Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sailor slighted

Came across this article in the on-line Esquire mag yesterday.

The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden...Is Screwed is written by someone named Phil Bronstein and advertises itself as
"...the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family."
It is, as advertised, largely about the raid on Abbottabad on 6 MAY 2011.

That part's just your basic war story, a story about what might be the most famous night raid in recent history, but, still...just another no-knock entry in the thousands the U.S. Army, Marine, and Navy infantry have been doing since 2002. Read it, if you will. It's your bread-and-butter light infantry operation that at least partially accomplished the mission (Just me, but it would have been nice to have hauled ol' Osama back for a Nuremberg-style tribunal, but, whatev'; First Rule of War - Shit Happens).

Hooah, raid team. AAMs for everyone!

Sorry. Army joke.

But, kidding aside, that wasn't really what I got out of it. I've done my share of MOUT, just not with the live rounds and the angry Arabs. Didn't really need the lyrics to know how that song goes.

I did have a strong reaction to the piece, but probably not what the author wanted. What he wanted is pretty clear; to get the reader angry about "...the startling failure of the United States government to help its most experienced and skilled warriors carry on with their lives" Between the raid story the article centers around a long litany of complaints that this guy and his fellow Seal team members are getting screwed.
"But when he officially separates from the Navy three months later, where do his sixteen years of training and preparedness go on his résumé? Who in the outside world understands the executive skills and keen psychological fortitude he and his First Tier colleagues have absorbed into their DNA? Who is even allowed to know? And where can he go to get any of these questions answered? There is a Transition Assistance Program in the military, but it's largely remedial level, rote advice of marginal value: Wear a tie to interviews, not your Corfam (black shiny service) shoes. Try not to sneeze in anyone's coffee. There is also a program at MacDill Air Force Base designed to help Special Ops vets navigate various bureaucracies. And the VA does offer five years of benefits for specific service-related claims — but it’s not comprehensive and it offers nothing for the Shooter's family.

"It's criminal to me that these guys walk out the door naked," says retired Marine major general Mike Myatt. "They're the greatest of their generation; they know how to get things done. If I were a Fortune 500 company, I'd try to get my hands on any one of them." General Myatt believes "the U.S. military is the best in the world at transitioning from civilian to military life and the worst in the world at transitioning back." The Special Operations men are special beyond their operations. "These guys are self-actualizers," says a retired rear admiral and former SEAL I spoke with. "Top of the pyramid. If they wanted to build companies, they could. They can do anything they put their minds to. That's how smart they are."

But what's available to these superskilled retiring public servants? "Pretty much nothing," says the admiral. "It's 'Thank you for your service, good luck.'"
I hate to be this way, but...guys? Lemme sing you a little song I know:

"In time of danger or in war
God and the soldier we adore.
Danger past and all things righted
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted."

Some British grunt wrote that song in fucking 1645.

Ain't no different three hundred and fifty years later. If nobody told you that in Reception Station?

They should have.

I mean, yeah; it sucks to be this guy. I get that. It sucks to be an imperial grunt in a country that is fiercely pretending NOT to be fighting colonial wars, so much so that it that is practically jamming its fists into its collective ears and shrieking "ICAN'THEARYOUlalalalalala!" rather than accept what it is doing to the legionaries it is sending out to do the dirty deeds it doesn't want to hear about or is pretending are the military equal of storming ashore on the Normandy beaches instead of the vile, ugly business of suppressing foreign rebellions in shitty parts of the world.

That's the reality. You can hate it. But you can't pretend you didn't know that going in, especially now after ten goddamn years of it.

A couple of other things;

1. The article is full of sad about how the poor dude is getting screwed over because he's getting out with jack shit; "Anyone who leaves early also gets no pension, so he is without income. Even if he had stayed in for the full twenty, his pension would have been half his base pay: $2,197 a month. The same as a member of the Navy choir."


I know they told you that shit in Repo. You don't do your twenty, I don't care if you're Audie Fucking Murphy; you get squat. Always have, always will. You sing in the choir for 20 years, you get the brass ring. 19.9 years of hard fighting? Bupkis. Them's the rules. You may not like that, but you can't complain you didn't know that.

The article keeps talking about the Shooter "retiring". Dude; this guy ain't "retiring". He's ETSing short of retirement. Get your military terminology straight, Phil. And if you ETS short of your 20-year letter, you get...? C'mon, say it with me now..."jack"...and what else?


Sorry, man. That's how it works. If the author didn't get that somebody he talked to should have squared him away. It makes the guys in ST6 sound like whiners, and I'm sure they wouldn't want that.

And this guy is described as all jacked up physically (which I believe; 16 years as a grunt would have crocked me up. Hell, they DID, in a way.). Why isn't he getting out on a medical? You CAN retire medically short of twenty. Why no discussion about that?


2. Here's the thing that completely baffled me; there's a ton of talk in this article about how special these special operators are, how any CEO and Wall Street firm and school district should be killing themselves to get them, how they're the best of the best of the best?

So where the hell was the Navy re-up guy?

The Shooter says he doesn't want to be a shooter any more. OK, fine. I'm not a squid but I'll bet there's tons of jobs in the USN that don't require a guy to bust a cap in Abu's ass. PAC clerk? Third shop? Stores? Chief of the Boat?

Plus, if these guys really were all self-actualizing and entrepreneurial as the article implies, wouldn't you think that the USN would be begging them to stay in and provide all this special leadership as senior NCOs.

Al just talked about the importance of those salty old Navy chiefs; why isn't this guy moving on from the hard-core hooah infantry fun to a cushy job the regular Navy? Beer and skittles aboard a carrier? Why isn't he heading up the path towards CPO? Why doesn't anyone in this article talk about these guys as future Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy, as the future Kings of the Goat Locker?

Could it be...that for all the stuff in the article about how special these guys are, when you come down to it - with 16 years in the Navy this Shooter has about the same experience with troop leadership and organizational management as an infantry squad leader, an E-6 on his second or even the end of his first enlistment?

And that the sort of senior leadership you need to have to be a good Chief Petty Officer for a big organization - running a division or being Chief of the Boat - or even be a good teacher, or a stockbroker...requires more, and very different, skills than just "a fist to the helmet"?

And that these guys have, in essence, been frozen in place as infantry squaddies for more than a decade?

There's always been tension between the special operations organizations and the line dogs, but one of the reasons for that is this; these guys ARE good. They're among the best light infantrymen in the world. As a former grunt medic, I gotta respect that.


That's ALL they are.

The Regular Army's problem with senior SF NCOs has always been that - short of the supposed-wartime mission of creating indig armies - an E-7 in SF is a nothing more than a super squad leader. He doesn't even get the experience of leading a platoon of grunts, let alone the experience with combined arms and the logistic and operational business of troop-leading in a combined arms battle.

So could it be that the reason the Navy re-up NCO wasn't chasing this guy is that even with 16 years in he's not really considered all that terrific as a potential line Navy chief?

I don't know, but it makes me wonder; is the Navy and, by inference, the other services doing these guys any favors allowing them to, or making them, make a home in these special operations units? If they really don't have any civilian skills, shouldn't we be making it easy for them to do their thirty years in the Navy (or Army, or Marines) and retire full of years, honors, and a fat pension?

Makes me wonder, anyway.

And finally...

3. There's the obligatory hat-tip to the Crazy Mad National Defending Skilz that these wars are supposed to have been All About; "The Shooter himself, an essential part of the team helping keep us safe since 9/11, is now on his own."

Don't get me wrong. This guy and his teammates have been fighting hard. They've been doing everything they've been asked to do, and more.

But a lot of that fighting has had nothing to do with "keeping us safe."

Everything they did in Iraq?


A hell of a lot that went down in Afghanistan, that involved chasing angry tribesmen around and around the mountains?


And the other stuff? The secret wars in places like Yemen and Somalia?

Who the hell knows? But probably some yesses, some noes.

Look. I was a soldier for years. In a lot of ways I'm still stuck inside the Green Machine. I want my soldier brothers - and that includes this guy, who for all that he wore blue, has fought as a grunt for more than a decade - to get the best life they can out of the nation and the People who employ them.

But I think that a big part of that means that the People should get the whole story about our guys; good, bad, and indifferent. And told straight out, without the attempt to "sell" the guys to the Public. I think that the Public might, just might, for one thing, start wondering why these guys have been doing this for twelve years, and whether it is really "keeping us safe", and whether there might be better ways to do this both for us and for them.

And I don't think that a big part of this article really helps with that instead of just turning it into another war story.

So; question - what do you think? Am I reading too much into this? Is this sort of article part of the problem, part of the solution, both, or neither?


  1. FDChief-

    What's left to say? Started the article, but it quickly became too nauseating to continue. War porn essentially.

    If forms part of the same general narrative we've had since 9/11, that is "be afraid, be VERY afraid and only these guys keep us from turning into . . . " well what, exactly? You have to buy into the whole big bad Al Qaida spiel for it to make any sense.

    Didn't finish his 20, so what's he complaining about? Perhaps the fact that he won't be able to remain at that level of operational involvement, because, well, the situation has changed. Our government doesn't do permanent land war anymore, or rather only in term of drones which is soooo much cheaper. Which might include for this guy a position with Home Land Security, if he's not too picky. As to what the political purpose of such a policy could be, better not even to ask.

    That's not to say that he's not good at what he did, or committed, or patriotic . . . but he should have been looking at the political context, as every other American should have been looking . . . but most haven't.

    So, I think I kinda understand his frustration. I felt the same way at the end of the Cold War. "We still have a mission, doggone it, so what's happening, how come everything's shutting down?" Only to be told, "the office is closing cap, so you had better clear out your desk fast. You can take with you anything you see laying around . . ."

    "Benefits". Same old story, the guys back in 1899, 1919, 1954, 1974, and 1994 knew it well. Why should it be any different this time round?

  2. Seydlitz; Yep, yep, yep...

    And I just skimmed through the war-story/war-porn parts, too. Like any other porn, there's only so many ways you can fit Tab A into Slot B, and I've been at the back of the file going through the door. The only real difference was that these guys are better and did it in Pakistan...

    I guess the one thing that I thought came shouting out to ME, particularly, was how the USN seemed really, really OK with this guy ETSing. Nowhere in the article was there any hint that he got hustled hard to stay in. You'd think that with all the $$$ the USN has in these guys that they'd be hot commodities...but, then, the story suggests that quite a few of them are getting out before their 20, so as I was speculating, maybe there is a broad sense that these guys have become SO specialized that they're not all that good as senior NCOs for the regular swabbies...

    And I get the cheat, too; the sense that the service has tricked you into bed with hot lies and now it's dawn and you're in a cold, empty room wondering where the hell your cash, driver's license, and pants went...

    I think the thing I came away with was the odd tone of this story. All the war-porn intercut with all the bitching about the loss of benefits and the lack of pension and the poor-poor-pitiful-us griping. That and the very clear intent to make the reader feel bad that this stalwart bulwark against Scary Brown People was being used up and cast aside...

    Just seemed like an odd tone to pick so late in this tale of consistently NOT asking questions about the whys and wherefores...but then grizzling that the people we used up in this clueless clusterfuckery are ending up as fucked as Coxey's Army...

  3. Ugh...like Seydlitz, got to the gory, and said, "and we're done here." I really don't need that shit in my head.

    But, getting the gist of what you wrote vs the author...just makes me think, "the hell, he's making it sound like he got shanghai'd into the military."

    That being said, 20 years. That is the magical number...anything below that is not retirement, it's getting out.

    And why is he bugging out so early? The hell, with that many years one might as well stick it out...in for a penny, in for a pound.

    And no, he's not qualified to lead a major cooperation...he's qualified to man the metal detector, or depending on his psych report, he could be in a nice rural Police Department in a one light town, or if he's really a "Us vs all y'all!" kind of guy, then the LAPD will take him.

    The thing is that enlisted ground-pounders do what everyone else does...they do their time, jump ship, and go to college.

    It's a tradition as old as war itself.

    If the guy is really canny, gets his collective shit together, and stops being a whiney little bitch with a knee-scrape he could go to college. Earn his degree, and then puts in the hard work/late hours like the rest of us tote-bearing/barge-pushing, late-night sweating wage-slaves perhaps, then he'll be ready to be a corporate suit with all the sunshine being blown up his ass that he thinks he's earned.

  4. I have faith that the shooter could have ample opportunity to pursue employment in the private security sector.

    FDChief, thanks for a good write up and a fun read -- complete with deep historic hooks.

  5. Chief: I didn't no whether to puke or go ballistic when I first saw this. As stated, the guy quit his job. Four more years, and he would have received about 68% of the US median wage and a damn good health insurance program at a pittance in cost in return for sitting on his ass. So what if the Navy Choir gets that at 20. They get it because they stuck it out.

    I have a feeling there is, as Paul Harvey would say, "The Rest of the Story" about why the Navy didn't bend over backwards to retain this joker. Perhaps he ETSed to be able to sell his story, and hasn't really got anything salable?

    Let him go to work for Blackwater (or whatever they are currently called) and see how long it will take to qualify for a pension equal to $2,197/mo in 2013 dollars.

  6. The more I circle back to this article the odder it seems. WTF? Why the hell isn't there anything in here from his troop leaders? From his re-up guy? Why DIDN'T he just terminate his jump status and cruise through four more years in some supply and stores job at Norfolk?

    Why didn't he try and go through his medical chain to get disability for all the stuff that he's supposed to have been jacked up for?

    This whole magilla just seems off-center the more I look at it.

  7. sheerah: That's another thing - this guy should be eligible for some serious GI Bill money. Why no mention of that?

  8. Chief,

    I like a lot of this and there is a ton of truth to what you've written but I do have two things I liked to quibble over.

    First, did the Army REALLY tell you that you will be shit upon at the first and last opportunity and treated like anything else that's disposable? It sure didn't say that to me. They treated me that way and I learned to read between the line, but the idea that the military advertises its absolutely horrible personnel management is exaggerated at best. Or maybe things have changed. Or maybe its an officer thing.

    The very fact that it keeps happening is suggestive that they, in fact, are much better at messaging than you give them credit for. Everyone gets caught in the lie for a bit. I think part of the lure of Special Forces is that you can live longer in that realm than you would in the Regular Army. My buddies that went SF hated the Army as much as the rest of us getting out, but they wanted to keep doing soldier stuff. SF does that, but you're right about the poor transferability in a lot of ways.

    Second thing, every other 'special' group in America clamors for attention and gets it. Why not veterans? The military itself gets a lion share of the public praise and the money, vets and soldiers, not so much. Whose to say that the problems of integrating returning vets into America isn't a more pressing matter than abortion or gay marriage or what not? It's more personal to me and to the rest of us here, why not be more vocal about it? America has gone very sectional, not geographically, but identity sectional. Why not turn that veteran identity into more money for veterans?

    PF Khans

  9. I have a different take. After reading the article from front to back I see the author, Phil Bronstein, as the whiny bitch and not the SEAL he was writing about. But then I would expect that whining from the guy who was bitten by both Sharon Stone and a Komodo Dragon. He is a investigative journalist searching desperately for something to investigate.

    On the other hand Bronstein's chart on the long wait time for VA health claims showcases a national disgrace IMHO. He should have spent more time on that and less on Shooter's single malt scotch, Prada sunglasses, and ability to afford weekly chiropractic.

  10. oops - the chart on page 3 of the article, about halfway down the page.

    over 800,000 vets awaiting VA health claim, average wait time over nine months.

    Congress get off your butt.

  11. OK, after third reading, I still don't get the point. The man resigned after 16 years at age 35. Why Bronstein keeps using the term "retired" appears to me to be muck raking, as "retired" connotes pension and benefits.

    Yes, the backlog at VA has grown, but what is missing is the application rate. When I retired, there was a rep from one of the veteran's organizations that was a formal part of the outprocessing team. He was encouraging everyone, retiring or ETSing to let him review their medical records for any basis for a disability claim, however slight. At least at that time, it was best to get a potential disability on the record for future use. Seeing that I has a long term helo driver, he said that a hearing loss disability "was a shoe in" in future years. Thus, while I was still fully fit for Aviation Service, a disability claim was entered based on the hearing loss suffered to date. He knew it would be denied, but said it could be more easily reopened when my hearing degraded sufficiently in the future. He had a similar "establish a claim history" item for several others that morning. When the VA finally did contact me and schedule a full hearing diagnosis, they invested some three or four medical personnel manhours in it (not including paper shuffling), finding my "disability" legitimate, at 0% for compensation purposes, but subject to review in later years. So, I can only wonder how many of those 900,000 claims in "backlog" are merely "getting a foot in door" claims such as mine.

    BTW, I did draw the line on his "claim basis hunt" at making a claim based upon being put on a profile (no high impact PT) to limit damage to my slightly arthritic ankles, one of which the record clearly stated was aggravated by a childhood injury. His response was, "Let the VA sort it out. You never know how they might rule. If they decide that PT accelerated the deterioration, there's some money in it for you."

  12. Chief,

    Like you, my read of this entire thing left a sour taste and a WTF in my mouth. What exactly is the point? And as others point out, there's going to be more to this story - no doubt. If suddenly the services are over strength in SOF, then HOORAY! it's time to start cutting bonus money and trimming forces (like they are in the rest of the services). That the VA system is awash inbacklog and chronic underfunding is true - and a much more valid story than the pathetic whines brought by the author and his subject. Methinks there will be more shoes to drop as time and questions gnaw away at the "Shooter's: story. Of note though, I see the newly civilian Shooter was up on the Hill lobbying for incremental pensions and a better handshake for the sub-20 years folks, er, sub-20 years SOF folks that is (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/shooter-on-the-hill-15097803). I wonder who has put Esquire & the shooter together, why and to what end?


  13. I am a little taken back by two of the proposals "Shooter" says can ease "transition out of the military for elite forces that would require no legislation."

    1. A tiered pension plan that would begin after five years of duty and vary depending on base pay and length of service

    2. Departure pay based on length and type of service.

    #1 would provide some 50+ years of annuity for someone who entered at age 20 and "retired" at age 25 - 27. Nice work if you can get it.

    Is #2 in addition to #1? Exactly what would he propose? One month's pay for each year in service?

    But more fundamental - how the hell could this be accomplished without legislation? And if it doesn't require legislation, why is he speaking to legislators?

    What planet is this guy living on?

  14. RP -

    Nothing wrong with vesting pension rights earlier than 20 years. Many corporations do so now. But the pension is deferred though until senior a later age is reached, some grant it at 55, some at 60, some later. Some corporations I hear are now dropping that option for new hires. And with the fed budget as is I doubt seriously it will be considered in Congress. But if it is done for SOF troops it should be for all, even the choir.

  15. mike-

    There has been about a 50-60% drop in the number of corporations offering defined benefit pension plans to new hires, and many firms have "frozen" their defined benefit plans for previously covered employees. The trend is to 401(k) plans, and the proportion receiving matching employer contributions is decreasing.

    By law, a pension plan must be vested at about the three year mark. However, the value of that vesting is based upon year of service and wages earned, according the the formula for computing all benefit payouts. Typically, 55 is "early retirement" with a benefit reduced actuarially from the "normal retirement age", just like social security.

    I looked at the wife's old corp's pension plan computation. Someone who worked from age 21 to 26, earning $40k/yr, would get about $250/mo at age 62. Adjusting for typical inflation, that would be about @79/mo in constant dollars. Thus, many elect to just cash out their vested amount, which is equally negligible.

    What "Shooter" is asking for seriously swims against the tide in US pension practice. Indeed, there are many in congress who would opt for a 401(k) style program for the troops if they could get away with it. Lots of investment firms were drooling for that GI Joe 401(k) money to play with. Unfortunately, for the capitalists, 9/11 put the crimps in that.

  16. Here's the latest from this guy:


    He's all over Capitol Hill shilling for both the things he mentioned in the article plus an extra:

    During each meeting, the Shooter and the members of the group accompanying him presented the legislators with a three-part proposal for easing the transition out of the military for elite forces that would require no legislation.

    • A tiered pension plan that would begin after five years of duty and vary depending on base pay and length of service.

    • Enhanced transition services that must be provided on an "opt-out" basis to overcome the fact that many vets are unaware that such services exist or how to apply for them and to include 18 months of comprehensive health insurance available immediately for vets and their families.

    • Departure pay based on length and type of service."

    Don't want much, do he?

    I wonder what some poor bastard that slogged his ass up the Italian boot for two years dodging 88mm shells, mines, sleeping in a rainy mudhole to keep under the line of fire of a couple of angry SS machinegunners thinks about this poor lad's plight? Let's see...he got a GI Bill...and a little Ruptured Duck pin.


    PFK: You forget, I got in in '80. We had a LOT of senior guys around who'd been in during Vietnam. They didn't just tell you that Army would fuck you up - they'd lived it.

    What, you never heard the term "BOHICA"? Never got told about the Big Green Machine that'd grind you up just out of pure carelessness?

    Every grunt I knew - and this was in the Eightes, long before the Era of Endless War - knew that stuff. If nobody told you they must have been fucking with you, man...

  17. And what completely now gets my goat is that this guy is beating the drum for the SOF and ONLY the SOF.

    What, my poor little earthpigs, the grunt, the dogface soldier isn't "special" enough?

    Fuck that shit.

  18. I wrestled with trying for determine exactly what "Shooter" was crying about. After a bit of numbers crunching I wonder if he is dealing with the sticker shock of life in the real world. Consider:

    The day before Shooter ETSed, his pay was about 80K/year. That put him in the 90+ percentile of individual wage earners.

    That does not even begin to cover the tax benefits he was granted. 31% of that 80k is tax exempt by definition (BAS and VHA), resulting in about 55k taxable - before any "deductions. For every month that he spends at least one day in a "combat zone", all pay is tax exempt. Assuming he was able to get just 6 month per year in this status (he sure seems to claim a lot more in his tales of "hardship"), he's taxed on 27.5k of income - effectively enjoying 65% of his income being tax exempt. Nice work, if you can get it.

    In 16 years, he has risen to the top 10% of individual US wage earners, without considering the added tax and family health care cost savings.

    Now, for the guys with just 5 years, let's say E-5. They are only making about 57K/yr, of which 39% is tax free. Combat exclusion benefit and health care, of course, is the same. That poor, exploited SEAL is only in the top 20% of US individual wage earners.

    Yup, not going to find a lot of private sector jobs at the pay level to which they became accustomed. If they go into police work, a reasonable equivalent with significant job numbers, starting pay runs 26-52k, fully taxable, and health insurance isn't free. Even the E-5 with only 5 years service is going to take a considerable hit in the wallet.

    So, the question is, is Shooter saying that SOF people deserve to be maintained, at taxpayer expense, at the level of affluence to which they had been accustomed in uniform? When to they have to shift for themselves, like the rest of the population? Yes, it's a cruel world, but it's not BOHICA by any stretch of the imagination.

    Now, my roomie in flight school, back in 1966, was a SF E-7 with 12 years service. Pay tables put him in the lower 40-45% of individual wage earners. He had spend some 50+ months in SE Asia prior to arrival at flight school - all TDY, so no credit for the classic "one year tour". HOWEVER, he stashed away every penny of his paltry Per Diem (couple of $/DAY) and tax exclusions towards his two sons' college future. Never complained one bit about the rigors of military service. Only "extra" Uncle Sam gave him was accepting both boys into the AF Academy, making all that money he saved a "bonus".

    Shooter is garnering attention because we have allowed the glorification of the "Warriors", and most people haven't a clue as to how well compensated our troops have become. I wouldn't know where to begin with placing a value on their current GI Bill benefits, which can now be used for dependent education, enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses, etc.

    Sorry, but it isn't "sacrifice" if you get extra monetary compensation of the level Shooter is suggesting.

  19. My cynical Inner Voice mutters that "This Is What You Get" when you turn warfare into a combination of spectator sport and third-person-shooter-game and then out of some fucked-up combination of nationalistic voyeurism turn the actual game-players into "warrior heroes"; at some point the players are going to start believing your bullshit and come to claim their prizes.

    Jesus wept.

  20. Part 1/3

    As a 21 year old student of non-military background in Political Science and video game player that has been following your blogs for a few months I must say I agree this whole glorification of killing culture we seem to have. From tv, movies, and yes video games (although I wont say they turn stable people violent in and of themselves). Very few people are aware of history and have given to fear- this fear makes us think night raiding houses of piss-poor Afghans or Iraqis, or having drones buzzing overhead 24/7 giving village wide PTSD makes us safer. A look at history tells us these tribes have always had chip on shoulder for outside invaders and just because Obama can hide it from the American people we are at war with them doesn't mean they don't know that. This fear of 'terrorists' especially which seems quite a joke. All countries have been fighting with non-state actors since Westphalia and the border legacy of European imperialism but now when America is fighting non-state actors directly you have to write a whole new book for perpetual war? The worst part is how instead of focusing on words we seem to have a cottage industry of image analysts/terrorism experts. As long as the 'image' is acceptable (clean shaven, suits) we will support them no matter whether they are brutal elites crushing their people, or 'activists' in civil war of their own. If their image is 'scary' we'll get pundits screaming how these people can actually pose existential threat to US interests whatever that means. We make careful note to disclaimer our threats and violent language as rhetoric but if you got some sheikh in some backwaters village ranting all anti-Semitic, you've got MEMRI posting a tiny clip without context as an example of what all Arabs think. This whole industry of tv pundits and terrorism analysts is a joke.

    I'm taking an international relations course talking about Clausewitz and war theories I was angered with how callously war is taught. Not the material, but how its 'lessons' are so neatly packaged for us (The future perpetual war elite perhaps) to swallow. Perhaps its cold academia but in all these lessons we had about proportionality, just war, which rings hollow to the levels of brutality I have seen over the past 10 years. It seems to me if your rhetoric is in the clear your actions are too. I mean just because war in Iraq or A-stan is legal doesn't mean its moral or wise, or our enemy is immoral. Defining immanence, as “we don't know what’s going on with this potential threat so it must be immanent" for example is this fear guiding action.

    We had a 2% extra credit for finding about a soldier from my university who died in WW1 or WW2. Whatever you could dig up, not subject to any marking, just hand it in on time and get your name right. The nerd boner everyone got for getting 2% extra on their midterm just rang hollow to me as a cynical lip service to war's costs, not least because it was from a war so far removed (note everyone living then is dead or near dead) that everyone acknowledges as brutal and what not. I'd like to have seen it done for contemporary veterans.


  21. Part 2/3

    I don't know but perhaps if American media took a page from Al Jazeera or other international networks. AJ Arabic, but not AJ English, shows exactly what’s going on, it shows not only broken lives but the victims bodies and faces, the dead solders, the dead fighters and civilians and children. It doesn't make tasteful shots of dried blood followed by interview with an army mouthpiece, followed by terrorism expert (without talking to victims or soldiers). Its not war porn at all, it is the real consequences war brings to all. The worst thing is this vacuum we seem to live in, the scary brown terrorists are unnamable, interchangeable, totally dehumanized, our military always kills them and not any civilians, our guys are protagonists and our cause is just and no matter how many killed it will always be just. We've made killing clinical. I read Bissonette's book, and he described killing in one sentence to the effect of "You see dead bodies all the time, one is the same as the others and I just transition them to that state." I know its their job and that they are trained to dehumanize who they kill, but isn't it our job as the people to have a conscience and not be dehumanized so we don't let our instruments of death (Bissonette and co.) all over the place? It harms us in the end because we believe our bullshit, the primary example being our (non-existent) distinction of Intervention and Invasion? ISAF are occupiers, not an international assistance force. If you have boots on the ground that’s responsible for the government its called occupation not perception of occupation- be honest so you understand enemy motivations.


  22. Part 3/3

    Last note: I've talked to people from all over representing all views. It seems to me that this GWOT is no different than other wars when it came to enemy soldiers. Speaking to an arab friend I got a sense that they felt that they hated the war and OBL and Bush (they always include both) for starting it but he felt that if Iraq and Afghanistan had not resisted the consequences would have been worse.
    What we see as benign Marshall plan and 'bringing democracy' he saw as old fashioned imperialism by placing those co-operating as ruling elite that needed to be stopped at the get go, if not by co-opted national armies than by terrorist insurgents. He saw American foreign policy as driven by a war hungry white men elite and he said if (neo-con) America didn't suffer casualties they would do it again (invade and occupy). It was a rationale no different than one we might use (kill them over there so we don't have to over here). He was especially disgusted at how American elite: FP magazine harp on Islamism and the 'fight against an 'imaginary' caliphate. He said that the only reason they (Islamists) gained profile is because they are the only one seen as resisting, and at peaceful times they are called out for being the morons they are (imagine us if we were invaded and the tea-partiers were the core of our national defense we would acquiesce to them left right and center too).

    Again this problem of image management comes up. I get pissed off when people keep bringing up religion as cause or that ‘pur enemy is irrational’ we cant stop fighting. Religious imagery and rhetoric is confused with rationale and cause. I mean calling their dead martyrs has been a cultural thing in the Islamic world no matter who killed them from the past 1400 years. It’s a way of coping with (seen as unjust) death even if they are killed by fellow Muslims. I mean are the Cairo protestors killed religious fanatics because they say “God is Greater” or call their dead “shaheed”,what about Iraqi or Afghan soldiers? The term “shaheed” is translated as martyr but actually means witness in death. Its been going on for 60 + years in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even if the dead of secular FATAH. What we might see as cause (idea of martyrdom) might be rhetoric of motivation (how do you cope when you’re fighting an enemy who kills you 30:1? You consider your dead martyrs). I mean even according to Peter Bergen, Michael Scheur and what not OBL's motivations were not religious but political. He just was effective at using religious rhetoric of crusade to continue the fight Arab nationalists started before independence. The same rhetoric on our side of civilizing mission was used against the imperialists’ way back when. We see them as terrorist fanatics; they see us like we are a third Riech breaking their doors down. Our soldiers knocking down doors are heroic terrorist hunters, to them they are scary huge Viking B &Es. Our young men die, theirs die too. For what? Just because people on both sides buy into a perpetual war paradigm.

    (I know most wont even attempt to read what I have put out here. Just thought I'd give it a shot. I've been getting into military websites and blogs like this ever since my brother decided he's going to join up as spec ops. Thing is he's pretty intelligent (20 yr old Uni graduate), not overtly patriotic at all, he just seems enthralled with the training and fantasy of better than boring office jobs. I try to tell him what spec ops mission has become (covert assassination program) but he refuses to hear what I have to say and I can only hope that he doesnt hurt himself fighting. He went to MEPs in secret.)

  23. Just as a counter-point to all the arguments out there, I think many are approaching this from the perspective of "fuck it, he should be grateful he gets anything!"

    I understand where you are coming from. This guy did not do a great service to other veterans by trying to make this about himself and SOF guys in particular. SOF, these days, should probably be renamed "Elite Republican Guard" or something like that because that's what they've become. Better trained and equipped combined arms units. Just like any tinpot dictator has, but with a "Made in America" stamp.

    That being said, its disappointing to me to see older veterans dismissing the complaints of current veterans as though they are completely unfounded. You know the Army will screw you out of what it can, do why the incredulity that it might happen to this guy? And in a culture of "I deserve this," do not soldiers "deserve" their fair share?

    Look, just because the Revolutionary Army soldiers got paid shit and disowned is no reason to do it to a current batch of veterans. Forget what's happened before and ask what you'd like to have happen to you today.

    I don't know, this dude makes me sad, but one last thing to consider. The Afghan War left hundreds of thousands of unemployed and disgruntled veterans in Soviet Russia in the late 1980s. Its not a group that you want to marginalize. What if Dorner is the first of many?

    PF Khans

  24. PFK: "You know the Army will screw you out of what it can"

    I'm a bit confused with that statement in relation to this case. The Shooter was denied nothing for which he was eligible, nor was he "tricked" into surrendering any benefits. He voluntarily cashiered out at 16, and like 10's if not 100's of thousands before him, is now legally entitled to VA benefits and nothing else. That's the law, and the Navy has nothing to do with it.

    It's not like termination of Tricare at ETS is a secret the services keep away from the troops to leave them hanging in abject shock. It's not like the VA is a clandestine organization very few know of. If he is so wracked with injuries, why did he not go out on a disability, rather than just ETS. He says he chose not to stay in, strongly implying he was still fully fit for service. Awful hard to reconcile "fully fit" with "disabled".

    The problem, PFK, is that the story just doesn't pass the sniff test, unless one is totally ignorant of the military, an inveterate malcontent or a dyed in the wool conspiracy theorist - which is a very major portion of the population to which the Shooter can easily appeal.

    I am not saying "fuck it, he should be grateful he gets anything!" I am saying he received exactly what the law and his enlistment contract specified. And, in terms of financial remuneration, it was fairly substantial, considerably more than "anything" and considerably more than 90% of the general population.

    So, either Shooter is a real dumbass, or he's dishonest, neither of which is worthy of merit.

  25. Not bad. There's a campaign to raise $60,000 to give to the Shooter to help him adjust to the rigors of civilian life.


  26. PFK: I'll back up Al here. I don't get that anyone is saying that this guy and the other GWOT guys SHOULD get screwed. We're saying that the Army has ALWAYS been "mission first, welfare of the troops second" and that a smart soldier will understand that and do what he or she needs to look after themselves.

    First, this guy DIDN'T get screwed. He is getting exactly what the service promised him; hard-ass work followed by no pension if he didn't stick it out past 20. You don't get to bitch about the rules if you played the game for sixteen years first.

    Second, as I pointed out in the post, there are a pantsload of options for this joker, he's just refused to take them and he wants to bitch that he has to take them to get the goodies. You don't get to do it that way; you either play by the rules and get the goodies or you don't and you don't. OR you don't play at all. OR you fight to change the rules BEFORE you play. The thing you don't get to do is what this dude is doing; play for 16 years under the old rules and THEN fuss about changing the rules for yourself because you're such a special snowflake. That makes you look like a whiny bitch, which is what us old soldiers types are saying.

    Plus, frankly, this guy is chipping away at a very weak spot in the U.S. military - the joint between the Special Operations organization and the "conventional" forces, and I both resent that and worry about the implications.

    Regular troops have always had an odd sort of envy and resentment of the elite units. Part of this is the "Special Republican Guard" factor you point out; the better pay and allowances (and privileges) the elite units get for what the line dogs see as just high-speed versions of what they do every day.

    Part of this is the "third-person-shooter" aspect of these wars; where everything is entertainment for the masses the Special Forces are the "most entertaining" and get the most good publicity. And good publicity - as the USMC could tell you - is pure military public-relations-power gold. But, again, the dogfaces see this as mostly bullshit; the SEALs and the Delta guys get the press for the same goddamn night-raids that they do only for the high-profile targets.

    So the tension is already there, and by making this about himself as a "spokesman" for his SEAL team and SOF and only SOF this guy is - in my opinion - helping light a fuze he might not want to light.

    Because for all his contempt for them the guys in the Stores, the blue-water Navy sailors, and, yeah, the guy in the goddamn Choir are all part of the Navy, too. And this guy is saying, basically, that HIS Navy is better, more important, and more worthy of getting special treatment and special goodies than THEIR Navy.

    And I don't think the Navy - or we, as citizens of the country that owns that Navy - wants or should want to go that direction. That really IS the way to end up with a "Special Republican Guard".

  27. Sure, people need to make provision for themselves. But isn’t there a contradiction between the acquisitive spirit and military service? A contradiction that comes out strongly when soldiers devolve into looters or their officers become flacks for the defense industry? Or when Tommy Franks received a reported $1 million advance on his book, patted his hip pocket, and announced,“I’ve got mine!”

    Napoleon’s observation that “hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier” seems to be borne out by our two most recently lost wars against peasants.

  28. Al & Chief,

    Fair enough. Your arguments against this guy are quite solid, I felt your language originally was a bit more inclined against a sort of malingering in the current generation of soldiers not just this one guy's case, but re-reading it, I'm not sure why I took that perspective.

    PF Khans

  29. PFK

    No sweat. However, what worries me more, in the arena of the trend since GWB to politicize things using the military, is that this kind of logic can become a domestic political axe, due to the ignorance in the general population about situations such as this. I'm sure there are many who think Shooter is indeed being deprived of something to which he is entitled, which is very egregious, especially after all those years at a "mere Sailor's pay".

  30. PFK: No blood no foul, man.

    I'll echo what Al said, and add that one reason that this damn business gets me in the giggy is:

    1. I wonder if this isn't a symptom of the degree to which these wars haven't become nothing but a third-person shooter game to 99% of the U.S. public, who are thus inclined to - rather than examine them and the consequences of them and the fighting of them, as they (hopefully) would were they looked at as "real" wars - treat them with the sentimental and capricious foolishness that they treat almost everything else, and

    2. 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; you mentioned the Republican Guard, and that was a classic of the genre. By 2003 the bulk of the Iraqi Army was incapable of modern military operations, as anyone and everyone who could had been siphoned off into the RG, and, even from there, the best guys were in the "Special" Republican Guard, the very tip of the iceberg.

    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.

    And that's kind of worrisome.

  31. As our company Gunny said, "Don't look down on the finance clerks, supply pogues, cooks and orderly room pukes. Without them, life in this here Marine Corps would be really intolerable."

    I wonder if Shooter ever "gamed" the combat zone tax exclusion and hostile fire pay. Just need one day per month, and since ST6 tends to go TDY rather than PCS, wanna bet they grabbed an extra "One day month" whenever they could? Also willing to be more than one arranged his travel to the "combat zone" to have their re-enlistment bonuses paid in a tax free month. Hell, we did that all the time for troops in Viet Nam. Have them take 30-90 day, sometimes longer, extensions so that their re-up bonuses were tax free.

    It ain't all just the services screwing the troops.

  32. "Al just talked about the importance of those salty old Navy chiefs; why isn't this guy moving on from the hard-core hooah infantry fun to a cushy job the regular Navy? Beer and skittles aboard a carrier? Why isn't he heading up the path towards CPO? Why doesn't anyone in this article talk about these guys as future Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy, as the future Kings of the Goat Locker?"

    Because in the end he's a (very) highly skilled infantryman, a Sergeant. One a ship he'd have to learn to be a Petty Officer. This means that the shipboard Navy isn't that interested in them (and they amount to a tiny number in relation to the PO's of the Navy). SOCOM is only interested in him and his so long as they stay Seals; if not they are of no further use.

  33. Barry: That was my suspicion, but for whatever reason (whether official restriction or public-relations defilade) I can't find anybody willing to come flat out and say that.

    That was always the rap on the SF types in the Army; that for an 18-series officer you could make O-3 and be, in effect, a highly paid squad leader. And that retraining you to lead an infantry company in combat would just flat-out cost too many lives and wasn't worth it. So making a career out of SF was, in fact, a career killer; you would top out at O-4 at best unless you were incredibly high-speed and capable of transitioning back to the regular Army side like water off a cat's ass.

    But the thing of this is that I suspect that 99.4% of the U.S. public has no idea that this is true. So they read stuff like this article - which is a straightforward PR job for this dude - as the "facts" and marvel that the service is "screwing" him and his pals. And they join the parade to inflate the "warriors" even further.

    I'd be furious if this didn't just depress the hell out of me...