Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Speech's Aftermath

The next 24 hours (and more) will certainly be a busy time for the blogosphere and punditry in general. And rightfully so given the President's speech tonight - there is a lot to be talked about, questioned, and figured out as the Afghanistan surge becomes a reality.

All of this hullabaloo reminds a lot of January 10, 2007. I was a captain in the Army back then and looking forward to getting out in a few months. That day was a day off for me, but around 10am my boss called and told me to get into the office as fast as possible - don't even worry about putting on a uniform. When I got there, I was told that the President was going to make a prime time speech that night and declare a five brigade surge to Iraq. My brigade was number five. Oh, and I was going to be stop lossed and go with the brigade. It was a painful day for me and most of the rest of Fort Stewart. And other units, installations, individuals, and families. It is a day that changed my life significantly - in both good and bad ways.

So while a lot of folks will be hashing out a lot of opinions and ideas, some who will try and prove how right they were, let's not forgot that 30,000 service members and their families just had their lives significantly changed tonight - for better and worse. They're not victims, to be sure, but this will affect them - and the Afghan population - in very personal ways. So, just keep that in mind during the course of this week and the coming months.

18 comments:

  1. Yes, thanks for this reminder, Gunslinger. God Bless and watch over them all.

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  2. Great post, and thanks for the reminder. After too much playing with figures (40,000, 30,000?), they become indecently abstract.

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  3. Thanks for the reminder Gunslinger, for both the soldiers and their loved ones.

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  4. Always, Gunslinger - always.

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  5. Some poor bastard, unfortunately, is going to spend the next several months getting ready to deploy, secure in the knowledge that he's just running out the clock, that the mission as it is presently constituted has an extremely low chance of success, and that he may die so that a president can keep his promises.

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  6. Yeah, we know where you stand, Gulliver. For a blog that emphasizes the high degree of uncertainty on all these issues, that's an unjustifiably cocky tone to adopt.

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  7. Yeah, we know where you stand, Gulliver. For a blog that emphasizes the high degree of uncertainty on all these issues, that's an unjustifiably cocky tone to adopt.

    "Cocky"? What in the world would I have to be cocky about? Do you think this is what I want to happen?

    I'd love it if things went swimmingly and I was proved wrong. I certainly don't have any expert knowledge on this, no reason to be any more pessimistic than the next guy, but can you spell out for me where we might be in July 2011 that would constitute even a sniff of success?

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  8. Of course not. But you just declared the sacrifices US personnel and families are going to make in the coming years futile in pretty emotive terms. Making that definitive a statement at this point just doesn't seem remotely justified given how much we both know we don't know.

    And in answer to your question, yes, I can, but it's pretty hazy and rests in places on pretty fragmentary information.

    Let's take Kandahar, which I know better than other provinces. The single biggest problem the Canadians have had over the last 3 years has been the inability to hold what they cleared, and the alienation of local populations that has resulted.* Couple that with insufficient troops to change the calculus of the Noorzai smuggling/kinship networks that stretch from the Iranian border to Spin Boldak, and it's been a valiant fight with lots of sacrifices, but little progress. The Canadians have in essence been trying to manage an entire province with just 800 combat troops and some of the best SOF in the business, though there have been some US troops supplementing them at various points.

    But put enough troops into Kandahar to secure the city, control the Arghandab Valley and start establishing and extending control out from the Panjwai into Maywand (thus applying pressure to the Noorzai, some of whom are already reevaluating their position), and it's a different picture. Apply pressure in Helmand at the same time (esp to the Bagrhan Valley) and it makes life a lot more complicated for the Taliban and HiG in Oruzgan. How does that in turn affect their presence in Wardak? I'm not sure, but if things change direction in RC-South, I suspect things change everywhere, esp. in RC-West, North, and Kabul. RC-East less so, but that would still be a big change.

    Look, there's a lot of uncertainty in all of this, and I don't want to pretend this is anything like a sure thing. But what I hear from the people who know these places best, who have been there most recently, is that turning it around is hard but still possible, and that the shibboleths deployed by pundits who confidently declare its futility just aren't true. So when you - someone I know understands this better than most - write something that makes it sound like it's a done deal, yeah, I'm gonna call you on it. 'Cause I know you know better, and you'll do the same to me.

    * Though it's arguable that the provincial government has been as big a factor.

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  9. I should add a caveat, BTW - I don't know how the troop-to-task to execute this kind of plan shakes out. But I'm betting 10,000 US soldiers are going to have altogether different options in Kandahar than 2,800 Canadians have.

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  10. A propos of all that, here's what a (very) new US presence in Maywand is up to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/11/army_info_ops_112309w/

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  11. To all the prior service guys,

    If I were to enlist, say 5 weeks from now, and go active duty infantry, what are the chances I would get deployed? Is there any way I could get in writing a guaranteed attachment to a deploying unit? I'm currently an ROTC cadet with a few years to go, and I don't want to be the only goddamned officer lacking a combat patch. If I join infantry, which is my current goal as an potential officer, I'd like to be secure in my knowledge that I did my part. I would feel like an impostor if all my men had seen combat and I hadn't. Let's face it: Iraq is drawing down, and Afghanistan may well be done by the time I get my gold bar pinned upon me (not including all the training I would have to do following my commission). Any and all commentary would be greatly appreciated at this juncture in my life.

    -Deus Ex

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  12. Deus,

    Don't confuse an empty promise of a July 2011 withdrawal date with what options reality will force upon us at that time. We are not withdrawing from A'Stan in July 2011 - just like we are not closing down Gitmo by next month. It's an empty promise to shut people up. You'll have plenty of opportunities to walk up and down giant hills and get ambushed.

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  13. Deus Ex -- I'm not prior-service, but let me note here that I think this is a really, really bad idea. You'll get in the fight, don't worry. Schmedlap is right.

    Go to school. PT. Read books. Crack heads when it's your turn, and stop worrying about who might think you're an "impostor." You can't get to the fight before you're in the army, and you're not in the army until you finish your degree.

    Your enthusiasm is admirable and I certainly sympathize with you here, but finish school.

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  14. "If I were to enlist, say 5 weeks from now, and go active duty infantry, what are the chances I would get deployed?"

    Depending on whether you choose the USMC or the Army, you likely are looking at a six to eight month window before you get to your unit. Depending on its place in the deployment line, you might deploy within 10 months of shipping to recruit training or even longer.

    But if you successfully complete initial training in the infantry in, say, March of 2010, you might make an Afghansitan rotation or you might not.

    If you elect to go Army National Guard, you probably won't unless your state is on the list to go.

    If you want to get into this war, then join now.

    "Is there any way I could get in writing a guaranteed attachment to a deploying unit?"

    You can get a guaranteed infantry contract. If you don't dick up, you can keep it. That's about the best that they'll do for you. For all you know, you might end up in South Korea or Okinawa/Guam, an E-2 cleaning the sh*tters wondering when he gets to fight.

    "I'm currently an ROTC cadet with a few years to go, and I don't want to be the only goddamned officer lacking a combat patch."

    You wouldn't be the first. Think GEN Petraeus had a combat patch in 2003?

    "If I join infantry, which is my current goal as an potential officer, I'd like to be secure in my knowledge that I did my part. I would feel like an impostor if all my men had seen combat and I hadn't."

    You mean, like pretty much every LT is going to feel in two years? Like half of Obama's audience last night is going to feel?

    It's life. There are no guarantees, and you should be very careful about what you ask for. You might just get it.

    Get a belly filled with combat and you might not want to be an officer on the mustang path to legitimacy.

    Do troopers look at officers who don't have combat patches differently? Yeah. But a lack of a CIB or CAB also is noted by the roving eye. The right kind of combat patch is necessary, too.

    Listen, there are all sorts of reasons why someone should join up, but wanting a guarantee that you'll see combat, that it will be meaningful to your future career or that you'll even survive it probably is impossible.

    Nothing in life is guaranteed. On the battlefield, life sure isn't.

    If you want to enlist to serve your nation, to become closer to buddies than you ever will be to much of your family (maybe even your spouse) or to immerse yourself into an experience far bigger than you'll ever be, then join.

    If you're enlisting just because you want to make it look good on your ORB as you advance or because you worry about SPCs or LCpls talking behind your back, spare us and your men because, frankly, they need a leader not a ticket puncher.

    SNLII

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  15. On another point, there's nothing worse than an effing boot LT who quotes Clausewitz and Galula but can't competently set in his machine guns or cover dead space with his mortars.

    If you're going to be a junior officer, you should read books. But you shouldn't pretend that your primary competence in your first years in uniform will be determined by a broad liberal education or a certain capacity for debating the finer points of COIN doctrine.

    It will be determined by your ability to lead men in combat, by their trust in your ability to do that, by the feelings your peers in the same sitrep develop about you and those above you who will gain their knowledge about you from watching you follow orders that they give you.

    Have no illusions about what junior officers or enlisted do on the COIN battlefield. A lot of it is the hard scutwork of basic infantry or cavalry toil, as Gunslinger would be the first to tell you.

    There is no more sacred honor than being chosen as an officer or non-commissioned officer to lead men into battle, but this trust must be earned daily and the best way to gain it is by manifesting a competence in professional arms and a bravery beyond whatever you've bookmarked.

    SNLII

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  16. SNLII and all who replied,

    I appreciate the rapid responses. First and foremost, please don't assume that my enlisting would be a ticket punch. It couldn't be farther from the truth. The reason I want to join the infantry as an officer isn't for a ticket punch. I was born and raised on Hackworth, and if you know the name then you can probably guess my thoughts on the issue.

    And when I said "combat patch," I really should have said CIB. Like I said, I want to do my part. And in the back of my mind, I've always wondered if I would measure up as an infantry officer. Going enlisted first would help prepare me for the task.

    Anyways, I've got some big choices to make.

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