Tuesday, January 26, 2010

LTG Helmly on the 98th Division Deployment

Found an Article about the 98th Division’s deployment to Iraq. (This is the unit I deployed with in Sep 2004) This deployment was discussed as a pivotal and sea state change deployment for the Army Reserve by the USAR Commander at the time LTG James R. Helmly.

As a side note -I had the opportunity to work for General Helmly when he was the 78th Division Commander where I was the senior Civilian for the 1st Brigade at the time. He was a no nonsense commander that worked thru all obstacles. I recall staff meetings where he regularly dammed the bureaucracy and insisted on getting tasks done quickly.

Here is some of the Combat Studies Institutes interview with LTG Helmly as it related to our deployment:

When the 98th Division (Institutional Training) deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005, Major General James R. Helmly was the chief of Army Reserve and commanding general of United States Army Reserve Command. In this interview, focusing on the 98th’s deployment and conduct of its Iraqi Army training and advisory mission and related larger issues, Helmly relates how early on he saw a need to reconstitute the Iraqi forces, a chronic shortage of US Special Forces to train them, and thought to himself, “Why can’t we use our table of distribution and allowances organized institutional training divisions and training support divisions?” The biggest problem he encountered in developing this idea was actually resident in his own staff. “That is, they kept coming back with the schoolbook answer. So we had a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting one day and I slammed the door and said to them, ‘Goddamn it! Let me make it abundantly clear what we’re going to do….You could sort of see the eyes opening on these guys and they finally understood.” After the concept was briefed and accepted, Helmly states that another group of problems arose from “this bastardized system of request for forces (RFF). Instead of being given
a mission or a task with commander’s intent and then allowing the units to generate the capability,” he explained, “we went to a bastardized thing off the back of some sloppy envelope for an RFF that was frankly just very cumbersome. It really tied our hands in terms of the flexibility of putting together a task organized unit of the 98th.” As the deployment of the 98th to Iraq proceeded, its employment varied considerably from his original concept. According to Helmly, “My original initiative was to use them in a training base capacity inside a foreign army…. What occurred, though, was that many of the 98th became embedded trainers inside Iraqi units.” Even so, he added, “the 98th soldiers did all very well and I admire and respect them greatly for that.” Helmly also notes that Iraq has focused the US Army on details, that the needs of “the long war” have been neglected, that the current method of foreign military sales and assistance is broken, and that an organization dedicated to training foreign militaries needs to exist. What’s more, personal agendas and institutional inertia contribute to these challenges.

With regard to the 98th Division deployment – LTG Helmly was asked what happened after the unit was deployed:

General Helmly: I visualized the FA-TRAC deploying and establishing a deployed version of an institutional training base. I saw us establishing a Fort Benning, Georgia or a Fort Knox, Kentucky inside Iraq and training civilians to become soldiers. What occurred, though, was that many of the 98th became embedded trainers inside Iraqi units. When I was a young private, when my unit was completing basic combat training it was announced that one of the drill sergeants I had was going to deploy as a platoon sergeant to Vietnam. A couple years later, I learned he had been killed – and he had been a very fine noncommissioned officer (NCO). The point of this is: everyone knows that the ultimate objective of any soldier is to engage in ground combat, but I thought the 98th would essentially do a training base kind of thing. But what actually happened was that many of these outstanding soldiers found themselves embedded inside Iraqi units. As a result, there were several who were killed or wounded in action who were operating more or less as advisors rather than trainers in a training base capacity. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have argued against using the 98th, but I would have understood things better from the beginning. My original initiative was to use them in a training base capacity inside a foreign army. After all, one of the things we’ve learned in this war is that clerks, cooks and truck drivers all have to be prepared to fight as infantrymen. I have to say, though, that the 98th soldiers did it all very well and I admire and respect them greatly for that.

The entire interview is fascinating reading – anyone with an interest in the workings at the Department of Army Level in 2004 and the revolutionary deployment of a training unit to the warzone to train and support the Iraqi Army under LTG Petraeus will want to scan the document found here. http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/p4013coll13&CISOPTR=333&CISOBOX=1&REC=7

And – thanks LTG Helmly – for the compliment to our unit at the end… and for the confidence in our 98th Division soldiers –

Interviewer: The first part was your assessment of the 98th’s experience and performance over there.

LTG Helmly: I think due to the ability, willingness and courage of the individual soldier and small groups of soldiers, it was a success. That is the cornerstone of success. It proved we could take an organization that was not designed to deploy, put it into a significantly different set of conditions, and the small units and lower-ranking leaders would cause it to succeed. I think they added great capability and I was extremely impressed with them. It’s a tremendous group of soldiers. I saw many of them off before they left and they were positive. There wasn’t any talk of why they had to go do this mission. Of course they harbored their own personal fears as individual soldiers, but they were very proud. By the way, people tend to put stereotypes on things. A lot of people said we were just weekend warriors and things like that. Well, a lot of that first group of the 98th that deployed were drill sergeants and officers who had a lot of active duty time and commanded MTOE formations. They were really a high-speed group of capable and professional leaders. They were excited about the ability to buy into training and building up the Iraqi Army. Nobody was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but there were a lot of heroes out there who didn’t get accorded that honor but who were nonetheless heroes in their own right. They suffered some pretty serious casualties. It was some really significant and outstanding history.

Friday, January 22, 2010

MNSTC-I cases its colors

My unit in Iraq has ceased operations – this information from Army describes the inactivation which occurred on New Year’s Day;

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, commander of Multi-National Security and Transition Command-Iraq commander rendered final honors and cased MNSTC-I’s colors, signifying the commands’ official inactivation.

“Though we are activating a new headquarters today,” said Odierno, USF-I commanding general, “the support we give our Iraqi partners will be no different than they received under MNF-I.”

MNF-I was established May 15, 2004, taking over command for Combined Joint Task Force 7 to handle all strategic-level operations for coalition forces contributing to OIF.

“Troops from 30 different countries served in the Multi-National Force-Iraq,” Air Force Maj. Dennis Kruse, master of ceremonies, said at the ceremony. The major subordinate commands included MNC-I, MNSTC-I, the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq, and TF 38, he added.

Along with MNF-I, MNC-I was also activated May 15, 2004, as the operational-level headquarters overseeing multi-national divisions and forces in Iraq, which included Multi-National Divisions North, South, and Baghdad, Multi- National Force-West, 13th Expeditionary Support Command and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, as well as 13 separate task forces, brigades and battalion-sized organizations.

To organize, train and equip Iraq’s military and police forces, MNSTC-I was established on June 28, 2004. Working closely with the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior, MNSTC-I assisted in forming more than 250 Army and police battalions throughout the country.

“We’ve made tremendous strides together since the dark days of 2006, 2007,” Petraeus said. “The number of attacks per day, including Iraqi data, has been reduced from well over 200 per day in 2007, to fewer than 15 per day in recent months.”

I guess that means the mission of those organizations is done. From the time we in the 98th Divisioin (USAR) arrived as the first staff and soldiers in MNSTC-I in September 2004 through inactivation in 2010 MNSTC-I accomplished a lot. A great share of the organization was staffed by Reserve soldiers throughout its history. I hope that the success of a bunch of individuals from the Army Reserve deploying to a wartime command and completing mission is not lost to time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gray Area Army Retired

I am approaching 25 years service as an Army Civilian employee and my career as an Army Reserve soldier is occasionally referenced at the military facility where I work. With regard to that service, just 11 more years until I will be able to draw a retirement check for my 24 years of active and reserve service. There has been little movement in efforts to reduce the retirement age for those of us that answered the call to active service before 2008… with impending budget constraints; I doubt the momentum to consider such a reduction is very strong.

Someone asked me the other day what a gray area retiree was (I used the term to describe myself) so an explanation -

Members of the Retired Reserve under age 60 (not entitled to reserve retired pay until reaching age 60) are often referred to as Gray Area Retirees. These Gray Area Retirees are entitled to unlimited use of Military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities and commissaries.

Gray Area Retirees must have a valid military Reserve Identification Card. Eligible family members must have a Reserve Family Member ID Card. These cards are available at all military facilities that issue identification cards.

At age 60 and upon receiving retired pay, individuals must complete an application to receive the Retired (blue) ID Card. At that time we and our family members can become eligible for medical and dental care at military facilities (as provided by the installation); TRICARE programs; unlimited use of commissaries and exchanges; and unlimited space "A" travel.

Between the time of Reserve retirement and age 60 we essentially must fend for ourselves in medical insurance, etc…typically handled through our civilian employers. This includes any treatment for un-documented or uncharacterized service connected treatments. I.e. treatment for illness or injury which at time of treatment cannot be directly tied to service. So, for example if you were a Reserve soldier poisoned by KBR water treatment in Iraq and incur illness later on…hopefully your civilian health insurance and your wallet can cover the bill…

Is it time to reconsider this in light of National Health Care discussions?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don’t give up hope of resolving MIA cases

It all began on February 20, 1967 when a plane went down. Now more than 40 years later a piece of bone is discovered during an excavation in Vietnam. On January 8th 2010 Nellis Air Force pilot remains are found and identified. "This is the four inch bone fragment that was found," pilot's daughter, Christine Stonebraker says.

While it would take more than two years for DNA results to be confirmed, Christine Stonebraker now knows what happened to her father, Nellis based Air Force pilot and Thunderbird announcer, Russell Goodman.

"Don't give up hope, don't give up hope, there's always a chance you'll see your loved one's remains as well," Christine says.

Goodman was on a bombing mission in North Vietnam when his plane, an F-4 Phantom was hit with a surface to air missile. Goodman was presumed dead but no one knew for sure.

At our American Legion as well as most others we have a special table for POW/MIAs. It is represented by a place setting which is never used. From the Legion guide for the symbolism represented by the table:

The Tablecloth is white, symbolic of the purity of their intentions to respond to their Country’s call to arms.

The table is being set for One, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner, alone against his or her oppressors.

The Yellow Ribbon on the Vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of thousands who demand, with unyielding determination, a proper account of our comrades who are not among us.

The Single Rose in the vase signifies the blood they may have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep faith, while awaiting their return.

A Slice of Lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of their bitter fate, those captured and missing in a foreign land.

The Salt being sprinkled on the plate is to remind us of the countless tears of those who have never come home and of the tears of their families and friends, whose grief knows no end.

The Bible serves to remind us of the comfort of faith offered to those who face seemingly insurmountable challenges, and it also reminds us of our country being founded on the principle of One Nation Under God.

The Glass is inverted; they cannot toast with us this day/night.

The Candle is reminiscent of the light of hope, which lives in our hearts to illuminate their way home, away from their captors, to the open arms of a grateful nation.

The American Flag reminds us that many may never return and have paid the supreme sacrifice to insure our freedom.

The Chair is empty, our Comrades are missing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Zackery Bowen - Iraq vet -murder suicide

Saw there is a book out – seen here on Amazon – about an Iraqi Vet that served and returned home to New Orleans in time for Hurricane Katrina. Intrigued that his path somewhat matched my own as I returned home from Iraq and was deployed to Hurricane Katrina cleanup, I thought I’d take a look.

The story review from Publishers weekly

On October 17, 2006, 28-year-old Iraq war veteran Zackery Bowen leapt to his death from a New Orleans hotel roof, leaving a suicide note directing police to the dismembered body of his girlfriend, Addie Hall. In journalist Brown's (Snitch) account of Bowen's life, the deterioration of the vet suffering from PTSD parallels that of Katrina-whipped New Orleans, its residents left as stranded as unsupported veterans like Bowen. A high school dropout, New Orleans bartender and a father at age 18, Bowen was determined to improve himself and do well by his child and Lana, his wife, and enlisted in the army, serving as an MP in Kosovo and Iraq. Granted what Brown says was an unfair general (under honorable conditions) discharge, Bowen returned to New Orleans in late 2004, where, abandoned by Lana, he began a turbulent relationship with Hall, culminating in Bowen methodically dismembering and cooking her remains. After covering the murder-suicide for Penthouse in 2007, Brown moved to New Orleans, and his detailed reconstruction of both Bowen's life and the city's deterioration make heartbreaking reading. Perhaps most poignant is the message painted on Bowen's apartment wall: please help me stop the pain.

While I know first hand that the services for returning veterans are pathetic, I’m not convinced that the symptoms of PTSD lead you to become an individual as demented and or tortured as Zackery Bowen. The review of the book leads me to believe that the story may be worth a read…if not a little uncomfortable perhaps.

What bugs me a little bit is the constant blame given to PTSD for Veterans…are we becoming suspect more than other groups. They depicted Vietnam Vets in a socially unacceptable manner for years in the media and the stigma is pervasive in depictions of those that served. Are Iraq and Afghanistan Vets heading for the same treatment?