by Breach-Bang-Clear Contributor at Large and Valued Minion Peter Nealen, author of Task Force Desperate. As usual he brings up some great points and offers an insightful perspective. Why is that the military has such poor institutional memory and reflexive close-mindedness?
In 2006, during turnover with 2nd Recon in Al Anbar, SSgt Eric Kocher said something that stuck in my mind. “We’ve got operational ADD,” he said. “We go somewhere, poke around for a couple weeks, then we leave.”
While he was talking specifically about the way we were being employed, his sentiments can be applied across the operational spectrum from the small-unit tactical level all the way to the strategic level. We seem to have come to expect war to operate on a schedule. Needless to say, it doesn’t. The enemy gets a vote, as they say, and that can throw your desired schedule into a cocked hat. Not only does enemy action affect the timeline, but in a combat zone, even more than anywhere else, Murphy is king. Equipment breaks. Weather grounds helicopters or slows movement. The imagery turns out to be outdated, and where there was a crossing, there is now just a ten-foot-deep canal. Somebody gives the lieutenant a map.
While it may be a relief to the guys on the ground to get pulled back to the rear for a while, it isn’t necessarily a good idea, especially in the environments we’ve been fighting in for the last decade plus. We might be getting close to breaking a cell, only for it to be time to extract. We might just be getting the feel for the area, where the locals’ loyalties lie, who might be talking to the enemy, etc., only to get the word to head back, time’s up. How is that being successful?
I’m sure some of this is due to a shift in our overall culture to urban business. Everything has to happen on schedule, and it has to happen now. If it’s behind schedule, it’s wrong. Since our officers seem to be trained as managers rather than leaders, this attitude makes some sense. It’s just completely wrong for warfare.
Every war since Korea has been fought against irregulars, guerrilla fighters with an eye on the long game. Just like the Apaches used to outwait the bluejacket cavalry under the desert sun, so every enemy we’ve gone up against has known from the outset that all they have to do is outwait us. Instead of hunting them, we go where they are or might be, poke around a little, get shot at and blown up, then leave. That’s no way to fight an insurgency, and anyone from Alexander in Sogdiana to the Rhodesians could tell you that.
If we’re going to have any chance at succeeding in war again, we have to get our arms around three things. One, it’s over when it’s over, not before. The GIs in WWII were in for the duration plus six months. For many, the duration was until they got killed or wounded severely enough to be sent home. While there were hopes every year of the war being over by Christmas, there was no, “this is the year it will be over and we will go home.” The only way home was through Berlin or Tokyo. Granted, the enemy we face today is more mercurial and hard to pin down, but the day that no one dares to so much as chant “Death to America,” because the consequences are too horrific to contemplate, would be a good start.
The second is to train to be hunters. I said earlier that most of our operational culture now seems to be based on urban business. By the end of WWII, Lt. Col. Rex Applegate made mention of the lack of fieldcraft due to the large proportion of the Army being recruited from built-up areas. We need to get that hunter mentality back, the patience to stalk, corner, and finish the prey, rather than say, “This is taking too long, screw this.” As I’ve said before, I think that team-on-team training, without scripts or canned scenarios, will aid immensely in this.
The third is perspective. We have to really come to understand that just because we have the best toys and can blow up the most stuff, doesn’t mean we win by default. We win when the enemy knows he’s beaten. Not before.
About the Author: Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran and the author of Task Force Desperate. He's savvy enough to want to write for Breach-Bang-Clear, bad ass enough that we let him and a good enough writer that he makes us look bad. Read a review of his book here: http://kitup.military.com/2013/02/peter-nealans-task-force-desperate.html. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. We encourage you to do so. http://americanpraetorians.wordpress.com/.