Monday, February 18, 2013

Quis Custodiet?

I kinda hate to keep hammering on this nonsense.

It probably bores the hell out of you like any other family feud and I admit that it really is a sort of military "inside baseball"; of interest only to the sort of people who keep stats and obsessively squirrel away bizarre trivia about obscure minor leagues.

But, like jock itch, this story gets to me in particularly tender places.

And, kidding aside, I think it says some things that concern me about my country and my armed forces. So I apologize, but I'm gonna vent a little here.

One is the irritating nature of the "Global War on Terror" as presented to, and accepted by, the U.S. public.

Ever since 2002 I've thought that the most ominous part of the various wars and quasi-wars and secret wars we've been fighting (largely in the unpaved portions of Asia and Africa) is the way they have been almost completely removed from and independent of public opinion and public purview. The U.S. public as a whole neither pays a price nor has an interest in what their soldiers are doing in the less paved parts of the world under the auspices of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force.

I could go over why this isn't a good idea, the multiple reasons that cabinet wars and imperial expeditions are not in the best interests of a democracy. The inevitable erosion of liberal governance and the expansion of executive power that occur in wartime. The moral and intellectual hazard of accustoming a people to continual, low-grade expeditionary wars (without immediate costs or consequences to the people bankrolling the wars). The bad habits that governments, troops, and citizens pick up whilst committing mayhem in places to other peoples without either seeing or feeling the effects of the mayhem themselves.

We've effectively turned these damn wars into a third-person shooter game, complete with it's own fucking music video and all, for God's sake. And - although largely unwilling to join the fight ourselves and uncaring about the real people who do - we've turned our pixellated images of them into cartoonish heroes, ridiculously inflated and lionized "warriors" for what should be a warrior-free zone: an industrial democratic republic.

So this "Shooter" has become, for me, a living version of the crayon-drawing of a modern American "warrior" that We the People seem to want; imputed with unlikely and improbable virtues, excused all critical assessment, feted and fetishized and blown up beyond the reality of what soldiers have always been. Your neighbor's idle brother, the smart kid behind the counter at the convenience store, the nice guy your sister dumped because "he was boring", the knucklehead who cut you off at the freeway on-ramp.

What especially got to me on this subject was the fawning reaction this Shooter got when he and his cronies stopped off on Capitol Hill (see the first link above), where the people who should have been his fellow citiens and notional governmental superiors treated him like a bunch of gushing fangirls and fell all over him to praise his work which is, at bottom, no more than any other infantryman has been asked to do in this endless farkling about in central Asia only with fancier kit and more secrecy.

This basically irks the shit out of me, this whole business about fellating the "warriors" and bumper-sticker patriotism and endless painless videogame wars. I don't think it's healthy for a republic and I don't think it's a smart thing for us as the notional sovereigns of the United States to be doing to ourselves.

And this "Shooter" has become the poster child for all of my irritation with my fellow citizens.

The other problem I have with this story is what I think it says about a troubling development within my Army and the U.S. ground troops in general, by the way one of the guys from one of the Navy's Special Operations outfits feels about the rest of the Navy and (by inference) the other military outfits he is forced to share the battlefield with.

The magilla with this Shooter has been his loud complaints about how tough it is to be him, how tough the Special Operations outfits have it, and how - because of that - he and they deserve special consideration; early retirement pension vestment and special benefits if they ETS before they earn their retirement.

By publicly agitating for special privileges for the Special Operations forces - and only the SOF - this Shooter is taking a fire axe to this weak join between the SOF and the line units. By publicly demonstrating his contempt for the guys in the Navy Choir, for the line squids on the carrier decks and in the Stores warehouse at Norfolk this Shooter is fueling the fire of resentment and irritation that these guys, many of them, probably feel for him and his high-speed brethern.

One of the reasons that the U.S. Army and the other U.S. services have been so competent and successful tactically is that they have always been good at working together as a team. Every element in the team; the combat, combat support, and combat service support units, and individuals, recognize their mutual dependence. The guy who kicks down the door depends on the helo driver overhead who depends on the avionics tech back at the FOB who depends on the guy loading the supply truck back at the Corps rear who depends on the PAC clerk working the computer back at Ft. Ben Harrison back in the States. Who, for God's sake, depends on the guy in the 82nd Chorus singing at some fucking high school in Cornhole, Iowa to get the kids all excited about volunteering for the Army.

And one reason all those people work together is the understanding that they're all in the same Army; they all - although some get a little more money and some get to wear some cooler uniforms - get the same basic deal.

They HAVE to work together to win, and the way the service treats their service recognizes that fact. The door-kicker doesn't succeed if the PAC clerk fucks up his pay, his allotment doesn't get to his family, their e-mails get him all fucked up and so that night he's thinking about his sick daughter's not getting TRICARE instead of the people who might be behind the door with a nasty surprise for him and his team.

But the Shooter doesn't care, or probably doesn't even know, about this. And because of that he's busy kicking in a door that I don't think, either as a soldier or a U.S. citizen, we want to open. It does and will do us no good to make our special operations units a sort of Special Republican Guard, and the example of the originals should tell us so.

There's always an entropy in military organizations that works around eliteness. The elites can easily start looking down on everyone else with contempt and everyone else starts envying and resenting the elites.

In Third World armies this can cripple the organization; the Iraqi Republican Guard was a classic of the genre.

The Guard was vastly expanded in the Eighties to ensure the loyalty of an Army fractured by the war with Iran. After the defeat in the Second Gulf War of '91 the Special Republican Guard was created to provide even more "eliteness" loyal to the regime. Each time it was the best guys, the most loyal, the smartest and most technically proficient who were pulled into the "elite".

By 2003 the bulk of the Iraqi Army was just fucking incapable of modern military operations and the U.S. Army went through it like a dose of salts. All that "eliteness"? As useless as a tampon in a typhoon.

The U.S. military is nowhere near as big a jugfuck as the Iraqis were and U.S. society is nothing like the trainwreck that Iraqi society was and is.

But this "Shooter" represents something I haven't seen before in the U.S. military; an elite-unit guy willing to just come out and flat-out say; I'm better than you, I work harder than you, this war (the way it's being fought and my role in it compared to yours) means that I deserve more and better stuff than you.

And those are exactly the sorts of things that led to the Special Republican Guard. We just don't have a Saddam here willing to use them to MAKE a Special Republican Guard.

But there's nothing in human nature or U.S. society that says we can't find one.

And between that and what this "Shooter" nonsense says about our country and our soldiers I can't help but worry at least a little.


  1. Chief,
    Pls note that the best warrior candidate picture that you used shows a MEDDAC unit patch.
    Now Meddac types are gun slingers.

  2. Chief,

    I agree with your concern. I saw it occasionally in Afghanistan. Afghan 'commando' units and their special forces handlers would execute missions throughout our AO and then bail once they'd stirred up the hornets nest. More successfully was when we got our dicks caught in the wood chipper and then they came in and uhh 'mowed the grass.'

    Special Forces have become a lot more of Presidential Guard than before and I think it's got a lot to do with how long we've been fighting. Rarely do nations engaged in prolonged conflict not take on the traits of their enemies. Both sides rush to out barbarize their enemy and become crueler and more insane in the hopes of defeating the other. Our enemies have all got their own little 'elite' 'commando' groups that conduct 'irregular warfare' so as time goes on, our own need for such forces seems to only increase.

    I will say that I think this occurs despite the fact that it rarely seems capable of winning a war in and of itself.

    I hope that when the wars end, we forget this nonsense and return to a less 'special' military.

    PF Khans

  3. Chief,

    Thank you for skillfully articulating what I've felt for a long, long time (both when I was in and since I've retired). I think "the people" don't get it because almost none of them have ever been part of "it." And because our government has made absolutely no effort to share any burden for the costs (financial, physical, mental or moral) incurred by the use of our forces. Instead, we are treated to "crayon"-versions of "warriors" fighting to "save the Homeland" when the sad truth is that they are not warriors (no matter what we or they say), and they are not fighting to save our country form anything remotely resembling a true threat (they're actually making the threat real).

    As for the SOF, their legend is kinda like the USMC, a product of both competence and PR. In my day, SOF was great but the tail and costs of using them extraordinary. Plus, the more they were used, they greater their ego became. They themselves drive their own alienation from the rest of the line and the special treatment they get only reinforces the mentality. (This is nothing new; re-read "Blackhawk Down" and the crazy cock-up of Mogadishu to remember the problems more than 20 years ago!)

    Sadly, there remains little understanding of and little voice from those "in the know" who are critical of Esquire's little project. It's disappointing, but not surprising given the lay-person's attitudes you describe.


    1. RP - the USMC learned their PR from the hype-meister, Dugout Doug MacArhtur.

  4. Chief,
    RE BHD.
    I am not defending the hubris of the SOF community, BUT in BHD the mission came from higher and was political.
    The troopies to include Garrison were only doing the assigned misn.
    We need to look at the NCA when and if we reform the SOF, and now that the special units are slap filled with careerist(WP) types i wish you good luck on that one.
    we have legends and myths- one is that we won ww2, strategic bombing is good and sf cuts down on the number of boots on the ground. We are so myth bound that we never examine the realities or assumptions of our wars, whether big, little or recreational.

  5. RP: As for the SOF, their legend is kinda like the USMC, a product of both competence and PR.

    However, we have not seen Marines asking for special pay, exit bonuses, etc in return for their service.

    What amazes me is the silence from within the SEAL community on this, which is, in itself, tacit agreement.

  6. Chief,

    I agree with just about everything you're saying, but I'll add a couple of things.

    First, I don't this this guy is representative of the community when it comes to his opinions about what he deserves. From what I've read, there are a lot of "operators" who are pissed at him for not only failing to STFU about tier one ops in general, but his whiny attitude in particular about his supposed lack of benefits. A memo his former commander wrote was conveniently leaked:

    Navy SEAL commander rebuts 'Shooter' claim

    And another one from a former SEAL:
    UBL Shooter Should Maintain Some Professional Dignity | SOFREP

    This guy's ideas about special benefits for SoF forces are not going to go anywhere - not a snowball's chance - so that aspect doesn't really concern me. I don't think the whole "Republican Guard" argument holds much water - we're talking about one ex-SEAL's opinion here, an opinion a lot of his peers disagree with.

    More important is the poor "journalism" represented by this article and the Esquire, which failed to do even rudimentary fact-checking. I supposed they had such hard-on's for this "scoop" they forgot about that.... Way back about 2005 or so I wondered why, after 4 then long years of war, the press still sucked so bad at military reporting. It's now almost 12 years later and I've come to the conclusion they are willfully and spitefully ignorant.

    Even more important is the political aspect that you and Seydlitz touched upon. Frankly, these guys are worked to the bone and have the shittiest dwell times of anyone in the service. I can certainly sympathize with that. I knew and worked with many SEALS in the 1990's when I was in the Navy and even back then they were gone all the time and had the highest divorce rates in the Navy. Now? Shit, over a decade of constant deployments. It's not good for the long-term health of any force, but these guys are, by nature, mission-focused can-do people who don't complain much. The leadership in this country are all too happy to exploit that or, more charitably, they're ignorant of the effects optempo is having on these units.

  7. Andy- The is at least somewhat of a problem in the SEAL "community" as your second leaked article opens with:

    The Command has been quietly outspoken about former SEALs getting out and writing books about their experiences. However, ironically it’s the same Command that has had the biggest OPSEC violations of the past decade, with No Easy Day, video game consulting, and side businesses that tip toe around the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations). The SEAL community could learn a few lessons from Delta when it comes to setting clear guidelines on what’s appropriate and what’s not.

    That said, Bronstein's "reporting" is downright unprofessional at best, and intentional fiction at worst. As you noted, the "facts" about what Shooter benefits eligibility were grossly misstated, yet ever so easy to determine.

    I'm willing to bet that Shooter bailed to chase a business venture for which he lacked the business acumen to successfully pull off, and was unwilling to take responsibility for his own decision. Perfect subject for an unscrupulous journalist to build a sob story around, especially if you play fast and loose with facts.

    What is still disturbing, whether or not he is representative of the SEAL "community", is that millions in the Great Unwashed have definitely bought into this fantasy, and the "official SEAL Command" response has been low key. Spot on, but still low key.

  8. Chief,

    What does this "shooter" have to do with the Army? SEAL Team 6, and the Navy, have always been showboats (no pun intended). You don't see many Army Special Ops guys doing this nonsense.

    And for the crowd, please keep in mind there is a difference between "SOF" and "SF." What most people think of when they hear SOF or Special Forces are Army Green Berets. SOF is a catch all phrase that includes SF, but also Psyops (now called MISO), Civil Affairs, Rangers, 160th, Air Force combat weather, PJs, MC-130s, and Special Mission Units (Delta, ST6), and Naval Special Warfare (white SEALs) and many more.

    As Andy said, no one "shooter" from the Navy speaks for all SOF, or for DoD. For every guy like him, there is the other 95% who are the quiet professionals and aren't looking to make a political statement when they get out. For whatever reason, ST6 seems to "select" for the kinds of guys who like to brag about what they do.

  9. bg- Pretty much what the SEAL said in the quote I posted above.

    As far as SEALs capitalizing on their service and image for personal gain, is that really so very far afield from the officers who retire and move into a plush defense contractor job to bring their "connections" to bear on the job?

    When I let word out that I had submitted retirement papers, I received a call from a long term friend with a job offer at XYZ Corp, a major defense contractor. The job? "Exactly what you have been doing, with people you already know, providing contract services to people you are currently serving, with at a hell of a fatter paycheck and in a suit, not greens. And we are aggressively working to increase the scope of services we are selling to the Army. You know all of us and we know you, so it's yours for the taking."

    Having elected to retire so I could enjoy life by reducing the number of people for which I was responsible 24/7 down to just me (the Mrs is pretty self sufficient), I graciously declined.

    A few years later, at a HS class reunion, a good friend, retired USAF MG and CEO of another major USAF retiree infested defense contractor expressed his surprise that we were just enjoying life on our pensions. "When I heard you were retiring, I just assumed you would have signed on with XYZ Corp, like most senior Army Aviators with a maintenance background do. If you change your mind about working, give me a call. We could use some Army connections, even if they are a bit in the past."

    Unfortunately, Shooter just didn't have the built in connections that so many officers enjoy, or he could have pulled it off without so much fanfare.

  10. Which brings to mind a humorous story. One of my dearest friends here is an 85 year old retired Greek admiral. Never knew what he did for a living until I saw a picture of him in uniform with his two sons, both serving naval officers. He has a modest 1100 sq ft house in our village on 2 acres of land, and a 2 bedroom apt in Athens for the winter months. He was The Navy JAG, and then the Defense Ministry JAG in his last two assignments.

    we trade barbs with each other. One day, when we were discussing the impact of the new real estate tax, he said to me, "Why you come here and pay tax when you could be rich selling weapons to your old friends in the Army?" After laughing about it, he did express his amazement at how many flag officers in the US get lewdly wealthy in the defense industry after retirement. "When to they get to grow grapes for wine? They only have wine from store, I guess. Sad." BTW, his wines are quite good.

  11. Chief,

    I hear you, but perhaps, a bit of perspective is needed before we throw the historical baby out with the sullied water of historical comparisons.

    This guy is in the shits.

    He knows it.

    He's probably seen shit we all would rather not think about, and more than likely has had to kill a lot of men in the process. Probably a few women, maybe a kid or two...grenades and small bombs don't discriminate between gender and age.

    He's done. We all get that, hell I get that, and even my sons get that.

    He doesn't want to play magical SWAT-cop anymore.

    So he wanted out...out, out, out!

    But there is a problem that circumstance made hero of all things military has which is he...bailed out before his magical 20.

    He wants the beni's of 20, but homey hasn't done the time for 20.

    Home-team wanted the fuck out, and yesterday wasn't soon enough for him.

    So, now, he has a hero moniker, "the Shooter!" Oh yeah, what a hard on, but it can also become an albatross because he's trying to cash in on that moniker.

    And nothing says, "baby show me the money!" like a title called "the Shooter!"

    So, I don't think this much about the military and it's gradual slide to...not even sure what to call it anymore...marginalization...robotization...whatever.

    The main point is that the military isn't on it's way to being a "Praetorian Guard!" or even a laughable Republican Guard, or Revolutionary Guard.

    No, what you are pointing out here is the ever common tale of mankind..."I want, give it to me, now!"

    It's pathetic to be sure, but less of an omen of things to come, and more of a confirmation of the way things have always been.

  12. sheer:
    It's pathetic to be sure, but less of an omen of things to come, and more of a confirmation of the way things have always been.

    I've been trying to get my head around why I find the Shooter so repulsive, and thank you of the clue to clarifying my though processes.

    I "grew up" among men who served in WWII and Korea. My Uncle Joe was awarded the Silver Star as a SGT in the 70th ID, and was MIA "behind German lines for some 100 days or so. Joe never discussed the War in the first person singluar, other than to use "me" in expressing his thanks for the German family that gave him refuge until it was afe to return to US forces.

    Gunnery Sergeant Walt Meade and First Sergeant Sid Sadin, two exquisite mentors as I "grew up" in the Corps, were both well decorated WWII and Korea Veterans. I am confident they saw more "shit" than Shooter could imaging. Yet both refrained from the first person singular if asked to tell of their experience. It was "we", and "our squad", or "our company", etc. I could go on and on and on.

    But, as Andy Bacevich so correctly points our, "For Americans, war is a spectator sport." One cannot vicariously experience a squad or company. One has to vicariously experience first person glory. No one wants to be the 1st Marines at Chosin. They want to be the one Marine that killed a bunch of bad guys. The feather merchants cannot comprehend that it is a unit that wins the battle. Sure SGT John Basilone made a key contribution to the 1st MarDiv on Guadalcanal, but it was not just John Basilone, but the contributions of the entire division that accomplished the mission. Had he gone ashore alone, the battle for Guadalcanal would have been over in minutes, with a Japanese victory.

    The military, itself, may not truly reflect wanting to be "on it's way to being a "Praetorian Guard!", but the vicarious stay at home crowd may indeed want this, so they can role play even more glorious drama from the safety of their La-Z-Boys. And that opens the door for mutts like the Shooter to cast the military as a band of glorious warrior individuals, rather than units of mere mortals who occasionally rise a bit higher when the circumstances demand.

    Walt Meade and Sid Sadin were among Marines that were encircled by a significantly larger Chinese force, suffering in bitter conditions. I only remember them bragging about personal involvement two things: helping to bring out every last Marine, dead or alive and the uproarious tale of Chesty Puller confiscating large numbers of abandoned US Army vehicles to do so. They both claim to have repainted USMC numbers on some of those trucks, which when Army MG Almond would later demand be returned. Legend has it that Puller said something to the effect of: "I will graciously return them in response to a formal request that clearly identifies them as abandoned." Legend also has it the truck remained in the Marine Corps inventory. Every thing else that these two men spoke of was in terms of their units and "Marines".

    I am getting old and curmudgeonly. I am finding myself less and less tolerant of the vicarious crowd and those in uniform who pander to them.

    Still not sure if I have covered all my bases, but at least I got off to a cathartic start!

  13. Al, I partially disagree with your statement that this "shooter" didn't have the "built in connections that many officers enjoy." I would argue that as a former SEAL team 6 guy, there dozens of job opportunities, the Trident has a far reaching network. My community is similar, and the job opportunities for officer and enlisted alike are unbelievable, unless you weren't liked....

    My bet, he had the connections, but burned them. He burned them because he is the kind of guy who likes to talk too much, and that perhaps he was run out of ST6 (why would he leave after 16 years, if he was having personal problems, the unit probably could have put him in a non-deployable position researching weapons or something).

    This whole thing isn't about him not having connections, it is about him wanting to make a political statement and get some notoriety, and cash in on his experience, IMO, precisely because he burned those connections to ST6 and the community. Just my guess, I don't personally know him I haven't spoken with anyone who does, but I've been in the community long enough to recognize patterns. (note: I read an article that many SEAL Team 6 guys came out and said his story didn't add up)

    Do I think it is far from officers cashing in on lucrative contractor jobs? Tough question, I am only a few years away from making that decision myself, and many of my friends are currently cashing in (officers and enlisted). In this case, I think it is different. This isn't about a guy who is going to use his experience, skills and connections to get a good paying contractor job, this is about a guy who wants to use his unique and fortuitous military experience to make a bull shit political statement about wanting entitlements that he knew he would not have.

  14. "The military, itself, may not truly reflect wanting to be "on it's way to being a "Praetorian Guard!", but the vicarious stay at home crowd may indeed want this..."

    And that was my point; that this entire episode points up how fucking dysfunctional the entire congeries has become - from a military that is increasingly distant from the citizenry and becoming in some ways an assemblage of competing power bases, to a press corps that makes "incompetent" and "subservient" seem like unattainable levels of mastery and has utterly abandoned its role in scrutinizing and reporting on the government and military it is supposed to cover, to a public that is so detached from and ignorant of the exercise of political and military power that they are putative sovereigns of that they might as well be audiences to a film or subjects to an oligarchy.

    Every so often an incident like this one reminds me of the degree to which our nation has managed to fuck up the notion of popular sovereignty. I don't expect a Praetorian Guard any day now. All I'm saying, though, is that We the People are letting our army and navy, our "leaders", and ourselves get into a position where such a thing - unthinkable as little time as a couple of decades ago - has become not imminent or looming but at least remotely possible.

    That cannot be a good thing.

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