Sunday, April 25, 2010

Whew! For a while there.....

I was concerned that the Army had kind of gotten rid of its old chickenshit ways in this brave new era of volunteer soldiers fighting interminable wars. Fortunately, it seems I was wrong. Today's NY Times has this sad article about the Army's Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Carson, CO:

Recall our discussions several years ago focusing on Walter Reed? Well, here we are again. Same shit, different day (SSDD), as another old Army tradition has it. As an old soldier, I'm especially gratified to see that the NCO Corps is keeping up that hallowed tradition for which it became so famous over the years. Am I being unfair to NCOs? Probably. After all, the NCOs cited here probably wouldn't be doing what it seems they're doing were it not such stalwart officers as Brigadier General Gary Cheek and Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Grantham. Interestingly, I've been an NCO—in fact I made it all of the way to sergeant first class, in a very short time, in wartime—and one of the reasons I chose to go the officer route was because NCOs are usually the stuckees when it comes to administering chickenshit rules. But the unfortunate fact was that in my Army too many of them always seemed to relish doing so. I'm an old Army guy, not well versed in the modern military, so I'd be interested in hearing from younger NCOs on this. Somehow I thought that with a volunteer military engaged in endless war, perhaps chickenshit had kind of been relegated to the past. And I'll say this: this isn't an NCO-bashing exercise—not at all—but I'm actually pretty perturbed about the whole idea of shooting these troops up with a whole bunch of neat drugs, expecting them to perform as anything resembling normal soldiers, and then letting NCOs treat them as malingerers. Four suicides. That's not good, Army.

Maybe these troops are malingerers. If so, get 'em out. But what's reported here doesn't support such a lede. What I'm coming away with is a real feeling of SSDD. I've seen this movie before. Macho men with no background, education or expertise in pretty complex medical issues somehow empowered to decide that soldiers who've fallen on hard times are cowards and somehow unworthy. I thought the whole purpose of this expensive exercise in "warrior transition" was to somehow make these kids whole and, if they can't be restored to active duty, perhaps get them to the point where they can be productive members of the greater society.

Sorry, Army. You lose again. Apparently you just can't be trusted to tell the truth. "Warrior transition" turns out to be some sort of boot camp for screwed up troops, while meanwhile on the other side of the world, your four-star general in charge of Afghanistan tells the US public that "pop-centric COIN" means that local nationals will be protected from bad and good guys alike, but then allows combat operations where locals are killed by US troops for no apparent reason. Chickenshit and "we had to destroy the village to save it." Still alive and well, it seems.


  1. Publius,
    I'm on board, and as you know i've written against these phony rehab units manned by combat branch personnel. I've done these years ago.
    The emphasis should be transition to their new lives which won't be the same as their old lives.
    My Masters is in Rehab and the Army is going about it all wrong, especially if ptsd/tbi is the diagnosed condition.
    We should be getting these people their retirements on medical basis and get them to sympathetic civilian programs.
    I suspect the Army is using to programs to give disciplinary separations thereby saving funds.This is just a hunch since it's been done in the past.
    Lifer shit never changes.

  2. I suspect, too, that there is an element of bad medicine here, too. In my service I seldom encountered an Army headshrinker I trusted; more than any Army MD many of them seemed to be steeped in the "get 'em well, get 'em fighting" mindset. It doesn't surprise me that these Army docs are misdiagnosing PTSD guys or misadministering meds to them.

    The other question I'd have is who is commanding and staffing these...they really are "medical holding companies". Are they AMEDD officers? Are the cadre medical NCOs? Or are they (and this would be my guess) just ash-and-trash types that end up in these outfits because nobody in the line units likes or trusts them? I can easily see that for all the hype that the people who end up running these are not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed; with the current ops tempo I suspect that most officers and NCOs worth a shit are being grabbed up by the maneuver units.

    And, sadly, I'm not sure if even the best treatment in the world would be helping some of these guys. War just breaks some people.

  3. I don't know for sure Publius, but I suspect you're right from the rumint I hear.

  4. To all,
    Todays USA Today has an article on Walter Reed and that it will not be a world class facility, EVEN after we've spent about 2 bil$ on it.
    If they are not the anointed medical center then which is? Let me guess- The Lake City facility- it's only crumbling from age.
    Everything about the PWOT and subsequent vet care is as bullshit as was the phony war.The sad and predictable part is that it WILL get worse as money gets tighter or looser. Either way the vets get it without any lube.

  5. publius,
    I find it strange that our little talks in long dead Clausewitz gets more cmts than this important topic that you raise.

  6. Jim,

    I think it's probably because we're all pretty much in agreement and agreement usually doesn't breed a lot of comments.

  7. Andy: I think it's probably because we're all pretty much in agreement and agreement usually doesn't breed a lot of comments.

    That, and it's just too sad to comment in any manner than outrage, which cures nothing. I read the article over and over to see if I was "missing" something that might redeem the actions and callousness, but to no avail.

  8. Sorry Publius, I've been meaning to comment but haven't had a chance to this week (been crazy). But I do want to share something sort of related that I learned yesterday.

    Sort of related to this topic, but not really, but really cool. My doc is publishing a medical report that I read yesterday where they have found that by injecting a drug called Prazosin (a neural inhibitor) in the base of the neck, they can put PTSD into remission. No side effects and immediately. (one patient that my Psych interviewed went from sleeping with his gun every night to complete remission in the matter of a day). He explained to me the science behind it, but no time to post write now but I will later if anyone is interested). My doc is getting this published, but has found that VAs and Troop Hospitals have been doing this non-label use of the drug for a while now and although no official study is complete, there hasn't been any reports of side effects (it is like a mild muscle relaxant) and although reoccurring doses have been required for some, it has lasted for 4-6 months.

    I just thought that was really cool, PTSD is a real problem for the forces today and I am always happy to hear good news (although this is just an initial evaluation, it has potential). I will try to catch up and make a related post later.


  9. jim-

    Maybe it's because Clausewitz ain't dead . . . ; After eight years of the Rovian/Neo-con notion that power could make reality its "bitch", strategic theory is coming back with a vengeance. In all, probably too little too late, but there is a reawakening of strategic thought none the less and the responses to the threads of this type - not just on this blog - reflect this imo.

    Consider also that Publius's post is directed at a specific group - "so I'd be interested in hearing from younger NCOs on this" - which counts all of the regulars out as far as I know, except for Andy(?) and he agrees.

    As to Publius's general point, it reminded me of the post that Al made recently in regards to cost efficiency in the closing of Army medical facilities. Warehousing and medicating these soldiers would appear from a management perspective as being "cost efficient". What are field grade officers if not "managers"? The relatively few battalion-level command positions may constitute the sole chance to exercise "leadership", but even these require a high level of "management" as well. If we think as leadership producing results and interpersonal cohesion, management is expected to produce efficiency . . . and how better to measure efficiency than in terms of cost?

    Our military organization reflects the wars of a bygone era. For instance, generals ranks correspond to brigade, division, corps and army, but is that how we fight the wars of today?

    Being under the control of such managers, what is a good NCO to do?

  10. Seydlitz: What are field grade officers if not "managers"? The relatively few battalion-level command positions may constitute the sole chance to exercise "leadership", but even these require a high level of "management" as well. If we think as leadership producing results and interpersonal cohesion, management is expected to produce efficiency . . . and how better to measure efficiency than in terms of cost?

    Not only what you have stated, but in my view, we have contracted out so much of the support services that officers who were once responsible for providing, what commanders, as well as staff, were once called upon to provide, are several degrees further removed from providing for their troops than they were say 30 years ago. All in the name of cost saving "improvements". We now have a couple of generations of "leaders", who rarely, if ever, have had to operate a unit mess and feed their troops. Distribute MREs, yes, but actually provide freshly cooked meals, NO. Once upon a time, every lieutenant learned the basics of mess management and worried if his additional duty would be Mess Officer, as it was no easy task. The contractor operated, consolidated mess does that. Segments of medical care have been contracted out on many bases. Maintenance of equipment is contracted out. Supply functions, training, etc. If all a modern commander is directly responsible for is feeding his troops into the meat grinder without having to feed, clothe, house, equip them, is it any wonder that the treatment of these troops is less than caring?

  11. Al-

    Excellent point. And yes, "less than caring" is the result, but as long as it isn't reflected in management's view of cost-efficiency, who cares? The Major'll still get his MSM as you pointed out.

    And yes, I remember mess duty as a Marine Corps private . . . but luckily never had to be "mess officer" since being on staff precluded that.

    Hearing lots of bad stuff about Greece in the news, can Portugal be far behind?

  12. BG,
    Sorry, but i can't feel good about a shot in the neck being a magic cure.
    Most research indicates athropy in the brain as a result of ptsd and no shot ain't gonna reverse that fact.
    Feeling good ain't being cured.
    Real ptsd isn't a cure type malady. Nobody in the DVA can ever show me a ptsd person that they've cured. When they do then i'll whistle dixie.

  13. Seydlitz,
    Strategic thought is nothing but mental masturbation, unless linked with appropriate oplans.
    Clausewitz didn't help the German Army in WW1 and he shure ain't helpin'us'ns.

  14. "mental masturbation"?

    As is any type of theory at all from your perspective . . . still how does one get out of a messy situtation if there is no theory to light the way, to separate "the important from the unimportant"? It is the lack of theory and rational thinking, as opposed to wishful thinking, bogus "common sense" appeals, and outright scams which have brought us to this point imo . . . I'm sure the neo-cons would agree with your comment since strategic theory only uncovers their betrayal, points to the actual nature of their wars.

    The German Army of 1914 had about as well an understanding of Clausewitz as the US Army of 2003 did . . . see the connection?

  15. seydlitz,
    All the stuff you say should be front loaded and not a pull out of the hat trick to save asses and reputations etc...
    I know that you are not the enemy, and the neo cons would never enter the discussions that we have.
    Have you ever considered that the idea of strategy is nothing but another word for institutional insanity?

  16. jim, I never called it a magical cure or a cure at all. I called it promising and with potential, a way to manage the disease. We don't know enough to theorize about it, but I will submit that the atrophy may be a result of prolonged symptoms, and that perhaps a management solution early in the diagnosis may prevent that atrophy. But I kind of knew that you would still find a way to be bitter about good news. And yes, it is good news to those who suffer from the affliction. You can never underestimate the power of hope and belief in a better life. Sometimes that in and of itself is enough to significantly improve a patient's prognosis.

  17. jim-

    Strategic theory is not a way to sell bullshiz wars which is the way you read it, sorry, but simply a way of thinking about the application of political power. That is by definition it is neither good nor evil, but a reflection of the will of the political community involved, which would cover both those who planned and carried out Bush's wars, and those who resisted them which I assume would include yourself.

    Consider that your view reflects the character of your own military service just as mine reflects the character of my own. Does that make you more "right" than me, or both of us possibly "right" from quite different perspectives?

  18. Point taken, Seydlitz. My invitation for NCOs in particular to comment was specifically because NCOs are the point of the spear as it were. NCOs are clearly not the only bad guys in this sad tale. I can see it very clearly. Lieutenant Colonel to NCOs: "OK, these troops are a little fucked up and are getting medical care. But we must all remember that this is a military organization and that we must maintain proper military standards. The troops must be constantly reminded of this." Sound about right?

    FDChief puts his finger on what goes in these holding companies. Ash and trash. You've got an FA brigadier general commanding—and general officers are of course branch immaterial—but we all know he's there because they ain't got anything better for him to do. FA is dying and this guy's next stop is retirement. Then we have an MI lieutenant colonel. Well, MI is in demand these days. Seeing this guy in this job screams out: "Dud. Loser. His branch doesn't care what he does, just so long as it doesn't have anything to do with military intelligence." And then the NCOs. They're the same.

    I have always been amazed at the Army's propensity—and adeptness at doing so to detail its losers to positions where they end up having high visibility and aid in that all-important Army mission of ensuring that politicians and the general public think that the Army is woefully stupid, brutal and totally out-of-touch. It's always the same. The Army lives in its own little world and then wonders why it is that it's never understood by people who fund it and who send their kids to it. Institutionally, the US Army is terminally stupid.

    BG, your input about the wonder potion is noted. However, I have the same concerns as Ranger. And, no, it ain't bitterness, which appears to be your new go-to word for those of us who really kind of wonder our Army is doing to our nation and to our youth. With respect to this whole issue of pharmocology vice psychotherapy, etc., I found this, which, although it isn't oriented specifically towards the military, is certainly germane:

    Finally, I'm getting a kick out of the byplay between Seydlitz and Ranger WRT Clausewitz. I know and appreciate Clausewitz—and I know Ranger does as well—but it's my sense that the old boy is obsolete. That's because nobody uses him anymore. Clearly, the times—and the people who are dictating the tenor of the times—have changed to the point where those who matter have decided that they just don't want to engage in logical thought anymore. When we get to that point in our society, well, yeah, how can Clausewitz ever hold his own against greed, stupidity and actions aimed at short-term political gain?

  19. Publius,

    Yah, I've used bitter a few times, it seems to fit. Not trying to be Pollyanna, but not everything in this world is BS. Sometime it is nice to hear about good things, and even acknowledge them as being so.

    But, sorry for the digression, I owe a post in regards to this article, so here we go.

    What a bunch of BS.

    All bad. All bad. NCO's (as well as officers) are like the Scorpion in the Scorpion and the Frog parable. The vast majority of them just don't know any other way, any other leadership style, so they often fall back to the easy, simple style. That style is usually ineffective in situations outside of basic training. Very sad.

  20. Publius,

    A brief post about the link. It is not Psych's pushing this drug. The psych's only role was in determining metrics of effectiveness. The theory, to be brief, is that PTSD is an neurological condition (psychical) brought on by prolonged periods of extreme stressors. The autonomic nervous system simply gets into a self-perpetuated heightened state and can't come done. The theory is the drug helps to "break the cycle" allowing the nervous system to reset. It is likely that the longer the physical affliction occurs (one that we only primarily see in it's mental degradations), the more damage that is likely done and the more often this treatment would probably be needed to "reset" if that is even possible. Not a miracle drug, but perhaps it is just more interesting to me as an amateur psychologist and former medic. Just thought I would share.

  21. Here comes the old NCO to offer another possibility: there are going to be troops in these units who are seriously messed up. Messed up to the point of non- to barely functional.

    Most sergeants don't have a good way of dealing with this. I mean, think about it - militarily there IS no good way to deal with it. Some of the guys who are closer to fine will be able to suck it up. But what happens when you run into a nonfunctioning troop, sergeants?

    Sure. First to tell him what you want him to do. Then you retrain him - try and show him what you want him to do. Then you tell him again.

    THEN you start working on the basis that the little fucker has an attitude problem and you are going to employ everything up to a little wall-to-wall counseling to tighten up his shot group.

    And there you have it.

    I think the thing to mark is that not all troops are being hosed in these units. ISTM that the problem is mainly that the headshrinkers (probably because the Army is directing them to minimize the loss rate) are refusing to get these guys out on disability. The guys who're being tranked, who're going psycho - these guys are military casualties and should be treated as such.

    I wonder how much of this has to do with the Army's paranoia about casualty rates?

  22. FDChief: I wonder how much of this has to do with the Army's paranoia about casualty rates?

    Probably one element. No longer do we have "casualties". Rather, "Wounded Warriors" assigned to the "Army's Warrior Transition Battalion".

    My Webster's says that a transition is:

    Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another

    Which means that the "Warriors" in the battalion are not in the final form, state, style or place when they are destined. Are they there because they are no longer in the "Warrior form, state, style or place", and are transitioning back to "Warrior"? Are they there because they are still in the "Warrior form, state, style or place" and are enroute to a new non-Warrior form, state, style or place?

    Methinks no one really has really decided. Thus, no one knows what form, state, style or place they are in nor where they are heading. Is there any wonder that we might find some defect in how these troops are treated? Bringing a troop back to duty status is a totally different task than preparing a non-duty capable troop for release to civilian society.

  23. Just hope you don't wake up one day and find that the sunshine is really smoke. And hope that you don't end up in a unit like we're discussing.
    BTW- thanks for the inspirational leadership bullshit.

  24. To all,
    I wrote a long reply and it went poof when i posted it .Sorry.
    I just don't have the energy to try again.

  25. To all,
    my 2;55 reply is a fragment of a larger, lost reply.

  26. jim,

    yah, I hope so too. the more and more I am removed from the big army types, the more and more I don't want to go back. ever.