Friday, March 30, 2007

Let the Soldiers speak

The Defense Department restrictions on Mil-Bloggers essentially muzzle a critical voice from Combat Theaters. DOD has dictated that soldiers can no longer use military resources to maintain a personal website which is a restriction that inhibits military blogging from within theater.

I believe the senior members of DOD are off the mark on the issue… its no surprise that the generation raised on radio and Black and White TV may not fully grasp the potential for Internet broadcast from the players in the GWOT effort. I’m not throwing a stone here – I’m in the same mode – I am in awe at the phenomenon that is text messaging, myspace pages, blogs and so forth. I have to get lessons on the jargon and capabilities online and will never be able to really connect like my own kids can.

Most of the generation that is coming of age is more likely to get their information from computer sources than traditional media outlets. Imagine, if you will, 18-22 year olds communicating directly with their peers about what life in the military is really all about… no filters, no fluff, no stuffy old person’s spin on the message… The Army has a special page, or "channel," on YouTube, and plans to launch its new platform no later than June. Once the platform is operational, soldiers will be able to send their clips to the Army for posting, but videos will "only go on the site with the Army's “blessing," The Army maintains that this effort is to "participate in the YouTube community" and counter some of the "misrepresentations" of the Army and Army life already found on the Web. You suppose the Army machine will really convince anyone other than those of us committed to the cause that its worth viewing?

A well meaning attempt by the Army, but we are missing an opportunity for the real gritty, uncensored truth to be available. Aside from real operational security concerns which are largely oversubscribed and usually temporary or manageable, I don’t think we should fear what our soldiers will have to say. Soldiers that are peers to America’s population at all levels and demographics - real men and women in uniform - can effectively counter much of the negative message that proliferates the internet already. We can get effective broadcast of the military message and what serving is all about.

The Internet is full of videos opposed to the Iraq War and the U.S. military. We have hundreds of thousands of military personnel that can tell pieces of the story from another perspective. Enough with the DOD hysteria and fear for letting soldiers express themselves – Let the Soldiers defend and practice Freedom of Speech.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The heroes left behind

I had the opportunity recently to talk with the spouse of a soldier that died in Iraq about a year ago. The talk centered on how the life shattered by the news of the loss was slowly coming back to acknowledging the realities of living. The chores and trials of work and home life, the acceptance of a new life without the partner and moving on with a reverence for what was and a realistic and evolving optimistic assessment for what the future holds.

It struck me that the strength this person had was really inspirational… they suffered the grievance of a traumatic loss of a loved one in a war zone many miles away. The circumstances of the loss cloudy and never of any solace… friends and family can never really completely understand…just bear witness to the slow healing process.

I never stop being amazed at the true unsung patriot heros that give so much of themselves – the spouses, partners, parents and relatives of those deployed. They must stand back and hope for the best… sometimes to be devastated by bad news of injury or death. They are braver than the soldier in many ways…playing a kind of wait and see game with emotions as they wait for each e-mail, phone call from their deployed soldier. They are always anxious for news of events and a glimpse of what their loved ones are enduring.

As a country we have largely lived our lives with but a blip of the War effort news expressed occasionally on the nightly news and in the papers. We make valiant attempts to acknowledge soldiers – but many of us don’t stop to acknowledge that a soldier’s contribution is soundly backed by many silent members and loved ones.

I admire the strength and contribution of soldier family member support teams those left behind they are patriot and I label them heros as well. I have to admire those that don’t seek a self gratification turning on the ideals of their loved one’s service, respecting the sacrifice that they bear without using it as a platform to espouse hateful and destructive rhetoric against our nation’s leadership. Not that they don’t have every right to be angered at the cause of the loss, but they possess the continued spark of service to country formally shared and don’t seek to gain their solace at the expense of the cause served by their loved one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Family Readiness

Yesterday in Stand to there was an article on the Army’s Family Readiness Group Deployment Assistant Program

This is a program that assists families with the inevitable events that occur during unit deployments. Unfortunately in the Reserve environment it is in reality a contractor assigned to a Division Headquarters that presses family members to complete volunteer agreements and track time spend in a self justification cycle.

The Army has talked about the program for over 6 years and has never really applied any significant resource to the issue. Active duty units family members have at least the convenience of co-location with rear detachments and installation support, however Reserve unit families are spread across several states and there is no round the clock presence at the Reserve unit to call upon.

In Both the Active and Reserve units it is clear that as stated in the article
“the Army’s current deployment posture overwhelmed the resources of Rear Detachments (RD) and Family Readiness Group (FRG) leaders. Operating a FRG can be a challenge for volunteers and unit leadership. The significance of a properly operated FRG allows deployed Soldiers to remain mission focused while sustaining their families’ well-being.”

The Army has come up with Family Readiness Group Deployment Assistants (FRGDA) but states the funding is not clearly delineated (Read not adequately planned or likely). Adding a contracted assistance or unreliable resource to provide assistance is not a well thought out plan…. So what else could we do to remedy?
Well never short for ideas good or bad - let me throw these out -

1. Recently returned soldiers including especially those injured and not re-deployable could be assigned fulltime duty as Family Support NCOs/ Officers – the soldier is given a real mission and has the experience to aid the families. This would allow time to address follow-on medical care while still serving. Use Reserve injured soldiers for Reserve community and Active soldiers for Active community aligns experience with type of unit.

2. Assign non-deployable IRR soldiers to the mission in lieu of discharge on a voluntary basis. Not as preferred as #1, but makes use of an otherwise lost resource.

3. Address shortage of administrative personnel within Guard and Reaerve Units – overworked fulltime personnel are not able to address administrative tasks necessary to insure soldier insurance, wills, legal documents are in a ready state.

4. Unravel the Tricare bureaucracy – complicated and ever changing eligibility and rules and preferred providers, especially for Reserve Soldiers, results in many issues for Reserve families. Can a constant shared network with civilian providers be considered – i.e. always registered with xxxcare and use civilian provider and network peacetime (to include getting Reserve Physicals and readiness care) and move seamlessly to XXXcare deployed when away on Active duty.

We have to do a better job planning for supporting the entire military community. Our Families share a disproportionate burden for wading through support activities while we are deployed.(in fact we saddle the Families with volunteering for FRG) The answer is not asking the Commander’s or CSM's wife to assume a part time unpaid job as FRG leader – but rests with the Army Leadership to provide real and effective capability to assist families. Apply a few dollars to the issue to get dividends in the long run as familes remain in the military longer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Domestic Padding for the War effort

It is sleazy politics or business as usual in the Halls of Congress. The new Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' hometown pet projects to secure votes to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year. (read defeat)

Unbelievably the Majority is offering peanut farmers, spinach growers, Shrimp researchers and western farmers bribe money to get the congressional delegates representing those interests to vote for the short sighted Democratic initiative to constrain the War effort. They are mandating a Mandatory Withdraw timetable and Benchmarks, dictate Force levels, and establish readiness restrictions and other mandates based on Congressional/ not military/ specifications. They are doing this in the FY07 supplemental appropriations bill that provides funding for the continuation of the Iraq war.

In all over $30 Billion Dollars of Pork in the bill does not addresses military needs but covers things like Hurricane Livestock Indemnity Program $25 Billion, Shrimp Research $120 Million, Crop Relief Funding $3.7 Billion, Peanut Storage $ 74 Million, There is no connection between billions of dollars in add-on Pork projects and appropriating adequate funds to the military. The endeavor has everything to do with opportunist political maneuvering at the expense of our soldiers in the field. The supplemental legislation that is being offered by the Democratic majority in Congress is a poison pill to our Armed forces freedom of maneuver that closes options to deal with the situation in Iraq and allocates billions in funds to gratuitous pork projects.

Most of us want a successful conclusion to the effort in the Global War on Terrorism... therefore think twice if your elected representative supports this end round political ploy – what he has done is thrown on lots of restrictions that make it harder to execute the fight, smiled at you and tells you he does so in the name of supporting the troops and has padded his domestic needs with some added pork to keep the folks back home happy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

General Petraeus Leads MNF-I efforts

General David Petraeus was my boss in Iraq when he was chief of MNSTC-I. Guys like William Arkin with the Washington Post were not kind in their assessment or comments when General Petraeus went through hearings and since his assignment. I personnally think General Petraeus is one of the best Leaders I have ever met - I offer this letter as proof of a Leader well suited to be in the lead of our efforts in Iraq.

Its too easy for pundits here in the states to miss the essence of the effort in country by the troops and their leadership. Here we are bombarded with the negative press and defeatist rhetoric... America is at the Mall - Right now in Iraq the soldiers and the leaders are truly serving.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Smoking a Cuban Cigar

One of the few pleasures I enjoyed in Iraq was the opportunity to get Cuban Cigars at the local Bizarre or “haji Mart” Whenever we went and security was established – I’d spark up a cigar and relax before we moved on. It seemed to several people that a lot of my pictures from Iraq were of me smoking a cigar – whether poolside at the Republican Palace, in Babylon or other location. I actually smoke one Cigar a day, but to those at home I seemed to be purposely smoking in a lot of pictures… simple explanation is that I was not taking my own picture in country but seemed to be caught by fellow soldiers when I was relaxing with a smoke.

I wonder if we will ever see Cuban cigars sold in this country in my lifetime? They were about equal to what we can get in the US – I smoke Romeo and Julieta which is made in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic and was what I sought in Iraq at every opportunity. Here in the US it is only available in its Dominican version. To be honest the Dominicans found here are equal in quality and are usually fresher than the Cuban version found in Iraq. A sideline musing perhaps, but we can get worldclass cigars here without Cubans…. But back to my story – Every night when back at MNSTC-I we had a smoke break scheduled in the courtyard. The day’s events would be discussed, cigarette and Cigar smokers and others would gather and decompress from the day’s toils and just talk about stuff…. A moment of no TV, gaze at the stars, exchange of thoughts – A place to reflect. I would alway hear more from everyone on a personal level in those moments than I could realize in a day of working side by side with them... at times in the hustle of life since I reflect back on the quiet times

I thought I’d post a few moments in passing of enjoying a good cigar…

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Andy Rooney on bringing back the Draft

On Sunday’s 60 Minutes Andy Rooney had this to say about today’s new soldiers -

"In an attempt to get the soldiers they need, recruiters have reduced the standards for getting into the Army or Navy.

They have reduced the educational standards, for example, so that they're getting more soldiers who didn't go to high school, let alone graduate from high school.
Recruiters are granting thousands of what they call "moral waivers". A "moral waiver" it turns out means they'll take someone who has committed a crime or even someone who has been in prison. Last year, a total of 8,129 "moral waivers" were given to men who volunteered for the Army.

Are these the people we want representing us? As American soldiers, they're going to give the people they meet around the world the impression that they are what all Americans are like and if they have been taken from the bottom of the barrel, they are not what we're all like.

In August of 1941, I had just finished my junior year in college when I was drafted into the Army. Hundreds of my classmates were drafted at the same time.
I hated everything about Army life"…… Written By Andy Rooney, CBS Broadcasting Inc

Well Andy – in my mind you have convinced me with the last sentenced I quoted as to the best reason for avoiding the draft. I have served with an all volunteer force that does not “hate” where they are, seeks to improve upon their lot in life, and freely accept the terms of entry into the military. Your facts are wrong and reflect a bias born of your own frustrations as a draftee in the 40s.

For the record
– New recruits must complete GED prior to Basic training – non High School graduates (drop outs) are not admitted into the services unlike 1941.
- Moral waivers reflect a process to check entry for any questionable offense – this can include drunk driving, minor summary charges, drug possession and a host of other events. These waivers are reviewed and approved by someone other than the recruiter. This process did not even exist in 1941 by your own admission.
- As to representation by today’s soldiers– get out of the CBS building and see for yourself – don’t believe the crap your hearing in the press corps – investigate and then report – remember Journalism 101 ? or did you miss that because of your military service too?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

It’s a Family thing

Only a few of you know me personally, somewhat by design, but I thought I’d use a post to share with you a little piece of my personal life. It was yesterday that my daughter – 18 years old and my youngest – told me that she was enlisted in the Army Reserve. Yes we knew that she had been contemplating joining the Army just like her father, mother and older brother all have done. She had her scheduled date with MEPs and was sworn in yesterday and I am so proud.

I spent years in the Active Army and Army Reserve as both a soldier and a Military Technician and I know the good and the bad she will experience. I have misgivings about where she may serve, the dangers, the toil and trials she will face like any parent does… it doesn’t get any easier being completely familiar with where she is going. On the other hand, I am so proud she chose to take a path traveled by the rest of the family – into service to country and the rewards that come with that service. She bubbled with excitement telling me what her day at MEPs was like and how she was completely satisfied and happy with her (yes her) decision.

Not to sound like a recruiting pitch… but, I will say that I am sure that the exposure to the military life is an immensely positive influence. I have seen many young people exposed to the mind and soul immersion that military life requires and it is nearly always a positive process. Teenagers converted to responsible and disciplined team oriented community members. A sense of belonging to something more than is offered by working for corporate America.

Now this is my second kid that will go through that crucible of Basic training and AIT and become a soldier. She will be in the hands of Drill Sergeants, Army institutions, processes and leaders on her way to that transformation I have seen before. I believe in the system and look forward to the result. I have no doubt that she will benefit from the opportunities the Army provides…. But she will remain my little girl…here is wishing her all that she desires and more from the experience.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Crazed Combat Veterans

Much has been made in the press recently of the returning veteran’s and their mental health. Some light has been shed in the reporting about the state of the Veteran’s administration capacity and Military Health Care. As a supportive Nation sending our young Men and Women into a crucible of war, we must be concerned that no returning veteran’s fall through the net in getting quality mental health screening, diagnosis and care.

We have failed to fully appreciate the need for mental health care in the past. We have seen the stereotyped Vietnam Vets that were vilified in Hollywood movies and TV as a social deviants or misfits… You can’t believe everything you see in movies but I suggest we have Antidotal evidence or perhaps an unintended documentation of our national failed efforts to treat Vietnam Veterans mental illnesses. Some could draw the additional conclusion that mental Illness or at least the notion of mental illness was derived partially from an unpopular war against guerilla forces.

We continue to fail to adequately address mental illness today - military commanders, rather than medical professional, hold the decisions whether soldiers suspected of suffering from a mental disorder in the war zone should be discharged. There is a Warrior ethos culture that suppresses any indication that individuals can be dulled by repeat tours or bombardment by an ever increasing level of dissent and aversion to our commitment to the effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers cannot expect care and understanding if the profess a mental health problem… Evidence suggests that officials are kicking soldiers with PTSD out of the Army in a manner that masks the problem. Some military leaders are giving some soldiers with mental issues a hard time, because “they don't belong in the Army” resulting in misconduct charges and discharges rather than more appropriate intervention and treatment of illness.

Quoted from Col. Virgil J. Patterson, chief of the Soldier and Family Support Branch at the Army Medical Department Center and School, Fort Sam Houston

"The heart and soul of our combat and operational stress-control program is to intervene in problems before they reach the point that someone would screen positive for them," Patterson said. "So if we have success in our proactive outreach, we're able to see soldiers early on when they're starting to have personal problems or family problems and work with that soldier in how they handle it so that it doesn't end up making them a problem that needs mental health services."

So the goal is avoiding the need for mental health services? What about the failures – soldiers that are mentally scarred? What does DoD do about them? In the Army alone – permanent disability retirements have dropped by two-thirds since 2001. Rates for disability for mental health declines – We are keeping soldiers more often as fit for duty -do you believe it is a result of significant treatment programs within the military or is it a “return to duty” quota? How are we about to see OIF/OEF veteran’s depicted in the future? I for one hope that the scripts will not be repeats of many used to portray former soldiers of the past.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Reserve and Guard Readiness

Reserve and Guard Readiness

Having been assigned to an Active Duty unit for a year in Iraq I am critically aware of the increasing and interdependent role that National Guard and Reserve soldiers play in augmenting the Active Force. The Army Reserve which houses much of the logistical support units and the National Guard with a heavier combat mix are placed at a critical juncture in their history. They are more critical than ever to National Defense efforts.

However, no so long ago these critical elements of our national defense were subject to years of inadequate budgets, lack luster support and training effort from active Component. Reserve components were subjected to half hearted efforts to share training facilities, poor understanding of unique requirements, non-existant logistical support and a general distain for part time soldier capabilities were the “situation normal”. Any Reserve Officer or senior NCO can attest to the inequities for getting equipment, training resources, use of facilities when needed to conduct regular Drill training. My units often had to consider training on holidays, Mother’s Day, etc… because these dates were what was left on Installation training schedules and we were the bottom feeders in priority.

Now we are hearing that the stresses of prolonged, repeated deployments on a too-small force have left the Guard and Reserve so short of equipment, training and sometimes personnel that their ability to perform missions at home and abroad is increasingly in jeopardy. Some significant percentage of Guard and Reserve units are poorly equipped and considered "not ready" for deployment. Much of the equipment needed for Reserve forces was never provided in the past or is so old that it is incompatible for use along side Active Duty Units. Radios FBCB2, Fire Direction Computers, and other equipment was not fielded to Guard and Reserve units until they were going to be deployed. These units received older equipment “in-lieu” of the real item. This shell game or deception was concocted to report the unit as ready in Unit Status reports and was dishonest to a real assessment of the unit equipment readiness to fight along side of Active component forces.

Additionally Guard and Reserve unit support from within is very under funded. In Reserve units the fulltime administrative staff was funded to 30-40% of actual requirements. The Active Guard and Reserve and Military Technician ranks remain no where near adequate to sustain support functions for reserve soldiers. This leads to administrative tasks being transferred to valuable training time on Weekend Drills. Add in excessive “mandate” training and Reserve and Guard units find themselves very tasked on a weekend drill.

Finally – units can only draw from the population in their local area. Soldiers must fit skill sets in a local unit, travel to a unit looking for their grade and skill, or join the inactive Reserves (IRR). Senior personnel are most likely to experience assignment as routine practice to locations miles away from home as they seek to maintain grade and skills. To add insult to injury, the soldier must foot the cost of lodging and transportation themselves. The dynamic of maintaining pure units turns away soldiers with mismatched skills in a local area while requiring the heavy use of cross leveling of units when deployment is pending. While unit cohesion suffers, if you are an Armor unit you would rather have trained and experienced tanker than just a warm body from the local area.

Without creative opportunities for assigning Reserve Personnel, shortages are likely to grow. The Army Reserve has centrally located many training centers to offset this issue, however without reimbursing the expenses, junior soldiers will be reluctant to travel to distant installations to train. Fiscally oriented up or out for Reserve Enlisted skills may need to be re-looked to avoid departure of seasoned soldiers from Reserve and Guard units.

The Bottom-line to this short treatise is to adequately address maintaining the effectiveness of Reserve and National Guard units we must seek soldier centric real solutions to keeping skilled soldiers in the Reserve. We must not call a Reserve or Guard unit operational until it has an full active duty Brigade equipment set on hand. Any Reserve or Guard soldier can testify that the era of the "weekend warrior" is long gone. It has not been one weekend a Month, two weeks a summer for quite some time as the demands placed on Reserve soldiers have pressed for much more God and Country time to get the job done. (God and country time is unpaid additional hours contributed off the clock to get usually administrative tasks completed) We must provide adequate administrative resources full time at these units to insure medical, personnel, logistics, maintenance readiness is supported and not another un-resourced burden for the soldier. Today’s Army cannot return to the tiered “class” systems and processes of the past with respect to the Guard and Reserve. This should serve as an ideal opportunity to change the system so that the National Guard and Reserve are better able to be an equal partner in support of the National Security Strategy.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Kids in Iraq

I have a screen saver at my office that flashes up pictures that I have collected. In the folder that is the source for the picture I have all kind of pictures -

Pictures of our many convoys in Iraq, Battle damaged vehicles, scenes of miserable conditions, potential military facilities we were looking at, etc... I also have pictures of my Grandchild (Lil age 9 Months) and my children. I had all the pictures laid out recently and I noticed that more than half of the socially acceptable pictures were of kids we encountered will reconning the many Potential Iraqi Military and Police facilities we were considering reconstructing. In any conflict - Kids are the unknowing victims of all combatants and that is a depressing thought at times.... lets hope that we continue to improve the conditions for these kids.

I thought I would post a couple pics of the Kids.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What is the truth at Walter Reed?

Another Washington Post article Hospital Officials Knew Of Neglect, Complaints About Walter Reed Were Voiced for Years" By Anne Hull and Dana Priest, Washington Post Staff Writers” was published 1 March. In this article the authors point out the issue that Walter Reed Officials – particularly Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who is now the Army's top medical officer, knew of the poor conditions found at Walter Reed.

A procession of Pentagon and Walter Reed officials expressed surprise last week about the living conditions and bureaucratic nightmares faced by wounded soldiers staying at the D.C. medical facility. But as far back as 2003, the commander of Walter Reed, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, who is now the Army's top medical officer, was told that soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan were languishing and lost on the grounds, according to interviews.”

I wondered how a Commander did not know about the conditions as LT. Gen Kiley has stated since the original articles were published. Call me skeptical – I am sure neither side’s picture of conditions (either horrible or not too bad) are completely accurate. However any commander is in charge and responsible for organization performance, facilities, processes, and attitude. If it is half as bad as the Washington Post tells us and Lt Gen Kiley knew about it and buried the issue – he does not follow Army Values as I know them and should be held accountable.

He should be given a fair venue to address the issue and he should be made to do so. It seems unlikely that he completely did not acknowledge the conditions his soldiers were subjected to – one look at Building 18 from the street shows a poorly maintained exterior at least. He may have worked within the resources he had…. We should hear the truth because the Washington Post version paints a portrait of a callous and unfit commander. A good commander must be a little more inquisitive and seek every method to improve conditions.

To get at the root cause and effect repair the Army should hold all accountable for their actions. Last week, the Army relieved of duty several low-ranking soldiers who managed outpatients. But they worked for a commander in a climate that allowed problems to go untreated.

Finally – typical Army reaction

This week, in a move that some soldiers viewed as reprisal for speaking to the media, the wounded troops were told that early-morning room inspections would be held and that further contact with reporters is prohibited.

This is unacceptable – this will not get to the truth and punishes the victims.