Thursday, March 4, 2010

Screwing the troops - hopefully for the better

On Ann Marlowe's newish blog (to me at least), she links to an Army Times article on how GEN McChrystal has ordered the closing of a number of "morale" facilities in Afghanistan. It seems that the hardest hit will be fast food restaurants and car dealerships on major camps (the dealerships don't actually have the cars there - you order a car/motorcycle and don't have pay any taxes on them). Ms. Marlowe does not support this order as "young men and women who volunteer to server there deserve some consolations." She goes further state "taking away their little comforts isn't a substitute for a strategy."

I'm sure this order isn't all that popular with a lot of the troops. But most aren't going to care. And here's why. Fast food restaurants and car dealerships are usually on huge camps only - camps that have one or more flag officer commands on it. Camps that house that much maligned but important creature: the Fobbit. Camps that don't usually house trigger-pullers who go on patrol.

In the nearly three years I spent on and operating out of FOBs in Iraq, I never lived on a camp that had these types of establishments. Sure we had a few Iraqi-run knickknack shops that supported the local economy, but we didn't have Burger King, KFC, or a Harley dealership. There were varying reasons for each camp on why this was the case, but it wasn't really a big deal.

I'm supportive of this order (except for the dealerships which I don't really understand unless Joe is spending an inordinate amount of his time and energy buying multiple cars). Big camps with support units or general staffs became the "haves" while the more austere patrol bases and homes of maneuver units became the "have nots." These types of facilities only increased the animosity between the two groups. I also agree with GEN McChrystal that they are distractions (as pointed out by Gulliver on Twitter, he actually said "destracter", but that's another subject). While all camps, large and small, do receive indirect fire, trying to replicate the home-front in a combat zone tricks those that live on a large camp into thinking they are actually at their home stations. It causes them to lose focus on why they are there in the first place, which I think must have an effect on how they perform their duties.

The third reason I agree with this order is purely financial from a tax-payer's perspective. The contractors who run the dining facilities get paid to feed every person on that camp every meal, whether they eat there or not. Soldiers who then go and eat at these fast food places spend their own money on food when the government has already bought them food. And lots of it. It's just not financially reasonable to back your own competition.

There are going to be lots of you that disagree with me and I'm okay with that. I'm not bitter about not having BK down the street from my can or tent - I actually liked mess hall food. But any of you who have spent any time at the food court at Camp Liberty would probably agree with me - especially if you didn't live on Camp Liberty. I feel that removing these distractions will help everyone focus on the fight at hand.

15 comments:

  1. Gunslinger,
    Some people might disagree with you on this, but we have a word for those people. Actually, we have lots of words - and none of them are complimentary.

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  2. You make a lot of good points here, especially the one about food-service contracts -- never thought about that.

    That said, while I appreciate that it's only the big FOBs that have this stuff anyway, why deny the occasional luxury to the combat soldier who rolls through there for whatever reason? Maybe this is a lame reason to keep the facilities open, dunno.

    And as a final point: Fobbits have morale, too, right?

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  3. Having been the combat soldier who rolls through there on occasion, it wasn't that big of a deal and would make me sick for days if I ate it anyway. Most soldiers will only go through these place in and out of theater for their deployments and R&R. In which case they can get that stuff in Kuwait, where they shouldn't close the fast food places.

    And yes, Fobbits have morale, too. But Fobbits on austere FOBs do just fine without this stuff and by my observation have a greater appreciation on why they're there and what they're doing. BK does not morale make. But it's mere presence probably is a distraction.

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  4. Good link to the Marlowe blog. Didn't know about it, either.

    Although, I can't add another to the list! Not enough time. Now I have to institute a rotating blog reading schedule like I do for my "real life" reading? 15 minutes a day for this, 20 for that....15 minutes writing on this, 20 minutes writing on that....

    As a digital immigrant, I officially GIVE UP and wish to return to my ethnic enclave of "Solely Novels On Dead Tree" that I buy at the local independent hippie bookstore. I like vinyl, too.

    On this Fobbit business, I have no clue, but car dealerships? What?

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  5. On this Fobbit business, I have no clue, but car dealerships? What?

    Seems silly, doesn't it? Most major American car and motorcycle manufacturers have "dealerships" at most major camps in CENTCOM. They don't actually have any cars there, but you can custom order one for when you get home. The benefits are that they can be cheaper than at a dealership right outside of a state-side military base and you don't pay taxes on it (which as you know, can be a few thousand dollars).

    It did always strike me as an odd thing to have in a combat zone...

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  6. "But most aren't going to care."

    Gunslinger, you and I both know that most of the troops ain't pulling triggers. They're REMFs.

    SNLII

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  7. "And as a final point: Fobbits have morale, too, right?"

    Want to improve the morale of every 11B in OEF and OIF? Make his ass a Fobbit.

    Eff the Fobbit.

    SNLII (currently at Bragg, by the way)

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  8. Our CSM experimented with sending 11B's to a FOB for R&R in OIFIII. It was a morale killer and discontinued.

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  9. I can provide a tactical reason why you should discontinue fast food restaurants and salsa nights: the money could be given to trigger pullers in the field to improve FOB security, use to buy HA or used to by new equipment and uniforms.

    Basically, I think in its existence, only something like two or three Soldiers have died on BAF, not counting self-inflicted wounds. Fobbits have no reason to have bad morale, it is just the flag grade officers see super-FOBs and never see smaller ones.

    This issue makes me sick, and Gunslinger you are right to support this. I fully believe that when the history of this war is written, many years from now, it will be the luxury and posh accomodations of Soldiers on FOBs--and the waste of taxpayer money in things not related to combat--that are why we lost.

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  10. The third reason I agree with this order is purely financial from a tax-payer's perspective. The contractors who run the dining facilities get paid to feed every person on that camp every meal, whether they eat there or not. Soldiers who then go and eat at these fast food places spend their own money on food when the government has already bought them food. And lots of it. It's just not financially reasonable to back your own competition.

    As an additional piece of info, which supports your point: at yesterday's conference on COIN in Vietnam organized by SAIS and the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech U, John Prados mentioned that the price of a meal at the military dining facilities in Afghanistan is 34$. This seemed awfully expensive to me. And makes me agree with you that it is a lot of money (and food) wasted.

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  11. Holy blog world coincidence Alma!

    Was I was just reading about the very topic in the Strongest Tribe: 34$ meals vs. 4$ meals stateside? Or am I hallucinating because of the head cold and the Dayquil? From an anecdote in the book where someone says, "hey, how the meals are better here than back home?"

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  12. Wait, that is the allowance, not the cost? Because of logistics the cost will, naturally, be more? Still, the descriptions in the book sound lavish, and I hate saying that never having been in that situation. Maybe sometimes you all deserved lavish? But you are telling me no?

    How do you compare prices given the distances? Eat more locally and support the local economy? But that's not always reliable is it?

    ?????

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  13. @SNLII - Good point. Most will care. I guess I'm not terribly concerned with their opinions though.

    @Schmedlap - My units did the same in OIF III and V. Liberty Rest was one of the stupidest things ever devised and our people always came back more stressed than when they left.

    @Michael C - A number of good points. I'm going to have some contention with the first as most MWR activities are non-appropriated funds, so I don't think that those costs could be put towards other parts of the mission. But your last point is spot on. Even lavish dining facilities creates a haves/have-nots syndrome between soldiers and the locals. Great point.

    @Madhu - I can't speak to the actual costs of feeding soldiers downrange. But see Michael C's point about lavishness - I think he's correct. That's not to say maybe an occasional nice meal wouldn't be warranted, but the food was often ridiculous in selection, quality, and quantity. I don't remember the data, but when KBR used to offer Red Bull and Gatorade in the dining facilities, it cost a stupid amount of money every day. Something to the tune of millions a day just for energy drinks. I don't think they serve it anymore though.

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  14. "Gunslinger, you and I both know that most of the troops ain't pulling triggers."

    Actually, most of them are pulling triggers because, Army-wide, our marksmanship training sucks. One thing I'll hand to the Marines is that whenever I had a Soldier who was a prior service Marine, he didn't need any re-training on BRM.

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