SFTT News: Week of Apr 18, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Military Pay Raise of 2.1% for 2017?
Troops would receive a 2.1 percent pay raise in 2017 under a plan released by House lawmakers this week.  The draft legislation from the House Armed Services Committee’s Personnel Subcommittee was among the first to be released as part of the process to amend, or mark-up, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the year beginning Oct. 1.  Read more . . .

Military in Iraq

More U.S. Troops to Iraq?
President Barack Obama’s decision to send still more American troops to Iraq, and to put military advisers closer to the front lines against the Islamic State, fits a pattern of ever-deepening involvement in a country whose war Obama exited with supposed finality in December 2011.  Read more . . .

President Obama’s Push to Hire Veterans Creates Confusion
One in three people hired into the federal government is now a veteran, but the Obama administration’s aggressive push to reward those who served is causing confusion and resentment among job applicants and hiring staff.  Read more . . .

VA Studies on Service Dogs
Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has paid veterinary bills to veterans with guide or service dogs for physical disabilities. Now, the agency is in the midst of a $12 million study to gauge the efficacy and costs of using dogs to help those who suffer from post-traumatic stress.  Read more . . .

Bergdahl, Franks:  A Tale of 2 “Deserters” 
Three months before Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl walked off his base in Afghanistan, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Franks walked away from his in upstate New York. Two months before Bergdahl was returned to U.S. custody in Landstuhl, Germany, on May 31, 2014, Franks turned himself in at the Army garrison in Wiesbaden, Germany. Both men had been gone for five years. But while Bergdahl, 30, awaits court-martial on desertion and misconduct charges, Franks, 29, awaits release from the prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.  Read more . . .

Study Shows Military Falls Short in Treating PTSD
The U.S. military is struggling to provide adequate therapy sessions for thousands of active-duty troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, a massive study released Thursday concludes.  The RAND Corp. study of 40,000 cases, the largest ever, found that only a third of troops with PTSD and less than a quarter who are clinically depressed receive the minimum number of therapy sessions after being diagnosed.  Read more . . .


Ways your Civilian Buddies Differ from Your Battle Friends
It’s probably fair to say that anyone reading this has a fair share of both civilian and military acquaintances. Friends even, if you don’t happen to be overly unlikable or unhygienic. And, while veterans and civilians are equally swell types of chums to have, there are more than a few differences between them. The way you interact, relate, and occasionally frolic with your battle buddies will not always be the same as with your friends who never bore the responsibilities and bad haircuts of military service.  Read more . . .

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VA Care for Patients with PTSD

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As military service members deployed in Iraq begin come home, the alarm bells are beginning to sound as the Veterans Administration (“VA”)  now seems over-stretched to deal with alarming number of cases of service members with PTSD.

According to a recently published Rand study, excerpts of which are reported  by Health Affairs, “There is a large and growing population of veterans with severe and complex general medical, mental, and substance use disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder, PTSD, and major depression. Substance use disorders may occur alone or in combination with any of these other diagnoses. Over the five-year study period, the population of veterans with mental and substance use disorders grew by 38.5 percent, with the largest growth occurring in veterans receiving care for PTSD. Half of the veterans with mental and substance use disorders also had a serious medical disorder. Study veterans also accounted for a much larger proportion of health care use and costs than their representation among all veterans receiving VA health care. “

The sad reality is that this report is based on statistics compiled by Rand for 2007 and, as such, the severity of the problem is likely to be far greater for veterans with additional deployments past 2007.

As Jason Ukman of the Washington Post reports, “the cost of medical care for veterans is expected to skyrocket in coming years.”   According to sources referred to by Mr. Ukman, “The number of veterans seeking mental health services has increased sharply. Last year, more than 1.2 million veterans were treated by the VA for mental health problems. In fiscal year 2004, the figure was roughly 654,000. The largest increase has been among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.”

The severity of this problem is already taxing over-stretched VA resources and is likely to increase as  troops in combat zones return home.  How we deal with these troubled warriors will say much about our military and political leadership.

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Budget Cuts and the DoD’s Priorities

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The Secretary of Defense has proposed cutting $78 Billion out of the DoD budget over five years.   That’s $78 Billion, or less than $20 Billion a year.  Are you kidding me — why even bother with such a miniscule amount?   Anyone with even a brief, passing knowledge of the DoD over the last 2 decades has to be amused that the national media has viewed this proposal as a “substantial cut.” With an enormous DoD budget that exceeds THREE QUARTERS of a TRILLION DOLLARS a year, a reduction of $20 Billion a year is almost a rounding error!

After the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) the DoD budget was less than $350 Billion per year. It is now over $830 Billion per year.  When you deduct the cost of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, DoD still spends over $549 Billion per year.  What justifies this level of spending, after you deduct war costs?  Answer – No one can rationally justify it.  Let’s consider what we’re getting for our Defense budget:

First — you are not going to find anything being spent on procuring better “troop” gear.  That ship has sailed, as Congress’ wire brushing of the DoD procurement brass during the early stages of the Iraq War for their utter incompetence in providing adequate numbers and quality of body armor, armored vehicles and HUMVEE armor upgrades, a better fitting helmet, etc. ran its course.  By 2007, the DoD, Army and Marine procurement weenies had successfully scurried to get the troops what they should have had before we kicked off the Iraq War.  In the process, they got Congress off their backs.  They have since retreated into their normal state: disinterest in things for the troops; high interest in big dollar programs.

Now — Let’s look at what DoD’s funding.

The Army, having spent almost two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars on the Future Combat System (FCS) and produced nothing deployable – or even useful – other than an engine, has been cancelled.  It has been reborn and been renamed, I think for the second time in eighteen months, and is now called the “Brigade Something or Other.”  Same focus, though, a “family of networked vehicle systems.”  Can you say son-of-FCS?   Will they ring a bell when they spend their first hundred billion dollars?  Who knows, but mind my words, any time a Service addresses anything that is wrapped in wording as a “Family of XXX” needs to be viewed as a program that doesn’t know what it wants to develop; has no earthly idea what the “Family” will cost, or what will constitute a success.   Think of it as a corporate annuity plan to feed the greed and thirst of the military industrial complex with more of your tax dollars!

The Air Force now wants to develop a new manned bomber.  To do what?  Since we can put a missile’s warhead into a 55 gallon drum from thousands of miles away, why – pray tell – do we need another manned bomber?  Isn’t our $2 Billion per copy B-2 good enough?  Is the $750 Million per copy B-1 inadequate?  The $800 Million per copy F-117 Stealth Aircraft is somehow unusable?  The B-52’s are still flying after almost 60 years of service, and seem to be upgradeable forever.  What is it that these manned bombers, our ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and our unmanned UAV systems cannot do that justifies throwing money away after another manned bomber?  Beats me.  But hey, they’re the Air Force.  These are the same guys that gave us the F-22, which at $400 million a copy, this high speed, low drag “air dominance” miracle machine cannot deploy into “an electrically contaminated environment,”  like over Iraq or Afghanistan.  Doesn’t matter to the Air Force, they want more of them.  Oh yeah, they also want a thousand of their variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, rapidly gaining on the F-22 in the cost overrun sweepstakes.  I find it remarkable that the best fighters the Air Force and Navy still get their hat and ass handed to them in Red Flag and Top Gun Exercises by fighter bombers built in the 1960’s: updated A-4’s and F-5’s.  Hey guys, it’s the ordnance and avionics, not the airframe.  But what do I know.

The Navy’s and Marines’ procurement priorities need no explanations.  They are unexplainable. At best they are an enigma, at worst they are a rip-off of the taxpayer. No one with an IQ greater than half their body temperature can make sense of why the Navy wants to buy what it wants to buy.  For example, even though no aircraft carrier (CV) has been successful in avoiding being sunk by day two in any force-on-force exercise in the past few decades, we are still buying nuclear powered CVs at $20 Billion each, counting their air wing’s aircraft.  Yet, the adversary that routinely sinks them, a diesel submarine, similar to the subs on loan from one of our NATO allies, has not appeared in a Navy budget request in almost 50 years.  Probably because diesel boats just aren’t sexy enough and would be tantamount to admitting that our CV’s are vulnerable.  Why should we buy an inexpensive diesel submarine, when we can spend $3 Billion on a nuclear powered Virginia class submarine, instead?

We’re deeply into the enigma area when the Navy articulates their rationale for the buy of ten Littoral Combat Ships (LCs) of two very different designs, from two different manufacturers.  When the Navy is arguing against buying amphibious class ships to land Marine forces on hostile shores, they claim that the threat to these ships from shore launched high velocity missiles so severe that it will require the amphibious ships to operate at least 100 miles from the shore, or risk being sunk.  Ok, I get that.  BUT – the LCS class ships are specifically justified for operations within the “littoral,” that sea zone well inside the 100 mile threat that the Navy paints as too deadly for Navy ships. The LCS case gets even less credible when you note that the Navy has not requested any funding for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-air warfare (AAW), or any other “mission modules” that the Navy says will make the LCS useful.  This folly is comparable to a fire department buying a fire truck without buying its ladders, hoses, or pumps.  The Navy seems to believe that spending a mere $7 Billion for ten nice LCS hulls, but no mission modules, is wise.  An enigma or a rip-off? You tell me. It’s just money.

The Marines finally cancelled their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), an armored landing craft designed to move Marines from ship to shore at high speed, and then provide them with an armored fighting vehicle when ashore.  The Marines spent almost 17 years and $14 Billion trying to make this pig fly in the ship-to-shore phase. If the threat to the amphibious ships, from which the EFV is to deploy, does require them to operate beyond the 100 mile mark from the shore, the EFV couldn’t carry enough fuel to get from ship to shore, and still carry Marines.  The Marines are now going to fund the search for the son-of-EFV. If 20 years couldn’t get the EFV to be mission ready, the Marines won’t find a suitable replacement in this decade.  Hey guys, save the money from the son-of-EFV search, and look at buying smaller, commercial hovercraft to ferry Marine vehicles from ship-to-shore, and to upgrade or replace the fighting vehicles the Marines use once ashore.

Lastly, if DoD wants to cut their big spending beyond what I noted above, consider the following:

  • DoD should order the Navy and Air Force to reduce their uniformed and civilian personnel numbers by 5% each year for the next 5 years.
  • DoD should order each of their DoD agencies to reduce their uniformed and civilian personnel numbers by 5% each year for the next 5 years.
  • DoD should order each Service and each DoD agency to cut 10% of their 2011 budget allocation for the following year, each year for three years; For example:  The Army will only get 90% of their 2011 allocation as their 2012 funding; 90% of their 2012 allocation for 2013 , etc.
  • Order each Service and each DoD agency to submit in 60 days their list, in detail, of what programs they want to reallocate money from or to to make up for the 10% funding deduction in 2012.  Budget submissions for 2013 and 2014 must reflect these reduced allocations when submitted in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Only then will we see what is really “essential,” and what is just “wanted.”

Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.)

Jim Magee is a retired Marine infantry colonel and a combat veteran with extensive experience in special operations, intelligence and acquisitions. He commanded the first Marine Corps light armored vehicle battalion, and after retiring headed the design team for the Interceptor Body Armor system. He has held a wide variety of senior positions in the defense industry, and continues to serve as a consultant to companies in both the US and allied nations.

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Military News Highlights: January 19, 2011

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Costly coalition plan to recruit thousands more Afghan forces draws concerns

The initial U.S. end strength goal of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by October 2011 is approximately 300,000.  A new plan entails hiring an additional 73,000.  The bill to Uncle Sam is an additional $6 billion with unknown future budget outlays.  But before another shekel is spent, don’t you think we should gauge the quality of the current force and assess capabilities.  You know, take the training wheels off, make sure Kabul maintains its balance, etc, before we add a bell on the handlebar and a basket behind the seat? Did someone in “Happyland” pull out the COIN manual and review “insurgent to counter-insurgent ratios” and realize how underesourced and undermanned NATO/ANSF really is according to doctrine?  And we really can’t afford to cut corners on how many US/NATO grunts we need on the line versus using line units to become trainers for this new batch of recruits, which would further stress out an all-ready stressed out 24-7-365 fighting formation.  Pull out the abacus and do the math – it doesn’t add up.  So why then are we rushing to failure?

On final tour in Iraq, daily grind combines with goodwill missions

Hey trooper, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it there in good old Iraq.  No need to wish to see the elephant in Afghanistan, because things are predictably heating up in Babylon (i.e. everyday suicide bombings, the return of Mookie, and an ever increasing disenfranchisement of the Sunni minority) and you’ll get slapped out of your deployment doldrums here sooner rather than later.  Stay vigilant, especially during 90-minute mind-numbing Power Point presentation.

Bank apologizes for overcharging troops for mortgages

I really don’t make this stuff up – a bank overcharged 4,000 military families for their mortgages.  Not a handful, not a dozen, nor a hundred or two, but 4,000.  Really?

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Military News Highlights: December 28, 2010

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Iraq Wants the U.S. Out: Prime Minister, in Interview, Says Troops Must Leave Next Year as Planned

Lest we forget that close to 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq supporting Operation New Dawn.  At least the Iraqi Prime Minister made it abundantly clear that all US troops must leave at the end of 2011 as planned.  Maliki put the issue to rest for Pentagon planners and some Iraqi officials that are hoping to extend the deadline.  In the meantime our troops remain in an unwelcome country.

Afghan Security Deteriorates: U.N. Maps Show Risks in Many Districts Have Increased Despite Troop Surge

Key Highlights:

  • Internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season, countering the Obama administration’s optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago.
  • The maps, used by U.N. personnel to gauge the dangers of travel and running programs, divide the country’s districts into four categories: very high risk, high risk, medium risk and low risk.  In the October map, just as in March’s, nearly all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition’s military offensives—remained painted the red of “very high risk,” with no noted improvements. At the same time, the green belt of “low risk” districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled.
  • The U.N.’s October map upgraded to “high risk” 16 previously more secure districts in Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Laghman and Takhar provinces; only two previously “high risk” districts, one in Kunduz and one in Herat province, received a safer rating.
  • A Pentagon report mandated by Congress drew similar conclusions when it was released last month. It said attacks were up 70% since 2009 and threefold since 2007. As a result of the violence, the Taliban still threaten the Afghan government, according to the report. The White House’s National Security Council declined to comment.
  • “The country as a whole is dramatically worse off than a year ago, both in terms of the insurgency’s geographical spread and its rate of attacks,” said Nic Lee, director of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office. “Vast amounts of the country remain insecure for the unarmed civilians, and more and more areas are becoming inaccessible.”
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Military News Highlights: December 10, 2010

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Report: Growing mental health problems in military

Never knew that the Department of Defense publishes a Medical Surveillance report , but even without the findings everyone knows that mental health problems are the number one health issue facing our troops.  That’s a no-brainer. The November report highlighted in this story by CNN points out the fact that mental health issues send male troops to the hospital than any other cause, and are the second highest for hospitalization amongst women troopers. “The Army was relatively most affected (based on lost duty time) by mental disorder-related hospitalizations overall; and in 2009, the loss of manpower to the Army was more than twice that to the Marine Corps and more than three times that to the other Services,” the report says. “The Army has had many more deployers to Afghanistan and Iraq and many more combat-specific casualties; it is not surprising, therefore, that the Army has endured more mental disorder-related casualties and larger manpower losses than the other services.”

 With some patience you can navigate to the MS Report site and review a decades worth of reports – rather startling data.  Consider that there is data that tracks the numbers of deaths (and by cause) within two years after

 Insecurity and Violence Spreads to Northern Afghanistan

Whack-a-mole.  Surge in the south, leave open the north.  Whack-a-mole. Reposition in the north, enemy withdraws south.  Whack-a-mole. NATO has called this “an extreme escalation” of militant activity.  Actually, it’s a simple supply and demand problem and an economy of force issue.  What was once a gunfight that only involved the Afghan provinces in the east to the south in Afghanistan is now a 360 degree fight, where all areas  require more US/NATO forces are evident to the threat and being exploited.  Coupled with criminality and a lackluster Afghan government, the northern (and western) provinces in Afghanistan have become a vacuum for the enemy to operate in with impunity.  Limiting their operations outside of major urban centers the Taliban and their confederates have been able to provide an alternative to the local populace for services, justice, and security, which “allows the instability to spread.”

 Sad to say that the only real option without any operational or strategic effect is to “whack-a-mole”.  In other words hit the enemy wherever and whenever they emerge – problem is, it’s apparent that there are insufficient US/NATO troops to cover and respond to the threat, and Afghan National Security Forces lack the capability to respond in kind as well.

 Following Up: When A Crew Chief Fights With His Rifle

 Warms your heart when you get to read about courage amidst the carnage, especially when these humble acts are by combat medic crew chiefs.

The award recommendation is below:

SGT Grayson Colby, United States Army, distinguished himself by extraordinary courage and dedication to the MEDEVAC mission on 01 June 2010, in support of Regional Combat Team 7 in Regional Command Southwest during Operation Enduring Freedom 10.

While performing MEDEVAC duty at Camp Dwyer, the crew of DUSTOFF 56 (Pilot in Command CW2 Deric Sempsrott, Pilot CPT Matthew Stewart, Crew Chief SGT Colby, and Flight Medic SGT Ian Bugh) conducted MEDEVAC mission 06-01R in central Marjeh. A dismounted patrol of Marines had come under fire, and one Marine was shot in the upper thigh. Within minutes DO56 launched from Camp Dwyer, knowing they were headed for a high threat area. No escort was available due to the multiple troops-in-contact ongoing across Helmand. The Marine would surely die if not evacuated quickly, so the crews acknowledged the risk and were authorized to launch.

As DO56 approached the point of injury, a firefight erupted on three sides of the aircraft. With no aircraft providing cover, the crew continued to the ground without hesitation, determined not to abandon the wounded. Seeing the location from which the friendly forces were engaging the enemy, SGT Bugh and SGT Colby exited the aircraft from the right door where the largest contingent of the Marine patrol was engaging the enemy.

As the two crewmembers egressed from the aircraft, a Marine came out of the tree line in front of them and signaled for them to stay low. SGT Bugh and SGT Colby sprinted 50 meters across the open field toward the Marine’s position where the patrol was locked in an engagement with the enemy. Reaching the raised road where the Marines were taking cover, SGT Bugh found that the unit had no means to transport the injured Marine and returned to the aircraft for a litter. SGT Colby immediately took a defensive position alongside the Marines and began to engage the enemy. With rounds cracking above his head and hitting the dirt around him, SGT Colby returned fire to the muzzle flashes that were approximately 200 to 300 feet in front of him.

When SGT Bugh returned to where SGT Colby was providing covering fire, they bounded as a team down the raised road with the firefight continuing around them. Reaching the wounded Marine, SGT Colby took his place in the line of Marines, replacing one who had left his position to aid his buddy. Again, SGT Colby returned fire with enemy rounds hitting around him. SGT Bugh and three other Marines carried the litter while SGT Colby remained in his position until they were clear of the road. He than followed them down the road providing rear security until reaching the aircraft. With the patient loaded and SGT Bugh and SGT Colby secure, DO56 departed towards Camp Dwyer. Once airborne, SGT Colby assisted SGT Bugh by starting oxygen on the wounded Marine as the aircraft raced back to the Dwyer Role II Hospital. The Marine went through intensive surgery at the hospital prior to being transferred to a higher level of care.

SGT Colby’s disregard for his own safety as he left the security of the aircraft to provide cover for SGT Bugh embodies the Warrior Ethos. His bravery resulted in a Marine’s life being saved. SGT Colby’s actions reflect great credit on himself, TF Shadow, TF Destiny, and the United States Army.

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Talking to Troops in Airport Terminals during the Holidays

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Try this one on for size if you find yourself in an airport terminal during this holiday season – introduce yourself to a servicemember in uniform, thank them their service, and ask if there is anything you can do for them.  Most will be surprised, nod humbly, and refuse.  And off they’ll go on the way to or from a flight.  But if you want to know what it’s like in Iraq and Afghanistan, be persistent and engage them in discussion – you’d be surprised what you might find out.

Here is what I learned at the airport:

A 20-year old Private First Class serving in the Army had just completed his mid-tour two-week leave and is already seven months into a twelve-month Afghanistan deployment and his next stop was Atlanta, then Manas Airbase, and finally Bagram; he looked miserable.  The leave period ended too early and he never really had a chance to wind down or relax. Hailing from no-where Missouri he joined as a sense of duty, to “see the world”, and get out of the rut and cycle of unemployment, “… it was a dead-end street.”   “I’m a cherry rifleman and my squad’s mission is to patrol for IED’s while the platoon leadership works with the locals trying to convince them not to emplace IED’s.  We normally find three to four on every patrol.  We lost two squad members since we deployed.  The MRAP’s we have can’t operate in the sector we are assigned.  So we ride them as far as we can on the trails after they’ve been cleared of mines and then we dismount and walk.  And walk like forever.  The kit we wear is way too heavy, so we scrap half of it before we leave the wire.  I spent almost two hundred bucks before we deployed for M-4 magazines, because the one’s we have issued to us, jam.  The springs in the standard issue magazines suck.  But chow ain’t too bad, we get one hot meal a day in the COP, no real complaints there.  But, we all stink though because we only get to shower about once a week, but hey that’s the Infantry.”

A 31-year old Sergeant First Class serving in the Army was on the way home from Iraq due to an emergency leave situation.  This being his fourth tour, third in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, he seemed non-pulsed when I offered him my thanks for his service.  Getting him to say much more than what he did reveal is understandable given the circumstances and the anxieties he faced. “Since we got to Iraq, we’ve been sitting around on our hands.  The Iraqi’s we are partnered with never call on us, even when there has been an up-tick in bombings and attacks against the public and security forces.  It’s crazy. We can help. There are still bad guys outside the wire that are doing harm, but we just monitor the situation.  So why are we there?  Don’t know. Send us home or let us join some of our division units deployed to Afghanistan and get into the fight.  My guys are getting in trouble on the FOB, and now getting fat and out of shape.  Everyone has cell phones they buy from local vendors and try to keep in touch with loved ones back home – but that “tether” makes it worse.  Everyone is on at least their third deployment and their home situation, if they have one, is awful.  After I get back from this leave, back to Iraq and only nine months to go.  I’m going to try to keep my guys focused so that no one does anything too stupid.  Gotta go, thanks for the Starbucks.”

A 23-year Marine Lieutenant (out of uniform, but his high-and-tight haircut gave him away, and I asked him if he served) recently redeployed from Afghanistan and heading home for some “turkey and fixings”.   I had two questions for him, one “did your unit make a difference during its seven-month tour in southern Afghanistan?”  And two, “what would have improved your unit’s performance?”  “On your first question, definitely yes.  It was tough to get the Afghan Security Forces to lead, but slowly, and with pressure, they did and are becoming better.  But, it was, and still is a very tough slog.  I was part of the second set of Marines that cycled in and out of the area we were assigned to.  It was rougher for the first battalion on the ground.  They set us up for success and I think we did the same thing for the Marines that followed us.  Time will tell, but I think we are running out of time.  On your second question, probably maintenance, especially servicing the MRAP’s.  We can’t turn wrenches fast enough to keep them in the fight outside of the wire.  We have a huge graveyard of destroyed and inoperable vehicles and MRAP’s in Camp Leatherneck that we use as a junkyard looking for parts.  Bet you didn’t know that for every MRAP deployed in theater you need three contractors to service and maintain an MRAP.  And if you have to recover an MRAP outside of the wire, which happens all of the time, forget about getting a contractor out of the wire to recover the damn thing (it’s not in their contract), so we have to call the Army.  But at the end of the day, if we don’t have enough MRAP’s for the mission, which is often the case, well then, I tell my Marines to march, and so we do.”

Well what did I learn?  For starters, not much has changed for a grunt – too much heavy equipment to hump, out-of-pocket expenses to purchase reliable equipment, food is marginal, and showers are non-existent.  Second, senior NCO’s have deployed to the point of being numb, and want their troops to be either gainfully employed, re-missioned to the fight in Afghanistan, or redeployed home because FOB life in Iraq is sapping morale and increasing the odds of indiscipline. Third, while Marines are making a marginal difference in a small slice of Afghanistan, Afghans are still hesitant to lead.  And finally, the MRAP actually requires a sustained maintenance and logistics tail, an effort which is currently under-resourced (i.e. lack of parts, recovery assets, contractor umbilical cord) and as a result negatively impacts the mission.

Still curious about what, if anything, you can do during your holiday travels when you see someone in uniform, and you don’t have time to engage them and thank them for their service? Stand there and clap they at least deserve your applause.

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Military News Highlights for November 10, 2010

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235th Birthday of the United States Marine Corps!

To all the Devil Dogs out there today, congratulations on the 235th Birthday of the Marine Corps!

M4 Carbine and Accessories

Mark Fingar M4 Carbine Poster

If there was any question as to whether the M4 Carbine currently issued to Soldiers and Marines will be replaced for a more durable and lethal carbine or not, one only needs to look at the accompanying layout of the M4 Carbine and Accessories to see  how difficult this proposition will be to carry out.  It is not going to be a simple task considering all of the accessories and associated equipment that will be replaced as well.  In fact the M4 Carbine has become a complex system that is modified and tailored to meet individual and unit requirements requiring a dedicated logistics and maintenance support system that oftentimes is not sufficiently responsive on today’s battlefield.  Ultimately the debate to replace the M4 Carbine must take the “accessories”, the logistics and maintenance tail, and the increasing contractor support base into account.  Hopefully this “poster” featured on Mark Fingar’s Blog brings this issue into perspective.

The list of accessories includes the following:

  • Colt M4 (SOPMOD STYLE) with KAC RAS Handguard & KAC Vertical Grip.
  • Optics & Iron Sights:  ACOG; EOTech 552; Aimpoint COMPM2 & 3X Magnifier; Leupold CQ/T MK4; Nightforce NXS Riflescope; Trijicon AccuPoint; Trijicon Reflex; Colt C-MORE Tactical Sight; A3 Detachable Carry Handle; LaRue Tactical IronDot; Troy BUIS; Matech BUIS; A.R.M.S. #40 BUIS; LaRue BUIS; LMT BUIS; Troy Front Sight; PRI Front Sight
  • Lasers:  PEQ-2A; PAQ-4C; DBAL-A2; OTAL; VITAL-2
  • Lights: Surefire L72; Surefire M910; Insight M6; Surefire Millennium; Surefire Scout
  • Silencers & DD’s: Knight’s Armament M4QD; YHM Phantom, and QD Flash Hider; GemTech M496D; Surefire M4FA556-BK; Ops Inc CQB 15th Model
  • M203 Grenade Launcher with AN/PSQ-18A Day/Night Sight
  • Night Vision: PVS-22; PVS-14 & Magnifier; PVS-17
  • Misc Hardware: LMT SOPMOD Stock; Magpul CTR Stock; Colt M4Stock; LaRue Tactical Free-Floating Handguard; TangoDown Vertical Grip; TangoDown Battle Grip; Magpul MIAD Grip; Magpul Magazine Pull; Harris Bipod with LaRue QD mount

Gates: U.S. Open to Talks on Post-2011 Presence in Iraq

Secretary of Defense Gates said yesterday in a news conference in Malaysia that the United States is open to the idea of maintaining a troop presence in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline to leave, but only if Iraq were to make such a request.  Secretary Gates stated that the required conditions for these discussions to take place include: the Iraqis forming an inclusive and non-sectarian government; selection of a president, prime minister, a speaker of the council of representatives; and ministerial-level appointments.  No mention of improving security, no mention of countering Iran’s ascendancy, and no mention of defeating a reemerging AQ in Mesopotamia.

Obviously the US is committed to a strategic partnership with Iraq in the future, but we also know that the Iraqi’s voted on and approved the deadline for all US troops to withdraw from Iraq no later than December 31, 2011.  Any signals contrary to remaining resolute on the deadline will only increase the growing sense of instability and the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi’s to govern.  Further, the 50,000 US troops currently deployed in Iraq (and subsequent replacements that will serve there until December 31, 2011) contribute to the more than 250,000 US troops deployed in the region.  Maintaining this troop end-strength to allow the Iraqi’s to continue dithering with “democracy” will not increase “dwell time” for the rest of the Army as the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Casey recently asserted whereby the 50,000 troops in Iraq that would no longer be required for Iraq as of December 31, 2011 would provide relief to troop deployment requirements.

Review Will Influence U.S. Troop Pullout

There will be an increasingly mixed bag of reporting on the pending Afghanistan review this December – shift in strategy; increase of resources; metrics of success; the genius of COIN; the lethality of CT; the increase in casualties; influencing US pullout, etc…as this Reuters news report provides.

What would be useful to keep in mind during this period is to recall exactly what President Obama stated on December 1, 2009 when he announced his decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

“These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”

The intent is pretty clear: the increase of troops would allow for accelerating the handing over of responsibility; the transfer of forces begins in July 2011; the transition will be executed responsibly and be conditions based.

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Update on the Kandahar Campaign

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The New York Times reports that a NATO field commander suggests that the “fate” of the Kandahar Campaign will not become clear until June (2011).

Key Highlights:

  • A NATO offensive to secure the Taliban’s birthplace of Kandahar is putting pressure on militants, but genuine success will not be clear until next June, the region’s top commander said on Thursday. British Major-General Nick Carter’s comments were the latest by U.S. and NATO officials touting battlefield advances but also calling for patience ahead of a NATO summit in November and a White House strategy review in December. Kandahar is expected to figure prominently at both events. Thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops are engaged in a campaign to flush insurgents from districts around Kandahar city, a campaign seen as vital to turning the tide of a war now in its 10th year.
  • General Carter, briefing Pentagon reporters, said he saw “some encouraging signs, definitely momentum.” “(There is) a sense that probably the initiative is now with us and not, as it was a year ago, with the insurgency,” he said. Carter said it is impossible to gauge advances from one season to the next because fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal. Fighting peaks in the summer, when foliage provides Taliban fighters with cover and casualties are at their highest. “You, in Afghanistan, have to be very careful about not measuring progress until you match it to the appropriate season and the appropriate time of year,” Carter said.  “And I sense it won’t be until June next year that we’ll be sure that the advances we’ve made during the course of the last few months are genuinely success.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • More mixed signals from Kandahar on whether current progress is being made or whether it is too early to assess effects.  British Major General Carter chirps that “we won’t know if we are making progress until June 2011.”
  • Either NATO lacks a coherent and coordinated strategic communications plan – not very plausible given Petreaus’ background and modus operandi.  But perhaps this is simply a very sophisticated strategic communication effort designed to:
    • 1) sow confusion within policy makers as they contemplate how to begin reducing troop strength next July or
    • 2) provide some breathing room for NATO capitals while they consider the “next steps” in Afghanistan.  Regardless, imagine trying to explain “progress” to a rifleman before he leaves the wire for the umpteenth time – he can see right through all this.
  • Major General Carter also cautions matching any progress to “seasons,” prattling on about foliage, etc, and how this impacts an effective measure of progress until June 2011.  Unfortunately that logic doesn’t square.  Perhaps there are some lingering frictions and

    bruised feelings between the US and our British allies post-Basra, Iraq on who lost Basra and now that has carried over to Afghanistan proper.  Maybe the remarks are meant to support a future blame-game on who lost the south in Afghanistan?

  • Or maybe Major General Carter took umbrage with US Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills’ recent comments that Regional Command Southwest would not rest during the winter and press the fight to the enemy.
  • As for winter and the “seasons”, someone should remind the chap that over 25% (82 of 341) British casualties suffered in Afghanistan since 9/11 have come during the winter “season” (November through February).
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DoD Shell Game?: You be the judge.

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DOD Shell GameCan anyone tell me exactly how many US servicemembers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How about the number of Americans in uniform on 9/11? Or the number serving in uniform today?  Does anyone know the total number of servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan over the past 9 years?  Deployed to Iraq since 2003?  I’m asking these questions because all I’ve been hearing since “combat operations” ended in Iraq on September 1st is that “the troops are coming home.” Let’s take a reality check re: the number of troops still on the frontlines and then you decide if all the redeployment happy talk rings true.

When we first took stock of our military capabilities the day after 9/11, there were 1.37 million Americans serving in the military with just over 200,000, or about 15%, deployed overseas in static positions. The shell game since then has gone something like this:  The initial force deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 was 13,000 and increased to a stable force of 20,000 through 2005,  then increased to 23,000 in 2006, to 26,000 in 2007 and 2008, to 67,000 in 2009—and today Afghanistan fields approximately 100,000 US troops.  In 2003 the US invaded Iraq with approximately 175,000 boots on the ground; between 2004-2007, deployment averaged 150,000.  The 2007 troop “surge” increased the total to its peak strength of 197,000 and returned to approximately 150,000 by summer 2009.  Today, there are approximately 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq supporting Operation “New Dawn”. 

Taken as a whole, the number of troops deployed inside Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 9 years averaged approximately 225,000; the total today is 150,000.  This boots on the ground number does not include 28,000 personnel and logistic support assets deployed in Kuwait that has remained constant since 9/11.  Nor the requisite sea and air assets in the region supporting these operations, which totaled approximately 75,000 during this same period.  Even if we were to round down the numbers, we are still at 253,000 troops deployed supporting operations exclusively in Iraq and Afghanistan, while another 175,000 are deployed in static positions world-wide supporting other missions, contingencies and treaty obligations. 

The bottom line:  Don’t believe it when you hear “the troops are coming home,” because they’re not.  We still have 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq, 29,000 troops deployed in Kuwait, 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, 75,000 airmen and sailors deployed in the region supporting operations and an additional 175,000 military personnel deployed world-wide.  We’re talking approximately 419,000 troopers deployed in perpetuity from an available end strength of 1.4 million—a third of available US combat power—or a sustained 50% increase since that fateful September day over nine years ago. 

But there’s more to consider.  Since 9/11, the Army has “grown” from 480,000 to 569,000, an 89,000 Soldier increase, while our beloved Marines have ratcheted up their numbers from 172,000 to 202,000 for a 30,000 Devil Dog increase.  Why does this matter?  Because we increased our boot end strength only 119,000 over nine years or less than 10% of our total force, while keeping over 35% of our total forces deployed at any given time during this timeframe.  And remember, the majority of the 35% total have been repeatedly deployed and engaged in combat operations. 

So again, no matter how you work the numbers, “the troops are coming home” is pure spin. The harsh reality is that the troops remain deployed and strategically exhausted. And while the drawdown in Iraq is welcome news,  for every two troopers the US drew down, one returned stateside, the other deployed to Afghanistan or elsewhere. 

As I reviewed these numbers from a host of open source and non-Wiki documents available on Department of Defense websites, I decided to fact check them with an inside-the-Pentagon planner who confirmed my math.  His take on the propaganda went something like this: “. . . deployment numbers are really like a shell game . . . try to follow the shell with one pea hidden underneath it . . we’re moving some over here, and there, and then over there, and then back again . . . repeat and distract the player with song and dance . . . and guess what?  Normally you would turn over all the shells and find at least one pea under one shell.  However, now the rules have changed and the powers-that-be will lift up all the shells, but hide the pea.”  He’s got that right, it’s a new shell game.  No one really knows how many troops are deployed, and no one really knows when they’re coming home.

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