Monday, April 30, 2007

LTC sells his loyalty

LTC Steele processed through Ft. Dix prior to his assignment in Iraq. During that period he and his unit were provided multiple presentations and briefings that laid out the necessity for Operational Security, military discipline, and covered assignment aspects of the mission in Iraq. The training provided measures which are necessary to protect the force. As was quoted to me from one of the training and operations staff at Ft Dix “One could only suppose this officer forgot where his loyalties lay or forgot to pay attention in the Security Class.”

"A hearing opens in Iraq today to determine whether a US officer should be court-martialed for charges including aiding the enemy.
Army Lieutenant Colonel William Steele, a reservist from Virginia serving full time, is accused of nine violations of military law while he commanded a military police detachment at a main detention centre in Baghdad.
The charges include providing an unmonitored mobile phone to detainees, fraternizing with a prisoner's daughter, illegally storing and marking classified material, maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter, possessing pornographic videos, failure to obey an order and dereliction of duty regarding government funds.
The most serious charge, aiding the enemy, relates to Steele's time at the jail at Camp Cropper and could carry a death sentence."
KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer

One of the charges relates to adherence to General Order #1 which is the statute that prohibits Alcohol or Pornography. The Army views almost everything as Porn in its puritan restrictions on soldier freedoms so I can’t lecture on that charge – we’ll save that for another day.

The charges relating to potentially aiding the enemy, inappropriate actions with respect to prisoners and their families and careless handling of classified materials extend beyond this officer. If these charges are even partially true, he clearly put at risk his unit, and its soldiers as well as other coalition forces. The charges may not warrant the death penalty as we know them now, however this officer is alleged to have needlessly endangered soldiers for what appears to be his own interests. If allegations are proven true he has embodied a soldier that has sold his loyalty and the price of such treason should be significant.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Closing the Local Army Reserve Facilities

In what was a shortsighted method to refurbish the aging Reserve infrastructure, the Army Reserve actively sought and achieved the closure of hundreds of local Reserve Facilities during the last BRAC deliberations. For years with a serious lack of funds, reserve facilities were slowly disintegrating and falling into disrepair. The answer determined by USARC was to plan to build large centralized Reserve facilities (Usually on a military installation) and transfer the reserve units to those facilities using BRAC dollars.

While this sounds like a workable solution to reduce the facility workload for the Army Reserve it will have a negative effect on already strained Reserve recruitment. Consider the requirement as it will exist in Eastern PA – the new 18 Year old soldier must travel 90 miles (2 hours) to attend drill with his/her unit at Ft. Dix, NJ. It is assuming a lot that the 18 Year old has a reliable vehicle, can navigate the distance, receives parental consent or support and has a place to stay overnight at such a distant location. The plan as envisioned works well for senior and more established members of Reserve Units but is impractical for the newest and less resourced enlisted soldiers. Couple the expense of the trip which is un-reimbursed and the traditional small pay check for the weekend drill and the Cost benefit ratio further works against enlistment with the Army Reserve. The National Guard remains local and all other things being equal, provides a better alternative for enlistment and local commutes to drill.

The movement to large centers will crowd and stress lodging, classroom, training facilities if additional resources are not applied to those needs. There will be very little surge capability and major installation events will effectively cripple portions of training resources when they occur.

The Army Reserve asked for this plan when working to offer up the Reserve Centers for BRAC to fund the creation of new Reserve Centers. Refer back here dear reader when the effect on Reserve Enlistment is felt…

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Iraqi Weapons Buyback Program

As the clamor over guns in the hands of the wrong people surfaces again here in the States as a result of the terrible and unfortunate events at Virginia Tech – I was reminded of a program that may have some utility in Iraq. In poor/ crime ridden intercity locations here in the states the Police offer gun buyback programs to collect guns from individuals.

Is it conceivable to conduct some sort of weapons buyback program in Iraq – buy back weapons, ammo, explosives, fuses, blasting devices? Think of it – offer $50 dollars for the turn in of an AK47 – offer $1.00 pound for explosives, .01 per bullet – you would be encouraging some enterprising individuals to actually go out and find materials that are currently being used against coalition and Iraqi security forces. IED buried by your neighbor gets reported and turned in for profit instead of left to do its terrible deed. You could offer higher amounts for particularly problematic devices.

OK - naysayers will provide that some will cheat the system and bring in only inoperative weapons, stolen materials, etc… but to my way of thinking, the treat of reporting and opportunist behavior will negatively affect insurgents that would now have to dedicate resources to secure cashes, monitor IEDs, etc…. Imagine that keeping explosives in your house becomes a financial incentive for someone else that results in all sorts of complications. Anyone stumbling across a pile of munitions has discovered the equivalent of gold. The collection mechanism may be a little complicated – the preference would be to be directed to the materials and destroy them in place (to include the location containing them) Harboring or storing materials that are bound to be reported is a no win situation if it means your dwelling sustains collateral damage … quick honey get the mortar rounds out of the house… lets put them in the field, call them in and collect some real cash.

Perhaps the concept and explanation are very crude, but would it work? Would seem relatively inexpensive, drives market forces to raise the cost of the materials for insurgents, provides a real incentive for opportunist to sniff out cashes and storage points. The results may warrant an attempt at least – petty cash in the hands of our soldiers patrolling – handed out when materials are located and collected? May bear some consideration....

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tale of the ID Card

I just received my Reserve Retired Identification card today. I was waxing poetic that after several years of transparency with Active Reserve Identification cards I am now branded again via my bright red Reserve Retired ID as a Reservist. A little history on Reserve versus Active Duty ID cards

In 1997 in a step toward achieving full integration of the active and reserve military components, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen has announced that identification (ID) cards for all active component and Reserve active status U.S. military personnel will now be the same color green. This initiative, which was phased in over several years called for changing the color of the Reserve active status forces identification card (DD Form 2 (Reserve)) from red to green. Reserve active status forces include members of the Selected Reserve, the Individual Ready Reserve, and the active Standby Reserve. Only the color of the card held by these members of the Reserve components will change; there will be no associated changes to current service benefits, privileges and entitlements, unless a change in status occurs.

The change was in response to a pledge made by Cohen in a policy memorandum, calling on the civilian and military leadership of the Department of Defense to eliminate "all residual barriers structural and cultural" to effective integration of the Reserve and active components into a "seamless Total Force."

Among the many considerations taken into account by DoD officials when authorizing the change were medical benefits and commissary privileges, two primary areas in which active and Reserve personnel have different entitlements. An ID card alone does not automatically authorize access to medical benefits or commissary privileges, both of which will continue to require additional documentation to allow members of the Reserve components to receive them. Eligibility checks for medical benefits are now performed by electronic validation prior to each inpatient and outpatient visit to Military Health Services System facilities. Consequently, the system check, not the ID card, will continue to verify patient eligibility.

For many years, I had an ID card essentially the same as my Active duty brethren – and it only changed when I went on Active duty in a small degree. Since my return from Iraq the card is the same for Active and Reserve Soldiers. Now as a Reserve retiree – I am in receipt of a DD Form 2 (Res Ret) which is unchanged since 1993 – bright red and an obvious indicator that I am Army Reserve retired – so much for that cultural change to effective integration of the Reserve and active components into a "seamless Total Force”. Perhaps I am driven to be more critical now as the Guard and Reserve soldiers serve shoulder to shoulder with Active duty soldiers. None the less the vestiges of the early nineties prevalent Army attitudes towards Reserve service, sits right here in my wallet.

Friday, April 13, 2007

15 Month Tours

It is very troubling that we must continue to change the conditions of deployment for active duty Army soldiers. The recent announcement

“Beginning immediately, all active-duty Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will serve 15-month tours — three months longer than the usual standard”, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

With the tour to a combat zone for many units in the active force being experienced multiple times the likelihood of 30 to 45 months in combat for today’s soldiers seems a horrific indicator of a force that is very undermanned and over worked. 15 Month Tours, reduced dwell time and repeated deployments indicates the burden of maintaining the troop levels in Iraq is being borne by a force that is too small. Couple the deployment with deplorable conditions in austere forward operating locations, the 360 threat environment and softening public backing is heading the force to a destructive threshold.

I completed 12 months in country and I will tell you it was a long and difficult period of sacrifice and danger. I can’t even grasp the tenacity required by today’s active duty force to return to Iraq with the specter of 15 month tours now and really every potential for extension to that time to an even greater deployment. In the formative period of young soldiers lives we are separating them from a stateside existence for more than half the time they are in uniform. 15 Months in Country and 12 months dwell time stateside is an unsustainable pace for active component soldiers.

Within the Army we should evaluate whether we are using all soldiers available to shoulder the burden of deployment – I’d be curious what percentage of the Army has never deployed to a combat theater – it’s a fair bet that it approached 20% of the force when all soldiers are considered.

As I’m always one to offer ideas in this blog –

Consider significant reduction in military soldier assignments to School staffs, Acquisition positions, Headquarters staffs, installations, depots, etc – Use either retired AC, active and/or retired Reserve, or DA Civilian to work tasks not directly related to warfighting. Assign the harvested Military to deploying troop units as needed.

Consider placement of high deployment soldiers to warrior tasks held by never deployed soldiers. (Recruiting Command, ROTC, Basic Training, etc) This could be done by reviewing all never deployed soldiers and accelerating their reassignment. Take soldiers that have contributed heavily out of the cycle of repeated deployments. This placement would be voluntary.

Do not allow extensions for any non-deployed soldier to remain in a non-deploying position. No hiding from the warfighting job.

Unpopular as heck is the stop loss program – The Army enters into a contract with the soldier – it should not be broken – period. Continuing to violate this will lead soldiers to depart when possible even if it is not in their best interests to do so. In this vein – consider a 1 or 2 year unbreakable volunteer extension for soldiers – The soldier in essence would be able to commit to a shorter duration absolute contract without fear of a stop loss, extension, or other event causing his personal plans to be shelved.

The current Army ideas involve increasing the active force and paying soldiers additional dollars or Leave time to deploy for extended periods of time. These make sense when they can be expected by the soldier, However, every time the established agreements are broken for Army needs, the soldier must question what else lurks down the road.

The soldiers deploying for the third and fourth tours in war zones are real heroes… thankfully we have them serving. We have to distribute the load of serving to the soldiers that have not had the opportunity to deploy and operating in the combat theater to be fair and rest the prime warfighters. We must consider all options available; realistically look at the burden born by our (thus far) willing soldiers. Failing to do so will lead to an unplanned, but not un-forecast, degradation of our Army.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Army Gray Area Retirees coming back?

The term Gray Area Retiree does not apply to the gray hair some Army Retirees may accumulate while in service. Although I certainly have a few as I’m often reminded by my kids ( I think they caused them). This term is used as Army Official lingo to describe the Army Reserve or Guard soldier that have transferred to the Retired Reserve after 20 Years of service but have not yet reached age 60.

Typically a Gray Area Retiree soldier in the Guard or Reserve will serve 20-30 years and complete the transfer from Active Reserve service to the Retired Reserve. Still subject to call up if needed, the former soldier is classified as a gray area retiree until he/she reaches age 60 when they are entitle to the same retirement benefits as those that retire from Active duty. For many Reserve soldiers this means that if you no longer participate in drills or remain in a drill status you file for transfer (when stop loss is not in effect) – typically you may range in age from 37- 60 years old.

Now that I’m one of those Gray Area Retirees, I’m a little struck with the disposal of so many former soldiers to absolute obscurity – Gray Area Retirees could be used to augment overworked Reserve Staffs to train, complete administrative tasks, provide audit or logistical functions, maintain training unit libraries, prepare unit training plans, assist planning and execution. I wonder if something more can be made of their talents.

Typical of this Blog I had a few ideas:
Gray Area Retirees cannot drill for points under current rules, a tremendous disincentive for offering any real effort to assist Guard or Reserve units. Offering Retirement points for a senior retired Reserve NCO or Officer costs the Army little money (one point equals 30-60 cents a month when the reservist starts receiving retirement pay at age 60).

Gray Area Retirees have skills honed over years of service – basic military skills like administration, logistics, training, etc can be completed by Gray Area Retirees replacing the need for in house unit allocation of resources which need to train.

Gray Area Retirees have a wide host of skills. Many have deployed, done many Annual Trainings and intimately know the workings in a Reserve unit.

Gray Area Retirees have access to military Facilities as a benefit thus enabling assistance that requires access to installation support agencies even during most heightened security periods.

Gray Area Retirees can be used to augment Family Readiness Groups during unit deployments. Remember many of them know the Army Bureaucracy and processes.

Training of non-deployable or entry level soldiers in basic skills, annual mandatory training, PMI, and other training could be provided by GAR teams to regions to relieve local commands from resourcing active reserve soldiers to the mission.

How would I implement?
Gray Area Retirees would request and be accepted formally to support a local unit

Only Retired Reserve or Guard soldiers would be considered.

Gray Area Retirees would not wear uniforms or rank – Civilian Clothes - Treated as Civilian Volunteers.

Gray Area Retirees would only be used for classroom and at the Reserve Center training, planning and administrative tasks. No field or hazardous training events.

Gray Area Retirees would serve without regard for rank – therefore a retired LTC / CSM could support a Company Command team doing what the Co Cdr required or requested.

Gray Area Retirees would serve at the convenience of the Reserve unit. The Reserve unit would verify hours of service and support provided using 1380 form.

Retirement points would accrue as done now for IRR soldiers. ARPERCEN would document and add to Retired Reservist account.

What does this give us? – a program that continues to harvest the volunteer spirit and years of experience for recently retired Reserve and Guard soldiers. It is low cost and would potentially provide extra hands to Reserve and Guard units from the most qualified individuals available in local communities. It provides a mutual event that keeps Gray Area Retirees in touch with Reserve and Guard units instead of obscure and detached former soldiers. Is it worth considering?

Monday, April 09, 2007

A shortage of gear

In a July 2005 GAO study "Reserve Forces: An Integrated Plan is Needed to Address Army Reserve Personnel and Equipment Shortages." [GAO] The report offered three primary causes of shortages: (1) Not maintaining AR units with all the equipment and personnel they need to deploy; (2) Current DoD policies that limit deployments; and (3) A shortage of full time support staff to develop and maintain unit readiness.

DOD leadership of the recent past said "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want." Today the equipment for each soldier costs about $17,000. The Army now insists that troops don't go "outside the wire"—leave their heavily defended posts in Iraq—without adequate protection.

It was not long ago that the Pentagon's inspector general reported that troops "experienced shortages of force-protection equipment such as up-armored vehicles, electronic countermeasure devices ... weapons and communications equipment," an unclassified summary of a still secret Jan. 25 report says. "As a result, service members were not always equipped to effectively complete their missions." Interestingly Gen Schoomaker was noted as dismissing the inspector general's report at a February congressional hearing as "anecdotal in nature."

Well – all due respect to Gen Schoonmaker – I know the IG is correct – I observed first hand in August 2004-Jan 2005 Reserve soldiers assigned to MNSTC-I had to scrounge for weapons to do the job – we managed pretty well except vehicles – the picture is out the window of a Chevy Suburban (Unarmored) south of Baghdad near Mahmudiah on one of many trips I took. That’s an AK-47 sticking out in front of me as all that was issued was an M9 which was unsuitable for our missions. Due to the heroic efforts of the loggies, we transitioned to ever better and more capable equipment in country but it left us exposed in the early going…

Senior Military Leaders may be a little off the realities of the past - in my opinion. But that aside, they need to really evaluate where we are today with equipment readiness throughout the force. There are some signs of a crisis in gear, training, unit readiness and equipment. Beyond the lack of weapons for stateside troops, Army stockpiles of equipment around the globe are shrinking as their contents are siphoned to Iraq, reducing the nation's ability to respond to the next crisis.

Reserve and Guard units struggle with the optempo as force structure of full time support staff to develop and maintain unit readiness still remains funded as it was in the past when units were not in the fight. I have noted before that this issue is critical to Guard and Reserve readiness and capability.

Across DOD we need to rethink the dollar allocation to the most pressing effort. Within Congress we must think twice about where the dollars for un-requested purchases must be drawn from as well as expedient funding. Now is the time to consider that execution could be affected a lack of timely funding for the actual need on the ground. As I have said before – the soldier in the field will make due with what he has, but it is up to us to make sure he has enough to make due.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Allright kids – we have work to do

The president weighed in on the political battle brewing over the appropriations emergency war spending bill. This is the bill I mentioned earlier with over 30 Billion in pork spending being forwarded by Congress. The President goes on record as stating the Delay in War Funds Will Hurt Military Readiness, Morale.

“Further congressional delay in forwarding an appropriate emergency war spending bill to the White House will damage military readiness and morale as well as endanger the nation,” President Bush

Reading the Blogs out there – there are devisive arguments to be found from all sides in this heating political issue – I guess I’m in no man’s land when it comes to placing blame. Here is why

- Funding needs of the Military through constant emergency bills 4 years into the war seems shortsighted – both the President and congress should be able to plan and fund closer to needs via an honest assessment of the cost at the start of the year. Piss poor prior planning creates the need for huge emergency bills which have now become political footballs.

- We are at war – no one should go on Vacation or recess with a military need unanswered – whether the Military can last one month or three – there is work left undone and all know the soldiers will be affected if it remains uncompleted too long. Stay in Washington and do your jobs.

- Throwing out brinkmanship comments like they don’t support soldiers and it will be his fault if soldiers lack resources is not getting the job done. Both sides are playing fast and loose with lives. 60 days without progress on the bill except additional pork and a DOA bill means both sides have failed to achieve commonality of purpose. Congress can remove pork and timelines for later legislation – President must be flexible and accept he is working with a democratic institution…. Rhetoric from either side is not progress.

- Establishing timeline based upon political considerations not result of Military requirements. Stated accurately by the President - "undercut the troops by substituting the judgment of politicians in Washington for the judgment of our commanders in the ground, setting an arbitrary withdrawal from Iraq” Conversely We are where we are because of decisions made by the Executive branch – right or wrong – there can be only one commander and chief. Advise and assist in the interests of the country – not your own Parties re-election success is a must.

So it boils down to this – stop the fussing – hammer out an agreement like professionals and not like a couple of school kids. Watching the debates and listening to the rhetoric is disheartening because the victim (the military) is serving with honor and working hard while the legislators bicker and take holiday.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Brits over a barrel in Iran

No one can escape the news about the British Sailors that are being paraded around by the Iranian Government. The Brits are stuck with a situation like we American’s were a few years ago. The UN stands impotent as usual to intercede an effect release of the sailors. The Iranians get to have a filed day making the Brits squirm and flout their self-perceived strength to anyone that will listen.

If the Brits act, they will be pariahs in the world press. If they don’t act they stand to appear as lacking the will to resist similar acts by other nations and appear weaker in all indicators of their countries resolve. Right now they have to play a wait and see card…. There is no clear or easy way out of this situation.

Were the Sailors in Iranian waters – don’t know – does it really warrant this level of saber rattling by the Iranians – only if another agenda is served or it is a test of international capability to react to the military action. It may be that the Iranians screwed up the location and in fact were correct with their own coordinates which were in Iraqi waters to start with….bravado and pride would resist a quiet return of the sailors.

It remains that the Iranians are pushing the world a little bit higher on the escalation scale by their expressions and deeds. They are displaying a belligerence that will only alienate the Western World and seems to be generated to curry relevance and favor with Middle Eastern countries. Let’s hope that a peaceful resolution is within their grasp and the solution they seek.