Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some thoughts on tactical issues, too...

Interesting little article (actually, it's not so much an article but a steno job by Tom Ricks) about an AAR delivered by a warrant in A-stan.What I find a little depressing is the degree to which this is no-shit-Sherlock infantry 101. Stay off the roads and trails? Goddam, troop, my platoon daddy taught me that lesson he and his homies had learned the hard way (in the A Shau in 1967) waaaayyy back in 1982. Where the hell else do you think your enemy is going to put the mines, hero? Y'all been to war for, what, six or seven years now, and you're still forgetting this?

Having to remind the gyrenes about walking both point and slack point? About security halts? About rally points? Crossing linear danger areas?

One selling point of having a volunteer Army (and the USMC has been volunteer since 1945) was to prevent the "not-in-Vietnam-twelve-years-but-one-year-twelve-times" syndrome. If this warrant is ragging the troops for CRS disease, it sounds like this was either one fucked up platoon or we're having a problem learning and applying the simple old infantry tactics and techniques. All this stuff was hammered home in the Sixties in Vietnam. My generation learned it from the guys who came back to be our platoon sergeants and first sergeants and passed it on to our troops in the Eighties and Nineties when WE were platoon sergeants and first sergeants.It's a little irritating to think that we're reinventing the patrolling wheel having supposedly been at war for all this time. I think we agree that the U.S. has some serious issues with strategic thinking. This little article suggests that we might have some tactical problems, too.


  1. This is a bit depressing. As the Chief noted, we went with the AVF to get a completely professional service but it seems we gave up the ability to learn and adapt at the same time.

    You'd think that a Marine platoon on their 5-6th deployment would know this instinctively by now.

  2. My memory might be failing me here, but I seem to remember people being drafted into the Marines during Viet Nam. Standard, two year tour.

    Retaining basic soldiering skills is a constant problem - particularly in the reserve components. METL skills get emphasized. An artillery piece can fire its tables, or a tank crew, or an engineer unit can build a bridge. You can almost always knock down a unit during an ARTEP for lack basic soldiering skills

  3. I think the part about the walking pace of the 4 hour patrols is the "dead" giveaway. Many just want to get it over with and get back to "iPod time".

    The more you think about the implications of that, the more unsettled you become.

  4. I had the exact same impressions. This was ROTC Advanced Camp (1982) for me. Basic shit, regular drills. Just no excuse for not instinctively developing these into current day operations, unless COIN focus has blinded people to the need for conventional patrolling skills.

  5. Chief,
    Why was the AAR written by a WO? This small point indicates a breakdown sincwe WO's are not combat leaders but rather specialists in any given area of expertise, but the key point is that they are not patrolling types.(except in SFod)
    This art is about forgetting Rogers rules for Rangers.All of this stuff is so simple that even Rangers get it. Or they used to.

  6. bigbird: My bad; I had a brainfart re: USMC/draftees in RVN.

    Ael: One of the most pernicious things I encountered during FTX in the 80's and 90's was the "mission time" thing - my officers were told "Go from A to B and be there NLT 1600." If you looked at it on the map it was simple - 12 klicks/3 klicks per hour = 4 hours. On the ground it meant bopping through bad ground and potential ambush sites like there was no danger there, just to "make the mission time". I had thought that seven years of "war" (or whatever the hell this is) would have erased that mindset. You set some sort of timetable but the FIRST thing to go is the timetable; you don't sacrifice things like security and mission requirements to make your time. That "iPOD time" thing bugged me, too.

    Jason: But...the military part of COIN IS conventional patrolling! Walking around heavily armed looking for guerillas, mixing with the locals, "showing the flag"...that's pretty much ALL it is. And my understanding is that the USMC had a fairly brilliant COIN program in the RVN where Marine platoons and companies "homesteaded" in the villes, hooked up with the local defense forces, pretty much "went native", while the Battalion hung around with reaction forces to pile on the VC/NVA if they turned up in strength. That's what gets me - we've fucking DONE this before. Got the T-shirt. Dave Hackworth used to go ballistic over this "Can't Remember Shit" thing, and if fighting G's in south-central Asia hasn't solved the problem, my nasty suspicion is that it's not a bug with us, it's a feature.

    Jim: I wondered that too. Ricks, whose military savvy looks slick up front but who I keep catching in little fuckups more all the time, calls him a "WO/Gunner". WTF? Does he mean "Gunnery Sergeant", so this guy is some platoon's gunny? That would make more sense than this coming from some warrant. But you do point out that the ODAs not have a WO instead of the junior officer, so maybe that's it? Dunno. But, again, what's so fucking irritating is that this is Camp Rudder-level Rogers Rangers "Don't forget nuthin'" stuff. Why the hell are "combat veteran" Marines getting their ass reamed about it?

    One nasty thought - I remember reading Bill Mauldin talking about his old troopies in the 45th Division in Italy. He said that after North Africa and Sicily when the Texas and Okie boys got to the Apennines they were tired. Dead tired. Most of the survivors had figured out that there were old soldiers and bold soldiers but few old, bold soldiers. They half-assed their way through missions because they had figured out that regardless of whether they mission was accomplished they were just going to a) get another the next day, or b) get killed. Either way, they didn't give a fuck.

    Is that what's going on here?

  7. To clarify my comment, I will suggest that there's been this intensive retraining that our combat guys do COIN and translated that means "don't shoot up the place." No fire and maneuver, just drive in, don't alarm mama-san, pass out volleyballs, dig in for the night, move out in MRAPs in the morning. No one's patrolling... at least not long-range recon, due to the younger generation, rough terrain, casualty avoidance policy. They forget the basics because they don't practice them in real life.

    Or maybe they just don't give a fuck.

  8. FDChief-

    CWOs in the Marine Corps have been refered to as "Gunners" for some time. Currently only CWO2 and above serving as Infantry Weapons officers (MOS 0306) officially have the title, so Ricks is right on that one.

    But I agree with your broader point. He's losing it. Like here where he wants to agree with Gentile and the opposing view . . .


  9. Jason: But the lessons we learned in the RVN was that you can do both; the MEDCAP team goes out in the daytime with soccer balls and vaccinations. The tiger force (or whatever hoo-ah name you want to give it) sneaks out at night and sets up ambushes and whacks Gs. One doesn't cancel out the other...in fact, one compliments the other.

    Rural life in most parts of the world is pretty much regulated by the sun. When the sun goes down, the farmers and herdsmen go home. If you spend time really WATCHING the locals it gets easier to figure out who's running out at night to go court the cute boy next door and who's running messages for the Talibs. It sounds like these guys aren't doing that. It sounds like someone's giving them some sort of half-assed "COIN is population-centric" briefing that is getting their heads up their ass. Going back an rereading my old copy of Hackworth's books, or Tony Herbert's "Soldier" reminds me that we had people who knew how to do this stuff. A lot of them are still alive. Why aren't we using them as a resource? Yeah, I know, A-stan isn't Vietnam yadda, yadda. But, goddam, fighting G's in little villages with combat patrols is fighting G's in little villages with combat patrols.

    Seydlitz: "Gunny"/"Gunner"? Makes me glad I wasn't a bootneck. That's a damn confusing terminology. I'm amazed that gyrenes can remember that.

    And Ricks' problem seems to be that he loves war and soldiering and soldiers but he can't get all Smedley Butler and admit that the Echelons Above Reality are fucking the troops by handing them these impossible tasks. He wants to close his eyes real tight and chant "We support the troops!" lound enough to drown out his suspicions that these guys are trying to shovel water.

  10. saydlitz: Bad old Army joke: What do you get when you crossbreed a Marine with a gorilla?

    A retarded gorilla.

    What do you get when you cross a Marine with a retarded gorilla?

    A sergeant major.

  11. FDChief-

    " . . . He wants to close his eyes real tight and chant "We support the troops!" lound enough to drown out his suspicions that these guys are trying to shovel water."

    He also wants to make a lot of $$$ and getting all critical would definately hurt book sales.

    Funny, I can remember the Gunner stuff, but not any decent Marine Corps jokes . . . or maybe there ain't no such animal . . . "decent" ones I mean.

  12. I spend a lot of time around the Marine Corps these days and I can attest to the fact that CWOs are addressed as "Gunner." It also seems these officers are about the baddest asses in the Corps these days—despite the Chief's problem with the terminology, they're NEVER confused with Gunnery Sergeants ("Gunnies"), who routinely go out of their way to avoid "Gunners"—maybe because they don't worry about politicking or maybe just because they're that good. The ones I've encountered have been very, very sharp.

    It's because of that sharpness of USMC "gunners" that I never questioned why a CWO would be writing on matters tactical. And, if as Seydlitz suggests, he's a weapons officer, I'd bet he was a very good Gunnery Sergeant before he was commissioned; he's likely forgotten more about infantry tactics than the company commander.

    I agree with the rest of you that it's very disappointing to see these things from the self-anointed "best military in history," which is pretty much how the American AVF comes across with all of its chest-beating. Kind of puts me in mind of numerous sports stories about major upsets over the years wherein some sports figure will inevitably point out that the superior team was either (pick one) "reading its own press clippings," "forgot to show up," or "took the opposition too lightly."

    I suspect we're seeing all of the above with modern day troops. Despite all of the PR about how this is best-educated military in history, the unfortunate facts are that American youth—from which the military is drawn—cares little about history and the greater society hasn't made them care. And, hey, if you don't know any history, you're not going to be sensitive to the fact that even the greatest armies have fallen. If you don't read the papers and know your history, you're not going to truly understand just how fucked up your own country is these days. You may not even be aware that you yourself can be greased in a heartbeat by even the most inferior wog if you or your buddy over there grooving to the beat with his iPod earbuds slack off even a little bit.

    Couple that with the lack of ability to concentrate or focus on anything important for any length of time (ask any teacher), and tactical stupidity seems inevitable. The new ROE, which I suspect are pretty confusing for junior troops can't be helping, either.

    So, no, I'm not suprised at this at all. I say, good on the Gunner for caring and for having his shit together. I'm also sure the NCOs in that unit are not enjoying their time with the Gunner, which tells me this may end up being a very tight outfit.

    Ricks? Surely you jest.

  13. Chief,

    This is called a presence patrol. The purpose of the presence patrol is to move up and down the roads, showing your presence. In theory, presence is a deterrence to bad guys, which is true, if the presence never ends. Unfortunately, it always does (thus the COIN plan to put Firebases in the villages, similar to the old ink blot strategy, somewhat).

    You are talking to an old school light infantry ranger type here, and I will tell you that what they are doing in this picture is tactically sound. I promise you they wouldn't be doing it if they were getting ambushed. They may be Marines, but they aren't that dense.

    Just remember, pictures are snap shots in time, and you are only seeing one image. You didn't see the armored convoy that rolled up to the village (yes, on roads, there is no other way without risking rolling the vehicle over and killing people or drowning in a water filled ditch, which happened way too many times in Iraq when we tried to get "off the trails"). What you don't see here is the vehicles that have the entire village cordoned off, thus securing this "presence patrol."

    We haven't lost the concept of mutually supportive positions or overwatch, I assure you.

  14. One other thought after noting Jim's comment about the author. I am curious to know what unit this CWO comes from? Is it even a combat arms unit? My guess, no. I've seen this since 2003, and I have no doubt this is still happening, where we take none infantry and give them infantry missions. The scariest thing I ever did in combat was go on a presence patrol with a Air Defense HQ company as the cooks and mechanics drove and walked through the neighborhoods. Only thing close to that scary was a patrol of cannon cockers. Scary, scary. But it wasn't their job and they weren't trained for it. So this is exactly the type of AAR that I would expect from a combat support unit who never knew these lessons in the first place.

    Know if you convince me that this AAR came from a rifle platoon, I will stand down.

  15. "Seydlitz: "Gunny"/"Gunner"? Makes me glad I wasn't a bootneck. That's a damn confusing terminology. I'm amazed that gyrenes can remember that."

    I have to work with Marines in the Pentagon. Forever terrified that I'm going to get that terminology wrong, just because I'm former Army and just don't grok that Navy/MC enlisted rank lingo. So I just stick with "Chief" and "Sergeant."

  16. The title "Marine Gunner" is intended for specific non-technical Marine Warrant Officers in the Infantry career field. Marine Gunners are assigned to tactical infantry units at all levels as weapons and tactics specialists, as well as training developers and supervisors. However, as an expression of respect, it has become common to address all Marine Warrants by the highly complimentary title "Gunner".

  17. To all,
    I just lost a long cmt to this thread and now i'm frustrated. I want to contribute but i'll abridge my thots .
    Whether GY or gunner is immaterial, the Plat Cdr/leader tactically employs the plat and this is where the command AUTHORITY resides. The plat ldr is responsible and that's why O's get the big bucks.
    Why is this important?
    In the Army doctrinally all battles are fought by the Captains, all other ranks exist only to facilitate this fact.
    Now in the PWOT as in RVN the troops do their job and nobody seems to have any idea of what the violence and death are achieving. Nothing is quantifiable.
    Now to bg.
    A presence patrol sure sounds like another word for bullshit to me.
    From platoon level to theater cmd this entire war thing is a misapplication of military principles. This is not a criticism of the valor or performance of the troops.
    It breaks my heart to see meaningless wars, especially on the eve of a new decade. Imagine we're entering a new decade and it's the samo samo 9-11 bullshit ruling our lives.
    The sad part is that the troops know that this dog won't ever hunt.

  18. Jim,

    I really want to disagree with you at some level just because it is boring, but at the essence of your statement, you are 100% correct. The presence patrols have never been effective, for the reason I stated above, because presence is relative. Our patrols are "present" for an hour or two, and when we leave, the bad guys return (assuming they ever left). Yet, they make a great metric! We performed 586 presence patrols this month! Put that on your OER, it briefs great.

    I have an interesting point/question concerning your comment regarding CPT's role. I 100% agree in the importance of company commanders. Just out of curiosity, what was the average career profile of a CPT in Vietnam, or WWII? When I was a young LT, it seemed like company commanders were older, wiser guys. Before the war, CPTs often spent 2-3 years after the CPT's career course waiting and fighting for a command (taking command at the 6-7 year mark), now we see officers with barely 4 years in service getting them. We are seeing CPTs with sometimes a year or less in grade, often 3-4 years of service, serving as company commanders in combat. Many of them haven't even had the chance to go to the CPT's career course (but the counter argument is that many of them have 1 or 2 years of combat deployments, which has to count for something). This is a result of a mass CPT exodus in around 2005 and the constant deployments, stop losses and life cycle units. Am I just becoming an old crusty young field grade, does this not bother anyone but me?

    To further your comments, I saw a "true American Story" today that was meant to be a heart wrenching story of a New York city resident who was in NYC on 9/11, and how he enlisted a week later to serve his country. He further went on to Iraq where a suicide bomber blew up a chow hall (Dec 17, 2004 a day I remember well) where he was badly injured, breaking his back. We often talk about the lack of a direct connection between 9/11 and Iraq, but this story by Fox News meant to inspire only more clearly depicted the lack of any connection between a patriot who joined the military as a reaction to 9/11, and who later found himself broken in a chow hall in Mosul. How does this make sense?

  19. Revision of my first sentence, I want to disagree because everyone agreeing with each other is boring. It is more fun to stir things up.

  20. bg: I recall reading in Atkinson's "An Army at Dawn" about the landings in North Africa and how Ernie Pyle (?) wrote about seeing three guys taking cover in a ditch getting electrocuted(!) when a power line, cut by gunfire, fell on them.

    Bottom line is that a huge proportion of the young men (and the old men, young women and kids) who die or are mained in war are not struck in the act of changing history. They die or are twisted for life in some utterly pointless, moron-grade fuckup. Shot in the back by the guy next to them. Run over while sleeping. Shelled while trying to take a dump.

    War, for all we try to make it grand and adventurous, is no less silly than any other human activity. Even less so - huge chunks of it make no sense at all.

    I think that back when we were fighting mass wars the public either understood that or pretended they didn't know. Now, when almost all fighting is vicarious, it is in bad taste to acknowledge that most of these dead people died for...perhaps more than "nothing", but certainly less than the advertised Saving America Heroism.

  21. bg: About 66-67, the Army ran out of CPTs and MAJs. 12 mo as a 2LT (including BOC), another 12 mo as a 1LT and then CPT if one extended for another year. Normal for companies to be commanded by LTs in other than Viet Nam, often commanded by 2LTs. There was a stretch in late 66, early 67, in Europe, where there would be one officer for two companies.

    In my branch, Engineers, there were three majors in the European Theater in 68 and barely enough LTCs to go around. A nondivisional artillery battalion in Bamberg had a 1LT acting commander.

    It was: Hang on for the ride.

    These guys would have experience as company commanders before getting to Nam. Obviously, there were lots of LTs serving as platoon leaders. How good was the experience? Good question.

    At that time, a Reserve officer had a two year active duty obligation (OBV2). The LTs arrived in Europe by the planeload in a three month interval and left active duty the same way. Can't say that I knew of any that extended for CPT. Must have been more common for a LT in Nam to extend rather than those in other than Nam. The standard rotation was 12 mos in Nam, another tour for 12 mos and then another short tour.

    Meanwhile, get a senior NCO to talk, and he would give you an earfull about the multiple RIFs after Korea and how it would happen again.

  22. @FDChief,

    Ricks' problem seems to be that he loves war and soldiering and soldiers but he can't get all Smedley Butler and admit that the Echelons Above Reality are fucking the troops by handing them these impossible tasks. He wants to close his eyes real tight and chant "We support the troops!" loud enough to drown out his suspicions that these guys are trying to shovel water.

    This is about the best description of Ricks I've read yet. Thanks!


  23. bigbird, great insight, thanks.

    When I was in basic, we had a few Vietnam vets left, and when I got commissioned, there was a crusty CSM or a flag officer still around, but for the most part, the knowledge and experience of the Vietnam vets was lost. Hence, when we invaded Iraq in 2003, the leaders were all Gulf War vets. This should explain a lot, the few Vietnam vets such as Shenseki warned us what would happen, but the Gulf War veterans were convinced that it would be another quick war because that was their experience with Iraq 10 years ago.

  24. Realistically, by the time of the Persian Gulf War, Viet Nam vets were at least SFC or LTC. Too senior to affect a lot of people face to face.

    As for the reserve components: The draft kept those units filled. The Guard was impossible to get into in part because of their emphasis on combat units and a resulting very narrow pyramid, the other part being their clubby nature and not wanting outsiders involved. The Guard had decent full time manning. OTOH, the USAR had terrible full time manning - a field unit was an impossible responsibility and was avoided by officers and NCOs. Much easier to be in a school or a Basic/AIT training unit. For officers, anyway, promotion through LTC was on a 'fully qualified' basis - keep up your schooling and you would retire an LTC, even full bird wasn't that difficult. The end of the Cold War and downsizings changed all of that.

    I spent most of RC career in a unit that gave company and battalion training exercises. My team serviced ten battalions , three group HQs and a rash of separate companies over three states. I got a good feel for what was going on, and you learn more from watching the poor units that you do from the good ones. Infrequently, we would conduct a large combined arms map exercise. There you would really see the weaknesses of the RC system. BN and higher HQs spend most of their time administering training of their subordinate units and don't themselves train for their role. You don't get higher commanders picking up the mike and directing their lower level units, commander to commander. Very frustrating if you've been part of the AC.

    Having said that, I was part of the Cold War 3GW. Hackworth pointed out that commands larger than Bn have not been at risk of being overrun since Korea and I now have to wonder if platoon is now that upper limit. It does shape our thinking and training.

  25. "Hackworth pointed out that commands larger than Bn have not been at risk of being overrun since Korea and I now have to wonder if platoon is now that upper limit. It does shape our thinking and training."

    Let me refer to a related topic on my blog, shameless as I am:

  26. bg,
    We're we went wrong was invading Europe in Jn 44. We should have sent a presence patrol and that would've solved the problem.
    Ike just didn't get it.

  27. Jim,

    Normally your comments are always concise, but I think you over did it this time. I have no idea what you are implying in your last statement. Have I argued that COIN tactic would have worked out better against the Nazis?

    IRT to presence patrols, I am pretty sure I stated previously (twice) that they are not an effective tactic.

    I am very confused.

  28. bg,
    we're all confused.
    I beg your forgiveness for my flip and non-concise comment. I reckon i'm ready for prime time tv.
    Unless you missed it, I can't even begin to swallow the concept of a presence patrol. As Minstral Boy would say-fuck me running.
    I'll talk to my shrink about my free floating hostility upon my next visit