Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My thoughts on military awards

Andrew Exum aka Abu Muqawama apparently does not like military medals. More specifically, he does not like medals awarded for non-combat deeds/events or non-valor. Exum states in his blog that if were up to him he would get rid of all medals not related to valor or campaign-specific service.

I have a lot of respect for Exum, his service, and his blog but I am completely baffled by his position. It's a very infantry-centric position for him to take...well he was a Ranger afterall.

Have certain awards and medals lost their meaning by being over-awarded? Perhaps, but to essentially state that one can only get a medal by being in a firefight seems ridiculous. What about the truck driver who puts in 100,000 miles while on a year long deployment but is fortunate enough to never be struck by an IED? Or the supply clerk who does everything he/she can do to ensure his/her company has more than enough supplies to achieve the mission? Should they not receive awards because they weren't in combat and did their job? According to Exum they should not.

But if an infantry soldier gets in a firefight and shoots back, is he not just doing his job, the one he was trained to do? If awards are only given to combat arms soldiers, does that not widen the already extensive culture gap between combat and support MOS's?

Despite going to Iraq 3 times and going "outside the wire" more times than I could keep track of I was only engaged by insurgents on one occasion (not counting mortars and rockets) and was awarded the combat action badge because of it. For two of my deployments I was awarded Army Commendation medals and a Bronze Star at the end of my third for several reasons, two of them being "his partnering role with the Iraqi Security Forces was easily the most challenging. Mike's ability to synchronize ISR assets is further advanced than most field grade officers."

Is that worthy of a Bronze Star? Probably not, but my leadership thought so.

Medals and pretty looking awards are the military's way of rewarding a job well done. Civilian organizations do the same thing only with plaques, raises, and other financial compensation. We can talk about duty, honor, and loyalty to the man next to you, but if I do a year long deployment or work my butt off for an organization for a couple of years, awarding me a colorful little ribbon is the least you can do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LTG Flynn to the DIA

For those who are inclined to care, LTG Michael Flynn was nominated by the Pentagon to be the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency which is the central producer and manager of military intelligence for the Department of Defense. Congrats to him assuming the Senate approves him.

So who is LTG Flynn?

He was in charge of military intelligence in Afghanistan during the tenures of GEN McChrystal (you remember him from the Rolling Stone scandal) and GEN Petraeus (you remember him from that little thing we called the Surge in Iraq). I don't know much about him since I was never in Afghanistan but he published a report for the think tank CNAS in 2010. It can be found case you're really bored.

The report caused a bit of controversy since it basically states that the way the military was doing intel in Afghanistan was completely wrong. Flynn was pretty brutal but he also cited specific examples of intel guys who were doing things the tactical level.

Since his report came out at about the same time we had a scheduled network outage during my last deployment, I downloaded it prior to the outage and spend a couple of hours reading it and comparing what Flynn was saying to how I was conducting military intelligence in my little corner of Iraq.

I was pretty set in my ways by the time I read it but I made some adjustments to how I saw the operating environment and the insurgency within it as well as how I should be managing my staff and producing intel products.

Flynn's dislike for PowerPoint slides and urge for more comprehensive written reports I took to heart and did my best to write well thought out analysis on major upcoming events and how the insurgents would react to them. Not much success there as nobody really wants to read a 3 or 4 page report on how elections will affect indirect fire attacks against checkpoints...but one of my papers did go up to Division where I'm sure it was ignored.

There was also an emphasis on intel officers actually discussing events/people/areas/etc with the company commanders and platoon leaders they are supposed to be helping. With a little kick in the ass from the Squadron XO (I was set in my ways afterall) I began sitting down with most of the troop commanders a couple of times a week...I say most since by this time C troop's commander was actively avoiding me but I did chat with his XO and the commander's replacement after the commander was relieved for getting a lieutenant pregnant. Were these chats successful? I like to think so, at the very least it showed the commanders that I cared about what they thought and I could get their insight directly instead of during some stuffy daily update that everyone just wants over with so we can get to dinner.

But back to LTG Flynn. I think this is a great move and hopefully he will be able to break the Cold War mentality that often can be found at the upper echelons of the intel bureaucracy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

There goes Mali...

While I was without internet as I moved into a new place in beautiful Tacoma, WA some interesting events occured in Mali...none of them good.

For some time now the Malinese government has been in conflict with the Taureg tribe in central and northern Mali while at the same time attempting to ensure Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb does not set down roots in the country. The fight against AQIM, with the cooperation of Mauritania as well as the US and France, seemed to be going well enough...although there were occasional hiccups which I wrote about here.

Apparently the fight against the Taureg was not going so well and the military staged a coup, announcing they were angry at the inability of the government to put down the Taureg insurrection. Who was in charge of this coup? A captain of course. It's almost always a captain (seriously, watch out for those captains. They are easily angered and think they know everything).

Of course what happened as soon the coup occured was that the Taureg seized the initiative and began going on the offensive. The tribe has seized Timbukto, an important trading town, and the strategic eastern town of Gao. Now that the Tauregs essentially control much of northern Mali they have declared the independent state of Azawad. Good for them.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that a faction of the Taureg rebellion, Ansar Dine, is closely tied with AQIM and other fundamentalist Islamists. Ansar Dine is demanding Sharia Law be instated and reports have come out that they are executing members of secular groups.

The Taureg's for there part are condeming AQIM and Ansar Dine and are vowing to fight them, but I'm not buying it. AQIM and other radical groups have gained popularity in Timbukto and elsewhere in the region so it's unlikely that the Taureg will do anything to upset these organizations when the tribe's hold on power is so tenuous at the moment.

Just when I thought Al Qaida allied organizations where teetering on the edge of defeat in Africa they pull off what is essentially a hail mary pass. Damn captains.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I have the intertubes again

I apologize for the lack of posts but I have been without internet in my new apartment. Unless I get super lazy there should be a new post some time later today.

Don't give up on me yet!