Today we’re posting our first guest article from Nick Perna…and God help us, he’s a former Army officer outta the Eighty-Deuce, and not just an officer — a southpaw! We’ve all heard the “military intelligence” jokes, and many of us have seen the effects of an entrenched, hidebound military bureaucracy, and institutional inertia. Today Nick shares some of his opinions on the matter. Mad Duo
Military Intelligence—Slow to Adapt
The military isn’t known for embracing change. This is especially true when transitioning from peacetime to war. This has happened many times in America’s history. A classic example of this is the near-defeat of the American army in Korea at the beginning of the Korean War. A military that is used to occupation duty was caught flat-footed during the North Korean invasion. It took months before the US Army was able to shake off the cobwebs and get back into the fight.
The current conflict has been going on for over 14 years, the longest in our history. To put it in perspective, any soldier younger than 31 years of age has been in a “Wartime only” army his entire career. This is a major shift from the pre-GWOT generation. Other than short-duration conflicts like Grenada, Panama and Desert Storm, the pre-GWOT group hadn’t seen long-term conflict since Vietnam. This roughly equates to almost 30 years of peaceful existence, one of the longest periods of non-war in modern American history.
I started my service in the early 90s, post Desert Storm. I spent most of my time in a peacetime army. Like all armies we prepared for war but, at the end of the day, we practiced life in a non-war environment. The longer an army doesn’t go to battle, the more it becomes accustomed to peace. And, conversely, when a war begins, the army has a hard time adapting to it.
A Few Lack-Luster Examples of “Military Intelligence”
I first saw war toward the end of my career. I was in Kuwait and later Iraq during the build-up to the invasion, the invasion itself and the period shortly thereafter. This period was “Big Army’s” reintroduction to combat. I bore witness to multiple occasions where the army struggled with its new mission, falling back on bad habits developed during calmer times. Here are but a few examples of this kind of clumsy military intelligence:
Shortly after my unit arrived in Baghdad I went on a mission from our FOB to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). The MSR we traveled was considered relatively secure but wasn’t “inside the wire”, so was still a threat area. Whenever we traveled it we were locked and loaded in full battle rattle.
An ADA unit was tasked with security in BIAP. Like most of Iraq, the area near the airport was littered with garbage. Some well-intentioned Sergeant Major had his troops conduct a police call (I don’t know for sure it was a Sergeant Major but I know they hate dirty A.O.s so I think it’s a pretty safe assumption). The MSR was a dangerous place due to heavy military vehicle traffic that kicked up the talcum powder-like dust that permeated the country, creating a natural smoke screen that drivers couldn’t see through. To make the soldiers were more visible they wore, you guessed it, road guard vests and reflective PT belts! Safety first! The risk was compounded by the fact that there were literally tons of UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) all around the airport at that time. One wonders, if an insurgent had seen this would he even realize he was looking at American troops in a combat zone?
Lone Soldier in Baghdad
About a week later I was in a two-vehicle convoy heading back to our FOB. Near that same MSR, we observed a lone soldier walking down a side route, also in an unsecured area. He was an odd sight…He was wearing woodland pattern BDUs. The army ran out of DCUs early on in Iraq to issue so some troops had to wear the good old battle dress. He had a weapon but there was no magazine in it. We pulled up next to him and asked him what he was doing. He told me his unit was having a “Safety Rodeo” that day and he had been told to walk to another unit’s location to attend a safety briefing on generator operations. We offered to give him a ride to his next location. I would have felt bad leaving him there, especially if he ended up on an Al Qaeda beheading video (apparently not a concern to his unit).
When prepping to convoy into Iraq we were issued a basic combat load of 270 rounds, or seven magazines, per soldier. Realistically, this would not have been sufficient for a protracted firefight. We were attached to another unit for the drive north. In the convoy the unit had a supply truck loaded to the rafters with ammo, grenades, demo and so on. We tried to get permission to carry some of the ammo and frags in our vehicles during the trip to Baghdad, just in case we ran into trouble. We even agreed to sign for it with plans to return it when we arrived at the FOB. Fearing a loss of equipment accountability the unit refused to do so. Fortunately, the convoy was pretty uneventful. I’m surprised we didn’t have to turn in our “dunnage” at the end of the deployment.
Old habits die hard. The juggernaut that is the US Army doesn’t turn on a dime. It is a large organization that is slow to change, even during war. The atrophy that peacetime brings about is hard to shake.
The question is — and this isn’t a rhetorical one — how do we fix this kind of illogical “military intelligence?” Can it be fixed? Weigh in below in the comments, please.
Like what Nick has to say? You can read his other articles here.