Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This guy seems like he'd be really cool to hang out with

The Associated Press ran a piece over the weekend highlighting a LTC Thomas Gukeisen, commander of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, which is one of the battalions of the 3rd BCT of the 10th Mountain Division. It bugs me when people bin the officer corps into two categories -- "Gets It"/"Doesn't Get It" -- so let me just say this: Gukeisen seems like he's the sort of dude I'd want to work for.

"As I grew up I realized the military does not operate in a singular world so I started reading outside that world," he says.

His personal list of "Most Influential COIN Items" includes a collection of Afghan poetry, a study of chaos theory, and Hollywood films such as "Red Dawn," a fantasy about American guerrillas fighting a Soviet invasion of the U.S. From John Maynard Keynes, the visionary British economist, he drew the idea that by "jump-starting the economy via an initial stimulus you create a cascade."

His approach to pacifying the Logar districts, Gukeisen said, was also influenced by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of "Leviathan," who explored man's fear of death and his quest for security in a violent world.

"You take the theory of COIN, you take history, understand the people, make a philosophic inquiry and then you act," he says. "But you still have to be rooted in the fundamentals of military operations."

Gukeisen says U.S. Army doctrine provides only "a guide for commanders, a basis to begin, to provoke thought." He says "Clear, Hold, Build" needs to be nuanced, and he doesn't know whether it can be a model for the rest of Afghanistan. "Each area of Afghanistan is different," he cautions.

And here we come back to a point that Schmedlap's been making lately (I think), and that a lot of us have been trying to articulate for a while without a whole lot of success: good officership (and good soldiering, really) in modern war isn't about memorizing a list of COIN precepts, but rather having the suppleness of mind to understand (to use a Tom Barnettism slightly out of context) "war in the context of everything else." It's about seeing the big picture, and understanding how your actions play a part in that.

Gukeisen does drop an unfortunate reference to COIN as "graduate-level warfare" -- oh, how I wish we could banish that turn of phrase from our language, if only to put a stop to the bleating of those who consistently argue that tank battles in the Fulda Gap are just as complicated as building competent host-nation security forces from scratch! -- but I'm enthusiastic about the way he finishes his thought: "You need those collegiate thinkers. I think the Army is coming back to the soldier as scholar and statesman." We've seen the rise of several prominent "scholar-warriors" over the last few years, the Petraeuses and McMasters and MacFarlands and Mattises and so on, but it's heartening to know that this trend may be starting to take hold through the officer corps rather than just amidst it.

One other interesting note from this piece: Gukeisen makes a point of the fact that he's not executing "textbook COIN" as it's typically understood in his AOR, a 1,000-square-km patch of Logar province:

Rather than rigidly applying the current mantra — Clear, Hold, Build — he has held back from trying to clear large, Taliban-influenced swaths of territory, focusing instead on areas he believes are ripe for change, and then injecting aid where it counts most. Combat, he says, is driven by reliable intelligence and limited to eradicating Taliban fighters.

The goal was to create "security bubbles" where life could improve, so that "the rest of the districts would want to join the club," Gukeisen said in an interview at his headquarters in the village of Altimur.

Six months later, he says, nearly half the 400,000 people of Baraki-Barak, Charkh and Kherwar districts, along with half of Puli-a-Alam, are within the bubble. He says roadside bombs, attacks and other violent incidents have dropped by 60 percent while intelligence from locals about the insurgents has soared by 80 percent.

"Security bubbles" sound a bit like "ink blots," eh? Yet another example of troops on the ground having success with an approach that is diametrically opposed to what the president and GEN McChrystal have proposed for the entire country, i.e. contesting the most violent areas first. Maybe Dorronsoro is on to something.


  1. I read this article, too, over at Small Wars Journal, and with some amusement.

    Impressionistic first thoughts because, as usual, I'm rushed:

    1. Why are we so interested in personality? Human nature, I suppose, and the profile IS interesting. Fascinating person, what with all that "catholic" reading SNLII's always on about...

    2. Getting it describes what exactly? Getting talking points, or getting somewhere? Theory always fractures - a little - on practice, and good practitioners can talk the talk and walk the walk. Hey, is this cliche day around here today, or what?

    3. A lot of stuff is going on right now, and it ain't all the pretty-pretty of COIN (which ain't so pretty, apparently) is it? I thought, also, of the Haddick article at FP about GEN. McChrystal and chasing the Taliban shadow government and whatnot.

    4. Kudos on using "DC snowpocalypse" in another thread. I am going to post that somewhere else, I swear.

  2. 4. Kudos on using "DC snowpocalypse" in another thread. I am going to post that somewhere else, I swear.

    That phrase, believe it or not, was not invented by me -- it has appeared repeatedly in local media.

  3. Earlier in the deployment, this squadron was commanded by Lt. Col. Dan Goldthorpe. I wonder what happened to him.

  4. Oh, wait, I read your last sentence wrong, Gulliver. Delete my #3 (not literally, I mean, just don't bother to read it. Oh, never mind).

    But, security bubbles, or whatever, were tried in Kandahar, first? Or not? Kandahar is in the path of the logistical flow of stuff from Pakistan by the QST, so I figured that is why they were contesting that particular most violent area first (after Helmand because of our original plans and logistical issues). Help? Confused!

  5. What the fuck is a "warrior scholar?" Was Clausewitz, who was forced by his papa to enlist at the ripe age of 12 and who received a rudimentary education a "warrior scholar?"

    Can Gian Gentile, PhD Stanford, be a "warrior scholar?" Or is it just reserved for guys like David Petraeus (PhD Princeton) who, candidly, weren't exactly "warriors" until they had reached the GO ranks and have never swapped rounds with the enemy?

    How about Gunslinger? Warrior scholar?

    Sam Liles in SWJ once discussed how we need to "service the warrior scholar" because "the future warrior society needs to provide an educational framework of humanities and liberal arts that provide the essence of classical philosophy."


    Crap, I was reading Attican Greek as a mere boy. I studied the world's literatures, shot the world's enemies, and I still consider Lile's creepy militarist blathering to be tantamount to a host of sugary flies alighting on a steamy stack of horseshit.

    As much as I detest the poop gargle that is "graduate school of warfare" or "more intellectual than a bayonet charge" is the noisome "warrior scholar."

    For those who don't know, "warrior scholar" originally was hyphenated. It has its roots in several places (it's been compared to David R. Segal's "soldier-statesman" neologism), but it was spawned in the military of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years.

    It was used to reorient officers away from careerist Cold War fumbling to understand that their mission was to be both brainy AND an effing killer.

    As a young Marine, all you heard was that you were a "warrior" or a "warrior from the scene" or whatnot. The implication then was clear: Kill. When you're done killing, study on how to kill more and better. Then get back to killing.

    The rah-rah message from GEN Welch was indicative of the zeitgeist.


    Over the next decade, it would take on other attributes (emulating the great military minds of all ages, using the tools of social science to do MOOTW).

    It was NEVER intended to brand elites as somehow smarter and tougher than everyone else, mere hagiography.

    Let me be blunt: The "warrior scholars" bepopulating think tanks, the paragraphs of jackassed Ricks' blog or the sycophantic columns of credulous pundits usually aren't really "warriors" and their scholarship often is derivative, spare or non-existent.

    Make this phrase go away.


  6. My apologies for my frenzied, grammar-free and syntax-challenged diatribe.

    I hate that term.


  7. Warrior is a weird word on its own, too. It makes me think of angry Vikings, not disciplined soldiers.

  8. Tintin -- Don't join the Marine Corps.

    SNLII -- Perhaps you'll have noticed that I did, in fact, hyphenate the expression. I also put it in quotation marks, which is the generally accepted format for acknowledging that you're using someone else's turn of phrase. Take it easy on the rageahol.

  9. "Take it easy on the rageahol"

    Do you want to take all the fun out of the internet? What is even the point if you can't be all vivid and stuff. Jeez....

  10. Yeah, Madhu. He's such a killjoy (unless he's talking about the former VP).


  11. "but it's heartening to know that that this trend might be taking hold through the officer corps rather than just amidst it."

    If a well-regarded ROTC institution is any indicator of future "scholar-warriors," then I have much to fear. In my large institution, I'm willing to bet not one person knows of any common terms from a topical modern military discussion, ranging from "Gentile" to "Small Wars Journal." Then again, they aren't officers yet. But the ones about to gain their commission, many of whom will branch MI, would have no idea what you guys are talking about. Shit, they'd probably think the "Fulda Gap" is a football play or demeaning sexual act.