Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Long Absence and Transition Team Update

Another beautiful sunset at the National Training Center. Over the years I've never tired of the Fort Irwin sunsets. Well, it's been almost a month since my last post. Needless to say, lately I've been a horrible blogger. Unfortunately between Facebook and my Combat Advisor education, I keep managing to find other things to do than scroll on my experiences here at Fort Riley. I apologize up front for the recent lack of communication.

In the last month our team made a trip to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin California to participate in a mission rehearsal exercise with a brigade from the 25th Infantry Division. The Brigade Combat Team was participate in an Afghanistan scenario in preparation for a deployment later in 2009. Our team was sent in to give the Brigade an appreciation for what it means to have a team of advisors assigned to their coalition partners.

On the surface, we kind of appear as proverbial pain in the ass. We require more support than we have to offer in return. I hear friends of mine in theater complain about MiTTs unable to proficiently walk the line between their Iraqi counterparts and the local coalition force commander. What I think is missed in all the complaining is the realization the difficulty in finding balance between loyalty and 'going native' is grossly under appreciated.

What I learned at NTC with the Brigade is that you have two commanders with two separate agendas. One represents the future and the eventual ticket home. Increasing his capability and competence is what Counterinsurgency is all about. The other commander represents our personal future and holds the careers of the local Transition Teams in his hand. Obviously we are Americans first and foremost, loyal to the U.S. Army and our chain of command.

Fortunately, I see things getting better. From the Transition Team standpoint, the BCT Commander I met at NTC along with his staff 'gets' what COIN is about. They were intent on working through the local Transition Teams rather than just working them. They sought input from the Transition Team Chief on all matters relating to the host nation military. It was a pleasant surprise and raises my expectations for the upcoming year.

The impromptu relationship between the Transition Team, host nation military, and brigade combat team managed to be productive in a very short time despite new relationships and unfamiliar languages and land. I'm positive that had our teams met up downrange rather than in a training environment that the outcome would have been equally positive.

Well, our time here at Riley is quickly drawing to a close. The upcoming weeks will bring some time off and an eventual plane ride back to Iraq. I'll update as I can.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weeks 5 & 6 - Equipment and Weapons Training

The training fire hose continues. We moved past the cultural and team indoctrination phase and transitioned into the field phase. The training consisting of communications, combat lifesaver, driver's training, and weapons. Communications entailed the latest on all the possible systems that will be available to the teams in theater. New to me was the capability of the handheld Harris and EMBITTER radios. My only previous experience with handhelds had been unsecured ICON and Motorolas. These represent an impressive jump in capability and will serve the team well.

Combat lifesaver has been upgraded since my last time through. Along with the new first aid kits came extensive tourniquet and tension pneumothorax training. Of course, the rite of passage in all CLS training events is sticking your buddy with an IV, and him sticking you. My partner and I did quite well, both hitting gold on the first stick. Others did not go so well. A few missed sticks is funny. Watching a poor soul get multiple perforations in both arms becomes quite sad.

Last week was a condensed version of range week. In order to get the team ready for NTC, we pushed through M9, M4, M203, M240B, and M2 and all the associated Pre Marksmanship Instruction (PMI) in a week. Most teams spread the training over a couple of weeks, but since we needed to get the training done, we compressed it and got it done in time to line haul our vehicles and equipment for a 10 day trip out to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

You heard that right. We are deviating from the normal training plan in order to participate in an NTC rotation with a Brigade Combat Team from the 25th Infantry Division. The purpose is twofold. First, expose the BCT to a Military Transition Team and the security and support requirements associated with them. Second, and most important, this give our team the opportunity to roll in the desert under more realistic conditions than Fort Riley and work on out teams Battle Drills and Tactical Standard Operating Procedures. I anticipate the rotation will benefit everyone. I almost feel like I'm going home as I spent 5 rotations at the NTC in the first half of my career.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weeks 3 & 4 - Language, Cultural Awareness and Counterinsurgency

For the last couple of weeks, we've been knee deep in classroom instruction. The curriculum here for deploying MiTT members starts with a solid foundation of FM 3-24's take on counterinsurgency. Instructors handed out homework in the form of Galula, Kilcullen, and Petraeus. The important thing to note here is that they're not just teaching this to the senior Non-Commissioned Officers and Field Grades, they're are teaching this to everybody. This includes to all enlisted and company grade officers that come through the training.

The goal is to provide every armed forces member deploying as a Training Team (TT) member a rudimentary knowledge of wide variety of considerations in play in their respective Area of Operations (AO), be it Afghanistan or Iraq. I have seen members here from the Army, Air Force, and Navy. While I get a minor chuckle at the cultural differences between services, the bottom line is that they are departing their traditional roles in order to assist the overall mission. Although, it's still funny watching them work their weapon through a clearing barrel.

Probably the most entertaining classes up to now are the Defense Language Institute (DLI) contracted courses in Iraqi-Arabic. They have done an outstanding job in putting together a talented group of individuals that perform the daunting task of teaching an alien language in what seems like an impossibly short time. They also provide invaluable insight in cultural awareness.

As we finish up this phase of our training we looking forward to the tactical phase. Vehicle, weapons, tactics, movement, and other traditional Soldier training awaits. We get in quality physical training in the morning and the food is nothing to complain about. All in all it's been a good couple of weeks as our team appears to have the right combination of leadership, common sense, talent, and experience.

I look forward to getting this mission underway.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

MiTT Week 1 - Lots of New Gear

I'm always nervous anytime I sign in to a new unit.  My degree of apprehension is largely related to my knowledge of the unit and the job.  My confidence is high if I am familiar with the installation and the unit mission.  To say I was a bit apprehensive about reporting to a new job of which I know very little is an understatement.  Like any good Soldier, I began preparing for my Military Transition Team assignment months in advance.

I studied a wide variety of books, both military and civilians.  My reading consisted of Field Manuals, Economics, Anthropology, Culture, Leadership, Interpersonal dynamics, etc.  I tried not to limit the scope of my research to any one topic, choosing rather a wide variety of materials.  I figured the success of my team was dependent on: interpersonal relationships, cultural awareness/anthropology, talent.  It could not hurt to expand my education on all three.

Anyway, back to Fort Riley.  We received our gear, lots and lots of gear.  This is my first time receiving a Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI).  All the coolest and latest stuff from body armor to backpacks.  Four duffel bags full to be exact.  I spent two days in the barracks piecing everything together and I am still not finished.  Some stuff I like such as the ACH helmet and the assault pack.  Other stuff I'm not a huge fan such as the MOLLE rifleman kit.

Still, it represents the massive investment they've made in equipping Soldiers with better equipment.  There is better out there, but it is not like the gear I deployed with back in 2003.  When compared to other combat arms units, we deployed with poorly designed gear.  Of course, we accepted the fact that the 82nd's and 101st's would always get the latest and greatest.  Back then there were haves and have-nots and we accepted that we would be poorly equipped when compared to our divisional counterparts

All Soldiers now deploy with the same RFI.  All Soldiers wear the best the Army has to offer.  It's nice to see that changed for the better.   Of course, the wearing and carrying of all this heavy ass crap will be a different matter.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A New Job and a New Patch

New assignment, new mission, new patch. Finally after years of bouncing around since my time at Fort Sill, I'm back wearing a bona fide patch. Hello Big Red One. Why isn't the One Red? Don't ask me, I am just a bit stoked that the Leavenworth Lamp is off my shoulder replaced by an insignia with history and tradition.
I am now the Effects and Operations Advisor of a Military Transition Team which will be assigned to an Iraqi Infantry Brigade sometime in January. I anticipate the assignment will be the most challenging in my career, but it also has the potential to be the most rewarding as the Iraqis continue to step up to the table and take charge.
This marks a transition in my blog as I will now focus on detailing the experience of myself and my team.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hacking Georgia: On Further Review

I am still in the process of taking some lessons learned from the past week's Russian incursion into Georgia. As with any operation, there was a lot of questionable information floating around the internet. One of the interesting pieces coming from the region was the reports of Denial of Service attacks against websites belonging to government agencies. On the surface, it looked like Russia had deftly managed to combine offensive maneuver operation with the burgeoning concept of Network Attack.

As they say in the NFL, "On further review." First, it appears that the attacks did not appear to originate from government operators, but a group of civilian hackers. According to Shadowserver, a volunteer group that monitors internet hacking activity, the attack linked to a group of servers previously corresponding with hackers known for hacking pornography and gambling websites.

It is important to note that, as with any attack, the ability to pin the rose on any particular group, government or individual is extremely difficult. The attack may originate in Russia, but that does not mean it came from their government. On the other hand, you cannot remove government-sponsored operators from consideration regardless of their own spokespeople.

Do not think that the Georgian hackers are sitting idle while their country takes a pounding. Apparently, they responded, by taking down sites that provided news about the Russian-backed Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia and in one case replacing the Web site´s content with a news feed from a pro-Georgian service.

Now that the cyber dust is settling, what did we learn? Here is a great PCWorld article by Andreas Antonopoulos. His point: "There were no reports of attacks against critical infrastructure, electronic jamming of stock exchanges, SCADA-hack explosions in substations or anything like that. This was not a battalion of elite army-trained hackers from the Russian Southern Command of Cyber Warfare. In all likelihood it was groups of run-of-the-mill script kiddies with control of a botnet, stroking their egos with the higher cause of injured nationalism."

Personally, I believe the lessons learned lies somewhere in the middle. While the cyber attacks in Georgia proved anything buy decisive, they received considerable attention from an international press fascinated by cyber-warfare. Hackers were able to draw the attention of Georgian officials already decisively engaged by attacking Russian forces. Like it or not, they were a factor albeit not a decisive one.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nice Job USA

Jason Lezak charged home in the anchor leg of the 4x100m freestyle relay to outtouch 100m world-record holder Alain Bernard of France. Apparently the French team made it a point to assert the dominance and publicly comment about their superiority in this particular event just prior to the game. The win gives Phelps his second gold of the games and most experts believed this particular event was his only real hurdle to record setting gold.

After the race Bernard clung to the wall, his head down. He was the French swimmer who talked confidently of beating the Americans; "smashing" was his word of choice. Hey, he was the world record holder, and it is good to note that the U.S. has not won this particular event in a few Summer Games. Phelps and co. did not forget.

Way to go Bernard.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mehdi Army To Stop Carrying Arms?

According to the BBC a spokesperson for cleric Moqtada Sadr, Salah al-Obeidi, said "his militia will no longer carry weapons, but he stopped short of declaring an end to violence." He also stated that resistance would continue if a timetable for U.S. withdrawal was not set.

The general consensus is that the militia has been seriously weakened in the past year by Iraqi and U.S. forces bent on taking them out of the equation. The organization already announced to reorganize back in June to a more political organization.

What would any self-respecting terrorist organization would do when faced with annihilation? Well, join the political process of course. It's a slick move by the militia. By linking disarmament to a U.S. withdrawal, they place pressure on their own government to get a deal done. Whether or not this move by Sadr's militia impact our own stance on negotiations remains to be seen. In the effects business, we call this good IO (Information Operations).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Put an iPod Touch in your deployment kitbag?

(Note to regular readers: Sorry about the recent lack of posts. We are in the middle of a difficult PCS move so opportunities to update the blog have been few and far between. As I get my family stable I'll get back to my usual writing fare. Today I figured to post something a bit more fun.)

The perfect MP3 player to take downrange would need to be slim, durable, have a lot of flash-based memory, and have some nice additional features like WiFi browsing and some basic productivity applications. You can't take your laptop everywhere and the ability to send your spouse an email from a surprise WiFi hotspot would rock. Could that player be Apple's flagship iPod?

Hell yes. I am posting this from my new WiFi enabled iPod Touch. My wife got a sweet package deal on a Touch packaged with a Macbook. It features 32 Gigabytes of flash memory storage. Flash memory means no moving parts which means no hard drive to break. It also means that with 32 GB you should have no problem holding the largest music collections as long as you do not mind lossy compression algorithms.

Personally I am a fan of lossless codecs like FLAC or Apple Lossless. With a lossless library already stretching over 60 gigs myself, I needed to find an acceptable codec that would meet my audiophile standards while at the same time providing better-than-harddrive reliability.

The Touch appears to be that device, albeit one with a high price for membership. Without rebates, the 32 gigs Touch will set you back $499. Granted, that is a lot to spend on any device just for just a collection of tunes. However, the Touch isn't just an MP3 player. The integrated WiFi and Safari browser allow for the best full page web browsing of any device on the market smaller than a laptop. Great for surprise hot spots, airports, Starbucks, etc...

My entire library compressed down to about 13 gigs using the 192 kpbs MP3 encoding function available in iTunes. (I would challenge anyone to hear a discernable difference between 192 kpbs and lossless using only earbuds.) As for durability, we'll have to find out. Flash based players are generally more durable than their hard drive counterparts. A case is going to be a must, so my first candidate will be the iTouch Defender from Otterbox. Anyway, I'm stoked to have it. Thanks honey!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New GI Bill blows through House with overwhelming majority

Now it's on to the Senate. The final version of the bill attached to the war supplemental adds full WWII-type benefits as well as benefit-transfers to spouses. Huge. The administration had been promising a veto, but with a final count of 416 to 12, the writing apparently was on the wall.

Personally, I'm going to give mine to my wife for Christmas so she can pursue her Masters.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

June Practical Shooting Match

This weekend my father and I went to the monthly USPSA practical shooting match at the Mill Creek Practical Shooting League in DeSoto. Here is the video from the match.

Looking back at early video from February and comparing my performance to the June video, the improvements are there. I'm using the grip technique better and more consistently. I still have the problem of my right thumb holding down the slide release and preventing it from locking back after expending the last roung.

More practice will solve that. I really need to work on my shotgun reloading, but that also will come with time. I did shoot the match with no misses or penalties, something that continued from the last month. Now I need to start getting faster.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Does Defense Spending Matter?

I understand the title of this thread is obtuse, but more and more I hear folks talking about all this money we're going to save by pulling out of Iraq and lowering the national debt. At the bottom there is a link to an excellent, non-partisan presentation that should shed light of how our government spends its money, how we build debt, and how the amount we spend on the War on Terror is going to be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Huh? I do not believe a lot of people understand how we build public debt, where defense spending falls in the grand scheme of discretionary spending, or how defense spending impacts that national debt. The short answer is that it does, but only a little.

The long answer is in 2011 the baby boomers start to draw their retiree benefits from Social Security and Medicare. From there the amount of workers paying into the system drops precipitously and the government starts paying out more in benefits than it is collecting from its workers.

Where does defense spending fit in this? Defense spending is the historical victim anytime our elected officials in Washington want to save money. If we redeployed from the War on Terror today, tomorrow there would be politicians lining up to take the 'peace dividend' from the War and chuck it into other programs, usually anything but Social Security and Medicare. Doing that would completely ignore the upcoming costs of modernization, especially upgrading the Air Force's aging fleet.

Here watch this slide show courtesy our old buddy Ross Perot, it puts everything in painful perspective:

Entitlement Crisis

It's long, but the narrative is excellent. Make sure you stick through to the end and get the 'so what' of the presentation.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Bullet Debate: Is Bigger Better?

Since the AP does not have enough to bitch about these days regarding Iraq, they and other news outlets have turned their eyes to they age old debate: Is the 5.56 mm round man enough for the modern battlefield. This is an interesting debate and one that has raged among gun enthusiasts for many, many years.

This all goes back to the 1950s when a bunch of ballistics geniuses decided that "the 7.62 mm round was too powerful for modern service rifles, causing excessive recoil, and that the weight of the ammunition did not allow for enough "firepower" in modern combat." ( Wikipedia). "Firepower" was synonymous with carry-capacity and rate of fire. Simply, a Soldier could should more 5.56 at a higher rate and carry twice as much as opposed to the 7.62.

Giving the 5.56 the lethality edge (at the time) was the round's tendency to yaw and fragment in soft tissue at speeds more than 2,700 ft/s (820 m/s). In layman speak, than means the round is small and fast enough to turn and break apart inside the body.

I can personally testify when this round tumbles, nasty things happen. Up til now the 5.56 had be proudly killing commies and other enemies of the state for over 40 years. What changed? My thesis: shorter barrels and the Internet compromised a round that was a compromise from its inception.

Muzzle velocity (speed) directly correlates to barrel length. The M16 with its 20 inch barrel sported 3,110 ft/s, more than enough to induce the dreaded fragmentation effect. The M4 by comparison with it's 14.5 inch barrel drops the velocity to 2900 ft/s. I am not a firearms expert, but given the high number of reported pass-throughs (where the round goes through the enemy with little or no effect), I contend the decrease make a difference. Not a huge one, mind you, but under the right circumstances to make a difference.

Next point, the Internet. Folks bitched about the 5.56 as long as it's been around. Ask any WWII or Korea vet that hung around for Vietnam what they thought of the 30-06 and 7.62 compared to the 5.56. Well, the Internet gave them a voice. AR-15.com is one of the largest web forums out there. They are vocal and well-read. Their membership includes some of the sharpest ballistics experts in the country. Arguments on bullet size used to be restricted to the club houses of your local shooting range. These experts combined with every-Soldier-a-blogger in combat are making what used to be a rather exclusive private debate among friends into a political issue during an election year.

Enough on the politics, but you get the point. Experts say better aim is the answer, but practical experience dictates that a person inaccurately winged with a 7.62 is more likely to go down that one nicked with a 5.56. Conversely, you better shoot straight with your 7.62 because you can't carry half as much 5.56. Again, it goes back to accuracy.

Other newer rounds are making a case for themselves. Already, Special Operators because of their access to the flexible supply regulations required to get the best Soldiers the best equipment are going downrange with M4 variations based on the 6.8 mm Remington SPC.

From Wikipedia, the 6.8 mm Remington SPC (or 6.8x43mm) is a new rifle cartridge that was developed with collaboration from individual members of US SOCOM. It is midway between the 5.56 and 7.62 in size and velocity with more energy than both. It is particularly adaptable to current 5.56 mm NATO, the cartridge length being relatively equal to the 5.56, the only modification required to the M4 is the upper receiver and barrel. The 6.8 delivers 44% greater energy than the 5.56 mm NATO at 100-200 meters, exactly the type of engagements detracting from the current bullet. The 6.8 does fall short of the 7.62, but maintains the higher carry capacity of the 5.56. (see offset picture, 6.8 on left, 5.56 on right)

The fact that we're having this discussion in public is great. Any discussion that puts better equipment in the hands of Soldiers is fine by me. Personally (if you couldn't already tell), I'm a big fan of the 6.8. Oh, I would also like to see it from a piston-driven AR variant like the FN SCAR, but that is a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Presidential Candidates Clash on New GI Bill

Well, I suppose I have to admit that progress is being made in order to update the venerated GI Bill for our Soldiers. The issue has no come to the forefront of the Presidential race. For the last week, Senators Obama and McCain traded barbs over support for Soldiers via a renovated GI Bill program.

Democrats champion Senator Webbs bill that provides full college scholarships for people who spend three years in the armed forces. Republicans counter saying that the bill is all but an open invitation for massive of talented young Soldiers to leave the military, depriving our nation's military of a critical mass of young Noncommissioned Officers, seen by most as the backbone of our military.

Republicans counter with a bill that boosts benefits in line with how long a veteran had served. Additionaly, the Republican version supports transferrability of GI Bill benefits to spouses and dependants, pretty much making a guarantee that benefits will be used.

Personally, I'm rooting for a combination of the two. I want full college scholarships for Soldiers, but not at the expense of our Noncommissioned Officer corps. I also want to transfer my benefits to my spouse or children, as directed by the President in his last State of the Union. I guess I was asking for too much when I wanted my cake and to eat it, too.

In the end, the more attention given to the problem, the better. Soldiers will no doubt benefit greatly from either version of the bill.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day, 26 May 2008

"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

John 15:13

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Al-Queda in Iraq admitting defeat?

Probably not in so many words, but they are admitting their difficulties. Courtesy The Two Malcontents, on of Al-Queda's most prolific online supporters posted posted data on on of the premier 'jihadist' websites detailing the steep decline in insurgent operations by 94 percent over the last twelve months. Eighteen months ago, A-Qaeda accounted for 60 percent of Jihadist activity in Iraq. Now they find themselves owning less than 10.

According to the post, the author tallies up and compares the numbers of operations claimed by each insurgent group under four categories: a year and half ago (November 2006), a year ago (May 2007), six months ago (November 2007) and now (May 2008). He demonstrated that while Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq could claim 334 operations in Nov. 06 and 292 in May 07, their violent output dropped to 25 in Nov. 07 and 16 so far in May 08. Keep in mind that these assessments are based on Al-Qaeda’s own numbers.

Disclaimer, I cannot read Arabic so I rely on the expertise of others. So what is the so-what? AQI is getting pasted and knows it. That one of their own felt necessary to post it (if he is one of theirs) is huge.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

VA psychologist to staff: don't diagnose PTSD

Apparently a supervisor at a VA center down in Texas took it upon herself to save her staff some money and time. I really don't know what to say. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Steal from the Rich and give it to the Vets!

OK, go ahead and read this article. It has a kind of nice 'Robin Hood' feel to it. From Yahoo:
House Democrats are proposing a tax surcharge on millionaires to pay for a big increase in education benefits for veterans of the war in Iraq, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Wait, here's my favorite:
"What we're talking about is a one-half percent income tax surcharge on incomes above $1 million," said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., a leader of the Blue Dog group. "So someone who earns $2 million a year would pay $5,000. ... They're not going to miss it."
They're not going to miss it? Hell, they're going to revolt! Not that I don't agree with the measure and I do believe the current GI Bill is due a massive overhaul to keep pace with the high cost of a 21st century education. However, a discriminitary tax against the wealthy is probably not the way.
I predict this goes nowhere.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Military Seeks Contractors To Train Iraqi Military

From The Washigton Post:

"U.S. commanders in Iraq are for the first time seeking private contractors to form part of the small military teams that train and live with Iraqi military units across the country, according to a notice for prospective bidders published last week.

The solicitation, issued by the Joint Contracting Command in Baghdad, says the individuals that a contractor recruits -- who would include former members of the U.S. Special Forces and ex-Iraqi army officers -- will be trained in the United States with military transition teams (MiTTs) and shipped as a single team to Iraq. The recruits will live on Iraqi military bases "under Iraqi living conditions and participate with operations and convoy duties," the solicitation says."

Since my next assignment is to one of the MiTTs, when a buddy forwarded me this article my career warning light went off like a nuclear bomb. Some of my concerns are selfish, some not so much. Three quick thoughts/concerns:

1. The reality is the military is short on Field Grade officers. We need them in deploying units, we need them in legally mandated non-combat assignments, we need them to help train the Iraqi Defense Force. The Iraqi Army is getting bigger, much bigger so the projected shortage on field grades in MiTT assignments will only grow. There are not enough to go around and you can't grow a Major or Lieutenant Colonel from nothing. I understand that you must fill all three requirements and that the short term answer to that might be contractors but...

2. Contractors are not bound to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This better be on carefully written contract because last time I checked, contractors answer primarily to their employers, not the U.S. Army. Sure, we can fire them or choose not to renew their contract, but as we've seen by the actions of a few select contractors in Iraq, they are not bound by the same ethical standards as Soldiers.

Everyone I have spoken to who has already pull a MiTT assignment has warned me about the troublesome ethical climate when dealing with the Iraqis. There are cultural differences between American uniformed personnel and our Iraqi counterparts. That is not saying they do not love their country or have anything but the best intentions, but there is a certain degree of corruption built into their way of doing business.

It is not usually acceptable to us, but a way of life for them. If not for the ethical standards shown by MiTTs and their U.S. service personnel, the newest version of the IDF would not be much different than the Iraqi Army of old. To place individuals or teams that do no operate under the same ethical framework in such an important role concerns me to say the least.

3. How do I know that MiTTs are important? Because the Army says so. Many smart individuals consider the MiTTs the only true path to our ultimate exit from the war in Iraq. Only through the development of a strong internal defense can we ensure the long term stability of Iraq.

The MiTT Team Chief position is of such importance that it is now considered a "Key Duty" developmental position for Majors alongside Battalion Operations and Executive Officer positions. That means the requirements of the position are so critical and demanding that we will place it on equal footing with traditional power jobs when competing for promotion to battalion command. Now we decide we can contract out the job.

Anyone willing to contract out Battalion Operations or Executive Officer positions? How about a Commander? Yes, I have concerns. Here's to hoping the Army releasing a statement that this is all a figment of the Post's imagination.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Iraqi Officials Beginning to Point Fingers at Iran

I believe Iraqi officials are beginning to realize, perhaps too late, that getting in bed with Iran is not in the best long term interests. Yesterday, The Washington Post published a story citing a source within the Iraqi government saying Sunday that it had "concrete evidence" Iran is fomenting violence in Iraq and that a high-level panel has been formed to document the proof.

The significance here is that it is a named Iraqi official, Ali al-Dabbagh, himself an official government spokesperson, who called reporters late Sunday night to say "There is an interference and evidence that they have interfered in Iraqi affairs." Dabbagh went on to say that the proof was characterized as "concrete evidence."

The Iraqi government is very careful with regards to Iran. Historically, the two never got along. After all, Iraqis are Arabs while the Iranians are Persian. They also fought a rather significant war in recently memory not forgotten by either side. However, with the fall of a strong centralized central government, the Iranian backed Shia were able to make significant inroads into the new Iraqi government.

The Iranian-backed radical cleric al-Sadr was a huge enabler in al-Maliki's move to PM. The support was not just official. Iranian money and support flowed across the borders to the destitute Shia ghettos. The Iraqis government had to choice but to tread lightly when dealing with the issue of Iran's role in the insurgency.

That appears to be changing. This move parallels Maliki's offensive operations against illegal militias and might be oriented at pressuring Iran to cut military its military support.

What good will it do? As we've seen recently, you can have video evidence on the nightly news but the other side will simply call it 'fabricated propaganda.' In the digital age, pictures are no longer worth a thousand words, especially when the target is a country who helps you pay your bills and fight against the 'occupiers.'

International pressure is unlikely as certain members of the U.N. Security Council would never vote for any type of sanction against Iran. The best outcome comes from the knowledge that Iraq itself is looking to hopefully cut ties, at least at the government level, with Iran. No one in the region wants Iran to expand its sphere of influence into Iraq. Perhaps the Iraqis are becoming aware that they are the only ones that can prevent it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vets to Congress: Current GI Bill Inadequate

And that's putting it nicely. CNN reports that current Iraq and Afghanistan veterans feel baited and switched. Today, a group of Soldiers, Marines and airmen spoke to Congress complaining the current GI Bill is not enough to pay for even the most modest college eduation.

Najwa McQueen of the Louisiana National Guard said, "They kind of sell you a dream. You think you're going to get all of this stuff, and in reality, you don't get that. I just kind of believed what my recruiter told me, which is not the truth."

McQueen left behind her husband and 18-month-old daughter in October 2004 and served 10 months in Iraq. After her service, she enrolled in college and found that her total benefits from the GI Bill would be $400 a month for four months, totaling $1,600. Her classes alone, she said, cost $1,000 each. (CNN)

Currently, the GI Bill pays a maximum of $1,101 a month for 36 months to help cover tuition, room and board, and books. National Guard and Reservist average around $440 per month.

The kicker, and you need to watch this closely, is that it goes out in monthly installments, not all at once. Once you are out of the Army, you do not have access to the lump sum to cover the up front cost of the education. You have to pay in installments which includes the interest attached to the lingering balances.

Even if vets had access to pay costs up front, the total benefits would not come close to covering the cost of the education at a four year public university, especially considering the additional cost of living expenses.

I personally know a veteran couple that while going through a four-year university, got by on student loans, WIC, and food stamps aside from the combined benefits of the GI Bill. I have not personally seen the proposed modernized GI Bill, but any improvements would be welcome to the current system. Warning, this sucker is going to cost $2 billion.

I say that kind of investment in our young veterans will provide excellent returns.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tactical Shooter Showdown: COD4 vs. R6V2

I spend more time than I should with my Xbox 360. Well, since mine decided to RROD, I figure I have some time to work on my writing skills (I will neglect the the two book reviews and upcoming research paper for the time being). One thing I enjoy is listening to the endless online debate as to the superiority of one game over another. There is nothing better than hearing a 14 year old say that Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is more "tactical" than Call of Duty 4, Modern Combat.

Well, the definition of tactical is "Of, relating to, used in, or involving military or naval operations that are smaller, closer to base, and of less long-term significance than strategic operations." Okay, perhaps tactical is the wrong word. I'll use my own word here: tacti-cool. Tacti-cool is the ability pretty much anything to convey a certain sense of military cool-ness, whether believable or not.

First up, Call of Duty 4. I'll say up front that I'm biased towards this game. Its extremely fast pace combined with what I'll call the 'chaotic' element of war makes for the perfect military simulator. I was down in the basement of my building the other day and a contractor was showing off the latest urban combat simulator designed for small unit leaders to work out their planning and C2 skills. It sucked; looking something like the Delta Force PC game from 1997. Wow, I could take a stack of networked 360's, throw headsets and paddles in the hands of a squad and send them in to clear buildings and streets in a much more realistic fashion with COTS (commercial off the shelf) COD4. It is that good, revolutionary in fact.

But you all already know that; it did unseat Halo 3 from the top of the Xbox Live list. That's not to say it does not have it's faults. There is no cover system a la Gears of War. Cover is gained by merely walking behind, crouching, or going prone. There is some great realism to this. If you lay down in a field of high grass, guess what? You can't see crap. Most games tend to give you some kind of overhead 'cheater' view of pending danger. Not COD4, when you down, you're down. I have some problems with the weapons and equipment. What we carry downrange is actually superior to the in-game devices.

We use Aimpoints and Eotech with magnifiers while the folks at Treyarch (COD4 Developer) think we all run around with Chinese-made red dots. Nice try guys. The game does include the ACOG, but we also carry a lot more ammo and grenades. I'm being picky, I understand that developers limit weapons to even out the competition. If everyone had an M203, that's all they would use.

Ok, Rainbow Six Vegas 2. If all you ever played were this game, you would think it's the cat's meow. It has a lot to offer. Excellent coop campaign play for up to 4 players, endless online match variations, and the best custom-player design, ever. Seriously, you can put your own face on your player, choose from endless body armor/gear and camo pattern designs. You also get to choose from the baddest selection of modern combat weapons this side of the History Channels Future Weapons. That is definitely tacti-cool.

For me, that's where the game's advantages over COD4 end. First the pacing of the game is super slow. It takes forever to get from point A to B and the sprint feature is useless. For being elite troopers, they can't hustle more than about 20 meters at a time. Even when you more fast, it feels slow. Switch back to COD4 after a couple of hours of R6V2, and you'll feel like you're playing on crack.

To R6V2's credit, this game is really last generation, feeling more like R6LV 1.2 than 2. I believe it's purpose was to finish the storyline to get the team out of Las Vegas and moving towards Ubisoft's next big technical leap while refining the character design and multiplayer elements from the first game.

The Verdict: COD 4 no contest.

It's really an unfair comparison. COD 4 looks better, plays better, and has an overall better design. To me it comes down to 'feel'; simply put, COD4 'feels' more like war than R6V2. Of course, R6V2 is more like a surgeons scalpel to COD4's hammer. COD4 is supposed to be brutal and intimidating (try winning the game on veteran difficulty), after all, war is hell. I routinely cringe when the other team calls in a CAS strike (close air support) and my subwoofer (SVS PC-Ultra a.k.a. the intimidator) tears the wall down.

But I will take a moment to call out developers for the next round of 'modern' combat game I would like to see for the next generation of combat games:

  1. First, guys, give me a full combat load. I'm not a whuss and can carry a bit more than 300 rounds and 2 hand grenades.
  2. Second, the in-game comms are too good. We don't have that many radios so if you leave your squad, you might be screwed. I would like to see some proximity based communications that would limit you to shouting distance if you weren't one a couple of key dudes with a radio.
  3. Realistic weapons configurations, please.
  4. Tone down the sniper rifles, please. Dudes are not that good of shots in real life, they shouldn't be in the games either.
  5. Bring the Spooky. If you played COD4, then you're familiar with the wicked AC-130 sequence. Bring that to multiplayer.

That's it. For you haters, I understand these are two very different games, but since they are the last and greatest. Comparisons are going to be made so get over and get ready for GTA IV.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Discovering Great Military Blogs

The past couple days I was privileged enough to trade links with a couple of well established milblogs: A Soldier's Perspective and The Military Observer.

A Soldier's Perspective (ASP) is privately operated and is designed to provide personal information, views and commentary about the military. CJ, Marcus and the guys provide great commentary from a Soldier and Marine point of view.

The Military Observer is owned and operated by Andrew Lubin. Andrew is a writer, author, speaker, and historian who follows events in the Middle East and Central Asia. This is more than just an academic exercise for him: Andrew's son is in the Marine Corps.

Both sites deserve more than a cursory glance and offer tremendous depth and insight.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

NY Times: U.S. Military Grooms Analysts. So What?

This weekend MSNBC cited a NY Times article reported the Pentagon groomed paid TV military analysts as a means to "shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks." Paid TV analysts were former senior officers who received private briefings, trips and access to classified intelligence meant to influence their comments. Says the NY Times:

"Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its controlover access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse"

OK, I have to inteject an opinion here. Who cares!!?? Seriously folks, are we so naive to believe that the 'expert' analysts employed by Hannity & Colmes or Anderson Cooper do not receive their talking points from their respective political parties? Is it any coincidence that a political analysts' discussion points almost match point for point with their parties' spin of the day?

If you have ever been on the end of an operations line taking a report from the field, if it's one thing you understand that the first report is always wrong. Given the nature of compartmentalized classified information what it is, it's easy to assume that analysts are wrong on military operations, a lot. Remember the Jessica Lynch rescue?

The national media and public demand a lot from their military. They want updates from the field fast and true. Since employees from the military cannot go on air to offer live analysis (that would be propaganda), experts must be used in their stead. If the expert is unaware of the situation because of lack of access, then their analysis will be wrong.

On the note of reporting favorably towards the administration. Why wouldn't we? If what is told is the truth, then there shouldn't be any issue. If you could show me an incident where an analyst put forward information that was favorable to the military/administration and untrue, I think there would be a huge problem. Do no think for a second the democrat or republican subject matter experts you watch would be around long if they berated their parties respective candidates.

As per the conflicts of interests regarding military contracts: you're hiring retired general officers. What did you expect? Everyone of these guys gets embedded with one military industrial contractor or another after retirement. I think you would be hard challenged to find a well-connected retired flag officer without ties to any military contractors. It's the nature of the beast. These individuals still remain the best source of truth when representing the military.

Bottom line: It's in the best interest of the military and the U.S. public to continue to use 'groomed' analysts.

After all, everyone else is doing it. Why can't we?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Iraqi Forces Cracking Down on Illegal Militias

The word you do not get on the nightly news is the the Iraqi Army is now effectively engaging the illegal militias in the heart of their own territory, Sadr City. The New York Times wrote that the Iraqi Army supported by US assetts effectively split Sadr City in two. Now what "in two" means I'm not quite sure, but the good news is that the Iraqi forces continue to put the wood to the Mehdi militia.

Counterinsurgency operations continuously evolve. If I have learned a few things over the last year of study, it's that one of the major points of COIN (counterinsurgency) is overwhelming organized armed resistance. I suppose in simple-speak that means having armed independent militias competing with you for the people's affections might be a bad idea. You should just wipe them out, simple. Right?

Wrong, at least up to now. It is difficult to broach the subject of Iraq's tribal underpinnings without writing a dissertation. For some reason all the smart folks at the highest levels of strategic communication have not figured out a great explanation either.

The entities now referred to as "illegal militias" were allowed to exist largely because they were the lesser of two evils when compared to al Quada in Iraq. The militias sprung up largely due in part to the security vacuum after the fall of Baghdad mainly from Shi'a need for self-preservation. In al Sadr the militia had a bona fide spokesperson, not necessarily a shining beacon of reason we all craved, but a negotiable quantity nonetheless.

It is no longer a secret that Iran is providing huge amount of support to the militias in what's becoming their proxy war against the US. (Personally, I believe the relabeling of the Mehdi Militia as an "illegal militia" is a brilliant step.) The militia is doing the smart thing and pushing that support to the people and the people return the love in kind. Given all the Shi'ites serving in the military, police and national leadership (ahem... PM), it is understandable that the Iraqi government was hesitant to put the smack down on the militias.

That appears to be changing as indicated by the firing of over 300 soldiers and police who were unwilling to participate in the crackdown. Though an Iraq with scary-close ties to Iran might be a foregone conclusion, the elimination or at-least mitigation of the illegal militias is a welcome step forward.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Basra Not the Disaster Portrayed in the Media

Following the standoff in Basra last week between Iraqi forces and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia, the American media portrayed the resolution of the standoff as a military and political disaster for Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. The four day operation resulted in a supposed cease fire agreement reached between the Iraqi government and an al-Sadr still hiding in Iran. Time magazine declared that the concession amounted to a victory for Sadr; that the Iraqis granted him and his militia some type of legitimacy in the process

GEN Petraeus acknowledged in Ralph Peter's New York Post piece ""the planning for Basra was incomplete and some of the local forces were incapable of standing up to the Iranian-supported rogue-militia elements." I suppose that if you compare their performance to American and British capabilities then their performance might appear lacking. However, reports from the field are that the Iraqi forces went INTO the heart of Basra and fought toe-to-toe with the Mahdi militia, something coalition forces never did.

GEN Petraeus summarized the Iraqi's performance in overcoming their own operational difficulties: "It also displayed the Iraqi capability to deploy two brigades' worth of conventional and special-operations forces on less than 48-hours' notice, with another brigade following. That would not have been possible a year ago."

I should point out that it is being (more accurately) reported now that al-Sadr requested the cease-fire, not the Iraqi government. After all, his force was decisively engaged and facing a now determined Iraqi force bent on securing the vital areas of Basra. If the Mahdi Army fights and gets itself wiped out, Sadr loses a huge chunk of his political leverage.

So were does that leave us today? UPI is reporting that Prime Minister al-Maliki has ordered the complete disbandment of the Mahdi Army. Iraqi Soldiers have continued a theater-wide assault against the entire of al-Sadr's forces. It now seems that the Iraqi government is no longer satisfied with obtaining peace with Sadr, now the Iraqi's appear on the edge of crushing him.

So why aren't we hearing a lot of this on the news? It appears that word is beginning to get out of the region. Fox News appears to be doing their job and echoing the sentiments of Peter's and UPI in preparation of tomorrow's brief to Congress by GEN Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Look for other news agencies and editorials to pick up the beat after the General's sound bytes blanket the news waves.

Of course, while this is potentially tremendous news for the Coalition and its supporters, I can't help but think that it does not sound well for folks that are banking on making a living promising a quick pullout.

GEN Petraeus is a huge fan of T.E. Lawrence, going so far as to quote him in the Army's revolutionary new FM 3.0. Paraphrased, it's better for our local allies to do something imperfectly themselves than for us to do it perfectly for them. Given time, resources, and training and throw in a little patience, the Iraqi Defense Force will overcome. Unfortunately it appears that they may be a little short on time.

The biggest obstacle facing the Iraqi forces is no longer the Mahdi Army or al-Quada, but rather a mounting force of unrealistic expectations.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Army's New Field Manual Discussed on Hill

LTG William Caldwell appeared this week before the Airland Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee testifying on the Army's new FM 3-0 . For those of you unaware, the FM is the Army first major doctrinal change is a long, long time. The "so-what" here is that FM 3-0 elevates 'Stability Operations' to the same priority for resources and training as what we refer to as "Full Spectrum Operations." In other words, nation-building will receive the same focus and dollars as nation-crushing.

This is a radical change from the past where Stability Operations was usually relegated to an afterthought; more of a have-to than a want-to. That's not saying we have not done Stability Operations in the past. In recent memory Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo are all examples of the U.S. Army participating in high profile Stability Operations. I'll be one of the first to admit that none of those were shining example of Stability Operations done right (although props to the Bosnia folks, I believe that is the best of the bunch).

More interesting to me is the reaction of the Senators on the panel:

Both Lieberman and Cornyn were concerned about how the Army could support and
budget for such a wide spectrum of operations, but Cornyn congratulated the
military for its ability to successfully perform so many missions.

Really, this comes down to dollars. If we're saying that for the foreseeable future war is uncertain and we must be prepared for all contingincies then I'm reading that as a request for a bigger force and more dollars. This would be a relief to an Army stretched by continuous and lengthy deployment.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Milbloggers appearing on PBS' Frontline

Airing 1 April on PBS' Frontline series will be a special focusing on the deployment experiences of a couple of prominent Milblogging.com members. Make sure you mark this on your calendar as I'm sure it will offer an excellent perspective from the ground on a lot of good stories that are not getting back home:

Hi everyone! It`s JP, webmaster of Milblogging.com. As many of you know, I`m a member of Bad Voodoo Platoon and I’m currently deployed in support of OIF. Over the last year, several of us includi ng fellow military blogger Toby Nunn, have been videotaping our experience. Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) has made a film for FRONTLINE called Bad Voodoo`s War that will be airing on April 1st. The details are below:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008
9 P.M. (check local

In June 2007, as the American military surge reached its peak, a band of National Guard infantrymen who call themselves "The Bad Voodoo Platoon" was deployed to Iraq. To capture a vivid, first-person account of the new realities of war in Iraq for FRONTLINE and ITVS, director Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) created a "virtual embed" with the platoon, supplying camer as to the soldiers so they could record and tell the story of their war. The film intimately tracks the veteran soldiers of "Bad Voodoo" through the daily grind of their perilous mission, dodging deadly IEDs, grappling with the political complexities of dealing with Iraqi security forces, and battling their fatigue and their fears.

Watch a preview now at: pbs.org/frontline/badvoodoo

Visit the PBS pressroom for press release andphotography.www.pbs.org/pressroom
Online starting April 1.

Keep in mind, if you intend to respond to this e-mail, please write back to me at milblogging@gmail.com (I`m currently in the process of transferring email accounts, but the best place to re ach me for now is milblogging@gmail.com )

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Boston Dynamics Big Dog Video

There are a lot of really smart people out there who envision a battlefield patrolled by robots. Just to let you know, they're actually making progress. The artist formerly known as the Mule, the Big Dog will carry heavy equipment alongside troops in future wars (a welcome addition). It's not there yet as I am sure there are power generation issues, but still, the technology is very impressive. See what it does when it slips on ice:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Aggies Robbed at the Buzzer

Storyline reads "Shipp blocks Sloan to preserve win." Shipp himself said he got "all ball." Now I wouldn't normally post this in what I try to maintian as a "military blog" but since this is MY blog, I suppose I can post whatever I want. Yes, this is post-game bitching and it accomplishes nothing, but it makes me feel better. Maybe someone at the NCAA will see these pics and admonish the officiating crew, but I doubt it. The Ags had a season that was inconsistent to say the least, but they finished strong and made us proud.

It's a shame things ended like this:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

USPSA 3 Gun Round Two

Here they are, the highlights of my second USPSA 3 Gun match courtesy the great guys at the Mill Creek Practical Shooting League here in Kansas. As indicated by the snow on the ground, it was cold and miserable. The winter here does not seem to want to loosen its grip.

For those new to my blog, when I received notice of my upcoming assignment to a training team in Iraq, I decided that I would not waste the valuable time waiting to report to training. A good friend of mine suggested competitive practical shooting as a means to provide marksmanship training that the Army is unable to provide to officers attending a service school in the TRADOC commands. Simply put, these days there are not enough bullets to go around.

As for my performance, well, I finished middle of the pack in pistol. Accuracy wise, I'm shooting as well as anyone else. It's the speed factor that's getting me. I've yet to master the double tap and fast transitions necessary to move up the leaderboards. I am also working through years of bad weaver stance by adopting the isosceles technique. So far I can get there when I concentrate, but it has yet to become second nature.

This is still the most fun I have ever had on a range. I don't know what kind of marksmanship training is in store for me before my next assignment, but common sense tells me it will not equal what I am getting from competition.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lt Gen Caldwell, CGSC Commandant, appears on the Daily Show

Yesterday, the Commandant of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Lieutenant General William Caldwell appeared on the Daily Show with John Stewart to promote the new Army capstone doctrine, FM 3-0. The bottom line is (and I'm assuming this is the same as the Army Public Affairs theme), is that FM 3-0 places stability operations (nation building for you civilian types) on the same level/priority as our traditional major combat operations.

Now, why would a three star general go on the Daily Show to display yet another boring Army Field Manual? It's certainly not Salinger sequel to "Catcher in the Rye," and it is a Field Manual. Well, FM 3-0 is different. For the last half century, the mission of the Army was basically to fight and win the nations wars, with a very heavy emphasis on WAR. Full Spectrum Operations was the name of the game, big guns, big bombs, big tanks; everything else fell by the wayside. Let's face it, after Vietnam, the Army wanted nothing to do with nation building, police actions, winning hearts and minds, etc...

The Full Spectrum Operations doctrine was justified with the defeat of the Iraqi military in Operation Desert Storm. Their defeat was so sound that we decided that we had too much military and could afford to cut back. Well, consider FM 3-0, Operations, a shot over Congress' bow. The Army needs to get bigger, and one of the best ways to do that is to adopt a doctrine which the current force cannot support. Let's face it, there are not enough training days in the year for us to train to support a stability operation such as Operation Iraqi or Enduring Freedom while at the same time maintaining our proficiency for the steely eyed Full Spectrum Operations stuff.

Since many hip beltway types frequently watch the Daily Show, the Army is letting the world know that change is happening, in a cool if somewhat stiff sort of way. The bottom line is that with FM 3-0, we are taking the first step in applying dollars and resources to the operational requirement of the next twenty years.

My opinion, it's a change for the better. We always tried to fight and keep the peace, but we really only applied the big dollars to the fighting part. This way our politicians have to make a conscious effort to $upport the Army in both.

Sir, if you read this, and you might, I think you should have responded to John Stewart's 'boring book' comments with something like:

"John, it's a Field Manual, if you wanted exciting, go read a Marine Corps press release."

Friday, February 29, 2008

Army Chief briefs Senate Armed Services Committee

While sitting and having some mandatory fun watching GEN Casey brief the Senate Arm Committee, I watched Ted Kennedy indicated his concern regarding officer retention and linked it to the current 15 month terms. GEN Casey, basically replied he was right, in that the Army as a whole is stretched. GEN Casey mirrored SEN Kennedy's concern regarding that and the increasing issue of suicides.

Senator Kennedy referred to the Army's Suicide Task Force as "underfunded" and continued to reenforce his concerns regarding midcareer Majors and Captains. Secretary of the Army Pete Green again linked that getting the deployment timetables from 15 back to 12 months would continue to be a step in the right direction. Senator Kennedy reminded the Chief of Staff and the Secretary that while a 12 month cycle would be a step in the right action, it would probably now address long term problems.

One of the more colorful discussions centered around the overall size of the Army. What size should the Army be? All sides agree that the post-Desert Storm drawdown was a mistake of epic proportions. What they did not agree on was just how big we should grow our ground forces. Frankly, they jumped around the answer like Barry Sanders. All eventually agreed that the current target of 547,000 would not be enough to provide the Reserve and National Guard the relief they need.

My read? No one knows the answer on what we need to fight a global counterinsurgency. All the answers provided by Chiefs and Senators are based on high end analysis and modeling. Similar modeling and analysis created our current undersized Army. History teaches us that it is harder to build an Army and relatively simple to tear one down. Time and again America paid a steep price for drawing down its military in exchange for what we call a "Peace Dividend."

Our challenges our steep: In the 90's, we cut too many people. The protracted war on terror has made recruiting difficult. It is not going to be simple to grow the needed 70,000 Soldiers to meet the Army's goal of over a half a million. The Army is continuously lowering recruiting standards to maintain the current force.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Congress passes Bill to allow In-State Tuition to Military Families

Let's face it. College admissions love to screw military families. Sure, many schools offer admission break to get our kids into their schools, but the real reason they love them is that they get to charge them out-of-state tuition whether they live in the state or not. Most military members do not meet mandatory the state residency requirements that are recognized by college admissions. Some require residency of up to five years before granting in-state status to an incoming student. A friend of mine had a kid's status changed to out-of-state after his family PCS'd to another state. FAIL.

Well, Congress decided to fix the problem. The amendment to H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, will Lower College Tuition for Military Children. Specifically, it grants in-state tuition to families where they are stationed, and keeps it if the family leaves due to orders. This means an annual savings of around $10 to $20 thousand for families with college aged students.

The bill is sponsored by REP Nancy Boyda (D-KS)and REP Chet Edwards (D-TX), mirroring a policy already in place in Kansas. I find it funny that no Republican is attached to the measure, possibly setting up a showdown in the Senate or if the bill reaches the White House. From my point of view, we, and by we I mean military families receive our best benefits from Democrats, while the military industrial complex benefits most from Republicans (i.e. gear).

I need both sides to survive, so I'll take any help I can get. I'll keep my eye on this one.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why My Generation is Screwed

Well, the way I see it we're facing three crises that will destroy our current economic structure:

1. Healthcare. Beginning 2011, the baby boomers start Medicare. By 2015, estimates are our national debt could triple at current expenditure rates.

2. Social Security - Ultimate ponzi scheme. Again, starting in 2011, there are more payees than payers. To maintain current benefits through 2020, tax rate on the average citizen goes to 60 percent on SS alone.

3. Military modernization - No one is talking about this. The Air Force is slowly dying. Potential adversaries are enjoying unprecedented advances in armor and artillery platforms. A scheduled modernization program was put indefinitely on hold in place of the war on terror. Per capita (GDP) spending on the American military is at an all-time low. Cost for full modernization including the Reserve and National Guard runs in the low trillions.

What created this mess?

Already, I see that a particular candidate wants to fund a national healthcare system with savings made by ending the war in Iraq. If our current war is grossly increasing the national debt, what happens when we simply move that money over to healthcare? Already the military (specifically the Army) is broken. We're wearing our Soldiers and tanks out. All experts agree that to meet the threat of terror we need a military back to the pre-drawdown/Desert Storm size. Growing that could take trillions. Oh, that still doesn't address the massive shortages in the National Guard and Reserves. Damn, I forgot about the Air Force. They're flying around platforms primarily built in the 70's and 80's. This is a service that absolutely relies on technology overmatch. Estimated modernization of the Air Force exceeds the cost of rebuilding the Army.

It amazes me that no one in either campaign is talking about Social Security. Next to Medicare/national health plan issues, Social Security has the biggest potential to bankrupt the American economy. It funny we send folks to prison for running Ponzi schemes, but that is exactly what the government does. Remember those budget surpluses of the 1990's? That wasn't actually cash. In fact, they were actually forecasted Social Security surpluses that resulted from the balanced budgets implemented by Newt Gingrich.

Back then there were still more workers than retirees, mainly because the baby boomers were at the peak of their lifetime's earning potential. The nasty secret no politician likes say was that they spent it as they collected it. They took the forecasted surpluses and spent them at the same rate as the Reagans. Politicians built massive political clout for the resulting surpluses that went in as Social Security contributions and went out mostly in the form of massive pork expenditures. Oh, the national debt continued to increase during this time.

In 2001, the war on terror kicked off, we realized that we under spent our military. We began to pay the bill for the 'peace dividend' earned from drawing down the military. Spending never changed and the new war rocketed deficit-spending. Military spending, 6% of our GDP at the end of Desert Storm, was at a paltry 3%. Currently it's risen back to 4.5%, but that goes more to cost of war than to modernization. During this period, Medicare and SS expenditure also increased, oh, and congressional pork never went away.

How do we fix it?

No one individual can take the blame. A lot of folks like to blame our current President, but my friends; this is a train wreck coming since the days of FDR (a switch-in-time-saves-nine ring a bell?). My generation is unfortunately stuck with the task of cleaning it up. Unfortunately, we do not even own the majority of the voting block.

We want to fix the situation, but cutting benefits for us means cutting benefits for all. Again, my generation doesn’t even hold a voting majority. Go as a 65-year old retiree how he votes if a particular candidate mentions “benefit cuts.” “Old” and “stubborn” go together like “beer” and “block leave.”

I didn't mention immigration because I don't believe it's relevant to the solution. Sure, it taxes our Medicare system, but compared to the baby boomer problem, it is minor league.

No one wants to say "tax increase" or "benefit decrease" but the reality is that the answer lies somewhere between "socialized medicine" and "decreased retirement benefits."

The problem is we are all too selfish to admit that the solution lies with sacrifice, a lot of sacrifice. Let's face it, we, Americans that is, are selfish. I understand sacrifice, my family understands sacrifice, the average Joe-Six Pack on the street has no idea what the word means. Our two political parties are more concerned with individual political victories than changing things for the better.

I don't know the answers; I just figure we're screwed.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Marksmanship Training USPSA Style

Since receiving a warning order for going over Iraq sometime later in the year, I decided it was time to get serious about towards the tools of my craft. My first trip over to Iraq showed me that I was not as proficient as I should be with my sidearm. A good friend here in Leavenworth introduced me to practical shooting competition. I spent the the entire last two months training up for February's monthly United States Practical Shooting Competition (USPSA) Match at Mill Creek Gun Club here in Kansas.

Previous training with my issue Berretta M9 sidearm consisted of a semi-annual trip to the 25 meter range resulting in a quick 40 rounds into a paper target; not really enough to actually become dangerous with the weapon. OK, dangerous might actually be the right word.

Well, below are the result of about 2 months and around 500 rounds of training. I got some excellet results with accuracy, scoring only one miss for the entire day. Keep in mind, all paper targets require two rounds, so there was a lot of shooing, and more importantly, a lot of fun. I now know I can indeed hit the broadside of a barn, I just now have to do it faster. As a buddy always tells me: Accuracy first; speed will come.

My equipment: gunsmithed Springfield XD9 Tactical with Dawson fiber optics, Bladetech carbon holster, XD mag holders, Ralph Lauren Polo prescription lenses.

Friday, February 8, 2008

U.S. Army to Sponsor Halo 3 Play & Win Sweepstakes

Someone up and the Department of the Army is doing a pretty damn slick job. The Army continues to attach its name to some rather popular and well viewed events. In recent years, all of NASCAR fandom watch Joe Nemechek and now Mark Martin represent the black and gold with pride. The Army also sponsors the premier High School All-Star game, the Army All-American, featuring the nation's top blue chip football prospects.

Well, the marketing continues as now the Army attaches it's name to the gaming world's top franchise, Halo 3. You can register your Gamertag with live.xbox.com for chances to win limited edition prints and Xbox Live points. The entry period for the sweepstakes is seven full days, and you can get a new entry for each day you play a Halo 3 multiplayer match online.

Nevermind that the Master Chief and his lot were all in the Navy, but we all know they were Soldiers at heart. By the way, why does everyone assume the moment the human race goes intergalactic, the Navy takes over?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Soldier Suicide Rates Rising

Newsflash: We suck at psychiatric care. This is not a new problem. I only need to look so far as the previous generation of warriors from Vietnam and much of their publicized problems with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. If you have ever seen an Oliver Stone movie, you would know he is a poster child for PTSD. Last night, I read an article published by MSNBC titled, Soldier suicides reach record level, study shows. I didn't like any of what I read.

The article highlights the Army's struggle to deal with rising rates of suicide among Soldiers. It cites examples of Iraq veteran's attempting suicide despite the "best" efforts of their doctors and chain of command. An Army study on the issue cited the need for improved training programs as well as an increase in treatment capacity. I cannot judge the actions of other leaders, but I do understand the culture that is the basis of the problem.

The bottom line is that throughout the history of the U.S. Army, our Warrior culture has failed to address and meet the psychiatric care requirements of our Soldiers. More often than not Commanders choose to push 'troubled' Soldiers out of the Army and onto the beleaguered shoulders of the Veteran's Administration. There is negative stigma attached to psychiatric treatment. It is a question on the generic security clearance questionnaire. The implied message: get treated for being 'mental' and your career is over.

Personally, I believe the answer lies more in capacity than training. Like any problem, the military chooses to throw leadership at a problem to make up for lack of resources. In this case, the first recommendation is additional 'training.' Like the majority of added mandatory 'training', it would be extremely difficult and taxing for unit leadership to shoulder the burden of improving the Army's psychiatric care issues and add to their already overwhelming workload.

Honestly, do we want our commanders to be a Dr. Phil’s, feeling their way through problems, or George Patton's, going out and winning our nation's wars. I'm sure the correct answer is both; however you could spend a lifetime doing one or the other. Doing well at both would take more talent than most individuals possess.

The problem will get worse before it gets better. Today's Soldier faces more trigger-time while on deployment than any Soldier in American history. Wars used to be fought as campaigns. Weeks and months of fighting were followed by months of convalescence and reconstitution. Today's Soldier trains, deploys, patrols, fights, trains, deploys, and fights again. There is no more "R&R" of old. The wire is always wound tight.

I don't know the answer. We are the most lethal force in history facing one of our nation's greatest security challenges. We will accomplish the mission, of that I have little doubt. How we care for our wounded after the fight ends?

I haven't a clue.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

President to Congress: Transfer GI Bill Benefits to Families!

In his final State of the Union address, the President made the following statement to Congress:

“I call on Congress to enact the reforms recommended by Senator Bob Dole and Secretary Donna Shalala, so we can improve the system of care for our wounded warriors… Our military families sacrifice for America… So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to childcare, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government, and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children.”
The fact is, since 2002, the Department of Defense made transfers of GI Bill available to military family members. The Army used that as a retention incentive for targeted career fields. Monday night, the President issued some extremely broad guidance stating that this targeted benefit to some be made mandatory for all. I happen to know a rather attractive gal that would love to get her hands on my $12 large.

Here are some relevant statistics courtesy DMI:

  • Regular military compensation for a single enlisted member in the lowest pay grade in 2006: $29,700.

  • Regular military compensation for an enlisted member with a spouse and two children in the lowest pay grade in 2006: $32,800.

  • Number of dollars added to the national economy for every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original G.I. Bill: $7.

  • Approximate amount of tuition support a service member can receive, in total, under the current G.I. Bill: $39,600.

  • Average price of one year at a 4-year private college: $22,218.

  • Percentage of troops who pay a nonrefundable $1,200 contribution towards G.I. Bill benefits who never use the G.I. Bill: 30%.

  • Percentage of veterans who use their whole G.I. Bill benefit: 8%.

  • Average amount less per hour that military wives earn compared to their civilian counterparts: $3.

  • Percentage of active-duty military spouses who have their high school diploma: 97%.

Thank you Mr. President. Congress, get to work.


This will be the first official post for my new blog, Bullet Wisdom. A few things about myself. As the title says, I'm a Field Artillery Major in the US Army. I am currently a student at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Yes, yes, life is hard here in the cold tundra that is Kansas, but I have no complaints.

I am blessed to be a husband and father of two wonderful kids. I am an avid hunter and gamer. I particularly enjoy bird hunting and bowhunting deer. These days I am getting myself into the practical shooting game in order to improve my marksmanship skills. Since I'm grossly out of practice, I'll be happy to provide video and commentary on my follies in this new sport.

Otherwise, from time to time I will be happy to provide my two cents on sports, events and my experiences as a member of the U.S. Army. Thanks for visiting.