Monday, February 28, 2011

The Soul of the Army

No less an authority than George Washington believed, "discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all." More than all the new uniforms, UAV's or F-22s the Pentagon could buy, it depends on discipline for success. It is the glue that holds units together during tough training and deadly combat. This is why it is so disheartening to see signs of shakey discipline in the ranks.

After Michael Hastings's controversial article in Rolling Stone Magazine showing General Stanley McChrystal and his staff in an unflattering light led to the general's dismissal he has apparently become the reporter of refuge for disgruntled officers. His latest work alleges that Lt. Colonel Shawn Stroud illegally ordered Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes to use psychological operations techniques against selected politicians in an effort to "brain wash" them into supporting funding and troop increases.

A little bit of research seems to indicate that the incident boils down to a dispute over bureaucratic labels, organizational charts and an Army officer who should know better than to talk to anyone from Rolling Stone. Upon further questioning from the New York Times Holmes conceded that what he was asked to do was, "pretty innocuous."

Is this how warriors in war time behave? Is it too much to ask that military professionals handle disagreements like adults behind closed doors instead of slinking off to all too willing to give the Army another black eye? Discipline in the ranks is at least as important for Lt. Colonels as it is for Privates so before acting maybe Holmes should have asked himself, "What would George Washington do?"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Time is it in Afghanistan?: Part IV

Have 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden receded so far from the public consciousness that even good news about the fight in Afghanistan is not an important story? I suppose if our forces were being pushed out of Kandahar and Helmand province and suffering high casualties the media would be compelled to cover it. It seems the media has put itself in a box after years of decrying Operation Enduring Freedom as doomed to failure while George W. Bush was President they. Now with President Obama in the White House the far left has cooled the rhetoric but instead of trying to cover what is actually happening they have mostly ignored Afghanistan except to remind us that the Karzai government is corrupt and unreliable.

The truth seems to be that the surge of troops into Kandahar and Helmand has been quietly clearing the Taliban out of their strongholds in southern Afghanistan. As always it remains to be seen if these tactical victories can be translated into a strategic victory. Aside from the questions about the Afghan government, the biggest stumbling blocks are the sanctuaries in Pakistan and the half-hearted cooperation of the Pakistan government. Time still is not on our side, but perhaps our troops recent victories have bought them the time they need.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Owning the Night

For a twenty years the United States military has prided itself on owning the night. The Pentagon has invested considerable resources to field various kinds of night vision equipment for ground troops, pilots and surveillance. However, aside from the specialized sniper rifles the Army and Marine Corps has not paid a lot of attention to muzzle flash suppression. The muzzle designs of infantry weapons offer some level of performance, but given the amount of night fighting the Army and Marines have engaged in over the last ten years, dedicated muzzle suppression technology seems like an obvious area to address.

A recent article quoted an Army weapons procurement officer pointing out that the enemy's ability to shoot back suffers when they cannot see where shots are coming from.  You don't say?  One would assume our troops have been providing feedback on ways to improve night fighting capabilities for years so why has it taken so long to see action on this?

This blog is not intended as a complaint department, but I want the best for our troops and it seems that too many changes and improvements get swamped by bureaucratic inertia.  One can look at the continuing drama regarding the new camouflage patterns. (see some of my previous posts for more on camo issue.)  A common thread running through these issues seems to be to focus on big ticket technology at the expense of lower technology items needed by infantry squads.