There appears to be a bit of a backlash within military circles and families of men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the “suggestion” that our troops should leave their body armor behind to ingratiate themselves with local civilians. This “new” strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace first came to my attention during an airing of a 60 minute special on General McChrystal some months ago.
I recall similar “hearts and mind” arguments in other engagements by the US military and I have always reacted the same way: Send in the Peace Corps. It is one thing for General McChrystal and other US military and civilian dignitaries to walk into a village without their protective gear when surrounded by a heavily armed security detail with air cover and quite another to for military personnel to doff their body armor and helmet to play a game of cards and drink tea with the Afghans.
Befriending the local population has always been a welcome characteristic of US troops serving in harm’s way, but it is quite another mission altogether when the military brass “asks” our frontline troops to become social workers at the expense of their own safety. Unfortunately, military “suggestions” and leaders acting in ways to encourage this behavior encourages a chain reaction of idiocy right down the military chain of command.
Witness this bizarre military “spin” on the appropriate use of body armor that was reported in the Honolulu Advisor:
Col. Walter Piatt, who commanded the approximately 3,500 soldiers in 3rd Brigade in Iraq and now back at Schofield, said there was no order to not wear body armor. “My guidance was that commanders at every level would determine the force protection equipment required to accomplish the mission,” he said.
That guidance went to high-level government meetings “inside a very well-furnished office with a mayor or a provincial representative who was wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a very nice dress and the furniture is very expensive,” Piatt said. “I told our soldiers we should not be wearing our kit (body armor) in those rooms because we’ll destroy the furniture.” Commanders could decide to keep body armor on, leave it in vehicles, or take it off in an antechamber at a meeting, he said.
Piatt also said it was “key leaders” only who would leave their body armor in a vehicle. Even without body armor, the soldiers retained their weapons. There also always was a security element wearing all protective gear that accompanied those soldiers. Bland said “guidance” is the same as an order. When a commander gives guidance or a suggestion, “it’s exactly the same as giving an order. It’s just more politely phrased.”
Nuance aside, I would be hard-pressed to determine how to act if I were currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even Farmer McGregor would not leave behind his overalls and gloves to work in the Brier patch, but it seems to me that we are asking our soldiers to take on additional risk to win some pyrrhic victory for General McChrystal. Mind you, this is the same military leadership that barred troops from wearing any other body armor other than official “Army Issue” at the risk of losing their medical coverage if wounded. As Alice in Wonderland said: This is getting “curiouser and curiouser.”
Richard W. May