March 19, 2009

Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 3/19/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

mutt (noun): a dog, especially a mongrel.

mongrel (noun):

1. a dog of mixed or indeterminate breed.

2. any animal or plant resulting from the crossing of different breeds or varieties.

3. any cross between different things, esp. if inharmonious or indiscriminate.

I’m a mutt soldier. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I’m definitely a cross of breeds and varieties. Before I get to my explanation let me illuminate how I arrived at this conclusion. Which by the way was inevitable. I’ll explain that too.

Recently I spent some time reading through the past posts of two of my favorite blogs, the authors of which both happen to be former ETTs, not that I’m biased: Bouhammer and Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure. I highly recommend them, you won’t be sorry, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. But I digress.

After reading through Troy's and Old Blue's posts I realized that I experience the same things they did when they were here. No duh!  But I mean specifically with respect to our mission and where we fit with the coalition and the Army as a whole. We endure the same struggles; we just don’t quite fit.

I was suddenly resigned to the inevitability of this conclusion after we watched Lawrence of Arabia the other evening. (By the way a great movie about Combat Advising. No, we didn’t watch it all in one night wasting your tax money.) In one scene Lawrence has returned from the desert after capturing Aqaba, and is thrown out of the officer’s mess because of his Arab dress and demeanor. That's when the epiphany hit: Each and every one of us who’s been a Combat Adviser reaches this moment. Sometimes it’s thrust upon us and other times we reach it on our own. 

Now being a mutt isn’t bad. When I was an innocent child (my parents are rolling their eyes at this one) my family had a mutt dog named Sweetness. This was a dichotomy if ever one existed, as this dog was fast and mean as hell. Not to anyone in our family, but if you were a stranger then you’d better watch out. She would destroy stuff, and there was no getting away from her. So, there are merits.

ETTs are mutts because they just don’t fit anywhere.

We are not Special Forces soldiers, though we execute a traditional SF mission. Foreign Internal Defense (FID) was the founding paradigm behind SF, and they’ve now relinquished it to ETTs. They’d prefer the much sexier mission of direct action versus training foreign armies. An SF soldier gets about 18 months worth of training and goes through a special selection process to ensure that he’s the right fit for training foreign militaries, which they don’t really do anymore.

ETTs get two months training and are selected from the force with no pre-screening. As many have advocated -- Troy, Old Blue, John Nagl and myself -- there must be some type of pre-screening put in place. Not all personalities work for this mission. Our training consists of limited COIN* and weapons. Then we’re unleashed upon the Afghans to bring havoc or success.

I think SF will eventually regret this decision and try to retake the FID mission, but it seems the horse is out of the barn. The Army has figured out they can do it much cheaper and easier with ETTs. Suddenly the investment to train an SF soldier doesn’t seem worth it. I’m not advocating the elimination of SF, I’m just stating that they’ve ceded their main mission. ETTs hearken back to the Vietnam days of SF.

Picture it this way: You go hunting with your buddies, bringing your highly prized, small-fortune-to-buy-and-train Lab. Your buddy brings some dog that he got for free at the pound, unsure of the exact breed or mental stability of the dog. (An apt description of an ETT.) And the pound puppy keeps getting to the birds first and bringing them back. Now you don’t feel so hot about your expensive dog.

ETTs aren’t conventional coalition soldiers either. We operate on our own with limited supplies and combat support. The coalition has no idea what we are. In fact my team and I have been referred to as "psychotic", "cowboys" and "unhinged" by our fellow US soldiers, just for the fact that we’re willing to operate outside the wire, vastly outnumbered by the Afghans we mentor. We venture beyond the confines of the FOB much more frequently than our CF brothers. We speak Dari / Pashto and eat with the Afghans. We don’t look or act like CF.

We have no logistics or admin tail. We don’t belong or report to the CF, but we’re dependent upon them for logistical support and what we call effects -- CAS, artillery and attack aviation. Our own chain is unsure of where they fit and thus have chosen by all appearances to leave us to fend for ourselves. My NCOs are the master scroungers of the FOB. If it’s not secured they will figure out a use for it.

So where do we fit? John Nagl, author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, has advocated for a standing advisor corps. Which I support. This is a valuable skill, and we have a vast untapped resource in people who’ve successfully accomplished the mission, and can be used in future missions and for training future ETTs. The idea, though, has been opposed by what seems to be the SF community, as it begs the question, "If we’ve got a Combat Advisor Corps then why do we need SF?"  I think this one is doomed from the start.

We’re comfortable and proud of our mutt status, and there is no fit right now for ETTs. Maybe there will be
in the future but as of now, no. Nobody expects much of a mutt, and then he starts whupping the pure breeds at their game. Then people take notice. Until that time we’ll continue to suffer the bewildered questions and looks of our fellow US soldiers, that sort of awe, wonder and pity that goes with being an ETT.

* COIN: Counterinsurgency


Just to clarify a few things with the author, so he doesn't paint a picture that all SF does is FID I offer: FID is one of 5 primary missions for SF. SF's primary mission is Unconventioal Warfare, for a brief description of Unconventional Warfare, please refer to the first 6 months of OEF, where a handful of SF advisors worked with the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Please do not confuse FID, your job, with UW.

Yes, FID on this scale is a good fit for the rest of the Army, but for the smaller missions, it is one for SF.

God bless you Vampire 06. We pray for your safety every day.

I just want to pass on three things, first, I completely agree with the mutt discription and having leadership that has a hard time figuring out where we fit into the bigger picture. Second, You are completely right with the need for a screening process. I saw on more than one occassion people who were ill equiped to perform the ETT mission set.
Three, Not all ETTs are from the US Army. Many of us are from other services and were equally effective in mentoring our perspective Afghan counterparts.
Keep do what your doing and be safe. I enjoy your posts and who knows, one day we will all look back and say "I did my job and the world is a little better place."

The coalition has no idea what we are. In fact my team and I have been referred to as "psychotic", "cowboys" and "unhinged" by our fellow US soldiers, just for the fact that we’re willing to operate outside the wire, vastly outnumbered by the Afghans we mentor. We venture beyond the confines of the FOB much more frequently than our CF brothers. We speak Dari / Pashto and eat with the Afghans. We don’t look or act like CF.

Thank you for so obviously doing the job the way it really needs to be done. Thank You!

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