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July 2009

Wounded Vet wins 7th Log Rolling Championship

RE: MilBlogger Down! (December 28, 2007)
RE: On a Happier Note (January 1. 2007)
RE: MilBlogger Down! (But Not Out) Update III (January 1, 2007)
RE: JR Salzman Update (January 13, 2007)
RE: JR Salzman's Blog of War (January 26, 2007)
RE: JR and Josie Salzman and John Kriesel (May 9, 2007)
RE: JR Salzman's Alive Day Memory (September 7, 2007)

Yesterday, I was at a town hall meeting with Mrs. Blackfive.  At one point, during the presentation in front of everyone, after checking a text message, I lean over to the Mrs. and say, "JR won the title."  JR and Josie have met her and we were very, very happy to hear the news.

JR Salzman, Lumberjack in the Desert, has made the comeback of a lifetime.  JR and Josie have come through so much and now JR is the World Log Rolling Champion.

There is an article in his local paper, and you HAVE to watch the video embedded to watch JR's victory.

...This year, wounded Iraq War Veteran JR Salzman came back to compete and he made it to the finals.  "Regardless of my injuries, I can still log roll, I can still win, I can still accomplish things and I'm alive, I'm still here, I'm going to enjoy life," said Salzman.  It was a close competition between Salzman and Jaime Fischer as they went head to head but Salzman pulled through and became this year's Men's Log Rolling World Champion.  "Entirely overwhelming and on top of everything I've gone through as well, it's just huge, it's great to be back on top and it's such a release to win," said Salzman.  It's his 7th world title and an unforgettable day as well for Salzman's wife Josie.  "It was so amazing!  To see him win a world title, such a short period after being injured is just phenomenal, it's such a great feeling."...

The New York Times was there too.


ISW calls for hybrid warfare in Afghanistan

Megan Ortagus points out a new report by several members of Kim Kagan's Institute for the Study of War. It focuses on Eastern Afghanistan Kunar and Nuristan and recommends a blend of Counterinsurgency and mountain warfare.

  • Although traditional counterinsurgency theory was successfully implemented in urban Iraq, it has proved difficult to reproduce in the sparsely-populated mountains of Kunar and Nuristan.
    • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are quite distinct, and assumptions true in Iraq will not necessarily hold true in Afghanistan.
  • A type of hybrid warfare should be implemented in Kunar and Nuristan; a combination of counterinsurgency warfare, with its focus on the population, and mountain warfare, whereby the U.S. forces seize and hold the high ground.
    • If the U.S. does not deny the enemy the high ground, then insurgents will be able to attack and terrorize the population at will, therefore making it impossible to protect the population.

I think they are on to a way to tackle the geographic challenges in A-Stan that were not present in Iraq. They also have ideas about how to deal with the ontransigence of some of the tribes in the area, who simply will not deal with outsiders.

  • The current U.S. strategy in the inhospitable valleys, like the Korengal, relies too heavily on isolated outposts that require massive amounts of artillery and airpower to defend these positions.
    • Artillery and airpower have often been and continue to be counterproductive in dealing with the insurgency in this part of the country because it alienates the very population it is trying to secure.
  • Rather than maintaining positions in the Korengal and many of the small, ineffective posts that dot the Pech river valley, U.S. forces are better utilized in conducting active patrols in the mountains along the border .

I will digest the entire report and put out my thoughts a bit later but at first glance this seems like some solid thinking.

Freedom Radio last night

I had the pleasure of being a guest on Freedom Radio last night with Pat Carafagno and Sgt Tim Sumner, you can catch the audio here

Topics included:

Achieving victory in this long war, what it will take to achieve it in Afghanistan, and why President Obama is uncomfortable with talking about it. Eight years into this fight, our nation's defense seems but a talking-point towards the "greater" victory in the next election cycle.

The discussion continued. Uncle Jimbo expanded upon the appropriateness of members of our military using their standing to interject themselves into the controversy about Obama's birth certificate, the major contribution military blogs have made to the reporting on Iraq and the War on Terror, the Warrior Legacy Foundation, and the coming debate over the Battle of Wanat. Of course, no discussion of victory and defeat would be complete without a few choice words about Congressman John Murtha

Angelina Jolie Iraq Visit

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Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie shares a light-hearted moment with Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger (right), commanding general for 1st Cavalry Division and Multi-National Division - Baghdad and Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy (left), the division's senior enlisted adviser, during a visit by Jolie to Camp Liberty, Iraq, July 23. The actress took time out of her busy schedule as a United Nations goodwill ambassador to meet with Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division and Multi-National Division - Baghdad. In her goodwill ambassador role, Jolie serves as an advocate for refugees in Iraq and throughout the world.

Information Operations and Morality

It seems Congress has a problem with DOD's IO:

At face value, much of what is being produced appears to be United States military, and more alarmingly nonmilitary, propaganda, public relations and behavioral modification messaging. The committee questions the effectiveness of much of the material being produced with this funding[.]

Well, let's talk about that.

Let's say there's a behavior you'd like to "modify" -- for example, the behavior of laying bombs by the side of the road at night.

The military has a lot of tools that can be applied to the task:  say, 30mm rounds from an Apache's chain gun.

If you use many of these methods, though, there is a chance of collateral damage.  Let's say you misunderstood, and the guy you thought was planting a bomb was really trying to fix his potholes.  Oops.  You just killed an innocent man, and made the war harder by inflaming all his relatives.

We've heard about this issue from the Obama administration, have we not?  Often?

So let's take another look at IO, or PSYOP.  Say you produce leaflets or billboards with pictures of the innocents killed by errant bombs.  Say it's only 1% effective:  that is, only one in a hundred of the people associated with bomb-planting are motivated by these pictures to contact us.

Well, you've just made the battlefield 1% safer, not only for the innocent who have to live among its dangers, but for our soldiers and Marines as well.

So maybe that means every so often a Marine comes home whole who wouldn't have, otherwise.  Don't think of him dying; as the administration has reminded us lately, dying is cheap.  Think of him coming home neeing limb replacement.  Think of him needing expensive VA care when he is released from service, at government expense.

It could be that you are one of those who cares less about our soldiers and Marines -- who volunteered to run their risks -- than about the civilians in theater.  So maybe this means an innocent family in Iraq or Afghanistan lives out happy days, instead of dying in fire.

What's that worth to you? 

What did you do with your GI Bill?

Just curious to hear a few stories from you all about how you used your GI Bill after you left the military.  Let me know when you signed up, what your college package was at the time, and what you did with it after you left. I'm particularly curious to hear from those who did one enlistment.


-- Uber Pig

Let's Talk A Bit About What "Victory" Looks Like....

There are reasons that military people use words like "victory" to describe winning...

President Obama has put securing Afghanistan near the top of his foreign policy agenda, but "victory" in the war-torn country isn't necessarily the United States' goal, he said Thursday in a TV interview.

"I'm always worried about using the word 'victory,' because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur," Obama told ABC News.

The United States and Afghanistan are struggling to shore up security in the country, amid increasing violence. The Obama administration this year stepped up U.S. military operations in the country as the U.S. military presence begins to wind down in Iraq.

"We are confident that if we are assisting the Afghan people and improving their security situation, stabilizing their government, providing help on economic development ... those things will continue to contract the ability of Al Qaeda to operate. And that is absolutely critical," Obama told ABC News.

WTF Over?  We don't want to "win" now?  Well, I have news for the President, every one of the men and women in uniform that is sweating, shooting, bleeding and dying to accomplish our mission there is looking for "victory."  They know what is measurable and what isn't.  And they definitely know what it looks like at the end.

Now, I know that in the COIN battle-space that it is difficult to get hard measurements for the Powerpoint Rangers to put in briefing slides, but I do know that one of the many "measurable goals" of war-fighting (thereby leading to "victory") is the surrender/capture/death of the enemy.  Economic development and stabilizing the government are all legs of the stool, but the the rock solid base of the stool, the thing that "contracts the ability of Al-Qaeda to operate" is killing or capturing (although capturing now has a greatly lessened effect) the enemy.  That is what makes all of the other things possible.

But our CINC, having never been at the point of anything except petitions drives and organized protests, may not understand what I am getting at...

This comment, to me, is like a football coach telling a team that one of the goals is not to win the game, but to merely allow the defense to prevent the other team from scoring touchdowns.  Using the same analogy, I am guessing that the team being told that they are not out to win, but just to "not lose" would have a HUGE effect on the morale of the team as a whole.

And that makes this kind of thinking and this kind of war-fighting strategy unacceptable.

I hope that General McChrystal, given his history and operational experience, has a long secure teleconference with the President about what "victory" looks like and how important it is to recognize that if OBL walked out of the mountains right now and said "Uncle" that we would undoubtedly, at the very least, place him on the fast track to a deep, dark secret place and find out all he knows (or maybe not, who knows).  Personally, I want the last thing for our enemies to see is rifling of a .45 pistol as they squirm under the boot of a member of Delta who is holding them down to get a better shot.

That Mr. President, is how we in the military measure "victory." 

Blamestorming on the Battle of Wanat

Tom Ricks, the former WaPo military correspondent has added an eighth chapter to his piece on the Battle of Wanat. It features leaks about a study of the battle by historian Douglas Cubbison that is very critical of the leadership of the commander of 2nd of the 503rd LTC (now COL) Ostlund and 173rd Airborne  commander COL Preysler.  This is not an official military report and has not even been published yet, but apparently Ricks and some others have seen a draft and since it supports his contention that this incident was a command failure, he has leaked some info. Small Wars Journal has posted a link that has drawn comments from COIN skeptic Gian Gentile rebutting many of the assertions by Ricks and Cubbison.

I take a personal interest in this topic as I know quite a few folks who were actually there and have heard first hand what the conditions were and what happened. Like every military operation there were miscues and nobody had all the supplies or support they could have used. During the battalion's entire 15 months in country they lived a very spartan existence and were in contact almost constantly. That and the terrain made resupply and all operations very difficult.

I am trying to locate a copy of Cubbison's story and if anyone can assist please let me know, but I will make a couple of points right away. He makes the assertion that the command failed to understand and implement COIN and that this was a direct causative factor in the attack on Wanat. That is a serious mis-statement of fact and of understanding the particular region. Simply waving a magic wand and sprinkling COIN dust will not change deep-seated feelings and fundamental mistrust of the local populace. That takes years and perhaps decades of continual effort. Although there are many ways we can learn from the stunning success of the surge and COIN in Iraq, there are so many differences between that and Afghanistan as to make direct comparison almost useless. Of course population-centric tactics are required, but let's think back to when this deployment happened.

 It was May 2007 and the Taliban had recently begun infiltrating back from Pakistan in significant numbers. This was not because we had taken our eye off the ball by fighting in Iraq, but because the Pakistanis had ceded control of much of Waziristan to the tribes between 2004 and 2006. This allowed safe havens for the Taliban to refit, recruit and train without interference. They took advantage of this and by 2007 had made significant inroads in places like the Korengal and Waygul valleys where 2nd of the 503rd operated. Cubbison and Ricks state that conditions there deteriorated or became more kinetic due to the lack of peaceful engagement by 2/503 as opposed to it's predecessor 10th Mountain. This completely ignores the influx of trained Taliban from across the border who had made a concerted effort to push into these areas.

As 2/503 began to operate all of their outposts were under continuous attack and the local populace though out much of the A/O was in fear of the infiltrated Taliban and therefore not willing to engage with the US forces out of legitimate fear of reprisal. In order to even conduct COIN a security environment must be in place where the people are safe to work with our troops. This was certainly not the case and so the first order of business had to be fighting the enemy forces and establishing patrol bases and outposts in what was now indian country.This does not mean that efforts to engage the population were not ongoing, but that they could not be particularly effective until a certain level of security was achieved. That also meant that kinetic operations would be dominant to make that happen.

There are many factors relating to the establishment of the Vehicle Patrol Base at Wanat that are discussed and I will deal with them in a later piece, but the thrust of Cubbison and Ricks that the incident was a result of the unit's failure to understand COIN is wrong. They failed to properly look at the situation on the ground and to understand the efforts actually made by the unit. COL Ostlund has a piece in the current edition of Military Review discussing the deployment that makes it perfectly clear they were attempting to run a population-centric COIN operation. To do that they had to deal with the influx of Taliban and that meant constant fighting to attempt to gain the security that would allow traction with the locals. To ignore that fact makes any analysis of the actions taken faulty and Cubbison and Ricks have both made that mistake.

Eagles Eclipse

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A flight of F-15C Eagles flies during a total solar eclipse over the island of Okinawa, Japan, July 22, 2009. The eclipse was a rare opportunity for troops to witness this unique event. The F-15C Eagles are assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan. U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chad Warren