Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Officer Club and Officer Development

The above picture is of the Robin Hood toby mug from the movie "Twelve O'Clock High" about B-17 crews during World War II. The toby mug played an important part in the movie.   It normally faced the wall above the fire place in the officer's club until there was mission at which time the wing exec officer turned it face out.  The officer's club of Twelve O'Clock high played a pivotal role for the officers.  Pilots, navigators, bombardiers as well as the wing staff officers all gathered to socialize at the club.  It was informal environment that allowed commanders and crews to communicate with one another outside the chain of command and try to maintain some semblance of sanity after the horrors of flying bombing missions over Nazi Germany.

The wartime realities of WWII, Korea and Vietnam developed many traditions within the USAF officers clubs (as I'm sure happened in Navy, Army and Marine Corps officers clubs).  Clubs of that era are associated with drinking and raucous behavior but what is often overlooked is how the unit culture and history was learned and shared.  Some reading this will roll their eyes and say, "That's exactly the problem, it was a culture of drinking and carousing!".  But that view, in my opinion, looks only at the extreme and misses the important role officer clubs  (O'Clubs) actually played in developing the officer corps and maintaining unit cohesion.

Task and Purpose looked at this in "The Military Has Overkilled Alcohol With Big Collateral Damage".  When I was a cadet in ROTC during the early 80s, our instructors were all captains and majors who had come in during the 70s.  The culture they taught us was every officer was expected to be a member of the officers club whether they chose to got there or not.  Officers promotion packages were allegedly checked against the o'club roster, if your name was on the roster you were not going to get promoted.  O'Clubs were that integral to an officers career (at least so we were told.  I did not serve on a promotion board until I was an O-6, by then O'clubs had long stopped being a factor).

O'Clubs in my experience weren't quite the center of activity as they were depicted in "Twelve O'Clock High" but then until 2002, we weren't at war. However, they still were part of an officers development. My first duty station was Scott AFB in Illinois.  It was a major command (MAJCOM) base in the middle of cornfields.  First Fridays were de rigueur for officers, even if you didn't drink alcohol you still made an appearance.  The lowly second lieutenant working in the basement might actually get a chance to chat with the wing commander or one of the generals. In this informal environment, junior officers got to hear and see how senior officers thought.  Senior officers got an unfiltered view of how their junior officers were interpreting their policies and decisions.  It wasn't something as formal as mentoring or feedback sessions, just getting together at the end of the work week.

O'Clubs overseas served on other purpose compared to their stateside counterparts.  It helped officers feel connected to home.  Especially if you were serving in Asia, O'Clubs might be the only place to get a taste of American food.  The O'Club at Ramstein was perhaps the best example from my time in Germany.  The O'Club at RAF Alconbury was the one club that most reminded me of the one depicted in the movie.

By the time I was transition our of the USAF in 1992, we were already in the throws of "deglamorizing" alcohol.  Twenty-three years and one retirement later, I still don't know what the fuck that means.  I never saw alcohol glamorized in the military (unlike in movies and television shows).  I saw officers who inevitably learned to drink (or not drink) in college.  "Officer calls" as the club were not invitation to get drunk, it was supposed to be an opportunity to get together in our environment.  Of course binge-drinking, drunk driving and sexual harassment did happen but it was the exception that made the rule.

The "deglamorizing" movement was meant to curtail these episodes of bad behavior without ever addressing the real problem.  There was never any "glamorization" of alcohol to "deglamorize".  The real problem was those officers who did drink while under the influence, binge-drink or sexually harass had never learned to act responsibly in the first place.  Somehow officers who were charged with being responsible for multi-million dollar weapon systems or given the responsibility for the men and women assigned to them were never given the charter for also being responsible for one another.  Help out someone who obviously has had too much.  Don't let the female officer leave with the senior officer who obviously has been drinking too much.  Have base shuttles to take people back off base.  No, we didn't do any of that.  Instead the USAF turned to the informal slogan of "deglamorizing alcohol" and in the end laid waster to a valuable tradition.

Yes, there were excesses that needed to be curtailed but these were not the norm, just the ugly exceptions that made headlines.  The USAF officer corps lost a place to socialize rich with history.  Many O'Clubs have pictures and paintings form the earliest days of military aviation, the legacy of the base and very unit the officers are assigned to.  What a great place to mentor officers on some of the very topics I've talked about in this blog over the years.  Instead, the USAF is found of ending an officers career for mistakes (especially anything associated with alcohol).

The hypocrisy of course of action is that is was developed and fostered by senior leaders such as Michael J. Carey.  Ralph Baker another.  And of course the most famous of all recently is David Petraeus.  All of these former senior leaders helped shaped and enforce the 'deglamorization" mythos to supposedly prevent the very behaviors that they ended-up being guilty of themselves.

"Deglamorizing" didn't stop officers from drinking, they merely went off base or drank at home.  What it did stop was having a place on base to help guide one another into not only becoming better officers but better people.  Instead the USAF has fostered a culture of "careerism" instead of helping young officers develop a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves.

John Q. Public covered this in "To Be or To Do?  The Trick Question of Air Force Officer Development".  His essay recalls a quote Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave during is 2008 speech at Air War College, "If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors."  I saw that many times throughout my career (and I was certainly guilty of it myself a few times).  Air Force officers are faced with the Hobson's choice of worrying about assignments (also known a checking-the-box) in hopes of getting promoted or actually focusing on the job and risk a premature end to your promotion opportunities.

I had always suspected that appearance was more important than substance (not the increasing emphasis of PT scores, something formerly only the concern of soldiers and Marines).  But then I saw this slide in the essay and more suspicions were confirmed;

That slide is from a 42 slide mentorship presentation by  Colonel Michael Hornitschek.  The colonel dared to put into words what had previously only been implied but never put into writing.  Col Hornietschek mysteriously (!) was not promoted to O-7 (even though he had been what is called a "fast burner") and was relieved of his command after this presentation.  Col Hornitschek was right in what he was trying to do (help educate officers on the unwritten rules for getting promoted) but he was wrong in how he went about it.  In my opinion, had Col Hornitschek only had this slide in his presentation, he might have kept his command job (but his O-7 promotion still would have evaporated).  No, to me what really put the nail in his career was this next slide;

Yes ladies and gentlemen, Col Hornitschek with this slide went above and beyond in disproving any notions that your career is actually about doing your job.  In all fairness, I'm sure it wasn't he intent to do anything more than help officers plan their careers.  But what he had shown with these two slides were that the USAF promotion system really is geared to appearances and not accomplishments.  So much for the Air Force Core Values of Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do.  Col Hornitschek called it a game and laid out the rules of the game.

As much as I would like to disagree with Col Hornitschek, the evidence to the contrary is too thin.  Officers who spent multiple deployments leading troops are passed over.  General officers are too often those who successfully maneuvered through assignments without rocking the boat.  Even back in the Vietnam war, the Air Force seemed to reward bureaucrats and punish warriors.  I give you as an example Robin Olds.  He was by any measure a brilliant fighter pilot.  He was also charismatic and knew how to train other fighter pilots to become brilliant as well.  However, he was also a heavy drinker who spoke his mind too many times for the higher ups.

Olds was what the Air Force needed in Vietnam but his war record and outspoke nature made him anathema to the general officers he worked for.  Even though cadets and commissioned officers are required to about officers like Olds, the reality is their opportunities for promotion lie more in the guidelines Col Hornitschek put into his PowerPoint.

How does officer career development and O'Clubs connect?  The O'Clubs served an important role in helping officers discuss issues such as promotions and career choices without the fear of retribution.  Senior officers had the best mechanism available for hearing how to better shape and refine their policies.  Try criticizing a senior officer during a staff meeting and your promotion packet is toast.  Post your thoughts about a Air Force policy on social media and watch your primo assignment to the Pentagon turn into a remote tour in a country you've never heard of.

The Air Force deglamorized alcohol and in the their haste eliminated one of the last, best hopes to get the officer corps collective head out of their asses.  The mid-level talent with war experience are getting out because they can't get promoted.  The new officers coming behind them will have a huge cultural gap between themselves and their senior leaders.  The old school O'Club could have been a mechanism to help deal with this issue.  Instead, I see one more reason why the USAF may one done be no more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Verifiable Freeze

"Iran must commit to a verifiable freeze of at least 10 years on sensitive nuclear activity for a landmark atomic deal to be reached, but the odds are still against sealing a final agreement, U.S. President Barack Obama told Reuters on Monday."  (Yahoo News)

Mr. Obama's history of holding despots to deadlines is unremarkable to say the least.  He famously established a "red-line" for the use of chemical weapons by Syria.  He continues refusing to label either Daesh or Boko Haram as radical Islamic groups.  He supported a coup in the Ukraine and then blinked when Putin played chicken.  North Korea has not been engaged much less contained.  The famous pivot to Asia has done nothing to curtail China's ambitions.

As I wrote about yesterday, Mr. Obama is once again sending mixed signals to Iran.  He wants them to kowtow to his intellectual bluster, however he has taken far more serious actions towards Israel.  In short, what does Iran stand to lose should they not comply with Mr. Obama?  And where are the partners Mr. Obama supposedly was rallying to bring Iran into compliance?

Monday, March 2, 2015

The strange relationship between the US and Iran

As the Democrats and Republicans fumble around trying to figure out their 201 talking points, Mr. Obama continues to avoid labeling Daesh (ISIS) as a radical Islamic group.  Some are quick to call this proof that Mr. Obama is really a Muslim.  The problem with the snarky little sound byte is it fails to really examine things beyond the superficial.  Perhaps Mr. Obama is merely trying to pursue a diplomatic approach publicly (while increasing troop presence in Iraq).  Or perhaps he still believes he can create a some kind of partnership that will fight the major battles (such as Jordan and Egypt) but by labeling Daesh a radical Islamic group other partners may be deterred.

What is far more intriguing to me is the deceptively low-level reversal of policies towards Iran.  Under Hillary Clinton's reign as Secretary of State, is was tantamount to war should Iran even think about having nuclear weapons.  Obama and Clinton actually likely saw the Arab Spring as a way for Assad to fall while creating instability for Iran.  Of that didn't happen and we now have a stronger than ever Daesh.  But Iran was still not supposed to develop nuclear weapons, even when Kerry took over the reigns at the State Department.

But in recent weeks, talk has been of "bottom lines" to deal with Iran to try to region in their nuclear program.  In 2007, Clinton said that no option can be taken off the table, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force, when dealing with Iran.

The White House would argue that the policy of 2015 is merely a refinement of Hillary's earlier policy.  But then Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speech tomorrow has exposed the growing chasm between Washington and DC, especially to our mutual interest of Iran.  Obama overtly disdains Netanyahu's preference for dealing with Daesh and Iran.  However, recent articles show that Obama's disdain for Israel goes well beyond anything previous administrations would have done.  It now has come to light that Mr. Obama authorized the shoot-down of any Israeli jets sent to attack Iran's nuclear facilities (Israeli News).  Jimmy Carter had to face an Iran that stormed our embassy in Tehran and since then, Iran has had an adversarial relationship culminating with George W. Bush naming it as part of the Axis of Evil.  Somehow, Obama has decided that Israel, which has a hell of lot more at stake should Iran become a nuclear power, should have its fighters shot down should Israel dare attack?

If that sounds far-fetched for a US President, then an article in the Huffington Post will really challenge your view of US-Iranian relations.  The $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015 has a rider gives a subsidiary of the Australian-English mining firm Rio Tinto 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in exchange for several other parcels so it can mine a massive copper deposit.
Rio Tinto, which removed Iran’s two members of the mine board in 2012, has argued that Iran gets no benefit from the property, that there is no active partnership, and that it has discussed the issue with the U.S. State Department to ensure that no sanctions against Iran are violated.  The rider was pushed through by everyone's favorite hawk and former POW, John McCain.

"The official also declined to say if, as might be expected, Iran would be able to benefit from the mine if Secretary of State John Kerry is successful in negotiations to limit the regime’s nuclear aspirations, and sanctions are lifted. “We are not going to speculate on any hypotheticals,” the official said. A Rio Tinto official also declined to speculate, but noted that under the current sanctions and Namibian law, it's impossible to buy out Iran's share or sever the tie." (Huffington Post)

Those 2,400 acres are sacred to Native Americans, especially the Apache.  The mining will destroy holy ground and grave sites but these doesn't seem to matter to McCain or Obama.

Obama is too willing to avoid offending Daesh will more then willing to offend Israel and give up sacred lands to Iran.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Obama's speech on Christianity

Last week,  Mr. Obama made headlines by giving the world a history lesson as his response to the brutal execution of the Jordanian pilot by Daesh.  Mr. Obama reminded us that before we go to far in condemning Islam, we need to remember that Christians committed equally horrible atrocities during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and even slavery in the United States.  His speech was not the impassioned vitriol of King Abdullah II nor the unifying theme of European leaders in response to the Paris massacres.  Instead, Mr. Obama's speech was something you might hear in a classroom at Harvard for graduate students.  In it, I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Obama has yet to figure out how to act like a statesman, much less the President of the United States.

It seems Mr. Obama, like many others before him, ran with great enthusiasm and energy to win the election but never had a game plan for the day after the election.  It takes most US Presidents and few years to hit their particular stride yet I don't see where after six years Mr. Obama has figured out the job.  His speech was even-keeled at a time when emotions were high.  Academically it might appear to be a time for calmer language but burning anyone alive in front of video cameras to incite terror requires something other than a bookish response.

His speech seems even more hollow now that Kayla Mueller, an American held hostage by Daesh, has been murdered.  Mr. Obama wants Congress to authorize him to declare war on Daesh across the world.  One might wonder how the milquetoast speech he gave last week was supposed to generate support for this request?  Now that it has been confirmed that Kayla Mueller has been murdered, will he give another emotionless speech on the historical ramifications of religion or will he simply go golfing again?

As he girds himself to face a Republican controlled House, other events Mr. Obama has ignored continued to percolate.  Mr. Obama has shunned Netanyahu, the major US ally (and only non-Muslim) in the region.  Iran continues to pursue its nuclear technology with relative impunity from the US.  The 300 Nigerian school girls still have yet to be found but Boko Haram has massacred thousands with no end in sight.

Russia continues to maintain an aggressive military footing in Ukraine and now the US is considering sending arms to Ukraine.  Keep in mind that the US had backed the coup in Ukraine whihc led to the Russia annexing Crimea and you begin to see the hypocrisy of arming Ukraine.  Meanwhile, NORAD has reported Russian aircraft continue to show a more aggressive posture along US airspace.

Internally, Mr. Obama's measured response to Daesh has generated increased frustration with Americans who see him has overly sympathetic to Islam.  Three Muslim students were just murdered at the University of North Carolina by an American who had been posting anti-Islamic rhetoric on his Facebook page for weeks.  Americans are beginning to take action into their own hands (as many had already travelled overseas to help the rebels fight against Daesh) but I'm afraid the reluctant man in the White House will not see it as a cry for him to become more of a leader but rather as a need for more intervention by the federal government.

While this confusing foreign policy melodrama plays own, the chief writer of this mess has been laying low.  Hillary has been notable absent from the campaign trail.  The New York Times speculated on this a few weeks ago.  Hillary is showing her inevitability as the Democratic candidate by avoiding unnecessary attention to her speaking fees ($225K according to MSNBC), her involvement in Benghazi, her lack of support for naming Boko Haram a terrorist organization, her support for ousting Syrian President Assad (which led to the rise of Daesh), and most importantly her surprising ability to say stupid shit (such as "we're flat broke) on the campaign trail.  Lest we forget, Hillary suffers from the same symptom as Brian Williams, i.e. ducking under a hail of bullets to board a helicopter in Afghanistan.  The longer Hillary stays out of the public's view, the better her chances for snagging the nomination.

China, Russia and Iran must be beside themselves with delight at the state of the US.  An academic playing at being the President of the United States with a tired, burned-out military and an American public that would much rather worry about what happened on the Grammy Awards than what is going on in the White House.

In another miscalculation, Mr. Obama is seeking $5 million to identify the requirements of the 6th generation fighter (the F-35, which hasn't even become operation yet, is a 5th generation fighter).  While $5 million is a relative drop in the buck on the Hill, what Mr. Obama and his administration have admitted is the F-35 is already obsolete.  Many others have detailed the limitations of the F-35 but let me just add one more thing.

The F-35 is billed as a stealth aircraft, everything about its design and composition as supposed to help it defeat an enemy radar from detecting it.  Sounds good until you realize that stealth is meant to defeat radar beams coming at the aircraft from the front or side aspect.  All of those oblique angles are meant to keep radar energy from returning in a straight line back to the antenna.  But what about radar energy from above?

Over-the-horizon backscatter (OTHB) radar works by aiming radio waves at the ionosphere which are then reflected back down to the ground from above.  In this manner, OTHB allows for the detection of aircraft or ships from thousands of miles away.  Moreover, since the beam is bounced downward and then upward stealth doesn't work.  Granted OTHB is not as precise as other radars but it doesn't have to be.  It's for long range surveillance and because it is looking down, it benefits from the Doppler Shift.  To a normal radar, an incoming aircraft appears relatively stationary as long as it remains on the same heading (azimuth).  But to an OTHB radar, anything moving against the stationary ground shows-up (this is the same principle JSTARS uses for tracking ground vehicles).  OTHB is not a new technology and just last year, an article appeared stating that Iran has this technology.  Oops, so much for our stealthy F-35!  So does China, Russia and most likely North Korea.

Granted, the F-35 shortcomings did not occur under the Obama Administration but the admissions of its shortfalls did at the same time he instituted sequestration.  I wonder what kind of speech he will give this time?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Why good men and women say nothing

First off, Brian Williams….you are a douchebag of the highest magnitude.  But through his self-immolation, we may learn some things about the state of American culture and how it may be accelerating violence in Syria and Iraq (with the potential for North Korea and China to jump in at any time).

In the last 6 months to a year, a new theme has been taking shape in the "post-war" era.  More and more writers are testing the waters, seeing if they can publish pieces questioning the hero-status many Americans attribute to military troops without the authors being targeted for airstrikes.  The articles started out tepid, mild reflections on American glorification of military service and how it blinds one to any flawed military decision.  As time went on, the criticisms of the troops became stronger as these writers felt safer in their challenges of the troops being considered real heroes.  It his a crescendo when "American Sniper" debuted and to the horror of these writers, the movie not glorified military service it set box office records.

There was a part of me that naturally wanted to rebuke the authors who almost inevitably never served in uniform.  Not because their philosophizing in some way attacked my military service but how cavalierly they treated the service of anyone other than a frontline combat troop (who they then equated to a poor, brainwashed sap programmed to kill without regard).  However, there is merit in questioning the decisions of military leaders who too often are isolated from the front lines (even in today's real-time cyber world).  I've seen too many stories of how airmen feel their bosses don't have their best interests at heart and have been meaning to address what I think causes that problem.  It is something that needs to be addressed before we have to get serious with Daesh, Iran, North Korea, Russia or China.

The First World War is a perfect example of military leaders being distanced from their troops and the disastrous consequences it has.  While soldiers on all sides were dying wholesale in trench warfare, the generals and their staffs were miles away from any fighting, relaxing in chateaus.  These embarrassments to military leadership therefore had no qualms with continuing to send company after company into battle with no hope of gaining even one foot of ground.

But today with drones, satellites and all manner of communication one would conclude that such atrocities could not happen again.  Today's military leaders are not sitting in luxury miles away from the battlefield but in a very different way, they are almost as cut off from reality as their World War I counterparts.

The reason for this separation is rooted in how officers, especially in the Air Force, are promoted.  I don't claim to know the promotion system of the other branches but there are certain components that render the effects the same.  Think of a pyramid for a moment.  Junior officers make up the bottom with the highest numbers.  Field grade officers (majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels in the Army, USAF and USMC, lieutenants, lieutenant commanders, and commanders in the USN) make up most of the middle to top and at the very top are flag officers (generals and admirals).  Just like in the pyramid, there is a lot of room at the base and hardly any room at the crown.  Officer promotions are supposed to insure only the best and brightest reach the top in theory but in practice a much different phenomena arises.

In the USAF, somewhere around 90 percent or more of the officers (there are no warrant officers in the USAF) have bachelor's degrees in engineering.  That means 90 percent or more of your brand new 2nd lieutenants are already pre-disposed to systemically solving problems and since most graduated from prestigious engineering programs, they are pretty damn good at it.  Now compound that mentality with being a rated officer who flies a multi-million dollar aircraft which in-turn is support by every wing function, you begin to see why pilots in the Air Force are ready to solve the world's problems.

Very quickly though the USAF officer, rated as well as non-rated, faces promotion boards.  Up to captain, promotions in the USAF are fairly automatic.  But getting promoted to major is the first separating of chaff from the wheat.  It's where the hot shot 7 year captains tend to get their reality checks.

The USAF promotion system has always been based on a particular glide-slope.  Get promoted on-time and stay on the glide-slope.  Fall behind on promotions and not only do you fall off the glide-slope, you may find yourself out of the USAF.  This "up or out" mentality is supposed to insure only the fast-burners (those truly gifted, big-brained officers) make it to the top ranks.  But what the system really does is stifle your forward thinking, young problem solvers.

Keep in mind that glide slope, you have to hit very discreet marks each year such as professional military education (Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, Air War College), around which you have to plan your assignments (squadron command, staff assignment, joint assignment with another branch), throw in a master's degree for good measure (not officially required but officially encouraged).  If your timing is just off a little and your promotion may not be on-time.  An "above-the-zone" promotion (which actually means a late promotion) creates a cascading effect for all future promotions and assignments.

Now compound this overt system with the subversive world of the "officer performance report" or OPR.  This is supposed to be an objective look at an officer's performance but it too often turns into subjective critique heavily influenced by; a) how much your rater likes or dislikes you and b) how good your rater is at the "promotion-speak" that needs to be in your performance report.  In turn, the rater is also rated on how well the officers assigned to them do in promotions.  The promotion system does not create a system for those who think outside the box to thrive, rather it creates a group-think culture.

If the officer wants to get promoted, they will shut-up and color meaning they will do as they are told and not question the decisions of those above them.  Even if the officer (who remember, is a high functioning problem solver) does speak out, a senior officer above him or her will have to come down on them because they too are on that same glide slope.

Thus the higher up you ascend the promotion ladder, the less inclined you become to take an action that might knock you off of the glide-slope.  In effect, everyone starts talking and thinking alike for fear that if you standout too much you may risk ending your career.

When there was a spate of general officers being found of having had affairs or sexual harassment, the immediate question was how could this have happened?  Easy, their junior officers were inclined to turn a blind eye to the general's inappropriate behavior less they fall of the promotion cycle.  Guess what?  The fear is even greater when it comes to questioning military decisions.  Here is an extreme example that just hit the news;

"Afghan War Hero Stripped of Silver Star"  Army Captain Matt Golsteyn, "Under heavy fire...ran about 150 meters to the trapped MRAP to retrieve a powerful 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, an anti-tank weapon. While moving under gunfire, he coordinated a medical evacuation for the wounded Afghan soldier and then opened fire with the Carl Gustav.”

Running through the open despite the fact that the Taliban had successfully pinned down the rest of his men, Golsteyn looked like he “was alone fighting 30 enemy fighters out in the poppy fields.” He then coordinated airstrikes from F/A-18 Hornets and a drone, silencing the enemy. The battle lasted four hours."

Captain Golsteyn was awarded the Silver Star which was certainly going to be upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor).  So why was he stripped of his Silver Star?  According to the author, CPT Golsteyn had been quoted in his book making several critical comments about the American strategy in Afghanistan.  That was enough for the Army to launch a criminal investigation into CPT Golsteyn's actions during the battle.  "The investigation, apparently, had nothing to do with the acts of bravery that earned Golsteyn his medal. Instead, according to the Washington Post, which cited officials familiar with the case, it concerned “an undisclosed violation of the military’s rules of engagement in combat for killing a known enemy fighter and bomb maker.” The investigation stretched on for nearly two years, during which time the Army effectively put Golsteyn’s career on ice. In 2014, Golsteyn and his lawyer were informed that the investigation was finally complete. No charges were filed, but Golsteyn still wasn’t released from administrative limbo." (Free Beacon)

But it gets worse, "Congressman Duncan Hunter wrote last year to John McHugh, the secretary of the Army, asking about the status of Golsteyn’s seemingly endless career freeze. Apparently the secretary did not take kindly to the inquiry, as he responded in a letter last November that not only would he not be upgrading Golsteyn’s Silver Star to a Distinguished Service Cross, but would be revoking Golsteyn’s Silver Star entirely"  Extreme, yes but hardly the only instance of a promising officer having their career stalled by being critical of their higher-ups.

I can't help but feel that whoever torpedoed CPT Golsteyn's medal and career had either never set foot in Afghanistan or was so distanced from the realities of the war that he (and I guarantee it was a he) took personal offense at the captain's remarks.  For all we know, it could have been Secretary McHugh who took exception.  Regardless, this example shows why junior officers either learn to march to the party line or get out.

My synopsis doesn't begin to cover the other huge influence on senior military leaders, no not the current post holders of Washington but the defense industry.  President Eisenhower said in his famous speech on the military-industrial complex, "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."  Senior officers, especially generals and admirals, transition as they retire from the military to the defense industry at a rather alarming rate.  Those looking to have a post military career working for a "beltway bandit" are loathe to make decisions that are are odds with the bottom line with their future employers.

When I was a first lieutenant, I was involved with a major software development project for a classified data handling system.  I came across a request from the prime contractor to have a modification to the contract over a completely unnecessary addition.  I did my researched to prove my point and sent my proposal to nix the mod up channel.  Instead of being greeted with saving the USAF money, my second line supervisor took my to task saying I was overstepping my bounds.  Lo and behold if that same supervisor didn't end-up working for the prime contractor the after he retired.

The one-two punch of a bureaucratic promotion cycle producing a group-think environment lead by senior officers who are heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex is actually not new.  Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, identified this same phenomena in his 1933 book "War is a Racket".  The result of an all-volunteer force is it tends to stifle any questioning of decisions by its leadership.

Because of this stifled culture, it is unlikely voices such as CPT Golsteyn's are heard or even valued.  The results are tragedies such as Benghazi or the mealymouthed approached to dealing with Daesh.  First the US wanted to get rid of Assad and but only gave it a half-hearted effort.  Once the US realized the alternative to Assad was Daesh, it was already too late.  The US effort to weaken Assad created the gap Daesh needed to go international.  I'm sure there were military planners that saw it but because of career considerations either they or their superiors said nothing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down"

Clint Eastwood, actor, director, sometime crooner of country ballads and most recently, ground zero for the controversy surrounding the life US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.  Unless you've been living under a rock, your pretty much know that "American Sniper" is the highest grossing movie out right now and has caused a furor over the depiction of Kyle's time as a sniper in Iraq.  The movie is based on Kyle's own autobiography and portrays in unflinching realism how the deadliest sniper in the US military was an unapologetic, efficient killer that had no use for the Muslims he hunted.  Conservatives are gushing over his actions, liberals equate his actions tantamount to "coward" (Michael Moore) to "Nazi propaganda" (Seth Rogen).

Should we equate killing of the enemy to heroism (something that has been down since ancient times) or should we be repulsed by a country able to produce such an efficient killer with no remorse for his skills?  I started to write an essay reflecting on this but things have shift as tends to happen when one writes about current events.

Clint Eastwood has no come back into the news for another movie he made back in 1992.  The movie of course was "Unforgiven", the story of agin gunfighter William Muny who is reluctantly draw out of retirement for one last job.  Eastwood wanted "Unforgiven" to be his final Western and to show what life would be like for the characters that had made him famous in the Serigo Leone Westerns as well as his own productions such as "Josey Wales" and "Pale Rider".  Eastwood had felt those movies had glamorized violence without truly showing the consequences, especially to the protagonist.  "Unfogiven" was to be his penance.

But as tends to happen, once an actor of Eastwoods status establishes an archetype, it is difficult to go against type.  Eastwood portrayed Muny with all of his worts, hardly able to mount a horse, and actively avoiding any more killing after having taken so many lives.  Ask anyone though who has seen the movie and they aren't going to wax about the way Eastwood portrayed to aging Muny, no I'm afraid what people remember is this scene.  Muny becomes the killer he once was again to avenge the brutal murder of his partner at the hands of a sadistic sheriff.  After killing the sheriff and his henchman, Muny tries to leave the saloon but knows others are outside waiting for him.  Eastwood then delivers a line which even if you haven't seen the movie, have probably seen in the headlines today.

"All right, I'm coming out. Any man I see out there, I'm gonna shoot him. Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down."  (Eastwood as William Muny, Unforgiven)

Now this line and Eastwood have been re-remembered as the battle cry of Jordan's King Abdullah II according to Congressman Duncan Hunter from California (Daily Mail).  King Abdullah's reaction is to the latest horrifying, vile act of violence by Daesh by setting a downed Jordanian pilot on fire and burning him to death on video.  By invoking Eastwood's famous character, Abdullah may be the only world leader that truly gets what its going to take to deal with Daesh.

Daesh has been using beheadings to inflict horror and terror into the minds of Western leaders but when that did not generate the necessary fear, the terrorists have upped the ante by turning to the barbaric custom of burning one's enemy alive.  If this had been an American or even a European pilot, I doubt any of those leaders would have reacted with such raw emotion (much less using a quote from Clint Eastwood).  I take the King at his word and do believe Daesh may have just unleashed hell upon themselves.

Perhaps this will also cause those too quick to criticize and label Chris Kyle as some type of abhorrent, racist monster to see Kyle and those like Kyle are exactly the kind of men you need to send in to deal with Daesh.  Every single one of those blood-thirst pyromaniacs that set fire to that pilot need to be shot, not bombed.  Why?  Because they only thing terrorists understand is terror.  Seeing their colleagues dispatched by a single round will give them many sleepless nights and in turn their fear may give a little comfort to the families of the victims.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Some random thoughts and observations as January comes to a close.

- Mr. Obama sure has his priorities in order.  He blows off the largest gathering of world leaders in Paris to honor those killed during the Charlie Hebdo attacks, yet makes a beeline for Saudi Arabia to honor there new king.  At first, this seemed like some more Obama Administration miscalculations until I went to the gas pump on Sunday and filled up at $1.85.  I'm unconvinced Saudi Arabia is an active partner in combatting terrorism in the way that say the UK or even France are but by keeping their oil production up and prices low, they are helping to keep the Obama war machine turning.

-  Mr.  Obama then makes another speedy to trip to recognize the new PM of India.  Unlike events in Saudi Arabia, this actually does represent a paradigm shift for the US which has been at odds with New Delhi since the Cold War (and professing our continued support of Pakistan).  Alas it seems too little, too late as Russia has been involved with India since the days of the Soviet Union.  India has benefitted from Russian nuclear technology and now is on the cusp of receiving cheap Russian oil to help fuel an ever growing Indian economy.

- The challenge with deconstructing a given conspiracy theory is there is almost always a little truth to them.  Case in point, the conspiracy theorists have been labeling the Charlie Hebdo attacks as a "false flag" attack, meaning it was set deliberately to justify actions by other states usually leading towards war.  In this case, France had committed to sell two warships to Russia and was reducing their military which would mean fewer French troops and equipment would be available to support US led actions.  Now France is rethinking its drawdown.

- Speaking of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a renewed debate on guns has erupted on cyberspace.  The pro-gun side believes a well armed civilian populace would have prevented the massacre in Paris.  The gun-control side believes just the opposite that access to guns increases the likelihood for an even higher body county.  Now Interpol, the police agency consisting of countries with some of the most restrictive gun-control policies, has come out with a Hobson's choice; you either arm your citizens or impose martial law.  "Societies have to think about how they’re going to approach the problem. One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security,” stated Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble.

- The US may need to figure which side of the argument it is on soon.  Our friends at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have in another demonstration of short-term thinking are shutting down 20 percent of the US coal-burning power plants.  Hooray!  Clean-air and less carbon emissions for all!  Except with coal accounting for 40 percent of US power production, and no new EPA approved plants coming on-line, this means our power grid is being constrained even more.  It won't take make much for either a physical or cyber attack on our power grids to put us down for the count.  But we will have cleaner air.

- The US poster-child for waging asymmetrical warfare (read, killing terrorists) is the aerial unmanned vehicle or simply drone.  These remotely piloted aircraft allow for the hunting and killing of terrorists in real-time.  They also present the illusion of conducting air warfare for less than using manned aircraft and without risking the lives of American pilots.  But time marches on and what was true just 10 years ago has greatly changed.  According to Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of the air service’s Air Combat Command, "Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment."  Whoops, isn't that exactly the kind of environment we DON'T want our pilots to fly in?  He goes on, "Today … I couldn’t put [a Predator or Reaper] into the Strait of Hormuz without having to put airplanes there to protect it."  Wait, you need to protect you unmanned aircraft with an manned aircraft?  Why yes, according to Gen Welsh who revealed that an F-22 — the planet’s most sophisticated stealth fighter — intercepted Iranian F-4 Phantom jets that were closing in on a U.S. Predator drone over the strait last March. In November 2012, Iranian Su-25 ground attack jets fired on, and missed, an American Predator over the strait. (Source:  Foreign Policy)

- Mr. Obama has instituted several changes to the US military during his tenure; allowing women in combat, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, and an increased focus on reducing sexual assault.  Any one of these would have be a major cultural shift for the US military, implementing all three while the US is still deploying troops to hostile areas has led to the lowest morale of the US military since Vietnam.  This is not to argue the merits of any of the decisions but to point out that in chasing the political side of the issue, the morale of the troops has suffered.  None of these issues are easy to implement, one need only look back on the history of race in the military.  To ask the military to sort through three major issues, while facing continued deployments as well as troop reductions, is just foolhardy.  If you are serious about these issues, then give the troops the time and support to change the culture.  Otherwise this is just politics and not about the troops.

- January is the month that US President's give their State of the Union address.  Mr. Obama said the U.S. was upholding 'the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small' by opposing what he called Russian president Vladimir Putin's aggression and supporting democracy in Ukraine (Source: Daily Mail).  Strong words from a president who has a military that  has been at war for 13 years, facing a drawdown, is going through major cultural changes, and flat out doesn't like their Commander-In-Chief (CINC). But now, according to the Daily Mail,  the Russians have claimed the speech showed how the United States believes it is 'number one' and is unable to be an equal.  The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Levrov reacted by saying, "Yesterday's speech by the president shows that at the centre of the U.S. philosophy is only one thing: "We are number one and everybody else has to respect that."

- The warmongering former POW and Senator, John McCain, now is pressuring Obama to increase troop presence, "American boots on the ground are necessary to defeat [the group] in Iraq and Syria." (Defense News).  Even McCain admits there is no coherent strategy for dealing with Daesh but he wants to add more troops?  A especially egregious recommendation from a Vietnam veteran, a war the defined the ridiculousness of quantifying military victory.

- The whole GOP/North Korea/Sony Pictures attack seems to have been forgotten.  However, now that the US is ramping up for the 2016 Presidential election, Iran is back on the front burner.  Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is expressing support for legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if talks fail to reach a deal curbing its nuclear program (The Hill).  More troops for McCain plus more sanctions for Sherman seems to equal a future conflict with Iran?

- Finally, who will next lead the US through this chaos as the 45th President?  We've already heard enough about Hillary and Jeb, now we get other retreads such as Romeny, Biden, Christie and Rubio.  Elizabeth Warren is staying pat so far and as such, no other big name Democrats (other than Biden) are really coming out.  It is the Republicans to lose, I say that due to the sense of many people have had enough of Hillary.  She is tired and not nimble on her feet like her husband.  A prolonged campaign will invite too many opportunities for her to stumble and fall.  But if the Republicans front Jeb, the country may just turn off their electronic devices for the next election.