sig's blog

Afghanistan, NATO, and Bill Arkin

People who have perused my site--or talked to me for more than 3 minutes--know that I can occasionally be a little bitter about the whole state of "the other war." I didn`t go to Iraq--I went to Afghanistan. When I was preparing to go back in late 2005, a lot of people were astounded to learn that we were still there. Wasn`t that a done deal?

In a way, I`m somewhat gratified to see that it`s making a comeback in the public consciousness, though I really wish it were for a different reason.

This morning my Google News page was infested by a piece by Bill Arkin. Where have I heard that name? Oh yes. That`s the asshat that prattled on about our obscene amenities last year. Today, he`s prattling on about Afghanistan. I`ll say this for Bill: he makes his opinion clearly and unambiguously.

Afghanistan: America Wrong, Europe Right
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is again beating up on Europeans for not doing more in Afghanistan, a now familiar theme in his blame-anybody-but-us strategy.

It goes on to talk about the recurring theme in Afghanistan--a lot of troops not doing a hell of a lot of actual fighting--and then lambasts SecDef Gates for seemingly trying to apply the Iraq methodology to Afghanistan when in fact these are completely different, and what Afghanistan needs is more non-kinetic ops.

I`m reposting my reply here because I have no confidence that it will still be there later:

I spent some time with a small American detachment working on a Canadian-run FOB near Kandahar in late 2006. Under their NATO commander, the Canadians could not engage in any "offensive" operations, meaning that they sat on the FOB and watched insurgents move and transport equipment through their area.

The Americans, under a US Army captain, would do "recon by fire"--that is, finding the bad guys by driving around until we were attacked--at which time we could call for a quick reaction force. This was the only time the Canadians could do anything other than purely defensive measures. I don`t know what the commanders thought, but the joes loved us for it. They could see what was happening right in front of them.

Non-kinetic operations cannot take place in the absence of security. Security requires boots and the ground and active engagement of the Taliban remnants. You won`t build any nations in a place where people are beheaded for selling Americans cigarettes, and letters are spread promising death to entire families should anyone accept humanitarian aid.

We saw what happened early last year when NATO decided not to hold the previously-secured Musa Qah`leh. A "gentleman`s agreement" with the local Talibs resulted in the town becoming a major Taliban stronghold--from the same district center that we had occupied (and fortified) weeks earlier. Taking it back required a price paid in blood.

If Secretary Gates were advocating some other strategy, no doubt you would be castigating him for not heeding the lessons learned at such cost in Iraq.

I`ve bitched about NATO in Afghanistan before. Here, I talk about Musa Qah`leh, which had to be retaken after it was essentially given back to the Talibs. Comments posted later at Blackfive about the Dutch approach resulted in this exchange.

I am a lowly E-5. Far be it from me to advise SecDef Gates on what he should push NATO to do. But it doesn`t take a rocket scientist to see that a lot of countries are not interested in shouldering a fair share of the dirty work--not even a model rocket scientist.


I voted in the primary.

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 23 JAN 08.]

...via absentee ballot, about 30 seconds before my wife informed me that my candidate had dropped out that day.

So now I`m supporting Great Cthulhu for 2008. I`m tired of settling for the lesser evil. Ph`nglui mglw`nafh Cthulhu R`lyeh wgah`nagl fhtagn!

I could possibly be talked into voting for Romney or Giuliani, however.


You can get money just about anywhere, after all.

[Full disclosure: I joined for the security clearance and the chance to beat down rioting college students. I stayed for the MREs.]

I might as well request the Easter Bunny`s e-mail address.

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 28 AUG 07.]

Is there any place where legitimate, well-intentioned, respectful, intelligent, and rational discourse about politics and military affairs can occur?

I don`t mean the narcissistic mutual admiration societies where we all sit around talking about how barking mad the other side is--I mean an actual (by which I mean virtual, online) place where you can have a reasoned debate with unlike-minded individuals and at least maintain some semblance of civil conversation.

One of the legitimate criticisms often levied against the military weblog community is that we tend to act as an echo chamber. It`s hard to know how much of that is just navel-gazing and how much is legitimate unfied concern over a major topic--particularly when it`s hard to agree what even constitutes An Important Thing. [Witness the whole Beauchamp saga.]

Comments are often full of "You are so right" and "God bless you and the troops" and "Free Viagra Prescription" (damned spambots) with the occasional "Bushitler and his thugs will all rot in hell" comment thrown in for good measure. Some of the better sites will have some respectfully dissenting opinions, but these are noteworthy for their rarity.

[Now, to be perfectly fair (which I do only when I have 3:1 odds), the military weblog community is far from the worst offender in this area. But just because other parties *coughhippies*cough* might do it doesn`t absolve us of responsibility to promote the common good.]

I guess I`m just not terribly comfortable with the journal-as-debate-forum model. One pompous blowhard (me) gets to write something, and then normal people tell him/me why he/I is/am full of crap in the comments section. It`s powerfully slanted my way, which would be a problem if I were not right all of the time.

But Sig, the argument will go, they can always open their own blog. And that`s true. But now the power relationship is reversed, and I`m leaving nasty comments about their grammar and personal hygiene and political views. In neither case is a reasonable and even-keeled discussion possible.

Maybe I`m hoping for something which can`t exist. But I recall some rousing good discussions Back In The Old Days--in my case, text-based BBS networks and moderated UseNet groups from the mid-90s. Where do people go for discussions now?

This is not a rhetorical device--I`d really like to know.


On vocation

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 28 AUG 07.]

This is probably interesting only to me.

I have long considered myself a computer technician temporarily in uniform--a "fat computer nerd trapped in a soldier`s body." Part of this is the whole National Guard Thing that they sell you on--one weekend a month, etc. The idea when I signed up was that I could get some training, pick up a security clearance, get in shape, and Do Good, and then come home and get back to my IT career, hopefully by which time the economy would stop sucking. This was mid-2003, by the way.

But it`s time I do the math and face reality.

Computer tech career:

  • 9/00 to 10/00 -- Small computer shop. Printer tech, phone guy, accounting. Laid off. (6 weeks)
  • 12/00 to 9/01 -- Major corporate desktop support. Contractor. Quit right before being laid off. (10 months)
  • 9/01 to 3/03 -- Small land development company. #2 in IT department (of 2). "The good job." Laid off. Can still visit for free lunch and reminisce. (18 months)
  • 6/03 to 11/03 -- NMCI. Google it. Fear it. Never work for it. Fired for being right all of the time. (6 months).
  • 09/05 to 10/05 -- NMCI. Everyone who knew me before was since fired or laid off. Job still ridiculous and painfully mismanaged. Quit because the war was preferable. (2 months)

Total time: 37.5 months

Regime Change Specialist career: [only full-time counted]

  • 01/04 to 08/05 -- Training. Basic, language school, AIT. Came home with a security clearance and a tan. (19 months)
  • 11/05 to 01/07 -- Operation Enduring Freedom. Came home with additional VA benefits, stories I can`t tell, hearing loss, and occasional nightmares. (15 months)
  • 02/07 to 09/07 -- Document translation and Other Duties As Assigned. (8 months)

Total time: 42 months.

And I`m on track to stay in uniform full time for FY08. And maybe to go language school again after that. By that time, we should have invaded somewhere else.

It`s time to face it. I`m actually a soldier who used to do computer work.

It`s actually kind of cool. If I`d known that I had surpassed the time-in-IT mark this summer, I might have had an extra beer--the E-5-single-income-kids-on-the-way equivalent of a party.

Anyway, it`s deep thoughts like this one that have been going through my head lately. I note as I post this that my resolve to get SOMETHING up today was so strong that it was felt by TF Boggs, too. Wiggy.
I`ll try to do better.


Defining moments and dividing lines

In which Sig elaborates on pre- and post-Afghanistan life.

Round in the chamber

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 31 JUL 07.] asked us to answer some questions for a little interview type dealie; my responses are over here.

Since I mentioned it in the interview, I will give notice here, as well. My wife and I recently received a warning order from the doctor`s office; we are to expect reinforcement sometime in March of 2008, bringing our total family complement up to 3. My wife takes her role as a "force multiplier" seriously.

OK, I can`t think of any more terrible military metaphors for pregnancy without devolving into the realm of the truly tasteless. As it is, jokes about muzzle velocity practically write themselves over the concept of "round in the chamber."

More scribings are in the works. Have a good one, everybody.


Delayed casualties

In which Sig addresses combat stress.

Why it matters

In which Sig discusses Scott Thomas at some length.

Why Sig joined

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 25JUL07.]

Ooooo, good topic.

I alluded to it a bit in my intro post, but I`ll throw out a bit of introspection that I wrote back in 2003--after I`d enlisted, but before I`d shipped for Basic. Particularly amusing to me is the bit about possibly deploying right after initial entry training, since that is pretty much what happened.

Ray--better known as SPC Ray Joseph Hutchinson, US Army--is the younger brother of a good friend of mine in Texas. Our little brothers enlisted and went to Iraq at almost the same time--only mine came back alive. The boards in question are a forum for disaffected computer nerds, which my friend administers.

All of the discussion about Ray on the boards, combined with [my brother] Micah`s activities and my own impending active duty have got me thinking a lot about what it is I signed up for.

I remember being really upset about some of the attitudes I was seeing, especially at this pro-soldier rally I got dragged to. The general concensus I`d been hearing--especially from people in my church--was how we really had to support our troops--and whew, I`m glad it`s not my kid over there. Support our troops, support our president--just don`t send my children.

That really bugged me. A lot of people were very eager to demonstrate flag-waving patriotism--and why not? It didn`t cost them anything but the cost of a flag. I heard "I`m so glad such-and-such isn`t in the military any more" more times than I can count.

This would be a far greater nation if people would stop waving flags long enough to spend a little time researching so they can cast intelligent votes. It would be a far greater nation if people would pay attention to what their government is doing in the name of preserving freedom, and call them on it. It would be a far greater nation if people would love and respect the freedoms that the flag stands for, rather than fixating on the symbol.

And I think it would be a far greater nation if military service in time of conflict was something to be proud of, rather than something to be avoided.

[Fact: I`ve actually been told that my mother should have slapped me more when I was a child after I admitted to having enlisted in the Army National Guard. By a customer at work, no less--on a Navy base.]

I`m of the firm belief that if you have the ability to do something well that needs doing, there is a responsibility to do so. It disturbs me that military service is seen by so many as the last refuge of the incompetent (sometimes followed closely by teachers). I don`t want my nation`s defense to depend solely on people who barely passed the ASVAB (no offense intended to soldiers in that category).

So I enlisted. Make no mistake--I`m getting a lot out of it. Foreign language training at a world-class school, a security clearance, employment for a few years, the opportunity to play with guns, student loan repayments--it`s not a small list. But it`s not all fun and games, by any stretch. They own me for 8 years. I had to shave my goatee. My base pay is roughly half that of my civilian job (when I have one). I`ll be away from my beloved wife for months at a time. I could be activated right after school and be sent away for a year or more. I could be maimed and spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I could be killed and leave my wife here alone.

[Or I might not. My uncle Dave was in the Guard for 22 years and never got called up until last year.]
If someone offered me those terms on a regular civilian job, I would laugh in their face. Well, I`m unemployed at the moment--I`d think about it for 20 seconds, and then laugh in their face. But I leaped at this opportunity--jumped through hoops and filled out paperwork and peed in a cup and submitted to thoroughly undignified medical examinations.

Why? Because as screwed up, confused, hateful, and worthless as our society has become, there are a lot of good people just trying to make lives here. There are people elsewhere who don`t much care for us--sometimes with good reason, sometimes not--and some of them are trying to kill us. I think I have the responsibility--because I can, because I`m not the lowest common denominator, because I recognize the need--to help our nation`s military try to stop them.

There is self-interest involved--I have a responsibility to my family to secure the best training and opportunities that I can--but I didn`t enlist to learn Russian (though I will) or make money (which I definitely won`t). I enlisted because somebody ought to, and I don`t see people in my nation beating down a path to the recruiters.

I too, will probably have more to say on the topic, particularly as I have been corresponding with a very bright young lady who is in the process of making a similar choice.


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