May 1, 2007
The New York Times
WHEN the civilian hierarchy fails them, soldiers tend to seek solace in Clausewitz’s observation that war is an extension of politics. But in 2005 and 2006 the reverse was true in Iraq: the battle churned in place, steadily eroding the administration’s credibility and America’s psyche, while most politicians stood on the sidelines, content to hurl insults at one another until the battlefield offered a clear political course.
What was most remarkable, however, was the military’s inability to grab the reins and articulate a realistic war plan for Iraq. At home, recruiting, supply and deployment crises were solved; but in Iraq the generals continued to offer assessments of the fight that were as obviously inaccurate as those trumpeted by the politicians. The goal was to put Iraqi forces in the lead, but as a consequence, large-scale battlefield adaptation was scarce.
Today the civil-military relationship has righted itself, yet soldiers like me who believe that Iraq can be stabilized face a bitter irony. On one hand, the military is finally making meaningful adjustments to the complex fight. On the other, the politicians are finally asserting themselves. The tragedy is that the two groups are going in opposite directions.
Most Americans who have served side by side with Iraqi units, especially those of us who have been advisers to Iraqi companies and battalions, believe that significant numbers of our soldiers will be needed in Iraq for another decade. This timeline is about average for a classic insurgency, and optimistic for one so muddied by tribal feuds and religious hatred.
May 29, 2006
NEITHER party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease.”
So said Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address, describing a war that put 11 percent of our citizens in uniform and had by that point killed nearly one of out every seven soldiers. That his words are relevant again now is a troubling indicator of our national endurance.
We are at the outset of a long war, and not just in Iraq. Yet it is being led politically by the short-sighted, from both sides of the aisle. The deterioration of American support for the mission in Iraq is indicative not so much of our military conduct there, where real gains are coming slowly but steadily, but of chaotic leadership.
Somehow Operation Iraqi Freedom, not a large war by America’s historical standards, has blossomed into a crisis of expectations that threatens our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers. Instead of rallying we are squabbling, even as the slow fuse burns.
One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win.
Marine Corps Gazette
September 1, 2005
This account of an ambush won the USMC 2005 Leadership Essay Contest
Proof that combat leadership knows no traditional boundaries.
Brent Morel was a captain, but in the be-a-good-officer leadership case studies his role was always cast with a 2nd lieutenant. Morel had done well enough in his initial tours to land a reconnaissance platoon. But he had missed Iraqi Freedom I. Most of his men were combat veterans who had spent time walking the point for the entire 1st Marine Division during its bold dash into Baghdad. They had seen things he hadn’t.
The miss bothered Morel—a seasoned Marine who had enlisted in the reserves while in college—but his platoon didn’t really care. They valued guts as much as experience. And Morel had plenty. They’d seen him stand up to seniors on their behalf when others would have yielded. They sensed Morel was a hunter, just as they sensed a fight was looming. Fallujah had erupted only weeks into their deployment. Brent Morel was the kind of platoon leader you wanted in a collision.
The platoon was traveling in the first five Humvees of a convoy, each man watching a sector of landscape. It was ambush territory—the road was elevated and exposed, paralleled by a series of chest-high berms. The Marines noticed a canal that could act like a moat if the enemy had even a paintballer’s tactical sense.
June 1, 2005
By Owen West & Phil Carter
We won’t solve the manpower crisis by keeping our worst soldiers.
After combat, recruiting may be the toughest duty in the military today. Both the Army and Marines—who shoulder the casualty burden in Iraq and Afghanistan almost to the exclusion of their Navy and Air Force brethren—have failed to meet their recruiting targets for the last few months. The Army has assigned more recruiters, pledged more money, and lowered quality standards in an effort to hit its recruiting targets. Both active-duty and reserve recruiting has suffered. For the most part, the Army and Marines continue to meet their retention targets, thanks to a labyrinth of incentives. But current operational demands make retention increasingly uncertain. Many military experts predict a manpower meltdown at some point in 2006.
Now comes a new Army directive that attempts to alleviate the personnel crunch by retaining soldiers who are earmarked for early discharge during their first term of enlistment because of alcohol or drug abuse, unsatisfactory performance, or being overweight, among other reasons. By retaining these soldiers, the Army lowers the quality of its force and places a heavy burden on commanders who have to take the poor performers into harm’s way. This is a quick fix that may create more problems than it solves.
April 7, 2005
By Owen West and Bing West
The Culture of Victimization Must End.
Outside Fallujah a year ago today, a small convoy was ambushed by fifty insurgents. A rocket-propelled grenade hit the first Humvee, robbing one Marine of his hands and raking the others with shrapnel. Machinegun fire swept the kill zone.
Captain Brent Morel was in the second Humvee. “Stop and dismount,” was all he said before opening his door and sprinting off toward the ambush position. A small band of Marines followed him over two berms, splashing across a chest-deep canal as they closed on the ambushers.
As the surprised enemy broke, the Marines shot them down. It was the last time a large group of insurgents attacked an American convoy on that route with small arms, notwithstanding numerical advantage.
Twelve hours later, the casualty assistance teams were at the doorstep of Brent’s widow, Amy, and his parents, Mike and Molly.
On a rooftop fight in Fallujah last year, Lance Corporal Carlos Gomez-Perez hurled grenades and manned a machinegun to drive back a band of insurgents. Once the roof was cleared, he walked down stairs pouring blood. An RPG had torn a chunk the size of a Coke can out of his shoulder.
“Sorry, sir,” he mumbled to his lieutenant. “Mind if I take a break to get this patched up?”
March 24, 2005
The Story of a Marine Shot 4 Times in Fallujah.
The path Darrell Carver chose out of his Salt Lake City high school was similar to that taken by other overachieving classmates. He’d married his Granger High sweetheart when he was 20, had three wonderful kids by the time he was 26, and was leading an elite team for his company by the time he was 28, sating his mild addictions to fitness and hunting when the occasional free hour presented itself.
But Carver followed a calling imbued in just a sliver of the population. On November 20th, 2004, while most of his peers were in office parks earning money with keyboards, Darrell Carver was approaching a tin-plated door in the heart of Fallujah, Iraq, with his rifle stock held firm in the crook of a shoulder tattooed with “USMC” and two terrorists praying to end him on the other side.
Gunnery Sergeant Carver is a member of an elite slice of America that has emerged on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq: the warrior class. Drawn from across the socio-economic spectrum by an uncommon confluence of duty, adventure, and martial spirit, this all-volunteer cadre has demonstrated that it belongs among history’s elite fighting units.
That men like Carver choose to serve in combat arms, a deadly profession in which few transferable civilian skills are gleaned, says a lot about the fabric of the country. Before September 11th, America carried a feckless reputation among its mortal enemies. Beyond low-risk, high-tech tactics—cruise missiles, invisible bombers—they concluded that America had no will to fight. Now those enemies are meeting America’s core military strength: young men with an innate desire to carry rifles for a living.
October 30, 2004
An 18-month-old does his part for the Sox.
Evil has fallen. Following the mythological hero’s journey outlined by the late Joseph Campbell, the Red Sox hurdled heretofore insurmountable obstacles, entered the belly of the whale, and vanquished the beast. Osama, watch your back. Like Campbell’s heroes, the on-field protagonists are supported by the living network that is Red Sox Nation, a brigade of Obi-Wan Kenobis connected across the ether by two emotions— hope and regret—and the latter has yielded the field. The players did their part. But to lift The Curse, the Fenway Faithful employed their own black magic. Here’s one toddler’s contribution.
At 1:30 a.m. Monday, the Red Sox were three outs away from being swept by the evildoers when I changed my good luck charm. Tired of standing on one leg with runners in scoring position, I snuck into my 18-month-old son Gavin’s room. Pedro’s written a Dominican midget into the script as a “lucky charm” so I figured my own 28-inch little man would double our chances. Gavin was wearing red pajamas, sleeping soundly even as my heart tried to flee my chest. I rubbed his belly and whispered, “This is the year.”
I heard a collective, agonized groan on 70th street. Here behind enemy lines in New York we Sox fans walk the point in the hundred years war. By day it’s bad enough, all the body snatchers glaring at your hat, but at night sounds are amplified and all the clapping from the condo across the street can give a Sox fan post-traumatic stress.
October 1, 2004
Los Angeles Times
Don’t make the same mistake in Fallujah twice.
For weeks, Marines have paced like chained bulldogs on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Fallouja, lunging and growling but restrained from going in.
On Thursday, the U.S. and Iraqis sent these forces to conduct raids inside this bastion of Sunni violence, while Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, warned that unless insurgents turn over a notorious terrorist the Marines and Iraqi troops will storm in and take control once and for all.
The last time Marines marched into Fallouja, they were promptly ordered to do something that runs counter to their creed: pull back short of the goal. That was a mistake. But the decision-makers this time have apparently learned.
It was on March 31 that a gleeful mob killed four civilian American contractors and mutilated their bodies in Fallouja. President Bush ordered Marines to take the city. On foot, they seized block after block, losing six Marines in the fight. Although U.S. forces had refrained from unleashing their artillery, the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera made the attack look as if it were destroying the city. On April 9, Allawi, Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni Muslim and tribal leader, and other Iraqi politicians persuaded L. Paul Bremer III, then the U.S. administrative chief in Iraq, to declare a cease-fire.
The Marines objected. Like Rome’s legions, Marines are feared because they never turn back. They figured they were two days from finishing the fight. The White House overruled them.
September 1, 2004
Who really deserves the Bronze Star?
The General got the Croix-de-Guerre,
The son of a gun was not even there
—From “A Mademoiselle From Armentieres,” a World War I soldier’s song banned in most Army camps at the time.
The Bronze and Silver Stars that John Kerry earned in Vietnam, his crewmates will tell you, were the result of his bravery. No, counter his political enemies, Kerry contrived to earn them in order to serve his political aspirations. What permitted him to collect so many medals in so short a time, in fact, was neither extraordinary heroism nor political scheming but the bar on his collar. Kerry was an officer, and like thousands of other officers who have served in combat operations, he was subjected to a more liberal awards process than enlisted men who performed similar feats.
It’s a problem that has continued to plague the military during the Iraq war, causing frustration in the ranks, and it needs to be fixed.
“Sure there’s head-scratching over [Kerry’s] stars, but that’s not his fault,” says one Marine lieutenant colonel and Iraq war veteran who is himself a Bronze Star winner. “There’s a lot of head-scratching in Iraq today. Officers still get higher awards. I’ve never seen anyone turn a medal down. I’d say there’s a double standard except that there’s probably 50 standards when you consider the other services.”
August 30, 2004
A pro-war Marine walks with the anti-war establishment.
I’m a Red Sox fan who lives in New York. Marines are taught to focus on the enemy perspective before any clash, so each year I don my Sox cap and ride the subway to some Yankee games to try to grasp how the other side thinks. My toes involuntarily curl when I hear women say, “Jeter is so hot.”
Yesterday, on the same premise, I hopped on the subway and headed to the antiwar/anti-Bush rally. Like most Americans, I’m somewhere in the middle of two parties, though I heel starboard in rough seas. I support the war in Iraq and hoped to better understand the counterargument by walking among the electrified.
The platform at 72nd Street was not crowded. Nevertheless, I was shoved into the downtown train by a woman wearing a button that read: “If you’re not OUTRAGED you aren’t paying attention.” She wasn’t the exception; negativity fed the entire train as it headed down to the march. I was not offered any Kerry stickers when we arrived at 14th Street, but I had brought a supply of anti-Bush ammunition for cover. I chose a “Bush Lies, Who Dies!” sticker and stepped outside.