained a large population as all the planes were grounded. There were runs on gasoline in West Texas. We received panicky calls from Texans with loved ones living or visiting New York.

As the day drew on, the requests for assistance began to flood in. We stood up our urban search and rescue teams and began to deploy them to New York. With that, we had something to do and that grounded us. Working is better than waiting.

Hell on Earth (Revised)

The first hour after an attack will be about two things: assessing the situation and continuity of government. Officials will be rushed to secret locations or into command posts. There will be a scramble to figure out what the hell just happened. Remember those first moments of Sept 11th when nobody was sure what was going on? It will be the same in this scenario. A large explosion doesn’t have to mean a nuclear bomb. The 1947 Texas City disasterwas mistaken for a nuclear detonation and the blast was so severe that a tidal wave produced by the explosion sent a 150-foot, 30-ton barge 100 feet inland.

So the first step will be figuring out what happened. Was it a nuke? If so, how big? What is the wind doing? What will the weather be doing in the next few hours and days? Eventually, all these details will be sorted out. By then, Houston will be burning.

Local (what’s left of them), State, and Federal resources will be assembled and thrown at the problem. A fallout plume model will be created, and then decisions will be made on what to do with the population. Of course, people will already be deciding what to do on their own. Anyone not caught in the blast is likely to flee in whatever direction they can get out the fastest. This will take some of them through the fallout. Whatever broadcast stations are still operational will probably try to give the best advice they can to the population. Some of it will be wrong.

Communications Breakdown. Projected Impact.

It will fall on the homeland security and emergency management community to sort things out. The next priority will be to save as many lives as possible. That means a massive evacuation. In a hurricane evacuation you have days to blanket the airwaves with information. Now the biggest problem will be figuring out who is left to broadcast. Some 60-70 languages are spoken in Houston so the information will have to be broadcast in several languages. More hours will pass as the emergency alert system is activated and definitive word is passed to the population.

Eventually, people will begin moving away from the hazards. Triage stations will be set up outside Houston to treat the injured and decontaminate the exposed. Radiation monitoring stations will be set up. Plume models and weather reports will be refined and modified. A massive shelter effort will be mounted.

All of this will probably take 24-36 hours before the government is able to finally get a handle on the situation. In the interim thousands will have died, and thousands more will die from exposure to radiation. 70-80 of the country’s petrochemicals passes through Houston one way or another so the US economy will probably collapse. It will take day, even weeks, for all the fires to die down.


Are We Prepared? Yes and no. The government can mount a response to this. It will take a massive effort, but we could get though it. These blog posts amounts to a long dissection of a short article (a “fisking” in blogoshpere terms), but its not as easy to plan for this type of disaster as the Times would make it sound. Tweaking some data on will not prepare the population or the government for this event. Only training can do that.

Have we trained for this? Yes and no. I participated in Unified Defense ’04 (more info)--a huge Northern Command exercise designed to test our capacity to handle large-scale disasters. In the scenario, a nuke was detonated near Cotulla, TX after the terrorists were pulled over with the bomb in a stolen car.

Let me get this straight. I’m smart enough to acquire a nuke and smuggle it into the US. But, I’m dumb enough to transport it in a stolen car so I get pulled over? Another part of the scenario had a CAT 4 or 5 hurricane bearing down on Houston plus a nuclear power plant meltdown. And I think the Martian might have invaded somewhere.

It was a cop out to have the nuke go off in the middle of nowhere (my apologies to Cotulla and Dilley). Forget the Hurricane. Nuke Houston and see what happens. The other thing that we never do in these exercises is the recovery portion. We go for a day or two and get through the landfall of the hurricane or the evacuation of the city. But, we never fight all the way through. Phase IV anyone?

What we need is a national level exercise like UD04 where a major city gets hit, and then we practice all phases of the response and recovery. I know its been played before, mostly at the federal level. Lets play it all the way down from the feds to the locals. Invite officials from other large cities to observe. Let chaos reign. Invite failure.

One of the greatest things that I learned in the Army was that “learning is winning.” You can get your ass handed to you by the OPFOR at NTC or JRTC, but as long as you got better, you won. If we are truly to be prepared for the nightmare scenario then we need to spend some time staring into the abyss.

Now, is this scenario plausible? Yes. Probable? Will the bad guys get their hands on a nuke. Who knows? I think its worth investing the energy in planning for this because it can help you with other planning efforts. Is the sky falling? Let's hope not.

Note: The original version of this post contained some bad science. Some smart folks pointed out my mistakes, and I corrected them. Fact checking is a wonderful thing.