Archive for May, 2013
Historian and researcher Nate Jones of the National Security Archive marks the 30th anniversary of a tension filled year in Cold War history by publishing an interesting three part series on the geopolitical gamesmanship that occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1983. At the center of Jones’ research are the events that preceded and culminated in NATO exercises ABLE ARCHER and REFORGER. Jones posts an impressive collection of recently declassified documents that will certainly be of interest to Cold War historians and those on active duty during this period.
As the 1980s were known as the decade of “Maritime Strategy”, naval forces certainly played a vital role in this period of escalated tension.. As Benjamin Fischer of the Central Intelligence Agency recounts:
Last night I got to visit with a good friend who is about to retire. We spent most of the visit talking about her post-retirement project, which was fitting for Memorial Day: the day after her retirement ceremony, she is embarking on a cross-country bike ride to meet with and interview Gold Star Mothers. The purpose of her ride is to focus on the families and the sons and daughters they lost, to give a voice to the memories that they have, and to remember. She’ll ride from state to state, and as she completes each day or more of riding, she will meet these families and conduct interviews. The interviews are not so much formal interviews as they are a way for these families to share their memories of their sons and daughters so that others will get to know them too. She’ll see baby pictures and scrapbooks, watch videos and hear stories. And in the process, and in her subsequent work on the subject, she will get to know some of those we have lost and—more importantly—will keep their memories alive.
It’s going to be exhausting and draining, and I am humbled by the enormity of her project.
We forget so easily—and yes, those of us who have served tend to forget less easily than others, but we all forget at some point—the enormity of the loss and sacrifice that so many have endured. As a nation, we pay tribute on our appointed “holiday” days. And then life goes on for most.
As a child, I often heard the story of my great-uncle George, who enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II and was killed in action during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was the youngest of seven children, the baby of a big, Catholic family in New Orleans. Family legend has it that when he was 17, the Marine Corps recruiter told him he was too short to enlist, and he desperately wanted to be a Marine, so he went home and stretched himself out by holding onto the claw feet of the bathtub. Sure enough, within a year, he was miraculously tall enough to enlist, so he shipped out and ended up on Iwo Jima.
Private First Class Dittmann was present for the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, but just over two weeks later, he was killed. My great-grandparents received the telegram notifying them of his death. Painfully, shortly after that, the mailman brought a letter from George, written shortly before he was killed. Today, my grandmother remembers with incredible clarity the pain of that time. I’ve only seen two pictures of him, and to the best of my knowledge, that’s all that the family had when he died, barely 19 years old.
Things are different now in some ways: technology has changed that. If he had been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, the details of his death might still be fuzzy, but his pictures, videos, and cell phone messages would still be around. But in other ways, nothing has changed. The grief, the painfully empty space, and the loss are all the same. Memorial Day should make people remember, but only if they have forgotten. Memorial Day in the Washington area is a series of cookouts and sales and pool parties and parades. And oh, that’s right, a day to remember those we have lost. For my great-grandmother, and for all of the mothers, fathers, siblings, children, husbands and wives left behind, Memorial Day is not a single, lone day. Memorial Day is every day, every hour, and every minute for the rest of their lives.
The vast majority of naval theory and strategy has focused on fleet engagements during times of war, rather than the smaller engagements and expeditionary operations that, more often than not, occur in times of relative peace. Counter-piracy operations have long been one of the irregular missions conducted by naval forces that didn’t fit the traditional mold. The writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan is a common foundation for many naval thinkers, and they remember his strategic focus on blue water and fleet engagements. In his book Naval Strategy ATM lamented “police duties” and emphasized that these operations detract from the central principle of concentration of military power.
However, ATM’s dislike of anything that would distract from the concentration of effort for naval formations did not automatically mean that he disliked expeditionary operations or naval irregular warfare. He believed that counter-piracy missions, in particular, were a valid function of naval forces. In writing about Nelson’s operations in the Mediterranean in the early 19th century, ATM agreed in theory with the Admiral’s desire to attack the Corsairs of Algiers and end the Barbary menace. In Nelson’s own words, “My Blood boils that I can not chastise these pirates,” and Mahan identified with the sentiment. In practice, however, he supported Lord Nelson’s decision not to attack because it would split his force, and detract from his primary mission, which was the destruction of the French Fleet.
It wasn’t that attacking piracy was an invalid naval mission, as some who claim to be part of a Mahanian tradition maintain; it was that Nelson’s Fleet had a higher purpose that required concentration. Without that higher purpose, an attack on the Barbary Corsairs would have been an important and distinctly naval mission. In his biography of Admiral Pellew, ATM championed the 1816 attack on Algiers which did finally end the Barbary menace once and for all, an operation that would today be described as a multinational force conducting power projection against an asymmetric menace.
ATM also wrote about the American 1820’s counter-piracy campaign in the West Indies which was led by Commodore David Porter. In his brief discussion of the subject in his biography of Admiral Farragut, he approved of Porter’s decision to leave the heavy frigates and traditional naval warships behind in favor of Sloops-of-War, armed schooners, and gun barges. What he termed the Mosquito Squadron, fulfilled his thoughts on concentration, as the ships worked together to attack the pirates both offshore and in the shallows of Cuba. It also illustrated the point that he would made in his debates with William Sims over the need for a balanced fleet rather than a myopic focus on battleships.
In ATM’s eyes the effectiveness of the squadron fulfilled the important naval mission of providing for “the security of commerce.” Ultimately, because they could not take or occupy territory, ATM realized the influence that navies could exert on an enemy was based in the ability to impact economics. First and foremost the battlefleet had to be ready for fleet engagements to drive the enemy’s naval forces from the sea, to fight the decisive battle in blue water. However, naval forces also needed to be ready to conduct irregular missions, like counter-piracy, because ultimately Mahan believed that “Navies exist for the protection of commerce.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the homecoming of our Vietnam POWs, a group of men who still rank as the longest-held group of POWs in our nation’s history. Most of the men are still alive and well, enjoying their second chance at freedom. But their leader, Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, is not. He died in 2005. On this Memorial Day, it is fitting to remember this man who left a legacy of unparalleled leadership. The key to his success was in his leadership philosophy.
As Stockdale floated slowly down to certain capture and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese enemy after his plane was shot down, he recalled the wisdom of the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “I remembered the basic truth of subjective consciousness as the ability to distinguish what is in my power from that which is not…I knew that self-discipline would provide the balance I would need in the contest of high stakes.”
When he arrived at the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous prison where the majority of the POWs were held, Stockdale entered a world in which many POWs had already shown selflessness and commitment to each other. As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale was anointed their leader, responsible for governing their conduct and keeping the group of men unified in their resistance.
He knew the Code of Conduct, the rules that govern the behavior of American prisoners of war. But, he also knew these guidelines wouldn’t be enough. And so he dug into his bag of memories from his studies of Epictetus and remembered some of the teachings: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them”; “Do not be concerned with things which are beyond your power”; and “Demand not that events should happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen and you will go on well.”
In other words, you don’t get to choose your plight. You do get to choose how you react to it.
He and the POWs were faced with a Hobson’s choice. They learned quickly that they would all eventually break under enough torture and thus violate the Code of Conduct and risk military disgrace. If they resisted, they would be tortured until they submitted—for information that had no intelligence value and that was certainly not worth their life or a limb. So, Stockdale made the difficult decision that laid a foundation for a self-sustaining organization. He instructed the POWs to resist their captors to the best of their ability. If they reached their breaking point, they should fall back on deceit and distortion—giving false, misleading or ludicrous information. Finally, Stockdale insisted that the POWs force their captors to start over at each interrogation session. This innovation allowed for failure in the moment without failure in the mission.
These strategies and tactics conformed to the Code of Conduct where they could. When necessary, Stockdale created a new path by giving each POW the responsibility of deciding how to resist. Collectively, under these new guidelines, the POWs set a goal of giving every man a chance to achieve their group mission: Return with Honor.
This act earned the POWs’ respect. Stockdale, after all, shared their pain (literally) and understood the seemingly impossible predicament these men faced. Effective resistance couldn’t be centered on Herculean displays of pain tolerance or arbitrary goal lines. Instead, Stockdale made commitment, persistence, and unity the driving objective. Stockdale was, by virtue of his rank, the man in the corner cell—the boss. But decisions like these made him their leader.
Taylor Baldwin Kiland and Peter Fretwell are the co-authors of the new book, Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams.
From Hagel to the Hill in suit and tie, to the Service Chiefs on down in uniform; we have all heard the steady drum beat about a military that, as we look to the left and right of us, we simply do not see; a military full of barely stable combat veterans saddled with Post Traumatic Stress skulking in the shadows and/or sexually assaulting their Shipmates. As a reflection of the society it serves, of course those things are here … but why are they dominating the conversation and why are our leaders expending so much capital on it?
The PTS/PTSD hype & smear issue has a history worthy of a book (wait, that has already been done), and the sexual assault meme has been floating around in force since I was a LTJG … but what about now?
The last few days have seen two officers come forward; 2LT Dan Gomez, USA in TheGuardian and Capt. Lindsay L. Rodman, USMC in the WSJ. They are both pushing back against the drones of doom and smear, standing athwart the rising chorus and saying, “Stop.”
First let’s look at the good common sense from Gomez on PTSD, then we’ll dive in to the real touchy issue; sexual assault.
The revelations of sexual assault and harassment are only the latest in what has been a steady stream of bad news for the military. After a decade of war, we’ve read over and over about PTSD and mental health stigma, suicide, unemployment and extremism within the ranks. Without question, as a military, we have issues that we need to address.
But the things that I read about on a daily basis – all of these problems – while present and important, do not reflect the reality of what I see and experience as a soldier. In other words, this is not my army.
Yes, we’re growing and learning as an organization. We’ve been at war for over a decade, and are adapting to a rapidly changing world. America’s expectations of who we are and who we should be are also changing, and with that, problems are bubbling up to the surface that have been long ignored – and we are addressing them. But this fractured force that I read about full of misfits and miscreants is not my army.
The army I serve in is composed of brave men and women who joined the force during a time of war, fully knowing they will likely be placed in harm’s way. They’ve seen the veterans coming home with missing limbs and those who struggle to transition back to civilian life – and they still choose to sign the line. These are men and women who are unafraid to be patriotic at a time when doing so often seems out of fashion, and even looked down upon. They live the Army Values, and are just as shocked to learn about the scale of the problems we’re facing as a force – and as a nation – as the rest of America. And we want to get better. This is not a group of broken and sorry soldiers, fumbling along and victimized.
The army I serve in shows up every day and works, focusing on daily drills with a watchful eye on global hotspots, listening to the talking heads nonchalantly discuss “boots on the ground”, waiting for the call to be whisked away again to some far off place. Talk of an “Asia Pivot” or a return to a “garrison army” falls on deaf ears to the family saying tearful goodbyes to their loved one at an airfield, or to the soldier heading to Helmand province for a year. This is not to make light of the difficult problems we must face and fix, but it’s important to recognize that we here on the ground see the work being done to fix them.
For some reason, the exception has become the rule; the footnote the lead story. This is not right, and this is not what we see on a day to day basis – at sea and ashore. We see the real Navy and Marine Corps – just as Gomez sees the real Army. The issue for me is this; why aren’t we standing up more for our culture, our Shipmates – and push back against the attentions seekers, sympathy trolls, and those who want to make the hero a victim? We have let this story, again, get upside down. We are forgetting what we let happen to the Vietnam generation. We should not let that happen again.
BZ to Dan Gomez, and now let’s shift fire to someone who everyone owes a solid professional nod to; Capt. Rodman. A Marine JAG who attacks a problem as only a Marine can – clear, direct, fundamentally sound, and fact based.
As with Dan, you need to read it all … but she eviscerates those who are using bad science to attack the military for their own agendas … something we’ve seen before. Something we know better than to let go unchallenged. When all others cower in fear, it does seem that there is always a Marine who is willing to step forward and do the right thing.
Here are the core bits that leave you knowing one thing that we really already knew; the numbers being used to make the American public think the military is full of sexual predators are garbage.
In the days since the Defense Department’s May 7 release of its 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, the media and lawmakers have been abuzz. The report’s estimate that last year 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact prompted many to conclude, incorrectly, that this reliably estimated the number of victims of sexual assault.
The 2012 estimate was also significantly higher than the last estimate, causing some to proclaim a growing “epidemic” of sexual assault in the military. The truth is that the 26,000 figure is such bad math-derived from an unscientific sample set and extrapolated military-wide-that no conclusions can be drawn from it.
The term “sexual assault” was not used in the WGRA survey. Instead, the survey refers to “unwanted sexual contact,” which includes touching the buttocks and attempted touching.
It is disheartening to me, as a female officer in the Marine Corps and a judge advocate devoted to the professional practice of law in the military, to see Defense Department leaders and members of Congress deal with this emotionally charged issue without the benefit of solid, verifiable data. The 26,000 estimate is based on the 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Military. The WGRA survey was fielded throughout all branches of the military in September and November 2012. As the report indicates, “Completed surveys were received from 22,792 eligible respondents,” while “the total sample consisted of 108,478 individuals.” In other words, one in five of the active-duty military personnel to whom the survey was sent responded.
I am one of those who responded to the survey after receiving an email with an online link. None of the males in my office received the email, though nearly every other female did. We have no way of knowing the exact number of male or female respondents to the 2012 WGRA survey because that information wasn’t released.
Though the 2012 survey does not specify the gender composition of its respondents, the 2010 respondents were 42% female (10,029 women and 14,000 men).
Nevertheless, to achieve the 26,000 military-wide estimate in 2012 (and 19,000 in 2010) over half of the victims must have been male. Of course, male victims do exist, but empirically males do not constitute anywhere near the majority of victims of unwanted sexual contact-no less sexual assault. Here is what we do know: The actual number of reported sexual assaults in the military in 2012 was 3,374, up from 3,192 in 2011. These figures include reports by civilians against service members. Of the 3,374 total cases reported last year, only 12%-14% were reported by men. We also don’t know how actual sexual-assault rates in the military compare with civilian society.
Each and every sexual assault is tragic and infuriating. But given the military’s recent emphasis on awareness of the problem and insistence that victims come forward, it’s no surprise that this number has gone up.
Here is a back-story in how our silence is hurting us; we are not recruiting good people because of our decision to let lies stand.
I often talk to young men and women interested in joining the military, and I find that women especially seek me out to gain the perspective of a female officer. In the past year or so, these potential female recruits have grown increasingly wary, asking many follow-up questions about whether women are treated fairly and respectfully. I tell them that serving in the military doesn’t turn a woman into a victim. I am a proud Marine, surrounded by outstanding military personnel from every service who take this problem seriously, male and female alike.
If you want quality men and women to join the military – don’t let them think they are joining an organization hobbled with sexual assault. It isn’t.
If you really want to help those veterans returning to the civilian world – you need to help push back against the twin smears of broken-vessels and sexual-predators. It wasn’t and isn’t our military; don’t let lesser mortals try to make it seem so.
PTS/PTSD and sexual assault are real, but especially with sexual assault, if you want to let people know your are serious about addressing the issue – and not off reacting to agendas – then you have to use serious numbers and research. Research and studies that can survive the follow-on question from statisticians and a Company Grade JAGs, for starters.
May many more follow Gomez and Rodman’s example. Demand that the military at least show you the respect you deserve by treating you as an adult – and not judging you from bad studies.
This is the first post in a weekly series about the writing and thinking of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, leading up to the release of “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” by The Naval Institute Press.
This week is Commissioning Week at The U.S. Naval Academy. It’s an exciting time of ceremonies, balls, parties, and obelisk climbing. At this year’s ceremony the new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants will hear advice from many, including the CNO, SECNAV, Governor of Maryland, and the Commander-in-Chief. Ultimately much of it comes down to the central question: What are the skills, the requirements, the qualifications, of a good naval officer? Or to put it another way: What does it take to earn that “Special Trust and Confidence” from the President of the United States?
It is well known that the passage memorized by Plebes at the Academy entitled “The Qualifications of a Naval Officer” never actually flowed from the pen of Captain John Paul Jones. The story is well documented in an article from Naval History, debunked by a writing team of a Midshipman and an Academy Professor. However, the ideals listed in the passage are worth considering as a benchmark and sometimes we still see them in official Navy documents.
Join us at Midrats on BlogTalkRadio, Sunday, May 19, 2013 for Episode 176: “Fallujah Awakens” with Bill Ardolino:
How did the US Marine Corps and local tribal leaders turn the corner in Fallujah? Who were the people on the ground, Iraqi and American, who were the catalyst for the change that brought about a sea change in the tactical, operational, and strategic direction in Iraq?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss that and more will be author Bill Ardolino. We will use as a base of our discussion his new book, Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against al Qaeda.
Bill is the associate editor of The Long War Journal. He was embedded with the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, the Iraqi Army, and the Iraqi Police in Fallujah, Habbaniyah, and Baghdad in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and later with U.S. and Afghan forces in Kabul, Helmand and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. His reports, columns, and photographs have received wide media exposure and have been cited in a number of academic publications. He lives in Washington, DC.
Join us live at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) or listen later by clicking here.
Today’s successful launch of an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator marks a significant turning point for Naval Aviation, as much for its cultural acceptance by the community as for its technological significance.
As a newly minted Naval Aviator in 2002, the mere mention of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the ready room was enough to send most discussions into overdrive. The Navy, after all, would never have a need for drones, especially not ones launched from an aircraft carrier or a surface combatant. When a leading aircraft manufacturer’s UAV team joined us during a cruise in 2003 to measure the GEORGE WASHINGTON’s flight deck, the response was a mixture of mild curiosity and more than a little negativity.
“I won’t be offended if you turn away to watch the planes flying. I do it myself all the time,” NAS Oceana commanding officer CAPT Bob “Goose” Geis tells our group as he starts his brief on the facility’s history and operations. It’s an appropriate introduction to a meeting being held in the control tower conference room, a space seven stories above the tarmac with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides, giving a 270 degree view of everything happening on the airfield. It’s an impressive sight, and you can’t fully appreciate the scale of NAS Oceana’s aircraft operations until you see it from above.
Completely unrelated to the world of the Navy Budget in the Pentagon, where I have been working for the last year, I was asked by the Director, Navy Staff to be the Flag Officer Escort for a memorial ceremony and interment at the United States Naval Academy on Friday, May 10th. The deceased was LT Richard Lee Laws, a naval aviator, shot down in Vietnam in 1966. I heartily accepted this mission as I know of no greater honor…
LT Laws’ journey from the corridors of Bancroft Hall, as a proud member of the USNA Class of 1962, to the aircraft carrier USS HANCOCK (CVA-19), operating in the Gulf of Tonkin during the war—to the jungles of Vietnam where his remains lay virtually undisturbed for 45 years—to his repatriation and interment at the U.S. Naval Academy columbarium is a story that deserves to be told.
After graduation and flight training, Richard Laws became an F-8 Crusader pilot and he joined VF-24, the “Fighting Red Checkertails” onboard USS HANCOCK. He deployed twice with HANCOCK and was a “double Centurion” with more than 200 combat missions over Vietnam. During that second deployment, while on a strafing mission, his aircraft was struck by ground fire. He radioed that he had been hit and twenty seconds later his flight leader observed his aircraft strike a mountainside and explode. There was apparently no time to eject. He was presumed to have died on impact…
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC
- The Pen and the Sword: An Interview with Professor Timothy Demy on Reading Fiction and Studying War
- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
- Missile Defense and Budget Issues
- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “