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, 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.