Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pimping another blog

If you have a free moment, check out The Interested Soldier. It's a blog by a former coworker and a friend of mine (former CHU-mate as well) who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. Dave is a battalion S2 with the 82nd Airborne, but I try not to hold that against him. His posts, assuming he updates more frequently than I ever did while deployed, are likely to be more relevant to current counter insurgency theory and practice than anything I come up with while I sit on my comfy couch in beautiful Tacoma, WA.

He's also smarter than I am and a lot more articulate so his blog will probably be a better read. No pressure Dave. Do your best not to get your blog noticed by Brigade...and don't let being an S2 make you bitter and cynical like it did to me.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

A toxic base?

Is there something wrong or broken about Joint Base Lewis-McChord/FT Lewis, WA? I bring up this question due to some of the latest news about the soldier who murdered 16 Afghan villagers. The soldier has been reported to be from JBLM and assigned to my old brigade, 3-2 SBCT. He was part of 2-3 IN and had 3 previous deployments to Iraq, what made him snap? Was it the command climate of Lewis or was it something else?

There have been some whispers on the internet and a couple of articles written about something being wrong with Lewis. Having been stationed there for most of my career I didn't like what I originally saw as uninformed attacks on my base and its leadership. There were some horrible incidents and some toxic leaders, but in my opinion nothing that couldn't be found at any other large military facility...

...but perhaps I was wrong.

Here's a list of some of the crazy, weird, fucked up, and horrible incidents in the last few years that have occured on JBLM or were caused by individuals/units assigned to the base (off the top of my head):

1. 2008 double homicide by a member of the I Corps honor guard. SPC Davila killed two other soldiers and took their baby.

2. 2009 a teenager died of an overdose in the barracks. A soldier's girlfriend who was only 16 died after a drug overdose; another girl was hospitalized. The teens were in the 555 Engineer Brigade barracks against base policy.

3. During 5-2 SBCT's time in Afghanistan a "rogue" staff sergeant and his squad kill Afghan civilians, even taking fingers as trophies. I've written about the brigade commander who refused to use proper counterinsurgency tactics and whose brigade actually "failed" at the National Training Center.

4. 2012 a lieutenant colonel hires a hit man to kill his wife and his boss. He also threatened to attack the Capitol Building and possibly had child porn on his computer.

5. 2012 a staff sergeant on his 4th deployment walks off his base in Afghanistan and murders 16 people in a nearby village.

6. 12 suicides in 2011.
Seriously, that's a lot of messed up shit. Some of the incidents could easily have happened at other bases but taken together it appears that the situation at JBLM is out of control. My thoughts? I have no idea, but it may be the "Stryker syndrome". The Strykers were the newest toy of the Army and Lewis was the first base to employ them. The brigades saw themselves as the best in the Army and did everything they could to prove it. Other units and bases have a history and a proven track record of greatness (101st, 82nd, 1st Armor) but 3-2, 4-2, and 5-2 (now 2-2) SBCTs were out to prove the superiority of the Stryker vehicle.

This leads to a lot of pressure and stress from higher. Senior leaders at the Pentagon pushing I Corps, I Corps pushing the brigade commanders, and the brigade commanders pushing everyone else. Hostility from those non-Stryker units on Lewis towards the Strykers is also likely to blame for any toxic environment. During my time in the 201st MI brigade there was a very clear jealousy of the Strkyer brigades since they often got more funds, better equipment, and preference for land use for exercises.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that leadership, or the failure of leadership, is to blame for what may or may not be occuring on JBLM. That's most likely a cop out reason but one that I think needs to be looked at.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thoughts on deployment lengths

There's been an idea rolling around in my head for awhile and I finally decided to throw it up on this blog for my readers to mull over, if they are so inclined. The idea is that the deployment system in the US Army is broken. This came to me some time during my second deployment before we had been informed that we would be enjoying a 15 month stay in Iraq as opposed to the 12 that we assumed we would be doing.

A bit of background: 3-2 SBCT was in Baghdad as the Corps reserve, clearing neighborhoods so that other US brigades and Iraqi Army units could hold them. The idea was that we would remove most of the insurgent threat and then some other unit would establish combat outposts and begin getting the population on their side before the insurgents came back. When the inevitable happened and the insurgents did come back then not only would they be facing Iraqi and US units but a local population that wasn't friendly towards the insurgents. The problem was that The Surge © needed more brigades than the Army could provide.

The solution was to extend some units' time in Iraq. I kept a close tab (as did my analysts) on the Army presentations that could be found floating around the SIPR that discussed the subject. One solution had only 2 brigades being extended, another around half a dozen. In each scenario 3-2 SBCT was one of the brigades to be extended and we would get to watch units who deployed to Iraq after us get to go home before us.

It made me a bit irritated.

Eventually the Army decided it was best to just extend everyone to 15 months to make it fair. I was slighly less irritated.

During my third and final deployment I once again determined that the Army's deployment system was broken, but for different reasons. There is just so much information to gather and comprehend on any one corner of Iraq that there is no way a single unit can understand it all, or even transfer it all to the next unit. There needs to be some kind of continuity that involves more than handing your replacement a hard drive with all the information your unit has gathered over the course of a deployment.

It dawned on me that what the US did in Vietnam (leave units in place and replace individuals) made much more sense for an insurgency. Granted, some camaraderie would likely be lost but I think the benefits of institutionalized knowledge would outweigh the consequences. Also, a 12 month long deployment is entirely too long for an individual. My ability to work every day for over 12 hours a day in the kind of stressful environment that an insurgency brings peaked out at around 9 months (even with mid tour leave). After that 9 month mark you start to get diminishing returns.

So here's my solution...deploy the number of units needed for a conflict and leave the units there, but rotate out individuals (like Vietnam). You can add more, or reduce, as needed. Standard deployments for individuals would be 9 months, but here's the kicker: each individual can decide to do more or less as he/she desires. The more time you do, the more benefits or choice in next assignment you have.

- 6/7 months: If you do 6-7 months you are sent back to a tactical brigade with a chance at being rotated back after 9 months or so.

- 9 months: During your deployment you have the opportunity to take mid tour leave. When you are rotated out you are sent to a tactical brigade with a chance at being deployed again after a year to 18 months.

- 12 months: Choice of assignment (within reason) after completion of the deployment. Along with mid tour leave the soldier has the opportunity for a 4 day pass (mid tour passes in Iraq varied from a quick trip to Qatar to a stay in the Green Zone in Baghdad). Soldier is guaranteed 2 years of not being deployed.

- 18 months: Choice of assignment; 2 mid tour leaves; not deployed for 3 years.

- 24 months: Two years deployed may seem absurd but I knew people who did it. Choice of assignment; 2 mid tour leaves; soldier cannot deploy for a minimum of 3 years.

There would need to be some other benefits for those soldiers who volunteer for 18 or 24 months but I can't really think of any off the top of my head at the moment. I believe most soldiers would take 9 month deployments but a significant number would volunteer for longer, either to stay with a buddy or for a sense of mission. Under this system the Army would have to be better at personnel management (which it sucks at) but I believe it could be done.