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April 2009

The American Advisor

We have many folks in the role of advisor to foreign governments and militaries around the world. Michael Metrinko has an informative and useful guide on how to effectively operate in that role. I have had considerable experience advising and his advice is spot on. I told a story about the difficulties of doing this at the milblog conference this weekend. My team was assigned to a Korean Army Corps headquarters to help them effectively us US assets during a large exercise near the DMZ. The Korean three star was not thrilled with having a bunch of snake eaters telling him his business and let us know that in no uncertain terms. Rather than quarter us with his troops in the usual sub-standard barracks, he put us in an empty ammo bunker. A nice slap in the face for sure, but lemons and lemonade went into effect and my junior weapons and I went on an excursion to the nearest US base and got some items to spruce up the place like a fridge, a grill, some Xmas lights and all the beer and steaks we could fit in the truck. Even Korean officers eat poorly and soon the entire base smelled of T-bones sizzling. Soon we had our first visitors and our efforts got us invited to the best housing available. Mr. Metrinko knows this game.

The senior foreign official and the American advisor may have very different concepts of the time necessary to complete an action. Some cultures do not place value on undue haste, and the smart advisor soon learns that "bukra" or "fardo" ("tomorrow" in Arabic and Farsi) or "inshallah" ("God willing" in Farsi/Dari/Turkish and Arabic) often mean that action has been relegated to some other time and place, but probably not any time soon or any place near.

Ignoring the local cultural concepts of timeliness will simply lead to frustration and ultimate failure for the advisor, and cause hidden discomfort and annoyance in his local counterpart in response to his frustration. In the Islamic world, religious holidays and daily prayer times will take precedence over scheduled meetings, and decisions may be made in loose gatherings with endless cups of tea rather than at official conference tables. A meeting may break, even at a critical moment, so that participants can pray as a group. Much of this world falls more into the "Haste Makes Waste" category rather than "The Early Bird Catches the Worm," with many meetings, programs, and social events only drifting towards a start when the senior official arrives …

Megan Ortagus from Afghanistan

Megan Ortagus is reporting from Afghanistan and her first piece is for our readers here. She thinks a lot of our audience and I think she does an excellent job of cutting through the BS.

                                            Frontline in Focus: Afghanistan

Ortagus Jalalabad, Afghanistan – Once your boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, the mission becomes glaringly self-evident.  As most Blackfive readers who have deployed in war time can attest, gone are the political distractions and beltway noise that tend to exalt trivial matters.  No one is hyperventilating over Arlen Specter’s party switch or the outcome of the Minnesota Senate race. Rather, in the time I have spent reporting from both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a surprising calm and focus I feel once entering the theater.  My blackberry doesn’t work and the internet is painfully slow but I am surrounded by America’s finest soldiers and their perseverance humbles me.

I’m currently writing from FOB Fenty, home to Task Force Duke in Jalalabad located in RC East. It’s the coordination hub for the 101st Airborne, 3rd BCT, 1st Infantry division. I’m told later this afternoon I’ll travel to FOB Joyce in Kunar, just south of the Korengal Valley to visit with the 10th Mountain Division who recently made the Serkani district their home in January.

Continue reading "Megan Ortagus from Afghanistan" »

"The Unit" in Afganistan

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Actor Dennis Haysbert, cast member of the television series, "The Unit," poses for a photo with U.S. Army Warrant Officer Levar Gillie during a USO Spring Troop visit to Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, April 23, 2009. Gillie is assigned to the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
  U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adora Medina 

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Robert Patrick from TV's "The Unit" cheers on Max Martini in a race with soldiers assigned to Combat Outpost Deysie, Afghanistan, April 22, 2009. U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on a six-day tour of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to escort a USO tour, meet with counterparts and visit troops.
  DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Unit 2 hires_090423-A-5947M-054a
Actors Robert Patrick and Max Martini, cast members from the television series "The Unit," pose for a photo with a soldier during a USO Spring Troop visit to Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, April 23, 2009.   U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adora Medina 

Toby Keith - The Ballad of Balad

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Country singer/songwriter Toby Keith salutes more than 1,000 service members who came to see his concert at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, April 27. This was Keith’s seventh tour with the United Service Organizations. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael Greenberger

The DoD has set up a site for Toby Keith to post messages about his 7th tour of the combat zones.

"The Ballad of Balad"
April 28, 2009

5 Days: 15 shows completed in Afghanistan -- 13 FOBs/2 COPs

The boys and girls were rockin' and laughin' like never before. This being my 7th year and 130+ shows, I've never seen them as energetic. That being said... The danger factor was at an all time high.

Not since my early trips to Iraq, have we been escorted in by gunships as often as we were on this visit. Thank you Cobra's and Apache's. Thanks to all our bird teams for the rides.

I also wrote a new military song for this visit. It's called "The Ballad of Balad." Funny song about an Army recruiter. It made hard core crusted jaded FOB SGt. Majors laugh out loud... I love it.

I have tons of info to report back back home to the press. And as always, it's all good here. The U.S. military and their commanders are in complete control like always. 'Nuff said!

I will close for now as this damn C-17 is shaking my penmanship somethin' fierce as we're leavin' Bagram.

Mission accomplished Team USO - USA

Toby Keith
Bagram, Afghanistan

Go here to see all the posts and photos and damn fine messages from Toby Keith.

And if any of you have a clip of the Ballad of Balad, send it.

The Tuskegee Tribute

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Hundreds of U.S.airmen pay tribute to four Tuskegee Airmen on Joint Base Balad, Iraq, April 24, 2009. The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing traces its military lineage back to the Tuskegee Airmen, who were part of the 332nd Fighter Group. The airman are assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dilia Ayala.

Related story after the Jump

Continue reading "The Tuskegee Tribute" »

Pirates, Armed Guards and "Civilized" Popinjays

With the spike in interest about combating piracy suddenly, any number of people have been sought out and quoted concerning their 'expert' opinion about what to do.

This one simply mystifies me.

Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said that his organisation had qualms about the use of armed guards on ships: “We always have been against the carriage of arms on vessels. First, we don’t think there is legal backing. Two, there’s a risk of escalation. Three, you cannot carry arms on ships carrying hazardous or dangerous cargo.

“If you permit armed guards on certain vessels, the others, which cannot carry the armed guards will become vulnerable and be targeted a lot more.”

Maybe it is just me, but I simply don't understand thinking like this. It reminds me of the rightfully ridiculed "if rape is inevitable, lay back and endure it" school of thought.

Note how Mr. Mody seems not to understand that we have an inherent right to self-defense and thus shouldn't be particularly concerned with whether or not exercising that right has "legal backing". When armed thieves attack you and your property, they certainly aren't concerned with the niceties of legal backing. They are called "outlaws" for a reason.

But like all human beings, they're looking for easy targets. Lay back and offer no resistance and they'll happily take your property and, perhaps, your life. Although that hasn't been the case yet, it certainly could happen now that the military of various states is killing pirates. In fact, because they are using deadly force now, the need for being able to defend one's self would seem to me to be even more urgent than before.

That brings us to point two - escalation. I hate to break it to Mr. Mody, but as noted, the military reaction to piracy has escalated the situation. What is obvious, however, is the military cannot provide protection to all of the shipping transiting the area - it can only react to attacks. In the last two attacks on American ships, there was no way for our navy to react immediately. In both cases the USS Bainbridge was hundreds of miles away when the attacks occurred. That leaves immediate self-defense in the hands of the crew of the ship being attacked.

As for three, of course you can have weaponry on such ships if done properly. And think of it this way, pirates don't know whether or not the ship is carrying "hazardous or dangerous cargo" when they attack. So when they launch that RPG they're much more of a danger to those cargoes (and the crew) than someone on the ship putting a line of .50 cal rounds across the bow of a pirate skiff and scaring them away.

And four, per Mr. Mody, it just isn't fair if some ships have armed guards (Mr. Mody was reacting to a story about armed guards on an Italian cruise ship foiling a pirate attack) and others don't. That's just nonsense. It's like "gun free zones" - what do they tell criminals? That no one will be able to defend themselves because the criminal will be the only one with a gun. It's stupid. The whole point is to make the pirates unsure as to whether the ship has armed guards and whether it is worth it to them to attempt to attack such a ship. One way to take that sort of calculation out of their attacks is to ensure ships are "gun free zones".

Certainly there are non-lethal ways to fight pirates, but as Gen. Petraeus said the other day, and I'm paraphrasing, I wouldn't want to be on a water cannon when the guy at the other end has an RPG.

Fighting off pirates requires resistance, and resistance requires at least equality in firepower. The whole point is to make piracy less and less attractive. Right now the pirates pick a target, board it and name their ransom. The risk-to-reward ratio is so low they won't consider returning to their former life. One way to help them make such a decision more readily is to raise that reward-to-risk ratio to a level that it is no longer attractive. Seems to me armed ships along with military intervention are certainly a good way to do that.

What we don't need to be doing is listening to the likes of Mr. Mody and trying to dress up stupidity as some form of "civilized behavior".

Bar Girls & Stephen Colbert

Unfortunately not in the same story. First we have Hank of Devil Dog Brew Coffee and a truly heart-touching tale of helping a chaplain, his wayward Marines and some deserving bar girls. That is why the Corps will never die, the twisted resourcefulness of those deranged leathernecks.

And then Ward Carroll has a talk w/ Stephen Colbert about his activities to support the troops. Fronting out Jon Stewart for his relentless administration ball-washing would be a start, but Colbert is a good dude and does his part for the military.