Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lightening the Level

I just finished a "historical novel" about the Viet Nam War.  One theme that was very well developed was how the troops were often able to get the job done, despite "The System".  As the author, a retired USAF Lt Col so aptly noted, Mr MacNamara's Ford Motor Company mathematical models often didn't provide the logistical and maintenance needs of the units on the battlefield.  Thus, "GI ingenuity" was often required to get the job done.

I identified with what the author was saying, as in Viet Nam, as well in later years, I found that one often had to devise "legitimate" (or seemingly so) ways to get the job done in spite of "The System".

One example was the Army's allocation of maintenance to Unit, Direct Support, General Support and Depot levels.  Our Chinook unit was authorized to do Unit and Limited Direct Support Maintenance.  The Direct Support Maintenance unit that was tasked to provide support beyond our needs was at the other end of the airfield and supported a variety of units on our base and four others.  Their workload was significant.  While a unit could somewhat manage the flying hours it placed on its aircraft to stagger out the timing of scheduled maintenance tasks and accomplish a modicum of maintenance control, the Direct Support Unit had no control over the scheduling of hours by the supported units.  Thus if a unit mismanaged their flying hour distribution, they would turn the aircraft in to DS for them to handle major inspections and component changes - often several at a time.

Our unit did an amazing job of scheduling, and thus, we never turned aircraft in to DS.  In fact, we had production control so fine tuned, we had the manpower to exceed our "Limited DS" authorization.  However, we also knew that exceeding our Limited DS "off the books" would deny the Army the data to properly know the man hours and parts required to maintain the total fleet, yet we couldn't record doing maintenance we weren't authorized to do, and the DS unit didn't need the additional work.

So, since our Maint Officer and the DS unit CO were flight school buddies, they worked out a deal.  We kept him appraised of the "extra" DS work we did, and dutifully filled our DA Form 2407s (Maintenance Work Request) for that work, showing his unit as having done the work.  Thus, manhours and parts were dutifully reported to Aviation Systems Command, allowing them to keep the support requirements for Chinooks accurate and up to date.  We did "above level" component repair this way as well.  We kept our fleet flying without the uncertainty of when DS could do a job and get the ship or component back to us, the DS unit had a somewhat more manageable burden, and the database was accurate, except for the level at which the work was really done.  However, that "inaccuracy" was of minor consequence, as it simply showed a higher demand for DS manhours, which would ultimately increase DS TOE staffing, if possible.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I am now an airfield commander at a post with civil service facility engineer support.  The airfield lighting system would occasionally need bulbs replaced.  Rather than bother the Facility Engineers for the on-call night electrician to drive 3 miles out to the airfield to do the work, I had soldiers qualified and willing to do it.  Made much more sense. But then, the post came under review for contracting out facility engineer support, and in order to develop the statements of work to be placed in the request for bids, ALL facilities engineering work for a year had to be documented, or the contractor, if one was awarded, could claim extra compensation for work outside the scope of the contract.  And, of course, my successor could not be expected to handle lighting repairs as "self-help" simply because my troops and I were willing.

So (again), calling on what I learned in VN, I made a deal with the Facilities Engineer.  We had three replacement bulbs on hand "off the records".  When my troops changed a bulb, they would fill out a DA 2407 the next morning and it would be documented that a facilities engineers electrician changed the bulb, a new bulb would be "requisitioned" to replace the one from our "off the record" stock, and the manhours and parts would be dutifully recorded, so that the Work Statements that would be bid on accurately reflected what the contractor would typically have to do to support airfield lighting.  Turns out that the post received a major mission change, and all that work was set aside and contracting out was dropped, but at least our data was "accurate".

So, we have a good sprinkling of vets here.  I offer this as a topic that can be uplifting and fun.  Heaven knows, the "news of the day" stuff is far from uplifting.

I thus ask all to belly up to the bar and share some of your "GI Ingenuity" war (and peace) stories.  I know there are many, and we all deserve a break.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gas! Gas! Gas!

Has Syria's Assad government used chemical munitions on its rebels?
And, if so, would this constitute a casus belli for a foreign power?

Here's John Judis at the New Republic arguing that it would.

Here's the Telegraph (UK) claiming that such a strike is already underway.

Practically speaking, could a Western strike - presumably an airstrike - actually "punish" the Damscus regime?

Would the likely collateral damage outweigh the gains of such a strike? Would the punitive effect be worth the collateral damage?

Consider this an open thread to discuss...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Quis Custodiet?

Key quote from the weekend editorial at the LA Times entitled "What did Edward Snowden get wrong? Everything."
"That's why I find the Snowden controversy so frustrating. I realize many Americans don't trust their government. I wish I could change that. I wish I could tell people the amazing things I witnessed during my 30 years in the CIA, that I've never seen people work harder or more selflessly, that for little money and long hours, people took it for granted that their flaws would be scrutinized and their successes ignored. But I've been around long enough to know that deep-rooted distrust of government is immune to stories from people like me. The conspiracy buffs are too busy howling in protest at the thought that their government could uncover how long they spent on the phone with their dear aunt."
Mossadegh. Diem. Allende. Iran-Contra. The ridiculous overestimation of Soviet capabilities. Lumumba. Castro. The Bay of Pigs fiasco and the catastrophic underestimation of dangers of the Missile Crisis. HTLINGUAL. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident. National security letters. COINTELPRO. The Pentagon Papers.

Where do you want me to stop?

Many U.S. citizens don't trust their government in large part because of the many times their government has been caught by its citizens with its pants down buggering the rentboy and has turned on its citizens with an angry look and shrieked "Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?!"

The U.S. government's intelligence and defense agencies have had a pretty damn ugly record of internal and external skulduggery over the past half century. When you add in the times that they've been flat out mistaken, or have ignored or, worse, dismissed the likely blowback from their actions and have cost the U.S. blood and treasure as a result...or the times they have been misused or ignored by unscrupulous men in executive or legislative power...and you get a pretty high stack of reasons that many Americans SHOULD ask their government for a security deposit prior to handing them over the keys to the beach house.

Frankly, I tend to agree with Liepman, the author of the piece, that there is no such thing as "complete transparency" between a government and its people. Every nation does have enemies. Finding out what those enemies are up to, defeating them before matters come to open warfare, is the best possible mission for a nation's intelligence services. Much of that snooping and foiling must be done in secret. To be successful in these silent wars truth must, indeed, sometimes have a bodyguard of lies.

But, I'm sorry, the rest of his screed is some weak shit.

Given what we know the record of U.S. intelligence. Given what we know now about the people then in power when most of these "counter-terrorism" programs were set up. Given what we know of the tendency of any government, of ALL governments, to gather information about their own people and to use that information against those people that antagonize them.

There is no real reason to simply trust "...the lengths to which the intelligence community goes to protect privacy."

At the moment the question isn't really about the size, or shape, or nature of the bodyguard of lies. We will probably never really know any of that, just that the bodyguard is there and is actively seeking to hide the collection of information, some of which is likely to be our own. Intel insiders like Liepman can swear on the highest stack of Bibles ever piled up that they are really, really good people who really, really aren't going to use these programs to help government officials kneecap political enemies or in other unsavory ways such as to evade the legal requirements for evidence collection imposed on domestic law enforcement and their assurances are almost sure to be worthless.

The real question is, simply just exactly how much power over us we choose to give that bodyguard, and who can guard a guard that cannot be seen or heard.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Semper Paratus

Have been on the ocean lately doing some salmon fishing and I am once again impressed by the Coast Guard.  They were out there as well, but were assisting mariners especially the dumber ones among us (and the drunken ones).  The Coasties I see up here in Washington State put their lives on the line every day and night and not just in time of war.  This goes not only for the helo pilots with their famous rescue swimmers, but also the crews on the little 25 and 40 foot boats that ply the heavy surf along the rocky shores and treacherous river bars.  It seems like once a week or more there is a press article in northwest newspapers chronicling another rescue especially during fierce winter storms in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.  Looking back on my 22 years in the military, the majority of that service was safe and sane.  Even during two and a half tours in a combat zone I can count the times I was in serious danger on the fingers of one hand.  Not so with the Coasties.

And there were tens of thousands of CG involved in wartime also.  Book below is a great read:

In WW2 without enough destroyers to go around the CG was taken from the treasury department and went to war with the Navy.  Their cutters ran north Atlantic convoy duty, their cutters and aircraft patrolled the shipping lanes for U-boats and made some kills.  They organized and commanded the Coastal Pickets (aka the Hooligan Navy) of trawlers and yachtsmen.  They crewed many of the LSTs in the Pacific as well as the landings in North Africa and Europe.  And notably they crewed many of the small LCVPs (aka Higgins Boats) against defended beaches.  The Navy had a lot of trouble teaching their seaman how to operate small boats in heavy surf and strong inshore rip currents.  Coast Guard coxswains had been doing it for years, it was a natural for them.  Douglas Munro won the Medal of Honor for his action at the 2nd battle of Matanikau on Guadalcanal where he helped rescue a hundred or more Marines and Chesty Pullers crusty old a$$. 

They are going to name the new CG Headquarters building after him.  Too bad though that they have to give up their current HQ on Buzzard's Point.  But a tenth rated pro soccer team, DC United, has big eyes for that area for their new stadium.  Hmmm, has Congress again shown their venal side?  Or is the move solely to get them closer to their new Homeland Security bosses?

Today, August 4th, was the Coast Guard anniversary.  They started as a revenue service in 1790.  Most American shipmasters and owners of that era had learned the trade of smuggling against the British crown and were loath to pay the new duties imposed by Congress. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Patriotism II

Garry Davis, dean of the One World movement, in 1956.
He had his own flag and passport, and often his own jail cell.

 You say you want a revolution
 Well, you know  
We all want to change the world 
But when you talk about destruction 
Don't you know that you can count me out    
--Revolution, The Beatles 

We are all capable of becoming fundamentalists
because we get addicted to other people's wrongness
― Pema Chodron 

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure 
--Spirits in the Material World, 
The Police

[Offered in the spirit of a cease-fire, a follow-on to Ranger's earlier post on patriotism, The Troika]:

How do we define patriotism? Is it a secular faith? Is patriotism necessary in order to permit a government to cohere and flourish amidst a diverse populace? Not everyone can be a One-Worlder like Garry Davis (God rest his soul), after all.

Perhaps patriotism is an ennobling feeling which could be directed towards perfection of the national entity. Why does it so often devolve into an adversarial relationship among fellow nationals?

Is patriotism one of those strong primal emotions like love, one which can go horribly wrong if invested in the incorrect thing? (Ranger avoids such road hazards by sublimating his strong emotions into his writing ... but not everyone has pen and pad.)

Do terrorists have patriotism? Can they be patriotic to their home nation, while being patriotic also to their cause? If not, must terrorists step outside of their government's creeds in order to be terrorists? Are terrorists effectively a government unto themselves?

What is good about the feeling and/or action of patriotism, and what is detrimental? Can patriotism neutralize violent religious fervor? Or, is it just the opposite, and does it foment such fervor, acting in tandem with or as an accelerant of it. Alternately, is patriotism not an either-or phenomenon?

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]