June 26, 2008

Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 6/26/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Satirist at War

Popped down to the bazaar yesterday for one of my last patrols (if not the last patrol), and when I got back, the FOB* was abuzz with rumors of an impending visit from G1*, to inspect living conditions. This on the heels of a visit from IG* that had been prompted by someone who, according to rumor, had described living conditions on various FOBs and COPs* in our AO* as "deplorable," or something like that.

The first thing I'd like to point out is that I've seen deplorable living conditions a few times during my sojourn in the Army, and those instances have all had the following in common:

1) outside in the sand or mud
2) heavy precipitation
3) stinging / biting insects
4) lack of food and/or water

Our FOBs have beds, or at least cots, air conditioning, and well-prepared food. Who goes to Afghanistan and expects a four-star hotel? There's no pleasing some people, I suppose.

The next thing -- and this is important -- is: how did I know that G1 was coming for an inspection tomorrow? I guess the logic must be: "If they know we're coming, and they're s***'s jacked up, they're really bad."

I've seen this on countless occasions: A "Distinguished Visitor" will fly into the battlespace, we'll know far in advance, prepare a highly-scripted briefing, and said visitor will come away with our well-spun version of the truth, which is always more complicated than can effectively be summarized in a one-hour brief. And yet, General after General comes through, speaks to a few high-ranking officers that have been preparing for days to receive him, then leaves, beaming, full of satisfaction that he's doing a good job.

The military cannot hope for accurate and effective top-down assessments if this is allowed to continue. We are sabotaging ourselves and our ability to self-criticize effectively by choreographing this type of event. If I were a General, or a Congressman, and genuinely interested in soliciting honest battlefield reporting, this is what I'd do:

1) grab a blackhawk and an apache from a primary hub
2) fly, unannounced, around the battlespace, visiting COPs and FOBs in no particular pattern
3) spend 3 or 4 hours at a single location, and speak privately with a representative cross-section of NCOs* and low-level officers, before speaking with the commander.

Why? If nothing's going wrong, that'll show. If, on the other hand, there are corrections that need to be made, the time to identify those corrections is not during a powerpoint presentation from the very individual / individuals who have the most at stake.

In this fashion, we, the military, could identify problems before they spun out of control, rather than waiting for some tactical or strategic disaster and performing "After Action Reviews" to brainstorm solutions. Often, a serious military reversal is the last act in a long-unfolding drama.

Then again, institutional change is painful; if nothing's wrong, no change is necessary. And, of course, every individual in the institution has some vested interest in keeping things the same -- the closer you get to the top, the stronger the loyalty to the institution.

Few leaders succeed who question the institutional capacities and functions of the Army -- though to question those capacities should not automatically be construed as disloyalty. So you get to the top, and you're not thinking: "Is that 240B broken?" You're thinking: "I'm glad everyone's doing great out here. I'm going to get you more air conditioners."

My solution would be an independant arm of the military, with its own dedicated air assets, composed of three retired four-star generals / admirals per theater (with personal security detachments), who would be reinstated with full privilage of rank, and lifetime appointments similar to the independant judiciary we enjoy.

FOB: Forward Operating Base
G1: personnel staff
IG: Inspector General
COP: Command and Observation Post
AO: Area of Operations
NCO: Noncommissioned Officer


This entry could have been written for many a large company I've worked with. It's interesting (and possibly sad?) to see the same problems in the business world showing up in combat. You'd think people would be a lot more honest and candid around life and death situations... chalk it up to the human condition I guess.

very cogent.
it is a pisspot that fatal expeditions are run by opportunistic lards.two days ago i fell by some transport army in gilroy, ca. at an arby's. they were happy.
pretty soon they won't be.

some things never change... was like that for my entire 30 years in the Army -- in the 70's (before anyone cared about the environment) we used to spray paint the grass green; no one cared if it died the next day

Sad thing is, those big dogs never think that anyone would EVER put on the "dog & pony" for them

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/27/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.


it's exactly the same way with units that *aren't* in a warzone. COs only get so many chances to impress the big brass, and covering up the flaws (spraypainting the grass as above, or in my case, painting over the rust) is the only option. i had never thought of what adrien mentions; a quasi-independent arm of the service whose only job is to drop in unannounced. i like it.

This is a failure at all levels..Unfortunately in many instances above the company level there is more a culture of self preservation which promotes this type of behavior.
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