Thursday, December 27, 2007

Army Blogosphere Access

Recently I discovered a Bloggers source material site set up by DoD

The Bloggers' Roundtable http://www.defenselink.mil/Blogger/Blogger.aspx provides source material for stories in the blogosphere concerning the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Global War on Terrorism by bloggers and online journalists. Where available, this includes transcripts, biographies, related fact sheets and video.


Interesting that Blogger resources are offered at DoD but meanwhile the Army has reinforced its approach to restricting and curbing Blogging as noted in its regulations (cited below) and in its restrictions to internet browsing and access to many mainstream blogging sites used by milbloggers.

Army Regulation 530--1: Operations Security (OPSEC) (.pdf) restricts more than just blogs, however. Previous editions of the rules asked Army personnel to "consult with their immediate supervisor" before posting a document "that might contain sensitive and/or critical information in a public forum." The new version, in contrast, requires "an OPSEC review prior to publishing" anything -- from "web log (blog) postings" to comments on internet message boards, from resumes to letters home.


Now it appears for the last several months that the Army has further restricted and blocked access to Blog sites for Military and civilian personnel. While many might argue the current Army intent, I would offer that many Blog sites offer a open and diverse perspective that would be useful for the Army to view for a wide scope of application – Public affairs, Soldier input to support, Family issues, R&D activities.

Curiously Army personnel can still access Al Jazeera news sites but cannot read many of the blogs in the Army’s stand-to magazine, including this one, if they sitting at an army hosted machine. The restrictions actually do not allow my supervisor to review my blog (yes I follow the AR requirements) from his work address and attempts to address with IM community are fruitless.

It is a reflection of knee jerk techno scared senior leadership mandates that restricts access and exploitation of the good Army message using the Blogosphere. We should see the advantage offered by using the tools that are available to tell our story – after all the other side is offering an increasingly uncontested point of view.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Supporting our Soldiers

I often get asked what to send to soldiers by family members, friends, legion members. Often times I like to take time to discover the individual that they are sending packages to or learn that they feel a need to do something for military personnel stationed overseas during the Holidays. Many of the things I received in country were through the kindness of people sending stuff through organizations of companies that worked to acknowledge the service of sldiers – especially over the holidays.

Nothing beats a letter, package from loved ones sent directly to a soldier… Its easy enough to do once you have the soldiers address in country… its so great to get mail. If you don’t know a soldier serving personally, the military no longer accepts mail addressed to "Any Service Member" but there are still dozens of ways you can show your support to the American Soldier and the U.S. Army.

Many independent organizations are ready and willing to help support the troops. You can go to this site to get a short list of organizations that will help you send messages, packages and other mementos of support to troops.

http://www4.army.mil/outreach/support/

Most of the organizations listed are nonpartisan, non-political groups and organizations that work to support U.S. deployed and wounded troops in harm's way. Many are managed by volunteers.

Take a moment this holiday season to check out the support agencies and see if you can support our soldiers…I can say on behalf of one former soldier that it is certainly appreciated.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

When is a Veteran not a Veteran

Another case of Reserve bias – recently approached and asked about a headstone for a Reserve soldier that was Reserve entire career. The Reservist did not die on active duty and did not retire from the reserves. Only duty performed on active duty was for Basic training and Desert Storm…both served honorably but neither up to 24 months. Entitled to a headstone or marker ? The answer is no …and would remain so even if deployed several more times

From the VA site the regulation is specific in its intent to not provide for reserve and guard soldiers


MEMORIAL HEADSTONE OR MARKER - Furnished upon application for installation in a cemetery only to commemorate any eligible veteran whose remains have not been recovered or identified, were buried at sea, donated to science, or cremated and the remains scattered; may not be used as a memento.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE - Any deceased veteran discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. A copy of the deceased veteran's discharge certificate (DD Form 214 or equivalent) or a copy of other official document(s) establishing military service must be attached. Service after September 7, 1980, must be for a minimum of 24 months continuous active duty or be completed under special circumstances, e.g., death on active duty. Persons who have only limited active duty service for training while in the National Guard or Reserves are not eligible unless there are special circumstances, e.g., death while on active duty, or as a result of training.


Another policy which should be relooked considering the changed nature of Guard and Reserve duty.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Don’t ask, Don’t tell – how about I don’t care

It has been apparent that a lot of fervor has been raised in the press recently from the many published views placed in the media of the Don’t ask, Don’t tell issue with respect to gay and lesbians serving in the Military. It seems from my simple perspective that conservatives, military, politicians, and groups with specific agendas related to the issue of our policy towards gay American’s serving in the Military miss the basic premise of service.

As a former Company and Battalion commander I am sure I likely had gay individuals that served my unit with distinction. I also had members of all faiths, ideals, political affiliations, nationalities and demographics within the ranks similarly performing their jobs well. As a leader the unit performance demanded that individual issues, bias, and influences had to be set aside to work in a collaborative team atmosphere to get the job done. Frankly my soldiers did not have time, need or inclination to be concerned with politics, religion, sexual orientation – we were then, and soldiers continue to be, concerned with establishing effective, well trained teams that focus on the job at hand.

I needed the soldiers that served with me to be tactically and technically proficient in their military skills. Devotion to the unit mission, knowledge of soldier skills and professional completion of all duties assigned were items that concerned everyone assigned.

The demagoguery on the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell hysteria found in the political arena recently is hype that isn’t prevalent on the Military that I knew or the one that exists today. It is a fabrication used as a political chess piece which pits former military (is he a retired colonel or Brigadier General- who cares), activist groups and political candidates against each other but does not reflect the conditions or issue for soldiers… we are too busy for the flap about things unrelated to the task at hand.



Demagoguery - refers to a political strategy for obtaining and gaining political power by appealing to the popular prejudices, fears and expectations of the public — typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist or populist themes.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My Baby is a soldier

My daughter graduated High School last June and shipped to OSUT which is Basic Training then advanced individual Military skill training (AIT) immediately following. She just finished her OSUT (Basic and advanced individual Training) and has become a Beret wearing Hooah soldier.

I wrote about my daughter’s progress through the training process before – so this is another update – she completed Basic Training and AIT for Military Police at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO and returned back home in time for Thanksgiving several weeks ago. I remain in marvel of the system that transformed my little Girl into a soldier.

She is getting ready to step out to an affiliation with her Reserve Unit which is full of other members that have made the transition to citizen soldier military life . She will begin College in the Spring Semester and will remain ready for whatever call follows her unit in the future. She is committed to serving in any capacity assigned and knows the possibility of deployment is ever present in her position. She has morphed from the Mall Girl into a GI Jane of sorts, stronger, leaner and more determined to exceed…. I talk with her and realize that she is growing in maturity, poise, confidence to an extent that is never realized by many people…. She has gained it in 15 weeks in the Army.

So a tip of the Hat to the Drill Sergeants, process and leaders that comprise the community that transforms our teenagers into soldiers – I can personally attest that they have done a good job from my perspective in instilling pride, teamwork, Army Values and a sense of service into my little princess that now can handle an M16 as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remember the Homeless Veterans

We just celebrated Veteran's day and it is a good time to reflect that some Veteran's are not well off. I'm refering to Homeless Veterans. Homeless veterans are a group often overlooked in this country. I really did not know the scope if the issue with homeless veterans and always assumed that veterans were a cross section in society and were homeless at the same rate as everyone else.

I have read into the issue and found the statistics a little discomforting as a soldier and thought I’d share some with you in the hopes that we all work to never leave a former soldier behind. From the Veteran’s Administration site (http://www1.va.gov/homeless/)

The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation's homeless veterans are mostly males (4 % are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America.

23% of homeless population are veterans
33% of male homeless population are veterans
47% Vietnam Era
17% post Vietnam
15% pre Vietnam
67% served three or more years
33% stationed in war zone
25% have used VA Homeless Services
85% completed high school/GED compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received Honorable Discharge
79% reside in central cities
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% white males compared to 34% non-veterans
46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
Service needs:
45% help finding job
37% finding housing


In these statistics one out of every three homeless men has worn a uniform and served this country. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999 provides that roughly 1 in 4 of all homeless people in America are veterans.

As a former soldier these statistics tell me that we have former brothers and sisters that served that need our help. The statistics bear out that we may not be doing enough for some veterans. The VA has some programs to assist veterans, but are they adequate for the surge that will follow the latest war…. I don’t know – at the moment I do a little bit – if all of us veterans did the same I know we would be following the soldier creed – I will never leave a fallen comrade - and perhaps we can make a difference.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sometimes we make a difference


The loss of a loved one in Iraq must be a terrible event... apparently we can ease the burden though the simple act of recognizing the service...an article I recieved

What follows is a message from Vicki Pierce about her nephew James' funeral (he was serving our country in Iraq):

"I'm back, it was certainly a quick trip, but I have to also say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There is a lot to be said for growing up in a small town in Texas . The service itself was impressive with wonderful flowers and sprays, a portrait of James, his uniform and boots, his awards and ribbons. There was lots of military brass and an eloquent (though inappropriately longwinded) Baptist preacher There were easily 1 000 peop le at the service, filling the church sanctuary as well as the fellowship hall and spilling out into the parking lot.

However, the most incredible thing was what happened following the service on the way to the cemetery. We went to our cars and drove to the cemetery escorted by at least 10 police cars with lights flashing and some other emergency vehicles, with Texas Rangers handling traffic. Everyone on the road who was not in the procession, pulled over, got out of their cars, and stood silently and respectfully, some put their hands over their hearts.

When we turned off the highway suddenly there were teenage boys along both sides of the street about every 20 feet or so, all holding large American flags on long flag poles, and again with their hands on their hearts. We thought at first it was the Boy Scouts or 4H club or something, but it continued .. for two and a half miles. Hundreds of young people, standing silently on the side of the road with flags . At one point we passed an elementary school, and all the chil dren were outside, shoulder to shoulder holding flags kindergartners, handicapped, teachers, staff, everyone. Some held signs of love and support. Then came teenage girls and younger boys, all holding flags. Then adults. Then families. All standing silently on the side of the road. No one spoke, not even the very young children.

The military presence..at least two generals, a fist full of colonels, and representatives from every branch of the service, plus the color guard who attended James, and some who served with him .. was very impressive and respectful, but the love and pride from this community who had lost one of their own was the most amazing thing I've ever been privileged to witness.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Baby in AIT

My daughter graduated High School last June and shipped to OSUT which is Basic Training then advanced individual Military skill training (AIT) immediately following. She started her military career journey at Basic training on 2 July.

I wrote about my daughter’s progress before – so this is an update – she completed Basic Training several weeks ago and is now in the middle of AIT. She has mastered the routine and hours of school, hands on training, numbing succession of topics for her specialty (Military Police) and has changed in a remarkable way as a result.

I am a product of the same system and yet I still marvel at the transformation of my little Girl into a soldier… she is certainly team oriented and seems to be making comments about her platoon, squad and their activities. She has morphed from the Mall Girl into a GI Jane of sorts, stronger, leaner and more determined to exceed…. I talk with her and realize that she is growing in maturity, poise, confidence to an extent that is never realized by many people…. She has gained it in 15 weeks in the Army.

She has a little more freedom and privileges now in the latter stages of her training. She can have a cell phone in off duty hours and can call more often. She is not aware of the changes that have occurred to the extent that I see them in her demeanor and attitude.

She has grasped that she is part of a special group of patriots that serve their country…the soldier. She is developing an evolving sense that she is gaining personally while having the honor of serving her country. She answered a calling that she heard as a whisper when she signed up, but now knows well - she is Army Strong.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pictures from Iraq

They are now a little dated - but I have had several requests for the links for the two windows media files that I assembled that tell a little about my time in Iraq.

The pictures are nearly entirely my own... I felt the music complimented the mood at the time very well.

My own video of my time in Iraq


A more humorous look at Iraq
Mortaritaville


I heard the song (Mortaritaville) while I was with MNSTC-I in the IZ in fall of 2004 - that song struck a chord with me as a Reservist in Iraq and I have the MP3 file of the song that I pulled off the network over there. We listened to it in our shop and when on the road in thin skinned vehicles...

It was recorded by JR Schultz and Nick Brown a couple National Guard soldiers in the IZ in the fall of 2004 at FOB Warrior. They were with the 1/153 inf from the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Brigade. I asked them permission to share it with a wider audience - As fellow soldiers stationed in Iraq I appreciate the sentiment in the song and I felt compelled to add some of my pictures from Iraq to complete the sentiment.

Their site says
"We started writing songs while serving in Iraq with no predetermined ambitions beyond pleasing family and friends. However, as our music was passed around, we were thrilled to find that everyone seemed to enjoy it. We are not professional singers, songwriters, or musicians. We represent the average soldier serving in Iraq."


These guys just sell these CDs off the web at their site Iraq Songs and don't do any promotion to speak of so it always helps to get a little assistance from those who enjoy the music. They said
"Turns out, sounds like you were one of the first to get your hands on the song, we recorded it in the IZ in the fall of 2004 at FOB Warrior. We were with the 1/153 inf from the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Brigade. I know our music has made it's rounds with e-mail and file sharing and I really think most people would like to know where they could hear the rest of our music. I recently ran into an electrician and after talking to him a while, learned he did some private contract work in Mosul, Iraq in 05-06. Out of curiosity, I asked him if he'd ever heard "Mortaritaville" and he actually had it on his iPod."


As in every conflict - sometimes the songs that come out speak volumes about the truths of service - Motaritaville gives a little bit of what did I get myself into message and reflects that even in the uncertainty of a war zone we can still laugh at ourselves as soldiers... Hats off to these soldiers for sharing with us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Active to Reserve and Back

At The AUSA convention LT Gen Stultz says The Army Reserve “is very, very healthy” as it celebrates its 100th birthday next year, but the component faces some key challenges. LTG Stultz is the commanding general of the Army Reserve.

He noted that The Army Reserve has surpassed recruiting and retention goals which was expected and necessary for the the growth of the Army Reserve. He noted the quality of Reserve Soldiers which those of us in the system knew about for years despite the challenges of the tiered readiness systems of the past.

As reported in the Army Times he is attributed as discussing the dynamics of the recruitment effort between active and reserve components:

The Reserve has about 191,000 soldiers, but it is authorized an end strength of 205,000… We lose more than 7,000 soldiers who’re choosing to go to the active component . We’re not getting that much back.” In the past, more soldiers opted to switch from the active Army to the Reserve, but that trend is now reversed.


This is not to be unexpected in today’s environment – the ability to test the waters for Reserve soldiers has never been greater that it is today. In years past the typical Reserve soldier was virtually unable to go on to active duty as strength limits, grade caps and other obstacles prevented such movement in all but a handful of cases. The Osmosis of soldiers from the Reserve to the Active component is likely to be good for the longer term for the Reserves as those soldiers are a live representation of Reserve Soldiers everywhere long after the current conflict is over. The effect is similar to the benefit of Active Component soldiers coming to Reserve Assignments in the past.

We will see more Active duty soldiers coming into the Reserves eventually…. As a soldier that made the transition from Active Duty to Army Reserve in the eighties I was quickly corrected in my attitude about how dedicated and rigorous the Reserve service ethic was. The units were poorly equipped and funded, but the soldiers had a lot of dedication… that is reflected today in the outstanding service offered by the Reserve Component – Army Reserve and National Guard.

The growth of the Reserve component and the planned improvements in Fulltime staffing, equipment, active component attitudes will be enhanced by a continued exchange of soldiers in the future… easily traversed avenues for transfer between active and reserve components should be planned and available to sustain the partnership born in the current conflict from necessity. It is in the interests of the Army, as a whole, to maintain the more harmonious relationship fostered by need and grow a healthy force to provide for our defense in the future.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reserve Component Mobilization


There is a new policy setting the total mobilization period for reserve-component units and/or individuals to 12 months. Previously, deploying RC Soldiers would spend as much as 18 months on active duty away from home. This included a 12-month tour in the combat zone, post-mobilization/pre-deployment training, and post-deployment recovery periods. Under the new policy, both the post-mobilization/pre-deployment training and the time a unit spends with actual boots on the ground in the combat zone must be no more than 12 months total (post-deployment recovery and end-of-tour leave is not included in the 12 months). The new policy requires units to conduct as much training as possible at their home stations prior to actual mobilization in order to maximize the amount of time they are available to the combatant commander.

Perhaps anticipating my concern at hearing of this training shift there is information regarding just how the training will be planned. First Army – the U.S. Army’s lead organization for training and mobilization of RC units developed models for both pre- and post-mobilization training. The new training models shift many individual and squad/platoon level collective tasks, formerly done after mobilization at First Army’s mobilization training centers, to homestation training executed throughout the year prior to unit mobilization.

This may brief well – but are the resources, allocations of range time, dollars available to complete this training. A perennial issue of the past was the difficulty for Reserve Component organizations to get ammunition, equipment, facilities to conduct training such as weapons qualification, land navigation, unit functional and METL training, Combat Lifesaver training and medical screening. FBCB2 equipment is an example – are we teaching basic land navigation with map and compass or providing the tool used in Iraq to navigate? I hope the latter for that was not done prior to my deployment and my life depended on learning GPS and then FBCB2 in combat conditions.

The plan also calls for earlier alert and more intensive pre-mobilization training also allow units to build more cohesive teams prior to mobilization. Post-mobilization training will focus more on complex, higher-level collective training and an ARTEP (Army Training and Evaluation Program) exercise that tests and validates a unit’s readiness to deploy for combat. Great idea if the unit has an ARTEP standard – MNSTC-I bound Training Division soldiers had no such document prior to our deployment so it may have to be accepted that adaptation may be needed. Adding ARTEP training requirements to a fulltime IDT mission set will be difficult unless additional drills are authorized.

For planning, these are good initiatives, and if resourced with knowledgeable trainers (not non-deployed/able soldiers from another Reserve unit) will provide a much more efficient training model for Reserve units. Accordingly if applied to consistent training standards for both pre- and post-mobilization training, fair and realistic validation of unit or individual readiness will foster a better partnership between the receiving organizations and the better trained soldiers arriving in theater.

I realize I’m a little old school – but I hope it isn’t a mandate pushing more requirements on Reserve units without an equal resourcing of the Fulltime personnel, facilities and equipment needed to complete the task to the First Army Standard.

Monday, October 01, 2007

U.S. Didn't Track Weapons


Once again there is the continued witch hunt regarding the accountability of weapons within MNSTC-I as noted in the Associated Press Report: U.S. Didn't Track Weapons For Iraqis written by By Richard Lardner. In the article the issue that has been known of the thousands of rifles, pistols, sets of body armor, vehicles and radios, along with millions of rounds of ammunition, had been delivered to Iraqis which could not be accounted for.

As I have said previously in this Blog that we were pushed to deliver an equipped Iraqi Army and security force from Scratch (thanks to decisions made in March 2004). In the headlong push to arm Iraqi forces we did not adequately keep good records. For what its worth, there still is no regulatory guidance for just what exactly is the prescribed standard for such accountability. What we know in hindsight is that an accountant today cannot reconstruct with the records what happened to 190,000 weapons according to one audit.

An October 2006 audit by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction said there was "questionable accuracy" and "incomplete accountability" in the way MNSTC-I managed weapons. Again – the luxury of detailed recordkeeping in a war zone with a foreign military is not an easy task by any standard.


What I like is the response from Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton

He expected the inspector general would find that there were too few people to handle the enormous influx of weapons and money into the country. One of the greatest irritants to me was watching the Pentagon cooking along at full strength while we in Iraq were running on a very thin personnel shoestring.


MG Eaton preceded Gen Petraeus and has made an accurate but overlooked observation.

I stated in my Blog previously that in MNSTC-I we were pressed to do many things quickly, not with quality…. Americans, Politicians and the Press all expected performance that continues to prove elusive. As MG Eaton says further in the article

There have never been enough people, and there has never been enough bureaucratic support and effort to do this thing properly


And I have noted before that Gen Petraeus said many times in country to those of us on his staff “this experience is like building an aircraft that is already in flight."

The 20-20 hindsight of those that were not there is not really in focus in my mind... It should be filtered through the effort and intent.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Army Reserve History -A Primer


I recently saw an article about a long time Reserve Soldier. In the article the soldier pointed out the differences in the Reserve Component born of 20 years evolution from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. I realized that many of my readers do not appreciate the distance traveled by the Reserve component over the last 25 years so I thought I’d give a little history primer of where we were and where we are in the Army Reserve.

Keep in mind that I offer this historical review based upon my experiences and impressions resulting from 24 Years as a Active and reserve soldier and 18 years as a fulltime military technician in the Army Reserve.

1980 was the year of my first visit to a Reserve unit Drill – while in ROTC I looked into the SMP program and visited a drill at a Field Artilley Battery. The drill was held at a small reserve center in Western Pennsylvania. There was no evidence of any artillery piece in the facility… the drill consisted of the review of regulations and preparation for an upcoming trip to Ft. Indiantown Gap for one of a few training sessions with equipment. The soldiers were all local and many were untrained in artillery or even combat Arms – they were simply hanging out and plugging along as resources to train and learn the skills were not available.

1982 – I entered active Duty for 4 years – only affillitaion with the Reserve Componenbt was with the 2 National Guard units. One was a enhanced separate Brigade in the Guard – they received more dollars, equipment and assistance than regular guard units – as a result they were better trained, had higher Duty MOSQ rates and were more ameiable to train hard when we visited them. The other unit was a regular National Guard Armor Battalion – I was tasked to evaluate a company at AT training. The unit was old school – coolers on the floors of the M48A5 tanks (at that point at least 20 years old and obsolete) commanders that did not know what an operations order was and largely motivated but unskilled soldiers. It was heartbreaking to see a unit with virtually no modern equipment play at being army – the will was there but the resources were not.

1986 – having left the active Army, I had the opportunity to join one of only two Army Reserve Armor Battalions in existence at the time. Having spent 4 years on active duty and needing some additional $s I walked into the Battalion headquarters and was a company commander within two months…. Shortly thereafter I started my life as a Military Technician with that unit.

This unit again had extremely dedicated soldiers that wanted to be tankers and combat arms. The majority of the unit was volunteers and many like myself had some active duty time under our belts. Here again the resources were extremely limited. Annual training was strictly limited to 14 days and weekends could not exceed 2 days on average. Despite tremendous amounts of G&C time there were considerable gaps in what could be accomplished annually in the way of training. For Combat Arms – training in maneuver and operating and completing a live fire gunnery qualification were forced to every other year. There was never enough time, dollars or ammunition allocated to do both tasks in the same year. This forced the organization to a “gunnery” year and a “maneuver” year. Slowly, however, the pace and attitudes changed. In the late eighties the active component was assigned to mentor the Army Reserve units. Affiliations were required and in our case we had the Army’s only airborne Armor Battailon as our mentor. Annual training was a jointly planned event with Active component soldiers mentoring, not grading – they took interest in our success and provided valuable training assistance.

In 1993 my assignment took me to an Mech Infantry Battalion and we participated in an NTC rotation – indicating the evolution in funding for annual training to provide more realistic events that was the result of Desert Storm. As the Active componet Army was pared down, increased emphasis was placed upon the Reserves and their capabilities.

1995 was a dark year – as I was part of a M1 Transition team condiucting new equipment training for my Armor Battalion we learned of the deal between the Army Reserve and National guard to divest the Army Reserve of Combat Arms. A blow felt directly to the mid-section of us combat arms soldiers that were now finally much better equipped and better trained. We were offered a modicum of assignments in the ensuing restructure to units of company size. (I actually saw infantrymen offered jobs as Quartermaster fabric repairmen). Many were displaced and the taste in our mouths as combat arms soldiers was bitter. Frankly the Army Reserve screwed up and lost many a talented soldier in that blunder.

1995-2001 was a period of adjustment, AC/RC program and other programs that strengthened the ties between active and Reserve component soldiers. It was also in this period that many active component soldiers joined the reserves as they departed the Active force further improving the training expectations and staffing for reserve units. This was probably the most productive growth years for the capabilities of the Reserve units. I was assigned to a unit that had a year round real training mission and shared tasks with active component organizations. The unit wasn’t equal perhaps, but certainly more respected and capable to complete its assigned missions. Training dollars, facility improvements, changes to installation support, issue of near modern equipment made the difference as Reserve soldiers felt much more a part of the total force in this period.

2001-present – this was the utilization phase for the Reserve Component. All of the sudden our soldiers were being assigned to active duty assignments, tours and mobilizations. In my case, I was deployed with a month’s time from alert to actual assignment in a combat theater on an active component unit’s staff. Was I prepared? Yes – I actually found that I was able to quickly assume the duties required. I had to learn some new tools of the trade that were not yet issued to the Reserve component (FBCB2, Squad Radios, etc…) but that did not take long to do. The basics of soldier tasks were easily updated and refreshed and I believe I provided a plausible performance in Iraq when I was called in 2004. The reason for the success was the push to a partnership with active component resources. Installations, trainers, assigned Active component soldiers, equipment were pushed to units and the mantra of Reserve soldiers as second class was largly forgotten.

What is the recipe in this dynamic relationship between Active and reserve components? I like to use an analogy to illustrate - Being in the Reserve Component is like being on a minor league baseball team. You practice and develop skills to play the same game played in the Major League. The rules are the same, same standards, same playing field. In the minors you won’t have the same dollars, your equipment may be a little older, some of the players may be a little past their prime, and you don’t play on TV or in front of the big crowds. But – you never know when you will be called up to play in the major league, in front of a bigger audience. In fact, your whole team may be called up together. Right at that moment, your skills have to be as sharp as possible, honed in a less glamorous locale under more austere conditions. You won’t get the luxury of more training, practice or mentoring – this is it – do the job now. That is life in the Reserve Component today.

We should endeavor to continue to make sure we resource the Reserve component soldier for success when he/she steps up to the big league playing field – we don’t have a lot of alternatives on the bench… make sure that soldier given the job has had ample opportunity to hone their skills to bring us the win on the global playing surface. And maybe we need to attend more of the minor league games, follow the roster a bit more and cheer the successes at that level – knowing that we need to appreciate and support the effort at that level that we have come to rely upon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reserve Mobilization - work to be done


The Reserve components have been in a continuous state of mobilization since 1995 in support of missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle. We can expect that the Army Reserve will continue to meet national security requirements, and any vertical escalation from the Global War on Terrorism will necessitate increased mobilization of the Army Reserve into the foreseeable future.

To be effective partners to the Active Component Force – the Reserve Mobilization process needs some major work. I can vouch from personal experience that the process facing a mobilized and deployed Reserve soldier is highly confusing, stressful and fraught with issues not experienced by our Active Component Brethren.

It has been established that mobilization is not an end state, it is a process conducted prior to deployment. In that process the present procedures for authorizing and directing mobilization are unduly burdensome, restrictive and time-consuming. Streamlining the process to bring Reserve Components soldiers to active duty with minimum required administrative, personnel transactions will increase the agility of the force while enhancing integration.

Following that there must be a standard personnel policies and procedures in accessing RC personnel after mobilization. Accessing reservists to the AC version of the Standard Installation/Division Personnel System (SIDPERS), while simultaneously keeping the individuals on theRC database, creates personnel accounting problems. We need to fix the ongoing systems problem attributed to the inability of automatic data processing (ADP) systems used by the AC, ARNG, and USAR to interface.

During the mobilization process Reserve units struggle with the cross-leveling of personnel which is accomplished at the MOBSTA. Paradoxically, during premobilization or immediately after mobilization while still at home station; cross-leveling of personnel must come from available RC unit assets depending upon the requirements which may not be complete or clear. In my organization’s deployment the constant shuffle of multiple individuals to individual mobilization requests created massive complications to both Active and Reserve component missions.

In essence, Reserve commands "rob Peter to pay Paul" in an effort to fill mobilization needs and continue Reserve tasks (in my unit – conducting MOS qualification training for Reserve and NG soldiers). As a result of the individual mobilizations in force in OIF early on many units were rendered ineffective in key tasks with the loss of 25-40% of Reserve soldiers to individual missions.
There was help possible for the reserve tasks in the IRR and IMA but that was inaccessible to the left behind reserve unit as well. HQDA should propose legislation that would allow augmentation of the Selected Reserve with soldiers from the Ready Reserve (e.g., RT-12s, IMAs, etc.) during a Presidential call-up under Title 10, U.S.C. 673b.

My mobilization was the exception in training – I had 5 days at CRC then sent directly to Iraq. I was able to quickly assume duties thanks to years of pretty effective training in the Reserves. But, unfortunately for many soldiers, after arriving at MOBSTAs, some RC units had to repeat training previously conducted at home stations. Some Readiness Group (RG) personnel and/or MOBSTA personnel did not coordinate with RC unit commanders in developing the MOBSTA training plan. Optimum readiness would dictate that the Reserve Commander should have the best picture of the state of training for his/her unit and thus the Mob station should not mandate redundant training as a prerequisite for validation.

Published validation criteria which apply equally to all components improve training, raise enthusiasm, increase confidence, and improve morale. Giving credit for previously conducted and validated training increases "espirit de corps" and negates parochialism among components. Published validation criteria follow the principles and tenants of training doctrine, i.e., EM 25-100, Training the Force, and EM 25-101, Battle Focused Training. All personnel of the Total Force Army are required follow the published guidance of training documents.

Streamlining the mobilization and deployment event is in essence mandated by the continued needs of national security requirements. The Global War on Terrorism will necessitate ongoing mobilization of the Army Reserve into the foreseeable future. Every effort to work with the Reserve Component leadership as opposed to the parent /child relationship of the past will render improved readiness for both the active and Reserve components. It is necessary that the systems, policies and leadership of the Active and Reserve components address the differences and embrace the similarities in training, warrior ethos and commitment to the effort to improve the result of the mobilization process.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Petraeus got it right

At the risk of appearing to idolize Gen Petraeus, I wanted to note some of the comments which appear lost in the general haze of contention between the factions in his report to Congress.

Gen Petraeus provided highly anticipated testimony to congress that was gritty, honest and, I believe, an honest assessment on Iraq conditions regardless of what political forces wanted to hear. Gen Petraeus provided a soldier’s answer to the question posed regarding the situation which will be debated and bashed for its content as viewed by diverse sides and factions but there were a couple points that stand beyond that fate.

General Petraeus closed with observations on the funding provided by congress – accurate in that we have enjoyed funds necessary to operate. Perhaps a little tip of the hat to the hand that feeds the force…

The advances you have underwritten in weapons systems and individual equipment; in munitions; in command, control, and communications systems; in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities; in vehicles and counter-IED systems and programs; and in manned and unmanned aircraft have proven invaluable in Iraq. The capabilities that you have funded most recently – especially the vehicles that will provide greater protection against improvised explosive devices – are also of enormous importance. Additionally, your funding of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program has given our leaders a critical tool with which to prosecute the counterinsurgency campaign. Finally, we appreciate as well your funding of our new detention programs and rule of law initiatives in Iraq.


But the point that I hope will eventually get some attention as the dust settles is General Petraeus comments for the congressional record - those regarding the military force today;

The Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen with whom I’m honored to serve are the best equipped and, very likely, the most professional force in our nation’s history. Impressively, despite all that has been asked of them in recent years, they continue to raise their right hands and volunteer to stay in uniform.
In closing, it remains an enormous privilege to soldier again in Iraq with America’s new “Greatest Generation.” Our country’s men and women in uniform have done a magnificent job in the most complex and challenging environment imaginable. All Americans should be very proud of their sons and daughters serving in Iraq today.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Iraqi Security Force Training


The News from Iraq reflects the reports from an independent Commission created by congress that estimates it will take at least 12-18 Months before Iraq’s Army and Police can take charge of their country.

A report by an independent commission created by Congress says that it will be at least 12 to 18 months before Iraq’s army and police can take charge of the country’s security. The 20-member commission, headed by Gen. James L. Jones of the Marines, now retired, found that the Iraqi armed forces, especially the army, were steadily improving but still suffering from “limited operational effectiveness, according to a copy of the panel’s report that was being circulated Wednesday in advance of its formal release. David Cloud, New York Times, September 6, 2007


In my mind, that assessment bears some correlation to my own observations that we continue to train countless Iraqis and don’t witness their effective utilization. MNSTC-I effectively trains candidates for these forces but there exists a revolving door in units for the soldiers who often do not last at duty locations in the field when placed under local (Iraqi) control. We don’t control implementation and retention of the number of Police and soldiers already trained in country. That remains under Iraqi control entirely. The losses and continued waste of trained Iraqi Soldiers and Police is due to continued sectarian purging of the ranks, corruption of the government and Interior Ministries and to a lesser extent the Ministry of Defense in Iraq.

Its easy to be critical of the senior Iraqi Military and its establishment until you realize that it was formed from absolutely nothing. What we take for granted – senior well experienced and seasoned officer and NCOs in our forces does not exist in large scale in Iraq in the Military or Police. The basic command and control functions, to include logistical planning and support were vaporized and will take time to re-establish. All of these tasks have been approached concurrent with the fight in Iraq by MNSTC-I. as quoted to many in MNSTC-I “its like building an airplane while in flight”

Couple the nascent infrastructure difficulties with a “less than capable and new government subjected to serious rifts and divides” and you have a significant challenge within any timeline.

Is the assessment correct? Probably understates the time required if Iraqi institutional issues are not resolved quickly. Replacing large blocks of the Iraqi security forces and retraining new will result in the same inefficiencies if the handover of newly trained forces continues to a government that is unable to resolve sectarian and corruption difficulties. That is the root of the issue that must be addressed to improve the effectiveness of the security forces in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reserve Soldier and Federal employee

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has just issued a decision that should be looked at carefully by any current or retired federal employee who took military leave for reserve activities. (Hernandez v. Department of the Air Force, C.A.F.C. No. 2006-3375, 8/27/07) This decision has implications for most Military technicians, and Federal employees that were also Reservist prior to 1994.


Under federal law, federal employees who are in the reserves get 15 days of military leave per year with the ability to carry over up to 15 days of unused military leave into the following year. (5 U.S.C. §6323(a)(1)) For many years it was the government's practice to charge every day that a reservist was on active duty to the 15-day military leave account, even if part of it occurred, say, on a weekend when the federal employee was not usually scheduled to work. For example, 1 week of reserve activity that included Saturday and Sunday when the employee was not scheduled to work his/her civilian job anyway, was charged 7 days of military leave. (Opinion, pp. 1-2)


This was accepted practice that affected many Federal employees serving as Reserve soldiers, including me. Federal Employees, including Military Technicians, lost two days of military leave every Annual Training – if we had to complete more that 15 days of active duty in a year we were faced with LWOP for the balance or had to use our annual leave. Prior to this decision – anyone in this position could only recoup the difference incurred back to 1994 – that may now have to change to periods before 1994.

The difficulty in gaining relief will be to document service for many of us – most of the records from the eighties were paper related and often in previous agencies or organizations making this a difficult task. The other facet of this case affecting collection of the necessary documentation is the use of discovery action pressed upon the agency rather than the employee to get the pay records for the affective periods – in this case back to 1980.

The practice was widespread and the requirement of the agency to determine the amount of relief in essence will likely drive some sort of process or settlement plan for Reservist that were also federal employees prior to 1994 – keep your eyes posted here for developments.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Petraeus notes Iraqi situation

The time we have left as a country to make positive changes in Iraq is quickly expiring. Gen Petraeus is heading a last hour charge by our forces to secure the country and contain the multiple threats and opportunist that continue to jockey for position. Gen Petraeus has a military task of incredible complexity but he is engaged by the problem of the Iraqi Government performance deficit to date. He has recently issue the warning that crosses that military/political divide when he said

"
If the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi people, the Iraqi political leaders can demonstrate that there should be hope for them making the most of the opportunity, that our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are fighting to provide them, indeed there could be time put on the clock, kept on the clock to enable this endeavor to go forward,"
Results of the emergency political summit going on in Baghdad will be critical, he said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Iraq's top Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders to meet this week in an effort to stabilize what Gen. Petraeus referred to as "political crisis."

"That's the situation we're in right now. We are waiting to see what the political leaders accomplish at the big summit that is ongoing in Baghdad," he said. "We need to see now: 'What is the progress made? ... And does that indeed point to a path that will take them forward?'"Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said in an interview Aug. 17 with Soldiers Radio and Television's Gail McCabe.



What is noteworthy in this type of dialogue is that Gen Petraeus is continuing the question he has been quoted in past – “where does this all end”. While the Iraqi people must decide where it all ends and what steps to change or energize their leaders are needed we remain engaged as a military force and will struggle to meet a mission accomplishment that is not clearly defined.

General Petraeus is pressing for a political solution which is instrumental to any success in Iraq – not the forte of the Military but an absolute necessity to our battle plan.

As a country we must decide where we want our interaction with Iraq to end. Do we resolve to suffer the pains of a burgeoning democracy with its cost to our soldiers or do we want to abandon the quest to democracy in Iraq and allow the rival factions to immerse the country into anarchy and a cloudy future. While General Petraeus is bravely stepping out of the military realm to push the Iraqi Government to action we must decide if we are willing to give that government time to figure out how to efficiently run a government that is able to secure its people.

Petraeus is exhibiting an extrodinary amount of candor and demonstrates his acummen for results... his efforts are admirable... and I wish him success in gaining results from the Iraqi government.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Update on My Baby in Basic

My daughter graduated High School last June and shipped to Basic training on 2 July. As her father I remain pleased with her graduation and applaud her choice to go into the Army in the footsteps of her Father. I know the risks of deployment for her with her unit and accept that she knows I will worry about her no matter what course she takes.

To those that have inquired – she is doing well, having mastered the routine and come to grips with the Drill Sergeants and the regimen. My daughter was a typical American girl – she no doubt misses the mall, TV and freedom for the moment. Her biggest dream at the moment is sleep, some candy (seems that is very restricted in the first couple weeks) and to come home. She comments on how the battle buddy concept works and the team building that goes on. It seems she is being transformed from individual centric into a team member.

She has also noted the development of muscle, strength and endurance… it seems the individual is getting improved as well in a whole spirit and body manner that has to be experienced to be known. She isn’t being brainwashed, I assure you, just accepting that she can maintain some individuality and be a better team member.

Finally there has been an evolving sense of anticipation that she is serving her country. A calling that she heard as a whisper when she signed up, but has come to hear in greater volume since starting down the path as a Army Reserve Soldier. I am still so proud of the service I was privileged to provide and am gratified that the process works to this day to transform young people into soldiers.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Weapons Issue Conspiracy?


The press and conspiracy theorists are all over the GAO issued 31 Jul 2007 report, "DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces,"

The GAO report states:

Although the former MNSTC-I commander reported that about 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 items of body armor, and 140,000 helmets were issued to Iraqi security forces as of September 2005, the MNSTC-I property books contain records for only about 75,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 80,000 items of body armor, and 25,000 helmets. Thus, DOD and MNF-I cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005. Our analysis of the MNSTC-I property book records found that DOD and MNF-I cannot fully account for at least 190,000 weapons reported as issued to Iraqi forces as of September 22, 2005.


Having been part of MNSTC-I in 2004-2005 I can offer the simple assessment of conditions found in the Fall of 2004 when large quantities of equipment were being pushed out to the Iraqi Forces. In that period – MNSTC-I was working in the middle of a war zone with few resources and personnel. We had lots of push to get forces up and operational under overly optimistic thoughts that training and equipping Iraqi forces would enable a quick exit from Iraq. Everything was a clamor to meet numbers demanded by arm chair press and congressional delegations without regard for the actual conditions on the ground.

Against that backdrop – Reserve soldiers thrown into the turmoil toiled night and day to take care of priority one – to issue equipment to all corners of the country. Set up and train the Iraqi Security forces quickly and provide Facilities, equipment, training and mentor the created from scratch organization to take over defense of the country.

Apparently orur J4 section did not always get a legible or “auditable” document from the Iraqi recipients…. Sorry… we did get enough forces equipped to hold elections and start to turn the corner in Iraq… Our tax dollars were not wasted – there is no sensational fraud or corruption…. We didn’t have the luxury of controlled conditions and software systems designed to help. I’m sure the briefed numbers of weapons issued may be slightly off as well – too bad… with the accuracy of 20-20 hindsight we could have attempted to do more… lesson learned… the truth is that this inaccuracy pales to the unaccounted equipment from other wars for this country – the difference now is the hostile press looks for every reason to criticize the effort and holds no account for the difficulty of the task…. Spend a day in the shoes perhaps would serve to cool the rhetoric.

Monday, July 30, 2007

No more access to Blogs

Hearing recently that many DoD employees are being denied capability to open blog sites - more of the Mil Blogging restrictions coming to the Military community unfortunately.

This is a shortsighted myopic design that is likely the result of older generational bias against the tremendous tool that is the internet. Instead of harvesting the energy and opportunity present in the supportive communications from the Military community we have silenced yet more voices to the delight of the Non-DoD and thus criticaly skewed liberal bias.

I can't prove the shutdown, but I fear it is truth to DoD employees....As I have noted here before

Military Blogs are being monitored for content – this should come as no surprise… it makes absolute sense that any entity will monitor information flow, opinion, content and will exploit such information whenever possible. In the current conflict that we face it is a sure bet that US, International and enemy personnel monitor all information sources to include Blogs.


Some blogs have stated that this monitoring is somehow a restriction of Blog site freedom of speech… an draconian suppression of the “truth”. I recently experienced the phenomenon with this blog of receiving such monitoring. I will say, there is some intimidation being felt as a mil-bloggers when a military agency “contacts “ the Blog site and offers an alternate point of view or a link to their site. You may have noted the addition of Military sites to several Bloggers lately as they are contacted by such monitoring efforts. The Military establishment efforts are clumsy and becoming increasingly indefensable if an attempt at restricting the reading of opinion - what is next - the shutdown of the opinion page in the Army times?.

I have no doubt that the Defense establishment has likely shut down access to Blog sites as they have acknowledged was done for MySpace, You Tube... It may be done again under the radar of the press this time as a heavy handed local policy or enforcement of the DoD warning that includes a section specifically about blogs.

What is disturbing to me is the sense that opinion, comments on subjective matters such as unit morale, comments regarding the Iraq War in general and other individual opinion topics may be subject to censure. My Fellow Mil-Bloggers all have different views and opinions – the sum of which would paint a pretty accurate picture of soldier and Military oriented public opinion.

We should allow them the right to voice opinion and comment with the caveat that the views expressed are their own on matters of their own choosing when security is not compromised. Commanders should insure that local PAO efforts do not sanitize information within this policy to the point of being the "party line" merely for the sake of conformity to Senior Leadership views. I think we would find that credibility of the Military establishment as a whole will be supported by a free exchange of comment from the soul of its inner workings.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Homeless Veterans

This last weekend I participated in a Motorcycle poker run which was organized to provide funds for Homeless Veterans. I really did not know the scope if the issue with homeless veterans and always assumed that veterans were a cross section in society and were homeless at the same rate as everyone else.

I decided to read into the issue and found the statistics a little discomforting as a soldier and thought I’d share some with you in the hopes that we all work to never leave a former soldier behind. From the Veteran’s Administration site (http://www1.va.gov/homeless/)

The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation's homeless veterans are mostly males (4 % are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America.

23% of homeless population are veterans
33% of male homeless population are veterans
47% Vietnam Era
17% post Vietnam
15% pre Vietnam
67% served three or more years
33% stationed in war zone
25% have used VA Homeless Services
85% completed high school/GED compared to 56% of non-veterans
89% received Honorable Discharge
79% reside in central cities
16% reside in suburban areas
5% reside in rural areas
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% white males compared to 34% non-veterans
46% age 45 or older compared to 20% non-veterans
Service needs:
45% help finding job
37% finding housing


In these statistics one out of every three homeless men has worn a uniform and served this country. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999 provides that roughly 1 in 4 of all homeless people in America are veterans.

As a former soldier these statistics tell me that we have former brothers and sisters that served that need our help. The statistics bear out that we may not be doing enough for some veterans. The VA has some programs to assist veterans, but are they adequate for the surge that will follow the latest war…. I don’t know – at the moment I do a little bit – if all of us veterans did the same I know we would be following the soldier creed – I will never leave a fallen comrade - and perhaps we can make a difference.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

5th Deployment or bust?

If you read the accounts - Army Reserve Sgt. Erik Botta has been sent to Iraq three times and to Afghanistan once and he is going to court because he thinks that's enough.

"This has nothing to do with protest of the war ... I have nothing but respect for the people on the ground," Botta said Friday, one day after he filed his petition in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. "But I feel I do need a fair decision and a fair review." Botta , 26, of Port St. Lucie, contends in his petition that the Army's refusal to exempt him from deployment "constitutes unlawful custody." Botta argues the Army did not consider the length and nature of his previous tours "to assure a sharing of exposure to the hazards of combat."


Sounds pretty daunting for the Army dosen’t it – 5 deployments for this soldier – but wait a minute…. I had to ask how long were the deployments – after all not all are equal in terms of sacrifice…

Botta was deployed to Afghanistan for about seven months in 2002. He then had three deployments to Iraq - about a month in 2003, three months in 2004 and 15 days later that year. That is a grand total of 10 months boots on the ground. Frankly two of the tours to Iraq are about equal to an annual training cycle for reserve soldiers….

Most Army Reserve and National Guard units deploy for 12-15 months consecutively to a combat theater – while I applaud Sgt Botta’s service, he has not done the share that many Reserve and Guard soldiers have in extended deployment. His argument for educational deferment I can see – till the end of the Semester. Many serve as required – with similar issues – it’s a sacrifice to be a soldier – Erik – you haven’t had it all that bad.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The book has come out


In August 2004 I was one of the 98th Division Iroquois soldiers call up to deploy to Iraq as part of MNSTC-I. I went to work with the soldiers mentioned in the book Iroquois Warriors in Iraq published by the Combat Studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The book was put together by Steven Clay. As noted in the forward to the book:

Prior to 2004, a US Army Reserve institutional training division had never deployed overseas to a theater of operations, nor were they designed to function as unit trainers and combat advisors. The author highlights the challenges faced by the 98th Division as it trained for and deployed to Iraq for this unusual mission. Among those challenges were how to train and prepare for the mission, who to send, how to integrate reservists into the new Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I), and whether to deploy the 98th as a unit or as a collection of individual soldiers.
Throughout the turbulent period of 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, the soldiers of the 98th Division added to the proud legacy of the US Army Reserve. Iroquois Warriors in Iraq tells the story of the history of the 98th Division (IT), it is a compelling narrative of the earliest phases of the Army’s efforts to build the Iraqi armed forces,

Steve did a good job laying out the state of affairs that we as Reserve soldiers faced with the lack of information and a quick deployment to all manner of conditions and challenges. In the book he illustrates several individual 98th Division Soldier’s incredible contributions to the MNSTC-I mission with an honest and frank narrative that pulls no punches. The reading is focused on one Reserve Unit deployment, but provides some insight into the flexibilities and capabilities of a well led organization in a combat theater. I know many of the contributors and their stories are true and really encapsulate the year we spent in country.

Steve provides a fair analysis of the deployment and concludes the book with sound conclusions in chapter 8. He has some great ideas that he floats in this chapter. I particularly like the thoughts on greater infusion of the active and reserve component. As he notes many of today’s senior Active Duty Leadership has more knowledge of the Navy and Airforce as a result of joint assignments that they posess of 2/3rd of the Army in the Reserves and National Guard.

The last note here is the quote attributed to Gen Petraeus

I think they should be justly proud of what they did. In some cases they did missions for which they were completely suited; in other cases, just like everybody else in Iraq, they did missions that were not familiar to them and they responded admirably in each case. . . . To say we couldn’t have done it without . . . the 98th would be a huge understatement, so they ought to look on this episode in their history with pride.12

Yes, I’m proud of the work done by the 98th Division Reserve Soldiers and all those that preceeded and have served since – Thanks to Steve Clay – one story of Reserve Component success has been told.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mortaritaville - song from Iraq


I heard the song linked here the first time (Mortaritaville) while I was with MNSTC-I in the IZ in fall of 2004 - that song struck a chord with me as a Reservist in Iraq and I have the MP3 file of the song that I pulled off the network over there. We listened to it in our shop and when on the road in thin skinned vehicles...

It was recorded by JR Schultz and Nick Brown a couple National Guard soldiers in the IZ in the fall of 2004 at FOB Warrior. They were with the 1/153 inf from the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Brigade. I asked them permission to share it with a wider audience - As fellow soldiers stationed in Iraq I appreciate the sentiment in the song and I felt compelled to add some of my pictures from Iraq to complete the sentiment. That result can be seen on you tube - Mortaritaville the movie

Their site says
"We started writing songs while serving in Iraq with no predetermined ambitions beyond pleasing family and friends. However, as our music was passed around, we were thrilled to find that everyone seemed to enjoy it. We are not professional singers, songwriters, or musicians. We represent the average soldier serving in Iraq."


These guys just sell these CDs off the web at their site Iraq Songs and don't do any promotion to speak of so it always helps to get a little assistance from those who enjoy the music. They said
"Turns out, sounds like you were one of the first to get your hands on the song, we recorded it in the IZ in the fall of 2004 at FOB Warrior. We were with the 1/153 inf from the Arkansas National Guard's 39th Brigade. I know our music has made it's rounds with e-mail and file sharing and I really think most people would like to know where they could hear the rest of our music. I recently ran into an electrician and after talking to him a while, learned he did some private contract work in Mosul, Iraq in 05-06. Out of curiosity, I asked him if he'd ever heard "Mortaritaville" and he actually had it on his iPod."


As in every conflict - sometimes the songs that come out speak volumes about the truths of service - Motaritaville gives a little bit of what did I get myself into message and reflects that even in the uncertainty of a war zone we can still laugh at ourselves as soldiers... Hats off to these soldiers for sharing with us.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Changes planned for the Reserves

The Defense Department’s service personnel chiefs are presenting insights on better ways to integrate Guard and Reserve members into the total force to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. In prepared statements the common theme was a need for the seamless integration of the active and reserve military, civilian employees and support contractors into a cohesive and rapidly tailorable force.

The personnel chiefs' testimony reflected comments offered the previous day by Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. He urged more flexibility for reserve-component members that enables them to better balance their military and civilian obligations and encourages them to serve. Mr. Dominguez joined the service chiefs in endorsing a "continuum of service" that enables military members to shift between the active and reserve components, more full-time support for Guard and Reserve units, expanded opportunities for joint training and qualifications and a more competitive compensation package.

I have stated in this blog previously that there is a real need for more full-time support to guard and reserve units – having been a part of that structure for 18 years as a military technician. Reserve units are really busy and all critical tasks cannot be accomplished by short handed staffs.

The fact that the services have discussions and seem to be working to fix the gap in the continuum of service for the reserve components is encouraging. I can attest to the bureaucratic tangle required to switch from active Reserve status to active duty caused by everything from TRICARE paperwork to orders to report. I have proposed here as well that an easy transition between Reserve and active component service should be sought as an alternative to current practice to allow a full time part time work schedule as life’s events may require.

What I did not see mentioned is training – the active community has the training resources but they are seldom available to Reserve units on an equal basis. Improve the dynamic of pushing training to Reservists will greatly improve the efficiency of reserve drill periods.

To achieve a balance between military and civilian obligations is perhaps the toughest task facing the commission. Every Reservist is essentially a little at the mercy of civilian employers to hire the reserve soldier or provide support. In reality the enforcement of employer support to the Guard and reserve is not up to the challenge to resolve the hard to prove discriminations which inevitably occur. Additionally – we ask a lot of employers when we take their reserve employees for 2+ years in a 5 year employment cycle – you won’t see that as a recipe for success in any business plan.

Finally – the compensation package – achieving a balance to keep the soldier in uniform as a guard or reserve member. I believe we are doing a passable job now as retention rates seem to be good… but that conveyor has to be fed new soldiers which we are lagging in the Army Reserve.

We do ourselves little positive incentive advertising with deployment rule changes that have changed the conditions of deployment. We make the news with ill advised stop loss policies that hold soldiers past contractual agreements. We must avoid making the Reserve forces career one of deployments on an irregular basis for a changeable period to every need from Homeland defense, emergencies to warfighting. We cannot think that all employers are patriots first and observe the impact of Reservists on the bottom-line second. Reserve and Guard must have some predictability to perform in civilian positions, complete school and serve as well. To keep the best and brightest – those reserve soldiers going somewhere in their civilian lives - we must offer an established path to success in the reserve environment that has the flexibility to compliment civilian and military careers.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It is AT Season


I started waxing poetic the other day when I realized that this time of year was when my last unit had its regularly scheduled Annual Training. I realized that in a circadian rhythm I had always been scheduled for significant events for the summertime period – many annual training cycles, but also my R&R from Iraq, my wedding 25 years ago. I guess this year for the first time I really had nothing planned and I was only jarred into that realization as I passed a convoy of vehicles heading for Ft. Drum for an annual training cycle…that annual summertime event I shared for 18 or so years.

I remember the planning, increased buzz of activity at the Reserve Center that preceded the big day that the Convoy was assembled and set off for the AT location – usually several states away. The ride in Jeeps or later HUMMVs on the interstate and the swelling of chest as cars would pass by the vehicle and waved, cheered, kids with faces pressed forward to see soldiers. The training time would be a flurry of overtasked days to complete every imaginable training task prior to the end of training period. The ride home and the cleaning, repacking and tired satisfaction that came from knowing that once again AT was successful and our skills were re-sharpened.

I have always given the analogy that serving in the Reserves was like Minor League Baseball. Provided older equipment, fewer resources and less pay, the game we played was the same as the Active duties (Major league) – The rules were the same, the playing field was essentially the same – Minor league players may not have had the flair or polish but they understand the fundamentals of the game. Occasionally we would get called up to play in an active duty assignment and all that we had was going to be required when playing on the bigger field.

Today, much of the reserve force has deployed to a bigger event, the amateur feel of Annual Training seems like we were just playing a game when we went to Pickett, Dix, Drum, etc…. But it was the basis for many part time soldiers stepping to the plate when called. Those bucolic summers somehow enabled the thinking green mindset and can do ability for the Reservist that I served with in Iraq. Now I guess I see the annual training event in a different light – I miss the fun and enjoyment of the annual event and know that our efforts really mattered to our country – So when you see those Reserve and Guard soldiers heading for Annual Training – wave and let them know how we appreciate what they are doing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

IRR - no more Shell Game

The Associated Press reports that the Army is notifying 5000 Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) soldiers to report to RRC locations for medical screening and administrative tasks. IRR is a category of soldiers that have no remaining active duty or active reserve obligation (paid status) but are awaiting expiration of service – it also is the catch all location for soldiers administratively separated from active reserve units for Physical fitness failure or overweight. IRR soldiers are not putting on uniforms, going to drill, or being administered in any way in the Army as it stands today. Many IRR members are people who were honorably discharged after finishing their active-duty service but have not yet completed the eight-year commitment they made when they joined the Army. Some are former officers who chose not to resign their commission and thus remained on the IRR rolls.

The recall of 5000 IRR soldiers should be viewed as a required repair of the IRR system which has absolutely abandoned and neglected Active and Reserve soldiers assigned to its ranks for the last 5-10 years. The Army Reserve has expended little effort in the recent past to assist IRR soldiers, encourage them to join units, maintain adequate contact or even acknowledge their service. The Army Reserve has admitted an inability to contact many of its IRR members and that comes as no suprise given a former soldiers expected life's events following service. For some IRR soldiers the effort was the Army Reserve sending one letter every year to the last known address – hardly an appreciable effort likely to sustain the IRR resource.

The effort to complete annual visit to a Reserve location was done in the 80s and 90s with some success, but it was abandoned because of cost. Typically IRR soldiers were sent a notice to report to a center for address and administrative screening and paid for one day of duty commensurate with their grade.

In the past – the IRR was really a category that reserve and former Active soldiers were placed when no longer “soldiering” and no efforts were expended to keep in touch or assist that group. In cases – IRR soldiers that were dead, imprisoned, no longer physically capable were being carried in the overall IRR count. The numbers in the IRR pool were reported but to say the least its capabilities were not accurately assessable by looking at the figures.

With the increased need and use of the Army Reserve this long neglected category of soldiers is now receiving some attention… calling them back to determine status and conducting administrative actions with IRR soldiers is a good start. The Army Reserve can do more –

As is normal for this blog – some ideas;

- paid part-time drill status – Reserve units need help and some IRR soldiers may be available for a portion of the training year at a local active reserve unit – allow a local commander to bring IRR soldiers in for as needed part-time paid drills. IRR soldiers can serve as adjunct members of local reserve units and may come to join on a more permanent basis as a result.

- Medical screenings/ follow-ups for former active duty soldiers – offer a follow-up program for former active component soldiers that encompasses a paid IRR medical screening – use VA assistance to the effort.

- send a $ check for online annual or semi-annual registration by IRR soldiers – update administrative information, address, e-mail contact info, phone, etc and pay for the effort a small amount. IRR soldiers unable to travel to RSC sites on dates times could still remain locatable within the system with little effort.

- Enable Reservists to conduct screening at a local Reserve recruiting station instead of at RSC location. (Who wants to travel to the Bronx for a whole day and fight that traffic – 50 miles or not).

- Streamline separation of soldiers that are unsuitable (morale, criminal, health, etc) for further service – do not deposit them into IRR and expend efforts on them in the future…. Local commander makes the call… not the far removed division retention NCO.

These efforts will improve the quality of information on IRR assigned soldiers. Used in whole or part they will reduce the population of the IRR to manageable numbers and improve efficiencies in call ups when necessary. These are not cost free ideas – but remember you get what you pay for.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My Baby is going to Basic

My daughter graduates High School tomorrow and is scheduled to ship to Basic training on 2 July. As a father I am pleased with her graduation and applaud her choice to go into the Army in the footsteps of her Father. I know the risks of deployment for her with her unit and accept that she knows I will worry about her no matter what course she takes.

I haven’t heard much about Cindy Sheehan lately … she lost her son to the war in Iraq and used that loss as a platform for political activism. I don’t care for her methods, but I understand the parental desire to nurture and protect loved ones and resist their exposure to danger and I'm sad she felt the loss for a cause she does not support.

It’s a fine line to walk – support the service to country and wish the best for your child. In my case – I know the experience the Army will provide will make my daughter a stronger, more confident individual. The experience will serve her for years into the future. If she is deployed, I will send her boxes of support and never let her think I waiver in my wholehearted support of what she is doing to serve her country. As with any soldier – we serve Civilian authority – which is not always infallible – but with our efforts intended to provide for our countrymen – there are few higher callings.

So with that – we’ll celebrate the graduation – we will have our tearful goodbyes as she heads to Ft Leonard Wood for Basic Training and AIT. She will come back in the winter and start school a changed individual – putting forth a desire to serve that noble calling with her Reserve Unit and as her Father – I couldn’t be more proud. With that comes the specter of deployment and there again I will be the proud and worried dad – but I know the price of Freedom is not cheap and I would be a hypocrite if I was not supportive of my little soldier.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Marine IRR member fight for rights

The Marines have recommended a general discharge for an Iraq war veteran who wore part of a uniform during a war protest and later responded with an obscenity to a superior who told him he might have violated military rules. Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh participated in the protest in March, clad in a uniform that had no name tag and other insignia removed.


There has been a stir recently caused by this Marine from the IRR that has exercised the right to free speech in participating in demonstrations in Washington. He was wearing a uniform with patches removed and voiced his opposition to the war. He was contacted by the Marines as a result and informed that he may have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization. Following that the Marine voiced his objection to the fact that he was contacted by the Marines on the matter in terms which gained him additional charges. There are several matters here - let me sort some of them out



I can buy the exact uniform and patches that marine wore on that day at any of a thousand military surplus stores. Look anywhere and you'll find the wear of camouflage is an urban clothing item - why is it an issue here?



The Marine assigned to the IRR receives no pay, no benefits and does not report regularly to any chain of command. He is subject to recall to active duty, but won't get a nickel to maintain uniforms, health care is not offered, and in fact from all outward appearances, he is essentially a civilian.



Our Forefathers granted all freedom of Speech in the constitution - the military establishment practicing a censure under the guise of military law and order in this case is very selective when Major Generals identified by rank, service affiliation and former assignments are broadcasting disagreement on the airwaves on a regular basis with impunity.



I don't agree with this Marine's sentiment in protest, but I was impressed with the guts and thought in his letter to the Marine Corp. Simply put, this Marine - no longer materially participating in organized military voiced his opposition to the Iraq War. Frankly the action to attempt to permanently stain this marine's record with a change in discharge is wholly inappropriate in that he served and is no longer on the active roles. His method of responding did result in inappropriate remarks to an officer - and wasn't necessary to make the point - but it would not have been precipitated except for a charge leveled for the sake of Marine Corp decorum. The effort by the Marines here is indicative of continued efforts to muzzle dissention and opinion from the ranks. Even the VFW has seen the issue as one for response urging the military to



"exercise a little common sense" and call off its investigation of a group of Iraq war veterans who wore their uniforms during anti-war protests.

"Trying to hush up and punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic right we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're all about,"


The Marines claim that the protest was a political event, at which personnel are not allowed to wear their uniforms without authorization. In closing arguments, Marine Capt. Jeremy Sibert said that military personnel can be punished if their civilian behavior "directly affects the performance of military duties and is service-related." He said Kokesh's actions could affect how people view the Marine Corps and discourage recruits. I'm struck by the expanse of actions already done by senior military officers that are retired that could fit this description - and frankly now that the Marines have chosen to prosecute this IRR soldier - couldn't Capt Sibert be accused of doing the same thing?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reserve Chief on Retaining Reserve Soldiers

Recently LTG Stultz the chief of the Army Reserve has championed the idea that retaining soldiers in the Army Reserve is a idea that has increased importance to our defense posture. With the change to an operational Reserve, the reduced transition times for citizen soldiers and the increased skill set required from Reserve units – retention of soldiers who have experienced the lessons of combat becomes even more critical. This issue of retention becomes extremely important to a military's force structure and effectiveness and has traditionally been of minor importance when peacetime demands provided no incentive to keep soldiers in uniform for extended periods. LTG Stultz has provided some new ideas as well as previously attempted but failed offerings for retaining Reserve soldiers.

As he is quoted here from a recent article by American Force Press Service Army Reserve Chief Applies Business Lessons to Military Force By Donna Miles; he offers some new and old concepts – some notes on each…

He likes the concept of a “continuum of service” that would enable soldiers to move between the active and reserve component during their military careers. This would enable soldiers to continuing serving as their life situation changes.

This concept is a good one – the vehicle for going from Reserves to Active Component has been virtually impossible or non-existent in the past – what better way to retain, gain one force mentality than to have continued rotation of personnel between active and reserve environments. The flexibilities offered could help retain active and Reserve soldiers for a longer duration.

He is troubled over the issue of reserve medical benefits – that maze of changes in medical insurance Reservists must undergo with each deployment and re-deployment – with regard to the medical changes endured he had this thought and what is a great idea;

If we are truly going to have an operational force in the reserve components, if we are truly going to say to expect to be mobilized on a repeated basis on a regular frequency, we can’t keep requiring the soldier to change medical plans every five years,” he said. “We just can’t keep doing that.” Stultz noted that changing medical plans affects entire families. “That is too much turmoil and stress on the family,” he said.

He’s considered ways to prevent this, possibly by having the military work with employers to share the cost of continuing corporate health-care benefits while a soldier is mobilized. Another option might be for the military to extend Tricare benefits for reservists to reservists who don’t have health insurance elsewhere or at a lower cost than they can get it from their employers.

That could be a big enticement for civilian employers, particularly those in small business, to want to hire reservists, he said.

This effort would be a new avenue and could be taken up quickly for Federal employees that are Reserve soldiers – should be easy to adapt a shared medical burden for soldiers that are also Feds.

Finally the rehashed idea – seen by inside observers of the Reserve component and struck down by the Pentagon every year. There has been several attempts to get a reduced retirement age provision tied to either greater longevity or combat zone experience. These are often championed by congress and dismissed by the Pentagon…

He’s intrigued by the concept of allowing reservists to draw retirement six months early for every year they serve beyond 20. Based on this formula, troops who served 22 years could draw it at age 59. Those with 26 years of service could draw it at 57. Those who stay 30 years – which Stultz recommends as the cap – could draw their retirement at age 55.

“So I would get 10 more years of service out of that individual, for five years of early retirement,” he said.

LTG Stultz is thinking and working some good points – reflecting a point of view shared by many within the rank and File of the Reserves – he is a reserve soldier with a civilian job and knows the trials of such an arrangement. His comments reflect a refreshing air of concern for soldier readiness and retention not seen for many years . Unfortunately he will struggle first with the Active component machine to make these necessary improvements – I would like to see him prevail and I wish him luck.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Guard and Reserve Family Support

New Flash - update

I wrote this article based largely on the experience of my familiy support group - it seems there are resources out there - though not well or universally publicized that do exactly what I was asking for with my article - I am happy to note that I recieved a response from a former Family Support Coordinator that provided the DoD one source location - it can be found at Military one source I stand unofficially educated and corrected - thanks to Chuck for setting me straight.

News Flash - update

All told, more than 417,000 National Guard and Reservists, or about 80 percent of the members of the Guard and Reserve, have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, with an average of 18 months per mobilization. Of these, more than 84,200, or 20 percent, have been deployed more than once. Army National Guard and Reserve families are subjected to the greatest stress concerning the length of deployment due to remote location relative to military installations. The Army has moved to a 12 month deployment model which will partially address the duration of stress but there remains a glaring inadequacy in addressing support for families. The Guard and Reserve remain inadequately staffed to provide assistance on a consistent basis for deployed unit member families.

What is needed is round the clock access to resources – readily available –for the Reserve and Guard family member to one stop shop for support while their loved ones are deployed? Presently the Family Support program falls far short of this requirement. At most units, Family support is provided by volunteers (often the Cdr’s spouse) to members. The effort carried out by these volunteers is heroic but there is a morale responsibility on the Military to provide something more substantive than an adhoc volunteer group to aid family members that are located great distances from military installations and services.

One method we may harness is providing Family support services via the Internet. Most people have some form of access to the internet and deployed soldiers families could use this mode as a portal to aid and assistance when needed. Using a secure AKO platform and a live response element could enable the military to provide a place to turn when a Tricare issue, power of attorney problem, household question or other issue turns up. Imagine what a single site, oriented towards helping deployed soldiers families with all questions would do to reinforce the notion that the military establishment believes in the Army Family.

Internet search for relevant Family Support sites for Guard and Reserve offers a lot of PR to the effort but few hard stops (action agencies or officials) for real needs that families can experience. Don’t interpret sentence above to reflect that there is no value in the links out there – but they are not Army or DoD action sites that can step forward with assistance for remote families…. In reality, families in need must get themselves to an installation for any chance at assistance - not always possible.

Presently, the military provides ample staff for public affairs activities to talk and interact with the press, but nothing near equivalent to work with Reserve and Guard families – what does that say about us?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Flags for our predecessors


On Saturday, in what is an annual ritual around the country, I participated in placing flags on veteran’s graves as I have been honored to do for over 10 years now. This is done in all military and civilian cemeteries alike, by soldiers and volunteers. The Flags are provided by the county, service organizations or Federal government – one for each deceased veteran’s grave. Each flag is placed in Broze or aluminum holders pre-placed at each grave site for the purpose.

Americans regard Memorial Day as a day set aside for cookouts, opening the pool, lazy summer days start, afternoon naps, or other summertime pursuits. In today’s high impact lifestyles it often just represents another Monday holiday. The holiday doesn’t have the same spit and polish it did 138 years ago, when Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day, was established by Union veterans of the Civil War.
Accounts from that time describe:

Citizens were called to "gather around (the veterans') sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime," the official order read. "Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and to assist those whom they have left among us as a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude.


Locally, Memorial Day and the tradition of putting flags on veterans' graves gets harder every year as veteran’s organizations get smaller, and older. The roster of members placing the flags are just as resolute in their determination to see the gratitude of our country is still communicated directly to veteran families and survivors. Placing a 12 x 18 Flag on a deceased veteran’s grave is a small token of acknowledgement that we remember and appreciate the veteran’s service to this country.

So Readers – on this Memorial Day – consider putting up a flag – wherever you are… enjoy the holiday and give a minute or two reflection on the soldiers that served. Many are living among us and will enjoy the holiday as well but as any veteran can attest - All give some, some gave all.